If you’re looking to supercharge your savings, a no-spend challenge may be a good way to start. A no-spend challenge is a period of time when you commit to not spending money on non-essentials. Many people do no-spend challenges for one month, but if that sounds intimidating, you could start small with one week, or even one day.
While a no-spend month may sound daunting, the challenge aspect may actually be fun. Learn how to complete a no-spend month to conquer your financial goals.
Evaluate Your Spending
Before you start your no-spend month, look at where your money is going each month. Review your paychecks, bank statements, and receipts. Next, divide your expenses into necessities and extras—the latter is what you’ll temporarily live without during the challenge. Then make a written budget so you can plan for the no-spend month.
Most necessities will be pretty obvious: your rent or mortgage, minimum monthly debt payments, groceries, medications, and insurance. Likewise, you’ll probably find spending categories you can live without, such as dining at restaurants or ordering takeout, manicures, or late-night online impulse buys. These should be added to your no-spend list.
Some categories may not be so obvious. Filling up your gas tank may be necessary if you drive to and from work. However, if you work from home, you may be able to cut gas from your budget and walk or bike when needed instead. Consider each expense before putting it into one of the two categories.
There may also be some things you could live without if you were forced to, but maybe aren’t worth cutting. For example, spending $8.99 a month on a basic Netflix subscription may be worth it to you because it buys you hours of entertainment and helps you avoid spending money on other things, such as more-expensive tickets to a movie theater.
Why Are You Not Spending? Set a Goal
Cutting extras out of your budget isn’t going to be easy. You need to have a reason for not spending that money if you want to stay motivated. So before you get started, set a financial goal and write it down.
“Save more money” may not be a good enough goal because it’s very general. Instead, use the SMART goal format: Your goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timebound.
Here are a few examples of SMART goals:
- Add $100 to the emergency fund in one week by cutting out unnecessary spending.
- Reduce a credit card balance by $500 in one month by doing a Frugal February challenge.
- Save an additional $1,000 for a down payment fund in 30 days by cutting all extras from the budget.
Research shows that setting specific, difficult goals actually leads to higher performance and more positive outcomes. So if a no-spend month with a goal to save $500 seems like a tough challenge, you may find it even more rewarding in the end.
Don’t Do It By Yourself
A no-spend month doesn’t have to be a no-fun month. Try enlisting others—your partner or spouse, your kids, or your friends—to do a no-spend challenge as well. Not only can you hold one another accountable, but you can come up with ways to not spend money together.
For example, if you and your spouse have date night once a week at a restaurant, you could make a date out of cooking together at home every Friday instead. Rather than meeting up with friends for happy hour at a bar, you could take turns hosting BYOB happy hours at home on Wednesdays.
Be Prepared for Bumps in the Road
Don’t expect everything to go smoothly when you’re doing a no-spend month. Unplanned necessary expenses may come up. Don’t be so committed to your no-spend month that you avoid going to the doctor or refuse to take your car to a mechanic even though the check-engine light is on. Take care of yourself and worry about the challenge later.
Also, accept that you may slip up during your no-spend month—but it’s OK. Let’s say you order takeout instead of cooking after an exhausting day of work. Give yourself a break. You haven’t failed at your challenge. Remind yourself of your goal, whether it’s saving more money or getting out of debt, to motivate yourself and get back into no-spend mode.
If you end up spending money on non-essentials during your no-spend month, look for ways to spend even less money on essentials to make up the difference. For example, maybe you can freeze your gym membership and work out at home instead, or look for more coupons that can help you save money at the grocery store that week.
Track Your Progress
As you move through your no-spend challenge, track your progress. A budgeting app can help you monitor how much you’re actually spending and saving. But to stay motivated and create lasting habits, you may want to go further.
If you’re a visual person, consider downloading or creating debt payoff or savings charts that you can color in every day. This will help you see how much you’ve accomplished. Pinterest and websites such as DebtFreeCharts.com may be a good place to find these charts.
You could also keep a journal, especially when you’re tempted to spend. Think about what you’re feeling at that moment. Are you feeling stressed, tired, or anxious? Write it down so you can reflect and learn from the situation.
If you’ve enlisted someone else to join you in your no-spend month challenge, try setting up a time to check in each week, such as every Saturday morning over coffee at your home. You can share your wins, your failures, and how you’re feeling.
To keep your spending in check, try thinking of purchases in terms of hours worked instead of dollars. For example, if you earn $20 per hour at your job, a $100 purse would equal five hours of work. Is it worth it?
The Bottom Line
A no-spend month can help you save more money or reduce debt—but it may not be right for everyone. You may find that a better approach is to make smaller, more permanent cuts to your budget.
If you’ve tried a no-spend challenge and decided it doesn’t work for you, that’s OK. Focus on your long-term goals, such as saving for retirement, building an emergency fund, or paying off high-interest debt. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to accomplish any of these financial goals.
A no-spend month will look a little different for everyone. You get to decide how far you’re willing to take it. If you try a no-spend challenge and it doesn’t go perfectly, focus on the wins, no matter how small. Every extra dollar is a step in the right direction.