Are there any no spend challenge rules you should follow? The short answer is ‘yes’…but you get to set them yourself.
The good news is, there are no hard-and-fast rules you must follow if you are interested in doing a no-spend challenge. The bad news is, most people will not succeed.
Thankfully, with proper planning, you don’t need to be one of them.
Here are some tips that will help you plan for (and finish) your next no-spend challenge.
What is a no-spend challenge?
A no spend challenge (also known as a spending freeze) is a quick way to save money, pay off debt, or simply get your budget back under control after a month (or two) of excessive spending.
To start a no-spend challenge, you simply set a period of time during which you will not spend money on anything outside of essentials (monthly bills, basic food, gas, and medical care).
“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” John D Rockefeller
No Spend Challenge Rules
The first rule of a no-spend challenge is that you get to set your own rules.
Kinda like the first rule of fight club is, you don’t talk about fight club.
That said, there are some universal guidelines that most people accept as no spend challenge rules which should be followed in order to be successful:
- Know your ‘why’
- Decide on a timeframe
- Set pre-planned ‘cheat’ days
- Do not include necessary spending in the challenge
- Eat from your pantry before going grocery shopping, then only buy the basics
- Don’t go on a shopping spree just before (or after) the challenge
- If you slip up, don’t quit
- After the challenge, use any money saved to pay down debt or put in savings
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What are you saving for?
The best way to begin a no spend challenge is to start with your ‘why’. Design a mood board of your dream vacation, home, or car and keep it in a handy spot so you can refer back to it when you’re struggling with the challenge.
And, I promise, there will be times during your no-spend challenge that you will inevitably struggle.
Another way to motivate yourself is to imagine a life where you no longer worry about having ‘enough’ money. A life where you are debt-free and financially independent.
A no-spend challenge can get you there faster!
How long will your spending freeze last?
Typically, people set their no spend challenges to last:
- A weekend
- A week
- An entire month
But, again, you are in control of your spending freeze. If you want to extend or shorten the time you spend on it, you have the freedom to do so.
Will your no-spend days be consecutive or cumulative?
If you know ahead of time that there will be certain days in the month where you will ‘need’ to spend, say your sibling’s birthday, or an upcoming wedding, you should aim to complete your no-spend challenge based on a total number of days added up throughout the month rather than a set number of days in a row.
Will you be allowed to ‘cheat’?
Decide ahead of time whether you will allow yourself any ‘cheats’ during your challenge.
Allowing for cheat days will keep you from having an all-or-nothing approach and will allow you to forgive yourself if (and when) you slip-up.
Remember, ‘cheat days’ are not meant to be used as ‘excuses’ for spending.
Things allowed in a no-spend challenge:
- Debt payments
- Transportation expenses
- Free entertainment
Things NOT allowed in a no-spend challenge:
- Restaurant meals
- Salon services
- Cable/Streaming TV
- Paid entertainment
- Hobby gear
- Other ‘wants’
No Spend Challenge Rules: Keys to Success
Remember when I said that the majority of people who start a no-spend challenge will fail? The reason they fail is (usually) because they failed to plan.
Here are some tips that will help keep you on track.
Know the difference between wants vs needs
How many times have you caught yourself saying, “I NEED a new purse, this one is falling apart.” or “Our bathroom is so outdated, we NEED to remodel it.”
The only true ‘needs’ in life are basic food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and health care. Everything else is gravy.
When you rationalize, you try to ‘explain away’ bad behavior. Sometimes, the reasons you come up with may appear to be perfectly logical and just. More likely than not, they are just poor excuses dressed up as slick reasons.
Say you slip up during your no-spend challenge and purchase a latte. You then rationalize the purchase by saying, “It was an emergency! If I didn’t get some caffeine in me fast, I was going to fall asleep while driving!” or “My blood sugar was low, and I may have ended up in the hospital if I didn’t get some sugar in me!”
Both of these ‘reasons’ for breaking your spending freeze sound perfectly logical (on the surface). After all, no one wants you to end up in an emergency situation over a $3 cup of coffee.
However, both of these crafty reasons are really just feeble excuses in disguise.
I mean really, what’s the likelihood of ending up in the hospital because you skipped a cup of coffee?
Rather than attempt to rationalize your mistakes, own them. Admit you gave in to a moment of weakness, then resume your no-spend challenge.
Whatever you do, don’t let these moments of weakness cause you to give up!
Plan to succeed
If you plan to fail, you will. When it comes to sticking to a no-spend challenge, a positive attitude can mean the difference between success and failure.
As the old song goes…
“You’ve got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. Don’t mess with Mister In-Between…”
Additionally, having an accountability partner (or two) will help keep you motivated. This is why telling your friends and family about your spending freeze is a good idea.
So go ahead and shout it from the rooftops!
After all, you may even inspire someone else to start their own no-spend challenge!
If you fall off the wagon…
Get back on!
The best way to stay motivated to finish a no-spend challenge is by focusing your attention on something other than spending.
Distract yourself by working on a project you’ve been putting off. Look for ways to bring in more money instead of spending it:
- Sell unused items
- Turn in your spare change
- Start a side hustle
- Start a blog
- Use Ibotta to save money on groceries and toiletries
“Success is not final: failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill
How can I stop spending money?
If you are a chronic spender, you may have to take steps to trick yourself into not spending.
For example, you may want to literally ‘freeze’ your spending by freezing all of your credit cards in a block of ice.
You may also want to put your Amazon Prime account on hold or have someone else change your password while you are participating in the challenge.
Frequently, we spend money for one of two reasons: out of habit or boredom.
Steps you can take to break your bad spending habits:
- Implement a ‘cooling-off’ period of 24 hours before making a purchase
- Disgust yourself: Add up all of the money you spend yearly on unnecessary purchases, write that number down, and tape it to your wallet
- Open your eyes to how the “Joneses” really live. Are they deep in debt? On the verge of divorce? Self-medicating?
- Calculate the number of hours of work required to pay for a particular item
- Carry an ’emergency’ bag with bottled water and snacks to avoid going through the drive-thru
- Avoid window-shopping
- Use cash instead of cards
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How can I do a spending freeze when I have kids?
While it’s true that kids (and their many activities) can throw a monkey-wrench in our best budgeting efforts, it is entirely possible to succeed at a no-spend challenge in spite of the little rugrats.
Here’s how to do a no-spend challenge with kids.
1. Be honest. Tell the kids ahead of time that you won’t be spending money on anything extra, and explain why. You may also want to reassure them that the family isn’t ‘broke’ this is just a challenge you’ve decided to do.
2. Get them onboard. Kids love being part of something bigger than they are. If your kids are old enough, promote them to ‘accountability buddy’ status. Reward your child each time they remind you not to spend money.
3. Keep them entertained. If you end up canceling your child’s paid activities, keep him/her busy with free entertainment instead. A few free ideas are: go for a bike ride, have a coloring contest, and play board games together.
4. Learn to say “no”. Rest assured you won’t do any permanent psychological damage to your child by saying ‘no’. In fact, it may even help them come up with creative (free) solutions to their own problems.
What should I do with all the money I save?
During your no-spend challenge, make a list of everything you wanted to buy (but didn’t). At the end of the challenge, transfer the money you saved into a separate savings account, or use it to pay off debt.
I hope these no-spend challenge rules and tips have helped you kickstart your own spending freeze so you can save more money for the things that matter to you!