Viral savings challenges that pay off

Among the different ways to encourage you to save, the money-saving challenges are among the most interesting.

They can help you feel connected to finances by requiring frequent check-ins and demystifying feelings of insufficient savings. For Cristina Brown, who describes herself as a designer of savings challenges and founder of the Happy Savings Co blog, savings challenges have helped her transition from spending to saving.

“I recognized the need to save money and thought this would be a great way to gamify it,” Brown says.

If saving for tomorrow seems out of reach, the right financial challenge can generate excitement, push competitive buttons, and potentially increase savings.


Before launching a savings challenge, revise your budget to reduce unnecessary expenses. The wiggle room in your budget will determine the level of difficulty possible for a challenge.

Assigning a goal to a challenge can also keep you motivated and consistent, whether it’s saving for an emergency fund, a vacation, or something else.

Here are some popular challenges to consider:

— Keep Change Challenges: Beginner-friendly $1 and $5 savings challenges allow for passive saving, which takes less effort and takes an out of sight approach. For a set amount of time, both challenges involve setting aside denominations of those bills that remain cash transactions.

Ezekiel Waisel, a certified financial planner at SHP Financial, a financial planning company, tried the $5 challenge in 2016 and saved about $300 in one year for a round trip flight. “I don’t use a lot of money, so the fact that I even saved so much kind of surprised me,” he says.

— The 52-Week Challenge: This challenge increases savings by $1 per week and requires you to actively save by budgeting each week. The first week you save $1, the second week $2, and so on until the 52nd week. The challenge can also be reversed to start saving $52 in the first week and working downward, as is Brown’s preference in 2022. Either way, the challenge can save $1,378 in one year, enough to cover an emergency or a major purchase.

“At the end of the year with the holidays – even with all our efforts to set up sinking funds for the holidays and stuff like that – things can still get pretty tight, so I reversed the order to save the larger amounts at the beginning of the year,” says Brown. A sinking fund holds money that is earmarked for a specific purpose or expense.

— The 100 Envelope Challenge: This potentially lucrative and difficult saving challenge requires you to number 100 envelopes from 1 to 100, shuffle them and draw one at random each day. The number on the drawn envelope determines the amount of money that needs to be saved. Drawing high numbers consecutively can be difficult, so this challenge is ideal for those with more cash. If completed, it saves up to $5,050, but don’t keep the money too long in envelopes. Protect it by designating a day every two weeks or month to deposit your savings in a high-interest bank account.

— Wednesday Weather Challenge: For thrill seekers with ample cash, this challenge can offer big savings with less predictability. Every Wednesday, for a year, save money or deposit into a savings account depending on the temperature in your city. If it’s 50 degrees, for example, save $50. The challenge gets harder the warmer it gets, so it’s best to start in the winter when it’s more manageable.

— No-Spend Challenge: It’s as simple as it sounds: you commit to only spending on essentials over a certain period of time to save big. Some people even clean out their pantry to reduce their grocery bills. The difficulty level is subjective for this challenge, but it’s probably more sustainable in the short term.

— Customize your own challenge: Modify a popular challenge to suit your needs by shortening or extending the time limits or savings cadence. For example, you can stretch the 100 envelope challenge over 100 weeks (about 2 years) instead of days, if that’s more feasible. Brown also creates her own challenges. In one of these challenges, she is looking for discounts at the grocery store to save money for her future goals. She says she saved a total of $3,560.58 in 2021 by juggling multiple challenges each month.


Mastering a savings challenge involves understanding your motivations. Ask yourself if you are motivated by large or small deposits, chance or predictability, cash or electronic deposits, or active versus passive savings. If you’re not sure, try a few money-saving challenges to find out what works. Passive savings challenges like keeping change can lay a solid foundation for bigger challenges and savings.

“I think passive is a great place to start, and once you feel comfortable and consistent with passive saving, then you can add or transition to an active saving model,” says Waisel.

Finding the right challenge may take some trial and error, but even if you experiment, you’ll likely save some money in the process.

Melissa Lambarena is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @lissalambarena.

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