I Tried The Viral No-Buy January Challenge And Saved $1600

Hi, I'm Hannah, and I live in New York City — one of the most expensive cities in the world. This year, one of my New Year's resolutions was to be more intentional about budgeting, spending, and saving. I'm already someone who always looks out for a deal, but in order to challenge myself, I decided I'd try something new out to save money — No-Spend January.

the author wearing a $1 necklace
Hannah Marder / BuzzFeed

Now, I have no idea if "No-Spend January" is actually a thing (it doesn't quite roll off the tongue), but it's based off the "No-Buy Year" Angela Szot (@vomitgrocery on TikTok) did last year, which went viral! Essentially, I decided I would go an entire month without spending money on anything but essentials. Here is what I deemed as essentials:

If you're wondering what I counted as toiletries vs. makeup/haircare, essentially, I counted body wash, shampoo, face wash, and soap as toiletries, and anything else as makeup and haircare. As for household items, I'm talking about paper towels, sponges, etc., not new appliances, furniture, or decor. 

This month was INCREDIBLY difficult, and — spoiler alert — I ended up breaking a few rules. BUT I did learn a lot, and came away with some habits and tricks I'm going to use moving forward. Here's what I learned!

1.Apps like TooGoodToGo (where you can buy food from grocery stores and restaurants that would otherwise be thrown out at the end of the day) are a fantastic deal — if you're not picky.

3 packed salads for $5

2.Buy Nothing groups — where neighbors post items they're giving away or in need of, often on Facebook — are absolutely life-changing.

yoga mat

3.There's nothing wrong with things you find on the street!* Also, there are a ton of Instagram accounts and Facebook groups dedicated to items found on the street if you live in a major city.

free bed frame on the sidewalk

4.Facebook Marketplace is also a good place to find free items — and to make money selling things. Though compared to the above options, I'd rank it last, as it's a major pain in the butt, and people can be pretty entitled. For example, in selling my old bed, I was flooded with messages, many simply asking if it was available or asking questions that were already answered in the description. The below interaction just made me laugh.

It's the

5.Impulse buying is a thing, even when it comes to functional items or "necessities." If I identify that I *need* something — for example, I "needed" plastic storage bins for under my bed — I usually just buy it right away from Amazon. This month, I couldn't do that, and I ended up being able to repurpose items I already had in my apartment for a solution I ended up liking even better.

storage bins under a bed

6.The library is a beautiful, magical thing, and strongly aided me in my book-buying addiction. In fact, I read more books this month — 12 — than I've ever read in a month before, and I didn't buy a single book. I have a New York Public Library card, which I use via the free Libby app to check out e-books straight to my phone.

books borrowed on the app

7.The absolute hardest part of this month was the isolation, because as I learned, it's extremely expensive to have a social life.

the author and her cat

8.Another huge struggle this month? Most hobbies are also extremely expensive, leaving me with little to do when I was at home by myself besides reading, writing, and watching TV. However, I did try to do some creative things.

cat in a bed that was knitted by the author

9.One unexpected benefit of the month was that it was much easier to get an idea of how much I specifically spent on these "essential" categories when I took away everything else. And reader — turns out I spend WAY too much on groceries. Like, I don't even want to tell you the number. This is one of my biggest takeaways of the month, actually: as I'm never going to be able to go *without* groceries, I need to find a way to basically halve what I'm spending on them. Here are some problems I identified:

—I buy a ton at once and inevitably, something ends up going bad. I could solve this by shopping more often, even if it's a pain.—I spend a lot on high-quality snacks like almonds, good quality all-natural peanut butter, dark chocolate, and cheese. This is something I'm probably not going to change, TBH.—The gourmet market downstairs is going to be the death of me. I love their pre-made soups and oftentimes it's just so much quicker and easier to go there than to another grocery store. I think I'm going to have to limit it to maybe a couple of times a month, though.—I spend an exorbitant amount on oat milk, coffee, and La Croix. Especially coffee. Nespresso pods are expensive, and due to their patent, there aren't even generic options, though I am going to see if there are reusable options.—I tend to spend more on packaged, pre-cooked meat rather than raw meat because I don't like cooking raw meat or cleaning anything that has touched raw meat. I basically just need to suck this one up.—I never plan much what I'm buying in advance, mostly because I look for what's available, and this definitely leads to impulse buying — so in the future, I should plan better.—I'm not making use of coupons, or going farther to a different store to spend less. I'm considering going to the Dollar Tree, even though it's far, for some items.—I use grocery delivery services a lot, because I have this rule where I only can use one if they have a coupon code that makes it as cheap as buying in-store. HOWEVER, I'm not checking this price against other stores. What I'm doing is making sure whatever percent or cash value I have off, it's equal to or higher than the delivery and extra fees I'm paying. But I'm beginning to suspect it's still more expensive than just going to the store, because the items themselves can be more expensive.

10.With everything else stripped away, I was also able to take a look at subscriptions I have that I pay monthly, as well as my utilities and that was super helpful.

billie razor refills

11.Finally, I learned what I didn't miss spending money on, and what wasn't really a problem in the first place.

I realized I actually am more frugal than I realize when it comes to things like clothes and makeup. While these things feel like big expenses because they are individually expensive, I really rarely shop unless it's with credit at a secondhand store or for something I've run out of or really need. Yes, my makeup is expensive, but I wear it rarely enough that I'm not running out all that often. I also tend to buy large sizes, especially for shampoo and conditioner, which always hurts to spend the money on but does help me save long-term. This was a rare nice realization in a month where I was otherwise having to take a good hard look in the mirror about my spending.

Based on everything I learned, here are the goals I set for February — and not all of them were money-saving measures!

it's not all about the money, lebowski

Now, you're probably wondering...did I actually complete No-Spend January? Well...unfortunately, no. I did break a lot of rules. I never pretended to be perfect!

someone saying, nobody's perfect, except for beyonce

At the end of the day, while it wasn't easy, this was definitely a valuable experience that helped me learn some smart saving habits. All told, even with my few cheats, I was able to save $1,600, which is amazing and a great start on my New Year's resolutions!

the hulk saying, is see this as an absolute win

Now I'm curious — have you ever tried a No-Buy month or year? Let me know in the comments!