Food: an essential. Mascarpone: an essential! Photo Credit: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

No spend January? No thanks!

By Hailie Pentleton

Hailie takes a shot at playing devil’s advocate against fad-finance challenges.

I don’t tend to buy into horoscopes all that much, but I treat my daily co-star notification like it’s gospel. On the day that I wrote this, after having almost torn my hair out over new year’s resolutions, the app prudently directed me to remember that “ritual is valuable on its own, don’t mask it in performance.” It struck me that, as I was trying to work out how to manage my money for the next year, it was more about developing reasonable rituals and sustainable habits than it was about loudly and proudly committing to a no-spend January like half of my for-you-page seemed to be. 

For many of us, the start of the year is a prompt for us to fix our finances. I’ve always had anxiety around money, something that spiked significantly during the throes of lockdowns, and continues to take up far too much space in my silly little brain as the current financial crisis continues to destroy any hopes of relaxing the purse strings a little. And I’m not the only one, with 63% of people even more concerned about their finances, as the cost-of-living crisis continues to unfurl, than they were during the peak of the pandemic. 

I’ve watched a lot of people commit to no-spend Januarys or a low-spend year, and admittedly felt a lot of cynicism. At a time when the wealth gap feels even starker, watching peers commit to tapering their trust funds towards sensible spending only is downright draining. Good for you and all (!) but for so many students, low-spending isn’t as thoughtless as a throwback Thursday, it’s called being poor. Spending money on “essentials only” isn’t an option, it’s a reality. 

I know, I know, “it’s not that deep,” I tell myself. But I can’t quite shake the feeling that we’ve glamorised basic things like budgeting into sanctimonious, superficial, sacrificial acts of self-control. To clarify, I’m not for one moment saying that setting yourself the challenge to spend more mindfully isn’t a wise way to reclaim control of your finances or to encourage more intentional investments. Sometimes you need a lofty target to help you solidify the little changes. 

However, even if you do have the luxury of flexible finances, I don’t think approaching our spending habits as though they’re fad diets is a healthy way to go around revolutionising how we manage our money. Just like these overly-restrictive approaches to calorie cutting, denying yourself little indulgences is more likely to lead the challenge to backfire on you. With the world being so gloomy as it is, I won’t be curbing my little-treats allowance. 

So here’s the advice I’m taking on this January as I try to rectify my own bank balance without refusing myself the little joys in life. 

  1. Get to the root of your worries 

So much of our spending struggles are outside of our control, imposed on us by austerity and ignorance from those with fatter wallets than we. Be reasonable about what is feasibly yours to fix. If your worries stem from overdraft debt or a big purchase looming up ahead, look at what’s reasonable to limit and cut out. Cutting out your daily coffee isn’t going to earn you enough for a house deposit, but cutting those down to a bi-weekly treat might help you splurge a little more on the leccy. 

  1. Forward planning and financial stability go hand in hand 

Fill your time up with things you enjoy. Plan time out with friends in advance where you can, and encourage nights-in or sober hang-outs to avoid the drastic dent in your bank balance that comes with drinking in over-priced pubs. Focus on your pre-existing hobbies, and make use of student-discounted activities like lower-priced gym memberships or two-for-Tuesdays. Give yourself things to look forward to, and in turn, you’ll have time to incorporate those things into your budget. 

  1. Trial and error is the nature of the game 

As with dieting and exercising, creating and breaking habits, it’s important to be open to trying different methods of tracking and controlling your spending. Try a money management app, hate it. Make a spreadsheet, love it. Challenge yourself to a month of low-spending rather than no-spending, or give yourself a treats allowance for the month that you can’t splurge outside of. Everything in moderation, baby. 
If you need advice around rising costs, or are having difficulties at University as a result of the cost of living crisis, get in touch with the SRC Advice Centre via [email protected]


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