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Come along with Newsday's reporter on her monthlong 'no-spend' journey

Newsday business reporter Daysi Calavia-Robertson starts her family on a monthlong No-Spend Challenge on Monday. She talked about it Friday. (Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger; Reece T. Williams; Photo Credit: Linda Rosier)

I’ve never been a big spender.

Let me put it to you this way: The dollar store is actually one of my favorites. At other stores, you can usually find me happily rummaging through the clearance aisle. Still, since moving to Long Island three years ago and becoming a mother of two, it seems as though all I do is spend.

The scenario goes like this: I think about all the things I “need” to buy...”a new coat for Carolina, and maybe one for me, too, something stylish;” then spend more than I intended to -- after coming across some other items I just had to get; complain about how much I spent and the high cost of living here and how expensive day care is, and then press repeat.

For my husband Matt, who works as a coffee roaster and takes great pride in his beard, it’s the online “deals” that get him. Just knowing he can have a new beard comb or a new scent of beard oil delivered right to our door in a little over 48 hours is enough to make him “add to cart.”

Sometimes I blame my spending on our schedule. After a full day working, I’m too tired to even think of preparing dinner, and the same is true for my husband.

With apps like Uber Eats and Grubhub downloaded on both of our phones, ordering in is too easy. And if our thumbs get tired, we can fall back on the five or six fast food restaurants that are on our way home. I hate to admit it, but when our 3-year-old points at the big yellow arches and yells, “I want chicken nuggets!” ...well, we may be complying way more than we should.

I went through my September bank statement to add up charges for lattes, lunches out and food delivery and was completely taken aback by the total -- $645.75! Exactly. I know because I checked it three times. No charge was higher than $20. It was all $11.93 here and $4.98 there. Now, I know where all our money is going. For the most part, we’ve been eating it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since Carlos over at Dunkin knows my name.

So, now what? Now, we take the No Spend Challenge for a month.

The No Spend Challenge is a commitment to spend money only on necessities -- i.e. mortgage or rent, utilities, groceries etc. -- and on nothing else for a set period of time. Some people take the challenge, popularized on social media, for as little as a week, while others extend it for a month, six months or even a full year. During the challenge, there’s no dining out, no clothes shopping, no trips to the movie theater. No Target “just going for milk and returning home with everything except milk” runs. No undisciplined spending. Period.

Though there are many versions of the challenge, personal finance experts advise it’s best to start by creating a list of essentials. Deciding what’s on that list is up to you, so if you consider going to yoga or the gym essential that’s fine, but you’ll definitely have to put your passion for ordering from Amazon Prime on the back burner. The point is to develop a realistic no-spending plan that makes sense for you and to commit to it.

While it’s unclear who came up with the No Spend Challenge, Canadian blogger Taya Knight outlined a version on her blog Simply Frugal as early as 2010. It was the same year that Denver-based blogger Anna Newell Jones, of And Then We Saved, first did what she calls a spending fast.

Newell Jones said although the challenge may seem extreme to some, it was her way of regaining control after hitting a “financial bottom.” With a fiance who cited her “shopping problem” as the reason he refused to share a bank account with her, and $23,605 in debt, she decided not to spend any money on nonessentials — for a year.

“Not spending money on things I didn’t need allowed me to tackle my debt,” she said in an interview. “It took a lot of discipline and sacrifice, but 15 months later I was so proud of myself. I was debt free.”

On Instagram, nearly 12,000 posts include the hashtag #NoSpendChallenge. And on Facebook, there are dozens of No Spend Challenge support groups, each with thousands of members.

Cary Carbonaro, a Huntington Village-based certified financial planner and author of “The Money Queen’s Guide: For Women Who Want to Build Wealth and Banish Fear,” said anything that gets you to focus on your finances is a valuable exercise.

“If it’s shining a light on your spending habits and making you question them...it’s a positive thing,” she said in an interview.

I hope so. Wish me luck because I have a feeling it’s gonna be a loooooong month! I’ll be documenting my No Spend journey at Newsday.com, on social media @newsday and on my own account @presspassdaysi on Instagram. I hope my challenge will inspire some of you to take it up as well. And if you do, please email me your stories -- both triumphs and failures. I’d love to hear your two cents!

No Spend Challenge:

Allowed Spending

  • Mortgage or rent
  • utilities
  • groceries
  • internet/phone
  • insurance
  • gas
  • medication/ health care

Not allowed spending

  • Activities
  • eating out, coffee, drinks
  • clothes
  • Ubers/Lyft
  • hair and nail services
  • anything else that's a want (not a need)

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