Starting a tight budget tends to be difficult for anyone just starting out with budgeting, especially as he struggles to find places to cut down on expenses. That’s why a lot of people opt to challenge themselves with something like a no spend challenge.
The no spend challenge sounds as simple as the name implies. It’s a set period of time where you select one of the non-essential categories, usually one of the luxuries, where you decide to cut down on that expense completely.
Now, the prospect of this does sound dreadful to some people too, but the added motivation of it being called a challenge is enough to spurn some people on into actually going through with it.
The most common one of its type is deciding to cut down on junk food completely, taking this rewarding expense directly out of your grocery store shopping list for about a week or a month, depending on how dedicated the person believes they are.
What this does is it starts creating this habit of frugality, a responsibility over your own funds, so that you may improve on your budgeting in the future without the need for any sort of no spend challenge or anything similar.
It’s also a great way to free up some extra money from your budget to help divert it toward an actually important expense, helping teach people how to better organize themselves as well.
When it comes to the preferred time frame to perform a no spend challenge, it’s most commonly a no spend month’s worth, though it can vary anywhere from a day to a year – even more if you’re going for a survival mode no spend challenge on a specific item to see if you can cut the expense out completely.
However, if you’re just starting out, don’t get too crazy as you won’t end up accomplishing much by forcing yourself to a point that you know you won’t be able to reach.
Start off with a no-spend weekend first as a baseline, turn that into a no spend week, then a potential no spend year as you improve on your spending habits and only if you need to.
There is no need to restrict yourself if your personal finances are doing fine and financial goals are met.
Saving money, while a very neat and self-gratifying thing to do, might not be for everyone, so there’s no need for you to keep doing it all your life – you’re more than free to live a little!
Things To Understand Before Trying A No Spend Challenge
1. You’re not delaying your spending for a certain category, you’re completely cutting it out
Something many people get wrong when attempting a specific no-spend challenge and then end up being disappointed, thinking they didn’t save enough money.
This is because they just took the surplus that accumulated itself over the course of the challenge that immediately went back into the very same expense, only making the bill look bigger by comparison.
Don’t make that mistake. Set that money aside toward what you were saving for in the first place.
The goal of the challenges is for the person in question to stop spending money to pay for an important debt or expense like a student loan or an urgent repair bill, not to hold it off for the exact same thing they were removing from their budget.
2. Preemptively set the goal of the no spend challenge
It’s important to know what you’re saving your money up for.
Doing these challenges for no reason at all will just end up having the exact same effect as the first noted thing on this small list.
That’s because when you see that extra money in your account not being put into anything, you’ll funnel it back toward the needless expenses by default.
It’s very important to plan these things out in advance and immediately set these extra funds aside toward the wanted goal.
This way you won’t start hesitating or coming into the temptation of spending the money anyway 20 minutes later, as it would’ve already gone down the desired path.
It’s a sneaky way of tricking yourself into putting your money toward the right savings goal, all the while also making you more financially responsible.
3. Prepare before committing to a specific challenge
In order to make things easier for you when you start planning a no spend challenge, cut back on any potential triggers that might push you back into spending on that specific item again.
For instance, if shopping is your weakness, don’t bring your credit cards along with you.
Instead, only bring the required amount of cash to get you through the day or simply change your daily route to not go past any malls or boutiques.
For online shopping, you simply unbookmark the sites and stop visiting them – a slightly harder feat, but it does help.
Even installing an adblocker on your PC to help prevent getting bombarded by colorful advertisements that might push you over the edge and make you buy something can be a great help.
Small things like these that will either cost you nothing or very little are essential in keeping you on the right track during your no spend challenge attempt.
7 Most Common No Spend Challenges
Depending on what your budget looks like, there can be plenty of opportunities to find a target of your personal no-spend challenge.
If you’re having trouble finding one, here are a few suggestions:
1. Subscription-based streaming services
I’m talking about things like Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, and the like. Even if you have people on Twitch that you subscribe to, time to unsubscribe.
Why? Because this is not a necessity. You can live a month without watching the latest episode of some trendy new TV series and can hopefully manage to avoid spoilers.
Despite being fairly cheap on their own, these services can rack up to quite the bill, depending on how many you might be subscribed to at a given time.
2. Fast food / Junk food
Another rather common target is when you see the expenses on your grocery store shopping lists made out for cans of Pringles, Doritos, or the occasional Papa John’s pizza or Big Mac burger.
Tallying the totals tends to really shake a person up and make you realize just how much ready-made food costs (not to mention the health issues, but that’s not the point here).
It wakes you up to the fact that it’s draining a lot of money away and that, again, you can live without it.
If anything, you’ll live longer without it. The problem does lie in a different area though, as giving these foods up can be hard.
Preparing meals at home and balancing your diet out over more frequent yet smaller meal portions should tide you over instead of making you want to snack on something fast and comfy.
As frustrating as it may seem, you’ll need to put some elbow grease into this if you want to power through a no spend challenge, and meal planning is the way to go.
3. Alcohol, coffee, and any other beverages that aren’t water
Yes, even fruit juices and sodas come into this category, all an excess expense and luxury, since all a human body needs to sate their thirst is, in fact, water.
Again, giving up something that has become part of your daily routine, like coffee, can be hard, especially when you need to prepare for work in the morning and you’re relying on that shot of early espresso.
A fact that might wake you up even more is just how much most people spend on just Starbucks or any other coffee retailer per month.
It’s a rather large number – and that’s just counting the coffee, not the other beverages consumed over a monthly period.
I myself have been mostly on water and tea for the past year (though it’s not any no spend challenge that I put myself on, it’s simply preference), and let me tell you, you can definitely live with it, though it does get a bit bland sometimes.
If you manage to power through this one for a solid month, you’re going to have quite the sum saved up for a necessary expense.
4. Shopping – online or otherwise
By this, I don’t mean shopping for necessities like food and water, I mean things like cosmetics and makeup, appliances and gadgets, shoes and clothing when you already have enough pieces in your wardrobe, etc.
This also goes for things like Etsy and Amazon. Remove them from your bookmarks and don’t get tempted into random impulse buys or potential overspending by saying you’ll just flick through the daily deals.
If you want an extra step of precaution, unlink your credit cards and debit cards from your account, so you’ll have to go through your conscience twice before you make any rash decisions and break your no spend challenge.
5. Entertaining a hobby
This one might be the hardest to look into when trying to find ways of digging for extra money in your budget, as not everyone can give a hobby up.
I know I’ve never personally gone for this one as I rather prefer being able to buy a good book so I can spend days on end with my nose in it, even portioning it off over several days so I don’t get the urge to go and order another one online.
Those of you with stronger wills or brave enough to attempt this one are free to do so, depending on how expensive of a hobby you’re entertaining.
I am well aware that they can range from a dozen dollars upward to several thousand on a monthly basis.
If you’re unable to do a complete spending freeze on the hobby, at least attempt cutting the expense in half and working your way up from there. It’ll pay off in the long run.
6. Parties and other events
While some might consider partying a hobby, I tend to mark it off as a thing in and of itself.
Plus, partying isn’t the only thing that constitutes an event. Various concerts, movies, outdoor events, and other social gatherings come under this category too.
If you don’t have the money to spare, simply don’t go – your friends will understand.
Yes, it definitely sucks having to skip out on a fair number of these as that means less socializing and catching up with what your friends are doing, but there are plenty of things all of you can do without planning elaborate outings every time.
One of you can host it at your own house and you can just talk without the need to buy alcohol and the like, and you can all socialize over board games or something.
I know a certain blogger who tends to do these quite often and it works out just fine for her.
It’s not part of any particular spending challenge, just a way for her to keep some money in her savings account by cutting down on needless expenses.
Now that she’s a responsible mom, she’d rather divert that money toward the needs of her children rather than her own, and that’s something I can get behind.
A simpler way of putting it: Stop using your car to go around everywhere.
Use your legs; it’s healthier for you. Legs can only get you so far though, but I know people who want to start their car up for just a four-block ride because they find it too tedious to get to the local baker for some bread on foot.
For longer distances you can always use alternatives, especially if your place of work is over an hour away.
Though, stick to things like public transportation, subways, and buses. Not cabs – those tend to get quite pricey.
I know it might be difficult for some of you and that you like having your alone time while taking your daily commute, but headphones are still a thing for when you’re traveling if you want to listen to a podcast or an audiobook.
Plus, it’s a great buffer if you don’t want to talk to people (even though they’re all potential opportunities to socialize).
If anything, you can also carpool if any of your work buddies live near you and you can share a tank of gas when traveling.
That way, you’re around people you know and whose habits you’re more used to, with very little potential for something bad or unexpected to happen.
The Bottom Line
No spend challenges are a great motivator in becoming a more financially responsible adult, and a quick and easy way to speed up your journey toward a specific savings goal.
They’re not just some recent Buzzfeed trend, but can actually be helpful in your day-to-day life, even making you healthier for it in most instances.
In any case, I do hope this ends up being a useful tool for you in any of your current and future endeavors in becoming a more financially stable person.
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