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No Spend Week Challenge Results: How I bought nothing for a week!

I challenged myself with a No Spend Week Challenge early in the year to push myself a little harder to see what happens if I try to not buy anything for a week. You can read about the rules and exceptions I’ve set for myself for this challenge.

Here’s how the challenge went.

My No Spend Week Challenge Journal

Sunday: I woke up early as usual and made breakfast. I made a large burrito using some salami and cheese that I found in the fridge and topped off with scrambled eggs. Easy peasy! I spent the rest of the morning watching shows on Netflix while sipping some Pu’er tea. Lunch was instant noodles with frozen dumplings that I found in the freezer. I spent the rest of the afternoon strolling along Bishan Park. The weather was nice and breezy. I then returned home for dinner. First day completed with ease!

Monday: The first work day of the week went by faster than I expected. I skipped breakfast as I’m trying to fast intermittently in the early part of the day and have lunch as my first meal of the day. I found a can of cream of mushroom in the pantry that’s been around for a long time and decided to cook that for lunch. I added chopped up bits of winter salami that I bought in Budapest during last year’s vacation and the combination worked like a charm. I also toasted some garlic bread to go with the soup as well. When you have a fixed schedule like work, time goes by really quickly before it’s time to go home. The only change I made today is that instead of going to the shopping mall after work, I headed home straight away to avoid being tempted to spend money.

Tuesday: Day 3 had a different challenge on its own. I found that we have way too many frozen dumplings (my mum seemed to love buying them) so I decided to make them for lunch. I purchased a bottle of Lao Gan Ma chilli because we ran out (so that didn’t break any rules) and made a very basic version of Sichuan Spicy Wonton in Red Oil (红油抄手) for lunch. I also brought along the last 2 char siew pau (I don’t think they would last very long in the fridge so best to eat them) just in case the dumplings don’t fill me up. The real challenge was a meeting with a headhunter at Starbucks to discuss about some of the roles that she wanted to recruit me for. I decided not to order drinks since it was a No Spend Week and the headhunter did not order any drinks as well. Maybe it was because the queue was long and it would be awkward for her to have a drink while the candidate wasn’t having one. This might just be one thing I would consider making an exception for in future challenges.

Wednesday: Today was a tough one. I wanted to get back on my morning bike rides so I hopped on my bike and went cycling with my usual crew at 5 am in the morning. We did about 40 km and that made me crave for food. I resisted buying drinks at the rest stop and I was glad the water I had with me was just enough to last the ride. Back home, I found a packet of frozen prata in the freezer (who knew right?) so I made one for breakfast, together with a hard boiled egg. I prepared my work lunch last night since I was going cycling in the morning. Essentially just some dried noodles with a spicy chill sauce (using Lao Gan Ma chilli sauce with vinegar and soy sauce) coupled with a few meatballs. They worked really well for a packed lunch. I even made some Vietnamese quick pickled carrots as a side dish. Yummy!

Thursday: I screwed up! The day went well with a simple egg and spam burrito for lunch as I was planning to attend a lunch event. That didn’t happen due to a morning meeting that went longer than expected. What I forgot was that I had agreed to a meeting in the evening and won’t be home for dinner. So that means I had to break rule #1 which was no eating out. To keep the expense low, I decided to eat at a hawker center. Bummer!

Friday: Thank god it’s Friday! This was probably the easiest No Spend day by far. I didn’t even have to cook anything for lunch as there were leftover fried rice and braised pork belly from last night’s dinner. I decided to do some grocery shopping for this weekend and bought a roasted spring chicken and a packet of mozzarella cheese. A roasted spring chicken is always my favourite grocery purchase because I can usually creatively transform one into 4-5 meals.

Saturday: Last day and although it was a weekend, I had no plans so I stayed at home and relax. I toasted some garlic bread for breakfast while making early preparations for lunch. I placed the roasted chicken bones from the roasted spring chicken I bought last night in the slow cooker with cold water to make chicken broth. After a few hours in the pot, I added some vegetables into the broth to add more flavour. Once ready, I paired it with roasted chicken wings and a packet of udon. The day was spent catching up on China tv series while sipping Pu’er tea.

What I have learned in this challenge

I’ve learnt that it takes effort to truly excel in this challenge. In order to spend nothing on buying water, I had to remind myself to pack a bottle of water in my bag so that I could stay hydrated outdoors.

The ability to be creative with food ingredients and condiments plays a part as well because I had to be able to come up with 2-3 different dishes using similar ingredients so that I don’t get sick of eating the same thing over and over again. However, I don’t feel it’s important to be a good cook because there are tons of recipes and cooking instructional videos online to follow.

Starting the challenge on Sunday made the challenge easier to follow through for beginners as opposed to starting the challenge on Monday and having the weekend together towards the end.

Would I do a No Spend Challenge again?

It really depends on the objectives.

If the goal of the challenge is to save money, I don’t think I’d really save much since I’ve always been rather frugal with discretionary expenses.

But if the goal is to “eat down the pantry” and reduce the amount of food and ingredients in the pantry, I would deem the challenge worthy because it helps to reduce redundant foodstuff and wastage.

What do you think would be the biggest challenge for you if you were to challenge yourself with a No Spend Week Challenge?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below

Photo by Paulo Vizeu on Unsplash

Join me on a No Spend Week Challenge to buy nothing for a week

I first heard about no-spend challenge from an episode of the Stacking Benjamins podcast where Joe, OG, and the gang interviewed Jen Smith from Modern Frugality about how implementing No Spend Challenge helped her to compensate for budget flubs.

What is a No Spend Challenge?

When I googled about “No Spend Challenge”, I found that there were many other bloggers who did the challenge for different reasons.

For some, a No Spend Challenge could help to reset their budgets after overspending on a vacation, or to get back on track from spending on an unexpected expense. A No Spend Challenge can also be a great way to kickstart your savings or debt repayment on things like outstanding credit card debts with the money saved from the challenge.

I decided to challenge myself with a No Spend Week Challenge to reduce this month’s expenses as I purchased a nice tea set that wasn’t budgeted for.

Setting the rules for my No Spend Week Challenge

Since it’s a challenge, it makes sense to set some guidelines and parameters to follow.

Rule 1: No eating out/take-aways

Bulk of my expenses come from food expenditure. I intend to challenge myself to prepare lunchbox meals to bring to work for lunch instead of eating outside. I usually skip or have a light breakfast at home and dDinner is usually taken care by my family at home so there’s no eating out/take-away expenses incurred.

Rule 2: “Eat down the pantry”

It kind of defeats the purpose if I go down to supermarket and shop up a storm just to fulfil the first rule. So the second rule is try and prepare my breakfast and work lunch for the week using whatever is available in the kitchen.

Rule 3: Only take public transport

No taxi and Grab rides for this week. I usually take the train to get around so this rule is probably the easiest for me to accomplish.

Rule 4: No shopping

Needless to say, this No Spend Challenge means no spending on ‘wants’. That means no unnecessary shopping for this week. Other than window shopping, of course.

Rule 5: Free entertainment activities only

The last rule that I’m setting is to only find free activities for entertainment. I’ll probably have to crack my head a little but I’m sure I can find things to do.

Exceptions to the rules

For this challenge, I only have one exception that will qualify for spending money this week.

Exception 1: Only shop for essentials and groceries that can go with existing ingredients in the pantry

The only exception I’m giving myself permission to spend money is only for essential things that I need, like washing detergent, shaving cream, etc. and food ingredients that can help me cook existing ingredients that’s already in the pantry, such as carrots to go with spare rib soup.

Will I succeed in this challenge?

Do you think I will succeed in this? Check out my next post as I write about my No Spend Week Challenge.

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Looking back at 2018 and my plans for 2019

2018 has been a good year for me, both financially and career-wise.

On the career front, the new company I joined in late 2017 treats me well and the team is pretty awesome. The work I do there have been meaningful and fulfilling. The monthly income derived from this work is more than sufficient for my monthly expenses and save a decent amount of money for retirement.

On the personal finance side of things, being a disciplined saver paid off for the year. After completing the purchase of my overseas property in Cambodia, I channeled the same amount that I used to save for the property into my investments through Autowealth’s robo-advisor platform and started building my diversified investment portfolio of international ETFs.

Achieving a net savings rate of 63.32%

Compared to last year’s net savings rate of 59.84%, this year’s net savings rate grew to 63.32%. It’s an improvement, but still lower than the net savings rate in 2015 and 2016.

But to be fair, most of my monthly net savings rates are hovering above 70% except December as I splurged on a 2-week backpacking trip in Eastern Europe.

Examining expenses incurred in 2018

When I track my expenses, I would typically split them into 3 broad categories – necessary expenses, discretionary expenses and excess expenses.

Necessary expenses consist of spendings on ‘needs’ on food, transportation, insurance, etc. while discretionary expenses comprises of expenses on ‘wants’ like travel, entertainment, shopping, etc. I maintain a category called excess expenses to document seasonal and celebratory expenses during Chinese New Year, weddings, etc.

In 2018, necessary expenses accounted for close to 40% while discretionary expenses took a big slice of the pie at 54.8% and excess expenses only accounts for 5.3%.

Almost half of my discretionary expenses (47%) was spent on shopping. There’s definitely a lot of fats to trim on that in 2019.

My annual expenses for 2018 ended at $37,042.12 which was higher than expected having taken 3 overseas holiday and making one too many purchases this year.

Onward and upward with net worth

After my net worth became positive in Oct 2016, it continues to to grow year on year, just falling short of my target by a little due to the bear market for the past few months.

For those interested, my net worth consists of all my assets including my CPF accounts but I chose to exclude the value of my HDB flat since it’s for own stay. However, I chose to include my mortgage loan as part of my liabilities.

My plans for 2019

I’m not a big fan of new year resolutions. Instead, I prefer to look through the past year to see what’s working and whats not.

For the things that are working for me, I believe in putting in effort and discipline to maintain and improve on these things. As for bad habits and activities that aren’t helping me, I want to allocate time to change them.

Then I would think about mid to long term goals that I want to achieve and insert some incremental milestones into 2019 that will help me reach these goals in the long run.

Here are 2 mid to long term milestones that I’m tweaking my 2019 budget planning in to achieve.

  1. Accumulate the Full Retirement Sum amount in my CPF Special Account with cash top ups by the age of 41 to let it compound and accumulate till age 55.
  2. Work to 43 to accumulate sufficient money in my CPF Ordinary account to be able to compound interests yearly to service the remaining monthly mortgage payments for my HDB flat.

Goal 1: Increase my health and fitness activities

I have not been cycling as much in 2018 compared to the past few years so I intend to get back on my road bike and cycle more often. My target is to achieve a total of 3,000 kilometres in 2019.

Goal 2: Remain focused on lifelong learning

My lifelong learning goal in 2018 was to learn about Data Science. To study Data Science, I signed up for a 12-month subscription on Datacamp.com with the objective of completing the 22 courses in their Data Scientist Track.

Sadly, I’ve only completed 17 out of the 22 courses so I will have to catch up and complete the remaining 5 courses in early 2019. Once that is done, I plan to complement my Data Science knowledge by upgrading my coding skills to build better websites and mobile applications for the rest of 2019.

Goal 3: Continue to work on my net savings rate

I ended 2018 with a 63.32% net savings rate. In 2019, I will strive for a 70% net savings rate by reducing some of the discretionary expenses like shopping.

Goal 4: Stay invested throughout the bear market

While some of the folks in the personal finance community choose to hold more cash and start investing when the stock market starts to show signs of recovery.

I’m no investment guru and that’s why you don’t see any stock picking recommendation in my blog. Neither will I be able to predict when the stock market will recover.

Therefore, I choose to stay invested in this bear market and continue to make dollar-cost averaging investments monthly through Autowealth, my preferred robo advisor in 2019 while the stock market continues to fluctuate.

Goal 5: Top up CPF Special Account for next 5 years

To achieve the first key milestone of accumulating Full Retirement Sum in my CPF Special Account by the age of 41, I intend to make monthly cash top ups of $995 each month for the next 5 years.

Based on my calculations, this should be able to help me achieve this milestone in 5 years’ time.

What are your plans for 2019?

Benjamin Franklin supposedly once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Sir Winston Churchill is credited with another saying: “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

What changes do you intend to make in 2019 to improve your personal finances?

I’d love to hear about your plans. Please share them in the comments section below.

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