Want to learn how to spend less money? A no spend challenge might be exactly what you need to gain control of your spending.
The main point of a no spend challenge is to reduce the amount of money you’re spending on non-essentials. It’s a way to boost your debt pay off, put more money in the bank, or prove that you can rein in your spending if you really had to.
Depending on the type of person you are, a no spend challenge may sound insanely difficult or kind of exhilarating. Either way, I have some suggestions that will help you make it to succeed with your challenge.
What is a no spend challenge? (Plus 17 tips for making it work)
What is a no spend challenge?
A no spend challenge is when you go a certain period of time without spending money. You can focus on certain budget categories, like not going out to eat or spending money on your hobbies.
The most popular no spend challenge is when you cut your spending for an entire week or month. That means you spend $0 on anything beyond what’s necessary.
No spend challenges are a good way to detox your finances after the holidays or being on vacation. You can use them to jumpstart your debt pay off or to help you quickly save money.
The overall point of a no spend challenge is to stop spending so much money. Spending less = more money to put towards larger financial goals.
What’s appealing about these challenges is that they’re only temporary. You’re not saying good-bye forever, it’s just a short-term plan to help you bank some extra cash. They’re also good ways to build your confidence by showing you that you’re capable of reining it in when you need to.
17 tips for a successful no spend challenge
These challenges are about quitting habits, and that means it’s going to be a struggle – I’m not going to sugar coat it. So to make your no spend challenge work, you need to set yourself up for success.
The tips below will answer the question of, “But how do I survive no spending months?”
1. Set a realistic time frame
Not spending any extra money for an entire month will definitely help you save money, and it’ll also give you a good baseline for creating a budget. But a month is a long time to go without spending any extra cash.
I think it’s worth the challenge, especially if you’re trying to pay off debt, but you can grow your confidence by starting with a no spend weekend or week.
Whatever timeline you choose, I highly recommend using a calendar to track your progress through the challenge. It feels really good to cross days off, and it’s a visual reminder of how far you’ve come.
2. Set rules that address your spending issues
An alternative to not spending money on any extras is to create a challenge that addresses specific budget categories. For example, I could do a no spend challenge to spend $0 on golfing for an entire month. I might go crazy, but I’d save a ton of money.
Here are some examples of rules you can set – think of it as “banned” spending:
- No going out to eat
- Only drink coffee you make at home
- Only one grocery store trip per week
- No events or activities (except free ones)
- No beauty supplies or makeup
- No bars
- No new supplies for your hobbies
- No new video games, clothes, shoes, books, sports, home decor, etc.
- No extra treats or new toys for your pets
I bet you can think of a few other limitations that would really push you to rethink that way you do things, and that’s the point.
3. Decide how you’re going to use the money you save
I like to start challenges with a clear goal of what I want to accomplish in the end. I think it keeps you motivated and focused on following through.
A vague goal like “I want to save more money” is okay, but think more specifically about what saving money means to you. Is that money you’ll use to bulk up your emergency fund? Will you invest it? Are you saving it for retirement? Will you use this money to plan a vacation?
Think about those goals when you’re experiencing a weak moment, like “Man that trip to the Bahamas is going to feel so much better than a Starbucks latte would taste right now”
4. Don’t use a no spend challenge to defer your spending
A no spend challenge is supposed to help you control your spending, not just put it off for a few weeks. Seriously, if you just make a list of all the things you’re going to buy at the end of the month, you’ve completely defeated the purpose.
You may have saved money, but that doesn’t do any good if you immediately turn around and spend it all.
M$M tip: For issues with impulse spending, try the 30-day rule. The 30-day rule is a way to control impulse spending by giving yourself time to evaluate whether or not you really need or want to make a purchase, and it teaches delayed gratification.
5. No extra trips to the grocery store
The grocery store can be a dangerous place if you’re trying to do a no spend challenge. I mean, food is technically a necessity. Therefore extra snacks and candy are okay during a no spend month, right? My pregnant wife would say yes, but don’t tell her I told you that.
What I’m trying to say is that you need to remove temptations, and avoiding the grocery store as much as possible will help you do that.
Making a meal plan and doing some meal prepping at the start of the week will help you shop for everything you need in one trip.
6. Give yourself an allowance (or not)
I’ve heard of people going both ways on this – some people say you should have an allowance or stipend when you start a no spend challenge, and others say that defeats the purpose. I’m not going to take a hard stance on this one. Do what makes sense for you.
Allowing yourself to spend a set amount of money on extras can teach you how to stick to a budget. Giving yourself permission to spend a small amount of money can help battle the feeling of deprivation you might feel during a no spend challenge. On the other hand, having spending money might keep you from confronting your bad spending habits.
7. Cash in your gift cards
Okay, here’s a way to “spend” money without literally spending your money… gift cards! If you’re like me, you have a bunch stashed in a random kitchen drawer.
Using your gift cards isn’t cheating – it’s using what you have at home. And remember, someone gave you that gift card so you would use it. You’re just helping it fulfill its destiny.
8. Avoid stores or websites that trigger spending
A no spend challenge isn’t the time to casually browse Target or do price comparisons on Amazon, especially if those places trigger your urge to spend money. Maybe those places don’t do it for you, but I bet you know the places that do provoke your spending.
If it’s really a struggle, you can research how to block websites on your browser or change driving routes so you don’t pass certain stores.
9. Unsubscribe from emails
Some websites or stores you love will inevitably have a massive sale during your no spend challenge. They’re going to send you an email written by a great copywriter with a subject line that convinces you to click the open button. Once you open the email, it goes downhill from there.
As someone who’s built part of their business on email marketing, I hate telling you to unsubscribe from your favorite businesses, but your success is more important.
You can re-subscribe at the end of your challenge, or if you marked emails as junk, move them out of your spam folder. There’s actually a good chance that you won’t miss most of the emails you were getting, and you get the added benefit of a clean inbox.
10. Delete apps from your phone
This tip is in line with the last couple: delete any apps that encourage you to spend money. These can be games, Pinterest, Instagram, or any kind of shopping app. You can also create a separate folder and hide them on your phone – it’s all about reducing temptations.
11. Make a list of your goals and keep it visible
I’ve already explained why it’s important to set a goal for your money, but it can help to go one step farther and create a visual for your goal.
For example, if the money you save at the end of your no spend month will be used to pay off debt, you can put a sign on your fridge that says, “I’m going to destroy my debt.”
You can put sticky notes on your computer, mirror, your car’s visor, by the door as you leave the house, etc. Change the lock screen or background on your phone to something that reminds you of what you’re working towards. This will help you stay motivated when the challenge gets tough.
12. Have a go-to list of free things to do
A no spend challenge doesn’t mean you’re sitting at home for the entire week or month. There are probably lots of things you can do around you that don’t cost a dime. So before the challenge starts, do a little research by googling “free things in [name of your city].”
I did a quick search of where I live in Houston, TX, and found:
- Outdoor concerts
- A nice biking trail
- Nature trails
- Architectural sites
- Nearby beaches
There was even something about watching bats emerge from under a bridge. What I got out of that search was that there are plenty of free activities around me, and I honestly didn’t know about most of them.
Just make sure to pack snacks and water so you’re not tempted to stop anywhere while you’re out.
13. Check your calendar
Most people will find it hard to go an entire month without some kind of social commitment, and that’s why you need to check your calendar before you start your no spend challenge. See if there is anything scheduled that will require you to spend money.
You don’t have to cancel your plans but do set a reasonable budget that allows you to participate without spending too much. You can set cash aside so you’re not tempted to spend more than you should.
14. Buy necessities in advance
When you get ready for your no spend challenge, make a list of anything you might need and buy it in advance. Need is the operative word here because you don’t need a gift card to your favorite restaurant or coffee shop. But you will need toilet paper, laundry detergent, soap, and more.
Buying necessities in advance will keep you out of the store to reduce temptations.
15. Use up what you have at home
Now, there might be some things that you forget about. Like, maybe you thought you had an extra bottle of shampoo, but you don’t. Instead of running to the store, see if there is anything at home that will work.
I know we have hotel shampoo bottles and those little TSA-approved travel bottles that still have shampoo in them. Use that kind of stuff up first.
This also applies to cooking: alter your recipes and meal plans based on what’s already in your pantry.
One of the benefits of a no spend challenge is that it can teach you how to not spend money on things you would normally spend money on. You’re learning to create new habits that help you save money.
16. Stay off social media
When I was paying off my student loan debt, I made a lot of sacrifices so I could put as much money as possible towards those loans. Sometimes I struggled when I logged on Facebook and saw my friends spending money on things I was giving up.
It’s hard to watch people you know spend money when you’re actively avoiding it. It’s no fault on them – they’re doing their thing and you’re trying to do yours. The reality is that you have no idea how friends or other people you follow on social media are affording this stuff.
Other people aren’t what you should be focusing on – you’re working on yourself right now.
Make your challenge easier by staying off Instagram, deleting Facebook, or whatever other apps might make your challenge more difficult.
17. Stay accountable with a friend
Speaking of friends, having an accountability partner can be a good way to track your challenge. This can be your spouse, partner, friend, coworker, etc.
You and your accountability partner don’t need to follow the same rules for the challenge, but make a point to talk about your rules and goals before the challenge starts. Text each other if you feel tempted to break the rules, and then celebrate your wins together.
Take the money you saved and put it to work
Once you hit the end of your no spend challenge, all of the money you saved by following your rules is now in your bank account. Take a look at that balance and see how much you were able to save. How does that feel? Pretty awesome, I bet.
Now take that money and do something with it.
- If the point was to pay off debt, schedule a credit card or student loan payment
- If it was retirement, check out an online brokerage like Betterment and start an IRA if you don’t have one yet
- If you wanted to start an emergency fund, open a high-yield savings account and make a deposit
This takes the fruits of your no spend challenge and turns it into a fully realized plan for financial success. That’s how you make things happen with your money.
The final word on no spend challenges
A no spend challenge is going to be hard, but now you know how to set yourself up for success.
Not only do you make it to the end of the challenge having saved money, but you’ve also learned how to not spend money, avoid triggers, and create new habits. Congrats!!