Need New Money Habits? Take the No-Spend Challenge
by Sandra Glahn
When Terrell and Amy moved from the southern U.S. to California for Terrell to take a job on a church staff, their cost of living shot up. And their marital tension increased. One way they chose to resolve the conflict was to devote themselves to taking the no-spend challenge for a year.
A no-spend challenge involves choosing a period of time, a year in Terrell and Amy’s case, to refrain from spending. Not everyone starts with an entire year. Some might choose a weekend, a week, or a month. And of course, people need to eat, get to work, and have a roof over their heads. So groceries, rent/mortgage, and gas payments are allowed, as are utilities, insurance, internet, and phone. Those committing to the challenge decide together what qualify as essentials. But beyond these, spending stops.
Why take the challenge? One family might need a reset after an expensive vacation or holiday season. Perhaps they have medical bills or student loans coming due. Or maybe, as with Terrell and Amy, a move to a more expensive locale forced them to make lifestyle changes. Some might need only a temporary adjustment, while most devote themselves to altering habits permanently—like exchanging endless online shopping time with scrolling for free activities.
Typical items to cut during a no-spend challenge might include haircuts and polished nails, entertainment such as movie rentals, and activities like concerts. They also might include yoga classes and green fees. Eating-in replaces eating-out or ordering food. And new clothes must wait. Amazon Prime gets canceled, and the bike comes out of storage, replacing local Uber and Lyft rides. Terrell’s watch broke during their challenge, and when a friend learned about it, he gave Terrell a nice one he wasn’t using. Amy’s iTunes downloads came to an end, and she focused on enjoying the music she already owned or streaming free songs.
If taking a no-spend challenge sounds like something you need to consider, here are some suggestions:
- Ask yourself why you want to do this. Do you need to reign in your spending for your marital health? Is your family saving for a vacation? Would paying off a debt free you to give more? Are your discretionary expenses out of control? Do you want to follow Christ in divesting yourself of so many worldly goods?
- Consider who your choices will affect and get everyone on board. If you’re married, make the decision together with your spouse rather than making a unilateral pronouncement. If you have kids, help them understand the challenge, and even make it a game.
- Figure out how long you’ll stretch out the challenge. A weekend? A month? A year? Do you need to do a weekend test run before committing to a week? A month before committing to a quarter?
- Consider what daily habits need to change. Do you currently buy lunch in the cafeteria? Start brown-bagging it. Does your morning routine include sitting in the drive-through at Dunkin Donuts? Brew your own coffee and carry a thermos. When friends want to meet with you, do you schedule time in a restaurant? Think about ways to move those appointments to walking trails, park benches, and library spaces—or even playing a sport together at the city rec center.
- Set boundaries. Analyze past purchases and consider what you’ll exclude. One family in Texas spent more than necessary at the grocery store. So they shifted to a cash-envelope system. Now they have a set amount for groceries. The cash limit requires them to make menus so they can plan ahead—such as buying, cutting, and freezing a beef roast large enough for two crock pot meals that month. Steel-cut oatmeal goes on the shopping list rather than instant-oatmeal packets. Ingredients for cookies go on the list instead of already-cooked items. Scouring the sales at the grocery store becomes part of the routine.
- Take inventory of what you already have in stock. Look in the back of the pantry and the bottom of the freezer. What can you use up? What needs rotating before it expires? That can of peaches might make a nice dessert. Remember that avocado oil you bought but never touched? Read up on how to use it, and delay replacing the olive oil you ran out of.
- Get creative with free entertainment. Google “Free events in (name of your city)” to find out what days your local museum or arboretum offers no-charge entrances. Schedule a day to take the kids to fly kites in a field, feed ducks, or have a picnic in the park. Instead of going away on vacation, plan ways to have fun while exploring your own city’s museums and public spaces.
- When an unexpected need arises, as is certain to happen, instead of rushing out to make the purchase, slow down. Pray for provision. Look for alternate ways to meet the need. Your kid needs a costume—can you pull out the sewing machine? Your shoe has a hole. Got a repair place in town? If something really can’t wait, look for ways to raise extra funds to cover the need, such as doing spring cleaning and holding a garage sale.
One of the biggest keys to success in a no-spend challenge is planning ahead. Did you notice how many times “plan” in its various forms appeared in the above suggestions—planning local trips, making menus, preparing grocery lists. Saving money takes time. Be sure you build in some extra time in your schedule—and remember to reward yourself (with something free) for establishing new, better habits.
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