Challenges are a great tool for testing behavior change. Whether you're trying to eat cleanly, meditate every day, or just be more active, 30 days is just long enough to test your willpower without breaking it.
No spending challenges is an increasingly popular version of this idea, and September is the month when it's most attempted. We explain what makes a no-spend challenge, why it's worth giving it a try, and how to deal with some of the most common obstacles.
What is a no-spend challenge?
A no-spend challenge is detox rather than diet. Rather than sticking to a budget where you still allow yourself to purchase non-essential items, a no-spend challenge means that discretionary spending is completely eliminated.
The rules of a No Spend Challenge are personal and depend on your specific goals. The challenge can last as long as you want and include as many – or as few – categories as you want. Some people don't spend a year while others stick to a month's cleaning. You can remove all non-discretionary or non-essential purchases or only certain categories such as clothing or take-away.
Your no-spend challenge should reflect the areas you are struggling with. For example, when I tried to enforce a shopping ban last year, I focused on clothing, self-help books, and office supplies. This year I could focus on skin and hair products, workout clothes, and nail polish.
You can discover your problem areas by speaking to people close to you. Ask your friend or partner, "What do you think I am buying too much of?" Make it clear that their reaction will not offend you.
My strategy for finding my problem areas is to tidy my bedroom and office to see what I have too much of. Then I'll write a google note with a list of these items for me to remember.
Why a no-spend challenge?
A shopping ban can help you reset some bad habits and impulses. More practical: if you're trying to replenish your emergency fund, save for a vacation, or pay off debts, a no-spend challenge can help you save extra money quickly.
Mixed Up Money's Alyssa Davies put a year-long shopping ban in 2015 after realizing she was buying new clothes every week. The challenge made her realize that she wasn't really enjoying fashion and putting together different outfits. She bought for the outward validation that shopping provided, rather than the joy or creativity she felt in bringing clothes together.
"It's so much easier to say, 'Oh, I bought it because I thought it was cute," "she said. "It's a lot harder to say, 'Oh, I bought it because I wanted people to think I looked cute." "
Davies recommends writing down how you are feeling throughout the no-shopping period. When you feel like shopping for another workout tank top or productivity book, what are you feeling? Are you bored, anxious, or stressed out? Why do you want to buy it? Just keeping a few minutes in a journal can shed light on the real motive behind a purchase.
How to set up a No Spend Challenge
To set up a no-spend challenge, first create a few rules. First, decide what you don't want to buy. Remember to focus on items that you personally buy too much or the challenge won't have a lasting impact on your buying behavior.
Pro tip: You can take part in a spending challenge in the Mint app to get you started.
The most common categories include:
Clothing and accessories
Makeup and skin care
Books, video games and other media
Furniture and home accessories
Restaurants and take-away
Decide whether to make your challenge public or private. As you announce your spending challenge, you may find support and external accountability from friends and family. You may also feel more pressure to follow the rules.
Davies has downloadable spend trackers on their website that you can use to add emojis for the days you bought something. You can share them every month on your social media profiles.
If you don't want to publicly share your shopping ban, you should still keep track of it privately. Get a calendar and mark an X for each day you keep the ban. Seeing a number of successful days will inspire and motivate you to stay strong.
According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, one of the most important ways to get rid of an unwanted habit is to make it harder to achieve. If you try to stop shopping, you will make shopping more difficult. Go to your internet browser settings and remove your saved credit card information. After the information is stored on retail websites, visit each website and delete your stored credit card information.
If you're like me and have your credit card numbers on file, you can cancel those cards and have replacement cards shipped to you. This strategy may require you to update your billing information, such as if you had your gym membership saved on your previous card. However, it can be worth it when you need another barrier between you and your spending habits.
Typically shopping in person will avoid enticing locations. If you need to buy razors and personal wash products, buy them from the grocery store instead of going to Target.
When you feel the urge to spend money, add the item to a special list or folder in your browser. When the shopping ban is over, you can check the list and decide whether you really want to have the item.
What if you break your challenge?
Breaking a spend-free challenge is like breaking a diet: it's inevitable. Nobody is perfect, and a ban on shopping, even for a week or a month, is incredibly difficult in a consumer society.
If you buy something by mistake, Davies recommends keeping a journal of the emotions and situations that led to the purchase. Has worry about a work presentation led to buying a new suit to make you feel better prepared? Afraid of a date and have a lot of makeup to make yourself feel more attractive? These types of questions can help you figure out why you broke the ban.
“Every single part of our expenses reflects our mood that day,” she said.
Don't beat yourself up for breaking the rules, no matter how much you spend. Instead, offer yourself grace and kindness. Talk to yourself out loud as you would to a friend and offer reassurance instead of judgment.
Hold a picture of yourself as a child and think about how you want the child to feel if they made a mistake. Recall that buying something once – or a few times – during a no-spend challenge is likely still an improvement over the previous month.
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