What Is A 30 Day No Spend Challenge? (And How to Do It)


Disclaimer: The statements made in this post are the opinion of the author. They should not be viewed as financial advice. Please consult with a financial specialist before making any financial decisions.
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Sometimes it can be hard to save money. I totally get it. There have been months where I think to myself, how did I spend so much?

The problem is that every voice we seem to hear says, “buy now, buy fast, buy more!”

So while spending money is part of everyday life, we need to make sure that we’re in the driver’s seat when we do spend money.

To help us do that, we can use a no spend challenge.

Now a 30 day no spend challenge might sound daunting or impossible, but let me show you why that isn’t the case.

Anybody can do a no spend challenge. Even for 30 days.

What Is A No Spend Challenge?

To put it simply a no spend challenge is where you don’t spend money on certain things for a certain amount of time. I know, specific, right?

It has to be that vague because the beauty of a no spend challenge is that it is entirely up to you.

But first, let’s get some misconceptions out of the way. When I say no spend I don’t mean you don’t pay your bills. That would not help you financially and that is the entire purpose of the challenge.

There are a set number of fixed expenses that you will pay every month. Even when you’re doing a no spend challenge.

These include things like a mortgage or rent payment, any debt servicing payments you might have, utility bills (including phone and internet) and more.

It can also include subscriptions you may have, but a no spend challenge is a great time to review subscriptions to see if they are necessary.

Another thing is you don’t have to do it for 30 days. No spend days, weekends and weeks are all great. It is up to you to decide what is best.

So, to put is another way, a no spend challenge is a way to help get your spending under control by turning it into a game.

Imagine how powerful it would be to try every month to spend less than you did last month. Or just to have a quarterly no spend challenge to detox from the “buy now, buy fast, buy more” mentality.

By having the goal to do better every month you are much more likely to succeed than saying “I want to save more”.

So that brings us to motivation.

Related: 50 Frugal Living Tips

Why Are You Doing A No Spend Challenge?

Most goals die when the fire of good intentions runs out. Just ask everyone who’s broken a New Year’s Resolution.

That being said, to keep your flame alive for any goal you need to have a why.

What is motivating you to succeed?

For a no spend challenge there are a lot of things that could drive you. It could be getting out of debt, or paying for a car in cash, or building an emergency fund to help you get by when times are tough.

Those are good reasons to have, but it could be deeper than that. And honestly, it probably should be.

Why do you want to be out of debt? Is it so you can open up a business or maybe travel to visit family more regularly?

Why do you want to pay for a car in cash? Is it so you can put money aside for your kid’s college education or perhaps so you can safely get your family from one place to another.

Why do you want to build up an emergency fund? Is it so you can take a riskier position at a new company or is it so you can be more confident at work knowing you don’t need that job?

Dig for the deeper why.

It might take a few moments of thinking to come up with your why. But let me give you a hint, the root of your why is probably wanting more time or more freedom.

If you didn’t care about those things then being in debt and chained to a job wouldn’t bother you.

A great resource on inner motivation is the book “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. I highly recommend it.

Related: 20 Simple Tips to Shop Less

Getting Ready For A 30 Day No Spend Challenge

While just not spending money sounds easy enough you are much more likely to succeed at a no spend challenge if you are prepared.

Proper preparation proceeds perfect performance.

So how do you prepare for a no spend challenge?

First, decide when you’ll do it in advance.

You really shouldn’t wake up one morning and tell your partner that you’re not going to spend any money this month. That generally doesn’t go well.

Deciding in advance when you’ll start and when you’ll end puts limits on it and allows you to get in the right frame of mind.

Sometimes you’ll need to buy things before you start your no spend challenge as well.

Second, decide what you can actually spend money on.

As intense as a no spend challenge sounds, most people end up spending some money during that time. Usually it is unavoidable.

Will you buy groceries? Gas to get to work? Girl scout cookies because it is for a good cause… Okay that might be too far, but you get the idea.

There are somethings that you will buy during a no spend month because they can’t be avoided. Bills are the biggest one of those.

Third, how will you stick with it?

The hardest part of any goal is just getting it done. No spend challenges are no different. So you need some way to ensure that you will finish what you started.

Will you post your goal on a vision board or bathroom mirror? Will you set a daily reminder on your phone? Will you have a (cheap) treat for yourself at the end if you save a certain amount?

Whatever works for you to help you succeed needs to be decided before hand.

Fourth, tell people about it.

I really like to keep things to myself. It is something I’m working on.

But as I’ve worked on it I’ve learned that people are interested in and respectful of what you are doing 9 times out of 10. So just tell people.

By letting people know they understand and don’t feel hurt when you decline an invitation to go spend money.

It also makes it easier to say no to a sales pitch or a “great deal”.

And telling people holds you accountable so it is a win-win.

The point is that if you’re prepared, you’ll be fine.

What Is It Like To Do A 30 Day No Spend Challenge?

If you want to know more about doing a no spend challenge, then you’re in luck, I’ve done one.

Deciding to do a no spend challenge and actually sticking with it are two very different things.

My wife and I decided to do a no spend challenge because we had recently moved and the outlay of cash to do so left our budget very thin each month.

The no spend challenge was a means to financial security. That means our why was to avoid being chained down by future debt (a freedom why).

We decided that food and gas were necessities, so we didn’t change our habits much there.

And I’ll be honest, having two kids, we had to buy diapers once (I’m not perfect).

Most of the time you’ll hit a bump in the road when you’re doing a no spend challenge. The key is to keep going even after you hit a bump.

Now, there is an issue that I discovered with the no spend challenge that I want you to be aware of. Any time we realized we needed something we would write it down, but we wouldn’t buy it because we were on a no spend challenge.

You probably see where this is going. We ended up buying all of that stuff on day 1 of the next month, so it is debatable if we really saved money there.

However, we did have more money in our bank account in the end, so it did improve our financial situation.

Here’s another cautionary tale.

About 20 days into the no spend challenge we were doing really good when it struck. Temptation.

We ran into a good deal on BBQ lighters which we had talked about needing for a while. It was at Costco and I’m sure you can imagine how shiny and nice they looked.

We grabbed the lighters and almost put it into our cart, but then my dear wife reminded me that we were not spending money that month.

We put it back and added it to the list for later. It was a good exercise in self control and the deal was still there the next month so we were still able to snag those, but on our terms.

Work together with your partner to help you succeed.

After our no spend month we had enough saved to tackle some debt and still have money left over.

Even though we bought most of the things we avoided during the challenge the next month it was still a good experience and helped build financial security for us.

It can help you do the same.

Related: How To Stop Worrying About Money and Start Living

Keep The Habit Going

Once you’ve done a no spend challenge successfully you will feel really good about your ability to keep your spending in check. It just naturally happens when you accomplish something like that.

The key then is to keep the habit going. Not that you should make every day a no spend day, but always stop and ask, Do I really need this?

Another idea is to have a quarterly no spend challenge, or just once a year if you’re a little less ambitious.

By making not spending a habit you will easily march towards financial security and eventually financial freedom.

Why do you want to do a 30 day no spend challenge? What worries you about it? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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A list of definitions used on this blog can be found here.

Fixed Expenses: Monthly expenses that are consistently the same amount. Examples of this are mortgage or rent, car payment, and insurance premiums.

Debt Servicing Payments: This just means payments you have to make on a reoccurring (usually monthly) basis to keep the debt current so it doesn’t impact your credit score.

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