Saving Money With A No Spend Challenge

Like many other American’s I recently went through a post-holiday shock. The shock wasn’t that the holidays were over, or how many sweets I ate. No, the shock was how much money I spent. Not just prior to or during the holidays, but all year long.

In 2017 I overspent in several areas of my budget. Some of it was holiday-related such as furnishing bedrooms for guests, buying food for holiday meals, etc. The rest was just careless spending such as eating out a lot, not buying deeply discounted items, and not using coupons for groceries.

How To Save Money With A No Spend Challenge |

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While I’m still doing well financially and haven’t blown through my savings, I don’t want this setback to end up being a major financial setback. So during the first quarter of this year, I’m doing a no spend challenge.

In a nutshell, it’s making a conscious decision to not spend money on non-essentials during a set period of time to help reach a particular savings goal. For me, I’m doing it for the first three months of the year to offset my overspending in 2017 and increase my savings.

I’ve done no spend challenges in the past and it helped me to identify items that I could partially or completely eliminate from my budget after my challenge ended.

From personal experience, I discovered that you can’t just jump into a no spend challenge without setting some ground rules first.

First I reviewed my budget to see the areas I spent the most money in. This also helped me to determine what my savings goal would be. Food, home decor, and clothing were the three areas I overspent the most - by several hundred dollars each. The other areas where I overspent it was by $5 or $10. From this, I determined that I wanted to save at least $200 a month for a total of $600.

Next, I created my challenge rules which included noting any spending exceptions. My rules are
  • One fun outing with a $20 max limit is allowed
  • I can spend up to $20 a month for perishable groceries 
  • My eating out budget for the month is $20 max
  • I can only buy items that are necessities and replacements for items I use in my daily or weekly routines
  • Gas for the car and paying for utilities and mortgage area allowed

I’ve been in my no spend challenge for about a month and a half now. It’s been interesting. I’ve had a few things pop up that caused me to spend money such as a car repair and replacing my dying hair dryer.

Outside of that I’ve pretty much I’ve been able to stick to every rule. Because of the items that popped up above I haven’t saved any money, but I have been able to cut back on spending in several line items of my budget. The biggest ones that I’ve been able to cut back on are groceries, home decor, eating out, and clothing. These cutbacks have helped to offset the costs of the car repair and hairdryer replacement. Once my no spend challenge is over at the end of March, I can’t wait to see how much I’ll have saved.

If a three month no spend challenge seems drastic to you, you can start off smaller like a no spend weekend or no spend week.

Saving Money With A No Spend Challenge |

Should you decide to do your own no spend challenge here are a few tips:
  • Create a goal. Having a goal makes the challenge real and gives you something to work towards. You can track your goal using an online tool like Personal Capital or Mint.
  • Write out your rules and exceptions. Put them in an easy to view place
  • Cut back versus cut out. Don't feel that you need to completely cut things out of your budget. Cutting back on spending in areas can have the same impact as cutting items out of your budget
  • Make sure your needs are covered. Either stock up on toiletries and medications and other necessities to cover you for the no spend challenge. Or make these an exception to your rules
  • Have an accountability partner. This could be someone you’re doing the challenge with or a friend that you’ve told
  • Search online for free local entertainment or activities
  • Plan your meals in advance so you can buy everything you need in 1-2 shopping trips 
  • Don’t get discouraged if you slip up. We’re all human. Sometimes you may forget or something may come up that requires you to break one of your rules


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