Have you ever participated in a no-buy challenge, or at the very least, had some curiosity about the impact of a no-spend challenge in your life?
Note – this can otherwise be called a low buy challenge, the no shopping challenge, the spending freeze, or the spending fast.
I know it sounds like a daunting task.
I thought so, too, until I did it.
It becomes easier the longer you do it. You just have to get started.
Slowly, your habits will change, your mindset will change, and you’ll realize you’re more capable than you thought. It’s quite refreshing!
You’ll also realize that you might be buying things because you think you’ll get happiness from them.
But more often than not, that happiness is short-lived or not actually true happiness.
This might make you wonder:
- How do I not spend money every day?
- How do I not buy anything for a week, a month, or a year?
I’ve turned my no-buy challenge into a comprehensive guide, including some rules and best practices, to help you complete your no-spend challenge successfully.
In this blog post, I will cover:
- The nuances of a no-spend challenge.
- The value to your life by participating in a no-spend challenge.
- Tips for how to get started.
- Insights on things I’ve learned to make this challenge sustainable.
- And what to do when you’re done with the challenge!
What is a no-spend challenge/no-buy challenge?
Picture this: You and your wallet are on a mini-vacation, a kind of spa retreat, where your cash gets to chill out, and your cards get a break from the swiping action.
It’s like a diet for your spending, but way more fun and without having to give up chocolate!
In simpler terms – it’s when you challenge yourself not to spend any money over a set period of time.
We’re talking no new shoes, no fancy lattes, and definitely no late-night online shopping sprees.
It’s all about using what you’ve got, getting creative, rediscovering old hobbies, and maybe, just maybe, finding out that the best things in life don’t cost a dime.
So, grab your metaphorical no-spend goggles, and let’s dive into the adventure of spending zilch, nada, nothing!
Are there different types of no-spend challenges?
There are many types of no-spend challenges!
For example, some people allow the spending of necessities like groceries and gas without restricting themselves in any way.
Others may budget for the necessities, and anything above and beyond that is off-limits.
Based on your lifestyle and situation, you can decide which type of no-spend challenge works best for you.
There are also different lengths of no-spend challenges, but I will talk about this further down in the blog post.
Why do a no-spend challenge?
Okay, so you might be wondering, “Why on Earth would I voluntarily put my shopping sprees on hold?”
Hear me out – it’s not just about torturing yourself for funsies.
The no-spend challenge can be difficult, but the eye opening insights are worth it!
No-spend challenges have many benefits, including:
- Changing your spending habits to remove impulse purchases (e.g., getting coffee at your local coffee shop)
- Accelerating progress on your financial goals (e.g., early retirement, paying off student loans, saving for a house)
- Opening up your mind and pushing your boundaries (i.e., You make the best use out of the things you already have. It forces you to be resourceful and creative. You understand what’s a real need vs. a want.)
- Learning new skills to avoid paying for things (i.e, You learn how to fix things so you can use them again.)
How do you get started on a no-spend challenge?
Jumping into a no-spend challenge might seem a bit like deciding to climb a mountain on a whim – exciting but a tad overwhelming.
The hardest thing about a no-buy challenge is just getting started.
You might have thoughts about how a no shopping challenge requires a lot of discipline and willpower.
Thankfully, it’s not as much as you think!
You can tailor your no-buy challenge to your lifestyle and needs.
Plus, you can make it as easy or difficult on yourself as you’d like.
After all, it’s much more important, not to mention beneficial, that you accomplish the challenge completely on your own terms rather than comparing your challenge to what everyone else is doing!
That’s why the first thing you have to do is decide what type of no-buy challenge you’d like to do.
What are your no-spend challenge rules and parameters?
Here are the “rules” you need to determine for your own no-spend challenge:
- Allowances: What are you allowed to spend money on?
- Time frame: What’s the time frame of the challenge?
We’ll talk about all these factors in more detail below.
How do you select allowances?
Selecting allowances for your no-spend challenge is about striking that perfect balance between being realistic and pushing yourself a little.
Here’s how to pick your perks without derailing the no-spend train – determine what’s a need vs. a want.
What are the essentials?
Before anything, list out your non-negotiable items.
An example of a non-negotiable is “food”.
If you want to give yourself less flexibility, you can narrow this down to “groceries” only or “groceries and some restaurants for special occasions”.
Other examples of essentials are rent/mortgage, utilities, gas or transportation costs, toiletries, and medical products.
Essentials, in a nutshell, are the must-haves for daily survival.
It can also be helpful to break down certain categories so you’re not just writing down toiletries. You’re including what specific toiletries are allowed, (e.g., toilet paper.)
Should you have a buffer?
Life loves throwing curveballs, so having a tiny emergency fund within your no-spend challenge can be a lifesaver.
This isn’t a free pass to splurge but a safety net for those “just in case” moments. (Although you might want to try to fix anything you can yourself before getting a replacement – this is part of the spirit of the challenge!)
Should you be stingy within the budget?
Your allowances should prevent you from feeling deprived but not be so restrictive that you end up binge-spending later.
Your monthly grocery budget is a great example of this, but it can also apply to other things like gym memberships, maintenance on your home or car, charitable giving, etc.
Going back to the gym membership example, if you love your weekly yoga class, consider keeping it as an allowance, but maybe skip the post-class smoothie.
The key is to write down this list of needs.
The more comprehensive, the better.
And you’ll want this list handy so you can refer to it throughout the no-buy challenge, so that you know exactly what you can and can’t spend money on during this challenge.
How do you pick a no-spend challenge timeline?
There are many timelines you can target depending on your comfort level and financial goals.
It’s about finding that sweet spot where challenge meets achievability.
Here are 4 options.
1. No Spend Weekend Challenge
If you’re just starting out on your savings journey and want to ease yourself into a no-spend challenge, you can try it over a weekend.
In this no buy challenge, you’ll most likely focus on activities like:
- Finding free entertainment and activities
- Cooking at home
- Walking around (as opposed to driving)
2. No Spend Week Challenge
This no-spend challenge takes it a step further.
Now, you’ll have to start finding some new habits to avoid spending on your busiest days of the week.
For example, no spending for the whole week might involve weekly meal prep.
This way, you don’t get take-out for lunches or dinners, and you make the coffee at work or at home and don’t buy coffee.
3. No Spend Month Challenge
In this no-spend challenge, you’re making your no spend actions into habits.
Whenever you want something, you’re asking yourself if you really need it.
You’re increasingly deciding to be satisfied with the material items you have and making the best use of them.
This no-spend challenge will also require you to create a budget for yourself.
4. No Spend Year Challenge
A “buy nothing year” challenge is a lifestyle change.
You’ll have to learn new skills and use creative strategies to eliminate spending for an entire year.
If traveling is important to you, you might want to focus on economical travel options like camping.
If you love eating out, learn how to cook your favorite dishes during this year without spending.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this year-long no-spend challenge goes over major holidays and celebrations like Christmas and birthdays, so it will be helpful to have a plan in place for these.
You’ll have to consider DIY gifts, no gifts, or perhaps give the gift of an experience. (e.g., take them to a free event or on a hike.)
Not buying anything for a year is a difficult challenge to partake in, but it will broaden your outlook on life.
You will grow from this in ways you never anticipated.
Which time frame is right for you?
Based on your lifestyle and goals, select a time frame that’s challenging, but not too uncomfortable.
You want to give yourself the best chance at success!
If you’re new to frugal living, ease yourself into a weekend challenge. You can slowly work your way up to a week and then a month.
It can also be helpful to think about what you want to achieve with this challenge.
Is it to reset your spending habits, save for a specific goal, or simply to prove to yourself that you can?
Your end game will help dictate the duration.
How do you successfully execute a no-buy challenge?
How do you live without spending money?
Here are tips for how to successfully complete your no-spend challenge.
1. Determine WHY you’re doing this no-spend challenge
You need a goal to motivate yourself, especially when you feel the urge to spend. It might be the goal of saving towards a
- Early retirement!
Put this goal in an area that’s visible like the fridge, white board or the screensaver on your computer.
You want to walk by it every day so you can remind yourself why you’re doing this no-buy challenge. Why it’s worth it.
2. Set your no-spend challenge rules
Be crystal clear about what you can and cannot spend money on during your challenge and how long the challenge will be.
It’s also important to display your allowance list so you can always refer to it.
Write down your rules and stick them somewhere you’ll see every day, like on your fridge or bathroom mirror.
It’s like setting the rules of a game before you start playing; everyone needs to know what’s in bounds and what’s out.
3. Discuss the no-spend challenge with your family and close friends
Did you know that we typically reflect the traits and habits of the five people closest to us?
That’s why you ideally want them to be on your side!
You want supportive people around you. People that are cheering you on.
And I know it can be strange to bring up the no-buy challenge topic.
The good news is you don’t have to make it into a big discussion.
Just casually mention that you’re trying this no-spend challenge and why you’re doing it.
“Since you asked what’s new with me…As you might know, we’re focusing on <insert your dream goal, like buying a house>. We have been exploring creative ways to make this happen, so we’ve decided to try out a no-buy challenge. Have you heard about it? It’s when you don’t spend money over a certain period of time…”
You might even intrigue and/or inspire them to try it out for themselves.
Saving money is a topic we can all relate to. They might also be looking for new ways to cut their expenses.
Alternatively, they might disagree with your decision. If they care about you, they’ll want you to succeed. They’ll know you’re doing this for a greater goal.
On a side note…
What I’ve found is that the no-buy challenge is a great reason to say “no” to your friends when they ask you out to dinner or coffee.
It can be very hard to say “no” to your friends because of the fear of missing out…
You can use the no-buy challenge as a legitimate reason for saying no, and then suggest a different activity that doesn’t involve spending money.
There are numerous activities you can do with your friends that don’t cost money like hiking, hanging out at the park or beach, or board game nights.
The purpose behind hanging out with your friends is to spend time together. You don’t need money to do that.
Here’s an example of how you can communicate this:
“While I’d love to go out to dinner, it’s unfortunately not in the budget for us as we’re saving up for a <insert dream goal>. If you’re interested in going to the beach this weekend instead, count me in!”
4. Get creative with what you have.
The no-buy challenge is a great opportunity to clean out your pantry and use foods that you might not even realize are close to expiring.
But this isn’t the only way to get creative with what you already have!
Here are a few other things you could do:
- Use gift cards you already have
- Use loyalty card points
- Barter with what you own
- Consider trading your time for things you need
You can get really creative once you start looking for alternative solutions other than spending money.
5. Embrace learning new skills
With the no-spend challenge, you will inevitably have to learn new skills.
It could be cooking meals or learning how to fix an appliance, for example.
If or when you run into a problem, you could easily feel frustrated and want a quick fix.
Instead, use this as a learning opportunity or a chance to grow.
Look up that YouTube video on how to DIY the problem.
We’re so lucky to live in a time when there’s so much information readily available online. Use it!
Failing is great because you’re still learning!
6. Explore free things
There are so many ways to get free things nowadays to help you with your no-buy challenge.
You can use resources like Freecycle, which is a network of over 5000 groups with over 8 million members giving away things for free.
This is probably one of my favorite resources to get free stuff. I got an Ikea bookshelf from Freecycle not too long ago.
There’s also the Buy Nothing Project Group. They operate very similarly to Freecycle.
There are a lot of local Facebook groups with people in your community who are giving away free things. Check out the “buy and sell” (ironically) or “mom” or “dad” groups in your town.
People are often cleaning, moving, or downsizing.
They can’t be bothered to list items for sale or host a yard sale, so they’ll just put it on the curb and post an ad in the group saying that there’s free stuff available.
Related: Here’s a post on the many ways to get free furniture. The tips in the post can be used for not just free furniture, but many household goods!
Related: Here’s how to get birthday freebies so you can make the most out of your birthday.
Related: Here’s how to get free baby samples if you’re pregnant and starting to buy baby things. Baby expenses can add up quickly!
7. Rediscover old hobbies or enjoy things you already own.
Have you considered using some of what you already own to pass the time?
Everything from forgotten hobbies to cozy home comforts awaits your rediscovery during your no-spend challenge!
If you’ve got books and board games collecting dust on your shelf, it’s time to break them out again!
Remember the knitting needles and yarn you stashed away, promising “someday”? Today’s that day!
And for the dormant artist within, let those art supplies loose and start painting, drawing, or crafting!
These activities aren’t mere time-fillers; they’re gateways to relaxation, creativity, and rediscovery of simple pleasures that don’t demand a price tag.
Seriously, this is a great way to enjoy time during your no-spend challenge without breaking the bank!
8. Cut your expenses
This self-reflection can be a rude awakening, but it’s a necessary step to successfully complete a no-buy challenge.
Think about what you’ve purchased over the last year that you didn’t need to buy.
Here’s a list of common purchases I don’t buy or buy infrequently:
- Makeup: I wear minimal to no makeup. If I’m going out, I might touch up my eyebrows and eyes, but I won’t wear foundation, concealer, bronzer etc. It’s not only saved me a lot of money, but I’ve found it’s better for my skin – doesn’t clog my pores.
- Hair supplies: This might seem like an extreme no-buy challenge ask, but have you ever heard of the no-poo method? It’s when you don’t use shampoo. My 2-year-old has NEVER used shampoo. I only wash her hair with water. Her hair looks healthy and smells clean. I know how crazy this might sound. Check out how to get started on the no poo method so you can assess if this works for you.
- Hair cuts: My husband and I cut each other’s hair. For my hair, we just watched a couple of YouTube videos. For his hair, we use clippers and this hair-cutting cloak we got (to help with easy cleaning).
- Razors or shaving cream: I use my husband’s Philips electric shaver. I don’t use shaving cream. He’s had this shaver for over 15 years.
If you’re looking for more inspiration on how to not buy things, here’s an extensive list of things I stopped buying to save money everyday.
If you feel like you just can’t stop buying things because it’s become too much of a habit, here’s an article with advice on how to stop shopping.
9. Hide credit cards
I’m a big fan of credit cards because of the credit card points.
But, if you feel like you’re the type of person who’s often tempted to buy things, take your credit card away while doing the no-buy challenge.
With the ease of using credit cards, you can easily buy unnecessary things and spend money beyond your means.
You know yourself best. If you feel like you can’t control your spending habits, hide the credit cards and just use cash.
10. Remove any distracting activities that encourage shopping
As much fun as it is to do things with your friends or family, they may inadvertently encourage shopping or spending unnecessary money.
This can include things like:
- Don’t visit the mall
- Don’t do any online window shopping
- Unsubscribe from emails that send you the latest sales
- Don’t browse on sites with the latest fashion trends or technology products
- Avoid tuning in on the ads when watching TV or listening to the radio (These are designed to make you spend money!)
Replace that time you usually spend shopping with a hobby that’s NOT about spending money.
I used to browse deal sites on a regular basis.
When I stopped doing that, I started reading a lot.
That’s actually what led to starting this blog. I love blogging! It challenges me, and I learn new things everyday. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
I also used to spend a lot of money on activities with family and friends.
I realized there are so many free ways to spend time with your family, like playing board games you already have or watching movies from the library.
If you know you’ll be meeting with friends during the no-spend challenge, plan ahead. Suggest free activities like play dates at the house or the park, or going to a free event in town.
11. Thoroughly assess whether you need to buy an item
If you feel like you really need something and it’s not on your pre-approved list of needs (on your no-spend challenge rules), then ask yourself these questions:
1. Did you need it yesterday? This will help you determine if it’s a true necessity.
2. Are you getting the best deal by purchasing it today? If not, wait until the right time, which might be Black Friday.
3. Can you wait until after the no-spend challenge to purchase it?
To get it off your mind, you can write it down.
After the no-spend challenge, bring up the list of items you wanted to purchase and see if you still want those items.
Odds are, you’ll have found a solution to the problem or you realized you didn’t need it as badly as you thought you did.
4. What are you actually getting out of this item?
- Are you getting short-term happiness? Is it meaningful happiness?
- Are you buying something because it’s trending? Perhaps it’s associated with an ideal image? Often we buy things to satisfy an immediate need or because it represents something we want to become.
There’s nothing wrong with buying things because it makes you feel good.
It’s good to be cognizant of your true motivation for buying and explore if there is another way to feel joyful.
5. How else can you solve this problem? Can you borrow the item? Can you get it for free? Can you get it used?
What do you do AFTER the no-spend challenge ends?
Not buying anything new for a certain period is not easy, so pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Now before you start reverting back to old habits, it’s time to reflect.
- How much money have you saved during that period?
- What have you learned?
- What new habits do you want to incorporate into your routine?
- When do you want to do your NEXT no-spend challenge?
While no-spend challenges are great tools to amp up your savings in a short period of time, it’s the growth and development during that period that’s going to result in massive savings in the long term.
Just think about how saving a $5 coffee/day * 5 days a week * 52 weeks in a year *10 years = $13,000!
And that’s just for 10 years! If you do that for 30 years, that’s $39,000 you’re saving.
One thing to watch out for after a no-spend challenge.
Before I finish this guide, I want to mention a sneaky little gremlin that might be waiting after the finish line who you’ll want to be wary of – revenge spending.
You’ve been so good, so disciplined, and not spending any money that when the challenge ends, you might feel this overwhelming urge to reward yourself.
Suddenly, all those things you’ve been denying yourself become irresistible, and before you know it, you’re on a shopping spree to end all sprees.
Revenge spending is like binge eating after a diet; it’s the pendulum swinging back with a vengeance.
It’s that voice saying, “You’ve earned this!” and it can quickly undo all the good work you’ve done, leaving you with a financial hangover that’s far from pleasant.
But fear not!
Being aware of this pitfall is half the battle.
One way you can ignore this little gremlin as you run past the finish line is to set aside a small sensible reward that won’t blow your budget.
Or better yet, find a non-monetary way to celebrate your achievement.
Perhaps a day out in nature, a long bath, or an at-home spa day—anything that feels indulgent without opening the floodgates of spending.
Remember, the goal of the no-spend challenge is to recalibrate your relationship with money, to find joy in what you have, and to understand the difference between wants and needs.
Let’s not let the sneaky gremlin of revenge spending spoil the party.
Instead, celebrate your success with mindfulness, knowing that the real reward is the financial wisdom and self-discipline you’ve gained along the way!
What if you can’t do a no spend challenge, but STILL want to save money?
Here are the best resources for saving money:
Rakuten (formerly Ebates) is great because you can get up to 40% back for shopping online at over 2500 stores – many of which you would normally shop at like Amazon, eBay, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Walmart etc. It’s FREE to sign up.
For U.S. residents, Rakuten will give you a welcome bonus of $10 after making your first online purchase of $25 or more. For Canadians, it’s a $5 welcome bonus for signing up. You can read more about how to use Rakuten here!
Checkout51 is an app that gives you cash back for your groceries!
If you purchase any groceries on their list (which sometimes includes everyday essentials like bananas), you can snap a picture of your receipt on your app (they make it super easy). The approval takes roughly a few days and then cha-ching – you’ll get money in your Checkout51 account!
$5 meal plan
If you spend hours meal planning every week only to stress out some days and eat out, you might be interested in the $5 meal plan. For $5/month, they send you a weekly meal plan where every meal will cost approximately $2/person! They save you time and money so that you can focus on doing things you enjoy like hanging with your kid!
They offer a 14 day FREE trial (approximately 40 recipes) – regular or gluten-free – that you can cancel at any time with no questions asked.
This membership has 2 great benefits: free 2 day shipping and free access to movies, TV shows, music and books. You no longer have to worry about last minute items. You can cancel your other movie, music and book subscription services. You can also get 20% off diapers and baby food when you have more than 5 subscriptions.
Get the Amazon 30 day FREE trial here. You can cancel at anytime. No questions asked.
Related Money Saving Articles:
- 18 Things I stopped buying to save $1000’s
- 11 Simple ways to decrease your groceries costs by 50%!
- 60+ Easy ways to reduce your home utilities costs
- How to plan a wedding on a tight budget
- Get FREE Starbucks Gift Cards and Drinks using these 9 Clever Tips
- Saving Money Challenges: 18 Interesting Ideas to Save More
- 49 Best Birthday Freebies
- Best At Home Date Night Ideas
- Websites, Apps and Other Ways to get FREE furniture Today
What if you’ve already MAXED your savings? What can you do now?
The reality is that there’s only so much money you can save.
At some point, you need to shift your focus to making money.
If you want to earn a little bit of side cash quickly and easily each day, you can take surveys. Here’s a list of legitimate survey companies I’ve tried and liked:
- Swagbucks: This site also offers ways to earn gift cards and cash for searching the internet, shopping online, watching videos, and playing games.
- Survey Club
- Survey Junkie (Only in U.S., Canada and Australia)
Here’s a list of other ways to make $100 fast.
To add a consistent income source, check out this article on flexible work from home jobs you can easily add to your regular 9-5.
Related Making Extra Money Articles:
- How to make up to $100/hour as a Virtual Assistant – an in demand job!
- How we saved $30,000: 12 best money saving tips
- How to host a swap party and shop for FREE
- How to Create a Minimalist Wardrobe and Save Money
- How to Start a Budget You’ll Actually Stick With
- EyeBuyDirect Review: How to Buy Cheap Eyeglasses Online
- Best Cheap Food When On A Budget
Final thoughts on the No Buy Challenge
The no buy challenge is an eye opening exercise everyone should do to stretch their income a little further.
If you’re interested in other unique ways to optimize your savings, here’s a post on other money saving challenges.
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