Let me guess.

You want to try a no spend challenge, but you have a few questions. 

How do I start? How long should it last?

What are the rules? 

So let me answer your questions, then let’s create an action plan for your no buy challenge.
 
Are you up for it?

Let’s jump in.

What is a no spend challenge?

hundred dollar bills

The idea is simple:

You don’t spend money during a set period of time. Of course, you’ll spend some money, but only on your necessities:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Transportation
  • Medical Expenses

No spend challenges follow one simple rule:
 
No spending on anything that isn’t essential.
 
Does it sound difficult?
 
It’s challenging, but it’s doable. So beware of falling into the trap of telling yourself that it’s not the “right time.”
 
Doesn’t it always seem like there are birthdays, vacations, and holidays you have to plan for?
 
But here’s the deal:
 
There will never be a perfect month, so you just have to plan around it. 
 
Need to buy a birthday gift? Give yourself a modest spending limit.
 
Have to buy holiday gifts? Have your friends and family each agree to “pick” one person to shop for. That way, everyone gets a gift without breaking the bank.

After all, you won’t be the only one who wants to save money. 

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10 Tips for a Successful No Spend Challenge:

man holding money
 

Tip 1: Pick a Time Frame

 Are you ready to get started?

Great! Your first step is to decide how long your challenge will last.

There are 3 common time frames:

    1. No spend weekend

    2. No spend week

    3. No spend month

 
But it doesn’t stop there. There are no spend summers. No spend winters. 90 day challenges, and even 12 month challenges. 

So I know what you’re thinking.
 
Which one should I pick?
 
Let’s talk about the 3 most common. 
 

The No Spend Weekend 

No spend weekends are straightforward:
 
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, you’ll need to occupy your time with free activities.
 
Things like this:

  • Binge on your favorite movies or shows
  • Be productive and tackle something on your to-do list
  • Volunteer your time
  • Have a game night and cook at home

The No Spend Week

Ready to kick it up a notch? The no spend week is about making changes to your daily habits.
 
This means cutting your spending leaks:
 

  • Eating out
  • Coffee runs
  • Impulse purchases
  • Lunch with coworkers

 

Sounds easy enough, right?

The No Spend Month

During a no spend month, you’re turning your habits into lifestyle changes. 
 
You start by taking a hard look at your budget. What expenses can you cut? What expenses can you keep?
 
For example, you might get rid of:
 

  • Unused gym memberships
  • Unused subscription services
  • Cancel “free” trials you forgot about
  • Bank fees
  • Alcohol
  • Expensive cable 

 

Tip 2: Set Goals

goals written on napkin

Word to the wise:

Saving money for the sake of saving money doesn’t work for most of us.

So get clear on why you’re doing this before you start. Write it down somewhere, and get specific. 
 
How much money would you like to save? What bad spending habit are you trying to break?

Better yet?

Think about what your goals mean for your future.

I want to save money…so I can buy a house.

I want to break bad spending habits…so I can become debt free.

I want to reduce my spending…so I can save more for retirement.
 
Everyone has different reasons for trying a no spend challenge.

What’s yours?

Tip 3: Tell Someone

man talking on the phone
 
Let me say this straight:
 
Action trumps knowledge.
 
No buy challenges are simple, but they aren’t always easy. You know what it takes to get there, now you just have to act on it. 
 
When you say you’re going to pack your lunch, do it. When you say you’ll stick to a shopping list, do it.

When you say you’ll write down your financial goals, do it.
 
Do it, do it, do it. Then talk about it with someone else. 
 

Tip 4: Save Smarter

money in jars

Do you like keeping things simple?
 
Me too.
 
But maybe you don’t always have time to clip coupons. Or search and try to find the best deals.
 
My suggestion?
 
Use a cash back app like Rakuten. If you haven’t heard of it, Rakuten is a rewards program that helps you save money on everything you buy. As you make purchases, you get cash back.
 
Like last year when I replaced my oven, I got $63 from that purchase alone.
 
The best part?
 
Rakuten works with over 2,500 stores – including big names like Amazon and Walmart.
 
So here’s how it works:
 
You sign up for a free account and use the search bar to find the retailer you want to shop at.
 

For my visual readers, here’s how that looks:

rakuten homepage
 
It’s important to save as much money as possible during your no spend challenge.

Note: The Rakuten link above gives you a $10 welcome bonus

Tip 5: Eliminate Your Spending Weaknesses

woman using laptop and cellphone

Can we be honest?

We’ve made it far too easy on ourselves to spend money.
 
We keep our credit card information auto-saved online. We enable one-click ordering features. We sign up for newsletters to get the latest deals sent to us.
 
Then we wonder where all our money went.
 
So here’s what it boils down to:
 
You should figure out what your weaknesses are and how to stop them.
 
Are you too swipe happy? Use cash.
 
You’re an impulse shopper? Keep a shopping list.
 
Online shopper? Use a free program like Block Site.

 

Tip 6: Use Up What You Have

fresh vegetables

Are you ready to be satisfied with what you already have?

One of the best things about no spend challenges is using up what you already own. If you want to get the most out of your challenge, then don’t stock up before you start.

Think about it:
 
Are there things that have been in your pantry for months?
 
You can do a lot with a little. So while you’re clearing the excess, try this:
 

  • Use gift cards
  • Use your loyalty card points
  • Make meals based on what’s in your pantry
  • If you can’t use it, sell it

Tip 7: Use a Cash System

man showing wallet full of money

Did you know that people who use cards waste 12% to 18% more money than people who use cash?
 
I didn’t, but when I tried a cash system for myself, I saved $137 the first month.

Then I became hooked.
 
Here’s the thing:
 
There’s a psychological component behind spending with cash. Swiping a card just doesn’t sink in as much as spending your hard-earned dollars.
 
So here’s what worked for me:
 
When I went shopping, I used my SavvyCents Wallet and only took the amount that I knew I needed. As a former spender, this stopped me from falling into the impulse shopping trap. 
 
So if you’re new to the cash system, I recommend starting out with cash envelopes. They’re cheap and easy to label.
 
Once you get used to your cash system, then try a cash envelope wallet. They’re durable and make managing your money a breeze.
 

Tip 8: Meal Plan. Meal Plan. Meal Plan.

fruits and vegetables

Let’s face it.
 
Convenience food is most people’s weakness.
 
I don’t feel like cooking. I’m too tired to cook. I have nothing to eat. I’m craving something. Sound like you?

Those feelings alone can destroy even the best no spend challenge.
 
So here’s what you do:

Make it a point each week to plan out your meals and snacks. Then pick a day to cook your meals and store them for later.

The best part?

Meal planning is great for your wallet and your waistline. 
 
But if you’ve never meal planned before, use easy meal planning recipes to keep things simple. And have easy-to-grab snacks like fruits, yogurt, or protein bars on hand.
 

Tip 9: Keep Positive Affirmations in Sight 

quote cards lying on table

Positive Affirmations.
 
They just work.
 
Why?
 
Because you can’t save money if you suffer from this one little syndrome:
 
You don’t believe you can.
 
This means you have to stop telling yourself you’re bad with money. Stop telling yourself you’re a spender rather than a saver. And stop telling yourself you can’t stick to your budget.

Promise?
 
Those labels do nothing but keep you hostage to your financial situation.
 
So instead, keep a few positive affirmations in sight. Here are a few examples:
 

  • I know what I want and expect in my life
  • I’m satisfied with what I have
  • My energy is focused and directed to my goals.

You can do this, but first you have to believe it. 

Tip 10: Track Your Progress

no spend challenge

Without a plan – so many people just roll the dice and hope it works out.
 
But I’m here to tell you:
 
You can’t leave your finances up to chance. A budget and a no buy challenge by themselves aren’t going to help you reach your goals.
 
So let me ask you:
 
Have you ever regretted wasting money on something?
 
You know how it is.
 
It starts with a commitment to sticking to your budget. And you do for a few days. Then, despite your promise to yourself, you break down and buy something you shouldn’t.
 
It’s okay, you’re not going to let it happen again.
 
But it does.
 
Frustrated, you wonder what gives. You’re smart, motivated, and when you set your mind to something, you’re able to do it.
 
Been there, done that?
 
Part of your success with your no spend challenge comes from tracking your progress.
 
So have “mini-meetings” with yourself where you sit down and take stock of where you are.
 
What areas are you excelling in? What areas need improvement?

If you’ve fallen off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up. Get up. Keep going. Push forward.
 

The Aftermath

man using laptop

Successfully completing a no spend challenge gives you a natural high.

And more importantly?

It gives you the motivation to save more.

But here’s the deal:
 
These challenges are great kick-starters, but they don’t last forever. So the key is to protect your hard work with your post-challenge plan. 
 
You’ll want to give yourself a guilt-free allowance of 5-10% of your take-home pay. You have to create a budget for this to work.
 
Don’t know where to start?

I recommend using a zero-based budget.

Research shows that when you use a zero-based budget, you pay off 19% more debt and save 18% more money.

So how do you make a zero-based budget?
 
The point of a zero-based budget is to make Income – Expenses =  $0
 
This doesn’t mean you have zero dollars left in your bank account at the end of the month. Instead, it means you assign every dollar a job.
 
So if you cover all your expenses during the month and have $100 left over, then you aren’t done budgeting yet.

That $100 needs to go to a category. Fun money, retirement, savings, debt – wherever. Just make sure you assign it somewhere.
 
For my visual readers, here’s a zero-based budget in action:

example of a zero based budget

You see?

That’s what you want.

But more importantly:

Commit yourself to the process. To saving money. To changing your financial habits.

Start small by trying a no spend weekend. Then a week. Then a month.

You can do this. 

Are you ready?

Money saving worksheet


Ready to kickstart your savings?
Grab your free money saving worksheet:


 

Adele Alligood obtained her Bachelor’s of Accounting and Business Management from Valdosta State University. She received her Chartered Financial Consultant certification (ChFC®) from the American College of Financial Services. She’s been featured as a personal finance expert in several publications, including NBC NewsBusiness News DailyThe Simple Dollar, QuickbooksFinance BuzzThe Best CompanyFitSmallBusinessChime BankingReviewed.com, and The Active Times. Connect with Adele on LinkedIn.

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