If you went on a serious spending spree this summer and haven’t stuck to your saving goals, consider going cold turkey with a no-spend challenge.
The idea is pretty simple: If you want to save money and spend less, make it a game. See if you can go a day, week or even a month without spending any money except on necessities. Rent or the electric bill would be a necessity; a burger and fries, assuming you have food at home, would not.
If your no-spend challenge is successful, before long you should have more money in your bank account. And if you do a no-spend challenge long enough or often enough, you might even develop some better spending and money management habits.
So how to do a no-spend challenge? We have some tips and no-spend challenge ideas.
— Have a goal in mind.
— Get your kids involved.
— Set small goals initially.
— Recruit others to join.
— Plan for exceptions.
— Try a specific no-spend challenge.
— Give yourself a reward.
Have a Goal in Mind
In other words, why are you doing a no-spend challenge? The more specific your goal, the better.
“Talk about why you should stop spending money. Is it to pay off credit cards, save for a vacation, or do you want to break the cycle of consumerism? Talk about your purpose,” says John McConnell, founder of McConnell Financial, a wealth management firm in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Get Your Kids Involved
If you have children, let them in on it, McConnell suggests.
“Kids want to be part of the solution and are aware of possible family tension around money. Talk openly about money with the kids. Get them involved,” McConnell says. “Take the fear away from tightening the budget and you will be surprised how they will keep you on track. In my house, my 12-year-old son is my goal police, and he is tough.”
Set Small Goals Initially
For instance, if you’re shooting high with a no-spend challenge that lasts a month, first “try to not spend Monday through Thursday,” McConnell suggests. “Many people can be thrifty for a few days but can’t sustain it, so start small.”
Recruit Others to Join
A no-spend challenge could actually be fun, rather than a chore or sacrifice, if you do it with friends and have some support.
Heather Albrecht, a financial coach and the founder of Balance Financial Coaching in White River Junction, Vermont, says she has hosted no-spend challenges in a Facebook group, and she has participated in others as well.
Having a group of people to hold you accountable helps a lot when it comes to no-spend challenges, Albrecht says.
“The group aspect helps to keep the challenge front of mind and keeps you excited about what you are doing. It also lets you be a helper when other people comment about problems they are having since you can be supportive, and in turn, get support when you need it,” Albrecht says. “Giving support to others is a tricky way to keep the mind from coming up with excuses to quit.”
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
Plan for Exceptions
You can probably handle a no-spend challenge that lasts one or two days, but if you’re aiming for a week or a month, that’s when things start getting tricky.
“I always tell participants to look ahead at the time frame they want to do the challenge for and see what may come up,” Albrecht says. “Are there any birthdays or outings already planned? Decide before the challenge if there are any exceptions to the challenge and just make sure you stick to those — and there shouldn’t be many,” she adds.
Try a Specific No-Spend Challenge
This doesn’t have to be a challenge where you spend no money at all, except on the crucial bills. Certainly don’t take the no-spend challenge to the extreme and not make a car payment.
But you could decide to forego impulse purchases for a month, or you could vow to buy no coffee for a month.
Perhaps you should try a pantry challenge, suggests Sam Zelinka, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and runs a personal finance website for federal employees.
“My wife and I have done several no-spend challenges, but our favorite type of no-spend challenge is a pantry challenge where we try not to buy groceries for as long as possible,” Zelinka says, and he and his wife have some financial incentive to try to keep meal costs low. They have three kids.
“By avoiding the grocery store, the pantry challenge forces you to eat food that you’ve previously frozen or stored,” Zelinka says. “You’ll want to set some ground rules for yourself before beginning your pantry challenge, such as how long you plan on doing the pantry challenge and a very clear list of what you will and won’t buy during the challenge.”
For example, Zelinka says that you might allow yourself to buy milk when you run out — but you won’t allow yourself to buy cereal again until the no-spend challenge is done.
It’s actually fun, Zelinka says. You’ll find some creative uses for the odds and ends in your pantry and freezer.
“While we’ve done lots of no-spend challenges, pantry challenges are our absolute favorite,” he says.
Give Yourself a Reward
When you get through your no-spend challenge, McConnell suggests that you reward yourself. Nothing extravagant, of course. He suggests an at-home ice cream party with your family, for example. But have some fun — and if you are doing this with family or friends, discuss what has gone well and what hasn’t.
“Talk about your experience. The first couple of days will be very hard, but once you push through that initial phase it will get easier and easier,” he says.
And if all goes well, you’ll soon have another mission to carry out: how to wisely spend the money you’ve saved during your no-spend challenge.
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