Even when you know that you need to change some aspect of your financial behavior (like saving money faster or cutting your spending), knowing how to make that change — from setting goals to holding yourself accountable — can be extremely difficult.
That’s where a personal finance “challenge” can help.
Challenges are pre-planned regimens and/or specific goals to help you break your habits.
Most people are familiar with this concept thanks to popular health and fitness challenges like Whole 30, in which you commit to eliminating a wide swath of potentially unhealthy foods from your diet for a full month.
But the concept also works regarding saving, budgeting and other financial activities.
Embracing one or more of the challenges below can be one of the quickest and most effective ways to shake up your routine and bring about meaningful improvement.
Here are some of the best personal finance challenges you can start today. Click the links to learn more.
|Challenge Name||One-Sentence Summary|
|52-Week Money Saving Challenge||Save incrementally each week, starting with $1, to accumulate $1,378 by the end of the year.|
|365-Day Penny Challenge||Save one penny on the first day and increase by a penny each day to save $667.95 by the end of the year.|
|1% 401(k) Boost Challenge||Incrementally increase your 401(k) contributions by 1% to enhance your retirement savings without feeling the pinch.|
|Cash-Only One Category Challenge||Use a cash envelope to limit spending in one specific category where you tend to overspend.|
|No-Spend Weekend Challenge||Abstain from non-essential spending during weekends to reevaluate and optimize your spending habits.|
|Bi-Weekly Savings Challenge||Save a specific amount every two weeks, aligning your savings with your bi-weekly pay schedule.|
#1. The 52-Week Money Saving Challenge
The premise of the 52-week money saving challenge is simple but powerful.
Save $1 the first week, $2 the second week, and an additional dollar every week thereafter for the rest of the year.
After 52 weeks, you’ll have $1,378 in your savings account.
One thing to note about this challenge is that if you start it early in the year, you’ll be setting aside the biggest chunks of money at the end of the year — smack dab in the middle of the holiday season.
That’s not ideal for some budgets. If it might be a concern for you, consider reversing the order: save $52 this week, $51 next week, and on down the line.
#2. The 365-Day Penny Challenge
Don’t think you can manage doubling your savings every week, starting with a dollar? The same principle can work on a small but more frequent scale. Instead of a dollar, start with just a penny and double that savings every day for an entire year.
By the end of the 365-day period, you’ll have saved a whopping $667.95.
This challenge is particularly well-suited for people who enjoy seeing the immediate results of their savings efforts and don’t have the funds available to commit to larger contributions.
Here’s a sample of how this stacks up, showing the first three days and the last three days of the challenge:
|Day||Daily Savings Amount||Total Savings|
#3. The 1% 401(k) Boost Challenge
The 1% 401(k) boost challenge offers a simple approach to growing your retirement savings.
The idea is to make incremental adjustments that are so minor they barely make a dent in your take-home pay. For instance, while increasing your 401(k) contributions by 10% might seem daunting, a modest 1% hike is far less intimidating and easier to manage.
Before diving into this challenge, set a specific savings target. Whether your goal is to double your current 401(k) contributions, reach the maximum employer match, or save 20% of your income, having a clear objective allows you to work backward and formulate a tailored strategy.
For example, if your goal is to save 10% of your income, you can opt to do this for 10 months. And if a 1% monthly increase feels too ambitious, you can opt for a more moderate pace with a 1% quarterly boost. Even at this slower rate, you could save 12% of your take-home pay in just three years.
To visualize this strategy, see the table below, which illustrates how small, incremental increases can lead to significant growth in your retirement savings over time.
|Month||Current 401(k) Contribution||Cumulative Annual Contribution|
One tip is to see if you can automate your increase through an “auto-escalation” feature, commonly available in many 401(k) plans. This feature eliminates the need for manual adjustments, making staying committed to your savings plan easier.
The ultimate aim of the 1% 401(k) boost challenge is to cultivate a habit of consistent and sustainable financial growth.
So, the goal isn’t to oversave to a point where you can’t pay your bills (and then have to revert to contributing less) but to find the level where you save more than you are today without feeling much of a burden. This is the ideal level to be contributing to your 401(k) for the foreseeable future.
#4. The Cash Only-One Category Challenge
The cash-only one category challenge is designed to curb overspending in a specific area, be it discretionary expenses like dining out and entertainment or essential but variable costs like grocery shopping.
The beauty of this challenge lies in its simplicity: at the start of each month, you allocate a set budget for your chosen category and place that amount in a cash envelope.
The rule is uncomplicated but strict. Once the cash is gone, spending in that category is off-limits for the remainder of the month.
This approach offers black-and-white clarity about what you can and can’t afford, eliminating the gray areas that often lead to budgetary slip-ups.
Every purchase becomes a conscious decision as you part with cash from a physical envelope. The tactile nature of this method makes you think twice before making any spending choices.
Another advantage of the cash-only one category challenge is its compatibility with couples’ budgeting. It’s an excellent way for partners to get on the same page about spending in specific categories, because with a clearly defined cash limit, both parties become equally accountable for maintaining the budget, fostering financial transparency and teamwork.
Not sure how to set a budget? Take our quick online quiz to find the best budget for you.
#5. The No-Spend Weekend Challenge
The no-spend weekend challenge is a simple yet effective strategy to reevaluate and optimize your weekend spending habits.
The idea is to abstain from non-essential spending during the weekend, focusing instead on free activities that bring you joy.
For those looking to take this challenge to the next level, consider extending it to a no-spend weekend month, where you commit to zero discretionary spending on weekends for an entire month.
Of course, practical necessities like groceries are exceptions, especially if your weekdays are too busy for shopping.
The impact of this challenge can be substantial. Weekends often become a financial drain, consuming a significant portion of your disposable income. You can make a meaningful difference in your overall budget by cutting out even a fraction of this spending.
Beyond the financial benefits, the no-spend weekend challenge is a mental and emotional reset. It encourages you to find happiness in simple, cost-free activities, reinforcing the idea that enjoyment doesn’t have to come with a price tag.
Get some ideas for fun no-cost weekend activities.
#6. Bi-Weekly Savings Challenge
The bi-weekly savings challenge is a structured yet flexible approach to saving money, and is particularly well-suited for people who receive bi-weekly paychecks.
The idea is to set aside a specific amount of money every two weeks, aligning your savings efforts with your pay schedule.
This challenge is excellent for those who find it easier to save in sync with their income cycle, as it eliminates the need to budget for a monthly lump sum.
Below is a sample bi-weekly savings schedule to give you an idea of how this challenge works.
The amounts are adjustable based on your comfort level and financial goals, but this chart provides a typical roadmap for saving $1,000 in just over seven months.
|Week Number||Bi-Weekly Savings Amount||Total Savings|
Summary: Challenge Yourself to Improve
With each challenge, the specific amounts of money and techniques matter much less than the simple fact that you’re committing to a structured action plan.
For most people, the hardest part of changing a habit is getting started.
The first few steps in a new direction tend to be the most disorienting, but if you can get on the right path, you’ll find that sticking with it gets easier and easier the farther you go.
So whether you’re choosing to tackle a savings challenge to help build your emergency fund or a spending challenge to wrestle your budget into submission, feel good about starting small and then trust the process — your piggy bank will thank you for it.