The No Spend Challenge came to us when we desperately needed a solution to debt and bad health. You can try to get back on top of finances, but if you struggle to regain control this will really suit you.
We had been spending our money mindlessly and never having any extra money, no matter our wages. The No Spend Challenge is a short sharp shock for your bank balance.
A challenge which has led us to take back control and start to look at other ways to make money, save money, and reduce our reliance on our income from our full time jobs.
So a big thank you to Ray for asking me to write a little something about our experiences so far. I hope to show you all the reality of our challenge and how it has worked for us.
- What is the No Spend Challenge?
- Why did we start the No Spend Challenge?
- What are the No Spend Challenge rules?
- How do you stay motivated through the No Spend Challenge?
- What are some unexpected hurdles we faced through the challenge?
- How has the No Spend Challenge affected our life so far?
- People’s reaction to the No Spend Challenge
- Final thought
What is the No Spend Challenge?
You commit to your regular monthly payments. Maintain your rent, mortgage, and all household bills and credit card repayments.
The challenge, however, involves all of those other extra expenses: A latte here and a doughnut there, or even worse, a new skirt for work –because its for work so it doesn’t count!
These are all expenses that we can find hard to face up to. By stopping them completely for a week, month, or even a year, it can help pause the spending without any guilt or blame. For me the little things, like gifts for friends, add up so quickly.
This is the financial equivalent of a detox. I recognize that I enjoy spending money, as do most of society. It is what we have been programmed to do.
So when it is a baby shower or birthday, how do you avoid spending money? For me it has always been an excuse to spend on others, well not anymore!
Why did we start the No Spend Challenge?
We started because of an accident which resulted in us being a lot less self-sufficient and not having the money to pay someone else to help out.
This was a shock as we both work full time and have no children. Rather than start pointing fingers or keeping all receipts for a month, we needed something that would help. The No Spend Challenge, for us, works as a financial cleanse.
You can easily get into all sorts of arguments once you start looking at who is to blame. I know my husband can be bad with money, but if we loo had gotten in to as well! So I would rather us both go cold turkey than blame each other.
What are the No Spend Challenge rules?
We set our own rules, as should you! So in discussion with your partner or children work out what will work for you all. Simple rules for us are:
- No eating or drinking out; go prepared when leaving the house, take drinks and any food needed.
- Reuse what we already have; if we need anything new we can wait and see if a friend or family member has one we can borrow
- We spend money on experiences for the children in our family and not actual ‘things’ –this was heavily negotiated.
- Look to reduce our transport costs by lift sharing, public transport, or bike riding, where possible, but we still have to get to work!
- No new clothes, make up, or shoes etc. This rule applies to our entire year long challenge, but we are ok with second-hand charity shop type options.
If you are an online shopper check out this shop, but remember pop into the basket and then come back to it later to see if you still want to buy it!
How do you stay motivated through the No Spend Challenge?
- By telling friends and family and joining a community of others, we are able to commit ourselves more fully!
- Set a goal for the saved money. We have our goal of buying a smallholding and are working towards that in our day to day life.
- Reading an article like this one from Michelle McGagh has really helped us to keep focused.
- I even had the chance to give an interview for BBC Radio 4 You and Yours Programme on the subject of the No Spend Challenge! You can listen to the full interview for inspiration here at the 26 minute mark.
- Online communities are fantastic for finding ideas. And we use this Facebook group to bounce ideas and tips around (zero waste no or low spend ideas).
We hope to keep scouring freecycle and facebook groups for equipment which needs a little tweak or that can be repurposed. It has transformed our life and our opportunities.
If this sounds like an option for you, check out all the support you can find online, and then think about forming a local group, meeting in your local library as a free venue!
What are some unexpected hurdles we faced through the challenge?
Gifts for friends and family
As mentioned above my gift giving is out of control. I had to redefine what being generous meant to me.
As we earned more so I gave more lavish presents. This hen puts pressure on the recipient, and they feel obliged to spend an equal amount. So this is how consumerism works is it? Well I then realized I could reverse this all.
I love to make my own crafts. Be it cushions, rugs, blankets, those sort of things. Then I also enjoy growing my own plants from seeds. Plus, the hubby is very good at baking. So we decided to make homemade hampers for friends. Or grow plants for very little outlay.
This is the one most sustainable element I think we have included. As when we started to give plants we would have to purchase the seeds –this time next year we will have harvested them from this years flowers!
We even made 200 heart shaped, bright pink wedding favours. This is to replace a wedding list gift. They are seed paper and the bride had a very special wish list for her seed paper. She has a very romantic story involving Brussel Sprouts (trust me on this one!) and so we have made another 200 green pieces of seed paper with their peas in to be planted by keen wedding guests!
I have been taking cuttings from friends plants as well and propagating them ready for gifts for the new year! We hope to put together homemade hampers for Christmas presents and that way we will be able to reduce our costs.
We spend more time for our friends and family now than we did before and I think that takes a lot of the pressure off from your finances, but on to you. This can be why we used to take the short cut of buying something and posting it, or worse paying for next day delivery.
You will need to plan ahead! No more last minute days out, forgotten birthdays. All of that has to be factored in and worked out.
However, so many friends understand when you can’t just put £10 into the leaving present. I have even taken it upon myself to arrange a baby shower so that my gift could be a rose from our garden and cupcakes for everyone who attended. This meant the cost was minimal and it did not hit our purse.
Friends coming over
Friends who come round and we get takeaway? Do you have those friends? They are really picky eaters and therefore we always give in and get a takeaway.
They don’t have any financial issues as they live with parents and are happy with their debts. We just struggled to make a few people see our point of view.
So, now we sadly see less of them. But I think seeing friends shouldn’t cost money. We respect that they don’t mind being in debt, but they can’t support our plans to not be.
It would have been easy to have made an exception for them, but that was the purpose of the No Spend Challenge. To see who supported us and who tried to bring us back to zero savings.
How has the No Spend Challenge affected our life so far?
Immediate financial benefits
Obviously we had money left over at the end of each month. This has caused so much weight to be lifted from my shoulders. I think that by not spending every time you are prompted to, it resets your relationship with money.
I think the mindless spending had to stop and this was our way to do it. No fuss, just axe it all. Then we could have the conversations about money in a more positive light.
We now have Premium bonds as savings so that we can put money to one side for emergencies, but have chance of it increasing in value as well.
It is so hard to not sounds stupid when I say that by not spending we have more money. I think we just didn’t stop to assess where that money was going and if it represented good value.
If you have children who attend various paid-for after school activities, now is the time to ask if they would rather that money went somewhere else. Even if giving up swimming means they can do more camping with scouts.
It is a great way to see what they really enjoy. We didn’t give ultimatums but just a choice. You may not want to change what the kids do, but apply this principal to yourselves. If you decide to go for longer than a month, it can be a real bonus to the bank balance.
We were able to save enough in the first 6 weeks to have our fence fitted for us. This was the ultimate freedom as the accident had caused us to rely on others. There is always a cost attached to that!
So, we managed to save around £1,600. We really cut everything off though and I think that no travel costs due to being off ill helped out massively!
We have now managed to start a regular savings pot of around a third of our household income each month. Which is really awful to say that in the past we couldn’t account for that money.
We started the challenge with an interest free credit card which was fully loaded to around £3,000 and with the interest free period running out shortly.
This challenge meant we faced up to when this repayment window would close and when we would need to repay the amount.
We had four months and no savings to dip into to pay it off. So by going cold turkey and cutting all extras out we were able to pay it off within the limit, so no interest charged at all.
A real relief. And facing the debt once we had a plan in place was a lot easier than before.
More time together
Such a cliché I know, but when you have less to spend, you find more inventive ways to have fun. We had funny home cinema nights with popcorn disasters, re-watching older movies can be fun!
We found a lot more in our local area. Free events, free cinema even, and lots of walks and favourite parks.
Remembering to bring a picnic was a lot of fun as well!
I have found that we suffered under a myth that going green would be more expensive. Now we are making savings by making our own green replacements.
I think that we are now expanding our savings into areas we thought were more ‘fixed.’ Now we look for green alternatives which will save us money.
Some of them require a slightly larger initial investment and that is where the No Spend Challenge has helped. It has allowed us to be able to afford large ticket items, like a sewing machine. Now I make and repair our clothes and bedding. As well as gifts for others. Some really fun projects have come from this money saving challenge.
Other zero waste examples:
- I have made us a scourer pad from garden twine, total cost around 15p.
- We have swapped to an eco egg for laundry, total cost £5 for around 1,000 washes!
- We have also swapped out cling film and plastic bags in the kitchen for beeswax wraps we have made.
- I am making some baby bibs at the moment for a gift and I love that they are much more personal!
- We also made a bird house from a teapot, one of my absolutely greatest achievements!
People’s reaction to the No Spend Challenge
What I will say though, is other peoples reactions has surprised me the most. I work in a very corporate environment and everyone buys lunch, tea, coffee whatever! It wasn’t until I worked out that the act of getting to work and eating/drinking was costing around £8 per day easily that we all stopped and thought about it.
One lunch time I opened up my packed lunch expecting to be met with giggles, but mine was actually the nicest looking lunch there. Then when I explained the challenge people really got onboard.
Lots of people had questions and things they didn’t think they could do without. But overall we worked together and supported each other.
My family have been great. I don’t think my husband and I really spoke too much about long term goals before we started the challenge. Now we plan and have a good idea of what we need. How we are going to get what we need seems a lot clearer and we are working on our plans.
If you need to put a pause button on your finances, this is the best way to start. Then look to pay off your debts and start saving towards your goal!
We didn’t prepare for it in anyway as it came as a bit of a solution to an emergency. Some people do like to prepare, but you can be tempted to buy new things!
For any more tips please do pop on across to our site.
About The Mini Smallholder:
We are setting out to trial all of the techniques we will need on our smallholding, but on a small scale. Trying to see if going green is a viable alternative and if the good life really is that good!
The zero waste solutions tie in with our intended lifestyle but we never realized how powerful the No Spend Challenge would be.
We are enjoying moving in the right direction and this is very much a journey.