10 Money-Saving Challenges You Can Start Now
Who said saving money can't be fun? Stash away your cash with these simple and gratifying money-saving challenges.
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Creative ways to boost your savings
Creating a budget can be overwhelming. Figuring out how to save money or looking for new ways to lower household bills can be frustrating, and making budget cuts can be downright depressing. And while some of the best budget apps can make saving money more tolerable, there’s another financial strategy that might actually be exciting: a money-saving challenge.
What is a money-saving challenge?
These popular challenges gamify savings by encouraging you to stash away cash at a variety of increments and on a variety of timelines. Not only can money-saving challenges lead to significant savings over time, they can also help you adopt good money habits, get your finances on track and start some new, more intentional money habits, such as building an emergency fund and a sinking fund.
And if you think a TikTok-approved money-saving challenge is among the things you won’t hear money experts say, think again. “When someone is saving, they may not feel the same dopamine rush that they would if they were spending,” says Snigdha Kumar, a financial health expert and head of product operations at budgeting app Digit. “A quick way to replicate that dopamine rush is to win a challenge. Thus, savings challenges can be a great way to feel a sense of accomplishment and get people over the line to actually save.”
If saving money is front and center on your financial goal-setting vision board, here are 10 money-saving challenges you can start right now.
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Best for: A financial detox
Looking for a challenge that the experts use themselves? Kristina Ellis, co-host of The Ramsey Show and a college finance expert, recently completed a no-spend January. “I was feeling like our budget was getting fluffy, like our bodies after all the Christmas cookies,” she says.
According to Ellis, a no-spend month is a great way to financially detox, save money and get super focused. During a no-spend month, you pay for the essentials (budgeted groceries, utilities, medical, housing, transportation) but cancel any nonessential spending, such as takeout, ride-shares, shopping or coffee. “If you feel like you don’t have room in your budget to level-up your finances, I challenge you to do a no-spend month,” Ellis says. “You’ll be surprised by the margin you actually have.” And remember: If you have a slip up and buy a coffee when you’re out with friends, don’t quit, says Ellis. Aim to complete the challenge no matter the obstacles.
Set a savings goal and be specific about the number. Then, ask yourself why you want to do this, says Ellis. Is it because you feel undisciplined with money? Do you want to pay off debt? When you know your why, the challenge becomes much clearer and motivates you throughout.
1% savings challenge
Best for: Building a nest egg
For this challenge, no drastic lifestyle changes are needed. You’ll simply contact your workplace and increase your retirement contribution by 1%. Then, set a schedule. Every two to three months (whatever works for you, just stay consistent), increase it by another 1%. The pre-tax contributions to your 401(k) are made through payroll deduction, meaning you won’t have to physically move money from one place to another. Plus, the percentage tends to be so small that you likely won’t miss those extra dollars each pay period. Increasing contributions is one of those must-know secrets of people who retire early.
“Savings can be hard, forcing individuals to sacrifice spending for a better future,” says Kumar, but this challenge is great to consistently hit a milestone while promoting healthy financial habits. Just sit back and watch that nest egg grow.
Best for: Major savings
Want to save more than $5,000 in three months? TikTok’s viral 100-envelope challenge can help you do just that. Grab a box of colorful money-saving envelopes and label them 1 to 100. Each day, you draw an envelope, and whatever number you draw, you add an equal amount of cash inside. For instance, if you draw No. 27 on day one, then you’ll fill the envelope with $27, seal it and place it in a basket or drawer. Need extra cash? These tips to make money fast will ensure you have enough cash on hand to put into your envelopes each day. After 100 days and 100 envelopes, you’ll have saved a total of $5,050.
You can also do this chronologically, if you’d like to start small and work your way up to larger savings. So you’ll put $1 in the No. 1 envelope, $10 in the No. 10 envelope and so on.
52-week money challenge
Best for: Small budgets
Want to bulk up your emergency savings, put away money for a vacation or just stash cash you’d otherwise spend on nonessentials? This money-saving challenge is an easy one, especially if you’re working with a tighter budget (and trying to score stuff for free). Over the span of one year, you’ll increase your savings each week. Start week one by putting away $1 either in an envelope or budget binder. Save $2 in week two, $3 in week three and so on. One year from the day you started, you’ll have a total of $1,378.
Try doing this challenge in reverse, meaning you’d put away $52 in week one, $51 in week two, $50 in week three and so on. Finding a few extra dollars to put away each week might be easier than you think, thanks to these things expected to cost less this year.
Biweekly savings challenge
Best for: Every-other-week pay periods
If you get paid on a biweekly basis, then this challenge could be great for you. The best part of this money-savings challenge is that the amount of money (or increments you increase your savings) is up to you—just stay consistent. Choose an amount to stash away in your savings (or in a zippered money envelope) every payday over the course of a year. If you have a smaller budget, consider incrementally increasing your savings, so $3 the first pay period, $6 the second pay period, $9 the third, and continue on until you get to payday 26. At that point, you’ll have saved a total of $1,053. If you have a larger budget, try saving $100 every two weeks, which will add up to $2,600 at the end of the year.
If you want to beef up your savings and stash away a larger number every pay period, consider cutting spending in one specific area, such as food or groceries. Start by meal planning, using this budget grocery list or learning how to coupon. Take any extra savings and add them to your biweekly savings challenge. Increasing that number to $385 every two weeks, for instance, will give you a whopping $10,000 after one year.
Best for: Building a rainy-day fund
If you already have an emergency fund and generally follow the habits of debt-free people, then try this super-simple challenge. Every time you find yourself with a $1 bill, take it out of your wallet and put it away in a money pouch. If your budget allows, you can save even more money by socking away every $5 bill you have.
Make a timeline that works for you and stick to it, whether you choose to take this challenge on for six months or a full year. And no matter what, wait until the end to start counting it up.
Best for: People who use cash
If you know the benefits of paying with cash and regularly pay for your purchases with cold-hard currency, then you probably end up with loads of spare change. At the end of each day, take all that loose change out of your car, pockets or wallet and throw it into a slotted change jar. Once the jar fills up, roll it on over to the bank.
Keep in mind that while some larger banks have phased out their coin-counting services, credit unions or regional banks tend to still do this at no cost.
Best for: Families
Things are getting more expensive, and that couldn’t be more obvious than at the grocery store (where consumers are also dealing with shrinkflation). Get creative in the kitchen and save money with the pantry challenge, the goal of which is to prepare as many meals as you can using only what you already have in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Whether you opt to do this challenge for a week or a month, you will ultimately save money on groceries.
When it’s time to grocery shop, these grocery store apps are meant to make the process less expensive and more convenient.
Weather Wednesday savings challenge
Best for: Randomized saving
If setting aside a set amount of money each week or tossing spare change in a jar isn’t your speed, then this money-saving challenge is a sure way to keep things interesting, as it’s literally based on the weather. To take on this challenge, find out the high temperature in your area every Wednesday, and save that amount in dollars. So if the temperature happens to be 75 degrees, you’ll save $75 dollars that week. Do this for a full year. The warmer it is, the more money you’ll save!
You can use a weather app on your phone, check the Weather Channel each Wednesday morning or use an indoor/outdoor thermometer. If you live in an area like the Northeast, where it’s possible to experience all four seasons in just one week, things will get interesting.
Roll-the-dice savings challenge
Best for: Shaking things up
In this money-saving challenge, the stakes can be as low or as high as you want. All you’ll need is a pair of dice, which you’ll roll once a week. Whatever number shows up is how much you’ll save. If you roll a two, you’ll stash away $2. If you roll a 10, you’ll save $10.
Want to save even more? Roll the dice more than once a week. Or, if you don’t have much extra cash lying around, roll one die instead of two. And why not make it fun with these giant foam dice?