The no-spend weekend challenge

Looking for a way to stop those dirhams burning a hole in your pocket? Welcome to a stretch of 48 hours where you dare yourself to not have a single expense, while patting yourself on the back for not experiencing FOMO. Sounds unreal? Read on…


Sushmita Bose

Published: Fri 3 Jun 2022, 9:55 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Jun 2022, 10:03 PM

I first heard of ‘no-spend’ weekends just before Covid struck: a friend, who was writing out a report on DIY personal finance — aka, “simple hacks to have more money in your pocket at the end of the month” — for a website, called to ask if I’d heard of this ‘trend’. I hadn’t, though it was fairly self-explanatory and didn’t need much of brain-racking. “To do the piece, I tried out a no-spend Saturday and Sunday myself, and — get this! — it was so much fun,” she gushed. “And I managed to save a tidy amount once I’d talked myself into the groove: that I don’t need to compromise on quality of life — if I did some forward planning… in fact, now I’m thinking it could become my weekly bonus!”

Immediately after the conversation, I toyed with the idea of “doing” a no-spend weekend myself but then Covid happened, and, with #StayAtHome, it was difficult to segregate weekends away from weekdays.

Now that we are back to the regular cycle of life, a few weeks ago, I experimented with a no-spend weekend. Instead of doing my weekly “essentials” shopping on a Saturday, I did it on a Friday morning and stocked up my kitchen. I informed my usual-suspects list of friends that I’m staying home, and that I wouldn’t be available for social get-togethers or mall outings because I’m undertaking a “challenge”.

Over the next two days, I cooked (made myself breakfast, lunch, dinner instead of reaching out for my phone to work the food delivery apps), binged on a couple of serials, went for evening walks (looked the other way whenever I spotted a coffee shop), set my house in order, watched YouTube tutorials on upcycling, did my laundry, conducted a few long Botim chats and a long-overdue Zoom one, managed to finish some pending writing work and even treated a friend who dropped by to tea and (homemade) sandwiches and truffle-infused chips (that I’d bought earlier in the week).

Before I knew it, it was Monday. I’d not spent a dirham in the last two days.

Obviously, it would have been different if a sudden work meeting had been called for. Or some other pressing concern had muscled its way in.

Luckily for me, it remained a regular, singularly undramatic weekend.

Will I do this again?

Maybe not every single weekend… but every other weekend seems swimmingly do-able.

Every dirham not spent is one saved

The UAE recently announced a hike in fuel prices, which is bound to have a cascading effect. We are not alone here: this is happening all around the world. Being money-wise is on top on everyone’s wishlist. Which is why no-spend weekends have suddenly become a chattering point in my peer group: after I apprised its key constituents of my experiment, everyone is keen to try it out. A few of them are trying it out this weekend.

But let’s get something straight. The idea of a no-spend weekend is not simply a cool socio-economic pastime for one to use a windfall gain to buy designer shoes.

It’s way deeper than that.

So, here’s the context. “The general awareness about personal finance and the art of saving is low — and it’s a globally prevalent issue,” says Wilson Varghese, General Manager & Head of Operations, Zurich International Life Limited, Middle East. “Easy credit and low interest rates since over a decade has now stimulated spending — and spending tendencies — the world over. As a result, the general populace does not have an incentive, and sometimes the means, to save for a rainy day.” Add to this the fact that we are constantly and subtly bombarded in personalised ways to seek out the next pleasure now. In a YouGov survey on critical illness that Zurich Life Insurance commisioned earlier this year, it turned out “that more than half the residents would only be able to manage financially for up to three months if faced with a serious illness and were unable to work… it’s clear that savings rates are lower than ideal,” Wilson adds.

Bottom line: every dirham not spent, is one saved. In this case, without compromising on quality of life. Whoever said rustling up breakfast at home is a poor substitute to spending Dh250 on a meal for four at a fancy café?

Kate Hardcastle MBE is a UK TV personality, who’s now in Dubai. She uses her skills as a retail expert on the ITV prime-time show ‘Eat Shop Save’. Living well for less, she says, means we have the control to work with the unknown. “Imagine the unimaginable — that you couldn’t work, or suddenly there was an enormous financial pressure that needed you to spend very differently… spending wisely and living within your means allow you to be almost in ‘training’ for a bad day, week, month.” Kate has worked with families in the UK on TV programmes to transform their lives. “They have been enabled to buy a house, become debt-free and so much more.” And, yes, no-spend weekends could definitely be a ‘means to the end’.

Ingrid Howell-Jones, former advice columnist (of the hugely-popular ‘Ask Ingrid’) at (the now defunct) 7 Days, points out that living it up “is certainly a thing here in Dubai”. “It is a hard one to break but we learnt in the subprime recession of 2008 that friends and family are more important than flashy brunches or cars… Covid certainly made us rethink and evaluate what we spend our money on and our stash of board games has grown. Meeting friends at the beach has become a new cheap activity. We eat out less, and we cook and bake at home much more... and my husband has mastered the BBQ as well!” Ingrid is part of a Facebook page, Off the Beaten Track, that looks “to find new ideas for trips out”, and she believes “a no-spend social media challenge would be great fun to be part of”.

‘We all need to head towards

living well for less, as we need to have

that in our skillset’

Kate Hardcastle MBE, UK TV personality (including prime-time ITV ‘Eat Shop Save’) and award-winning 
business & retail expert

“I love a ‘no-spend weekend’ and, believe it or not, that name has been around for a few years, the idea even longer. In my house, they are called ED Weekends — ED stands for Economy Drive — and we have a focus towards saving for a holiday, house improvement or simply tightening our belts. And as severe as they sound, they can be fun! We often get really active in research to see what we can do for ‘free’ and everything tastes and feels better when you got that deal, right?

If you need some real motivation, why not add up what you usually spend on a weekend and try and reduce that by half, and then again to edge from low spend to no spend? Every little thing you do save helps. You have to make it easy to visualise that goal — maybe you are saving to pay off a debt, or to buy something big. Just like a diet, stick that image on the fridge and around your home. Talk to friends about it — as the real surprise you may have is just how many people experience the same feelings too.

Having spent a lot of time in Dubai, I understand the pressure to be out on the social scene. ‘Sailing against the tide’ of what everyone else is doing can be tough. The best thing to do is to talk about it. Suddenly going cold on activities or not being part of the scene will make you feel sad watching on through social media, and might make your loved ones think they have done something wrong.

Take all shame out of it — and be positive but public with what you are doing and why. Try something like: ‘Hey, I’ve always dreamed of going to Paris — but I just can’t get down to saving up for it when I spend all my disposable income on weekends each week. I am going to have two weekends a month in — so I can really enjoy the time we have and try change my fortunes around too. I hope you can support me.’

You can even try to do no-spend weekends with friends. But just a word of caution here: I have seen lots of attempts at this fail when willpower has broken easily! So, make sure you all want the same thing out of it — which really is the discipline to save.

We all need to head towards living well for less, as we need to have that in our skillset. Finding peace in your own company and being able to find happiness in more simple things is so good for our mental health as well as our finances.”

‘It may not be long when a no-spend weekend 
or even [something like] a #NoSpendSeptember

challenge becomes a trend’

Angelo De Guzman, hospitality

marketing consultant and brand

strategist at AngeloDG, and marketing

manager at Hotaru Holdings

“In Dubai, there are plenty of free activities and attractions that make ‘no-spend’ weekends pretty feasible. Whether it’s appreciating gallery exhibits at Alserkal Avenue, immersing oneself in the city’s rich culture at the Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood, lazing around at some of the world’s best beaches, or enjoying the fountain shows at Dubai Mall, there are lots to do here — free of charge.

For residents who choose to stay in and still socialise, hosting a rotating ‘brunch club’ among friends is always a good idea — where one person plays host for the crew one week and another takes them in for the next. No cover charge is required… and it’s a great opportunity to showcase cooking skills or recipes that have been learned on social media.

The pandemic has enabled us to adapt to changing global circumstances and look at daily life from a different perspective. While it may not be completely no-spend, the idea of focusing on self-development and mental health — whether it’s cooking at home, developing a skill through online courses, or discovering a new indoor hobby — is becoming a driving force for many to stay happily at home over weekends.

Social media plays an important role in driving awareness to any cause or initiative. Brands and organisations have successfully tapped the power of social to stay connected and interact with their customers through live online entertainment, cooking series, wellness activities, pay-it-forward challenges, and more. To give an example: recently, the Dubai Economy and Tourism Department launched a #MyHiddenGems social media competition in line with the Dubai Food Festival which challenged residents and foodies to showcase three of their favourite ‘hidden gem’ restaurants. Participants must have a total combined bill — among three outlets — of no more than Dh100 for a chance to win Dh50,000 and record a 1-minute video of the experience. With proper planning, partnerships, and roping in key opinion leaders, launching a no-spend weekend challenge could be on the horizon.

While still a developing concept, it may not be long when a no-spend weekend or even #NoSpendSeptember (as an example) challenge becomes a trend especially for the younger generation.”

‘I don’t really believe we need to give in to the pressure of living it up over the weekend’

Monika Prasad, marketing and communications manager with a leading interior design firm

“I have been living in Dubai for 14 years now, but even before I fetched up here, I was never someone who identified with the ‘spend culture’, and I really would rather lead a minimalist, healthy lifestyle, and save for my two kids’ education. My husband and I had consciously made an effort to cut down on costs when I took a sabbatical from work to take care of my children… we had a loan to repay in India, and had to think on our feet…

I noticed the majority of our weekend expenses were on eating out and movie theatre outings… [Despite my fondness for minimalism] we were eating out every single weekend. Then, we would make it a point to watch movies with the mandatory popcorn and nachos in hand.

Today, we do not watch movies in the theatre, we wait for them to release on OTT platforms. How do I not eat out and yet have a good time? My kids love sushi, so, on weekends, I make sushi at home. Not only do I not have to pay restaurant charges, I get the chance to teach my kids how to make sushi, and that gives me so much satisfaction!

I don’t really believe we need to ‘give in’ to the ‘pressure’ of living it up over the weekend. I know how hard I work to earn my salary… I am really conscious of that. And I realise I’m happy cooking at home instead of brunching out at a fancy eatery. If I am hosting people, I prepare the food myself — I’m also honing a life skill in the process!

I’ve been doing this much before Covid and the current spate of fuel hikes. It’s important for all of us to monitor expenses — and a no-spend weekend could be a great practical lesson.”

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