Maybe you need extra money to pay off debt. Maybe you’re ready to try saving money for the first (or 40th) time. Or maybe you just can’t get your head above water, financially, and you feel like you’re drowning.
Enter the “Low Buy Month” challenge. You might have heard of a “No buy month” before, or even a “low buy year,” but they can seem too extreme for many people. Or maybe you actually tried one of those challenges, but just felt like you couldn’t do it.
A low buy month (also called a low spend month) can hand you a life preserver in a sea of inflation and interest rates by giving you control over your spending. It can help you start to understand your wants versus your needs, and highlight the times, places, and situations when you tend to spend mindlessly.
My husband and I spent two years in “low buy” mode while we were aggressively paying off our $40,000 in debt. I’ve got plenty of tips and tricks from my experience to share along the way to make your first low buy month go smoothly and successfully.
If you’re ready to learn more about the challenge and what it can do for you, let’s dive in.
What is a low buy month?
A low buy month is a type of savings challenge where you dramatically reduce– but don’t completely cut out– your spending on non-essentials for a month. And there’s a few ways to do that.
The first way is to set a small budget for all non-essential spending. This means you can buy whatever you want, as long as it lands under that limit.
However, other people prefer to only restrict spending on certain categories, usually those where they struggle to no overspend. However, they might allow themselves to spend whatever they want in any other categories.
No buy month vs Low buy month
The No Buy challenge is far more well-known than the low buy month, but they have a lot in common.
Someone doing either challenge is probably doing it for similar reasons. Likely, they need to save more money, they want more awareness of their spending habits, or both. They also picked a month-long challenge because their problems are serious enough to warrant some drastic measures, and a week or weekend challenge just wouldn’t cut it.
But that’s where their similarities end. Here are the big two ways in which they differ.
Moderate vs. extreme
The biggest difference is in the degree of spending restriction. A no buy month completely cuts off any and all non-essential spending. It’s the equivalent of going “cold turkey” on spending, without any wiggle room.
Someone doing a no buy month also might take a more extreme view of what they consider essential. For example, they might be willing to cancel all streaming services, all memberships, and even avoid things like junk food or soda at the grocery store.
A low buy month, on the other hand, is more moderate in its expectations. It gives you a bit more flexibility to . It gives you the opportunity to work on your problem areas without feeling totally deprived.
Marathon vs. sprint
No buy months can be fun challenges that teach you a lot about yourself and your spending habits. They’re a lot like a sprinting event at the olympics. That huge burst of energy and dramatic shift in your behavior, however, also can lead to “saver’s fatigue” and burnout. That might lead you right back to where you started, if you aren’t careful.
A low buy month, on the other hand, is more like a marathon. Because you’re only changing your habits a little (reducing your current budget, or only cutting out some categories), you can better maintain motivation. This means you can build on those changing habits month after month in a way that doesn’t completely exhaust you.
If you’re reaching for some huge financial goals, it might make more sense to limit your “no spend” challenges. Instead, try sticking to multiple low buy months for a longer period of time. This is also why many people quickly move from trying a low buy month to a whole low buy year.
Are low buy months even worth it?
In short, yes! Many, many people find a low buy month to be an excellent tool for saving money. And I can say that from both personal experience and from researching thousands of others chatting about it online.
For my husband and I, intentionally limiting our non-essential spending for two years was totally worth the rewards. Sure, we reached our short-term goal of getting out of debt. But even more importantly, we built habits that continue to save us money, three years later.
If you need further convincing though, let’s go over some of the other, less obvious benefits.
When you take on a low buy challenge, you’ll be– get this– buying less stuff. A month like this can often be a lightbulb moment for people.
So many people mistakenly think their wants are their needs, until they’re taken away. When you realize you can live without things you once considered essential, your life gets simpler.
Part of the low buy challenge is to fill your time with activities other than spending money. If you can’t just go out to restaurants or buy concert tickets like you used to, what else can you do?
In addition, you might run into a problem midway through your challenge. What if you want to buy something, but don’t have the budget for it, or you aren’t allowing yourself to buy in that category? It will take creativity to find a way to fulfill your desires in a different way.
However, the benefits of the low buy month will depend on the rules you set for yourself.
Examples of rules for a low buy month
Many people want ideas of ways they can restrict themselves during a low buy month. Having a list of rules is important, because the rules will give you structure as you work to change your spending habits.
Of course, you can have as few or as many rules as you want, but I’d suggest choosing 3-4 in the beginning. Try picking ones that will challenge, but not cripple you, especially during your first challenge.
The most common rule I see is to ban spending in certain categories. You could choose any category you want, though it usually focuses on an area where you’re consistently overspending. Here are some ideas, based on what I see people often restricting:
- home decor
- hobby supplies
- takeout food
- makeup and beauty products
- Lotions, soaps, and fragrances
- clothes or shoes
- video or mobile games
- in-app purchases
- Subscriptions or memberships
In addition to limiting certain categories, there are plenty of other ways to create personalized rules. Here are a few examples I’ve personally used, or I frequently see people reference:
- No buying new things if you have an item that just needs fixing. Instead, try fixing the broken item first through sewing, gluing, cleaning, etc.
- If you want a new item, you need to buy it used.
- If you already focus on buying inexpensive things (using coupons, shopping at thrift stores or Dollar tree, etc) make a rule about the NUMBER of things you can purchase, as opposed to setting a dollar amount.
- No buying at [list store or stores here]. The store might be physical or online.
- No buying new things in certain categories (lotions, soaps, yarn, books, etc) until you’ve used up your current stash.
- You can only spend money on non-essentials if you sell off some of your current possessions and use the profit to buy.
- If you want to buy something, you need to wait a certain amount of time before purchasing it. (Some start at one or two days, but I’ve seen people make themselves wait a whole month!)
- You can only buy non-essential items in cash, not with a debit or credit card.
- You can buy things with gift cards or any cash-back you earn, but not with your personal money.
- Before you can make certain purchases (over an amount, in a certain category, etc), you must call a specific person and get their “permission” or feedback about whether they think it’s a good idea.
Hopefully, these examples triggered some ideas for rules that should apply to your own challenge. Go ahead and take a few minutes to write them down now, or pin this article so you can come back to it later.
Tips for a successful low buy month
In our modern culture (and especially in America), it’s hard to sneeze without seeing an advertisement for something.In fact, companies spent almost $300 billion just in 2021 to advertise to Americans. Because advertising works.
To fight against this trend, it helps to remove as much temptation as possible during your low spend month. Here’s how you can prune away some low-hanging fruit:
- Stop using Chrome and switch to a private browser like DuckDuckGo that only shows search-related ads, not personalized ads.
- Unsubscribe from marketing emails, newsletters, and even physical junk mail, if you can.
- Hide the shopping apps on your phone, or better yet, delete them altogether.
- Unfollow/unsubscribe from influencers who make content about any areas you overspend in. I.e. beauty influencers, tech review channels, etc.
- Consider a social media fast during your low spend month. Or, at the very least, attempt to turn off ad personalization on individual social media sites and your email.
Make a list of fun alternatives
If you know certain rules will be hard for you to follow, come up with some fun alternatives before starting your challenge. This way, you won’t have to create new habits out of thin air when you’re already tempted in the moment.
For example, if you have a “no buying coffee out” rule, have some tasty recipes & ingredients at home ready to go, like a salted caramel iced coffee or a pumpkin spice latte.
Track ALL your spending
If learning more about your spending habits is part of your motivation, don’t only track your spending in your problem categories.
You need to understand your complete financial picture, including exactly how much you’re spending on normal categories like groceries. In fact, it’s often the “normal” categories like insurance, food, and energy use where you can find great savings once you realize how much you’re spending.
Clean your house
I know, this one sounds weird. But you’ll likely be spending more time at home if you’re used to eating at restaurants or going out for entertainment a lot. You’ll have a harder time sticking to your no spend goals if a house mess is stressing you out!
As a bonus, you can use a thorough house cleaning to take up the time you might otherwise spend shopping. And you’ll probably find useful things you forgot about, or items you can sell secondhand to further crush your savings goals.
Cooking at home is not only cost-effective but also healthier. Use meal planning to reduce the temptation of eating out and wasting food. You can look up ‘copy cat recipes’ from your favorite restaurants if you still have a hankering for Olive Garden or Taco Bell.
Sticker charts/physical calendar
Sticker charts, while they’re often aimed at kids, can be 100% helpful for people of all ages. Grab a sheet of stickers you already have lying around, or maybe run to a dollar store for an inexpensive way to track your progress.
If stickers aren’t your thing, you can also take a physical calendar and use it to keep you motivated. Try coloring in each day you stick to your rules or track “streaks” of days when you save money.
Address gift giving
Lastly, it’s important to know how you’ll handle gift giving and holidays during your low buy month. This is especially important around November and December, when spending levels are at their highest. However, any time there’s a birthday, anniversary, or life event (new baby, wedding, death), you might be expected to offer some token.
Will you put any limits on gifts? If so, by dollar amount or by number of gifts? Will you try to lessen how much you spend through thrifting or making homemade gifts?
Finally, though no spend months are in many ways different from low spends, some of the tips to succeed are the same. You can find more no spend month tips in this related article I’ve written, if you like!
There you have it! I hope this has been helpful, and you feel completely ready to tackle your first low spend month.
If you’d like more tips for living life on a budget (especially a family-sized budget), feel free to subscribe to my every-other-weekly newsletter below.