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Around 70% of the UK’s workforce is chronically broke, according to a study by the Royal Society of Arts. With so many people facing economic insecurity and living paycheck to paycheck, it’s never been so important to change our spending habits.
This is where having your own no-spend challenge can help!
What is a no-spend challenge?
At its most basic definition, a no-spend challenge is where you go for a set amount of time without spending any money.
Most people choose to not spend any extra money on anything that hasn’t been budgeted for. But it is a very personal thing – you can set your own rules about what is and isn’t allowed so that it’s tailored to suit your lifestyle.
Why do a no-spend challenge?
To reset bad habits
Going on a shopping ban can reset some bad habits. It’s a bit like going cold turkey when giving up smoking, or having a junk food detox when you’ve been overindulging. It will break the bad habit and hopefully put you in a better mindset going forward.
A no-spend challenge works really well in breaking that ‘I need it now’ mentality, which many of us suffer from.
To save a large amount of money quickly
If you totally cut your non-essential spending, you are probably looking at saving a decent amount of money in a short space of time. If you usually spend £200 on eating out, £100 on clothes, £150 on coffee and snacks throughout the month, and £200 on miscellaneous things and things for the house, you’re looking at a saving of £650 in the space of a month!
If you decide to cut out subscriptions too, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Amazon Music, and the gym, then you’re looking at an even bigger saving. This could be put towards replenishing your emergency fund, your investments, or even just towards a holiday.
To pay off debt
Having a no-spend challenge is a great way to help tackle debt. You can use all of the money you save on the challenge to pay off the debt.
To curb impulse spending
We’ve all been guilty of impulse spending at some point. Whether it be because you’ve stumbled upon something you really like when browsing in the shops, or you’re spending because you’re stressed or bored, the end result is the same – you’ve spent money that you didn’t mean to spend and on something that you hadn’t budgeted for.
A one-off won’t be an issue but it starts to become problematic when it occurs frequently and leaves you short of money.
A no-spend challenge means that you won’t be able to spend impulsively, thereby breaking the habit.
How to get started
Before you start the no-spend challenge, it pays to get yourself prepared. As the saying goes – fail to prepare, prepare to fail!
Decide what to cut
You need to set rules about what you can and can’t spend your money on for the duration of the challenge. The aim is to cut out all unnecessary spending.
- Bills (mortgage, gas/electric, council tax etc)
- Groceries (food for meals)
- Nail/hair services
- Eating out
- New clothes
- Online shopping
- Home decor
- Impulse grocery shopping
Set the duration of the challenge
The next step is to decide on the duration of the challenge. Again, there are no hard and fast rules.
You need to think about what is realistic for you. Take a look at the things you will be cutting out during the challenge. How long do you think you can really go without them?
You can start out small and build up to doing longer challenges. There’s no right or wrong here. Some people do a week, while others do two weeks. Some people do it for a month. Some people have even done it for a whole year! There’s a great book by Michelle McGagh, who documents her no-spend year. It’s very inspiring. I don’t think I could manage a year (my children might disown me!) but I have done monthly challenges before and, while they’re not easy, they’re definitely doable and well worth it.
Remember, the longer you continue the challenge, the more you’ll save.
Once you’ve decided what you’re allowed to spend money on and how long the challenge will last, you’re ready to start!
Some helpful tips
Stock up on groceries
Try to stock up on the items you’ll need beforehand. This will ensure that you’ll have enough at home for the duration of the challenge, without having to buy more. As well as food, this goes for pet food, toilet roll, shampoo and conditioner, washing powder, etc.
Leave your debit card and cash at home
If you usually carry your bank card and cash on your person when you leave the house, it will probably be quite difficult to leave it at home. But you will find the challenge so much easier if you remove the possibility of being able to spend.
If you spot something while out and about, you simply won’t be able to buy it! If you tell yourself that you’re going to pop home to grab some cash, chances are by the time you get home you will realise that it was a spur of the moment thing and that you actually don’t really want it.
Make use of unused gift cards
If you know you might struggle, dig out all of your old gift cards. Most of us have at least one gift card lurking at the bottom of our bag and a no-spend challenge is the perfect time to use it. Even if it’s just for a coffee at Starbucks, it will help to keep you going.
Take snacks and packed lunches on days out
If you have any (free!) days out planned – a trip to the park for example – be sure to take your own coffee and snacks. This will ensure that you’re not tempted to buy food and drink from the cafe.
Unsubscribe from emails
It’s a great idea to unsubscribe from emails when you’re trying to save money. It removes a whole load of temptation in an instant.
I actually did this when I was paying off my debt and it really does make a huge difference. Also, if you resubscribe to your favourite stores again after the challenge, they usually give you a discount coupon.
Research free activities/entertainment with the kids
It’s no secret – kids are expensive! A cinema trip alone as a family can easily cost £50. So it makes sense to plan some free activities to do during your challenge. Organise lots of playdates, movie nights, and trips to the park.
Use visual aids
During some part of the challenge, you will lose motivation. This is completely normal but it can be hard to keep going, especially if you are doing the challenge for a month or more.
I find that tracking my progress using charts is a great way to keep me motivated. It can be something simple like a tally chart, counting down the days until the end of the challenge or you can use a saving chart, colouring in a block each time you save a certain amount of money. I love this tree chart and it’s great if you are doing the challenge in order to reach a certain saving goal.
Use bright colours and get the whole family involved.
What to do if I mess up?
Don’t worry! Forget about it and keep going. The worst thing you can do is to use it as an excuse to give up and splurge. The whole point of the challenge is to save as much money as you can, not to berate yourself if you make a mistake. Just refocus and get back to it.
No-spend challenge final thoughts
So there you have it – how to do your very own no-spend challenge.
If you struggle with your spending and find yourself short of money at the end of each mont, a no-spend challenge could be one of the best things you do. It is a great way to regain control over your money.
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