Challenge Yourself! 12 Simple Frugal Challenges You Can Do This Week

I’m a big fan of using the 30-day challenge to try out a particular daily routine or behavioral change in my life. It’s a big part of how I view life as being something of an experiment, one in which you’re constantly adjusting and trying new things. The goal is to introduce incremental improvements to your daily life until it hums like a well-tuned engine as it pushes you forward toward your goals and dreams.

However, there are some adjustments and changes to your daily life that work really well as one-off challenges. Do them once or maybe twice and it becomes really obvious how useful those are, and those changes often just become the new norm for you immediately.

Here’s a list of 12 one-off challenges you can do yourself, just to see what the results are like. Give them a shot and see how they work out for you. If they don’t work for you… well, you didn’t lose much and you’ve learned something. If they do work out for you, you’ve found a new path for doing things in your life that’s more financially efficient than before.

Buy the store brand version of one or more (or all) items you normally buy the name brand version of.

The next time you’re at the store, consciously buy some store brand versions (or discounted versions) of items you normally buy in name brand form. Take them home and use them instead of the name brand to see how they work for you. If you can’t tell a difference or if they work better than the name brand, just start buying the store brand from here on out. For me, I usually find that I can’t tell the difference.

Eat the cheapest dinner you possibly can.

What is the least expensive dinner you can make that you’d actually like? Would you cook up some beans and rice, starting with dry beans and dry rice? Would you cook up a box of spaghetti and serve it with a bit of olive oil and garlic (enough for several meals at once)? Maybe you just scramble together three eggs, add a bit of salt and pepper, and serve it with a slice of toast? Try eating a super-cheap dinner tonight, as cheap as you can get. Maybe you can turn this into a weekly tradition.

Make a batch of homemade laundry soap.

It will cost you a few bucks to do this, but you’ll have enough supplies to wash laundry for the next year. Just buy a box of borax, a box of washing soda, and a bag of soap flakes at the store (these are all available on Amazon if your store doesn’t have them). Grab a resealable plastic container, a measuring cup, and a measuring teaspoon. Add an equal amount of each of the three ingredients to the container using the measuring cup – aiming for a cup of each is good, or a little more depending on the container size. Shake it around thoroughly until it’s mixed (I shake it for about a minute). Then, drop the spoon in there and leave it by the washing machine.

Whenever you’re washing a load of clothes, just use a single teaspoon of the mix – open the container, scoop out a teaspoon, and add it. Using just a cup of each powder will give you 48 loads – and you’ll have many, many cups of it if you buy a container of each at the store. My math has this recipe costing about $0.04 a load. This recipe seems to work like a champ. Just try it, and if it doesn’t work out for you and you go back to Tide after using this recipe for a while, it’s not a big loss.

Lower your thermostat by one degree.

You could also do a very similar thing by raising it by one degree in the summer compared to what you normally set it at. Once you’ve made this one degree adjustment, live life as normal and see if you even notice it at all.

For us, we found that gradually bumping the temperature by a single degree here and there over a period of weeks and months resulted in us really only noticing a major change after having adjusted things by several degrees.

When the seasons change, we start that process anew, slowly bumping it downward throughout the winter and slowly bumping it upward throughout the summer until we hit the threshold of comfort for us. This minimizes energy bills. You can start this by just bumping things by a single degree.

Ride public transport to and from work.

Rather than hopping in your car and driving to work, take public transport. Buy a ticket, ride the bus or the subway or the train, and then do the same again on your way home. Unless you’re very close to work, it’s probably going to be cheaper than the total cost of driving to and from work, and it gives you a chance to just sit there and read a book rather than having to focus on driving through busy traffic. A one time challenge is a great way to “test the waters” and see how it goes.

Go to a meetup, an event at the library, or something you find on the community calendar.

Check out Meetup, your library’s website, and your community website, and just see what’s happening locally. Pick out one thing that looks like it might be interesting and go, with the intent of enjoying it and meeting people.

Use the appropriate amount of toothpaste.

I like these little things, the strategies that are really minor and serve as only a slight incremental improvement that will save maybe a few bucks a year. Find enough of them, though, and it adds up to a surprising amount of money.

Toothpaste is a great example. Toothpaste ads always show a giant stripe of toothpaste on the toothbrush, but the American Dental Association usually recommends using an amount that’s roughly the size of a pea – a small fraction of what toothpaste ads show. Try doing what the ADA recommends. You’ll find that your mouth gets clean with a lot less paste, and over time, that will add up to a lot of savings.

Write a meal plan for the next seven days, and make a grocery list from that plan.

Simply list what you intend to have for meals for the next seven days, focusing on simple stuff you make at home, and then make a grocery list based on that meal plan, taking into account what you already have in the cupboards. Use that list when you go to the grocery store.

Just try this once, and you’ll find that you not only have a tight list of things to get at the store (meaning you’re not wandering and grabbing things at random), but you’ve also got something to focus on that helps keep you from getting distracted.

Pack a lunch for work.

Rather than just going out for lunch or hitting a food truck or ordering some delivery, just pack a lunch for work the next day. Do it in the evening and stick it in the fridge so you can just grab it in the morning and it doesn’t add time to the day. Eat it when you’re ready for a lunch break. It’s way cheaper than almost any other lunch option you could have at work and probably tastier and healthier, too.

Clean out your closet.

Tackle that catch-all closet in your house where you put stuff that you don’t want to deal with and then it just accumulates (mine is the closet in my home office). Just go through everything in there, figure out what’s actually worth keeping and what isn’t, and then sell the stuff you don’t want to keep on Craigslist or Amazon Marketplace or Facebook Marketplace. Turn that unwanted stuff into cash that you can use for something worthwhile. You might just find that this one-off task inspires you to tackle all of the other “catch-all” places in your home.

Negotiate a bill.

Take one of your bills – your cell phone bill, your cable bill, your internet bill, whatever – and call the service provider. Go through each of the charges on your bill and ask to have any unwanted charges removed. See if there’s a lower cost package that meets your needs. Ask for a rate reduction. Ask for a “new customer” package. The worst they can do is say “no,” and you’ll find yourself where you started.

Visit the library.

Just stop by your local library and see what they have there. Look for an interesting book you’ve always wanted to read. Look at their movie collection and their audiobook collection. Take a look at their bulletin board and their schedule of events. All of this stuff is free. Take home that interesting book. Snag a few movies. Make plans to check out some event going on there next week. It’s free entertainment. Even if you don’t find anything, you’ll at least know what they have on offer.

Simply choose a few of these challenges and try them out this week. If they don’t work out, there’s no major loss – you got to try something new and it didn’t cost much. If it does work out, you’ve discovered a new and better way of doing things. There’s almost no downside to giving yourself a challenge like this!

Good luck!


Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.