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If you want to transcend dysfunctional spending habits that are sabotaging your life, shore up a shaky savings account, or cultivate useful insights into your relationship with money, try a “No Spend Challenge.”
It’s one of the very best things you can do to acquire frugal spending habits.
The idea behind it is that for 30 days, you’ll choose a category of item to not spend money on.
This could be an item that’s a financial Achilles heel of yours. For example, if you’re buying one too many lattes, you could make that your challenge.
Another epiphany that might come to you by doing the challenge is learning that you’re spending without even realizing it. Overspending turns a conscious habit into an unconscious one. Soon we start doing it just for the sake of doing it.
By pressing the pause button on our frenetic spending habits, we step back and gain the necessary perspective to see what’s essential to our lives and what’s not. “A No Spend Challenge” puts your terrible financial habits on a starvation diet.
If you want to get radical, turn the challenge into an extreme test of your financial will by only spending the bare minimum to survive.
It’s a great way to get back on course if you’ve been “killing” (and I don’t mean that in a good way) your budget for a while.
A “No Spend” month can help you reassess your priorities. You might discover that there aren’t as many things essential to your life as you previously thought.
Try to do it periodically so it’s not a one-time thing. Any time you veer off course in your financial life, it’s just the thing to set you back on track. You can also use it to supercharge your savings, or as a way to get rid of particularly addictive spending patterns.
1. Pick a Good Time to Do It
To ensure your success, pick a good time to do the challenge.
Don’t do one in the middle of the busy Christmas season when you have to buy gifts for uncle Frank, cousin Susan, and cousin Susan’s dog Artoo Dogtoo and God knows who else.
That wouldn’t be very smart.
January’s a good time to do it because the hustle and bustle of the holidays is over. And, it’s the traditional time of the year to start over with a clean slate. Picking the right time is particularly important if this is the first time you’re doing one.
Don’t choose a month where there are too many temptations to overspend. These are the months where everyone and their brother seems to be celebrating birthdays, or ones with weddings where you’re expected to buy super expensive gifts.
2. Set the Ground Rules
Set up some ground rules by deciding what you’re considering an essential expense and what you’re not. Even if you’re going to do an extreme challenge where you’re only spending the bare minimum to get by, you’re going to have to make at least a few exceptions.
By setting the ground rules, you make the challenge meaningful. If this is a family project, give every family member a chance to decide what those rules are going to be.
Maybe everyone decides to give up eating out, or, not go to the movies. This is an excellent way to introduce young children to the benefits of frugality and can teach them good fiscal habits.
Only you can decide what the rules are going to be. Devise ones that make sense to you, so you’ll get the most out of this exercise. One excellent way to use the money you don’t spend is to contribute to your favorite charity.
Give up a spending item that can teach you a lot about yourself. Choose something you think you can’t live without and show yourself that you can.
It’s a great way to get rid of addictive spending patterns, which will boost your self-esteem and your self-confidence. You’ll be announcing to the addictive, grasping part of yourself that you won’t be a slave anymore to your runaway desires.
3. Don’t Stock Up
Whatever you do, don’t stock up on things you won’t be buying during your spending moratorium. This defeats the whole purpose!
One of the biggest reasons for doing the challenge is to teach yourself that you can live without that item in your life by taking a temporary break from buying it.
Stocking up doesn’t put the brakes on all this mindless spending because all we’re doing is bending the rules of the game to suit our purposes. The point of the challenge is not to be a winner at some arbitrary game, but to strengthen our financial will and cultivate insights into why we overspend.
Hoarding doesn’t just involve nonfood items. Many talk of the pernicious habits of hoarders who accumulate mountains of stuff they’ll never use, drowning them in a sea of material excess. But few are willing to discuss how we hoard our food.
To be less of a food hoarder, plan your meals for the month around what you already have in the house. Most people have enough food on hand to last them a month without buying more.
Use Up What You Have
One of the rules you come up with might be that you can buy something if it’s a necessity. But before you go out and buy one of these needed items use up what you have if you have a plentiful supply of that item.
4. Tell Everybody About Your Intention
Tell everyone about your intention, so they don’t inadvertently tempt you to buy something you’re not allowed to buy under your self-imposed rules. You want to succeed in the challenge. So, announcing to friends and family what you’re about to do is a smart move.
By doing this, you’ll find a lot of sympathetic support, and perhaps even tips on how to make it through with flying colors. And, you’ll rally moral support for your cause.
You might even find people willing to join you. The more people you get to participate in the challenge, the more you’ll increase your chances of success.
So, call up your dearest friends and cajole as many of them as you can into joining your spending moratorium.
Or, create a Facebook post about the adventure you’re about to embark on. If you sound enthusiastic and sell it, you’ll be sure to get one or two brave souls to participate with you.
It’s always best to do something like this in a supportive group because it makes the journey that much more enjoyable. If you find others who want to do it, suggest meeting weekly to tout the triumphs and deconstruct the struggles you’re having.
You could even take turn hosting dinners where you use food you already have on hand. If you can’t find anyone willing to participate, try at least to find an accountability partner you can text or call when your formerly ironclad resolve starts to sag.
5. Look for Free Things to Do
To ward off boredom and overpowering shopping urges, find every exciting thing to do in your area that doesn’t cost money.
Look for things to do like checking out books and movies from your local library. Or, visiting museums, parks, and concerts that don’t charge admission. During the summer near where I live, there’s a “Live On the Lake” series of concerts that always has an awesome lineup of bands.
Check to see if there’s something like this where you live. You don’t want to feel deprived, lest you be tempted to backslide. It’s awful to feel deprived.
Our first impulse when we feel this way is to rectify the emptiness inside by heading to the nearest retail outlet to spend our way back to feeling good about ourselves.
It’s hard enough to pull off this challenge. Don’t make it any harder by throwing self-imposed obstacles in your way by not coming up with enough free things to do to take your mind off of shopping temptation.
Although shopping shouldn’t be seen as entertainment, too many people in our society view it that way. And, when you’re bored, the temptation to do this can become overwhelming.
Use your God-given ingenuity to come up with an all-encompassing list of every single free thing you can do to ward off the doldrums that can sabotage your success.
6. Shore Up Sagging Will Power
When you feel your willpower draining out of you, get motivated again by thinking of how you’re going to use the money you saved once the challenge is over.
Picture that nice vacation that awaits you at the end of your “No Spend” month. Or, ponder the peace of mind you’ll gain by having an emergency fund that gives you financial security.
It’s important to realize that this little exercise in deprivation has immense potential to strengthen your financial resolve and increase your willpower by leaps and bounds. You just have to get through it with your sanity intact.
To get motivated, list every positive thing that’ll come out of your monthlong adventure in flexing your fiscal muscles. Remember to call up that accountability partner if you have to. Another way to resurrect your enthusiasm is to read quotes from great historical figures on the benefits of frugality.
There are mental exercises you can do to supercharge your willpower, such as visualizing yourself as financially independent, fiscally responsible, and able to surmount any challenge life throws at you.
You’re going to have bouts of self-doubt. And although not buying a few things during this month isn’t the most grueling of challenges and certainly won’t kill you, it’s important to nip any lack of faith in your abilities in the bud, so you don’t throw in the towel.
7. Change the Time Frame
Every person I hear about that’s doing this challenge seems to pick a month as their time frame.
However, a month is merely the most common time frame used for a “No Spend Challenge.” This doesn’t mean you have to choose this length of time for your month of bare-minimum spending.
Do it for a week. Or, even a day. Whatever length of time that makes sense to you is what you should go with.
The goal is to create a successful experience for yourself. That’s why it’s good to pick a shorter length of time. This is especially true when you’re doing a challeng for the first time.
But then, select increasingly longer intervals. Soon, you’ll be an undisputed champ of frugality that others will look up to and learn from.
With your rippling financial muscles, you’ll be the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the budgeting world, able to resist every spending temptation that comes your way. But to build up your financial muscles, you have to exercise them.
Doing a “No Spend Challenge” is one way to do this.
8. Reflect on Why You Want to Do It
Reflect on why you’re doing this. Do you have a burning desire to see where your money is going, want to spend less, or be able to say “no” to extravagant purchases?
These are excellent reasons, but any reason is a good one if it helps you cultivate insight into your spending habits. These lessons will be more valuable than any money you save.
If you’re not doing it for reasons, there’s no sense in doing it.
So, clarify what they are for you and then write them down.
Keep these reasons uppermost in your mind until the month’s over.
This way, you’ll get the most out of your month-long journey into the “no spend zone.”
Each time you do this, the reasons can be different.
9. Journal About Your Experience
Journaling should be a key ingredient in any 30-day spending moratorium.
This can be an excellent way to keep yourself on track. One way you can do this is by marking off the days you’re successful.
This helps keep motivated because you’re validating your successes. A “No Spend Month” can be difficult. But by marking off the days, it gets a little easier because you’re more motivated.
You’ll get a jolt of energy when you see that you’re on day 21 of your money fast and you only have a few more days to go.
This should quickly eradicate any temptation to throw in the towel and go back to your old habits.
To do this in a highly visual way, make a chart with a box for every day of the month. Color in each box as you complete that day.
You can also write down any struggles you’re wrestling with so you can offload them from your mind. This tends to greatly diminish their power. And if demons from your past that have come back to haunt you, write them down too.
Soon, they’ll vanish in a puff of mental smoke.
For example, you might remember being deprived as a child because your parents were poor. Going without might cause you to have a flashback of this awful period in your life, causing you to want to go out and spend.
By putting these thoughts on paper, you’ll take the wind out of their sails.
10. How to Resist the Urge to Spend
So many of our buying decisions are made in the heat of the moment, right when a spending urge wells up from somewhere deep inside us.
We need to find ways to resist these cravings. When we do, we strengthen our financial resolve, and it gets easier to say “no” to temptation next time.
Maybe you’re just starting on this journey and need a few tricks up your sleeve to get by until you can build up enough willpower.
I get that.
Try this then: If you have to go out to buy something, bring only the exact amount of cash you think you’ll need.
This way, you won’t need to muster up any willpower, because without any money on you, there’ll be no way you’ll be able to buy the thing that’s so rudely tempting you. You can also defer your spending to a future date. If this date rolls around and you no longer have the urge to buy the item, it worked.
Credit cards can be sexy as hell. But they can also wreak havoc with your financial resolve and your bank account.
We’re constantly bombarded with advertising messages extolling the wonders of them.
These ads program us to mindlessly open up our wallets and plunk down our plastic to buy something that’s not so useful.
But you have to be careful. With its siren-like allure, credit card use can lure you in, only to dash you on the rocks.
Keep your credit cards in your dresser drawer so you don’t have them when you head out.
Out of sight, out of mind, as they say.
By leaving them there, you won’t be tempted to buy when you’re out, and an incredible weight may even be lifted from your mind.
But what about when you’re at home, and visions of the seemingly infinite amount of merchandise sold by Amazon dance in your head? You know where your cards are.
It’s so incredibly easy to get addicted to ordering from Amazon and sites like it. Just a few quick clicks and you can have virtually anything you want.
One thing you can do until you build up enough financial willpower is to give your credit card to a friend until the urge to spend subsides.
11. Realize That Money Isn’t the Solution for Everything
Realize that money doesn’t have to be the solution for everything, and you’ll use your ingenuity instead of money.
For example, in the middle of a challenge where you’re only spending the bare-bones-minimum in each of your budget categories, you notice you have a cracked toilet.
You’re tempted to call someone to fix the problem, but this action would violate your bare-bones rules. After checking out a YouTube tutorial on how to do it, you decide to save some cash by doing it yourself.
I’ve done it myself and was surprised at how easy it was. If you use your ingenuity, there are so many things you can do instead of spending money.
You’ll not only save loads of cash, but you’ll also have brand new skills to add to your repertoire. Try to only use cash as a last resort.
Summing It All Up
By doing a “No Spend Challenge,” you’ll cultivate useful insights about the more pernicious of your spending habits. And, you’ll build your financial muscles until they’re rock hard, rippling, and ready to take on the world.
Do one to quickly build up cash for a vacation. You’ll feel fantastic, have newfound willpower, and you’ll have insights that can positively impact the way you spend.
But you’ll need more than a plan. You’ll also need support.
Some of this support will be emotional, and some of it will be logistical. If you enlist your friends, you’ll get that emotional support.
Sometimes when we embark on a project like this, there’s a thin line between success and failure, and the only thing that makes the difference is the emotional support of friends.
So, round up a few of them and see how exhilarating doing a challenge can be!