How To Prepare For A Life-Changing No Spend Challenge
A no spend challenge is one where you basically don’t spend any money! It may sound easy, but if you look back through your spending (such as on your bank statements) you may be surprised to see that you are spending money daily, and it’s on unnecessary stuff to boot. (At the bottom of this post is a printable for you to track your progress!)
Over on my Instagram I hosted a No Spend Week challenge and basically covered a lot of the points below. It was fun to do it alongside everyone on there, and to see how everyone was getting on. If you scroll down my IG feed, you should find all of the posts relating to it! We did a week of prep, and then the No Spend Week.
When you have made the decision to improve your finances, there are some things that I would suggest you start doing, which are:
- Track your spending. Get a notebook or something similar, and write down everything that you have been spending money on. You may want to start tracking spending from this day onwards as well – keep the notebook with you and write down everything that you are spending each day. It will probably surprise you a lot! Look at your bank statements, your internet banking and use this real data (don’t guess, whatever you do!) to see what you have been spending your money on each month. This will help you go forward with the next step.
- Create a budget. This is one of the most important things that you can do so please don’t skip this step! To create a budget, you will need to list all of your income (e.g. salary after tax, benefits, royalties etc), and then list all of the money that is going out of your account. This is where the tracking of your spending will come in helpful, as you can see how much is actually going out rather than taking a wild guess (many people get this wrong).
- Make a debt pay off/savings plan. I’m guessing that you want to start working on your finances because there is something important that you want to work towards, such as paying off debt that you have, or saving up for something such as a holiday, new house, retirement. We all have things that we want or need to save for, and by working out what these are exactly, you will find yourself much more motivated to carrying out the no spend challenge.
As mentioned, go back through the last month (or last few months ideally) and highlight any transactions that were not essential (e.g bills). Use an actual, physical highlighter pen for this – or if you are using internet banking, write it all down on a piece of paper so that you have it in front of you.
The reason for doing this is not to make you feel bad, but to literally highlight the areas in which you are overspending. When most people do this it can be a real eye-opener to what they have been spending money on, and how often. You may be surprised to find that you are popping to the shops every single day.
After you have done this, I would also recommend getting a notebook and using that to track your spending from everyday onwards. The reason for doing this is again, to see where you are spending unnecessarily – but doing it each day will have the added benefit of being a pain. Why is this a benefit you ask?! Because it will make you want to spend less money. You will begin to question each purchase, because you know that you will have to write it down in your notebook and be accountable for it if you buy it.
This may sound like a trivial exercise but trust me – it really isn’t.
Understand Decision Fatigue
I have a big ol’ post about decision fatigue, but I will summarise it for you here! I am currently at Uni part time studying Criminal Psychology. Although the crime side may not be massively relevant to personal finance, you can sure bet that the psychology side is. There is a huge amount of overlap – and I like to share it with you all, because I find it so fascinating, and hopefully by explaining the psychology behind a lot of our decisions, we can make better ones in the future.
Throughout each day, we all make thousands of decisions. This may sound a bit extreme, but that’s because we aren’t usually aware that we are doing it. Examples could be deciding what to have for breakfast that morning – should I have cereal because the milk needs using up; or waffles but I may not have time; maybe toast but I’m trying to not eat a lot of carbs; darn I meant to make overnight oats last night for this morning – etc!
Looking at that, how familiar does that sound to your everyday life? It continues on throughout the day – even before you’ve left the house in fact, such as deciding which outfit to wear to work, which shoes will go best with it, and so on.
It will continue in regards to what you are doing in work as well as personal thoughts. These days, we tend to cram a lot of stuff into each day in regards to a long working day, family time, extra work or side hustles at home, exercising – it’s no wonder we are always tired and busy!
The constant need to make these decisions throughout the day is mentally draining. It’s scientifically proven that throughout the day we are succumb to decision fatigue. The problem with this is that our brain isn’t too happy when it is tired/overworked, and will try and take shortcuts. In terms of decision fatigue, the shortcuts that the brain will take are to either do nothing at all, or to take the easy option.
These are both bad – as they can lead to us making the wrong decisions for ourselves, and just taking the easy option or not at all. When it comes to our finances, we want to make the best decisions possible for us, don’t we? Knowing about and being able to prevent decision fatigue will greatly enable us to pick the right things for us.
In order for this to happen, the obvious thing to do is to reduce the amount of decisions that we make. I share tips for doing this over in my post about decision fatigue, but some ideas that relate to a no spend challenge are things such as meal planning for the week ahead, or eating the same breakfast every morning.
Once you understand decision fatigue and take steps to prevent it, you will be surprised to see that your habits with money change as well. This is key to being successful on your no spend challenge – how many times have you ended up spending money because you were exhausted or overwhelmed with choices?
Have a Savings Goal
I assume that you are intending on doing a no spend challenge because you have noticed that your spending is not in line with how you want it to be, and it is preventing you from being able to achieve some other goals.
It is important to have goals – things to save for, things to look forward to, so I encourage that you write down a list of goals that getting on top of your finances will help you achieve. Some examples could be: building a savings fund for emergencies/security, buying a car, buying a house, saving for a holiday, saving to enable you to quit your job, saving for retirement…anything you wish.
Writing down your goals makes it much more likely that you will achieve them, so make sure that you do this step! What I want for you, for all of us, is to live the absolute best life that we can. Sometimes we can get caught plodding along through life and not stop to think about what we would actually like to work towards. Sitting down and creating a list of big goals will clarify this for you, and hopefully motivate you into improving your financial situation.
When you are doing a no spend challenge, it may be quite difficult for you, especially if you are accustomed to spending a lot of money all of the time, and you will probably have to change quite a lot of habits to avoid this. If you have a visual representation of the goals that you are working towards, this will encourage you to stay on track.
Without a doubt, this is one of the best things that you can do for success on a no spend challenge – and with your finances in general! How annoying that one of the best things is also one of the most boring sounding – but that’s the thing about finances – they are quite boring – it’s only us who put emotions into it!
Meal planning is basically where you plan out your meals for a set amount of time, such as weekly or monthly. I personally do mine fortnightly as that is how often I go food shopping. If you have never done a meal plan before, don’t worry – it doesn’t take very long once you get into it.
I would recommend starting by writing down a list of all of the meals that you and your family eat. As much as we like to think that we are diverse with our food choices, we all tend to rotate the same meals, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to think of enough meals for your meal plan.
Once you have written down all of your meals, allocate them to certain days. On my post about meal planning I have a free downloadable blank meal planner template that you can print off and fill in. These aren’t set in stone so don’t worry, you can change the days and meals if you wish. Something that I would recommend though is looking at how you will be feeling on certain days of the week. For example, if you work late on one day per week, you will probably want something quick that day. If you are generally pretty tired on a Friday and end up reaching for the takeaway menu, something easy and quick may be a good option here as well.
Going back to decision fatigue before – meal planning will help you prevent this, and will result in you choosing a better option for you and your finances.
What do you not want to spend your money on?
Bear with me here – I know it’s a no spend challenge so the objective is to not spend any money at all, but what I would like you to think about is what you really don’t want to spend money on, and why.
For myself personally, there are things that I am happy to spend more money on, and there are things that I am not happy to spend a lot of money on. An example I can give you is that I would rather spend more money on a holiday and be able to go somewhere amazing than somewhere…not as nice. I don’t want to spend a lot of money on food shopping however – and let me point out that I am a huge foodie and love good food. But as I have 3 meals a day plus snacks, I know that I cannot spend loads each day without having a hefty bill. So I shop at Lidl and eat simple meals, with vegetarian options as much as possible.
Another example can be if you look in my makeup bag. You will find a mixture of very cheap items, and some more expensive ones – and this is all done purposely. I would rather spend more on something like foundation (so that I can get excellent coverage and therefore a flawless face) and then spend as less as possible on something like bronzer or highlighter (both of mine are from Superdrug’s own range).
Looking at my examples, hopefully you can see that it is about priorities – deciding what you are happy to spend more money on, and what things you really don’t want to spend a lot of money on.
Find Free Activities
This is something else that can really change your life once you start doing this, and change your habits as well. If you are usually a spender, and like to pay for entertainment, such as going out for food, going out to watch films etc, then it’s a bit of a shock to the system when you stop doing those things in an effort to save some money. What we don’t want to happen is for you to feel like things are horrible, difficult and lonely! Life doesn’t have to be dull just because you aren’t spending any money – the opposite should happen in fact!
There are a ton of fun, free activities that you can do, such as:
- Trip to a museum (there are lots of free ones)
- Walks with friends
- Beach trips
- Bike trips (around here we do cider bike rides…you cycle from pub to pub, you get the idea)!
- Games night
- Swimming in local lakes
- Library visit
- Do some mystery shopping – you can get free food!
There are a ton of other free things that you can do with your partner, friends or children – and you may find that you have an amazing time regardless of the lack of money spent.
Whenever people ask me how I manage to not spend any money so easily, I will always say the same thing first – I avoid temptation. If I went to the shops every day, I would find something that I would want or need, and I would feel bad if I couldn’t afford it. Avoiding the shops is one of the best things that you can do, which is also where meal planning can help you – if you don’t need to keep popping to the shops for food, you won’t be sucked into buying anything else in the store.
Temptation isn’t just in physical stores as well but online. Something that I would recommend is unsubscribing from any company emails that you are signed up to – because it is their job to get you to buy from them, and they will encourage this by using clever marketing and things like urgent discounts.
When I was in debt, Instagram did not help one bit. The reason for that is because I was following accounts where they would show their clothes, or house items, or kids clothes/toys/rooms. The kids rooms were the worst for me! If you are following any of these accounts, unfollow them. Don’t worry, they will still be there if you need a bit of inspo, but what we tend to forget with social media is that people only tend to show you their ‘highlight reel’ – which is what we end up aspiring to.
Shop your cupboard
This can go hand in hand with meal planning, and I would certainly recommend it when you are doing your meal plan. This tends to be a step that a lot of people miss, and which is why the grocery budget remains high but the cupboards are overflowing.
Before I go and do my food shopping, I always check what I have – but most importantly I always check my freezer. I can generally remember how much of the staples I have (e.g pasta, rice, cereal, chopped tomatoes) but when I check my freezer I do so because it will help me see how much meat I need to buy. Meat is one of the most (if not the most expensive) parts of the food budget, which is why it is important to check how many meals you can make from what you already have.
I write down on a post it note how much of each meat I have left in the freezer, and because I go shopping every 2 weeks, I then work out how much more meat I need to buy to make up the 2 weeks worth of meals.
Write down a list of everything that you have in your cupboards, and then you can work off that to create a meal plan. I would recommend getting a little bit extra just in case though (is it just me who has a bit of anxiety about running out of food?).
The reason that this will help you on your no spend challenge is because if you do this, and meal plan, you will have no need to ‘pop to the shop’ to get anything else, which means that you will be avoiding temptation to spend.
Think Ahead & Be Prepared
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. – Benjamin Franklin
Preparing, planning and being organised is what I attribute to a lot of my success. I see people fail to plan and fail miserably. They flap, stress and freak out other things not running smoothly. If you plan in advance, you will be giving yourself the best chance possible.
Even small things can help you, such as keeping a back up lunch prepared if you forget to take your packed lunch to work or taking snacks and a drink out for your kids when you are going out somewhere. Notice the food theme there?! We don’t tend to think sensibly when we are hungry – it’s a survival instinct to just want to get food. Unfortunately, we all forget occasionally to take our packed lunch to work or to defrost food for tea tonight. Another tip for the freezer incident is to keep something in there that can be heated up quickly such as a frozen pizza. It has been my saviour a few times!
Just remember – the no spend challenge should not come from a place of guilt. We need to associate it with positive thoughts and feelings – it is a good thing to do, and will help you achieve your true goals. However, don’t beat yourself up if you have some hurdles to get over on this journey – nobody is perfect and everything is a work in progress.
What do you think – could you do a no spend challenge? How long do you think you could go without spending money for?