No Buy May Savings Challenge: Rules, Tips & More!

When spring rolls around, the marketing about Mother’s Day, Easter, and outdoor activities begins. This can easily lead people to start spending- because winter is finally over and it’s time to have fun! (And that’s BEFORE inflation.)

However, every year thousands of people say NO to overspending and take control of their finances through the “No Buy May” challenge.

Like many other savings challenges, No Buy May (also sometimes called No Spend May) offers you the chance to strengthen your willpower muscle, understand your wants versus your needs, and save money for things that actually matter to you.

Today, I’ll walk you through a blueprint for your entire month of May. I’ll explain the challenge in detail, help you write your own rules, and offer some practical tips to roll into the summer months richer than you started.

savings challenge dollar bill

The No Buy May Challenge

The goal of “No Buy May” is simple, but difficult: for the entire month of May, you commit to only buying essentials.

A “no buy month” isn’t 30 days of being bored and stuck at home; it’s about gaining control over your finances, breaking free from tricky marketing, and spending money mindfully, not mindlessly. By taking a break from spending, you can start reflecting on what’s really important to you now, and what goals you might achieve with some extra savings.

Of all the months to try a no spend month, May is a great choice. This is for two reasons: one, there’s only one large, national holiday (Mother’s Day), and two, it’s not in the middle of a big sales cycle. This means there will be less external pressure to spend from advertisers and family.

Compare this to No Spend November, which is a no buy month on hard mode due to it containing Black Friday and its closeness to the big holiday shopping season.

Rules of No Buy May

First, it’s important to remember that No Buy May is 100% on your terms. There’s no trophy or certificate you’ll earn on June 1st for completing the challenge, after all.

This means you can still “win” the challenge with a variety of different rules. All versions agree on what you should pay for, like bills, rent, and groceries. But there are a few different versions of what you can’t buy during May. Here are some examples:

  1. In the simplest version of the rules, you can simply cut out one category of spending, like “no eating out,” “no shopping on Amazon,” or “no buying clothes/makeup/gadgets.” Whatever!
  2. In a slightly harder version, you can make all non-essential purchases off-limits, EXCEPT anything you’ve approved by the first day of your challenge. This allows you to still buy a few select items, like a Mother’s Day present.
  3. The final, hardest version of the No Buy May rules includes absolutely NO spending money on things other than bills and essential groceries, and NO holiday shopping. In order to play by these rules and still “win,” you’d need to do any non-essential shopping before May 1st, or even offer Mom a homemade present this year. (Or you could write a letter, letting her know you’re working to be more responsible with your money as part of her Mother’s Day present. She’ll probably be thrilled!)

You can play by any of the above rule sets and still succeed, because in every version you’re saving money you’d otherwise spend! If you need more detailed explanation of the rules though, I’ve done an entire article breaking the no spend month rules down in detail.

Tips to Win the “No Buy May” Challenge

Though I’ve also done an entire article on tips to crush your no spend month, here are a few that are specific to No Buy May, and a few that are so important they’re worth pointing out again:

Establish your “why.”

Are you trying to establish an emergency fund? Pay off debt? Save for a big, upcoming expense? Learn more about your spending habits?

Knowing why you’re doing such a crazy challenge will help motivate you when the temptations to spend get strong. You can even print pictures, cut magazine pictures, or write your “why” on a note card and use them as reminders by your mirror or taped to your credit card.

Make your list of rules.

Look at the above section and actually write down the rules you’ll use. Can you spend money to buy your mom a gift? What about using gift cards to shop for non-essentials?

Having written rules will help you not “cheat” later on in the month when you get really tempted.

Look at your calendar.

This one is important! Have you been invited to any parties during May? Is it anyone’s birthday or anniversary? Do you know anyone graduating who will be expecting a gift? Make sure you look ahead at what’s coming up so you can plan ahead for any potential expenses.

Prepare your budget.

Before May begins, create a budget that lists essential bills such as rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, and any other fixed costs. Then, be sure to plan what you’ll do with your increased savings.

Know where you’ll stash your cash.

Some people REALLY struggle to save, because if they see a dollar in their checking account, they’ll spend it. For those kind of people, knowing where to “hide” the money you save from this challenge is crucial.

If you’ll be saving mostly dollar bills or change, you might want a physical place that makes accessing money more difficult, like one of these piggy banks for grown ups that requires a password to open. Just make sure you have a trusted friend create the password, or make up something random and hide the code in a safe place! The best part about these password-protected banks is that they’re reusable (unlike the ‘break them to get the money’ banks). This way, you can do challenge after challenge!

If you’re more interested in saving money digitally, I’d suggest the Chime banking app. Chime offers savings accounts that automatically save a portion of your paycheck, so you’ll never even see the money in your checking account and think it’s available to spend. 

Eliminate temptations.

Unsubscribe from promo and store emails, avoid online shopping websites, and steer clear of physical stores unless necessary. (One great way is to limit grocery shopping to once a week!) You can also delete or “hide” the shopping apps on your phone so you don’t see them as easily. Reducing exposure to temptations will make it easier to stay on track.

Tell your friends and family.

The last thing you want is your Aunt to try guilting you into shopping, or your friends from work constantly asking you to happy hour. Tell them whatever you’re comfortable with, but a simple, “I’m doing a challenge this month to not spend any extra money. Maybe I’ll catch you in June!” should do the trick.

Do free activities.

Of course, a no spend challenge doesn’t mean your social life dies. Invite friends over to binge watch your favorite shows or have a board game night, or take advantage of community events and local parks. Maybe there’s a local community garden with plots available! Don’t forget about your local library for renting books, e-books, DVDs, video games, and even physical games, tools, and activities.

Embrace meal planning.

Cooking at home is not only cost-effective but also healthier. Use meal planning to reduce the temptation of eating out and wasting food. You can look up ‘copy cat recipes’ from your favorite restaurants if you still have a hankering for Olive Garden or Taco Bell.

Seek support and accountability.

In addition to telling friends and family about your goals to avoid temptation, you might also consider finding an accountability buddy. They might even be an online friend only, but having someone to check in and ask about your progress can keep you accountable and motivated throughout the challenge.

Celebrate success.

As you progress through May, celebrate your achievements, whether it’s saving a specific amount, resisting a tempting sale, or paying off a debt. Getting excited when you hit milestones will reinforce your dedication to the challenge.

Just make sure you don’t celebrate with a splurge. Try baking a treat at home, hanging out with a friend, or even taking a good nap. Hey, you’ve earned it!

Remember, “No Buy May” is not about depriving yourself; it’s about making intentional choices and changing your relationship with money. Embrace the challenge, stay mindful of your spending, and then take what you learn in May and apply it to every month going forward (even if you give yourself some more wiggle room in your budget).

That’s all from me for today! If you’d like to get notified the next time I post money-saving content (especially if you’re trying to do family life on a budget), you can subscribe to my email newsletter below.

Hillary Swetz

Hillary was an 'overdraft four times a month' kind of girl before discovering the magic of budgeting, setting frugal goals, and kicking debt to the curb. She also taught high school economics for six years, which helped. She's now putting her English degree to work as a professional writer while being a stay at home mother to three tiny humans, a garden, and many plastic Paw Patrol pups.

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