Reset Spending Habits with Fun Challenges

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 10

We’ve talked about making changes to the Big 3 expenses, but in order to reach a maximum savings rate for your family, it may be time for a (mindless) spending reset as well. I love to take on mini-challenges throughout the year to reset my spending habits and to make this financial independence journey that much more fun.

This doesn’t mean that life has to be emptied of valuable experiences or that your home has to qualify for a minimalist lifestyle website. It just means that you use a specific challenge to identify what you’re capable of and what’s most important to you. Basically, these challenges are opportunities to cut the fluff.

I propose that you engage your family (or friends) in a fun money-saving challenge at least once per quarter. Here are a few ideas:

Spend-Nothing Week: Try spending an entire week eating what’s left in your fridge and pantry and participating in free entertainment options, like game nights and hiking. After the week ends, reflect on whether you missed out on anything significant.

Free-Activities Month: What if you spent an entire summer month participating in only free activities as a family? Think beach days, picnics, bouldering, swimming in rivers and lakes, neighborhood scavenger hunts, and playground-hopping.

Purge Week: De-clutter one room per day and pull out items no longer useful to you. Think of rooms like the attic, closets, playroom, and the garage. Then, as a reward, list all of those items for sale online the following week (and donate those not worth selling). Use 25% of the money to do something really fun together and save the other 75% toward one of your priorities.

Budget Birthdays: Challenge the whole family to participate in budget birthdays for the year. Set a spending amount, such as $50 for the fun and $50 for the gifts, for each birthday celebration. Get creative in finding free locations, use hand me down decorations or items in your home for decor, and stick with homemade treats. As for gifts, try freecycle, buy-nothing sites, or consignment shops to find new-to-you items.

A Month of Eating In: Can you do it? Can you make it a whole month without fast food, your favorite take-out, or a night out at a restaurant? You can do anything for 30 days, right? It would be a great challenge for a reset, and when the month is over, you’ll think twice before just grabbing a dinner that’s convenient rather than saving the money and the extra calories. You might also get pretty savvy in your own kitchen and make use of what you have already in your pantry.

Vacation for <$500: Challenge yourself to plan a family vacation for under $500. You can do it even without tent-camping. Stay tuned for tips on frugal travel.

Today’s action step is to commit to a few challenges this year. Get out your planner and write them in.

When a challenge ends, reflect on what you learned from it. How much money did you save? Did you identify anything you really missed out on and want to make a priority in the future? Did you identify things that you’ve been spending on that really aren’t that important? Was the challenge fun or stressful? Are you ready to do another one?

Spend Nothing Week

Is it time for a spending reset?

In August of 2019, I decided it was time for myself and my family to become hyper-aware of our mindless spending and to hit the reset button. The result of this decision was a Spend Nothing Week, which provided us with a reason (or excuse) to just say no to the frequent discretionary spending we were doing.

As the Spend Nothing Week went on, I posted about it on Facebook. My posts and photos are shared below. Upon reflecting on our week of resetting our spending, I realized that awareness is just the first step; changing habits requires the hard, consistent work. Since taking the Spend Nothing Week challenge, we’ve definitely improved in making better use of the food we have at home … eating what’s available rather than what we’re craving. However, we haven’t managed another Spend Nothing Week in over a year. It seems we’re due for another spending reset, or better yet, maybe we should attempt a whole month of spending nothing. Can we do it?

Mom’s Piggy Bank

Aug 26, 2019 – After realizing how much money we spent on school supplies, clothes, shoes, band fees, end-of-summer excursions, and then listening to my kids continually ask for MORE, I announced to my family that we’re having a Spend-Nothing Week! Anyone up for taking the challenge with us?
Step 1 was to do pantry/fridge inventory and figure out meals with our limited supply of food in the house. I hadn’t planned for this so there was no big grocery trip last week to prepare. We had zero fruit, hardly any meat in the freezer, 3/4 gallon of milk, a handful of pre-packaged snacks, and only half a loaf of bread.
However, I was feeling super confident with my meal plan this morning and thought, “for sure, we can do this!“ Then, within the first few hours of Monday, a youth group pizza party invitation came up, and the kids poured almost half a gallon of milk into their cereal bowls this morning, BUT crises averted when I discovered a small balance in my Venmo account and transferred it. I grabbed a few groceries and paid for the $5 pizza ticket… we’re back to being in the black!!
Let’s see how long this lasts…. 🤔😬🤞

Aug 28, 2019 – I’m disappointed to report that there have been a couple hiccups with Spend-Nothing Week. The hubs STRONGLY suggested I get gas in the car if I wanted to continue to drive it. 😜 And then at my dentist appt today, I discovered that my deductible hasn’t been met, and I had to fork over $50. 😩 I guess those were non-negotiables, but I’ve mustered up all the willpower and stubbornness in my body to resist buying a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I lost this week and also to buy a new TV after one of the kids BROKE the screen of the one in our living room! 🤦‍♀️😖 (I’m sporting free shades from the dentist office today. 🤣)
But there is a plus side: The fam is getting Chick-Fil-A for dinner without a single dime being spent, thanks to app rewards and some freebies we had acquired!!

Aug 30, 2019 – Celebrating the end of Spend Nothing Week with steaks from the bottom of the freezer 😋, a salad made from veggies the kids won’t eat (including 1/2 a head of barely-edible lettuce), the last few potatoes, and margaritas, plus flourless PB blondies!! It was delish, but shelves are bare, and we definitely won’t make it another 12 hours without milk for the toddlers. I’ve never been so excited for an early Saturday morning grocery trip before! (I’ll share how much I spend tomorrow.)

Aug 31, 2019 – The day after Spend Nothing Week included a BIG grocery trip. Here’s a picture of my receipts from that day:

BIG grocery spending after Spend Nothing Week

Yep… that adds up to about $440 spent at H-E-B this morning. 😱😱😱 I made THREE different trips inside bc I realized in the parking lot that I forgot things and did not want to go back another day. The total definitely caused a bit of sticker shock, but I bought 2 weeks worth of groceries (hopefully), and if we actually make it 2 weeks, it will still be a big improvement on what we usually spend.

Recap: Total amount of money that we charged on our credit card was <$100 between Sat, Aug 24th and tonight, August 30th. The only money that left our bank account was a recurring medical bill. Full disclosure, I did go to the movies on Sunday evening, but I had paid for the ticket in advance, and on Sat night, I bought a beer and fries using a gift card. So, we did not, in fact, spend “nothing”, but it was the closest we’ve ever come, and it leaves room for improvement!