A No Spend Challenge is great for the budget, but what is it and how do you start? Get the simple rules and game plan for a successful fiscal fast. Create a meal plan and learn how to regrow your food in water for your no spend challenge!
A few years ago we embarked on a no spend challenge where we spent zero dollars for a whole month. That’s right…zero spending for an entire month!
Benjamin Franklin is the one who quoted, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail,” and his advice couldn’t ring truer when you’re looking at 30 days of not spending a dime.
I mean, the thought of no spending for a month alone is daunting… but then to face the challenge head on without any plan in place?! We all know that’s just a disaster waiting to happen.
But how do we plan? Where do we even start?!
From the beginning.
Anytime you tackle a goal, whether big or small, you always start with what you already have and what you already know. So let’s start by clarifying what a no spend challenge is and then get on with the rules.
What is a No Spend Challenge (Fiscal Fast)?
A no spend challenge is a chosen period of time where you stop spending money on anything you don’t need (if you want to buy something extra, it has to come from earning extra money, not your regular personal finances). You cannot use credit cards or your debit card. Overall, it’s a set time frame to curb your spending habits, hopefully learn how to eat simple real food, which can ultimately help you reach your long term financial goals.
What is the Purpose of a No Spend Challenge?
The purpose of a no spend challenge is to take a break from all things money related. When we completed our 30 Days of No Spending challenge a few years ago, we had a new appreciation for what we had. We became MUCH more content with what we already had and focused much less on things we wanted.
We had also met our savings goals and became much more selective when shopping for any item. Frivolous purchases were no longer, and plenty of time and thought went into every small decision we made.
11 Simple Rules for How to Do a No Spend Challenge
1). Figure out why you want to have a fiscal fast
What is your no spend challenge motivation? Are you saving for a vacation? Paying off debt? Do you want to stop living paycheck to paycheck? Do you have long term goals? Simply being clear on your intentions is important for having a successful no spending challenge.
2). No stocking up!
Seriously. No stocking up. Just because you’re not going to be spending money for a month, doesn’t mean you can run to the grocery store and buy two months’ worth of groceries. Shop how you normally shop and work with what you have on hand once the fast begins.
So… what do you do when you run out of food? You’ve got some options:
3). Limit Transportation Costs during a no spend challenge
Ok, tricky one here. Sure, fill your tank up before your fiscal fast begins. However, see if you can make it to the end of the month on just that one tank of gas. For those with commutes and/or those with two cars, see if you can get creative with the gas you have available between the vehicles.
For example, we ended up toggling between our cars during our no spend challenge, depending on which one had more gas, or what the purpose of the trip was.
Ultimately, use common sense. If you need to fill up so you can go to work, fill up. We don’t want you to lose your job.
4). Start Selling your unwanted items
You know that old bicycle in your garage, the extra television in the third bedroom or the laptop you never use anymore since you bought an iPad? Yep, you guessed it, time to go. This is where the fun starts, and where you’ll really start making those hard decisions.
Since you’re not spending money on gas (because you’ve limited yourself to using your car for work and/or personal commitments), you now have a lot more time around the house.
Use all your spare time to sell those spare gadgets on Craigslist, Ebay, or your local sales page. It’s time to purge those items you don’t really use. Most of us have a lot of unnecessary “stuff” lying around the house or in a closet that if it went missing, we probably wouldn’t care. Or even notice. Do yourself a favor and get rid of it!
Which brings me to my next point:
5). Can I buy anything on a no spend challenge (fiscal fast)?
Yes and no. Any money earned from selling those old and dusty items can only be used for items that will sustain you: food and gas. That’s it.
During our first challenge, we made over $100 by selling our old stuff. We could have spent it all on food and continued to eat how we normally ate, but we didn’t. Instead, we limited ourselves to $6 once a week and used it on milk, produce and ice cream (you know, the essentials).
In other words, we forced ourselves to live extremely frugal for the challenge. We pretty much emptied our kitchen cabinets and still did well. However, we did have a weekly CSA box at the time (that was a birthday gift and did not come out of our own pocket).
6). Do I still pay my mortgage during a no spend challenge?
Yes, unless you want to live in a van down by the river. : )
Please don’t be so extreme and skip your mortgage payment, utilities and so forth. Use common sense, and pay “the man” what you need to in order to heat your home and meet your financial obligations. The purpose of this challenge is to live below your means, and be more content with what you have, not ruin your credit and become homeless.
How do I survive a no spend challenge month?
You survive the month by planning ahead! Here are the rules for planning with the following steps…
7). Take Inventory and Stock of What You Already Have
Taking inventory of your kitchen is definitely a great start, and I highly recommend doing that, but consider what you normally buy for other areas of the home too.
- toilet paper
- personal hygiene
- school supplies
- birthday/anniversary gifts
- home decor/organization tools
- printer ink & paper
Walk around the house, making yourself fully aware of items that you regularly replace and ask yourself a few questions:
- How much do I have right now?
- Will it last me the rest of the month?
- Can I go without it?
- If I have to replace it, how much would I need to make it through the month?
Also see my post on How to Make a Toiletries Budget.
The goal of the challenge isn’t to deprive you of the fun things in life, rather to cultivate true thankfulness and content in the things we already have. Consider making some toiletries with staples you already have on hand. Plus, they’re healthier and safer too!
8). Look Ahead to What’s on Your Calendar
We’re talking doctor appointments, birthday parties, work, school, church… places you have to drive to, field trips to take, events you have to contribute to, or gatherings you’re hosting at home.
It’s best to be fully aware of what your calendar contains, so that you don’t accidentally find yourself in a bind later in the month.
A few questions to consider as you review your family, work and school calendars:
- How many miles do I have to drive this month? Can any of the trips be combined? Eliminated?
- Is it absolutely imperative that we attend this activity? Or can we miss it?
- How many meals are we eating at home?
- Do we have any commitments we have to bring food to?
- How many people will be coming over this month? And for what type of activity?
Think ahead, and be prepared!
9). Plan ahead with what you already have
If taking inventory was step 7, and looking ahead was step 8, this step is the bridge connecting the two:
- This is where you ‘meal plan,’ and strategically place your meals so you don’t have to eat rice and beans every night for a week.
- This is where you scour frugal recipes to see what you can make with just potatoes and frozen corn. To see what delicious dish can be made with only a bag of frozen vegetables.
- Think about all the places you’re committed to be and see if you have enough gas to get you there. See step 4 for more ideas on this.
- This is where you prioritize your needs, if you’re forced to make a decision between gas in the car or toilet paper.
Check out these helpful posts for more support with meal planning!
- 9 Meal Planning Methods and a Solution for Everyone
- Myths About Meal Planning
- 6 Tips to Help you Stick to a Meal Plan
- How to Meal Plan and Make it Work
10). Fill in your Financial Gaps with Creativity
Consider that you might have to get creative with making ends meet. Remember that you can sell things, work odd jobs or whatever else you can think of to earn extra income above and beyond your normal salary – to help you out this month.
But there are other options too, if we think outside the box. Here are a few ideas:
- Save money by buying just one of something instead of 20 (yes, 20 is the better deal, but 1 costs less and might be all you need).
- Trade your abundance with friends (have a lot of rice but need toiletries?).
- Host gatherings instead of driving to them.
- Shop only where you have gift cards, and let the balance be your spending limit.
- Go to free activities within walking distance, and expand your “walking distance” by a mile or two.
- Rideshare or carpool (consider work, school, kids and church).
- Offer to cook in exchange for rides (for parents and/or kids).
- Make an appetizer buffet for dinner.
- Host gatherings after lunch but before dinner, and serve lemonade and iced tea.
- Host a dessert party instead of dinner and make a few different flavors of popcorn.
- Rent movies from the library.
Here are some money saving tips to help get your creative juices flowing!
- 25 Food Substitutions that Will Save you Money
- 10 Ways to Save Money on Coffee
- 6 Ways the Instant Pot Saves Money
11). Get Your Family and Friends On Board with a No Spend Challenge
When we started our first challenge, it was awkward when our friends (who read the blog) asked us “How is it going? The whole not spending any money thing?”
On their behalf, they were just curious if it was even possible, and why we would want to do that to ourselves. However, they were genuinely interested, and I think that we set a great example for them to want to try it themselves.
By the time we had completed the challenge, our outlook on what we needed versus what we wanted had totally changed.
Our hearts were so content and we no longer desired wasteful, frivolous things. We focused on how we’d already been blessed. And those questions our friends kept asking us? We were thrilled to answer because our perspective had changed so much!
More Money Saving Tips
- How to Save Money on a Pantry Challenge
- 5 Reasons You’re Not Saving Money on Food
- 25 Food Substitutions that Will Save You Money
- Stocking a Real Food Pantry to Save Time and Money