What is a no spend challenge?
You may be wondering what a no spend challenge is. Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like– you take the challenge to not spend money on anything other than the absolute necessities.
Necessities: gas, rent, utilities, food, etc.
Ya’ll this means, no Starbucks, no drive through, no eating out, no Magnolia Market for your house, no Target clearance, no McFlurries….nada.
Quick story- the first time I attempted a no spend challenge it was by accident. My debit card mysteriously just up and disappeared on a Saturday afternoon.
(Spoiler alert: My toddler climbed up on the dining room table and pilfered through my wallet and made off with it, only for me to find it weeks later in her bin of Legos. You’re welcome.)
Being that it happened on a Saturday afternoon the bank was closed and the soonest I was going to be able to get money from the bank sans debit card was Monday morning. Oy.
I felt almost panicky having no access to my money, but this ended up being quite an eye-opening weekend for me.
I probably saved myself close to $100 just by not having access to my money. While I highly recommend planning out (more on that below) your no spend challenge– I highly recommend trying it.
It’s become one of my favorite ways to target savings.
Why should you consider a no spend challenge?
For so many reasons!
A change in long-term spending habits.
Is saving money or maybe simply not spending money a struggle for you? Are you looking for ways to retrain your brain or want to become a more mindful spender?
When you take away the ability to spend on anything other than necessities, it brings great clarity to all the times you are spending frivolously as a habit or without realizing just where your money is going.
Example- when I step into Target, Starbucks is waiting right there for me to pop into, grab a coffee and go on about my shopping. I was dropping almost $4 every time I went into Target just on coffee!
Necessity is the mother of invention. When you need something and don’t have it on hand– you’ll find a way to make it, make do, or do without.
You will not believe how creative you can get until you are staring into a pantry with half a canister of flour, a can of tuna, 2 cans of green beans, a jar of salsa, and a package of tortillas.
For the record, we were on the cusp of moving and were trying to finish everything off so we didn’t have to pack it to move. I don’t like stockpiling a bunch of “stuff”, but I don’t usually keep my pantry that lean.
You actually need quite a bit less than you think.
We recently moved back from overseas living and were without our household goods from May until Mid September. My family of 5 lived out of 5 suitcases for almost 4 months.
While I wouldn’t recommend extending it quite this long, I was surprised by the second month how we had adapted to living with so little and how much easier it was to keep up with everything.
Laundry was finished for the week in a couple of hours.
When you only have 3 pots/pans and enough dishes for everyone to have a set + an extra, the sink is hardly ever full.
My kids played better those 4 months than they ever had before. They were coming up with crazy imagination games, getting outside, we went for family walks. We all suddenly had time for much more.
While I’m not advocating for pitching 95% of your belongings in the trash and living out of 5 suitcases, I would encourage you to seriously evaluate what you are holding onto in your home and streamlining.
You will thank me later!
How can you be successful with a no spend challenge?
Some no spend challenge tips…
1.Set a clear goal.
You need to know how far to take this challenge and what you want to accomplish.
Are you looking to free up money to pay down debt? Are you trying to build up your Emergency savings? Saving money for a new-to-you car?
Whatever your goal, write it down. Have a clear vision of where you want to go!
2. How long is the no spend challenge going to last?
Are you planning on a weekend? A week? A month? A year?
Set a definitive time frame to give yourself a window to plan within.
3. Check your budget!
Now that you know what you want to do with the savings, how much do you want to save?
To be fair, you are going to need to take a hard look at your budget.
Related: If Budgeting is new to you, take a look at my Budgeting for Beginners.
Remember the no spend challenge is freezing spending on the nonessentials. So your first step here is to see how much money is left over after the essentials are paid for. When you have that number, you know the number you should be shooting for.
4. Be prepared.
I know it sounds weird to have to prepare to stop spending money, but depending on how long you plan on going with the challenge. There are a few things you need to think about.
If you are doing a no spend month long challenge maybe there are a few things you need to stock up on at the grocery store like food staples. Maybe you need to fill up the car with gas. Perhaps your no challenge month falls during holidays or over the summer when you are at peak spending!
How are you going to handle those situations?
I know it may seem counterintuitive to spend money to save money, but if you are attempting to break your morning Starbucks coffee habit or daily Target runs– you need to figure out how to beat the need for those trips.
If you are a coffee drinker and you have no coffee in the house and you are still trying to avoid Starbucks— well, best of luck to you my friend.
No one wants to talk to me in the morning if I’ve had no coffee. That’s a fact, ya’ll!
5. Know your spending triggers and avoid temptation.
You know where you bleed money every month. Make a plan and avoid those things like the plague.
Are you crazy about Target? Are you getting coupons and promotions from your favorite stores sent straight to your inbox every day?
Stop going! Unsubscribe.
Get the temptation out of your face.
If you are an overspender at the grocery store. Go less often!!
Make your meal plan to include what you already have on hand, and try and do a once or twice a month grocery run.
More on cutting the spending cycle below.
6. Set aside cash for your necessities for the weekend, week or month no spending challenge.
Tuck away your credit and debit cards. When cash is gone, it’s gone!
Studies have shown its much harder for people to spend cash than it is for them to simply swipe their card.
You are conducting a spending freeze in order to save money. Do yourself a favor and make that as easy as possible. Give yourself all the advantages.
If you are considering a month no spend challenge, consider giving yourself a daily or weekly budget to make sure you are staying on track with your necessities and extra expenses aren’t creeping in!
A weekly savings plan is where it’s at! It really helps course correct, before you find yourself too far off track.
Related post: What is a weekly budget and why you need one!
How can I not spend money on my challenge?
A no spend challenge is just that– a challenge. But here is a list of a few of my favorite ways to curb my spending and help me stay on track with the challenge.
Evaluate what it’s actually going to cost you.
It can be tough to talk yourself down from impulse purchases. One of the best ways I’ve found to reign it in is by figuring out how much time at work it would cost me. Let’s say I make $10 an hour. Even if I buy myself an inexpensive $20 purse, that’s 2 hours of work I need to pay for it.
When you are looking at the cost of something through that lens it often brings the much need perspective to walk away.
Sleep on it.
If you feel like you gotta, gotta have something. Give yourself a self-imposed time-out to try to take the emotion out of the purchase.
Is it going to affect your savings goals or cause a financial setback?
I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Money Mustache and was first introduced to the surprisingly easy-to-follow math when it comes to salary savings as a percentage and how quickly you can reach retirement or become financially independent.
According to his math, a family making $50K/ year, if they increased their savings by an extra 5% a year (from 10% to 15%) they could reach their retirement about 8 years sooner!
In case math isn’t your favorite subject, 5% of 50K is $2500/year or $208/month or about $7/day.
$7/day is one fast food meal. I’m just saying– think about it! It’s not the big expenses that get you– it’s the small ones.
It’s a great read if you are interested.
Are you bleeding money on subscription services?
Subscription services may seem like a pittance every month, but these costs really add up. Remember that $7/day from above?
Now if you are trading off an expensive cable package with your Amazon Prime TV or Netflix, yeah you are plusing up there.
But if you are a frequent subscription offender, you and your budget need to have a come to Jesus about what you really need in your life.
Food- the big budget buster.
Food is almost always the category where people get themselves into trouble. I’ve written several posts about this (how to stop spending money and cutting back on expenses) and hands down this is the area where it’s difficult for people to plug the leaks.
Eating out. Buying convenience packaged food. Coffees, pastries, etc.
It all adds up.
Bring your coffee, bring your lunch, throw snacks in a bag to have when you are on the go.
The key is to plan ahead!
Make a list and stick to the list. I’m a big advocate for meal planning. I saved hundreds the first month I switched from fly by the seat of my pants shopping to making a month’s meal plan and making my shopping list from it.
Find a new (free) hobby.
Find new ways to fill your time. Start making biweekly trips to the library. Take up walking or running. Volunteer.
If you don’t fill your time with positive things, you’ll fill it in other ways. So…
Make good choices, people!
With a few exceptions, doing it yourself or making it at home is almost always cheaper! Make at home pizza versus delivery. Lawn service- DIY. Hair color- DIY. Pedicure- come on, gurl, DIY.
You pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?
What to do at the conclusion of the no spend challenge?
So you decide to take the leap and jump in both feet to save yourself a little extra money with the no spend challenge. Great!
When the challenge is complete…what do you do next?
You should do something my husband refers to as a “hot wash”. It’s an after-action meeting to discuss and evaluate the thing you just did.
What things went well?
Where did you struggle?
What notes or tips do you have for next time?
The one big change I made after my first month-long no spend challenge was that I was going to meal plan all my meals for the month and then buy all the meat (most expensive part of our food budget) upfront. Then all I’d need to buy is whatever fresh fruit and veggies I needed during the month.
I bought all the meat for the month specifically for the challenge. Up to that point, I had been a once a week grocery shopper.
This really opened my eyes to the benefits of buying meat in bulk and freezing it. Plus, when I needed to supplement with fresh produce, I never really spent any time in the store.
I’d head to the produce section, get what I needed and get out in about 20 minutes.
I’ll never go back to the old way. This has been such a huge money and time saver for my family.
Your take away could be something quite different. I didn’t realize how much money I was leaving on the table until I tried something new.
I’d love to hear from you and how this worked (or didn’t) for you! Feel free to comment below.