When I first started my debt-free journey, one of the first things I did to stretch a dollar was to simply not spend it. That’s when no-spend challenges came into play.
It turns a not-so-fun activity into a game to see how long you can go without spending on non-essentials — chips at vending machines, movies or even lottery tickets. Of course, you still spend money on items like rent, mortgage, gas, utilities and groceries.
Some folks have done a spending freeze for a whole year. Some try for 15 or 20 days within a month.
For me, the benefits of a no-spend challenge are numerous:
- Saving money or putting more money towards debt
- Spending shopping time doing more important activities
- Greater appreciation of the little things like free candy from a co-worker or free events at the park
- Looser jeans from eating healthier, home-cooked meals
- More self-control after getting used to prioritizing needs over wants
- Less clutter from buying less stuff
I failed three no-spend challenges in the past because I just winged it. But I think I’ve unlocked the key to starting a no-spend challenge on a high note and sustaining that momentum.
Here are seven things I recommend you do to prepare yourself.
1. Know and write down your goals
Personally, it helps to know why I’m doing the challenge in the first place.
Whenever I started a no-spend challenge, I jotted down my goal and went back to it when I was feeling down and eager to spend.
Perhaps you want to save an extra $100 in a month or simply stop running to your favorite store every other day. Keep a post-it note in your wallet, make a screensaver on your laptop or create a daily alert on your phone so you see your goal often.
I’ve done it all. I love to check off no-spend days on a habit-tracking app for each day of the challenge.
2. Keep positive affirmations or quotes in sight
Reading and reciting money affirmations does wonders for me. Saying these words in the morning empowers me throughout the day and refocuses my energy to a positive space. Here are a few gems I’ve collected over the years:
- I control my money. Money doesn’t control me.
- I am sensible with money and manage it wisely.
- I am content and grateful for what I have.
- My actions create constant prosperity.
- Financial success is mine! I accept it now.
3. Differentiate between needs and wants
As much as I think Sunday brunch with endless mimosas with my girlfriends is a need, it’s not. Concerts go in the wants pile, too. These things bring joy to my life, but I can survive without them.
Before a no-spend challenge, I make two columns in my notes app on the phone. I write needs in one column and wants in the other. If I don’t get clear about my true needs, then I’ll sabotage the no-spend challenge by making excuses and justifying avoidable expenses.
4. List and budget necessities
I can’t avoid paying housing costs or my phone bill. I can, however, write down upcoming expenses I might incur during the no-spend challenge and budget accordingly.
This also helps clarify needs and wants, making me acutely aware of what I should really be spending money on.
5. Eliminate spending triggers
I try to minimize temptation in my life by unsubscribing to retail newsletters, avoiding unnecessary shopping and eating at home before I go to the grocery store.
Additionally, I create spending plans for myself to avoid irrational or unnecessary spending. I keep a list of free things to do when I get bored nearby. Planning helps prevent impulse buys.
6. Meal plan. Meal plan. Meal plan.
Food is my weakness. Before a challenge, I plan out every single meal and snack for the week. Then I cook on Sunday and pack up the leftovers so I can take them to work. Stews and pastas work well for weekday meals. For snacks, I keep bananas, apples and oranges on hand. They’re tasty and portable.
During a no-spend challenge, I just want to grab and go to avoid driving through a fast food joint or ordering takeout for dinner after a long day.
7. Tell the world about it
I put my friends, family and coworkers on notice when I start a no-spend challenge. Not only do I tell them how long I’ll be on the challenge and why I’m doing it, I ask for their support.
A simple text works for me. For example:
“Hey, guys. I’m challenging myself to not spend on anything extra this week so I can save some cash. Please encourage me to stick to the plan and don’t invite me to any events unless they’re free. Please and thank you!”