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Smart Money

How to Nail a No Spend Month Challenge

If you’re suffering from holiday debt hangover, committing to a no-spend month can offer a much-needed financial reset. Read on to learn more about how to go about it.

Jackie Lam • January 25, 2022

You’ve burned through the cash in your bank account, and payday feels like light-years away. That’s a common story, especially during the holidays, when you are bleeding money left and right. According to data from MagnifyMoney, the average holiday debt in 2020 was $1,381.

If you’re tight on cash due to a holiday debt hangover, hitting “pause” so you don’t bleed any more money in the new year might help give your finances a much-needed reset. 

Read on to learn what exactly a no spend month challenge is, its pros and cons, and how to pull one off: 

In This Article

  1. What Is A No Spend Month Challenge?
  2. No Spend Month Pros and Cons
  3. 10 Tips To Stick to a No Spend Challenge
  4. No Spend Challenge FAQs
  5. Final Thoughts

What Is A No Spend Month Challenge?

The idea behind a no-spend month challenge is a simple one: for an entire month, you don’t flash cash on anything beyond the barebone necessities. 

The goal is to not only help you save, but it can help you realize your savings and spending habits, and the root cause of what is making you spend more than you have. In turn, it can get you to a healthy place financially.

Sounds daunting? Sure, it won’t always be easy, and you’ll have some challenges along the way. But it’s totally, 100% doable. In fact, if approached the right way, such an endeavor can make for an interesting, fruitful and even fun experience. 

No Spend Month Pros and Cons

Pros of No Spend Month

Gets you back on track money-wise. If you’ve gone overboard, say, during the holidays and are in the hole x amount, then a spending freeze can help you pay off any credit card debt you’ve accrued. It might even get you to a place where you’re a month ahead on your expenses

Or maybe spending too much in one area got in the way of establishing an emergency fund or making a dent in a very important financial goal, such as saving for a big-ticket item or life milestone event.

Helps you learn more about your financial habits. Setting bills on autopay and setting up auto savings can help your money situation in a major way without you having to quibble over every financial decision. But the downside is that it won’t teach you a lot about your financial ways nor incite change.

A no-spend month can help you get to the bottom of what’s causing you to spend so much, and actually lead to changing your habits with long-term positive effects.


Cons of No Spend Month

It can make for a drastic shift in lifestyle. Not spending on non-essentials for an entire month can feel like a punch in the stomach when you’re used to scrolling through your favorite online stores during your work breaks. Because it can feel like such a change, you might feel deprived, or expose you to emotions you were trying to avoid. (Good news: We’ll offer ways to get through it in just a bit.)

It won’t always be easy. Just like working out five days a week when you’re a perennial couch potato or cutting out carbs when chips are your go-to stress relievers can be hard as sin, don’t expect a no-spend month to be a leisurely stroll in the park.

The internal struggle is 💯real. You’ll most likely experience stress, anxiety, loneliness, or boredom that might’ve caused you to spend in the first place, without the immediate release of an online purchase, and the subsequent anticipation of a box of goodies delivered to your doorstep. Get ready to go deep and do some inside work.

10 Tips To Stick to a No Spend Challenge

Now that we’ve gone over some pros and cons, let’s look at some spending freeze tips:

1. Prep accordingly

Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without proper hydration and gear, you’ll want to prepare before you embark on your no-spend month. Start by loading up on basic essentials—think food in your pantry, staples in your fridge, and the gas tank of your car on full. Have enough toilet paper, tubes of toothpaste, and sundry personal and household items? You’ll want to have enough to squeak by for an entire month. 

Besides prepping on supplies, figure out how much you spend on necessary expenses. This budget typically includes:

  • Housing 
  • Utilities
  • Cell phone bill
  • Pet care  
  • Food (i.e., groceries, eating out)
  • Household and personal items 
  • Subscriptions (i.e., gym membership, streaming subscriptions) 
  • Insurance bills 
  • Debt repayment (i.e., student debt, credit card payments, personal loan payments)

Last, to prepare for your no-spend challenge, set some basic rules. Can you not spend any money on non-essentials, or is it okay to use gift cards you already have? 

I’ve personally gone on a number of no-spend challenges after hog-wild, “what’s a budget again?” periods in my life. Recently, I went on a spending freeze, and I made a pact to myself not to spend on a hobby-turned-vice, stickers, for a month.

For a weeklong challenge I went on a few years ago, I let myself spend “old money,” or money on gift cards. Cash or using my credit card was off-limits.


2. Know your why

Not spending for the sake of spending can make you feel deprived and feel pointless. And IMHO, it is pointless. But having a clear reason why you are committing to a no spend month makes it intentional. In turn, you’ll have an easier time to stick with it when you hit a rough patch.

This could be a money goal, such as having a larger emergency cushion. Or it can be paying off credit card debt, or spending less in one area so you can make greater progress on another money goal.


3. Make it hard to spend

As a wise sage (or behavioral economist) once said: Make it hard to do the wrong thing, and easy to do the right thing. In other words, set up barriers to make it tough to spend, and remove barriers to save.

Start by trying to pinpoint what’s causing you to spend so much. For instance, if it’s online shopping when you’re anxious or bored, put down your phone and go for a short walk. Temporarily unlink your cards to your Apple Pay and PayPal (just do it, it’s only for a month), unfollow your favorite retailers on IG, unsubscribe to their newsletters—you get the picture.

If it’s social spending that’s burning a huge hole in your wallet, then commit to saying no to a few social outings, or maybe be the brave, bold friend in your tribe to suggest a less-expensive alternative. 

If going off the rails with your hobbies is what’s causing you to overspend, you might need to unfollow some of the Facebook hobby groups you’re part of, and not peek at any “show and squeal” haul posts. These types of posts can make you want to spend.

 

4. Make it easy to save


To make it easier to save, set up automatic savings. If you anticipate saving, say $400 that month from the no-spend challenge, then autosave $100 every week. 

If you’re a Chime member, setting up Automatic Savings is simple. You can also use the Roundup feature, which rounds up each transaction, to Grow Your Savings. Or, consider putting some of that money saved toward your credit card debt.

Another approach: For each “no” you say to a purchase, try manually moving the amount you saved to your savings. Boom! That’s an instant reward right there. Super motivating, right?

5. Work your creative muscles


Just like how good art can come from lean, hungry times, nothing jots your creativity than working with limited funds. During my no-spend challenges, I found creative ways to have fun and eat cheaply, without having to dole out cash.

Not spending money meant an opportunity to get resourceful with what I already had. I cooked with what ingredients I had in my kitchen pantry, and I looked for free things to do in the city. I also wasn’t quick to replace certain items, found multiple uses for the same thing, or turned to an alternative, which at times, turned out better. 

 

6. Lean on your tribe for support


Going cold turkey for an entire month will have its dark moments. You might want to throw in the towel, and feel about of self-doubt. To prepare for any potential lapses, create a support network around your no-spend month.

Make a formal announcement to your friends, and post on social media about committing to a no-spend challenge month. When I did so, I actually found fellow sticker swappers who were struggling with spending way too much than their wallets could afford, and we chatted via Facebook Messenger to keep each other accountable. 

We offered ideas on what to do instead of sticker shopping.  If we lapsed and bought stickers, we needed to fess up, despite our shame. We also celebrated one another’s wins. I made new friends, and it was pretty rewarding and awesome.    


7. Pick one category to do your no-spend challenge


If putting a complete stop to spending non-essentials entirely doesn’t seem realistic, try honing in on a single category. This can be the area that’s wrecking your money situation and causing the most pain on your finances.

For me, I went on a 30-day no spend challenge on my truest vice and pseudo-addiction, which I developed mid-pandemic: sticker collecting and swapping. Going on a spending moratorium for stickers would help me stay within my budget the most. 


8. Create a 30-day waitlist


Depending on what our spending vice is, often if we just let things “cool off” then it turns out we don’t need or really want that item or make that purchase we were so hot and bothered to buy. That’s why shopping events that have a sense of urgency, such as mega sales, promo codes, and limited-edition releases, can be so enticing and have you spending right away.

During your no-spend challenge, keep a list of what you want to buy, but need to wait until the challenge ends. Note the amount, how much you want the said item, and where you found it. You might be surprised at what you end up not really wanting after the 30-day cool-off period. 


9. Commit to a shorter period


This is your challenge and it’s important to do you and make tweaks so that it feels somewhat doable. If not spending for 30 days makes your stomach churn, then try a shorter duration.

For instance, if splurging while out with friends is your biggest temptation, try a spending freeze during the week. If online spending (raises hand) while bored or anxious is what’s tripping up your finances, then try a no-spend weekend when you’re out and about, and aren’t shackled to your computer.  

10. Give yourself a jail free card — but make it reasonable 

A month can feel like an eternity when you’re used to constantly adding items to your Amazon shopping carts and on “merciless consumer” mode. Allow yourself a jail-free card that you can resort to during those weak moments. But just like a cheat meal can turn into a cheat day, which could potentially bleed into a cheat week and have you back on your bad food–binging ways, make it a reasonable splurge. Set rules around how and when your jail free card can be used, and a spending limit.

When I did a no-spend month challenge this past year on stickers, I allowed myself two small purchases of $20. My budget could handle it, and once I used both jail free cards, that was it. 

No Spend Challenge FAQs

How to tell if a no spend month challenge is right for me?

Truth be told, a no spend month challenge isn’t for everyone. For some, it can make you feel so deprived and sad about life, that you might end up lapsing and going on a mega splurge. To tell if it’s the right move for you, test out the waters. Try a no-spend day, weekend or month.

So what if a spending freeze isn’t the best fit for you? Try sticking to automating your savings, cutting back on a single type of expense, or perhaps try the no-guilt budget, where you put money toward your savings first, set money aside for your basic living expenses, then spend the rest.  

Is it possible to not spend money for a month?

Absolutely. However, before deciding on a spending freeze, set some parameters around your no-spend challenge. If it’s a no-spend month on non-essentials, make sure you’ve prepared ahead of time and stocked up on the necessities. Check your bank balance so you make sure you have enough for your bills. Will you allow yourself a small splurge, and are using gift cards okay? Figuring that kind of stuff ahead of time will make for a relatively smoother challenge. 

Is a no spend month a good way to save money?

It certainly can be. While it’s not the best way for everyone to tuck away funds, committing no a no spend month—or even a week—can help add a few dollars to your bank account. If you’re curious, give it a whirl and see how it goes. To make sure you do save, set up auto savings, or manually move money for every purchase you don’t make. You might be surprised. 

Final Thoughts

A no-spend challenge can be a great way to save money and learn about your financial habits and behaviors. To make sure you nail it, do some prep, set up rules and parameters around it, and feel free to tweak it so it jives better with your needs and way of being. All those things, combined with getting a little creative, as and having accountabuddies by your side, can make for a successful spending freeze. You got this! 💪

 

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