Money Free Days

One of our family’s favorite ways to spend money is to have money free weekends. We simply aim to go through an entire weekend without spending money, relying solely on the food already in our cupboard and refrigerator for our food needs and the things we already have on hand for our entertainment needs.

Over the last several months, I’ve come to realize that “money free days” are actually a really big part of our financial strategy. There are simply a lot of days where I don’t spend a dime, neither does Sarah, nor do any of our children.

We don’t go out to eat. We don’t stop for a quick treat. We don’t buy anything online. We don’t spend money on entertainment. We don’t buy food. We don’t buy anything. No money leaves our home.

So, starting in January, I started tracking those “money free days.” I just made up a little spreadsheet that was just a list of days, and each day where I didn’t believe we spent any money, I made a little “X.” It turns out that more than half of our days are money free days.

Here are a few observations about this:

Money free days are mostly achieved through self control regarding splurges and unnecessary spending. Our necessary and planned spending usually occurs in large batches on single days, like grocery day when I’ll also often fill up the car with gas, or bill pay day. Most other days do not have any planned spending at all, so a “money free day” usually happens because we didn’t splurge or buy anything unnecessary. A “money free day” is usually just a “self control day.”

Money free days really add up. If we spent just $10 per day on those money free days this year instead of $0, we would have spent $630 at last count. That $630 is enough to make a huge difference in the finances of most people. It covers a couple of car payments or pays off a credit card. If you have 50% “money free days” over the course of a year, that’s 182 money free days, and at $10 a pop, that’s $1,820.

Money free days work because we make a lot of our own meals. On money free days, we make our own meals at home from stuff we already have on hand. We don’t go to restaurants or get takeout or get delivery or make a last-minute run to the store. Instead, we’ve planned ahead with a well-considered meal plan.

Money free days also work because we have a lot of free things we enjoy doing and sources of entertainment and fun already on hand. We don’t need to go out and spend money to have an enjoyable day or evening. Here’s a list of 103 things we do on money free weekends, for example, and those tactics just scratch the surface.

Having a “money free day” becomes a nice little goal that feels like a nice accomplishment at the end of the day. At the end of a money free day, it really can feel like you’ve taken a real step forward in your financial life. Not only have you conserved money for the day, you’ve reinforced to yourself that you don’t need to spend money to have a joyous life. You can go to bed feeling good.

Yet, a money free day isn’t actually unpleasant. It’s usually a pretty normal day. We just don’t buy anything. We’ll have family meals together, work on hobbies together, take care of household projects, work, go to school, and so on.

When you start tracking “money free days” and get a streak of them going, you really want to keep it going. I’ve found that when I get three or four Xs in a row in my spreadsheet, I want to continue that streak and add another day to it. It’s an unconscious drive, but a powerful one. It’s a technique I’ve described in the past that can show up again and again.

“Money free days” cause you to spread out treats and thus appreciate them more. If you try to do three or four money free days a week, those are days that you’re not indulging in perks that might become utterly routine. You’re not stopping for a quick bite. You’re not grabbing a cup of super sweet coffee. You’re not stopping in at your favorite shop. Instead, you’re spreading out those perks. They’re not an everyday thing any more. Instead, they become more infrequent, and thus more special and more appreciated. That type of appreciation has value – the anticipation is fun and the less frequent indulgence makes it feel more pleasurable, too.

How can you turn this idea of “money free days” into something useful for you?

One thing you can do is turn it into a 30 day challenge. A thirty day challenge means that for a single thirty day period (I almost always just use a calendar month), you strive to make some significant change in your life or do something frequently. I often track this by using a calendar page, marking each successful day with an X – you can print calendar pages quite easily. Set a goal for that 30 day challenge – maybe it’s 20 Xs. At the start of each day, look at the calendar and reflect on your challenge. At the end of each day, look at that calendar and add a big fat X on that date if you succeed. See if you can get to 20 Xs before the end of the month.

Another good tactic is to reflect on things you’d like to do or get done with the things you already have on hand. What hobbies have you allowed to idle? What things do you have stowed away in your closet that you’ve neglected? What unread books do you have? Have you gone on a bike ride lately? Have you played soccer at the park lately? Gone for a long walk or a jog? Have you cooked up some of the things stowed away in the back of the freezer? Do some brainstorming about the dangling threads in your life, pleasurable or otherwise, and then intentionally spend days (or whole weekends) tugging on those threads.

I actually like using some of my money-free days to tackle big day-long projects. I’ll do things like doing a meal prep day or taking on a home repair project using things I already have on hand, or play an epic board game with my family. If I have all of my supplies on hand, this easily becomes a money free day.

Another good strategy is to plan a social event at your home. Have a dinner party or a movie night or a board game night. Plan it out several days in advance, get all of the stuff you need, and invite people over for the event. Getting ready for it will probably eat a lot of your day, then the event itself will fill your late afternoon and evening with free fun.

I find that doing anything free with friends tends to be a lot of fun, whether it’s going on a hike or having a dinner party or playing soccer at the park or going to a community concert. The simple act of doing something with someone is fun, and it turns out that lots of people are very amenable to social activities where there’s no cost to them. A lot of my friends might balk at the cost of a night on the town but love to come over for a game night or a movie night or to work on a project of some kind together.

A final tip: meal planning really, really helps with this. Having a meal planning and grocery buying plan in place makes money free days really easy because you already have the food you need on hand to prepare meals for the day (and for a lot of other days). If you have a strong meal planning system, you can often go for a week and a half or more without going to the grocery store, which eliminates one common source of spending. This entire process really cuts down on your food spending overall and paves the way for money free days, which inherently represent lower spending in other areas (such as hobbies). I often plan ahead with filling up the car with gas in this way, too, as I’ll often get gas at the same time as I shop for groceries.

This is just a fun little practice to help you to realize that it really is pretty easy to go through a day without spending money, and the more days you practice this pattern, the more normal it’ll seem and the more money you’ll save.

Good luck.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.