Adulting is hard, especially when you first leave the nest and are responsible for all your own finances. Now you have to be attentive about how much you spend on food, clothes, and fun nights with your best friends. College comes with its own set of new academic and social challenges, but it’s a great place to learn how to manage your life and money before setting off into the real world post-graduation. You may sometimes go overboard with spending on late-night food delivery orders or overextend your budget to pay for those irresistible concert tickets, but it’s not the end of the world. If you want to learn how to practice careful budgeting and get a fresh financial start, here’s how to do a no-spend month in college using TikTok tips from students who’ve tried it.
If your savings account needs a pick-me-up ahead of the end of the year or you just want to organize your money flow, a fixed period of time where you regulate your usual spending may help you develop disciplined habits that’ll help you in the future. College tuition is expensive, not to mention room and board fees, pricey textbooks, and sorority dues if you’re in Greek life, so it’s a good idea to make a money plan and learn to be savvy with discounts and on-campus freebies. Here’s how you can embark on a no-spend month, according to college students and money coaches on TikTok.
What Is The No-Spend Month Challenge?
A no-spend month doesn’t mean you don’t pay for anything for a whole month, because that’s not a realistic goal. It just means that you cut out unnecessary spending habits and find cheaper or free alternatives for recreational or impulsive expenses. For example, instead of hitting Starbucks every morning for a pricey gourmet latte, which can add up very quickly, you can make it a goal to make your coffee at home. It’s all about switching out costly routines for intentional spending choices and making use of tools you already own. “I think it’s good when it comes to trying to identify poor spending habits and also it’s a good detox,” TikToker @polishedplanning posted in a video, comparing their no-spend experience to a food detox that creates a clean slate for healthier choices. At the end of the month, you can reflect on the challenges that arose, decide which healthy habits to adopt long-term, and be proud of the money you saved in the end.
No-Spend Month Rules
It’s your hard-earned money, so you make your own rules about where it goes. But you can look to others’ shared experiences to help map out your guidelines for the month. On TikTok, money coach @thesavvysagittarius shared in a video that she does not count bills, gas, groceries, and essential living costs in her no-spend month tracker. After all, you’re not supposed to set yourself up for struggle or failure here. She also makes exceptions for known expenses like upcoming holidays, meaning you can still buy your bestie a present for their upcoming birthday. She also allows spending that goes towards your education or business, because those are investments that will pay off in the future.
TikTok user @madsashlee tackled her self-admitted “spending problem” this summer, and also made exceptions for monthly subscriptions (however, make sure to cancel any that you are not using), medical expenses, and allowed for one social event per week like meeting a friend for lunch or a movie. In her rules, she acknowledges her weaknesses, like social shopping or preemptively replacing products that are running out, so she makes it a point to stop. You can pinpoint your own counterproductive purchases too and add them to your “not allowed” list.
No-Spend Month Templates
You can start by simply making a list before the start of the month of your allowed payments and off-limits spending. The key to this challenge is nailing down your needs versus your wants. There are also no-spend month templates you can find online to help organize where you intend to put your money toward. @thesavvysagittarius swears by a no-spend month template calendar to track daily spending, and outline goals, no-spend exceptions, new habits to incorporate, and a final reward to look forward to. If you want to see all your numbers, create your own spreadsheet like @debbbag for a super comprehensive view of your budgeting. Her method uses a Google form to easily log your payments to your overall financial data, which you can reflect on as you go. You can also simply opt for a bulleted list on your Notes app like @caggiebaby to keep your spending history on hand.
When you sit down to set your rules for the month, you can also write down everything you feel tempted to buy, but you know is not urgent or vital, as @mrsjohnson1632 shows in a TikTok. The point is to give yourself the opportunity to decide if a wishlist item is really worth the money, or find it on sale or secondhand down the line.
You should also prepare to be easy on yourself when you actually have to spend a lot of money for obligated payments. Graduate student @emilysdailydiaries on TikTok decided to challenge herself to a no-spend to see if she could cut down her expenses and understand how much she really shells out in a month, even though she doesn’t consider herself a big spender. On her first day, she ended up paying her car and phone bills, plus parking expenses and an indulgent $7 coffee, which ran her over $300. But on day two, she offset those payments by spending a total of $0.
Tips To Switch Up Your Spending
No-Spend Month Food & Necessities
Even if you have a meal plan on campus, chances are it doesn’t cover every single meal you eat in a day. They also can be expensive, and preparing food at home can save you a ton of dough. Student creator @sophlaws0n saves money on essential groceries by choosing the cheapest grocery store in her college town and signing up for a loyalty rewards card so she never misses a deal. She says your grocery list should also be limited to necessities, forgoing extra drinks and snacks that aren’t nourishing your body. If you end up purchasing more food than you can realistically finish in a week, like produce that can spoil quickly, throw what you can in the freezer to eat it when you’re ready.
@nataleemiaa, a commuting college student, documented an entire month of daily limited spending on her TikTok page. In her day one video, she shared her goals of cutting out extra spending on food and clothes. Since she has full college days, she made sure to eat breakfast at home and pack her lunches using food from her kitchen. She also grabbed free snacks at her college’s student center and then made dinner at home. Natalee didn’t have to compromise her weekly Starbucks date with her friend, because instead of paying full price for her Venti drink, she used her rewards points to cop it for free. During the month, she also took advantage of built-up DoorDash credits to cover the entire cost of a takeout meal.
During the challenge, Natalee told her followers, “ultimately, you shouldn’t feel like you’re being drained when it comes to this kind of no spending, because it’s supposed to benefit you more than hurt you.” Doing a no-spend challenge can also bring attention to triggers for spending. In a TikTok video, she said she often turns to retail therapy to cope with bad moods or seasonal depression. But with that awareness, she was able to refrain during the month and find other mood boosters like hanging out with her friends.
Shopping, Recreation, & Transportation
Being on a budget shouldn’t keep you from having fun, and it’ll actually help you feel less guilty when you know you can afford a reward like a more expensive pair of shoes or a weekend trip with your friends. These expenses should occur after all your necessities are paid for, and you should still search for savvy deals so as not to stray from your financial plans.
If you and your friends love going to the movies, you can sign up for a theater membership that’ll have discount nights throughout the week like AMC Stubs, which drops ticket prices to just five dollars on Tuesdays. If you and your friend want to enjoy some fine dining as a treat, choose a restaurant that serves big portions so you can split one dish and cut the check in half. Also, public transportation will always be a lot cheaper than ordering an Uber or even paying for gas, so check out your college town or city’s transport system and find your go-to routes. There’s also endless creative fun you can have on campus for free. You can host a movie marathon or potluck dinner party in your dorm room, or bring your speaker to throw a dance party on the quad. If you’re craving new clothes, consider setting up a clothing swap on campus to trade with other students.
It’s important to curb temptations that you know are not in line with your goals like TikTok user @tara.relationshipcoach, who shared some bonus tips for capping her cash during a no-spend month. Instead of impulse buying online, she will only order items with a “curbside pick-up” option instead, making it less convenient and therefore less alluring. She recommends unsubscribing from brand emails that tempt you with new releases or sales, and found that when she goes to cancel monthly subscriptions, they often offer her a lower rate instead.
Now that you have all the tools and tips to get started, decide when you want to begin your no-spend month. Maybe you want to dedicate the fall to saving money before the holiday season sneaks up, or you can test-drive the challenge for a week or weekend and see how far you can keep it up after that. In the end, you’ll discover your spending impulses and better understand your money personality type. Most importantly, you’ll probably have a big pot of savings you can put towards a purposeful and pampering reward.