No Spend Challenge: The Rules For Success

I love a no spend challenge but I was so confused about what the rules were when I first heard about them.

  • Did my no spend challenge mean I couldn’t buy groceries?
  • How was I going to pay my utility bills?
  • and what about getting to work, how was I supposed to do that with no money?

The secret sauce to successfully completing a no spend challenge is that it’s you that sets the rules! There are no rules set in stone by which you must comply, no matter what you read elsewhere.

Let’s dive into some no spend challenge suggestions and how you can create the right no spending rules for you, so you can achieve days without spending money if that is your choice.

More importantly I want you to know how completing a challenge like this can make such a difference to you and your money.

What is a no spend challenge?

A no spend challenge is your commitment to not spending money on specific things for a length of time of your choosing.
It’s a (no spending) goal you set yourself with rules attached.
It’s a money fast instead of a food fast.

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what a no spend challenge can do

Many people set themselves a goal of not spending money because they’ve been overspending and need to cut back.

And successfully cutting back does indeed stop you overspending. But it does much more than that; much, much more.

take back control of your budget

Setting yourself a target to not spend money for a few days, a week or even a month can seem like it’s just you re-doing your budget.

But it’s not, because you are doubling down hard on all that non-spending. Not something you would potentially want to do as your normal spending pattern.

Budgets have a habit of running away from you every so often. Maybe you get complacent, maybe there’s too much going on around you to focus on your money each week and month.

A no spend challenge, whatever length is like a mini budget striped bare. And it helps you seize back control and give renewed focus to your money.

breaks the paycheck cycle

So many of us live paycheck to paycheck, with little or nothing left over the day before payday.

Not spending on anything but essentials for a short while helps you claw back your spending, giving you breathing space. It gives you savings through not spending.

changes spending habits

It’s very easy to be an unconscious spender, especially when you use credit cards for all expenditure.

When you goal is to not spend money you become very conscious of how you used to spend. It can be very eye opening.

I use no spend challenges to reset the focus on how I spend money. I often do one about 8 weeks before Christmas and it helps me to stop being carried away with the whole Christmas prep spending.

Related post: 9 Great Money Habits To Transform Your Finances

its about everyday spending not big bills

Cutting your budget and reducing monthly expenses are often focused on regular bills, getting the best price and lowest rate.

Your no spend challenge is not about bills on auto-pay or changing utility companies. It’s about everyday, casual spending.

Spending that has it’s own line in your budget but you choose how much it is. Not spending is you choosing to really drill down on this and look at what is essential and what often isn’t.

pink piggy bank with this is my year to save on desktop with other financial items to signify no spend challenge ideas
Choose the challenge length that works best for you

The no spend challenge Time-frame ideas

There are a variety of well known no spend challenges and I’ve listed the most common ones below for you.

But you can make your challenge to fit what you want to achieve. Remember, it’s your rules because it’s you who wants success.

1. no spend days

These are great for getting started or where you know you spend multiple times every day on small things and want to reduce this.

The basic formula for no spend days is to not spend any money at all for 24 hours. Automated bill payments are excluded. This one does usually include no grocery spending (it is only 24 hours).

2. no spend weekend

The focus of this challenge is often on not spending money on entertainment over the weekend. The idea is to find free activities that can involve the whole family.

Especially useful if you are in the habit of shopping for fun or dropping $100 over the weekend on various kid friendly activities.

3. no spend week

Now we are moving into the longer no spend challenge ideas the difficulty element can ramp up, But so can the rules you attach to your non spending.

Often the aim of a no spend week is to really work on changing unconscious daily habits. Habits like grabbing coffee every morning, not packing your own lunch and buying it instead, buying a sugary snack each day when you had resolved not to.

Grocery spending could still be off the allowed list if you plan ahead (but don’t over spend if you do this)

dollar bills peaking out of a jean pocket to signify no spend challenge
How much will you save during your no buying challenge?

4. no spend month challenge

Not spending any money for 30 days is oh so much more full on and harder to achieve but the bigger gains could be worth it.

It is said it takes 21 or 28 days to form a new habit. a no spend month challenge is the perfect opportunity to create new money habits and lifestyle changes that you may never dump after the challenge is finished.

You will need some specific rules on how to spend no money for a month and what you will carry on buying.

Think ahead about activities and plans already made also helps. Meeting up with friends during a no spend month might need a few tweaks to keep within your rules.

Groceries are likely to still be on the buy list but you can still cut right back on these with my tips below.

5. no spend year

I have never tried, and likely never will, a no spend year. It takes enormous commitment and the people I have heard about who have successfully completed a year of no spending have been single, with no dependent children.

This I think is probably one of their biggest success factors. Children need things and they want things.

If you are contemplating a no spend year then I would encourage you to read these 2 books first:

The No Spend Year

The Year Without A Purchase

white piggy bank being fed coins by a human hand lined up with 3 increasing piles of coins to signify no spend challenge ideas
Your challenge to save money

how a no spend challenge works

Your challenge works by:

  • Deciding how long you are going to not spend money
  • Thinking about what you want to gain from completing it
  • Deciding on your spending rules (they still need to be stretching so you can feel and see the difference)
  • Planning when your challenge will start
  • Undertaking any prep work required e.g. groceries for a no spend challenge week.

Setting your spending rules

Your challenge, your rules but here’s a few handy hints on things to consider.

What Are you allowed to spend

Most people accept that it’s not a good idea to pause auto payments or delay paying their mortgage just so they can tell themselves they achieved their challenge. So keep all these in place.

The allowed spending tends to cover things like:

  • housing costs
  • utilities
  • insurance
  • internet/phone
  • groceries
  • fuel
  • other monthly contractual commitments

However there are plenty of areas where you can deliberately not spend money. Suggestions for no spending categories include:

  • Activities and entertainment
  • Eating out, coffee, drinks and snacks
  • Clothes
  • Shopping for fun
  • Ubers & Lyft
  • Beauty treatments
  • Fuel for non-essential trips (stay local)
  • Anything that is a want and not a need
money jar filled with coins with my dreams on label to signify no spend month challenge
Why do you want to not spend?

how to get started with your no spend challenge

Having worked out what you will spend on and what you won’t there are a few more things you should do so you know you are going to be successful.

figure out your why

Why are you wanting to undertake a no spend challenge? What are you hoping to gain from it? This is especially important if you are going to be doing a no spend week, month or longer.

There will be times when you are sorely tempted just to spend a teeny, tiny amount on something lovely, but unnecessary. That’s when you need to roll out your why and focus on it.

decide on challenge length

If you spend on a very regular basis and have never done a challenge like this before consider a couple of things.

  • Can you go cold turkey and do a long challenge straight off?
  • Or would setting a series of no spend days be better?

You can do as many challenges as you like after all.

Set your rules

The rules you set should take you outside your normal spending regime and make you feel different. They should also make a difference to your bank balance. You want to see some savings in there!

Agree rules with your spouse

Of course you can do a no spend challenge without your spouse being on board, but how much more powerful will it be if both of you are involved?

Having an accountability partner is also extremely helpful when undertaking a longer challenge. Someone who can remind you of your why when you are feeling tempted to spend.

Slim down your purse

Think about what money options you are going to carry in your purse while undertaking your challenge.

If you’re not spending then do you need all your credit cards, debit cards, checkbook and cash? Leave temptation at home along with your cards.

woman's hands holding a red open purse putting dollar bills into it to signify no spend challenge free printables
Make the most of nor spending to save more

10 top tips for a successful no spend challenge

Now you’ve started, what can you do to stick to your rules AND save a good chunk of money?

Pantry Challenge

Have you ever done a pantry challenge? This is where you challenge yourself to eat only foods that are in your pantry/freezer with the aim of not buying groceries.

You can see why this is the perfect partner to every no spend challenge you do. You get bonus savings by reducing your grocery spending down to real essentials.

meal plan

Planning your meals helps you know what foods you are going to need to buy. Meal plan from your food cupboards first before creating shopping list of items you cannot do without.

Have fallback options

I love a meal plan but I know from experience that sometimes you just cannot face cooking, even if it is a quick 30 minute recipe.

This is where having a fallback meal option that doesn’t cost any money or any real time to prepare keeps you from going out and spending money. Fallback options can be freezer meals or my favorite, toast meals.

Toast meals are simply something on toast. Ideally something out of the can or in the fridge, certainly nothing that takes much time to prepare.

Quick things like:

  • cheese on toast
  • sardines on toast
  • beans on toast

My exception is scrambled eggs on toast, because it’s a favorite of mine.

free things to do

There are many activities you can do for entertainment that don’t cost money. Sometimes you need to get a little creative and sometimes you need to research them.

Your local area is waiting to be explored. Walks, community activities, woodlands and parks to name but a few.

Clear your to do list

Your never ending to do list is calling. Now is a great time to tackle all the things you know need doing yet you haven’t found time to do them.

If you need inspiration on the kind of stuff that might need or want doing, check out my post on 99 productive things to do with no money.

calculator with money bills spread over it on a bright yellow background
Track how much you save

stock up on household goods

You can overlook household essentials when planning your challenge. To help you keep to your rules it can help to stock up on these things before you begin.

They don’t go off so if you buy one pack of toilet paper too much, it’ll be used later. Household goods you might want to think about:

  • Toilet paper
  • Toothpaste
  • Batteries
  • Shampoo
  • Basic medicines like painkillers and plasters

Unsubscribe

Reduce temptation to spend by unsubscribing from stores and companies you often buy from. When your challenge is successfully over you can subscribe again if you want.

accountability partner

Getting your spouse to join in the challenge gives you a built in accountability partner. Someone who helps you stay the course when you get tempted and who you can talk through your aims and your why.

If you’re single or your partner is not on board with your challenge then seek out someone else, a friend or a relative.

Make a wish list

If you are really tempted by something you have seen then write it down as a potential future purchase.

For big purchases I always encourage people to use the 30 day rule as quite often what we think we need can be more of an impulsive want than true need.

transfer your money

At the end of your no spend challenge, work out how much you have saved and transfer it into a savings account. This crystallizes your achievement and stops it from getting swallowed up by your next paycheck.

woman holding large messy bundles of bank notes
Challenges give you savings success

The success of your no spend challenge

Completing your no spend challenge gives you a real opportunity to look back at how you spent before and makes changes.

For me, my biggest learning points were on how my good habits can slip over time. That’s why I continue to do challenges each year, to keep me on track with my spending and saving goals.

Start taking back control of your money by grabbing your copy of the Money Saving Starter Guide today.

Come and follow me on Pinterest for more money saving hints and frugal tips!

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Last Updated on 3rd March 2021 by Emma

About Emma

I'm here to help you become confident in making the best money decisions for you and your family. Frugal living has changed my life, let me help you change yours.

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