Tips for a Meaningful No-Spend Challenge

piggy bank

Before I became my fully evolved writer-self who championed the millennial cause, I really enjoyed writing about budgets and personal finance. Of course, these topics are definitely still related to the millennial experience, especially considering how many of us are juggling multiple jobs and side gigs to make ends meet or work toward financial goals. Today’s post is all about a monthly No-Spend Challenge.

Originally posted by credit.com earlier this month, I’m revising the plan for a more topical take on reduced spending for the millennial burnouts reading this blog. Of course, you can always tweak the plan to make it fit your own needs!

No-Spend isn’t really “no” spend

First off, it’s called a No-Spend Challenge, but you’ll still be spending the usual cash flow on necessities like rent, utilities, food, and transportation.

When planning your No-Spend challenge, you WILL spend on: shelter (rent/mortgage), insurance, internet, phone, utilities, business expenses, personal care items (menstrual products, toothpaste, etc.), and groceries. But you WON’T spend on: eating out, coffee shops, clothing, unneeded cosmetics or toiletries (i.e., if you still have a bottle of shampoo in the cabinet, don’t go buy a new one this month), home decor, hobbies, entertainment, or toys.

Why No-Spend?

A No-Spend challenge is a way to streamline your spending so you can put more toward a savings goal, debt payoff, or other financial objective. But you can make it your own, if your budget is so tight you’re really not spending much on those “luxury” categories in the first place.

Alternatives to the No-Spend Challenge

If you like the idea but don’t have the financial wiggle room to change your spending habits, try the following alternatives:

Use It Up Challenge: Don’t buy any new item until you’ve completely used up the current one. A bar of soap, your cabinet stock of facial cleanser (guilty – the discounts at Marshall’s got me), a tube of toothpaste, or even a dish towel with a hole in it can all be used up completely before being replaced.

Pantry and Freezer Challenge: Cut spending on groceries by using up the food in the freezer and pantry. If you’re a stocker-upper who never seems to actually use those stocked up items, take a week or two to limit your grocery spending to only fresh produce and perishables, while you use up your existing stores of frozen meals, grains, canned goods, etc. in the kitchen.

One Week Challenge: If you can’t swing a whole month of No-Spend, try just a week or a weekend. Or don’t, I’m not the boss of you.

Tips to stick with it

I always enthusiastically start a No-Spend month and then end up allowing this or that, and before you know it, oops, I spent what I normally spend in a month on eating out or haircuts or whatever. Here are some tips to keep your spending at bay for this temporary challenge:

Unsubscribe: Take shopping apps off your phone, unlink your cards from your shopping accounts, and unsubscribe from sales list emails.

Think it Through: When you’re itching for an impulse purchase, think about it for at least a minute first. Write down the item, why you want it, what you could do instead of buying it, etc. — by the time you’re done, you will likely be able to walk away from it. Keep a list so you can buy items after your challenge is up (if you still even want them).

Do Free Stuff: A quick web search for “Free things to do in (your city)” will open up a whole new world. The library has events on a regular basis, museums are usually free to the public (or have a free day for local residents), and the spring and summer is a great time of year to go exploring local hiking trails.

Make it Work for You: If you really love the experience of shopping or getting a treat for yourself (no judgment, I regularly have Treat Yo Self moments), make the No-Spend Challenge work for you. Host a swap meet with friends – everyone can declutter their homes and meet up to exchange art, clothes, decor items, and more. This way, you get the experience of new, cool stuff without spending a penny. Or you can have a garage sale, but that is less fun than hanging with your besties all day.

Get the guide!

Download this worksheet PDF to help you find your motivation for a No-Spend Challenge and check off all the days you meet your No-Spend goals:

No Spend Challenge Worksheet PDF

Acknowledge privilege

If you’re able to do a No-Spend month, of course you should support your own financial goals like debt payoff, saving up for a meaningful purchase, etc. However, it is extremely important to check your privilege. Financial know-how can’t be boiled down to just “skip your daily latte and stop getting fast food.”

For people in food deserts, who straddle a benefits gap, or who otherwise struggle to make ends meet, a No-Spend Challenge is not an appropriate way for them to meet their needs. In addition, their small coffee or muffin at a cafe might be the only way they let themselves have a small piece of indulgence. Luxuries are not only for the well-off, friends. Everyone deserves to live well and have a moment of peace.

If you are privileged enough to have the kind of income that makes a No-Spend Month a huge financial boon, consider rehoming some of those dollars to people in need. You can donate to the Reparations Emergency Fund by Nice White Ladies, which helps black women and femmes who need emergency support for shelter and other needs. Or support a charity of your choice to help marginalized populations.


PS. I mention the benefits gap in this post, a topic I also cover in my upcoming book, “The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation.” This book helps people unpack the claims around millennials’ destruction of society by providing a mix of data and stories, plus advice on how to get ahead in a society that blames you for everything. Check it out and find pre-order links at bornagainminimalist.com/book.

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5 thoughts on “Tips for a Meaningful No-Spend Challenge

  1. Megan says:

    I like that you specify it’s not really a “no spend” challenge. I think that’s what gets people- money still has to be spent on necessities like rent, co-pays, etc. Thank you for that distinction

  2. UrbanMinimalist says:

    I love that you make the clear distinction it’s not a “no spend” challenge- bills still need to be paid. I always kind of laughed at “no spend” challenges because co-pays, mortgages, and food still needed to be purchased.

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