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Save Money Doing a No-Spend Challenge

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With everything going online—including baking and shopping—we’re more disconnected from our finances than ever before, making it easy to overspend without realizing it. While some level of spending is necessary, shopping for non-essentials like clothes or home goods can be a psychological response to certain emotional triggers like a stressful day at work or boredom. Compulsive shopping is a difficult habit to break.

Sound like you? Then, a no-spend week or month may be exactly what you need to get your financial health back on track. Are you up for it?

What’s a No-Spend Challenge?

A no-spend challenge is committing to only spend money on necessities for a time. When you hear “no spend,” you may wonder how it’s possible to spend no money at all. Of course, there are expenses you simply can’t avoid like your rent—sadly, doing a no-spend challenge won’t earn you much sympathy from your landlord. But there are other things that you can live without like new clothes or takeout. Decide which categories are essential and which are off-limits before starting your challenge.

Some signs that you might benefit from a no-spend challenge:

  • You’re spending more than you earn.
  • You aren’t putting any money into savings.
  • Your credit utilization is high.
  • You’re paying your bills late.

Setting the Rules for a No-Spend Challenge

There aren’t any hard and fast rules for a no-spend challenge because everyone’s situation is unique. You need to allow for the essentials like bills and groceries. From there, customize your own rules, including what you allow yourself to buy during the challenge and how long the challenge will last. It can be as short as a weekend or as long as a month—some people do a whole year! If you need some inspiration, author and blogger Cait Flanders wrote about her experience of not shopping for one year in her memoir The Year of Less.

Take these rules as a guide and feel free to tweak them as appropriate:

the do's and don'ts of a no spend challenge

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    How to Prepare for a No-Spend Challenge

    no spend challenge worksheets

    Preparation is the key to success in most of life, but especially when managing money. In addition to setting the rules, there are a few other things to think through before embarking on your no-spend challenge. A few exercises on the first page of the No-Spend Challenge Workbook can help you:

    • Uncover your motivation
    • Define your timeframe and rules
    • Set realistic goals based on your upcoming week/month
    • Identify your spending triggers

    Simply download and print the No-Spend Challenge Workbook to plan and complete your own challenge. You can put the worksheets in a binder by hole-punching them or put them on your fridge as a daily reminder.

    Top 3 Tips for Sticking to Your No-Spend Challenge

    1. Whenever You Want to Buy Something, Write it Down

    Instead of clicking “buy now” or swiping your credit card without a thought, write down what you’re thinking of buying instead. In delaying your purchase, you’re stopping yourself from impulsively buying things you really don’t need.

    Whenever you feel the urge to spend, ask yourself a few questions first:

    • How am I feeling right now? Am I happy/sad/bored?
    • Do I  need this item/service?
    • Could I wait until the end of the week/month to buy it?

    2. Remove Temptations

    Between email and social media, you’re constantly bombarded with advertisements for the biggest sales and newest items. It can be hard to stick to the challenge when that shirt you’ve had your eye on goes on sale and you just “have to have it.” It’s impossible to escape all ads, but you don’t have to subject yourself to quite so many. Here are a few ways to cut down on your exposure to ads:

    • Unsubscribe from promotional emails. You may be asking, “but what if I miss something?” or “how will I know when sales are happening?” but what you don’t know, won’t hurt you. Services like Unroll.Me or Unlistr make it easy to mass unsubscribe from unnecessary email lists.
    • Opt out of catalogs and junk mail. You may not be as tempted by the promotional material that comes via mail—it’s nicknamed junk mail after all—but it doesn’t hurt to opt out. Use an online service like Catalog Choice to unsubscribe from catalogs you don’t want anymore. Or, if you’re really short on time, The Data & Marketing Association lets you unsubscribe from entire categories of mail for a $2 fee.
    • Use an ad blocker. You know those ads that seem to follow you around the Internet? You can block those by installing an ad blocker. Some of the most popular free options are AdBlock (Chrome and Safari) and AdBlocker Ultimate (Chrome, Firefox, Safari). Some sites  require you disable your ad blocker, but it can declutter the majority of your web browsing.

    3. Find Fun, Free Things to Do

    If shopping has become more of a lifestyle than something you do out of necessity, boredom may be a challenge you want to overcome. Don’t make things harder for yourself by window shopping to pass time. Instead, find a new hobby or check out free activities nearby. Browse or search your city plus “fun, free, cheap” to find some local events to attend. Or check out this list of ideas to get you started:

    free things to do in a no spend challenge

    What to Do After Your No-Spend Challenge

    After you finish your no-spend challenge, first, congratulate yourself —it’s no easy feat. But don’t let all your new knowledge be forgotten.

    Hopefully, in doing a no-spend week or month, you’ve learned some things about yourself and your spending triggers. Understanding when you feel like spending for emotional reasons versus when you actually need things will help you evaluate purchases in the future. You’ll also be full of newfound confidence from setting your financial goals and crushing them. Let that momentum carry you through the next few months of saving and paying off credit card debt. Before you know it, your days of living paycheck to paycheck will be over.

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