If you’re reading this, you’re probably considering doing a No Spend Challenge. From start to finish, the entire process is very eye opening, and will help you see just where your money is going, and understand your spending habits.
I realized that last year, we spent way too much money and that it can’t happen again this year. Usually, I am very frugal, but with everything that happened in 2020, we were a little more loose with our spending, and bought things we really didn’t need. We also ate out a lot more than we usually would to try and help support local businesses during this pandemic, but that really ate up our budget.
The purpose of the No Spend Challenge is to take a break from spending, and save money to reach long, and short term goals, and helps create better budgeting habits. The No Spend Challenge also helps eliminate food waste, utilizing leftovers and what’s already in your fridge, freezer and pantry. Did you know, that the average American household throws out around 31% off their food, or around $1,866 per year*? Imagine what you could do with an extra $1,866!
There are so many ways that you can make the No Spend Challenge work for you, what are you waiting for? Join me in a No Spend February!
How To Do A No Spend Challenge – Everything You Need To Know
What Is The No Spend Challenge?
The No-Spend Challenge is just what it sounds like. A challenge of not spending any extra money for a set amount of time. It helps you learn what you spend your money on, and how to create better budgeting habits to save more money. It’s like a diet, but with your spending habits!
How Long Is The No Spend Challenge?
Setting a time frame for the No Spend Challenge is completely up to you. Whatever time frame you do decide to choose, just be sure to commit to it. This can add up to hundreds in savings.
Weekend: This one should be pretty easy. Start with going a whole weekend without spending any money. Use up the groceries that are in your fridge, and substitute with things as needed to get through the weekend. If starting with just a weekend, set your budget at $0.
One Week: Again, this one should be pretty easy. Like with the weekend challenge, set your budget at $0.
30-Days: This involves a little more planning and preparation, but is where you are going to notice the most significant savings. Set a small budget for the essentials, and things on your “allowed” list, and do not spend any more. For our family, our budget for the month is $100, and this includes groceries, toiletries and pre-planned events (our anniversary and Valentine’s Day).
3 Months: Even more planning is involved with 3 months of no spending, but in the end will save you the most money.
If money is tight, a no spend month is a perfect way to start and help you save money, and get your budget back on track. Even if you mess up, you’ll still end up saving money.
Why Do The No Spend Challenge?
To save money, of course! Also, to help you get your budget back on track.
Get a sticky note, or a piece of paper and write down WHY you want to do the No Spend Challenge. Place your ‘why’ somewhere visible, and it will help motivate you throughout the challenge, to keep going!
What Are The Spending Rules?
The rules to the No Spend Challenge are simple. No extra spending. This means eliminating all non-essentials, and reevaluating if something is a want or a need.
Rules can vary, and, naturally, there are exceptions to the rules, but this list below will give you a good starting point to get started.
Stick To Approved Spending List
For me, cutting out coffee shops, and not spending money on my hobbies (crocheting) is where I struggle the most. I stocked up ahead of time of my coffee essentials. For me, this is Nespresso pods. By using my Nespresso machine, and milk frother, and making lattes at home, I am saving at least $4 a day on coffee. I taught Anthony how to make lattes, too, and will have him make one for me every now and then. I may be a little biased, but I think those lattes taste the best!
While going through my spending to prepare for this No Spend Challenge, I realized that I spent a lot of my money at Joann, buying yarn for projects (projects that are waiting to be started because I need to finish my last one). To help avoid temptation of buying more yarn, I have unsubscribed from Joann’s e-mails, and have deleted the app from my phone. If you are a late night browser, and find your self making unnecessary purchases, deleting apps from your phone is one of the best, and easiest ways you can start saving money right away. By not having the app there, it cuts the temptation.
Use A Cash Budget
I have talked about this before (How To Save Money On Groceries), and will say it again – shop with cash! Bringing only a certain amount of cash with you to the grocery store will help encourage you to only buy what’s on your list because that cash is all you have for the month.
What If I Have To Go To The Store?
It happens, we’re going to need to go to the store for things like milk, eggs, bread and fresh produce. But if you do have to go to the store, make sure that you bring a grocery list, and stick to it. Get a free printable grocery list here. Also be sure to take advantage of any coupons or offers on your store cards. Download your local grocery stores app if you haven’t already, and ‘clip’ any coupons that go with your list. Be careful when scrolling through the coupon list to avoid temptation, and adding things that are a ‘great deal’ or on sale. STICK TO YOUR LIST! When you do have to go to the grocery store, take a look at flyers and see what is on sale. Shop the sales, even those little $0.25 savings add up.
Special Events & Holidays
Let’s face it, events are kind of a thing of the past these days, but they still come up, as do holidays. Take this into consideration when planning. For example, with Valentine’s Day coming up, instead of going out for dinner or getting takeout, use part of your grocery budget to make a romantic dinner at home. If there is a holiday, and you’re hosting, consider asking to make it a pot-luck style meal, and have everyone bring something.
Cutting Back On Entertainment
This is a little bit easier to do these days since so many places are closed or have restrictions, but there are a ton of fun things you can do together at home for free.
- Board Game or Video Game Night
- Movie Night / Marathons
Turn your living room into a movie theater. Make a big bowl of popcorn, and make some other snacks, and watch a movie, or have a movie marathon.
- Read a Book
There are a ton of ways to exercise at home. Watch YouTube videos for workout and yoga routines
- Pick Up An Old Hobby
Start back up on that hobby that you started at the beginning of Quarantine. For us, it’s a Spiderman diamond painting that Anthony just had to have, and is only about ¼ of the way done.
- Clean and Declutter
As you clean and declutter your budget, consider cleaning and decluttering your house. Sell things that you don’t want or need anymore online, or hold a yard-sale and make some money.
Ask Yourself These Important Questions Before Spending
Before spending money on something that you believe to be ‘essential’, ask yourself the following questions:
- Why am I buying this?
- Can I go without this?
- Can I substitute something else?
- Is this an approved purchase?
Avoid Buy Now, Pay Later
We’ve all been tempted by a Buy Now, Pay Later ad, and have probably ended up buying something from one of those ads, putting it on credit, and figuring out the payments later. Don’t be tempted by this. If you don’t have the cash for it now, you can’t afford it.
Take Inventory & Stock Up On Essentials
This is a commonly debated topic when it comes to the No Spend Challenge. Some people say to stock up on some groceries, and snacks to ensure that you are not eating out, and others say to not buy anything at all. I say this all depends on what you have ‘in stock’ in your pantry, fridge and freezer.
Knowing what is in your pantry, fridge and freezer helps make looking for food and meal planning a breeze. Take the time to see what you have on hand, and keep track of with the Kitchen Inventory Printables. Having a kitchen inventory will help you avoid temptation to go to the store if you already have food in the house. This will take a little bit of time, but you’ll realize that you probably have a lot more groceries in your house than you think.
Stocking Up On Essentials
Before going out and spending money on groceries, take a look at your inventory list and see how much of each item you have, and ask yourself “if I use this up, can my family go without it?” If your family eats a lot of chicken breast, and on your list you only have one pound of chicken breast left, then this is something that you should add to your list. Before adding it to your list, check to see if there is anything that you could substitute for chicken breast, like chicken thighs, or whole chickens. Simple substitutions like this can end up saving you hundreds at the end of the month.
As I took inventory of our kitchen, I realized that our freezer inventory was low. I had a couple steaks, some pork (which I can’t eat anymore), and some frozen vegetables. I knew that if I wanted to have a no spend month, I needed to stock up on some chicken and ground beef. I bought some ground beef from Costco, and chicken breast and thighs from my local grocery store since they were on sale. I spent $35.40 and got 7.20 pounds of chicken and 5.86 pounds of ground beef. I was able to divide the chicken up into eight (8) meals, and since my boys eat a lot of ground beef, five (5) meals worth of beef.
How To Succeed In The No Spend Challenge
The most important way to succeed in the No Spend Challenge is to get your family on board. Let them know about the challenge, and why you’re doing it. Come up with a game plan that will help you and your family stay on track. These tips will remain valuable to you even after you complete your No Spend Challenge.
I can’t say enough about Meal Planning. Meal Planning can not only help you save money on groceries, but you’ll eliminate food waste, and eat better food. This free printable meal planner will help you plan meals around your schedule. On busy nights, plan slow cooker meals, so that dinner is ready when you get home and you don’t end up just ‘grabbing something’, because it’s easy. Use your Kitchen Inventory Lists to see what you already have in your kitchen, and use those items to plan your meals. If you have a lot of errands to run, pack snacks in ziplock bags for the car and avoid the temptation of grabbing something at checkout. And, if meal planning overwhelms you, or you don’t have time to plan, check out February’s Meal Plan with a month of planned breakfasts, lunches and dinners that are designed with kids in mind to save time and money.
Make It Homemade
If you can, make it homemade. There are a lot of things like sauces, bread, chicken stock, beans, granola and snacks that can be made homemade, and end up saving you a bunch of money.
Snacks eat up a lot of grocery budgets, and can make or break those grocery budgets. By making snacks homemade is where you’ll really start seeing your savings add up.Some of the best store-bought snacks to make homemade are:
- Ranch Dressing
Homemade Salsa is a family favorite in our house. Using canned tomatoes, and just a little bit of fresh produce, you probably already have everything you need to make Salsa in your pantry and fridge already. Use as little or as much hot pepper as you’d like to make your salsa spicy.
In our house this is a big one. As I evaluated our spending habits, I realized that I was spending $5-7 a week on cookie dough. I realized that I could make the dough homemade for half of that, plus I’d be getting fresh cookies. Making cookie dough is a task that I have bestowed upon Anthony.
- Trail Mix
My Trail Mix is always different, and usually ends up being a mix of the ‘bottom of the bag’ from different snacks around the house. My favorite Trail Mix combination is GORP (Good ‘Ol Raisins and Peanuts).
- Potato or Sweet Potato Chips
Use your Air Fryer to make homemade chips. To make chips in your Air Fryer, preheat to 360 degrees. Thinly slice potatoes on a mandolin and transfer to a large bowl filled with ice water. Let soak 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and dry with paper towels. Lightly spray potatoes with olive-oil spray and a pinch of salt. Working in batches, cook potatoes for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Buy kernels, and cook over the stove, in the microwave or in your Instant Pot. Toss popcorn with a little butter and salt.
You can get more homemade snack ideas, including Homemade Fruit Rollups in my Back To School Basics Planning Guide.
Learn To Substitute
Get creative and learn how to substitute. As you run out of your ‘essentials’, you’ll realize that it’s not really an essential. Some substitutions are simple, like penne pasta instead of fettuccine on Fettuccine Alfredo night, and some might involve a little more thinking, like using rolled oats instead of breadcrumbs.
What To Do With Unspent Money
At the end of the month (or week, or weekend), you’re going to notice that extra money sitting in your account. What do you do with it? First of all, don’t think of the No Spend Challenge as a deferment – so don’t just go out and blow the money on something, or spend extra the following week, or month. Use that extra money for good. With the extra money you can:
- Put it into a savings account
Save the extra money for emergencies, a vacation or for the holidays.
- Get caught up on bills.
A spending freeze when you’re behind on bills is a must. Remember, you don’t need extras when the electric bill is overdue.
- Pay off debt
Have your money make money! Talk to a financial advisor, and invest your savings.
- Take a small portion to make Freezer Meals or re-stock your pantry.
Like I mentioned above, don’t go crazy, see what you actually need, and what cannot be substituted. Stock up on those items first before just getting a ‘good deal’. This Freezer Meal Planner has 22 recipes, grocery lists and a detailed planning guide.
At the end of our No Spend Challenge, we are going to use our extra money to pay off some debt that we acquired over Christmas, and well, in 2020 in general.
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