Money challenges: Why I’m OK with them, and a few of my favorites

By Kristin Wong

Published: Wednesday, May 7 2014 9:40 a.m. MDT

My mom was inspired by the story of Julie Phillips and Geoff Szuszkiewicz, two Calgary roommates who resolved to buy nothing but essentials for an entire year.

After reading my interview with them, my mom made it her New Year’s resolution to only spend money on necessities.

“I just want to see if I can do it,” she said. “And I’m curious to see how much I can save.”

I talk to my mom at least once a week, and at least once a week she tells me about some shopping item she was tempted to buy but didn’t.

“I found a gold tray at Ross,” she told me. “It was in the shape of a squirrel. I was going to buy it for you. But I decided not to.”

I was profoundly disappointed about not having a gold squirrel platter, but I was proud of my mom for sticking with her resolution. So far, she’s probably saved over a couple hundred bucks only buying what she needs: food, toiletries, gasoline, etc. Most people would probably save more than that. My mom just doesn’t buy a lot of stuff to begin with.

A couple of years ago, a reader shared her own version of this challenge. She called it Superfrugality Month:

“Every year in February, once the holidays are over and life is slowly returning to normal, my boyfriend and I undertake a project that helps us stop lifestyle inflation and save on the order of $300 each for the month. We call this exercise ‘Superfrugality Month’ and the rules are pretty simple.

"We don’t spend any money on non-essentials during the month of February. Once March first rolls around, we can spend money on wants again. That’s it in a nutshell.”

It’s simple, but I like this challenge. I like the idea of challenging yourself to a life of bare necessities. Yes, it’s probably an unrealistic long-term habit. But I think it’s a good experiment in making yourself a more mindful consumer. When you’re forced to resist your shopping urges, you think more about your spending habits. The more aware you are of your spending, the more control you have over it.

There’s nothing wrong with spending; but I, for one, could use a little more controlled spending.

The 52-week challenge

This one seems to be the most popular, and I’m sure most of you have probably heard of it. But I mentioned it above, so I figure it deserves a quick recap:

You start saving at the beginning of the year. You save according to what week it is. So the first week of the year, you save $1. The second week, you save $2. On the last week of the year, you save $52. And, by the end of the year, you will have $1,378 saved.

Sure, you could just save your money and put $1,378 in your savings account at any given time. But where’s the fun in that?

Another thing I like about this challenge is that it gives you a weekly, recurring savings goal. It might be small amount, but it’s a great way to save when you don’t have much to save. It’s also a great way to save if you’re new at saving or aren’t particularly good at it. You gradually become a better saver.

Anyway, I know not everyone is a fan of these monthly challenges, and I understand that long-term habits beat fads. On the other hand, these challenges make us question our limits, they make us question our spending and they boost our savings routine.

But what do you think? Do you approve of money challenges? If so, what are some of your favorites?

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