A no-spend challenge is just what it sounds like – you commit to not spending money on any non-essentials for a set time period. Then, you use all that extra money to give your financial goals a little turbo boost.
I like to think of a no-spend challenge like a juice cleanse for your finances. It eliminates all the “toxins” from your spending and gives your budgeting system a hard reset. It also helps you:
- Break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
- Be more mindful of your spending.
- Destroy bad habits.
- Save for bigger purchases sooner.
Sounds amazing, right? It can be, but only if you set yourself up for success first.
1. Decide what you’ll do with all that unspent money
Decide ahead of time what you’ll do with all the extra cash you’re saving during these challenges. That way you won’t be tempted to spend all of that newfound savings on frivolous things or give up halfway through your challenge because you’re just not sure it’s worth it.
Maybe you want to pay off your credit card debt, bulk up your emergency fund, save up for a new car, move into a nicer apartment, or start investing for the first time.
Whatever it is, knowing your “why” before you start your challenge will help keep you motivated and energized as you push through each phase of the no-spend challenge.
Pro tip: Write your goals down and keep them posted on your bathroom mirror, in your car, or by your computer so you’re constantly reminded of why you’re not spending money.
2. Set some ground rules
Figure out ahead of time what you will and won’t let yourself spend money on during your no-spend challenge.
For example, you may decide that items you can (and should) spend money on include:
- Medical supplies.
- Pet food and medications.
- Transportation costs.
- Any other necessities.
You may decide that items you can’t buy during your no-spend challenge include:
- Dining out.
- Snacks at the grocery store.
- Random Amazon purchases.
- Anything else that’s optional.
3. Start small with a realistic challenge
No-spend challenges aren’t for the faint of heart. Don’t jump the gun and start out with a 90-day no-spend challenge if you’ve never even attempted a 24-hour challenge!
Remember, it is always easier to extend a small and successful challenge than it is to feel the letdown of giving up on a challenge that was too overwhelming.
If you are just starting out with no-spend challenges, be kind to yourself and start small!
4. Limit temptations
I don’t know about you, but I’ve actually grown to hate promotional emails. Maybe it’s because I see right through their gimmicks of trying to get me to spend money fast with their one-off sales and time-sensitive coupon codes.
Well, I’m not falling for it and neither should you!
Take some time to unsubscribe from all the promotional emails that land in your inbox. Delete any pre-saved credit card numbers from your computer so you can’t buy on a whim. Avoid visiting stores during your no-spend challenge that usually have you all like: “TAKE MY MONEY!”
If there are any other known temptations in your life (like a standing brunch with your friends where you always buy too many mimosas), make sure to keep them out of sight during a no-spend challenge. When your challenge is over, you may find that eliminating those temptations from your life permanently is better for your finances and easier to give up than you may have previously thought.
5. Get your family on board
If you have a partner or kids, tell them about your no-spend challenge so you can all do it together. Even better, keep everyone motivated by turning it into a game!
To do so, set a goal for how much money you want to save and then track your progress. Once done, you can give small rewards to those family members who save the most.
To make sure that you keep all of your savings, try to find ways to reward your family for free or cheap, like a day without chores or an extra topping on Friday night pizza.
6. Distract yourself with a side project
If you’re like me, you have about 10 side projects you want to start but keep pushing further and further down your to-do list.
Why not carve out time to do those things while you’re not spending money? Some of my favorite things to do during a no-spend challenge are:
- Decluttering my house and selling everything I don’t want to keep.
- Cleaning up my social media channels by unfollowing people who bring me down or tempt me to spend money I don’t have.
- Renting some good books from the library.
- Building a puzzle.
- Working on a side hustle.
Common no-spend challenges
- 24-hour rule. The 24-hour no-spend rule is more of a financial philosophy than a no-spend challenge. And it’s one I personally swear by! With the 24-hour rule, you wait one full day before buying something non-essential. It could be clothes, books, makeup, hobby gear, electronics, random Amazon purchases – you name it.
- One-week rule. The one-week rule is similar to the 24-hour rule, but you wait seven full days before buying something instead of waiting just one day. I recommend using the one-week rule for big-ticket items like a new phone, an inflatable kayak, a GoPro, a Peloton, or any other expensive thing on your wishlist. I’ve personally created ground rules for when I’ll wait 24 hours and when I’ll wait a full seven days. For example, if I’m eyeing something that’s less than $150, I’ll wait 24 hours to make sure I still want it. If it’s more than $150, I’ll wait a week.
- No-spend day. Okay, now we’re getting into the true no-spend challenges where you try not to spend any money at all for a set period of time.No Starbucks. No Amazon purchases. No bag of chips from the gas station. Just you and a day full of things you already have at home. The purpose of a no-spend day is to help you become more mindful of your habits. You won’t get rich overnight, but if you commit to doing one once a month or even once a week, the savings can really add up.
- No-spend weekend. Once you’ve mastered the no-spend day challenge, up the ante with a no-spend weekend. This is where you go a full Friday, Saturday, and Sunday without spending any money. I personally love a fun weekend challenge because it forces you to slow down a bit and let your inner child roam free. Every time I do it I’m reminded that you don’t need to spend money to have fun. There’s free fun all around you!
- No-spend week. A no-spend week is just as it sounds: you commit to not spending any money for a full seven days. You can make exceptions for bills and other necessities. Or, you can pay those ahead of time and put the credit and debit cards away for real. Your choice! A week-long challenge means it’ll likely overlap with work. I recommend doing some meal prepping ahead of time so you have lunches and dinners ready to go each day.
- 30-day no-spend challenge. They say it takes 28 days to make a habit, so a no-spend month may be just the ticket for establishing some life-long changes. But let’s get one thing clear – a no-spend month isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of dedication and focus, but it can be super, super rewarding if you stick with it. (Just check out this post from Elizabeth Helen Spencer to see what I mean. She did a 30-day no-spend challenge and shared her entire experience with us).
- 90-day no-spend challenge. I love the idea of a 90-day no-spend challenge because you’re committing to going one-fourth of a year without buying any “wants.” Now that’s a real lifestyle change! You can’t simply delay a purchase for a month and then pick up right where you left off. The 90-day no-spend challenge doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can cut out everything if you’d like. Or, you can mold it a little bit to fit your lifestyle.
- No-spend year. No-spend years are for the real OGs. And they’re guaranteed to add the most cash to your pocket. If you do a no-spend year, consider choosing one category of spending to cut out – such as clothing, books, Amazon deliveries, electronics, dining out, etc. – instead of cutting out everything that’s optional.
No-spend challenges are great for resetting your spending habits and boosting your savings. You’ll have the most success if you start small, identify your spending triggers ahead of time, and commit to avoiding them at all costs.
Not sure where to start? Choose one no-spend challenge idea from the list above and get to it! You got this.