Redbook’s no-spend zone

May’s Redbook magazine has a financial package called “Redbook’s 30-day money cleanse.” Money guru Beth Kobliner gives 30 “tiny daily steps” to “shock you out of your financial rut.”

While many of the tips are perfectly fine, the whole package reminded me of my beef with much personal finance literature. In particular, I’ve been pondering Day 9’s tip: “spend nothing today.” On this day, we’re supposed to “start being more mindful about your purchases with a one-day money ‘fast.’ No eating out or ordering in. No quickie trips to Walgreens — and bring your coffee from home. You’ll see just how much you could be banking after you detox from all that unconscious spending. (Cash saved: $30-50).”

Wow — $30-50 in unconscious spending per day? I guess I live a different life than Redbook’s perception of its readers. By this definition of a one-day money fast, I had a no-spend day yesterday. I’m headed for a no-spend day today as well. Looking back, I’m quite sure Friday was also no-spend, at least for me. I work out of a home office, and given that I really, you know, work, there aren’t a whole lot of quickie trips to Walgreens. Plenty of days feature no trips to retail establishments whatsoever.

But I don’t view this as a sign that I’m morally superior to anyone out there buying a latte. Because if you think about it, none of these days were truly no-spend days. If you amortize my monthly spending, each of those days involved 1/30th of a mortgage payment. I didn’t buy gas on those days, but I own a car and so I’m out the cost of ownership, pro-rated over the life of the car, even if no physical money left my hands. I’m still paying income and property taxes. I ate groceries that cost money. One of my kids went to preschool today — with the tuition associated with each day leaving my bank account, even if not on this day — and the other went to art class, a recurring monthly fee on my credit card. My nanny is getting paid weekly by direct deposit. The lights are still on and my computer is still humming.

Add all these up and you get, oh, let’s just say a lot more than $30-50. So what if they’re set or recurring expenses? Money is still money. Perhaps some folks spending $3 a day at Starbucks are spending $100 less per month in rent than people who aren’t in line. So why do personal finance articles always talk about bringing your coffee from home, as if they’ve hit upon some brilliant idea?

Perhaps for some people, daily discretionary expenses are the big cause of financial woes, or are preventing them from reaching their financial goals. But my decision to buy or not buy coffee on the past three days has no real effect on my larger financial life.

13 thoughts on “Redbook’s no-spend zone

  1. I haven’t read the Redbook piece, but the author seems to assume that a high frequency of small discretionary purchases necessarily indicates a mindless or schizophrenic attitude toward one’s life and money. Now, it might be true that I make many trips to the grocery store and Walgreens because I’m terribly disorganized. In this case, I do waste time and probably money. However, I might also decide that coffee and lunch out everyday are worth the extra money given the networking opportunities they afford, etc. In the first case, the problem is not really with discretionary spending per se.

  2. I don’t eat lunch out every day b/c as you said I’m a working mom and I don’t have time.. spicey yummy not toddler friendly Indian food a week.. you bet ! Also I found the article very stressful and like organize this put this paperwork here… the general idea of going several days a month without running to a store or eating the groceries you have in your house..t house are all great ideas… I am sometimes tempted to hit the grocery store with my toddler after daycare and most days I try to refrain.. a b/c it is a buzzkill of an otherwise nice slice of family time and b/c probably in modern America you do not need more of whatever it is you are buying… more focus though for women on how to earn more and also how to pay less texas, be more entrepreneurial.. child care is still a huge costs so more could be done for co ops etc. but time is also a big factor.. I’d like to go see that salmon in the desert movie but not that easy to find a time.. pedicure.. etc.

  3. Isn’t Redbook one of those “Super inexpensive looks” with sweaters that *only* cost $200 kind of magazines?

    Though if that’s the case, it seems to me like the imaginary reader should be saving a ton more money not having a no-spend day! It’s like, don’t impulse buy a pair of cheap ($50) socks!

    1. @Nicoleandmaggie- the clothes in Redbook tend to be a little cheaper, but I guess the mentality is buying a lot of cheap stuff. Maybe. I haven’t entirely figured it out. But the whole package was a little bizarre. Item number 29 of 30 was that you should figure out if you’re underpaid and then figure out what to do about it. But I’m like, hello, that should be 15 of the 30 items right there!

  4. This reminds me of my personal silly-finance-advice beef- “Stick to your list at the grocery store. ”

    If I’m purchasing tomato sauce and it suddenly dawns on me that we’re low on applesauce cups (because they’re next to each other), I have only gained time if I buy the applesauce cups on that trip. I have not saved money by waiting to buy the applesauce cups on a future trip. (I spend $50-$100 if I go to the grocery store…)

    I don’t live in a city and I have sufficient storage space. (if you think bulk table stored over my toilet cabinet is unsightly, you’re entitled to your opinion) I do not make a trip to a store for one item.

    **end rant**

    1. Yeah, that advice gets me too. I make a grocery list, but not so that I will buy only what’s on that list and nothing more, but simply so I don’t forget what it is I know we’re out of. Otherwise, I’d end up leaving the store without one ingredient we need and I’d have to go back. I mean, if I’m at the store and I find a great deal on something that I know we’ll use (even if we may have plenty for the moment), I’m not going to pass it up just because it’s not on my list.

      1. @Emily- I guess the stick-to-the-list (or “make a list”) advice is for people who just kind of wander aimlessly through the store, and then have no idea what the total will be at the end. And they don’t actually have anything to make a complete meal, either…

        1. You mean, like men? Ha!

          My husband is amazed at how little I can spend at the store and cook dinner for a week, when he runs in for a couple things, spends $50 and there’s no food in the food.

          I think that particular tip may be helpful if you spend out of boredom or depression, in which case not spending for one day may show that up. I say this because I know a woman who finds a reason to go to Target every single day – I suspect it’s the social connection she’s seeking. She also has OCD and is quite overweight. I wonder if she isn’t medicating somehow with the shopping.

  5. Not sure who Redbook’s target audience is (I’ve never read it) but I definitely knew a lot of folks when we were in our 20s for whom a “no spend day” would be useful. Especially if you work in the city, where you’re buying a couple of coffees a day, lunch out, may stop by Nordstrom @ lunch “just to browse” and end up with a $28 lipstick and then meet up with friends for a spur of the moment Happy Hour. (Not that this has ever happened to me!)

    I think there are a fair number of young people who randomly spend like this with their first jobs because it’s the first time they’ve had positive cash flow, and the little bits of cash here and there don’t seem like a lot, overall. But they do add up.

    1. @ARC – maybe that’s it (though I think the demo is more 30-something moms). During my first job I didn’t do much random spending but that’s because I was earning so little!

  6. IMHO, automating or implementing BIG decisions are much more useful for most people (myself included). This means learning to negotiate, getting cheaper rent, driving a cheaper car, putting more money away in your 401K, automatically diverting money to a savings account, etc. These are all decisions you only make once in a while, and then by virtue of those decisions you get to earn more/spend less everyday.

    1. @Well Heeled Blog – very true. It helps to think of this in terms of will-power and self-discipline, which can be depleted through overuse. Decision-making requires will-power, as does not buying things that you normally like to buy. If you have to keep making that decision over and over, like not buying a morning coffee, you’ll use up vast stores of your willpower, to save max $100/month. Whereas if you just find a place that’s $100 cheaper in rent, you only use that self-discipline and decision making prowess once. After that, you’re good until the lease is up! Much more effective and less taxing.

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