If you’re looking to take control of your finances, or you’re simply trying to tame the urge to buy unnecessary things, you might benefit from trying a no-spend challenge. It’s a fun and sometimes instructive way to cut down on spending and start saving more money.
What is a no-spend challenge?
The basic idea of a no-spend challenge is cutting out all non-essential spending for a certain duration of time. You still take care of the important stuff, such as buying groceries, paying for your rent or mortgage, and keeping up with utility bills. Other than that, try to make everything else strictly off-limits, whether it’s spending money on a new pair of shoes, a daily cup of coffee, a visit to the nail bar, a ticket to the big game, a trip to a restaurant, or a night out at the bar with friends.
You can personalize the term and specific details of a no-spend challenge to suit your needs, tastes, and level of discipline. The standard length of time most people shoot for with no-spend challenges is 30 days, because it’s considered a suitable length to begin changing spending habits. If 30 days seems too long for you, try starting with seven days and, if you meet the goal, see if you can push it to 15 days or longer.
Likewise, you can tailor your challenge to try and stop a certain kind of spending, resolving to cut down on clothing purchases or personal care items but not bothering to deny yourself a daily beverage from your favourite cafe. Alternatively, you might decide to stop eating out and ordering delivery from restaurants to focus on making your own meals, but do nothing to curb other spending habits. Some people decide to focus their efforts on avoiding just one store, resolving not to visit the most tempting merchants for the duration of their challenge.
What are the benefits of a no-spend challenge?
Depending on the scope of your no-spend challenge, you may be able to save several hundred dollars over the course of a month, giving your savings fund a nice boost. Extra money in your budget at the completion of a challenge could be used to pay off a debt, beef up an emergency fund, make an investment, or top up your vacation savings. By helping savers get closer to their goals, no-spend challenges provide a helpful mix of motivation and satisfaction.
A no-spend challenge also offers the opportunity to change personal behaviours (such as buying a midday meal instead of bringing it from home), changes that can add up if the behaviour persists once the challenge ends.
A no-spend challenge is also a great chance to examine the personal feelings and emotions we experience when shopping. To that end, some personal finance experts encourage people keep a journal while taking part in a no-spend challenge, writing about the emotions they experience whenever they want to buy something. Are boredom or stress triggers for your shopping habit? Understanding the motivations for our spending can be educational, helping us better recognize those feelings and remain in control of our spending habits after the challenge wraps up.
How to make a no-spend challenge successful
Chances are you’re going to want to spend money on something frivolous during the course of your challenge. One way to control the temptation is by making a list of all the things you want to buy once the challenge ends, then waiting to see how much you still want those items once the 30 days are up. You may find your desire to buy those things was fleeting.
In some cases, it will be too difficult to make it through an entire no-spend challenge without breaking the rules once or twice. In such instances, try not to beat yourself up too badly about it – a few slips don’t need to spoil a month of better spending habits, as long as you don’t let things get out of control. Spending money can also be a good opportunity to explore your feelings and emotions in a journal, gaining a better understanding of what drives your spending-related desires and decisions.
If you’re concerned about temptation, see whether you’ve got any unused gift cards you can cash out during your challenge, allowing you to buy one or two things without spending any money in the present.
Finally, make sure your goals are realistic, and avoid putting pressure on yourself to reach them. A no-spend challenge should be something that motivates and inspires you to change your habits and improve your savings outlook, not a high-pressure strategy to stave off financial ruin.