Could a no-spend challenge help you hit your money goals?

Budgeting by values

It can be a tough (but fun!) way to spend less—and this short-term savings strategy may have long-term benefits for your finances.

A no-spend challenge is based on the idea that if you spend less, you can save more. And if you temporarily spend nothing (other than on the essentials), you might be able to save a lot more.

No-spend challenges have become popular on social media, but the savings strategy has been around for years. If you’re interested in trying the challenge yourself, we’ll break down how it works. Plus, we’ll share some tips that can help you build better spending habits and stay on track with your financial goals—even if you decide a no-spend challenge isn’t right for you.

The highlights:

  • During a no-spend challenge, you temporarily freeze your nonessential spending to try and save more money.
  • A no-spend challenge can be an opportunity to reset your spending habits and make changes that can help you long after the challenge is over.
  • Challenge or no challenge, you can create a budget that supports your goals by evaluating your spending and prioritizing the things that matter most.

What is a no-spend challenge?

A no-spend challenge is when you commit to freezing your discretionary spending for a set length of time, from a few days to a month or even longer. That means you’d continue to pay for essential living expenses like your rent or mortgage, household bills, transportation, and groceries. But you wouldn’t spend any money on unnecessary expenses such as streaming subscriptions, restaurants, or gifts.

What you do with that extra money saved is up to you. You can put it toward paying down debt or boosting your emergency savings—or other financial goals like buying a house or funding a vacation.

You can also modify the no-spend challenge and choose to temporarily freeze your spending in just one particular area, like eating out or online shopping. That can help to make the challenge feel a little more doable—and can still help you build better spending and saving habits.

How to prepare for a no-spend challenge

You’re in control of what your no-spend challenge looks like. Here are five tips that can help you design a challenge that suits you.

1. See where you spend.

Check your past bank statements to see how much you spend on nonessential items in a typical month. This can give you an idea of how much you’ll be able to save during a no-spend challenge. It will also help you identify where you can cut back your spending, both for now and in the long term. 

2. Decide on your goals.

Committing to spending less and saving more can be easier when you know what you’re saving for. It’s OK if one of your savings goals is to treat yourself to something you enjoy—like concert tickets or a spa day. But consider goals that can support your long-term financial wellness, too. These can be big picture, like “invest more for retirement,” or more specific, like “save for a down payment on a car.”

You don’t have to reach a certain dollar amount to complete the challenge, but having a number attached to your savings goal can also help you build a budget. Using a savings account, you can earn interest and easily track your progress as you build toward your savings goals.

Take on a no-spend challenge

Where to spend:

  • Rent/mortgage/utilities
  • Debt payments
  • Groceries
  • Health expenses
  • Gas/transportation

Where not to spend:

  • Eating out
  • Online shopping/gifts
  • Concerts/ticketed events
  • Furniture/home decor

3. Build or refresh your budget.

If you don’t already have a budget, listing out your essential and nonessential spending can be a great way to start making one that supports your goals. If you already have a budget, consider this a chance to reexamine your spending priorities and make sure your budget reflects them.

Once your no-spend challenge is underway, you can track your progress by comparing your actual spending to your budget. Your checking account may offer online tools that can help you stick to your budget, and you can also check out these resources for some more help on this step.

4. Plan for affordable meals and free entertainment.

Cutting your spending on eating out? Look up recipes for some affordable meals you can prepare. No more trips to the movie theater for a while? Check out some movies from the library and host a movie night at home.

There are lots of ways to enjoy yourself while still saving money. Inviting friends over to play board games, spending time outdoors, or signing up for free activities at your local recreation center are just a few ideas for staying connected and entertained while spending less.

5. Set a date.

For your first attempt at a no-spend challenge, you don’t have to make it last forever. Picking specific start and end dates can help you stick with it. Consider trying it for a week when you’re just starting. And if that goes well, you can extend it to a month—or pause for a bit and then pick it back up when the time is right for you.

If you make it through a month and want to keep it going, you can choose to commit to a no-spend lifestyle for as long as it suits you. But even if you’re trying to reduce your spending, remember that it can still be OK to buy your coffee in the morning, spend on memorable experiences, or find other ways to treat yourself—as long as you’re spending mindfully and making progress toward your long-term financial goals. 

“You’re going to realize there are things you used to spend money on that you don’t really miss at all.” —Brian Ford, Truist head of financial wellness

Tips that can help you succeed during a no-spend challenge

Now that you’ve got a plan, here are some tips that can help you stay focused after you begin your no-spend challenge.

  • Embrace the “challenge.” It’s called that for a reason. Be ready to face obstacles. This can be tough, and that’s OK. Completing a short-term challenge can help you build self-efficacy, which can help you take on bigger goals in the future. “Self-efficacy says, ‘I’m capable.’ It’s what you think about your ability to adapt and overcome challenges in the future,” says Bright Dickson, senior purpose advisor at Truist.
  • Be flexible. Life happens, and you may need to adjust your approach or restart the challenge with some different guidelines. (Maybe you don’t want to pause all your streaming subscriptions.) Don’t sweat it. Every hurdle can be an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Highlight your milestones. Consider using a chart, sticky notes, or some other visual aid to measure your savings progress each day. Celebrate your wins!
  • Find a friend to join in. Invite someone close to you to join you in a no-spend challenge. You can share tips, hold each other accountable, and even turn it into a friendly competition.
  • Enjoy yourself. Thinking of a no-spend challenge as a game can help you stay motivated. Finding cost-free activities, comparing your progress with your challenge buddy, and rewarding yourself at the end of the challenge can all be part of the fun.

Tell your story: Have you tried a no-spend challenge? Share your experience and any tips for success by emailing Your message may come up on a future episode of Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian!

What you can learn from a no-spend challenge

A no-spend challenge is temporary by design. But you may also learn some good spending habits that can help you long after the challenge is over.

“A no-spend challenge is supposed to be hard and unsustainable, but it’s an opportunity to reset and be more mindful about our spending in the future,” says Brian Ford, head of financial wellness at Truist. “As you go through the challenge, you’re going to realize there are things you used to spend money on that you don’t really miss at all. Now you can take those out of your budget going forward.”

On the flip side, there may be things you missed during your no-spend challenge that you want to reintroduce to your budget. “That’s fine, too,” says Ford. “But now you may feel more grateful for it, knowing that your hard-earned money’s going toward something that adds value to your life. Based on the challenge, you can work out a sustainable way to keep paying for those things.”

Whether you’re taking on a no-spend challenge or looking to make some more moderate changes, thinking about your spending choices can help you grow in long-term financial wellness. “It’s about getting more of what we really want and less of what we don’t need,” Ford says.

Next step suggestions:

  • Do you make automatic payments for any services you could live without for a week or more? Pause or cancel those subscriptions before starting your challenge.
  • After you set a savings goal, calculate how much you need to save each month to reach it.
  • Whether you try a no-spend challenge or not, write down something you’re grateful for. Keeping a gratitude journal can help you feel more thankful for the things you already have—and less concerned with buying things you don’t need.

This content does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial, investment, or mental health advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial, investment, or mental health professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.