How to Do a No Spend Challenge (The Ultimate Guide)

No Spend Challenge


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Have you ever wanted to do a no spend challenge but weren’t sure where to begin? Taking on challenges is a great way to develop better routines, especially financial habits.

A no spend challenge in particular is a wonderful way to prevent impulse buying and even reset your budget.

Whether you’re trying to become debt-free, save for retirement, or achieve any other financial goal, you have two choices – decrease your expenses or increase your income.

There are major ways to decrease your spending, such as moving into a smaller home or selling a vehicle. However, there are also minor changes you can make that will compound over time, such as meal planning or even cutting out beverages other than water.

If you’re not in a situation to make any major changes, but still want to reduce your expenses, a no spend challenge is a wonderful and surprisingly exciting option.

In this post, I will define what a no spend challenge is, how to do one, tips to succeed, and much more.

In This Post:

What Is a No Spend Challenge?

Before we go any further, let’s begin by defining what exactly a no spend challenge is.

A no spend challenge, or spending freeze, is a timeframe, such as a day, week, or even month, in which you challenge yourself to stop spending money on things that are unnecessary.

No spend challenges have become quite popular over the last few years and are a great way to save a lot of money in a short period of time.

This can help you reset your budget after an expensive holiday, a month full of birthdays, a vacation, or even to get back on track after a financial emergency, or stop bad spending habits, such as impulse buying.

How No Spend Challenges Work

Now that you know what a no spend challenge is, it’s important you understand how they work. No spend challenges work by setting spending rules for yourself during a specific period of time.

The rules will vary depending on your needs, but the goal is to go without buying things that are wants and non-necessities.

Expenses Allowed

As previously mentioned, during your challenge, you’re only allowed to spend money on necessities. Typical budget categories people allow themselves to spend in include:

  • Mortgage/rent
  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Bills (internet, phone, cable, vehicle, etc.)
  • Groceries for meals
  • Gas
  • Anything else that is an absolute necessity you couldn’t go without

Expenses Not Allowed

On the other hand, you should stop spending in budget categories that you can live without, such as:

  • Paid entertainment
  • Eating out
  • Beverages other than water
  • Discretionary shopping
  • Furniture and home decor
  • New clothes
  • Beauty products and services
  • Gifts
  • Anything else that is a want and not a need

It’s important that you decide right away what’s a need and what’s just a want. For example, you need food, otherwise you would starve. However, eating out at a restaurant is a want, considering you can make a meal at home instead.

If you live close to your work and usually drive, is using public transportation or riding a bicycle an option?

Not only is a no spend challenge about not spending on things you don’t need, it’s also about being creative.

Other No Spend Challenges You Should Consider

Here are some extra areas where you can eliminate your spending during your no spend challenge. Choose which ones to include, depending on your needs and goals, and then watch the money you save add up.

  • Costly hobbies
  • Unhealthy habits, such as smoking or drinking
  • Electronics
  • Sweets disguised as groceries
  • Subscription services, such videogames, movies, or music
  • Amazon (don’t visit the website)
  • Target (Don’t even go)
  • Social media ads (just don’t click)
  • Etc.

Why You Should Do a No Spend Challenge

Taking a break from spending has many benefits, the most obvious being the money you will save.

However, a lot of people are shockingly unaware of how they’re spending their money. Taking a break from spending will help you quickly realize where it’s been going and how.

Like fasting from food, which helps you discover bad eating habits, you will also discover any bad financial habits you may have.

In addition, you will also realize just how much time you use spending money instead doing things that mean the most to you.

Here are the four best reasons to do a no spend challenge:

1. To Save a lot of Money

This a given benefit of doing a no spend challenge. If you cut your nonessential spending completely, you will obviously save a huge amount of money.

But exactly how much can you actually save? It will vary depending on your lifestyle and financial habits, but here is a hypothetical example to get a better picture.

Lets say someone’s typical discretionary expenses for a given month is:

  • Entertainment: $300
  • Clothing: $150
  • Eating out: $300
  • Miscellaneous: $500

Now, imagine they cut out all of these nonessential expenses for 30 days. If they do, they will save $1,250 in a single month alone.

2. Paying Off Debt

All the money you save during your no spend challenge is extra capital to put towards your financial goals, such as paying off debt.

In addition, during your no spend challenge, you won’t be spending money on your credit cards, which will help prevent you from going further into debt.

3. Breaking Bad Financial Habits

For example, do you have a bad habit of spending money on coffee from Starbucks several days a week? Just one Tall Frappuccino is nearly $4. If you buy 5 of them per week, you will spend nearly $80 on coffee every month.

When you don’t spend money on things you do not need, you will quickly realize how much you have been spending on nonessential stuff. This realization can help you break poor spending habits.

4. Find Better Ways to Spend Your Time

Spending money can take a lot of time and energy. If you’re like the rest of us, when you’re bored you probably like to go see a movie, order food, or go shopping.

When you do a no spend challenge, you’ll have more time on your hands that you can spend doing things that mean the most to you, such as pursuing your passion, spending extra time on your hobbies, or even just finding free entertainment.

How to Do a No Spend Challenge

Now that you know what a no spend challenge is, how they work, and the many benefits of doing one, there are a few key steps you can take to ensure that you’re successful during your challenge.

Fortunately, the key steps are rather quite simple. So, here’s how to do a no spend challenge of your own:

Note: If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below. I would love to answer any questions you may have.

Pick a Timeframe for Your No Spend Challenge

Before you start a no spend challenge, it’s important that you decide how long your challenge is going to be, which is completely up to you.

However, if you’re new to no spend challenges, I recommend you start small and work your way up before you attempt a month-long challenge.

Here are the four most common time frames people use:

No-Spend Day

If you have never done a no spend challenge, doing a no spend day is a wonderful way to test the waters. However, it’s not as easy as you may think and you still should plan ahead.

No-Spend Weekend

Doing a no spend weekend is also a great way to wet your feet but will require more preparation. If you do a no spend weekend, you should focus on finding free entertainment.

No-Spend Week

Going seven days without spending can be difficult, but it is possible. If you do a no spend week, you should focus on making adjustments to your daily habits – whether it’s packing your own lunch or brewing your own coffee.

I highly recommend you use the Sunday before your no spend week to go grocery shopping, prep your meals for the week, and even fill up your gas tank. Do whatever necessary to make it easy as possible to not touch your money.

No-Spend Month

Going an entire month without spending is definitely the most difficult of no spend challenges and takes the most planning and financial discipline.

However, the longer the challenge, the greater the reward. You will be surprised by how much you can save by not spending for an entire month. It is also a wonderful way to break bad financial habits.

Prepare Before

Preparing before your challenge is a very important step and will help you succeed. Simply write down your start date on your calendar. I recommend you plan it at least one week out from the time you start preparing for it.

This will give you the necessary time to properly prepare and set yourself up for success.

Understand Your Reasoning

Understanding your reason for doing a no spend challenge will help you be much more successful. You will also be far less likely to quit half way through if you know why you’re doing it.

Is it to save more for retirement? Is it to become debt-free? Are you going to save for a vacation? Is it to break bad financial habits? Is it to find better ways to spend your time?

After you determine you’re reason for doing a no spend challenge, write it down and put it somewhere you will see it often, such as a bulletin board or your refrigerator.

Set Savings Goals

Do you want to save $500 during your no spend challenge? $1,000, $2,000? As you begin saving more and more money during your challenge, you may get overly excited about how much you can save.

However, a big part of a no spend challenge is to set reasonable savings goals. For example, if your household income is $7,500 per month and your rent and bills are $4,500 per month, than it’s not realistic to have a savings goal of $3,500 for a no spend month.

Decide Which Categories to Cut

During preparation for your no spend challenge, it’s important to decide which spending is essential and what stuff you don’t need.

For example, you obviously need to buy food and pay your monthly bills (you don’t want to starve or hurt your credit just to save a little bit of money). However, do you really need to go out to eat at a restaurant when you have a pantry overflowing with food that is going to expire soon?

Here is a list of things you most likely spend money on but could go without during your challenge:

  • Beverages (coffee, soda, etc.)
  • Eating out at restaurants
  • Takeout
  • Buying lunch instead of packing it
  • Impulse purchases
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Beauty products
  • Furniture, seasonal home decor items, etc.
  • Movie rentals
  • Paid entertainment (concerts, miniature golf, museums, etc.)
  • Gas station sweets and snacks
  • etc.

Set Rules

Will there be any exceptions to what you can and cannot spend money on during your no spend challenge, such as purchasing groceries like produce and dairy that don’t last very long?

Before you start your no spend challenge, make sure you’re very clear on your rules and set them in stone. You should consider writing them down somewhere you will see them often, such as your refrigerator.

Decide What to do With the Money You Save

As previously mentioned, there are several benefits of doing a no spend challenge. Before you start one, you should decide what you’re going to do with the money you save.

Don’t just save a bunch of money during your challenge and then splurge on random things once your done.

Here are a few things you should consider using the money for:

  • Building an emergency fund
  • Paying off student loans
  • Paying off a credit card
  • Investing
  • Saving up for a vacation
  • Donating to a non-profit
  • Etc.

Gather Your Necessities

Depending on how long you’re doing a no spend challenge for, there will be several essential products and items you will need.

Spend time to sit down and look at your schedule for the duration of your challenge and determine everything you will need.

Check your kitchen and pantry, toiletries, personal care products, etc., and if anything is running low, go and buy it before you start your challenge.

For example, if you’re doing a no spend month, make sure you go grocery shopping before and plan your meals for the month.

This will prevent you from taking extra shopping trips and being tempted to buy things you don’t need while you’re at the store.

Minimize Temptation

While doing your no spend challenge, it’s important you set yourself up for success by minimizing temptation.

Consider using the envelope budgeting method during your challenge to help monitor and control your spending as needed for necessary things, such as gas and groceries.

I also recommend you hide your credit cards and limit your social media use if you have a habit of clicking on ads.

Simply put, do whatever necessary to minimize the temptation to spend money on things you don’t need during your no spend challenge.

Find Free Entertainment

Finding and planning free entertainment will help you succeed during your challenge. Take some time to think about which activities your family enjoys that won’t cause you to spend money. You can also do a Google search to find free activities and events in your city.

Here are a few ideas for free entertainment:

  • Go to the library
  • Play at the park
  • Go for a jog
  • Play board or card games
  • Go for a hike
  • Do arts and crafts
  • Camp in your backyard
  • Draw or paint
  • Play catch or shoot hoops
  • Go birdwatching
  • Rearrange a room in your house
  • Go swimming
  • Go for a picnic

Use This Time to Clear Out Your Freezer and Pantry

Is your freezer and pantry overflowing? Since you won’t be eating out during your no spend challenge, it’s a perfect opportunity to clear out your freezer and pantry.

Find meals to make with items that get pushed to the back of your pantry or freezer, before they expire, so they don’t go to waste.

Doing so will also help prevent you from running to the grocery store during your challenge, which will help you save money.

Let People Know

It’s important that everyone is on the same page and knows you’re doing a no spend challenge.

This will prevent friends and family from inviting you to go shopping, out to eat, see a movie, or anything else that would cost money during your challenge.

If you have children, you may want to talk to them to explain what it is you’re doing so they know what’s going on.

Track Your Progress, Emotions, and Urges

Use a calendar, a journal, or a no spend challenge worksheet to track your progress, emotions, and urges. Each time you feel an urge to spend, write down what item or service you want to spend money on and why.

For example, if you have an urge to buy random things on Amazon, even though they aren’t necessities, take note of it and express how you’re feeling.

By journaling your thoughts and feelings, you might realize that your impulse buying has nothing to do with actually wanting what you’re purchasing.

Maybe you’re just having a bad day and dealing with it by purchasing things you don’t need but think you do.

Reviewing your entries once you’re done with your challenge will reveal a lot about your spending habits.

As for your progress, put a check mark in a specific color after each day that you don’t spend any money. This will help you see the end in sight and give you motivation to keep going.

Tips to Succeed During Your No Spend Challenge

Here are a few easy tips that will help you succeed during your no spend challenge.

1. Choose the Right Time

To succeed during your challenge, make sure you choose the right day, week, or month.

For example, it’s probably not a good idea to choose a month that is full of birthdays, expensive holidays, or any other events that you know you will be spending money for.

If you do choose one of these months, plan ahead and buy what you’ll need, such as gifts, before you start your no spend challenge so you will still succeed.

2. Keep Your End Goal in Mind

Rather than focusing on everything you’re giving up during your no spend challenge, focus on everything you will be gaining once it’s done, such as freedom from your student loans or the vacation you’re going to take.

You can even create a no spend challenge vision board with a collage of images representing everything you’re saving for and put it on your wall.

3. Be Easy on Yourself

Completing a no spend challenge for any period of time is no easy feat, especially if you have children.

Realize there will be various random things that will pop up that are necessities you will need to spend money on.

Be easy on yourself when you make these purchases, even if they weren’t planned and aren’t included in your monthly bills. However, once you buy these necessary items, go right back to your challenge of not spending.

4. Don’t Make Excuses

Although you shouldn’t be hard on yourself, if you make a mistake during your challenge, don’t use it as an excuse to make even more mistakes.

If you’re doing a no spend week and mess up one day, it doesn’t mean you should give up completely and quit the challenge.

If you make a mistake and buy something you shouldn’t have, refocus and keep moving forward.

5. Reward Yourself

Another tip to succeed during your no spend challenge is to reward yourself once you have finished to celebrate your success.

To determine what your reward should be, think about what means most to you that you spend money on. This could be a date night with your significant other, getting lunch with a friend, or even buying a new book you have been wanting.

Just keep in mind that although your reward should be meaningful, it should also be reasonable. Don’t spend all the money you saved during your challenge rewarding yourself.

6. Find Ways to Be Productive

As previously mentioned, many people spend money when their bored. To prevent this from happening, stay productive and use this time to get things done.

Cleaning out, decluttering, and organizing your house is a great option. Throw away, donate, or sell stuff you no longer use.

If you still find yourself being bored during your challenge, here are a few other ways to stay productive:

Final Thoughts on No Spend Challenges

There it is! Now you know just how valuable a no spend challenge can be to help you achieve your financial goals, how to do one, and most importantly, how to succeed during your challenge.

Doing a no spend challenge is a wonderful way to start a new year, a new season, or even just getting a head start on a new month to prepare yourself to achieve your financial goals.

Remember to make your challenge as easy as possible by preparing before, writing down your goals, minimizing temptation, and tracking and reviewing your progress, emotions, and urges to help you stick with your new and healthy financial habits.

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