A no-spend challenge is a great way to get motivated to save as well as make you aware just what your spending patterns are while saving money at the same time.
Living frugally does not mean spending any money. In fact, sometimes it can mean spending more money on fewer things because you’re valuing quality and longevity over cheap and mass produced. However, if you’re not in the habit of living frugally, a no-spend challenge, one that lasts at least a month, is a great way to start your frugal living journey. A no-spend challenge helps you to look at your current spending habits and find alternate ways to meet your needs without spending. You’ve heard the motto: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. Not only does this motto reduce our environmental impact, it also helps us save money and live more frugally. Doing a no-spend challenge is the first step to refusing stuff. By challenging yourself not to spend for a whole month, you’re fostering the habit of living well with less. In a way, it’s quite revealing that we have to challenge ourselves to not spend, so deeply ingrained is consumerism in our culture. And for most of us, we’ve lost the skills necessary to get by without spending money to fill our needs. A no-spend challenge is more than just saving some money. It challenges us to get creative and meet our needs (or more often, wants) ourselves, in a way we might not be in the habit of doing.
How to Do a No-Spend Challenge
Not spending can be a shift in habits. If that’s the case for you, here are some tips to make a no-spend challenge successful.
Before You Begin, Agree on the Essentials
You’re going to have to spend some money during your no spend challenge. You’ll still need to eat and pay the bills. The idea is to only spend on the essentials, nothing else. I think it’s always a good idea to write stuff down. That way, there’s no argument (with yourself or your family) when temptation comes knocking. So sit down with your family and write a list of essential items that you have to spend money on during your no spend challenge. Your essentials may include:
- Basic groceries (‘basic’ does not mean extravagant food purchases. A no-spend challenge is a good time to clear out your freezer and old items in your pantry)
- Petrol and transport
- Health care and essential medication
- Essential repairs
- School / childcare essentials
- Rent / mortgage
- Bills due
Put away the Credit Card and Pay Cash
Relying on willpower can let you down. Instead, set yourself up for success by removing easy access to credit and use cash. Take your credit card out of your wallet. Write a list when you go shopping. Paying with cash will force you to stick to your list.
Look Out For Hidden Spending
Credit cards are not the only way we can buy now and pay later. Consider electricity. Leaving the lights on when you’re not in a room doesn’t cost you any money today, but you’ll be paying for it once the bill arrives. You’re actually spending money by leaving the lights on; you just don’t have to pay it yet. Now I’m not suggesting you should stop using electricity in your no-spend challenge. But it’s a good time to look at ways to stop wasting electricity or to reduce your electricity consumption. Other hidden areas of spending include:
- taking unnecessary trips in the car. Can you batch your errands to reduce running costs? Or walk or ride?
- making unnecessary phone calls/texts (unless they’re free, of course).
- wasting food. Food waste means last weeks money in the bin and more spending next week.
- unnecessary bank fees (like foreign atm fees)
Can you Borrow, Barter or Get it For Free?
When you think of an item you ‘need’, the first question to ask yourself is ‘can I borrow it? Can I get it for free?’ How often do we buy something only to use it once and then place it in storage? Or worse, throw it away.
“…only one per cent of the total North American materials flow ends up in, and is still being used within, products six months after their sale.” [source footnote 44]
Borrowing, swapping, bartering or freecycling the goods that we need is one way to keep our spending down and curb clutter. Refusing doesn’t mean going without. Borrowing is a good way to meet your needs without spending more money (and consuming more resources).
Focus on the Positives
Not spending money can mean feeling deprived. So it’s important to focus your attention on what you DO have and what you CAN do. Was shopping your hobby before your no-spend challenge? Write a list of frugal activities and do those things instead. Visit your local library (it’s almost like buying stuff – you get the same thrill of acquiring something new and you even get to scan a card!). Or try learning a new skill. What about if you love to eat out? Pack a picnic and take it to the park or the beach. If you have kids, they will love this option because they can run around instead of sitting still in a stuffy restaurant.
Keep a Wish List
If stuff pops up during your no-spend month that you really want, write it down on a wish list. Writing it down has several benefits: It gives you a cooling off period. It’s amazing how many “needs” seem superfluous once we’ve had time to think about it. If you do really want that item, it gives you time to save for it and pay cash. It also gives you time to shop around for the best deal, wait for a sale or see if you can get it second-hand. A no-spend challenge is a good first step to living frugally. It gets you in the mindset and habit of not spending money. The savings you make by not spending can be put towards paying off debt, increasing your emergency fund, put towards your financial goals or towards your bills. Or the habit can allow you to move out of the rat race and live a more simple life. Have you ever taken a no spend challenge? How did it go?