See How Much You Can Save With a No-Spend Challenge

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

If your spending has gotten out of control or you want to cut down on unnecessary expenses, it might be time to embark on a no-spend challenge.

Going an entire month without spending beyond necessities can be an eye-opening experience. We think any budget-minded individual should try a no-spend month at least once.

What does it mean to go 30 days without spending money, and how should you start?

There is some room for interpretation and a bit of flexibility depending on your financial goals, but a no-spend challenge is actually simple to set up.

Here, we’ll outline some no-spend month rules, so you can move past the intimidation of starting a no-spend-month challenge and get to work trimming the fat from your budget.

What is a no-spend challenge?

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A no-spend challenge is simply a set period of time in which you commit to not spending money on anything beyond necessities.

Barring any emergencies, the only variables in your budget will be your food costs — though you should set a weekly budget for that and be sure to stick to it.

Most people commit to a no-spend month, but you can choose any amount of time that makes sense. A month is generally long enough to give you a solid view on where you’re spending unnecessarily.

What can I spend money on during a no-spend month?

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During your no-spend challenge, it’s OK to spend on housing payments, car payments and other monthly bills for your cellphone, gas, health care, childcare, etc. In other words, just the essentials.

You can either buy food in advance and not spend any money on either groceries or restaurant meals, or you can set a strict budget to only pay for essential groceries.

What are the no-spend month rules?

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The main rule of a no-spend challenge is to eliminate all non-essential purchases.

You should avoid dining out or ordering takeout, visiting a salon or spa, paying for Ubers or taxis if you have safer and cheaper transportation options, or spending on entertainment (movies, concerts, tickets to attractions).

You should not purchase new clothes, Starbucks, alcohol, gifts, decor, furniture or anything else you don’t absolutely need right now.

Beyond those no-spend month rules, the only other rule is that you commit to doing the No-Spend Challenge for a particular amount of time.

How to get ready for a no-spend challenge

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There are several things to do before a no-spend month to get you ready to stop spending money for 30 days (or more).

1. List your expenses

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The very first thing you’ll want to do is decide what your essential expenses are, including recurring bills (utilities, mortgage), and set a strict food budget.

Write down this list or save it on your phone, so you can easily access the list to help you decide whether a certain purchase is allowed or not. (When in doubt, it’s probably not.)

2. Set your challenge dates

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Decide how long your no-spend challenge will last and set a start date and an end date. We recommend a no-spend month.

A no-spend day is too short to give you much information, and three months might be too long to maintain.

3. Take charge of your no-spend month food needs

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Some people like to get ready for a no-spend challenge by stocking their pantry or freezer, so they’re not tempted to eat out or make impulse snack purchases.

However, you can overspend by buying unnecessary snacks before your challenge, which defeats the ultimate purpose.

Instead, inventory your pantry staples and freezer, and plan your no-spend month menus around using up the items you’ve already purchased.

We recommend writing out your meals for each week of the no-spend challenge, focusing on ingredients you have at home and supplementing with fresh fruits and vegetables, low-cost meat and cheap-yet-healthy pantry items, such as beans or pasta.

4. Plan for free fun

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Make a list of free things for you and your family to do during your no-spend month.

Life can admittedly get a little boring when you can’t spend money on entertainment, so be sure to start your no-spend month armed with a list of no-cost activities and outings.

Look for local hiking trails and free local events, download free e-books, and plan some household projects or crafts you can do with materials you already have on hand.

Find free things to do in your area by searching the local sites of the Living On the Cheap network.

5. Set a motivating goal

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Decide in advance what you’ll do with the money you’ll save. Having a goal and working toward it can be a huge motivator and give you the incentive to stick to the no-spending plan.

Perhaps you’re saving to buy that new mattress you’ve needed for two years or to pay off the credit card balance that’s been hanging over your head.

If it helps, write down your goal and stick it on your fridge or post pictures of the item you need to buy around the house to motivate you.

Tips for how to succeed

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If you’re going to stop spending money for 30 days, here are some tips to get you through the month.

Tip No. 1: Avoid months that are typically spendy

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Starting your no-spend challenge in December when you have to shop for the holidays isn’t a good idea. Nor is any month in which your kids have a break from school or you have several family birthdays.

Pick a month that’s usually low-key for you and your family.

Tip No. 2: Track your spending

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Keep track of the bills you pay and the expenses you incur during your no-spend month so you can evaluate your spending at the end.

Take notes in a regular old notebook or find a cute “no-spend month” tracker free printable online.

Tip No. 3: Track what you don’t buy

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It’s also a good idea to write down everything you think about buying but don’t because it’s not allowed during the no-spend month.

That could be anything from a mocha Frappuccino to a cute blouse, fast-food burger, online movie rental, or that stuffed animal your child begs you to buy.

By doing this, at the end of the month, you’ll have a list of your typical impulse buys that will help you understand how your unnecessary spending happens.

Tip No. 4: Tell your family and friends

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It’s way too easy to slip up with your no-spend challenge when no one knows you’re doing it.

Tell your partner, your best friends, your kids and anyone else who can help keep you accountable during the challenge.

It will also take the pressure off because co-workers will know not to invite you for lunch and friends won’t plan a group night out during your no-spend month.

Tip No. 5: Log your successes

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Try using a habit-tracking app like Habitshare or Habitbull to mark off each successful day of your no-spend challenge.

For some people, the simple act of checking something off can be motivating and encouraging.

What will I get out of a no-spend month?

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At a bare minimum, completing a no-spend challenge will leave you with some extra money in your pocket at the end of the month.

Even more importantly, going a month without spending any money will help you understand your finances better and help you prioritize how you spend your money, figure out where you can be saving and understand what steps you need to take to meet your financial goals.

It’s also beneficial if you’re on a fixed income but want to save for something special or important like a vacation, a new big-ticket appliance, paying off revolving debt or even to help you start saving for a bigger goal like buying a house or car or moving out of state.

Are you ready to take on the no-spend challenge? On your marks, get set … save!

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