When I first discovered the concept of a “no spend challenge,” admittedly, I was apprehensive.
All I saw was deprivation, Ramen Noodles, and boredom, but that was FAR from the truth of our reality during our first no spend month back in 2014.
Maybe that’s your current view too. But stick around, because a no spend challenge, or “spending freeze” as some call it, is SO powerful and can change your life really fast.
Choosing to pursue this challenge while saving tons of time and money in the process is a very personal choice.
The reasons for making this a priority are unique to you and might be to help you to:
- Prepare for a home relocation and to minimize incoming stuff.
- Save for a much-desired investment such as an exciting vacation or continuing education.
- Learn more about yourself and your relationship with money.
- Drastically simplify the decisions in your life and reduce all that decision fatigue and mental load.
- Drive a loan payoff goal down FAST!
- Manage an unexpected salary reduction requiring drastic measures.
- Find deeper appreciation for the activities you’ve already invested in that have become neglected in pursuit of the next exciting thing.
- Spend more time simply being together without pressure to spend money in the process.
Does any of this resonate?
Before we continue, know that this challenge should be a positive, exciting way to free up your money and focus on future goals.
This isn’t meant to be shameful or cause pain, so check any and all of that at the door.
You’re investing in your future self by pursuing a purposeful no spend challenge for greater contentment and friend, YOU CAN DO THIS!
This challenge is exactly what you make of it.
Preparation ALWAYS helps, so I’ve created a free No Spend Challenge Starter Kit that will help steer you in the right direction forward. Download it here and follow along with the tips & tricks to implement below.
Develop & Define Your Why
When you crack open the Starter Kit, you’ll see that the first worksheet helps you uncover your why for completing a No Spend Challenge. It’s so important to take a moment to think deeply here before moving forward on anything else.
All decisions to follow will be easier to make when you know why you’re pursuing a no spend challenge in the first place.
Once you know your why, you’re ready to define the timing & duration.
Define the Timing & Duration of Your No Spend Challenge
You can start this challenge at ANY time in the year. If your “why” involves a job furlough, layoff or salary reduction that’s already hit (or anticipated), then you’ll likely need to implement immediately.
If your “why” is associated with holiday gifting and pulling back to kick off the year, then January is perfect for you.
There’s no definitive answer on when to schedule a no spend challenge. This is completely related to your purpose for doing it in the first place.
That’s why we start there first.
My “why” usually centers around a post-holiday reset. I’m known for buying in bulk on Black Friday, followed by lots of holiday gifting that leaves us far from wanting more come January.
Choosing January for a No Spend Challenge is perfect because it’s a great opportunity to refocus our priorities for the year, find contentment with and enjoy all the gifts we just received and to simply take a step back to prioritize rest and connection.
July is another great option, as it’s the perfect month to enjoy the great outdoors and splash in the kiddie pool in the backyard – free adventures outside!
When I pursued nursing my first baby, I told myself that I’d start with 1 week.
When I made it a week and all was well, I stretched it to 1 month. Then 3 months. Followed by 6. And 9. Finally…12 (then I stopped setting a goal)!
When choosing how long to pursue a No Spend Challenge, you must be realistic to your circumstances and, again, your “why.”
If you’ve never done a challenge before or feel a little shaky on your budgeting, aim for a month. If you’re worried based on past habits, start with a week, then tack on time month-to-month as I did with nursing!
We tend to do 1 month at a time because it’s enough to be meaningful. We haven’t (yet) had any major goals that required HUGE restrictions to accomplish.
However, I’m not opposed to attempting 3 months (or longer!) soon.
If the stay-at-home orders taught us anything in 2020, it’s that we totally can limit our spending and be more intentional with our time & money.
Here are some guidelines to follow with choosing the duration of your challenge based on goals you might have:
- Improve Connection Without Spending: Try a Weekend Challenge!
- Check out the activities list here and the Weekend Renewal Guide here, too.
- Reset a Habit, like Daily Coffee Runs to Starbucks: Go for a Week-to-Week Challenge, up to 90 days, or until the habit is successfully broken.
- Check out James Clear’s Atomic Habits book.
- Pay Off a Loan or Save Quickly for a Dream Purchase: Definitely Month-to-Month! Go all in and re-commit each month until your goals are met. An effective and clear budget is **critical** in this scenario.
Alright, so choose your dates and challenge duration so we can move ahead!
10 Ways to Succeed in Your No Spend Challenge
My most asked question is “but how do I prepare for a no-spend challenge?”
There’s no perfect or cookie cutter way to prepare, because everyone’s reason for pursuing the challenge is different.
You might need more prep, or none at all to dive right in.
But here are my favorite ways to organize yourself so that you’re setup for success before heading into the challenge.
Download the No Spend Challenge Starter Kit for all of my helpful worksheets to help you organize your thoughts and plans.
01 Establish a Detailed Budget
This is key. You can’t know what to spend less on (and how much less) if you don’t know where you’re currently bleeding money. If you don’t have a budget, consider starting with the Home Finance Binder System here. You can clip your No Spend Challenge worksheets straight into the front of your binder!
02 Plan Necessary Purchases Ahead of Time
There are some non-food items that you’ll absolutely need to buy in your no spend month (think toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo, etc). If your cash flow allows for bulk purchasing before the month begins, take advantage! Buying ahead will keep you offline and out of a few more aisles that could create temptation for overspending.
03 Put Your Largest Spending Category on the Hot Seat
Or your top 3! Dig deep into your top categories as they’ll provide the greatest opportunity to save. For us, our top categories with the biggest “bangs for our buck” are groceries & meals out. We’re always higher than we’d like to be here, so when we do a No Spend Challenge, we head straight to grocery bill reductions. Our quarterly meal plan process really helps us save on an ongoing basis, too.
04 Curb Boredom Before It Starts
Hobbies are our love language, so we have a huge surplus of activities that we’ve already invested in at home. Not to mention that hiking trails and outdoor beauty surround us here in the Pacific Northwest. There’s so much to do! But you know that boredom always finds a way to show up when you’re not on the go. During a No Spend Challenge, it’s so important to have a “go-to” list of approved activities – all of which are FREE! There’s a worksheet for writing out your activities in the Starter Kit.
05 Create Positive Triggers & Reminders
Lock screen graphics are super handy for more than just adorable photos of our kids. When I’m pursuing a big goal, I like adding some positive reminders and affirmations to my lock screen. Questions such as: “do I need this?” “do I need this now?” “Does this replace anything I already have?” A computer desktop graphic or even a simple 4” x 6” photo with the same information framed on your desk or clipped to the fridge can be so helpful to curb overspending before it starts.
Just pick a method to raise visibility to these important questions so that you have a good checkpoint to stay accountable.
06 Keep a Parking Lot of Wants (aka a Wish List)
Document anything that you see during your No Spend Challenge, but know that you shouldn’t buy yet. Amazon lists are great, as well as good old fashioned paper & pen. There’s a worksheet in the Starter Kit for tracking your wish list during your challenge.
07 Create a Game Out of the Challenge
This is one of our absolute favorite parts of our challenge and always helps us save more. Instead of an arbitrary “let’s save $500,” we break it out by what we’d otherwise have spent the money on AND try to replace it with a DIY method. For example, I love going to the nail salon for a pedicure. But since I’m capable of my own pedicure at home, it’s a pretty straightforward cost save. So if I’d spend $40 at the nail salon, instead I do the work at home and pay our savings account $40. Easy and beneficial twice over!
08 Use a Visual Calendar to Track Progress
Place a sticker or color on the day for each and every day that you maintain your no spend goals. You’ll find a calendar page in the Starter Kit for just this purpose! Grab those colored pens and have at it with the best color code you can define.
09 Reserve an Allowance & Define How It Can Be Used
This is a big one. Surprises are practically guaranteed! You should always allow yourself some flexibility in the challenge to ensure you don’t get burnt out or regret missing out on something that could have been accommodated.
Depending on your why and your values, things like reasonable relationship surprises could be an exception (such as a last minute family gathering) or an opportunity to donate to a worthy cause. Whatever the case may be during the challenge, make sure you have an allowance AND guidelines for using it.
10 Remove Distractions & Put the Blinders On
Unsubscribe from shopping e-mails! Shop your closet instead of swinging past the clothing aisles. Shop at Safeway instead of Target for your main groceries if Target’s too tempting (like always!). Use Instacart if you must. Do whatever you need to do to eliminate temptation. Your success depends on it.
Now you’ve got 10 whole ways to be successful in your no spend challenge and a totally fun planner to help you get organized.
But there’s one more “bonus” suggestion I’d like to reiterate.
Know Your Budget Numbers Before AND After Your No Spend Challenge
The first strategy I gave you above reminds you to rely on a budget in order to know what to cut. Don’t miss this key point!
Data is key to success when it comes to this challenge if you’ve chosen to do it for longer than a couple days.
Here are the ways that a budget helps you to be more successful:
- Instead of cutting every single thing and wasting time on ALL categories, a budget will tell you exactly where you’re bleeding money. We call this “managing by exception” in my day job. You’re free to completely ignore all the categories that aren’t causing pain.
- Tracking spend throughout the month will quickly tell you where you might be trending too far forward, too fast. It’ll also help you identify money triggers throughout the month.
- Finally, tracking a budget creates solid historical data that rolls forward each month, giving you an opportunity to expand your No Spend Challenge into future months with better baseline information. Every time it gets easier to plan for reductions!
The No Spend Challenge we did for the first time in 2014 was a huge catalyst that led to our current financial wins.
We have months where things slide too far, but we know how to get back to center when we need to make the shift.
Don’t let your first No Spend Challenge be the last. Commit to doing the work imperfectly, with slow & steady improvement every single day.
This challenge could be a game-changer for your life.
Imagine what a full savings account or paid off loans could mean for your family’s future?
What could simplifying your life create time and energy for in the future?
For me, it led to carving time out to actually build the business you see right here … even while managing my 9-5.
There’s only one way to find out what it really feels like to be there. Start today, sweet friend!
Grab your free copy of the No Spend Challenge Starter Kit and dive right in for a FUN & rewarding adventure today!