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“In the short run, the market is a voting machine, but in the long run, it is a weighing machine”

Fresh off the second huge stock market rally from a frightening decline in the past year, I thought it would be timely to do a bit of reflecting.
For those with very short memories (or news …

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Why “No-Spend Days” Don’t Work (& what to Replace them with)
May 23, 2016 | 6 Comments

As a personal finance blogger, I read a ton of financial content. More than I probably should. And about once every other week or so, I come across the advice to try the enticing and mystical “no-spend day”.

The concept of a no-spend day is simple: you hold back from purchasing anything on that given day. Day starts, you spend nothing that day, day ends, mission complete.

The promised payoff for exercising this is that it will provide some sort of frugal enlightenment, forever changing your over-consumption habits. And it’s an attractive ploy because not spending for a single day is really quite simple.

Every time I see this advice, I cringe.

no spend daySure, no-spend days are actionable. However, I find them to be effectively equivalent to the following advice…

“Don’t eat for a day, so you can lose weight!”

Kind of pointless, because of what’s likely to happen the next day: you double your typical daily intake because you’re freaking starving!

How is a “no-spend day” any different?

When you think about it, what is the point of delaying a behavior for a day? The average American lifespan is 79 years (we’re a disappointing 34th in the world, btw). That’s 28,835 days. What does abstaining from spending for one day out of 28,835 really do for you other than just delay existing habits until the next day?

Now, if that one day turns into one week, which turns into one month, and fundamentally changes ones purchasing behaviors forever? Then you’ve got something. But most people are not going to make that leap from point A to point B.

If you really want to change,  you need to re-program your relationship with stuff. When you change your relationship with stuff, you change the purchasing behavior that led to the over-consumption (and consequentially, keep more of your money).

The only way I know how to effectively do this is to:

  1. Examine the real reasons behind your motivation to make the purchase (and ask yourself if previous purchases in the past really provided sustained happiness).
  2. Separate wants from needs.
  3. Acknowledge the short and long-term benefit of holding back (the short-term is you immediately save money, the long-term is that it multiplies many times over due to the power of compound investment returns and your future self will thank you).
  4. Learn and improve.

Real change takes real work. It’s not a one-day stunt that sounds cool in a blog headline. Maybe that’s why it’s so uncommon.

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