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How to Do a Money Savings Challenge (7 Steps for Impressive Results)

Check out these steps for how to do a money savings challenge, so that you end up better off, savings-wise, than when you started.

So, you want to know how to do a money savings challenge, so that you can either:

woman on floor smiling with ipad, text overlay "how to do a money saving challenge"
  • A) get closer to your savings goals
  • B) make your paycheck stretch further

Awesome.

I’ve taken part (and created) so many money savings challenges over the last decade, and I can tell you without any doubt in my mind that you will always accomplish more with your money when you are doing one.

Before I show you how to do a money saving challenge, how to start one, and all of the cool types to choose from, let’s going over a quick definition of what you’re actually about to do.

What is a Money Savings Challenge?

Just so we’re all on the same page, I like to start with a quick definition of what a money savings challenge is.

A money savings challenge is:

A series of steps and rules that you follow for an amount of time, or until you reach an amount of money, or until you fulfill a specific savings goal. Progress is tracked, so that you can measure your results.

How to Do a Money Savings Challenge

These are the steps you’ll follow to do any money savings challenge you’ll find.

Step #1: Decide on the Outcome You Want to Accomplish

What do you want to accomplish with a money savings challenge?

Savings challenge ideas for what you might to accomplish:

  • Amount Accomplishment: You could set your goal to save up a certain amount of money, such as $200, $500, $1 for each day you participate, etc.  
  • Time Accomplishment: With this one, you simply set the goal to save as much money as possible – to challenge yourself with how far you can go –within a certain amount of time (one weekend, one week, one month, one year, etc.).
  • Financial Accomplishment: These accomplishments include things like funneling as much money as possible towards your debt snowball machine, pulling back the reins on spending and developing some better daily frugal habits, confronting some bad spending habits you picked up over the holidays, funding your emergency savings fund, etc.
  • Savings Goal Accomplishment: You’ll use this category for when you have a specific savings goal to save up for – something you want to be/do/have that will cost money. Here is how to prioritize savings goals, and 47 cool things to save up for. Consider using one of these savings match programs, too.

Filling out one of these free smart financial goals worksheet can help you laser-focus in on what you want. Here are 6 savings goal examples.

Step #2: Pick Your Challenge

Now it’s time to choose your money savings challenge.

I’ve got a list of tons of challenges, by type, below.

Just know that you’ll want to choose one that:

  • Challenges you just enough – you don’t want to be SO challenged that you give up after a few days, but you need to challenge yourself some so that you (and your savings) will grow
  • Will definitely help you to completely or partly accomplish your savings goal
  • Gets you a bit EXCITED to take on

Hint: that last one is seriously important. You’ll need to be excited as savings motivation to keep things going. Need more saving money inspiration? Here’s my eye-opening article on what’s the point of saving a pot of money you’ll never spend.

Step #3: Decide How You’ll Track Your Efforts

You need to track your efforts during the whole challenge, so that you know how far you’ve come. This will also show you which savings challenges worked for you, and which did not – something you can come back to again as you pick out a new challenge to do.

Seeing progress is motivating!

Here are a few ways to track your savings efforts:

Step #4: Set Up a Baseline

Before you track, you want to create your “baseline” of how your finances look right now, so that you can compare that to when you finish the challenge.

Find your baseline by either:

  • Making a note of how much you have saved for a specific goal, ahead of time
  • Calculate your personal savings rate (%) for the last three months, then averaging that to get an idea of how much you normally save
  • Making a note of your pre-challenge savings account balance

Step #5: Decide Where the Savings Will Sit

Savings that you accumulate in your checking account have a tendency to…disappear.

I call it the checking account gremlin.

Instead of allowing your hard-won savings to disappear, make sure you set up a savings space BEFORE you start your challenge. This is where all of your saved money will accumulate.

Could be in a:

Step #6: Choose Your Limits and Cheats

You’ll know what rules to follow depending on the money savings challenge that you pick out – like what you are and are not allowed to do during the challenge time period, what behaviors you’re supposed to do (like save each $5 bill that comes across your path), etc.

But guess what?

This is YOUR money savings challenge.

You get to decide the limits and cheats that you want to live under for the challenge time period.

For example:

  • What categories do you include in your “necessary spending only” list?
  • Do you want a cheat day for a weekly or monthly saving challenge?  
  • Do you have gift cards that you’ll want to use during your savings challenge, to help ease the sacrifices, or not?

Step #7: Choose Your Reward(s)

You want to reward yourself either throughout your savings challenge, or afterwards.

AND, since you’re doing this challenge to save more money, remember that you don’t want the reward to cost a bunch of money and negate all of your efforts.

That’s why I created this article with 365 ways to reward yourself for $5 or less!

Go check it out, and create your rewards list before you start.

Types of Money Saving Challenges – Lots of Choices

Here, you’ll find all kinds of money saving challenges to pick from.

They’ll fall into the following challenge categories:

  • Behavior-Change Money Saving Challenges
  • Themed Money Saving Challenges
  • Dollar & Coin Denomination Money Saving Challenges
  • Period-of-Time Money Saving Challenges

Behavior-Change Money Saving Challenges

These are saving challenges where the rules are set around changing your behaviors in order to save more money.

And we’ll start with my very own, first!

1. Bank It! Savings Challenge

You know how almost every receipt you get nowadays – from the grocery store, convenience store, even some restaurants – includes an area at the bottom to show you what you “saved” off your purchases?

It’s not actual money that gets into your savings account…until you Bank It!

That’s my inspiration for creating this money saving challenge.

And it’s so fun to do!

Take any receipt you get over the next week, two weeks or month (I recommend a month), and whatever it says you saved on the bottom of your receipt – due to sales and coupons – you transfer to your savings from your checking account.

screenshot of receipt showing I saved $0.63, which I'll now use to put into savings

Watch your savings grow.

2. Couple’s Savings Challenge

Do you and your partner have a daily spending habit problem?

This is a cool challenge where you and your partner each keep a daily tally of what you spend. The person who spends the least – thus saving the most – is the winner.

She suggests you pick a winner each month.

Psst: here are more money saving challenges for couples.

Themed Money Saving Challenges

Themed saving challenges challenge you to save more money based on one particular theme, such as a pre-holiday savings challenge, a pantry eating savings challenge, or a honeymoon savings challenge.

1. Honeymoon Jar Savings Challenge

We purchased this cute and unique, cow piggy bank in Salzburg on our honeymoon.

And I decided to use it for a specific savings challenge – every time we fill it up with change, we would cash it in and treat ourselves to an expensive date night.

It’s been such fun doing this, and a fun celebration of our marriage.

In fact, the last time we cashed it in (about two years ago), we got to go to Medieval Times (about $90!).

2. Shelftember

Shelftember is hosted by Jordan each year in the month of September. I took part last year, and had a blast. Not only that, but I shaved like $250 off of our monthly grocery spending!

Basically, you are challenged to spend no more than $25/week on groceries and to instead eat from your freezer, pantry, and refrigerator.

I definitely spent more than $25/week, but I never would’ve saved that $250 that month without this challenge.

3. No Spend Challenge

There are many no-spend challenges out there, where you stop spending any more above necessities for a period of time.

Check out:

4. 60-Day Christmas Daily Savings Challenge

For the 60 days leading up to when you want to start your Christmas shopping, you will save $1 more than the day before (starting at $1.00). This will reap you $1,830 to spend on Christmas and holiday travel costs, in just 60 days!

Dollar & Coin Denomination Money Saving Challenges

These types of money saving challenges are based around saving a certain denomination of money (either all of your $5 bills, pennies, etc.).

They can be really surprising with how much you end up with, and totally affordable.

1. Saving Change Challenges

  • Dime Saving Challenge: take a 2-liter bottle, and fill it with any dime that comes into your life. Filling one of these bottles will reap you an estimated $500!
  • Penny Saving Challenge: you save one penny for each day of the year, meaning that on the first day of the year you save just $0.01, and on the last day of the year, you save 365 pennies (or, $3.65). At the end of one year, you’ll have $667.95.
  • Round Up Change Challenge: Just like certain banks do, each time you spend at a store, round up to the nearest dollar and put the difference between what you spent and the next dollar into your savings account. For example, if you spend $6.37, then you would round up to $7.00, subtract the two, and find that you need to put $0.63 into savings.

Hint: you can find other affordable, mini Savings Challenges and daily saving money challenges, here.

2. 100-Envelope Money Challenge

Ready to challenge yourself to save $5,050 over the next 100 days?

Take 100 envelopes, and label them from 1-100.

Shuffle them up, then draw one per day for the next 100 days. Whatever number you draw, you need to put that amount of money into the envelope.

You’ll then shuffle that money into your savings account (I don’t think you’d want to keep thousands of dollars hanging around for long!).

3. The $5 Challenge

This one is simple: each time you get a $5 bill, save it. Boom.

Period-of-Time Money Saving Challenges

These types of money saving challenges are based around saving a certain amount of money, within a specific timeframe (like 52 weeks).

OR, these could be saving as much money as you can, during a certain time frame (such as a January No-Spend month challenge).

1. 52-Week Pick-Up Savings Challenge

There are so many variations to the 52-week savings challenge…in fact, I made up my own way to “play” it!

Take a deck of cards, and put it next to a money jar. Create a money value for each card using the free printables (or use the one I provide), and then shuffle your deck.

Each week, choose one card. Save the amount that card has been valued at.

2. 52-Week Money Challenge

Here’s the “regular” 52-week money challenge, where you save the number of weeks you’re in for the year (for example, you’d save $32 in week 32, and $3 in week 3).

At the end of the year, you’ll have $1,378!

Psst: Here are more 12 month savings challenges to choose from.

3. January Uber-Frugal Month Challenge

The Frugalwoods host an uber-frugal month challenge for 31 days in January. This last year, I took part!

Not only will it challenge you to rethink your spending by receiving an email each day with prompts and tips, but the Facebook is fantastic for learning how to go ultra-frugal and save your money.

How to Start a Money Savings Challenge

So, you’ve picked out your money saving challenge, and you’ve got your tracker ready, your baseline amount, etc.

How do you actually start a money savings challenge?

1. Pick a Start and an End Date

First, you want to pick your start and end dates (the end date might be dictated by the challenge itself – like if it’s a monthly or a week-long challenge).

If you’re in a situation where you have to do this for necessity (i.e., you need to cut spending to the bone, NOW), then go ahead and start right away.

If you have some leeway, then be strategic about when you start. Don’t choose a time period that falls over a holiday, or someone’s birthday.

And if you do? Then make sure you have a plan ahead of time for how to deal with that, without anyone feeling like they’re being deprived of a celebration.

2. Print Out What You Need

Print out your savings goal money tracker you picked out, and any challenge rules you need. You could also make yourself a “Do Not Buy” list of categories and/or items you’re not allowed to spend money on during this savings challenge.

Put the tracker front-and-center, where you’ll see it each day and feel motivated/be reminded by what you’re doing.

For example, you’ll want to print out your spending tracker and put it up where you’ll see it everyday (like on your fridge, pinned to a bulletin board, in your home binder, etc.).

3. Set Up Accountability

Besides the tracker and yourself…who or what is going to keep you accountable?

You could join a Facebook group for this, or get a friend to start with you, or get your partner onboard.

Now, let’s jump into the types of money saving challenges you have to choose from.

I hope I’ve not only shown you how to do a money saving challenge, but that I’ve inspired you with these awesome challenges to take your savings up a notch (or 10). Pick a challenge, do it, and then come back and pick another one depending on how much you liked it or didn’t like it. Lots to choose from, that’s for sure! And don’t forget to actually funnel your saved money towards something that you want or need – that’s what will really make the difference to your bottom line.

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.