Ten Challenges to Stimulate Your Savings

Frugality - Penny Pinching
“Frugality” by Living Studios

Whatever the reason, and there are so many, sometimes we need to come up with some extra cash or at the very least, scale back some expenses. To this end, people embark on Fiscal or Spending Challenges. They all work in generally the same way—reduce spending in a particular fashion for a set number of days. At the end, put whatever savings you get (no matter how small) into a savings account of your choice. Here are ten different challenges you can try.

1 ) Dining Out Challenge

Sit-down meals, take-out and delivery, or fast food all take a larger toll on our funds than eating from our home. For a mild challenge, aim to eliminate one category of convenience eating for one week—for example, no fast food. If you’re looking for extreme changes, eliminate at least two, if not all three, of these categories for one month.

2 ) Clothing Ban

You know you don’t need any new clothes when you have mountains of laundry and your family is still able to easily put together complete and tasteful outfits from your closets and drawers. Put the freeze on spending—no clothes, shoes, or accessories for one month. If you want to make this challenge a bit tougher, get rid of one article of clothing for every day of the challenge. If you’re able to sell at least some of the clothes you unload, you’re really amping up your savings.

3 ) Stick to the List Challenge

If your weakness is being lured away from your shopping list, this might be the challenge for you. Write up a list before you get to the market and don’t let anything else in your basket. When you go pump gas, leave the drink in the fridge. When the mission is to find the perfect shoes for the interview, forget the cute sandals and the perfectly priced dress. For a mild challenge, aim to ban all impulse buys for just one week. If you really want a shot at curing this practice, aim for at least 30 days.

4 ) Plastic Freeze

If swiping your debit card is making your funds too easy to get to, put the booger on ice. Go cash-only for a week or even a whole month. Online purchases count as credit card swipes. Paying your bills from your account don’t.

5 ) Say No to the Store

It seems everyone I talk to has a store that is their weak spot. Something about it wreaks havoc on your mental wiring and suddenly Wants and Needs are all in the same pile. For me, it’s Target. Maybe for you, it’s Amazon, the thrift store, e-Bay, CVS, or the convenience store. Whatever your Store, skip it for a month and see just how much of a drain it is on your wallet.

6 ) Limited Spending Challenge

This is one of the more common financial challenges. It’s highly customizable and is often an eye-opening experience on just how low you can go. If you’ve been tracking your spending, figure out what your average spending on non-bills is, either weekly or monthly, and challenge yourself to reduce that by a certain percentage. Go for a quick and easy 10% or get drastic with 50%.

If you’re not tracking your spending, this just might be the reason you start as it was for me. Figure out the amount you think you spend monthly on your bills. Subtract it from the amount you think you receive a month. And then commit to living on only a percentage of what’s leftover.

(Income – Bills) / Percentage of your choice = Spending Challenge Amount

7 ) Complete Fiscal Fast

Seven Days. Zero Dollars. It is that simply difficult. You can’t stock up before you start, except gas. Take your wallet from 60 mph to 0 and keep it idling for seven days. Half Dozen Daily is getting ready to embark on one. Think you can do it?

8 ) No-Spend Days 

Seven straight days is definitely challenging. For some people, it’s even impossible. For this challenge, pick a target number of no spend days for a month. Taking a cue from the Complete Fiscal Fast, seven is a good way to start. Can you take it higher?

9 ) Coupon Challenge

The only challenge that requires preparation a month ahead whether or not you’re new to couponing. For newbies, take advantage of the preceding challenge month to stock up on coupons by buying the Sunday paper every week, asking friends for their discards, printing coupons online, and collecting those little blinkies in the supermarket. Track your grocery and drugstore spending and what your average savings, if any, are without coupons. Finally, visit couponing websites to educate yourself on how couponing works.

If you use coupons now but think you can do better, save your receipts from your shopping the month leading up to the challenge. At the end, figure out what your average savings are currently and challenge yourself to increase them by a certain percentage next month. Generally, the higher you are, the harder it is to keep going so keep that in mind. It is truly a challenge to average savings above even 50% (it CAN be done).

When the month of your challenge starts, get your coupon on. Make sure, like the previous month, you’re tracking your average savings and see what the difference is at month-end.

10 ) Power Down Challenge

Can you say no to electricity for seven nights? In this challenge, your family unplugs every night, at the same time, for seven nights. Candles and battery-operated devices are acceptable but you can’t recharge until the power comes back on. This challenge has a two-fold benefit. One, it will surely help reduce your utility bill while quite possibly pointing out power leeching devices and habits in your home. Two, it’s a great way to test your family’s Disaster Readiness level. Having experienced hurricanes myself, including Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in 1992, I know how important Disaster Readiness is, and how easily it’s forgotten.

Have you embarked on a financial challenge? What was your experience?

25 thoughts on “Ten Challenges to Stimulate Your Savings

  1. Sign me up for all of the above! (Some good ones on here, Supermodel.) Love the idea of the 7-day fast. (Do my kids really need to eat? Nah…)
    ;)

    Seriously, some good suggestions. Unfortunately, at a certain point, the well runs dry. Totally dry.

    Then what? (I’m thinking… Superpowers?)

    • Thanks! Sometimes, you have to think creatively to stretch a few dollars. Once it’s all gone, it’s all gone and then things get scary. Fortunately, I haven’t been to the absolute brink but that’s because I have an amazing family who want to help. If you’re completely on your own though, that’s probably a good time to look into those services people are always talking so badly about.

  2. Great list. It is fun to watch others do these. I did participate in a dining out challenge, I liked it. I really want to try a fast, am just trying to figure out the best week to do it. So many things coming up.

    • I love watching too and I’ve done a couple of things myself. I figured if I posted it now it might motivate some people to try some stuff in August. I know I’m considering doing something, just not sure which one, or which mix, yet.

  3. Great list! I love to do spending challenges…my favourite being ‘no spending outside of my essential expenses’. I’m probably going to join Carla for a week long Fiscal Fast in August, just to challenge myself.
    I quit spending on clothes for the whole of 2009 because I wanted to prove to myself that I could go without them…now I’m considering doing a sort of ‘Compact challenge’

  4. Can’t wait to do another fiscal fast..(Can you believe I just said that?) It was actually very freeing…no receipts, no checkbook updates…7 glorious money free days….

  5. Reading Sharon’s comment, I would love to do a fiscal fast. “Freeing” sounds good to me.

    #10 also has the added benefit of bringing your family closer together. No electronics or tv? then I guess we ought to play board games together! I’d want to do this if I have a family of my own someday. Too much techno-babble nowadays. (Coming from an IT consultant, no less…)

    • Yes, I’m thinking of doing this with my kids. I’d imagine it’d be really nice around the holidays. Here, it’s the only time of year it’s cool enough to shut off the a/c.

  6. I’m always up for the challenges where savings are concerned. I surprisingly had a blast when we all came together for the no-spend challenge back in February of this year…who knew?! Our spending has decreased dramatically but my husband and I were just talking last week on more ways to save so we can start focusing on actual Savings (bank account savings) vs. just cutting expenses to spare a dollar type of savings. We talked about doing the no-spend month again only drag it out for a longer stretch of time, possibly a Quarterly challenge. He recently left his job so that we could cut the daycare expense and have him stay home which saves us: $182/week for daycare, $150/week in gas for his work van, around $20/week for morning coffee with clients & lunch on the job…which rules. :) Great post!

    • Yeah I liked it when everyone got together too. It was fun to watch, for sure. Those savings are amazing with him staying home. Wow. Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to work huh? Thank you!

  7. I’m *way* too good on the clothing ban. I really need some new shoes and a couple sweaters. Also more bras (I did just replace a few of these, but I need to replace the rest now.)

    • Oh the bras. I have some great ones but a lot of sad ones. I really can’t do a clothing ban either. A lot of my clothes, especially work-related, is in very bad condition.

  8. I do make a shopping list when I do the groceries, and I’m proud to say that I have the discipline to stick to it :). I do live a frugal life, that sometimes I think I deserve a bit of an indulgence here and there.

    • I’m mostly quite good with a grocery store list. Where I tend to personally struggle is when I go to the store with a specific goal in mind and come back with something(s) entirely different. For example: “I am going to buy a new red lipstick” and come back with a pink lipstick, a purple eyeshadow, and a box of tampons. BTW I should point out I haven’t bought a new lipstick in a very sad long time so this example is me vicariously living out a fantasy ;)

  9. A fiscal fast sounds terrifying. I think I need to work my way there. I’m trying to go to the supermarket just once per weekend to start with – right now I feel like I run to the store 3 times, and then have to go back on Tuesday for a new loaf of bread or something. So I’d have to have a better system for getting everything I *need* (need being the operative work) for a week. And then I can do the fiscal fast?

    • For the supermarket, make a list. A good one. An awesome one. For bread, buy an extra loaf and freeze it. You’ll be amazed.

      Don’t worry though, I’m also pretty terrified of a week-long fast. But I want to do it. Because I’m terrified. Does that even make sense?

      • Definitely. I’m with you on the wanting to do it part still… just don’t think I could make it.

        I do freeze my bread, I am just silly and see half a loaf in there already and think it’ll get me through the week. Which is why Tuesday is a key shopping night, because that’s when I realize I won’t have enough for Wednesday ;). I’m trying to standardize my meals a little more, which I think will help me know how much I need.

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  11. Wow..people buy clothing on such a regular basis that it requires fasting? I guess i don’t need to do that one. YTD, I’ve bought 2 t-shirts at target and 3 pairs of shoes at a tag sale. I did actually spend a ton of money at the end of last year as I was on an only essentials fast for way too long. After I hit one of my debt payoff milestones, I decided enough was enough. It’s so nice to have new bras that aren’t all stretched out again. I guess having perky girls is a “nice to have” vs “must have” in my book.

    • I used to have a thing with clothes. It’s still a weakness for me when I actually have some free money. For someone like me who likes stores like Marshall’s or Loehmann’s and knows how to score really good deals it can be an easy habit to pick up. The trick to scoring good bargains at most stores is regularly going. But it’s also the way to fall in a trap. You will ALWAYS find something, especially when you’ve got a family to shop for.I know if I go into a store, I can likely find something awesome for at least one of us and at a great price. It was two years ago when I realized the whole thing where I had laundry everywhere and no one was feeling the pinch. I purged like crazy and even thought it means washing clothes more often, it means overall there’s less STUFF to fold, put away, rummage through, etc. Of course, it all comes back eventually anyways so I’m ready for another purge at my house. But I don’t have money to replace some of the things in really bad shape either. Eventually!

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