Feel like it's impossible to control your spending? Discover how to do a no spend challenge and why it's one of the best things you can do to not only reach your savings goals and stop spending unnecessary money, but actually start to enjoy your life!
I started off doing a 30 day no spend challenge when I was 18(ish) years old and it ended up lasting almost 3 years! SERIOUSLY! My no spend challenge completely changed my relationship to my finances. It helped me recover from chronically overspending to reaching my financial goals! In this post, I'll share how you can do one too!
What is a no spend challenge?
A no spend challenge is when you decide to stop making unnecessary purchases and spending money on things you don’t need. Yes, you obviously can still pay for essential expenses; but no more Amazon prime impulse purchases, or random home decor finds.
Why should you do a no spend challenge?
Personally, I think everyone should do a no spend challenge at least once in their life for a minimum of 30 days. You'll gain a deeper awareness to your relationship with money, yourself, and your things.
It’s easy to forget about a $1 here or $5 there and not really realize where thousands of dollars are going each year. Aside from awareness, I think a no-spend challenge can really change one’s relationship with consumerism, at least it did for me.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’m definitely not a fashion blogger – I’m a total outfit repeater. But what if I told you that in high school I was actually a total clothes horse. I mean I literally didn’t repeat the same outfit within a month. I shopped every weekend and had more stuff than I knew what to do with. That all changed at 19 when I started my no-spend challenge that ended up lasting two years. I realized during that time that I liked having money in the bank more than tons of clothes that I only wore once in a while. It brought me more happiness to invest in myself with things like massages, or have the funds to take care of my future.
And of course, a no spend challenge makes it much easier to reach your financial goals! So whether that’s repaying debt, improving your credit score, saving money for your first home, car or travel it’ll definitely help move you forward!
Benefits of a no spend challenge:
The most obvious benefit to a no spend challenge is saving the most money in a short period of time as possible. But ultimately it really does change your entire relationship to spending in my experience.
- Enjoy free concerts, board games, and other create ways to enjoy old favorite hobbies
- Increase discretionary spending for the holiday season or purchases coming up in the future
- Control spending urges beyond the challenge time frame
- Learn how to stick to your list of items when you go into a store
- Improve poor spending habits around emotional/impulse shopping
- Create your own rules around money going forward instead of mindlessly doing what you've always done
- Reach financial freedom from student loans or other debts
How To Do A No Spend Challenge: Rules
Step 1: Clarity
First things first, get CLEAR on your needs and essential purchases!
If you’ve already been working off a budget, this will be a little easier, but I recommend writing a list and then crossing checking it with your credit card, debit card, and other bank statements to ensure you aren’t missing anything!
Remember everyone is different. So I don’t have a car which means no monthly gas for me. Even if you do have a car, maybe you decide that you’ll only use it if you’re going somewhere more than a mile away. If it’s under a mile you can walk, ride a bike, or look into public transportation to cut down on gas. Again not essential, just something to get you thinking outside of the box on “essentials.”
You don’t have to get that caught up in the minutiae for “essentials vs non-essentials” though, at the end of the day this should be a simple, clear guideline that you feel is doable. The last thing I want you to do is feel like it’s so impossible or complicated and you end up giving up. So again, keep it simple and clear.
Some examples of things we don’t need but spend money on would be a cleaning person, dry cleaning, music streaming services, nail appointments, and random home decor purchases. If you still feel stuck, learn How to Stop Buying Stuff You Don't Need here.
Step 2: Write your goal out
Get clear on your goal now too – and write it down!
So I’ve been talking all around it at this point, but it’s essential to get clear on what your goal is with the no-spend challenge!
For me, stacking an emergency fund is one of the best goals to start with. You can aim for 1 month of living expenses, then go from there depending on how risky you career is.
The more specific you can be the better, feel free to include how you’ll feel once you reach this goal and any sub goals you have in terms of what you hope you relationship to money will be like after.
For example, my relationship with money and shopping particularly changed after my first no spend. I no longer was an impulse shopper, but instead today, if there’s something I want, I’ll wait 2-3 days and if I’m still thinking about the item, I’ll go back and get it; but most of the time I’ve forgotten about it and I save a ton of money this way!
By writing this down, in detail, and putting it somewhere visible, it’ll help you stay motivated – because let’s be honest, we all know motivation has a half life and you may need a kick in the butt half way through!
Step 3: Create a plan
Think about obstacles, set backs, and solidify your plans.
Start by deciding how long you want to do the no-spend challenge for. Is it until you pay off your debt? Reach your savings goals? Or is it a specific set amount of time like 30 days or a year?
Personally, I prefer to do it for 30 days rather than based on your goal. I think it adds a little less pressure and it’s nice knowing the exact end date.
Next, set a start date
Additionally, consider your obstacles like family members and close friends. You’ll want to get them on board so they can support your rather than hinder you. That means letting them know you won’t be dining out for however long, but if they want to come over for a potluck dinner and game night, you’re in! You may even find that your partner or friends want to join you in the challenge as accountability buddies which would be ideal!
Next, consider how you’re going to manage your finances. Some people like using the old school envelope system where they know they need a certain amount of money for the month on essentials, so they pull it out in cash, put it in an envelope and only pull from that for the month.
Others stick to using their credit cards in order to get the points and since they’re spending less, they know they can pay the balance off in full each month. And since your credit score is weighted based on your most recent spending history this may help improve things.
Step 4: Plan for success
For me, that meant immediately unsubscribing for every store email and staying off social media. I just didn’t need to see it. I also added an extension on my browser that blocks ads so I wasn’t as targeted while online.
You also may want to avoid trigger places for yourself like a coffee shop or other stores that you go in wanting toilet paper and come out with $500 in home decor items.
For others, it may mean buying gift cards in advance to force yourself to stick with a spending freeze. This is a great way to ensure you don't spend extra money at the grocery store during the set period of time for your no spend challenge.
Lastly, I don't recommend doing a spending freeze during major holidays. While it may be wise to choose and cut back your spending so you don't fall into the trap of impulse purchases, I find it's a good way to set yourself up for failure instead.
Step 5: Gratitude
This may sound silly, but it's one of the best free things to practice and carry you through the time frame to the end of the challenge. Focus on doing a gratitude challenge the entire month or as long as it takes to reach your money goal.
So many people over the years have messaged me about feeling deprived during a challenge like this, but if we can focus on the fact that less money doesn't mean a poorer quality of life and you can still enjoy time with close friends or having a fun experience at a free event, I promise this will all be worth it.
You can learn to save a lot of money, while breaking bad spending habits, and still enjoying things. You may discover your city does a free concert in the park, or that it's the perfect time to go for a hike!
think one thing that shifted a lot for me in doing this was that I have a lot more gratitude for the items i do have. I realized how much I spent before on things that didn’t really bring me joy – when in reality I had so much more than millions of people out there. Instead today, I’d rather focus on taking care of the things I have and always feel like I have more than enough to be happy. I’m not keeping up with anyone but myself.
A no spend challenge is a good idea for everyone. It's the best way to stop the unnecessary expenses and improve your financial situation. While it's important to take care of monthly bills for essentials, your bank account will thank you.
SAVE FOR LATER:
Originally published 9/12/18; Updated 11/19/22