What is a No Spend Challenge?
A no spend challenge is a fun way to stop spending and save money over a set period of time (days, weeks, months, or even a year!).
In this article you’ll learn the rules of a no spend challenge, plus learn about different types of no spend challenges such as no spend month, no spend year, no spend November, and more!
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No Spend Challenge Rules
The rules of a no spend challenge are very flexible, meaning you can make the no spend challenge be whatever you want it to be!
The term “no spend” sounds like you don’t spend anything at all, which can cause some confusion with the no spend challenge rules.
Some versions of the challenge involve completely eliminating all spending besides fixed bills like rent, mortgage, and utilities. But most versions allow you to spend on necessities like groceries while eliminating spending in other categories.
Generally, the shorter the time period for your no spend challenge, the more strict the rules and categories you can’t spend on. For example, if you’re doing a no spend day, you’d probably aim to literally spend nothing for the whole day.
The longer the time period, the more focused you are on not spending in a specific category. It’s just not feasible to actually not spend *anything* for months or years at a time.
For example, if you’re doing a no spend year, you’d choose a certain category that you won’t spend in. A year long clothes buying ban is quite common.
Examples of no spend challenges:
Zero spending (literally spend on nothing)
- obviously only works for shorter time periods because we still have bills to pay
Cut all spending except on necessities (rent, utilities, groceries, gas, medications)
- often even these are cut back ex: try to spend less on groceries, gas & utilities
Cut spending on a specific category
- impulse spending
- shopping at Target
Here are the no spend challenge rules:
- Eliminate all spending, or just in certain categories.
- Barter, trade, or make things on your no spend list as long as you use what you already have!
- Stick with essential food & medications.
- Replace spending activities with free activities!
- Use the money you save for a purpose like paying down debt, saving, or investing.
- Replace something that has run out, or use up other products you have instead (ahem, makeup).
- Prepare in advance. If you know you’re going out, bring a snack so you don’t have to cave into buying a snack when hunger strikes.
- Get creative and have fun!
- Do not make your no spend challenge into a delayed spending challenge. Ie: going on a shopping spree before or after your challenge
- Don’t use the money you saved to buy something you don’t need.
- Don’t ask other people to buy you things on your no spend list.
- Don’t shift your spending to other categories ie: if you’re not spending on coffee out for a year, don’t just get tea instead.
- Don’t make it so hard you won’t be able to succeed.
- Don’t stop enjoying your life, instead, find free things to do!
- Please don’t go to extremes for your no spend challenge. For example:
- Don’t skip meals just to try to stick to your challenge of not spending anything for the month. If you need food, get some. Don’t risk your health to succeed in a made up challenge.
- Don’t stop necessary medications, cancel medical appointments, or discontinue other health practices. Sure, cancel your gym membership, but don’t stop being active! There are lots of free things you can do to stay fit!
- Don’t wear shoes that are destroying your joints or are literally falling apart just because you’re trying not to spend anything on clothing for a year.
Just like the zero waste movement isn’t really about literal “zero” waste, a no spend challenge isn’t about literally spending “nothing”.
The point is to do your best to drastically cut back your spending, to increase your awareness of your spending, and reevaluate what you consider a necessary expense. You’ll also likely learn new skills and hobbies that you might not have tried otherwise!
The purpose of a no spend challenge is to help you:
- save money
- break bad spending habits
- use up what you have
- help the environment
- become more aware of yourself
- simplify your life
- reach a goal
- challenge yourself
- improve yourself
- learn new skills
- try new hobbies
Now that we’ve gone over the basics of a no spend challenge, lets go into different types of no spend challenges including: no spend months, no spend years, no spend weekends, & no spend days.
How long should a no spend challenge be?
The length of the challenge depends on what you want to get out of it! The longer the challenge, the harder it will be, but also the more rewarding it will be.
I’ll start by going over the no spend year, then no spend month, no spend weekend, and no spend days.
No Spend Year
Taking on a full year of no spending is a big challenge, but is sure to be a great learning experience and can even be lots of fun!
Most people who do a no spend year choose a specific category or a few categories they don’t want to spend on. Usually this revolves around a specific vice they have, like shopping, but can be for more regular things too.
Popular no spend year themes are:
- eating out
This is a really interesting Tedx talk by Michelle McGagh, who did a no spend year. I highly recommend watching it if you’re not sure what it’s all about or want to see what it’s like.
Here are some popular books by people who followed a no spend year:
- The No Spend Year by Michelle McGagh (that’s her Tedx talk above)
- The Year of Less by Cait Flanders
- The Year Without a Purchase by Scott Dannemiller
- The Spender’s Guide to Debt Free Living: How a Spending Fast Helped Me Get from Broke to Badass in Record Time by Anna Newell Jones
- The No-Spend Challenge Guide: How to Stop Spending Money Impulsively, Pay off Debt Fast, & Make Your Finances Fit Your Dreams by Jen Smith
No Spend Month
A no spend month is a month where you don’t spend any money besides on basic necessities of living such as paying your mortgage or rent, and utilities. It can also be a month where you choose not to spend in a specific category such as takeout, clothes, entertainment, or alcohol.
You might choose not to spend on groceries either, and just eat down your pantry, fridge, and freezer stores, or maybe just buy fresh ingredients and nothing else.
A month is probably the most common timeframe for a no spend challenge. It’s long enough that you should be able to see a significant difference in your spending habits, but not so long that you’ll really feel deprived.
How to do a no spend month
To do a no spend month, determine what you want to accomplish. Without a purpose to doing the challenge, you’re going to struggle to set rules for yourself and to follow them!
Are you trying to:
- save more money?
- break a bad habit?
- challenge yourself to try something new?
- use up what you already have?
No spend month rules
Rules for a no spend month are as simple or as complicated as you want them to be.
There is no one “no spend month challenge” that you have to follow, rather, set your own rules that help you meet your goals!
If you’ve never done one before, I recommend finding a few other people’s experiences and following in their footsteps.
You can read about my No Spend Month here.
No spend month tips
- Do set yourself up for success. Make sure it’s not too challenging, especially if this is your first time! It should take you a little outside your comfort zone to be considered a “challenge”, but shouldn’t make you miserable.
- Don’t make it into a delayed spending challenge. This means don’t just wait 30 days to buy that thing you really want or need. I mean, sure, waiting might give you time to realize you don’t really want or need it after all, but the point of the challenge is to spend less overall, not just change the dates when you spend.
- Do understand the psychology of spending and plan accordingly. Decision fatigue, stress, bad habits, being unprepared, and peer pressure can all lead you to spend money you didn’t intent to.
- Do try a collective no spend month: No spend November, No spend January, and Uber Frugal Month Challenge are all popular options! Read more below.
No spend November
No spend November is all about bucking the normal spending around the holidays and getting sucked into Black Friday sales. It’s anti-consumerism at it’s finest!
Read: Managing Black Friday as a Frugal Minimalist
It’s also a great way to save some money before the holiday season because it can still be a more expensive time of the year even if we aren’t overspending on gifts.
There’s even a popular Reddit thread on No Spend November.
No spend January
No spend January is popular for three reasons:
- Money goals are popular New Years resolutions
- So many of us feel burnt out from the excessive spending of the holidays
- Many people are actually broke and need to drastically cut back on spending in order to pay the credit card bills!
Whatever your reason for doing no spend January, go easy on yourself and make your goals achievable! Use the challenge as a way to rest and create new sustainable habits.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the binge and restrict cycle of going on a spending spree then restricting your spending to try to make up for it. (ahem, this is the same as the diet culture surrounding December eating and January dieting).
We all know that restricting too much leads to lashing out and binging on whatever was being restricted. The same holds true for spending!
Uber Frugal Month Challenge
If you’re not sure how to do a no spend month, I highly recommend the Uber Frugal Month Challenge hosted by The Frugalwoods. Check it out here.
It’s a guided no spend month with daily emails including actionable steps, reflections and readings. You can start it any time, or join the live rounds hosted twice a year in January and July. There’s also a Facebook group to connect with likeminded people and get your questions answered.
I’ve actually done the Uber Frugal Month multiple times and have gotten something new out of it each time!
Read about my top 10 takeaways from doing the Uber Frugal Month Challenge.
No Spend Weekend
A weekend is a great length of time for a no spend challenge! It’s short enough that it’s totally doable without being overwhelming, but long enough that you might notice benefits to your budget. It’s similar to a no spend week, but just a bit shorter of course.
Often the weekend is when we spend a lot of our money!
Eating out, entertainment, shopping, or a weekend getaways add up much more quickly than the average weekday spending of a coffee here or there.
To get the most out of your no spend weekend, set the goal to spend nothing at all.
If you normally get groceries on Saturday or Sunday, consider excluding that from your challenge, and just buy the basic foods you need but no extras.
Or you could try skipping groceries for that week and just eat up what you have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer!
Read about doing a pantry purge.
A no spend weekend could be done when you need some extra wiggle room in your budget, or when you just feel inspired to do one.
You could also make all your weekends no-spend, or maybe every 2nd weekend or one weekend a month. The frequency is up to you!
When doing your no spend weekend I recommend actually challenging yourself to do something fun that doesn’t cost anything rather than sitting at home and feeling bored.
Over time, you’ll discover some new hobbies that are free and your spending will naturally come down a bit as you replace expensive entertainment with free activities even when you’re not doing a no spend challenge!
No Spend Days
No spend days are really fun! Since the timeline is so short, you can be quite confident you’ll be able to succeed in your goal.
No spend days are perfect for beginners or people who typically buy something every day.
I’d recommend doing a no spend day on a day that you normally have problems with overspending. For example, you could choose one weekday to not spend anything. That means no eating out, no online shopping, and maybe even no transit or parking fees! (walk, bike, or carpool to work instead)
You could choose to do a no spend day once a week to see some major changes in your finances. Imagine if you normally spend $25 per day getting to and from work, picking up a coffee, and lunch. If you did a no spend day once per week, you’d save about $1300 per year!