Let’s face it. There are days when the budget needs help, but food still needs to go on the table. A no-spend grocery challenge can help you go at least a week, if not longer, without spending a dime on groceries. That can equal hundreds of dollars saved.
If you go longer than a week, say a month, you can probably spend very, very little, if anything at all.
This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, I will earn a small commission but it won’t cost you a penny more)! Read my full disclosure policy.
My no spend grocery challenge
My first no spend grocery challenge was a few years ago, in the month of January. I always try to cut expenses in January and try to recover from Christmas.
However, what really inspired me was a book I read, The Nightingale. It was a book filled with poverty and hunger like nothing I ever understood before reading it. It made me realize how fortunate we really are in our home. Many nights I complained of no food available, and in reality, the blessings of food were overflowing. This experiment was humbling, to say the least.
As I took on this challenge, I read of other people doing similar challenges, like surviving on only $25 per week for groceries. Many of these people were doing the challenge because they had no other choice. Y’all, that’s not much money to feed a family. I felt so spoiled and unappreciative. It was time for a change.
You will save money
When you take on a no spend grocery challenge, you will save money. A lot of it. Every time I do a no spend challenge for a month, I end up saving hundreds of dollars. I like to put these hundreds of dollars towards a vacation we take every spring.
When you are feeling down, like the challenge is impossible, or like you can’t possibly eat another repeat, leftovers meal, think about the money you are saving or why you are taking on this goal. That will be what gets you through it!
Make sure you also communicate your intentions and your goals with your family. If you don’t, this will be an uphill, loooooong battle. I promise.
My rules for a no spend grocery challenge:
No stocking up
Don’t stock up for your no spend grocery challenge. I’ve read so many challenges where step 1 is to go get everything you need to survive a month. In what world is that not spending money? That’s cheating, and not many people can go out and drop $200 on “essentials” before doing a no spend challenge. The whole point is to survive on what you have already!
Trust me when I say this, you probably have way more groceries than you think in your cabinets. You don’t need to stock up. Throughout this challenge, if successful, you will learn resourcefulness like never before. You will find some clever substitutions for ingredients, learn cooking really isn’t rocket science, and will be ever so proud of your creativity. I’m telling you mama, this challenge will change how you think about grocery shopping, meal planning and food waste!
Set a money limit for “essentials”
When you are doing a no spend grocery challenge, you may start to see everything you run out of as “essential”. It really isn’t. I guarantee you there is a substitution or an alternative or the “essential” item isn’t something you really need.
If you are doing a no spend grocery challenge for one week only, I would set the limit at $0. Most people can survive on the contents of their fridge, freezer and pantry for one week. It will take some creativity and probably a couple boring meals, but you can make it.
If you are doing the no spend grocery challenge for longer than one week, set yourself a very small grocery budget for essential fresh items, like milk, eggs, or flour. I tried not to go over $20 for the week. I tried really hard not to spend a dime, if at all possible, but sometimes, it was unavoidable.
Before going to the grocery store, where options will be plentiful, first try to find a substitution for the item you “need”.
No eating out in place of eating at home
Don’t eat out in place of eating at home. That defeats the whole purpose of a no spend grocery challenge, and you will end up spending way more money than if you went to the grocery store and bought a cart full of groceries.
So avoid the temptations. Be prepared. Tell your co-workers your plans so they don’t invite you out for lunch. You can do this. It will go by much faster than you think.
How to successfully complete a no spend grocery challenge:
If you want to be successful in your no spend grocery challenge, you are going to need to take inventory of what you have already. This task will feel immense, but it will be worth the effort!
Write down on a sheet of paper every single item and the quantity of the item. For example, “yogurt, 1/2 quart”. If you do this, meal planning will go much smoother and more efficiently.
Put a notation next to the ingredients that need to be consumed first. For example, if you have chicken that needs to be cooked in the next day or two, either plan to cook it first or freeze it.
In order to successfully complete a no spend grocery challenge, you are going to need to meal plan. Meal planning isn’t fun when you are working with limited ingredients. I know. You can still do it though.
First, list out all your activities for the week. Need a crock pot meal on Tuesday because the kids have soccer practice? OK, maybe it is time to use up some dried beans and a can of diced tomatoes.
Determine what kind of meals you can make for each day of the week. If you have more time on Sundays, prepare your more time consuming meals on that day.
In the car all day on Saturday? Plan a snack lunch of random items like trail mix, nuts, dried fruits or anything else in your pantry that needs a good clean out and is portable.
The primary goal is to be prepared. When you know your schedule, it will be easier to plan ahead and not break the rules by going out to eat.
Once you are done with the challenge, check out eMeals. They are by far my favorite meal planning service and help cut down a lot of food waste. You even get a free trial when you click through this link.
Related post: Save Time Grocery Shopping (Save Money Too!)
Don’t get fancy with your meals
Pantry and fridge clean-out is not the time to be fancy with your meals. I remember one pantry clean-out when we were down to bare bones. I was determined to not go out to eat, it was late and a school night. Chick-fil-a drive-through would have been so easy! Instead, I opened a can of baked beans and a can of peaches up for my kids. Guess what?! They LOVED it.
I was so surprised my two little ones were ecstatic over baked beans and peaches. I think they thought it was
A no spend grocery challenge requires a decent amount of creativity. However, you may be surprised by some of the meals you create.
My favorite resource for creating meals with random ingredients is supercook.com. You put in the ingredients you have at home that you think might go together in some capacity, and it will search the internet for recipes.
Missing a key ingredient for a recipe you like? Search the internet for possible substitutions. You may be surprised!
My favorite meal I made included half a block of cream cheese (we were out of bagels), half a box of spaghetti noodles, and some shrimp. I threw in some broccoli florets from a near empty frozen bag, and we were all set with fancy looking meal. I was super proud that night, and desperate for something a little more special!
Commit to using up everything you can
Commit to using up as many groceries as you can find in your pantry, fridge
Will there be a time you need milk? Probably. First, make sure there isn’t a can of coconut milk hiding in the back of your pantry.
One of my favorite cookbooks has an introduction that says “cooking isn’t rocket science.” I don’t know why, but that statement stuck with me. I’ve never been an amazing cook, but that statement gave me the confidence to try new things and embrace the unknown!
One thing you will do a lot of in a no spend grocery challenge is finding substitutions for ingredients. Don’t skip making a meal because you are missing something. Search the internet to find a replacement.
Out of oil for a muffin recipe? Use applesauce or a smashed banana.
Flax eggs have saved me on more than one occasion.
Use canned coconut milk or evaporated milk.
Use frozen berries instead of fresh ones.
Make your own “kitchen sink” granola bars using random leftover dry goods.
You can use brown sugar, regular sugar, honey, syrup or agave syrup all as sweeteners.
Related Post: Organize Your Pantry for the Last Time
The no spend grocery challenge taught me to embrace leftovers. We have always been a family that eats leftovers, but boy, we ate more than our normal share with the challenge.
With the no spend challenge, since you are not letting any food go to waste, you will learn the appropriate quantities to make for your meals. I learned real fast that if my husband was on a work trip, I better cut down the size of our meals, or we would be eating the same leftovers for days straight. It was a good lesson to learn to prevent future food waste.
Use a no spend challenge as a teaching moment
Some people will argue with me and tell me this was a poor parenting move, to force my kids to eat foods that weren’t fresh, or golly, go an entire three days without milk! My thoughts are this isn’t their normal routine, and it taught them a valuable lesson. Food is a privilege.
While we sat around the table eating our boring leftovers or canned goods no one really wanted, we had some great conversations about how lucky we were to have “boring food”.
My kids surprised me with the challenge. Did they complain some days? You betcha. However, they complain some days when I am making food from a well purchased grocery run too. Other days, we all sat around the table and laughed, enjoying our creativity and fun ideas.
My favorite nights were called “leftovers choice” night. Everyone got to choose what leftovers they wanted! They thought it was fun because we were all often eating something different.
Celebrate your no spend grocery challenge success and practice often
When you are done with your no spend grocery challenge, take note of how much you spent on groceries the month prior and how much you spent this month. You may be blown away!
I try to practice what I call a “pantry clean-out” at least one week out of every month. It never fails, we buy groceries, a meal doesn’t get eaten, we freeze leftovers, or we have leftover ingredients. Once a month, I try to use up those random ingredients before going back to the grocery store. It saves us money every month.
Good luck mama! Let me know how it goes.