Whether you need to create an emergency fund, save for a vacation or stash away some extra cash for Christmas, a money-saving challenge can be your best friend. Money-saving challenges not only help you set specific financial goals, but they also give you a plan to follow so that you can reach them.
Saving extra money also tends to increase feelings of security and peace of mind. It can also provide with more financial freedom if you decide to pursue a new career or change jobs.
Below is a list of 19 smart money-saving challenges that can help you with your savings goals this year.
1. 52-Week Savings Challenge
Of all the saving strategies, this yearly money-savings challenge is probably the most well-known. It’s also one of the easiest to follow.
To start, make a chart (or print one from the web) with the numbers 1-52, representing the number of weeks in a year. Beside each number, write your savings goal for the week. Your savings goal should correspond with the number of the week in a calendar year.
- Week 1: $1
- Week 2: $2
- Week 10: $10
- Week 52: $52
If you start in the new year and consistently save the amount that matches your goal each week (never more than $52 at its peak), at the end of a year you’ll have saved $1,378. To make the process easier, consider making automated payments from your checking account to your savings account. Alternatively, remind yourself to set aside your savings at the same time every week.
2. 52-Week Money Challenge Backwards
Kelan and Brittany Kline, founders of The Savvy Couple, recommend this approach, which works like the original 52-week savings challenge. The difference is that it allows you to spend more during the holiday shopping season when you’re most likely to be cash-strapped. Instead of starting in January by saving just $1, start by saving $52. Then, work your way down.
The Klines like this method because you put your heaviest savings efforts at the beginning of the year when you will be motivated to do your best. Plus, by making more progress up front, you will be motivated to stick with it.
3. The 26-Week Bi-weekly Savings Plan
One of the best things about the traditional 52-week challenge is its flexibility. Again, the 26-Week Bi-weekly Savings Plan follows the original plan. But instead of setting aside a specific amount each week, you will combine two weekly payments into one.
Do you get paid every other week? If so, a bi-weekly savings plan might be a good fit. Break your 52-week challenge (regular or backward) into 26 weeks and double up your savings goals. Either way, by the end of the year you’ll have saved an extra $1,378.
4. 31 Days to Improve Your Financial Life
This isn’t your average savings challenge. Phillip Taylor, personal finance blogger and founder of Part-Time Money, lays out a 31-day challenge that could put your entire financial life on a better course.
Taylor doesn’t claim to make you rich or debt-free in 31 days. But he does offer daily, actionable steps you can follow to start improving your finances day by day, month by month and year by year. The suggestions vary from having $100 automatically deposited into your savings account each paycheck to selling your excess stuff on Craigslist.
5. No Eating Out Challenge
Eating out represents a huge area of overspending for many people. Though the COVID-19 pandemic did cause a decrease in our ability to spend money on dining out, it certainly did not remove that line from most families' budgets entirely. In 2020, there was a significant rise in the usage of food delivery apps. According to MarketWatch, DoorDash, Uber, GrubHub and Postmates made roughly $5.5 billion in combined revenue from April through September of 2020. This was more than twice their combined revenue, for the same time period, in 2019.
If you want to trim some fat from your budget and free up extra money to save, the No Eating Out Challenge just might be the perfect challenge for you. As its name suggests, during this challenge you aren’t allowed to spend money on take-out or restaurant purchases for 30-days. If you use delivery apps, it also might not be a bad idea to delete them to remove temptation during this challenge!
6. Save $5,000 in One Year
Sara Trezzi of GatheringDreams.com breaks down how you can add an extra $5,000 to your savings account, little by little over the next year, with an easy-to-follow guide.
Trezzi’s best tip? Open a separate online savings account so you’ll be less tempted to spend the money you’re setting aside. She also recommends taking on side hustles and making additional money by affiliate marketing, which is the promotion of someone else’s product.
7. Save $10,000 in One Year
Want to ramp your yearly money savings challenge up to the next level? TriedandTrueMomJobs.com has a supersized plan that can help you save $10,000 over the next 12 months.
The plan advocates for saving $125 the first week, $150 the second, $175 the third and $300 in the fourth week, and it gets even more aggressive as time goes on. You can download a chart to track your progress and they offer some great ideas to slash spending and make extra money to reach your savings goal, such as signing up for research studies and getting a cash-back credit card.
8. 14-Day Money Saving Challenge
The challenge walks you through 14 tried-and-true ways to improve your finances. At the end of the two weeks, you’ll be encouraged to follow up with a new monthly savings challenge to keep all that great momentum going.
9. Build a $1,000 Emergency Fund in 90 Days or Less
Having an emergency fund is an important part of your financial health. FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) recommends saving back around three to six months of living expenses so you’re prepared if illness, injury or other unexpected events put a strain on your finances in the future.
Ready to get started? Lance Cothern of Money Manifesto gives three simple tips that can help you save $1,000 for your emergency fund in the next 90 days. Those tips include starting with $100, opening a CIT Bank Savings Builder Account and continuing to deposit money.
You can even download a free printable to track your progress.
10. The Pantry Challenge
Do you make a weekly trip to the grocery store (or a weekly grocery delivery order)? The Pantry Challenge will put those shopping trips on hold until you’ve used up all the food that’s currently taking up space in your pantry, freezer and refrigerator.
Naturally, this challenge can help save you money in the short run (while challenging your recipe creativity at the same time). Also, if you force yourself to participate in a pantry challenge every few months, it can lead you to create better buying habits that will reduce waste and keep more money in your wallet in the months and years to come.
11. Five Dollar Bill Savings Challenge
Kristin Stones, founder of Cents and Purpose, has put together a great challenge to help you put away some extra cash for whatever financial goal you’re trying to reach. With the Five Dollar Bill Challenge, you simply save every five-dollar bill you receive.
Whether the bill comes as a gift, change at the grocery store or from the bank when you cash your paycheck, you commit to tuck each five-dollar bill away. If $5 seems like too much for your budget, try the same challenge with one-dollar bills. Alternatively, if you’re in a good place financially, you can double down and save all ten-dollar bills you receive.
12. Spare Change Challenge
This super-easy savings challenge can help you put away a little extra money without adding extra strain to your budgeting plan. Whenever you make a purchase and receive coins back in change, you can drop those pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters into a jar.
Commit not to touch your coins for a certain period of time (perhaps a year) before you add them up to see how much you’ve saved.
Also, your credit union or bank might have a free coin counting machine that can save you time when you’re ready to turn your coins into cash. Beware of coin counters at grocery stores and elsewhere. These typically tack on fees for the service.
13. Monthly Savings Challenge
Depending upon your pay cycle (and how you manage your budget), a monthly savings challenge might be easier to follow than a weekly option. The Land of Milk and Money has put together an easy-to-follow monthly savings challenge that can help you put away $1,050 over the next 12 months.
Here’s how it works. During month one, you save $25. During month two, you save $50. Month three calls for $75 in savings. See the trend?
Eventually, your monthly savings goal climbs to $150 for months six and seven. However, then it starts to move down again to $125, $100 and so forth, making it more manageable.
14. Round Up Money Saving Challenge
When you buy something, round up the amount to the next dollar. Direct the difference to a savings account.
You can do this the old-school way by recording rounded-up amounts on a piece of paper and then depositing that amount into a savings account, or you can automate it with one of several apps. Check out the pros and cons of these apps with this list from NerdWallet. If you use one, be sure you understand any fees involved and where your money goes. Some apps direct savings to FDIC-insured accounts, but others send your money to investments that involve more risk.
15. Do a Money Throwdown
Challenge a friend, significant other, or family member to save more than you do in a month. Then, get busy figuring out how to win your savings contest. Start packing your lunch and shopping around for bargains on food, gas, and other necessities.
At the end of the month, check in to see who gets to declare victory in this money-saving challenge. You might even want to pick a prize for extra encouragement — like a dozen homemade muffins or something else that doesn’t require much spending!
16. No Soda, No Alcohol, More Money Challenge
Money often leaks away a few dollars at a time. You start buying a daily coffee before work or go out for a beer most nights after work.
Kick just one of those habits for a month, and you will fatten your bank account. You may even find that you don’t miss what you gave up, providing momentum to keep saving. Keeping Life Sane even offers this handy chart that lets you cross off your no soda challenge one day at a time.
You can also just as easily start making coffee at home to save money or identify another small source of savings. If you feel deprived, remember that you only need to hold out for one month.
17. Get the Savings Fever
Draw a thermometer on a piece of paper or a large piece of cardboard. List your savings goal at the top of the thermometer. Proceed to add interim savings goals and start coloring it in as you reach your targets. Generally speaking, the bigger the thermometer, the more motivation you are likely to have. Easier still: Use this free savings thermometer template from Frugal Mama.
18. No Spend Challenge
The No Spend Challenge can be played as a game with your family or as a competition with your friends. The idea is simple: don't spend any money on non-necessities! You can set a goal of one day, one week, one month or any other amount of time that makes sense.
Whether you're hoping to save up for a vacation or pay off a credit card bill, don't be afraid to set a reward for yourself when you finish the challenge. You deserve it!
19. Random 52-Week Money Saving Challenge
We’ll finish where we started, with a 52-week saving challenge. However, this version of the challenge offers you more flexibility than any other.
The Random 52-Week Challenge comes to you once again courtesy of The Land of Milk and Money. Instead of giving you a specific amount of money to save each week, this challenge gives you 52 amounts to choose from. Each week, you select an amount ($1-$52) to put into your savings account. Once again, as long as you follow through, this challenge will help you save $1,378 over the next 12 months.
You’ve Got This!
Can’t choose where to start? Here’s the good news: there’s no bad option.
Any of the money-saving challenges above can be a useful tool to help you jump-start better budgeting and saving habits. If you’re worried about starting a challenge that’s too difficult to stick with until the end, consider choosing the option that seems easiest to follow and work your way up from there.
Save At Any Time of Year
A money challenge is a great way to make progress toward giving yourself a financial cushion, boosting your savings, and obtaining things that matter. Generally, such challenges are also a fun and motivating way to keep you on track.
Whether you're preparing for the holidays or starting the new year with a reset, it's always a good time to start saving. So pick a challenge, ask some friends to do it with you for extra accountability and start working your way toward your goal!