No-spend challenge, “not buying anything” month, spending freeze — whatever you call it, these challenges are supposed to help you cut unnecessary spending. To complete the challenge, you simply stop spending money on things you don’t need.
Of course, that’s usually a lot harder than it sounds. You might find yourself adding unnecessary items to your cart at the grocery store or stopping at a convenience store for a small treat. With how easy it is to spend money, it might seem like a "not buying anything" challenge won’t work.
Don’t fret! In this guide, we’ll go over how to make a spending freeze actually work for you.
This includes the tips and tricks you can use to stop overspending for some time. I’ll also give spending freeze challenge examples you can use to get started.
What is a spending freeze?
It's a personal challenge you make to yourself to stop overspending on things you don’t need. While there’s no exact definition or rules, generally it means only spending money on things you need for a set timeframe.
For example, many people try to do a spending freeze for a month. They decide to stop eating out, spending money on entertainment, and buying unnecessary goods for the entire month. They’ll still spend money on necessities, like rent or groceries.
Benefits of not spending
The most obvious benefit of freezing your spending is saving money when you shop by cutting out unnecessary spending. Reducing spending helps you keep more money in your pocket. This money can be put toward savings or other financial goals, like paying off debt.
Additionally, putting a stop to spending could provide emotional benefits as well. No-spend challenges often force you to look at emotional triggers for overspending.
Many people, for example, may spend when feeling jealous or unhappy. As you complete your challenge, you may notice it’s more difficult to stick to the challenge during certain times, events, or emotions.
Another emotional benefit of a spending challenge is the confidence you build. No-spend challenges aren’t always easy, so completing one can really boost your confidence. You’ll feel more in control of your financial situation.
Your no-spend challenge wouldn’t be a “challenge” if it was too easy. Many people who try to cut out unnecessary spending find themselves falling back into old spending habits before the challenges are over. Some common issues challengers run into include:
- Doing the challenge during a time of high spending (such as around the holidays).
- Letting a small spending mistake cause them to give up the challenge.
- Opting for too long of a challenge.
- Making the challenge too restrictive for their current lifestyle.
How to do a spending freeze
Not spending for a set amount of time is a relatively simple challenge anyone can try. The basic steps of not spending go like this:
- Decide on a timeframe for your challenge, such as a week or a month.
- Determine what is and isn’t a necessity.
- Create a spending plan or budget for the length of your spending challenge.
- Start your challenge and try to cut your unnecessary spending!
One of the best parts of a no-spend challenge is the ability to customize it to your needs. In fact, customizing your challenge is an important part of making it successful.
Not everyone has the same income, spending habits, or discipline to complete the same challenge. For example, someone who spends a lot of money on entertainment will need to look for things to do that cost nothing.
Someone who doesn’t spend a lot of money on entertainment probably won’t have as hard of a time cutting out those expenses.
5 Tips to make your spending freeze successful
Completing a challenge can be hard, but there are some ideas you can use to increase your chances. Follow these tips to help set yourself up for success in your spending challenge.
1. Determine your “why”
Figuring out the reason you’re doing a freeze on buying things is one of the biggest hurdles to success. Of course, most people choose one of these reasons:
- I want to save more money.
- I want to spend less.
- I want to stop overspending.
And those are great places to start!
However, these reasons are vague, which can make it hard to stick to your challenge. Rather than choosing a generic reason for your challenge, dig deeper into your “why.”
Why do you want to do this challenge? Is there something specific you hope to accomplish?
- I want to save $500 extra by cutting out unnecessary spending.
- I want to spend less money on things I don’t need to cut down on clutter around my home.
- I want to stop overspending to reduce the financial strain it has on my relationship.
Specific goals can help you stick to your challenge — especially when it gets difficult. If you find yourself tempted to spend on something you don’t need, you can think back to your challenge goals.
2. Make sure you have your essential needs stocked at home
An often-overlooked aspect of this idea is stocking up on essentials before you start. If you’re trying to cut your spending, you don't want to spend money on toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, and other essentials halfway through your challenge.
You probably only buy these necessities a few times per month (or even year!), so they’re something you might overlook when starting your challenge.
As you get ready for your challenge, take stock of essentials like paper goods and toiletries. Restock any that are running low or are at risk of running out during your challenge.
3. Set rules
Some people wrongly assume you have to follow extreme no-spend rules. However, not everyone can handle cutting out every bit of non-necessary spending for a week or month. This leads challenges to be too difficult to complete for a lot of people who try.
Luckily, your challenge is all about you. You get to set the rules, guidelines, and parameters to follow.
You’re in control of your freeze. And since you know yourself better than anyone, you can customize your challenge for the perfect level of difficulty.
Start with a few of these common freeze rules and tailor them as needed:
- Target a specific spending category to cut, such as dining out or clothing purchases.
- Make a specific list of what you can and can’t spend money on during the challenge.
- Create a budget for each spending category to reduce spending instead of cutting it out completely.
4. Choose the right time
Timing your spending freeze can determine if it goes well or not. A well-timed freeze improves your chances of completing it.
December, for example, is often a much more difficult time to do this. The holidays and end-of-year celebrations make it harder to reduce spending.
You might have a long list of holiday presents to purchase. Or, perhaps you plan to travel to visit family for the new year. Even small amounts of spending can add up quickly when you’re trying to reduce spending.
On the other hand, choosing a time when you’re not likely to spend money could make the challenge too easy.
For instance, you decide on a one-day no-spend challenge. You pick a day when you have no plans and are expected to stay home. Most likely, you already wouldn’t have spent money on this day, so it wasn’t much of a challenge.
5. Make time to analyze your results
Spending freezes can help you cut your spending — temporarily. They’re not meant to be long-term fixes to spending problems. Most people tend to go back to their old spending habits once the challenge is over.
However, you can make your spending freeze more impactful by using it as a chance to analyze your spending, saving, and overall money habits. A smart way to do this is by keeping a journal during your challenge.
Taking the time to go over what was easy or difficult and what you liked or didn’t like about your challenge is important. This helps you learn more about your spending habits so you can make long-term changes if necessary.
To get a better idea of your overall money habits, ask yourself these questions after your challenge:
- Did you find it too easy or too hard to live on a bare-bones budget?
- What were you feeling when the challenge was most difficult?
- Did you use any special rules, like cutting a specific spending category? Did this make it easier or harder?
- What did you like most about the challenge? What did you like least?
- What would you change if you did this challenge again?
- Are there specific changes you can make to your spending habits to reduce overspending, even without a challenge?
Spending freeze challenge examples
Most spending freezes are determined by the time it takes to complete. For example, a one-month spending freeze is a common way to take the challenge.
However, you can customize the metrics of your challenge to fit your needs. You may want to stop buying specific items until you reach a certain amount in savings, for instance.
Start easy with a no-spend day
An easy way to get started is to try a no-spend day challenge. This type of short challenge is best done during a day when you expect to be out. A typical workday in the office could be a good choice.
In a single-day challenge, you simply avoid spending money for the entire day. This could include not eating out at lunch or skipping your morning coffee shop run.
Stop spending for seven days
Trying a week-long challenge adds moderate difficulty. You’ll have to get through a weekend without unnecessary spending.
Try to pick an average week for your challenge. For example, a week that you’re on vacation or going to a concert for the weekend probably isn’t a good option. Like the day-long challenge, a normal work week and weekend is usually best.
Don't spend for a month
A month without spending is usually the longest you should try to complete. Anything longer than that becomes extremely difficult to keep up, which can lead to burnout and feelings of failure.
While a month is difficult, it’s certainly doable. Give yourself a good chance of success by choosing a month with a quiet social calendar.
If you pick a month with four weddings, three family birthdays, and two planned nights out, you’ll make the challenge more difficult than usual.
January is a common choice for month spending freezes because it lets you get a fresh start on the year. It can also help jumpstart any savings resolutions you have.
Modified spending freeze challenges
As I’ve said before, you don’t have to cut out all of your spending during a certain timeframe for a successful spending freeze. Specifying what you’re cutting spending on is an easy way to make your freeze an enjoyable (and worthwhile) experience.
Stumped on what metrics to use? Consider one of these types of spending freezes for your challenge:
- Stop spending at a certain store for a length of time, such as not buying on Amazon for a month.
- Cut out specific types of spending, like takeout or energy drinks.
- Cut spending to reach a goal. For example, don’t buy new clothes until you save at least $500.
Celebrate your successful spending freeze
Completing a spending freeze challenge is one of the most rewarding feelings in money management. It shows you that you can live on less and be in control of your finances.
When you wrap up your challenge, be sure to celebrate your wins. Consider making a small purchase as a treat, such as a nice dinner out.
However, don’t spend all of the money you saved on your freeze. Instead, put that money to work in your savings account, investment account, or by paying off debt. And then look for other ways to save money, like saving $5,000 in 3 months.