Looking for a quick way to boost your child’s college savings? Consider a no-spend month.
By limiting purchases to necessities only for 30 days, parents can free up money to contribute to a 529 plan that can grow substantially over time.
What is a no-spend month?
Families who commit to a no-spend month agree to limit spending to only necessities for 30 days (or some other specified period of time). Necessities typically include bills such as:
- Mortgage or rent
- Student loans
- Insurance premiums
- Credit card payments
Other expenses, such as food, transportation, entertainment and kids’ activities may also be necessary, but are generally more flexible. In most cases, these costs can be reduced or even eliminated. For example, parents can cut down monthly food costs by cooking at home instead of eating at restaurants. To save on entertainment, families can take advantage of free programs offered by their local library or have game nights at home.
Families may start a no-spend month to jump-start a particular goal, like college savings, but the challenge may also have long-term benefits. A no-spend month can help parents identify spending triggers and reset spending habits to permanently free up room in their budget.
How to start a no-spend month
The key to a successful no-spend month is to be prepared. The first step is to make a list of all known expenses for the upcoming month. This should include all of the necessities listed above, as well as any annual renewal payments coming up, or any birthdays or other gift-giving occasions. Create a realistic budget for the flexible expenses to prevent overspending on things like food and clothing.
The next step is to set a goal and decide where you want to put your savings. Parents saving for college should consider making a contribution to a 529 plan with the money they save from a no-spend month. A 529 plan is an investment account where earnings grow tax-deferred and withdrawals are tax-free when the funds are used to pay for qualified education expenses.
Parents can make a lump sum contribution or set up automatic contributions to an existing 529 plan or open a new 529 plan before starting the no-spend month challenge. Almost every state offers at least one 529 plan, and most are available nationwide. Families can open a direct-sold 529 plan by visiting the plan’s website and filling out an application, or open an advisor-sold 529 plan through a financial advisor.
Finally, prepare to resist temptation during a no-spend month:
- Limit time spent on Facebook and Instagram, since targeted social media ads and fear of missing out are common triggers that can throw a no-spend plan off-track
- Unsubscribe from retail email lists
- Delete credit card information from shopping apps
- Make grocery lists and eat a snack before going to the grocery store
- Prepare food ahead of time to avoid relying on takeout
How much can you save for college during a no-spend month?
The amount a family can save for college during a no-spend month will depend on the amount of their disposable income and how much they are able and willing to cut back on spending. But, for many families a savings goal of $1,000 is not unrealistic.
For example, a family of four eliminates the following expenses during a no-spend month:
Lattes (3 per week)
Workday lunches (both parents)
Dining out as a family (twice per week)
Parent date night (dinner, movie, babysitting)
In this example, the parents will be paying for college in 13 years. If they invest the $1,125 savings in a 529 plan it will grow to $2,400 by the time their child is ready for college, assuming a 6% investment return. If the family does a no-spend month every year until it’s time to pay for college and deposits the $1,125 in savings, they can potentially save over $23,000 in 13 years.