Do you wonder what all the fuss is about having a no spend challenge?
Can completing a no buy challenge for a day, a week or a month actually make any difference to your money situation?
That depends. On you. On whether you can successfully cut out your spending.
But that is why I am writing this. To help you be successful in any no spend challenge you choose to do.
So What Is A No Spend Challenge?
I think you know the answer already! But to reiterate, it’s a period of time where you challenge yourself to spend no money, other than on contractual obligations and absolute essentials.
Let’s be honest. No-one can really go without spending any money at all for anything longer than a few days in-between auto-paying bills.
But what you can do is set yourself a financial goal to spend nothing other than on essentials. And that can be very hard to do if you are an unconscious spender.
The types of bills and essentials you would still pay out for during a no spend challenge could include:
- utility bills
- cell phone/mobile monthly plan
- childcare for working hours
- other monthly contractual commitments
You will note I have NOT included groceries in the list above, for good reason which I will explain more later.
Why Take On Any No Spend Challenge?
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Take Back Control Of Your Budget
A budget is key to successfully managing your money but is it working perfectly right now? I think not.
Otherwise you wouldn’t be seriously considering a no buy challenge.
Cutting out all non-essential spending will give you back control of your budget. You will see what you are NOT spending on.
And you can decide at the end whether these are things you want to spend on or whether they are removed from your budget forever.
Break The Paycheck To Paycheck Cycle
When you are spending all your available money every paycheck you have no wriggle room left, even if you are paid a reasonable income.
Cutting out all non-essential spending will show you how much of your paycheck goes on the non-essentials and give you pause for thought.
Confronting Bad Habits
It is very easy to form bad habits in all aspects of our lives. From bad posture sitting at your desk, to ignoring your spouse when they talk about soccer, to frittering away $5 here and there – because it’s only $5.
When you challenge yourself to not spend any money you are forcing yourself to confront your existing spending habits. They might be perfectly acceptable habits but are they the habits you want to encourage?
Do you actually know what your daily/weekly spending habits are?
Understand Your Spending Triggers
We all have spending triggers. Whether it’s because you are sad, happy or influenced by what others are buying. Your decision to spend is not an isolated decision, it is influenced by much around you.
As you can’t or won’t spend money at these times, you will be able to analyse why you would have spent money at that point if you weren’t doing your challenge.
What Will You Gain From Challenging Yourself?
Savings Lump Sum
Because you have set yourself a target of no spending, you will be determined to achieve that target. As a result you will spend significantly less money and have a decent lump sum at the end of your challenge.
If you’ve been living beyond your means recently then achieving your target will help you get back in the black for the first time in ages.
But it’s not just about the money you will save.
Breaking Bad Habits
We all fall into bad money habits. This is your opportunity to expose these habits for what they are and make a conscious decision to change them.
If you are doing a 30 day challenge, which is tough let’s be honest, then you will not only expose your habits you will be ¾ of the way to creating new, better money habits by not spending.
Eliminates Excess Spending
Spending only on necessities by default means there won’t be any excess spending. Indeed you are likely to find there are many days when you spend no money at all. Because it isn’t necessary.
More Frugal Lifestyle
It might not be your primary motive but many frugal people focus on conscious spending. Becoming more conscious of your spending will help you adopt a more frugal lifestyle if you so choose.
4 No Spend Challenge Ideas
You can do a no spend challenge for any period time, it is entirely up to you but here are 4 different challenges and why they can be useful.
Have X No Spend Days Each Month
When you are in the habit of spending money every day without fail, setting yourself the challenge of having a certain number of no spend days (NSDs) can be a challenge in itself.
This challenge is less about not buying non-essentials and more about changing the habit of daily spending. Nicola at The Frugal Cottage challenges herself every month to a certain number of NSDs.
The No Spend Weekend Challenge
This challenge is a great one for families or couples who tend to spend a lot at the weekends on entertainment and enjoying themselves.
It’s not about not enjoying yourself of course! It’s about finding free activities to do at the weekend and to encourage children to understand that money is not the answer to everything.
The No Spend Week Challenge
If you unconsciously spend money multiple times a day then a week is a very long time to not spend any money.
For me, this wouldn’t be a big challenge as I never spent money on a working day anyway – primarily because I am a frugalista who always packed her lunch, snacks and teabags!
If you usually buy coffee in the morning and lunch whilst at work then this is the perfect no spending challenge to get started with.
The 30 day No Spend Challenge
This is the big one. The no spend month long challenge. Not for the faint-hearted but if you are up for it, you will make big savings and learn a huge amount about your spending habits.
Not spending any (non-essential) money for 30 days is tough when you are used to whipping out your card on a regular basis.
No more picking up a snack (chocolate!) from the local store as a little treat. No more pizza take out because you are too darn tired to cook tonight.
Your Challenge, Your Rules
Of course you have to set out your rules. These will be different for everyone but the key thing is they should take you out of your comfortable spending zone.
Your rules should be about separating your wants from your needs.
You need food to fuel your body. But restaurant food is not a need, it’s a want.
You need to buy fuel to use your car to get to work. But extra fuel so you can take a drive into the countryside is a want.
You get the picture.
Non-essential Spending To Consider Eliminating
- Restaurant meals
- Shop bought coffee and lunches for work
- Takeaway food
- Beauty treatments and hair cuts
- Clothes (new or thrift store)
- Gas for non-work trips
- Taxi’s, Ubers or Lyft
- Groceries – see below
This category needs some flexibility. If you are having a 30 day no spend challenge then chances are you cannot eat a healthy diet purely from the food you currently have in your cupboards.
You may want to consider a small allowance for perishable items such as milk, fruit and vegetables. But don’t make it too easy on yourself.
If you’ve got frozen or tinned stuff, consider using these before using that allowance.
I don’t advocate stocking up before a non spend challenge because it defeats the object of your challenge. Your challenge is to make you think about every purchase.
Throwing $300 worth of food into your freezer to keep you going is not in the spirit of a no buy month or week is it?
Success Tips For A No spend Challenge
Check your calendar for upcoming events during your challenge period. If there are birthdays during it, get these in advance.
Check your cupboards and ensure you have more than just 20 bags of wholemeal flour (I bet you do).
Raid Your Pantry
To keep your grocery spending to essentials you need to utilize all that is in your cupboards. The best way to do this is to do an inventory of your food cupboards.
Then create a meal plan based on the ingredients you already have. Aim to use as much as possible without shopping even if it means you have some quirky meals.
Have Fallback Options
If eating out or getting a takeaway are something you tend to do when you are tired, be prepared for those tired days. If you haven’t got meals prepared in the freezer then consider the really quick & simple meal options.
Toast dinners are perfect for ‘too tired to cook’ nights:
- Scrambled eggs on toast
- Toast pizzas
- Sardines on toast
- Cheesy beans on toast
Having someone do the challenge with you is perfect. Alternatively have someone know what your aim is and keep them updated on your progress.
Your accountability partner can be your spouse, your kids or a friend. Share how you are doing and they will help you during the difficult times.
Consider Fun Money
If you are worried that you will fail when you try not to spend money every day then you could consider having a very small buffer.
It’s more of a mental buffer so that you don’t consider yourself to have ‘failed’ if you spend $4 on a coffee once. Better to use your buffer than to give up completely.
Of course I would encourage you keep your buffer small, say $10 for a no spend week challenge and $30 for the 30 day no spend challenge.
And it goes without saying that your challenge is to not spend that buffer either!
Track New Non Spending Events
Keep a diary to record all those times when you would have spent money if you weren’t doing your challenge. This will give you a great insight into where your money usually goes.
Record what you would have bought and why.
Get Busy Living
The last thing you need is to feel like you are twiddling your thumbs because you can’t spend money.
Create a to do list of jobs that you’ve been putting off or activities that you keep planning to do and never get round to it. Things like:
- Organizing your finances
- Creative family time
- Declutter your home
- Research free activities in your local area and go to them
- Think about future financial goals you want to achieve
Future Purchases List
To help you achieve your challenge even when you see something you desperately want to buy, create a future purchases list. This is a list of all the things you see during your challenge that you might have considered buying.
I’m not suggesting you buy everything on the list as soon as you have achieved that challenge though!
Review your list at the end of your challenge and consider whether, really, do you still want or need that item. Chances are the moment has passed.
You can read more about to do this successfully in my post on the 30 day rule.
Now You’re Ready For Your No Spend Challenge
With 4 no spend challenges to choose from and a bunch of tips to help you succeed there is no time like the present to get started.
Choose your no spend challenge, set your rules, set your start date and look forward to the savings you make and the understanding you will gain.