No-Spend Challenge Guide: Rules and Tips for Success

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Have you thought about your spending habits lately and how they are affecting your current financial situation?

Maybe you have credit card debt and you want to start paying it down but can’t figure out how to find extra money to put towards your debt.

Or perhaps you don’t have debt but just need to stop spending so much because you want to be able to put more money away into your savings accounts.

You aren’t alone. As much as 38% of Americans claim they can’t contribute to retirement because they don’t have the money, yet the average American spends almost $1500 a month on nonessential things [source].

A no-spend challenge may be just what you need to get going in the right direction! 

A no-spend challenge is a set period of time that you commit to not spend any money on things you don’t need.  Some people call it a spending freeze.  

No spend challenges can be excellent for your budget because they help you reset your spending habits.  

However, depending on the rules you set for your no-spend challenge (yes, you determine the rules!), it can be quite extreme for you if you are used to spending money.  

Typically no-spend challenges only last for a short period of time, say for a weekend, a couple of weeks, or a month. And usually, you avoid all unnecessary spending.

But, it’s your no-spend challenge and you make the rules.  So if you decide, for example, that you aren’t going to spend any money on clothes for 6 months, then that’s okay too!  

So let’s get started going into more detail about no-spend challenges so you can get started with yours!

12 Awesome Tips for a No-Spend Challenge

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How to Start a No-Spend Challenge

Define your why

The first thing you want to do when starting your no-spend challenge is to determine what the point of doing it is.  Why do you want (or need) to stop spending money right now?

Some reasons for doing a no-spend challenge are to:

  • Reset your spending (spending detox)
  • Payoff debt
  • Jumpstart your savings for something (big or small!)
  • Use up what you already have
  • Start an emergency fund
  • Have money to give to a good cause or help a friend or family in need

Once you decide your reason for doing the challenge, write it down. Hang it somewhere you will see it often so it reminds you of your goal.

Have a family meeting

Once you decide on your reason for a no-spend challenge, decide if you will include your other family members in it.  Including your spouse or partner will help to maximize your savings, especially if he or she enjoys spending money. 

If your kids are old enough to understand, you also may want to tell them what you are doing so they don’t become alarmed when you come home empty-handed on pizza night! 

No-Spend Challenge: Define your rules

Define your rules

There are two different rules you will need to set when starting your no-spend challenge.

Go all in or pick and choose which budget categories to cut out

First, you want to decide what you will cut out of your spending.  In a typical no-spend challenge, everything beyond the necessities gets cut out.

So necessities would be the things you have to pay for like:

  • Household bills 
  • Gas
  • Groceries
  • Childcare
  • Insurance
  • Taxes

So keep paying for and buying your necessary things.

As I said earlier, it’s your challenge.  You make the rules!

So an alternative to cutting out all unnecessary spending is to choose to cut out one or more non-essential budget categories.  

For example, you might cut out one or more of the following:

  • Dining out (takeout, fast food, eating at restaurants, buying lunches, gourmet coffee)
  • Entertainment (i.e. concerts, sporting events, hobbies, bars, movies)
  • Clothes and shoes (beyond the necessities)
  • Beauty and self-care (i.e. hair appointments, pedicures, manicures, salon facials, massages)
  • Travel
  • Toys (kids’ toys, video games, arcade visits)

So decide if you will go all in and cut out ALL non-essential spending, or will you pick and choose which categories you will stop spending money on?  

Choose your time frame for your no-spend challenge

The second rule you will have to make for your no-spend challenge is the time frame.  Are you going to stop your spending for the weekend, for a few weeks, a month, or a few months?

If you will be cutting out all non-essential spending during your no-spend challenge, you may want to set your time frame for a shorter time period up to a couple of weeks max to see how it goes before committing to a longer period of time. 

You could always continue your challenge if all is going well.  

If you are only cutting out one or two budget categories, you may even be able to push it to several months or more!  

For example, I decided I wasn’t going to spend any money this year on makeup unless I completely run out of a product, which would then make it a necessity and I could buy a new one (don’t judge, but makeup is a necessity for me).

Well, Ulta sent me an email for my free birthday gift recently. As I was putting it in my cart online, I noticed I would need to pay for shipping on my free gift. 

So what was my natural instinct? To start shopping and adding things to my cart!

After adding $35 worth of makeup to my cart to get free shipping, I stopped and thought about it.  

What sense did it make to spend $35 on things I really don’t need to get a free gift? None of course! 

Not to mention, the no-spend challenge I set for myself to stop buying makeup I didn’t need! What was I thinking?

So I deleted everything from my cart and went on with my day.  And I wasn’t even that sad about not getting my free birthday gift.  

So after you determine what you want to cut out and the time frame for your no-spend challenge, it’s time to get started!  

No-Spend Challenge: Tips for Success

Tips for success for a no-spend challenge

Since no-spend challenges can be tough to complete, I also have some tips to help you succeed with your no-spend challenge! 

#1 Put your money directly into a savings account

If you don’t have a savings account, set one up before you start your no-spend challenge to be sure you funnel that money right into a safe place.  This will help ensure your money gets used for what it was intended to be used for.  

#2 Leave (most of) your money & credit cards at home

If you have errands you need to run, try leaving most of your money and your credit cards at home.  

Take only what you need to complete your errands or what you need to feel prepared and safe when you are out and about.  

A piece of advice my Mom told me was to always have a couple of bucks in my wallet, just in case.  I usually try to follow that.

Plus, I always like to have one credit card in my wallet since we use that for necessities, like gas and groceries, and then pay it off in full every month.  

But do what you feel comfortable with, keeping in mind if you leave most of your credit cards and cash at home, there will be less temptation to spend.  

#3 Tell your friends and family

Let your friends and family know that you are participating in a no-spend challenge.  Then they will know not to ask you to go shopping with them at Target or to meet up for drinks at a bar for happy hour.  

Telling people about your no-spend challenge will also hold you accountable for sticking to it. If no one knows what you are doing, it will make it that much easier to cheat (I’m not saying you would ever do that!).

#4 Meal plan around what you already have

If you are going gung ho with your no-spend challenge and plan to avoid the grocery store because of impulse buys, take inventory in your pantry, freezer, and fridge to come up with your meal plan. You may even want to stock up before the start of your challenge so you won’t need to go food shopping at all.

I like to take inventory and make a meal plan based on what I already have even when not on a no-spend challenge.  One of my pet peeves is food waste so I like to use up leftovers whenever possible.  

And of course, meal planning will be necessary if you are banning takeout, fast food, and eating at restaurants during your no-spend challenge. 

If you are new to meal planning or having a hard time sticking to your meal plan and would like some help, here are some of my more popular posts to check out:

No-Spend Challenge: Unsubscribe from store emails

#5 Use what you have

This idea can be applied to so many things besides the food that’s in your fridge, pantry, and freezer!

Do you have a lot of home decor stashed somewhere? To satisfy your desire to buy new decorations for your home, you could try swapping out your current decor with something you have in storage.

Do you have tons of travel size or sample products, like shampoo and conditioner, small bars of soap, small jars of face creams, hand creams, toothpaste, or makeup samples?

Try using some of those up during your challenge. You might find something you like better and that’s cheaper than your normal product.

Are you the type of person who saves up gift cards for a rainy day? I am! What a perfect time to use those cards up during your no-spend challenge (be careful not to go over the amount on your gift card!).

#6 Delete or unsubscribe from store emails

If you love shopping and subscribe to tons of store emails, you may want to try unsubscribing from those so you aren’t tempted to buy (I should have taken my own advice for Ulta).

I know what you are thinking!  Emails help save money because you get notified of sales and get money-saving coupons.

This may be true, however, if you are on a no-spend challenge, those things are not going to help you.  In fact, they could potentially cause you to slip up during your no-spend challenge! 

A good compromise would be to unsubscribe temporarily during your no-spend challenge and then if you feel you NEED to subscribe again to get coupons sent to your inbox, you could do that later.  

#7 Uninstall shopping apps

This is similar to unsubscribing from emails, but it knocks the temptation back even more! Uninstall your store apps, especially if you like to shop from your couch, at least until your no-spend challenge is over. 

You especially have to watch out for those store apps that you have your credit card information saved on.  That one-click shopping is bad news during a no-spend challenge.  

#8 Look for free entertainment

During your no-spend challenge, you still need to be entertained and have fun!  So look for free things to do for your date nights and to entertain your kids that will be fun.  

Depriving yourself of enjoying life is not the point or goal of a no-spend challenge.  The goal is to reset your spending habits and save money that you can use to benefit your financial situation in other ways.  

Here are some ideas for free things to do for a date night when on a no-spend challenge:

  • Pack a picnic lunch and eat it at the park
  • Go for a walk around town
  • Hang out on a blanket under the stars
  • Watch a movie
  • Binge watch a popular TV series or Netflix series
  • Go on a bike ride
  • Go hiking
  • Exercise together
  • Have a candlelight dinner at home
  • Invite another couple over for a game night or dinner
  • Go to the local museum
  • Check out free events in your town

Here are some ideas for free things to do to keep your kids entertained while on a no-spend challenge:

  • Camp in the backyard
  • Go on a picnic
  • Have a movie night
  • Head outside in the heat for a water balloon fight
  • Have a board game night
  • Teach them a new card game
  • Play video games as a family
  • Go on bike rides
  • Practice their favorite sports with them
  • Teach them yoga
  • Roast marshmallows or make S’mores
  • Look for constellations 
  • Go to the library
  • Put a puzzle together
  • Rearrange, organize, and deep clean their bedrooms so they feel fresh & new 
  • DIY art for their bedrooms

For more inspiration on cheap or free things to do, check out these posts for inspiration:

#9 Get things done at home

If you have free time during your no-spend challenge because you aren’t shopping, take that time to get the stuff done around the house you have been meaning to do.

Doing things around the house is also a great distraction to get your mind off of shopping and spending money.  You will also feel so productive! 

  • Catch up on deep cleaning (takedown and wash curtains, wash windows and sills, scrub floors and baseboards, steam clean carpets)
  • Yardwork, pulling weeds
  • Organizing (closets, basement and attic storage areas, playrooms or play areas, pantry, chest freezer, garages, sheds)
  • Decluttering (kids clothes, kids toys, spare bedrooms, countertops, junk drawers)
  • Start or finish up projects that you already have the supplies for

You could donate the unwanted items you find when you are organizing and decluttering to Goodwill, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, or another great charity.

#10 Find ways to make money

Finding ways to make some money during your no-spend challenge will help to improve your outcome in a big way! Use the extra time you free up by not shopping to start a little side hustle.  

Here are some ideas for making money during your no-spend challenge:

  • Sell your stuff (yard sale or online)
  • Babysit
  • Eldersit
  • Deliver food
  • Take online surveys
  • Do yardwork for others
  • Drive for Uber or Lyft
  • Volunteer for overtime
  • Clean houses
  • Walk dogs or pet sit
  • Start a blog
  • Sell handmade items
  • Give private lessons for your talent

By the way, my favorite survey site is Survey Junkie!  You can get paid by Paypal or e-Giftcards for sharing your opinion about products from the comfort of your couch! 

You can sign up for Survey Junkie here.  

If you want some more inspiration on how to make extra money here are posts on that topic to check out:

#11 Count down your no-spend challenge time

Counting down your time will help you stay motivated to get through your challenge.  

You can do this very simply by putting a fun little sticker on each day on your calendar or planner, crossing out the days on your calendar, or finding a free no-spend printable online to print and hang on your fridge.

#12 Forgive yourself for slip-ups

Slip-ups happen…maybe you forgot your lunch for work one day and had to buy it.

Or maybe you didn’t get enough sleep the night before and needed to hit up the vending machine to grab some caffeine for afternoon energy.

Or perhaps you just couldn’t resist the adorable top on clearance.

It’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

Acknowledge what it was (an accident, a want that quickly turned into a need or a temporary loss of self-control) and get yourself back on track.

Final thoughts for your no-spend challenge

Starting a no-spend challenge can be an awesome way to save money so you can put your money to work for you in other ways.

Whether you decide to not spend any money for a weekend, two weeks, a month, 90 days, or 6 months, a no-spend challenge can help you get your budget back on track, reset your spending habits, and meet your financial goals.  

Have you done a no-spend challenge lately? How did it go? What are your tips for a successful no-spend challenge? Let me know in the comments!

12 Ultimate Tips for a No-Spend Challenge

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