How To Start A No Spend Challenge

Spread The Love! Share This Article!

The No Spend Challenge Guide

You ever tell yourself, “I am doing pretty good with my money and budgeting.” But then your bank statements say otherwise?

Yep…we have all been there at one point or another in life.

For me it was in my 20’s. I was married with no kids yet, so we were blissfully ignorant sometimes enjoying that double income no kids phase. To make the story short, let’s just say it caught up with us in terms of credit card debt. But hey as long as we paid the minimum we were good right?

Now in our early 30’s, we have grown wiser and really buckled down with our finances. We read and learned from the experts on budgeting, paying off debts faster using the snowball method, and doing no spend challenges.

No Spend challenge pinterest pin
Pin Me!

Why the urge to change our wild 20’s habits? Well, we wanted to finally settle down and have a baby. Not only that but my husband and I talked about the ideas of me wanting to quit my job to raise him.  

However, to accomplish this we had to get serious and the no spend challenge is where we started. Over time it became fun to challenge ourselves on becoming frugal and saving money for things other than eating out all the time.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Feel free to read our disclaimer for more information.

What Is A No Spend Challenge?

A no spend challenge is exactly what it sounds like, you don’t spend money!

None! Not even a penny! OK OK…obviously I am kidding. Not saying that my above scenario is impossible, but that is not what the challenge is really about.

With a no spend challenge, you have to set yourself a goal along with limits on spending. You must really commit to the whole idea of “needs versus wants” method of spending. (and no those newest summer sandals, wedges, and flats are not needs!)

Once you have defined your personal money saving goals and spending limits, it’s time to make that list of what spending needs look like.

Spending needs include:

  • Your mortgage or rent
  • Utilities
  • Internet/cell phone bill
  • Gas for your vehicle (try to budget this based on your previous month’s expenditure)
  • Insurance
  • Medicine
  • Groceries (stick with absolute needs items here. You can even save money shopping by following my 11 tips to saving money grocery shopping)

Didn’t see something you usually buy on the list above? Chances are it’s because to YOU believe it’s a need, but really step back and evaluate these purchases. I can make a big bet that what you are missing from the list above is technically a want.

And while buying things you want is not terrible, you have to avoid it during your no spend challenge time frame. Otherwise, you are defeating the purpose of it AND not saving money as you aimed for.

Examples of those purchases to avoid are things like:

  • Clothes
  • Eating out
  • Going out with friends that will require spending (try catching a free event together!)
  • Beauty services (I promise you will not turn into a Yeti by foregoing hair and nail treatments for a month or less)
  • Everything else that is not a NEED

Choosing Your No Spend Challenge Time

Planning No Spend timeline

While there is no fast hard rule on how long to do a no-spend challenge. There are 3 options that most people looking to save money go for.

  • One Month– This can be a tough one, especially for someone just starting out and trying to reign their overspending to save money. By doing a whole month, you’re heading in the direction towards a lifestyle change and perhaps for the better! (I will explain why this is the best option a little further down.)
  • A week– The week is more about adjusting some daily habits you might have. For example no eating out for lunch during work or making coffee at home versus hitting that Starbucks drive-thru. (Or in my case skipping Dunkin’ Donuts…which a new one is opening less than a mile from my house….lord help me!)
  • A weekend– the weekend is the easiest one and you can get your feet wet in the no spend world. So instead of meeting up for drinks or overpaying at the movies, you are finding other FREE alternatives. I love this because I have learned so much more about my city and all the free events, concerts, and activities they have. So really it is a win-win, you don’t spend money and become a local expert for when family and friends visit.

Why Do A No Spend Challenge?

You might be asking yourself why should I do a no spend challenge instead of just trying to put money aside to help save? Well, there are a few reasons why this type of challenge works in terms of saving money faster and or just getting your spending habits under control.

The first reason many of us embark on this task is that we want to save money in order to pay off debts. Having debts like student loans, car payments, etc just suck and interest rates do not seem to help.

So what do we do? We look up ways to pay off debt faster and reach that title of being debt free.

Or perhaps you want to save up for that bucket list vacation you have been dreaming for. Doing the no spend challenge will get you to your destination quicker than if you say,” I will put aside x amount of money this paycheck.”

Save for vacation with the no spend challenge

That mentality can work, but then when you keep buying little things here and there by busting out that nifty plastic charge card and next thing you know you can’t put aside that money.

However, not everyone needs to save up for something. Some of us need to use the no spend challenge as sort of a financial rehab after the spending gets out of hand.

Take vacations, for example, my husband and I had the horrendous habit of charging our vacations upfront or during THEN attempt to pay it off after. And we are not taking little weekend getaways.

I’m talking 10 days at Disneyworld, deluxe dining plan included. Yea…I know pretty damn stupid. But what can I say, we were young and inexperienced.

Now, we budget and save the money and pay for the trip AHEAD of time. Only if we meet our vacation money goal do we go.

You might not have the same problem as we did, but maybe you did have a looser wallet during the summer and now you need to bounce back. It happens to the best of us.

Getting Started With Your No Spend Challenge

As I mentioned before, if doing this challenge sounds like something you are up for then you need to set yourself up to succeed with goals and a few helpful tips. This applies to whether you take on the challenge for a weekend, a week, or a month.

1. Pick your timeframe and reason why:

Start with the obvious. How long can you do this challenge realistically without fail and write down why you want to do it in the first place. I recommend writing it somewhere you will see every day. This will motivate you to skip eating out or buying that top just because there is a sale.

2. Define your spending rules:

I gave examples of things you needed to spend money on, but there can be other exceptions too. Some groceries items can’t be bought in bulk like fresh fruits, so again this goes back to creating that budget of what you really need and what you can cut out.

(I am including a need vs want list in my no spend challenge bundle, print it and hang it up as a guide)

It is also a good idea to get everyone (significant other or family) on board with these terms. By having them join, you’ll be more motivated to succeed and hold each other accountable.

3. Avoid The Plastic Card:

You know what I am talking about. It has become extremely convenient to just SWIPE versus carrying cash. But that convenience is what can get us into the rabbit hole in the first place.

I encourage you that you pull out cash for the time spent during the no spend challenge. Then separate the money into either envelopes or different parts of your wallet for gas, groceries, other NEEDS.  

Speaking of groceries, you can spend even less by actually eating those foods that somehow get hidden in the back of the fridge or pantry. You know that can of navy beans you bought for a recipe but never made and now it’s just sitting there…. or is that just me?

4. Entertainment…The Free Kind

Time to get googling to find out what type of awesome FREE stuff your city has to offer.

In all honesty I never bothered with seeing what free local events where around me. But then I had a kid and quit my teaching job. So it’s all about still going out and doing things just spending less or nothing at all.

If you have kids check out a site called Hulafrog. They have moms from your side of town that report on various events taking place and many times they do giveaways for shows and events.

I also joined my neighborhood’s mom Facebook group, because great minds think alike and events are always being posted.

No kids? That’s not a problem! I can bet your town has plenty of free adult events to check out too!

5. Complete a Project At Home

When was the last time you really cleaned your house top to bottom? I know it sounds like work, but it is a great distraction from going out and spending money.

Plus, once you do get it done you’ll feel happy and accomplished. Maybe even get motivated to organize the garage or declutter Kon Mari style.

Who knows, you could make extra money by selling what you don’t want or need anymore.

For me it would be to actually get my photos on my desktop cataloged properly and back them up on USB’s. My photo folder is chaotic at the moment.

6. Hide Your Hard Earned Dollars

So what happens at the end of the challenge? Well if your goal was to use the saved money to pay off debts then do that right away! Don’t go and celebrate your challenge success by going out to a nice restaurant.

If your goal was to save up for a fun and relaxing vacation, then hide that money! What I mean is move it into the savings part of your bank account.

If you keep the unspent money in checking, you are playing with fire of it possibly being spent! So move it over until you reach your total savings goal.

The Month Long No Spend Challenge

So earlier I mentioned how this particular time frame for the no spend challenge was the best option, if you want to save some decent amount of money.

I will say upfront it is not the easiest, especially if 30 days without Starbucks just seems like cruel and unusual punishment.

Truly the best way to go about achieving a whole month is to plan ahead and create a budget!

Hopefully you already budget and track your expenses, that you can can more or less expect how much of your money goes where each month.  (If not, my freebie bundle includes one!)

Since my husband and I both worked in the education scene, we were creatures of habit during the school months. Meaning we knew how much we needed for food, gas, entertainment each month. Summer is where we would see fluctuations in spending.

So because my husband tracks everything thing in terms of spending, we could easily point out what we could cut out from spending and what we allowed ourselves for the no spend month.

Again, it wasn’t easy the first time we did it, but I will say the reward was worth it!

Not only did we save a nice amount of money, but something else happened too.

My husband and I had a financial revelation! We realized things we had been buying before were truly not necessary and those things did not make us any happier or better.

We are still the same fun goofy people, but with WAY better spending habits. Not to mention it’s made our connection to each other better.

Cooking meals together beats ordering from a menu any day. As well as finding events and things we can do that require more interaction versus just sitting in a movie theater stuffing our faces. (plus watching movies at home allows for my ridiculous commentary)

Habits Take Time

Most will say it takes about 21 days to truly create a new habit. This is precisely why I say if your going to dive into a no spend challenge for the purpose of regaining financial control then do the month long challenge. If you really want to change your spending try the challenge for TWO months straight.

60 plus days of strict budgeting and buying only what you need will not only allow greater savings but will ensure your newly adopted habit.

Besides, if you can tough out two months, then you can sit and reflect on what and why you were buying certain things when they didn’t have much value to begin with.

Believe or not there are some who have gone an entire year doing the no spend method. Michelle McGagh is one of them. She even wrote a detailed book, The No Spend Year: How You Can Spend Less and Live More. In it she reveals how she did it and what her end results were.

Key Takeaways For Doing A No Spend Challenge

So hopefully this post has sparked some motivation and or inspiration for you and your money saving journey. I wanted to conclude by reminding of you of some highlights

  • Write down your “why” and set goals for the challenge
  • Give yourself clearly defined spending rules (what you should or should not buy)
  • Don’t feel defeated or quit if you have an oops day, just keep going and finish the challenge
  • Track your expenses currently and then again after the challenge in order to compare how you did
  • Move the money you saved into a savings account or apply it towards any debts you may have. Avoid temptation of spending on unnecessary purchases
  • Most importantly remind yourself that the challenge is not forever and it’s to help achieve that goal you want!

Ask me anything! What are some of your biggest struggles when it comes to budgeting and saving? Have you attempted a no spend challenge before? Drop me a line a the comments below!

Thanks for dropping by! As always don’t forget to pin this for later and share it with a friend!

Related Money Saving Articles

How To Start A No Spend Challenge

Spread The Love! Share This Article!

2 thoughts on “How To Start A No Spend Challenge”

  1. Question for you! I’m gearing up for a no spend challenge starting 2020.
    However, I have a personal struggle:
    I have a son that lives with his dad in another state that I go see once a month. We drive a Camry to help with cheaper gas, I stay with family & friends when I’m down there to not spend on hotels, and I try to eat their food, pack for snacks and some meals on the road as best I can. I’m curious, if you have any ideas or suggestions for helping me with this area of our lives.
    Maybe try to focus on what is non-negotiable expenses, then strive for no excess spending over that. I’d love to hear any other ideas you may have!!
    Love the post and help for this challenge!

    • I’m so glad this post was helpful! And I wish you the best on your No Spend journey. Let’s see if we can help ya with that little struggle.

      So since this trip is a definite once a month trip, then you will want to add it to your monthly budgeting. Keep track of how much gas you spend each time so you can roughly calculate how much you will need to spend. (I say roughly since gas prices can fluctuate). Since your car is efficient and you couch surf, the only place that can be cut in terms of cost is food. NOW DON’T go starving yourself to save money, but you need to look at your costs per meal. How often do you eat out whether its cheap fast food or not? Fast food adds up pretty quick! Also, break down your cost per snack you pack. Figure out how many snacks do you truly need, perhaps you can cut back on the number of snacks.

      Since my husband and I live on one income now, we have grown accustomed to making and taking our lunch to places. Example on the weekends when we go out to run errands or take my son to the parks or zoo. We pack a cooler with sandwiches, chips, and a drink. We have gotten pretty good at not spending more than $6 a meal for all 3 of us. (if you divide the cost of bread, deli meat, cheese into cost per sandwich).

      Save your receipts from trips and see where you can cut some corners.

      I hope this helps and answers your question!


Leave a Comment