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Has your budget spiraled off the rails and it seems like all you do is spend, spend, spend?
Yeah, I’ve totally been there.
You make your budget with the best of intentions but…it doesn’t always go as planned.
Sometimes overspending happens because life throws us a curve ball we don’t expect. But other times, a blown budget is the result of poor money management.
It happens. And when it does, you might need to do something a little drastic to get your spending back on course. (And maybe save a little money in the process.)
Enter the no spend challenge.
What’s a No Spend-Challenge?
It’s simple. A no spend challenge is a way to regain control over your budget.
You’re essentially challenging yourself not to spend any money unnecessarily for a set period of time.
It could be a day, a week, a month — whatever works for you.
Heck, if you’re really ambitious you could challenge yourself to go a year without spending anything extra.
The point is, a no-spend challenge is about hitting the reset button on your finances. It’s a chance to reflect on your spending habits and figure out what is (or isn’t) working for you.
Who Needs a No-Spend Challenge?
Anyone can benefit from a no spend challenge but it can be super helpful when you feel like you’ve lost your grip on your budget or trying to do life is causing you to overspend.
Spending fatigue is a real thing. There are times when I feel like if I have to whip out my debit card one.more.time. I’m just going to lose it.
And like I said, sometimes it’s necessary.
A couple of weeks ago, for example, I had to get new tires for my car. It ended up being almost $400.
I’d just come off a spendy Mother’s Day weekend treating my mom to some things so it was a pretty ugh feeling having to spend even more money.
And you should definitely give a no spend challenge a try if you’re struggling with hitting your savings goals.
I love saving money and you might too but it’s not always easy, especially when you have kids. Taking a step away from spending, even if it’s just for a few days, is a great way to refocus on saving.
How to Do a No-Spend Challenge
Are you ready to commit to a spending diet? Awesome!
Now you just need to know how to do it. These steps can help you start — and crush — your no spend challenge.
1. Pick a Time Frame for Your Spending Fast
The first thing you need to decide is how long you want to try going cold turkey on spending.
If it’s your first time on a no spend challenge, then I suggest starting with a week.
Why a week?
A one-day challenge is too short to see any real results. And trying to grind out a month-long no spend challenge might be overwhelming if you’ve never done one before.
So, get out your calendar, pick the week you want to start your challenge and pencil in seven days of no spending. Having a visual reminder is a simple hack for sticking to your no spend plan once you start.
2. Set Your Boundaries for Spending
No spend challenges require you to really get clear on what’s a need and what’s a want in your budget.
To make a spending fast work, you need to separate what you will spend money on during the week (or month or however long your challenge is) and what you won’t.
So, on the will spend side, would be things like:
- Paying the mortgage and utilities
- Buying essential groceries
- Paying insurance premiums
- Putting gas in the car
- Covering necessary health care expenses
In other words, your spending should be focused on the things that are most important for maintaining your basic standard of living.
Now, what are you going to cut out during your no spend challenge?
It’s really up to you but generally, you’d want to avoid spending on things like:
- Dining out
- Non-essential clothing
- Vacations and travel
- Any splurge or impulse purchases
Basically, you’re cutting out all the extras that might be draining money away from your budget.
3. Plan Ahead to Avoid Spending Temptation
Saying you’re going to do a no-spend challenge is one thing but actually doing it is the hard part.
Because as soon as you tell yourself you’re not going to spend any money it seems like life decides to test your commitment.
But there are some things you can do to make sure your no spend challenge goes off without a hitch.
Plan out meals and grocery shop beforehand.
The grocery store is a HUGE spending trap for me. And if it is for you too then meal planning before your no-spend challenge is a must.
When you have your list of meals ready to go and everything you need to make them in the pantry, you don’t need to make extra trips to the grocery store. And no extra trips means no extra money spent.
Come up with ideas for free fun.
Taking a no spend challenge doesn’t mean you can’t do anything fun at all. You just need to be a little creative about how you spend your time.
Here are some ideas for having fun as a family during a no spend week:
- Head to the park
- Go for a nature walk
- Try a neighborhood bike ride
- Check out free local events (my personal fave is our town’s annual intercultural festival — free food + plus lots of interesting people!)
- Pull out all your art supplies and have a craft day
- Bake something together
- Have a movie night
- Check out free programs or movie days at your library
- Volunteer for a good cause
- Browse the farmer’s market (but leave your wallet at home)
- Have a backyard picnic
- Catch fireflies and count the stars
- Dust off your board game collection
These are some simple things you can do as a family without spending money. And if you’re looking for more frugal fun inspo, Tia from Financially Fit and Fab has an epic list of things to do during a no-spend challenge.
Leave room for the unexpected.
In a perfect world, your no-spend week doesn’t get sidelined. But it helps to be prepared just in case.
Set some ground rules for breaking your no spend streak.
For example, having to take your child or pet to the doctor because they’re sick? That’s an emergency and it’s totally okay to spend money if you have to in those situations.
And decide how you’ll spend on unplanned expenses if it’s necessary.
I think paying cash is always best because I don’t want to have debt. But if you need to use a credit card in an emergency during a no spend challenge, give yourself permission to do that.
Then, come up with a plan for paying it off ASAP.
4. Track Your No-Spend Efforts
Once your week of no spending starts, it really helps to keep track of your progress.
For example, try keeping a no spend diary or journal where you write down your feelings about not spending each day.
Why should you bother to do this?
Well, it’s a good way to get some insight into how and why you spend. (And maybe pick up on some bad habits that are keeping you from getting ahead.)
For example, eating out is hands-down my biggest budgeting trap. And I know exactly why: it’s because of poor planning.
During the school year, my kids are involved in sports, homeschool group, church — there’s a lot going on.
And a lot of times, these things are happening during what’s our regular dinner time.
So, what happens is that we end up eating after the activity ends. And because I’m already exhausted from running my freelance business, blogging and homeschooling, we eat dinner out instead of cooking at home.
A no spend challenge means I can’t do that. And that’s really a good thing because it’s an eye-opener to how much money I’ve been throwing away.
Keeping a no spend journal can help. And if you’re not in the habit of tracking your spending, it’s a good time to start.
When you track your spending, you know exactly where your money is going.
You can write it down in a notebook, keep it in a spreadsheet or use a budgeting app. The key is reviewing your spending weekly or monthly to find the leaks in your budget.
5. Have a Plan for the Money You Don’t Spend
Saving money might be your biggest motivation for starting a no-spend challenge.
And that’s great because everybody needs savings. But you need to know what you’re going to do with the money you’re saving.
For example, you could:
- Use it to pay down your credit cards, student loans or other debt
- Start your baby emergency fund if you don’t have any rainy day savings
- Save for a bigger goal, like a vacation or a new car
- Drop it in your retirement account or a college savings account for your kids
Having a plan for the money you’re saving can keep you from blowing it all once your no spend week is up.
And, it can make it easier to continue saving once your spending diet ends.
If saving regularly is a thing you’re really struggling with, apps can help. There are lots of apps designed just for saving money. Here are a couple I like:
The Digit app really makes saving simple.
You link your bank account to the app and spend or pay bills as usual. Digit analyzes your spending to find extra money you can save.
When the app finds money to save, it transfers it to a linked savings account automatically. And you get a 1% bonus for every three months you save.
It’s free to try Digit for the first 30 days; after that, it’s $2.99/month. But it may be worth it to you if you need a little help getting over the savings hump.
Acorns is another app that lets you save and invest your spare change.
You link a bank account and Acorns “rounds up” your purchases to the next dollar. The difference is parked in an investment account so your money can grow.
That’s helpful if you haven’t made a lot of progress with saving for retirement yet. Another cool feature Acorns offers is Found Money.
When you shop partner brands you can get cash back. That cash back goes into your Acorns investment account so you get a savings bump when you do spend.
6. Get a No-Spend Accountability Partner
Doing a no spend challenge can be tough if it’s a new thing for you. Recruiting an accountability buddy can make it easier to stay focused and sidestep the urge to spend.
This could be your spouse if you’re married, your best friend, a sibling. I see people asking for blogging accountability partners in the Facebook groups I belong to so it doesn’t necessarily need to be someone you know in real life.
What does matter is choosing someone you feel comfortable checking in and talking money with.
Your no spend accountability partner is there to help keep you on track and offer encouragement if you need it. And if they’re doing a no spend challenge too, you can do the same. 🙂
Have You Ever Done a No-Spend Challenge?
No spend challenges can be a budget-saver if you can knuckle down and commit.
Have you ever done a no spend challenge?
If so, how did it go? And if not, what’s holding you back?
Head to the comments and tell me about it, then pin and share this post if it helped you!