Updated on 09.30.14

Using the “Thirty Day Challenge” for Personal Benefit

Trent Hamm

power of lessA few weeks ago, I reviewed Leo Babauta’s excellent book The Power of Less, which details a lifestyle philosophy of reducing and simplifying life.

One of the most thought-provoking portions of the book was the idea of the “thirty day challenge.” If you’re attempting to adopt a new habit in your life, simply try it – and focus on it – for thirty days. The book offers a lot of examples for trying this – going vegetarian for thirty days, going to the gym for thirty days, and so on.

Since reading the book, I’ve been really inspired to look for ways to apply thirty day challenges in my own life. I made a giant list of potential thirty day challenges that I could try, whittled it down to a few, and may have selected one to go with (push-up training). Along the way, though, I kept adding more and more great ideas to the original list – ones that meshed well with my life, along with ones that I simply thought were good ideas for almost everyone.

Unsurprisingly, quite a few of these ideas had to do with personal finance. There are a lot of “thirty day challenges” you can take on in your own life to improve your money situation. Here are eleven great ways to use the next thirty days to bring about personal finance change in your life.

11 Ways to Change Your Personal Finance in 30 Days

1. Thirty days to avoid all unnecessary spending

For the next thirty days, only spend money when it’s absolutely needed. If you’re about to make a purchase or engage in an activity that isn’t strictly necessary, either avoid it (if you’re just buying something frivolous) or find a cheaper solution (like eating at home instead of going out).

2. Thirty days to track every dime you spend

It’s easy – just keep a notebook in your pocket and every time you spend a penny, jot it down in that notebook. Include everything, from paying the bills to buying a cup of coffee. If a cent leaves your pocket or your checking account, jot it down. Once you have this record, at the end of the trial, categorize the spending and add it up – you might be shocked to see how much you’re spending on coffee (for one example).

3.Thirty days to understand your retirement investment options

Many people postpone making major decisions about their retirement plans because of the sheer volume and complexity of options. Sorting through these can make for a great thirty day challenge. Start by making a list of the things you’re unsure about, then devote some time (half an hour might do it) each day to dealing with these questions until you’re confident about your retirement planning.

4. Thirty days to cook at home

Make a pledge to prepare all of your food at home by yourself for thirty days. At the end of the period, not only will you have eaten much cheaper than you would have otherwise, you’ll also acquire many of the basic cooking skills you’ll need to make such home cooking a normal part of your routine, saving you money over the long haul.

5. Thirty days to develop your presentation skills

Spend the next thirty days looking for opportunities to speak in public – and then follow through with them with appropriate prep work, practice, and execution. Doing this will do nothing but improve your ability to share your ideas in the workplace and gain more acclaim for your skills no matter what you’re doing.

6. Thirty days to seek a new job

Do you feel stuck in your current job? You like what you’re doing, but you feel stuck in place by a glass ceiling or by office politics. What you might need is simply a change in perspective that can come with a new job in your area. Spend a month doing some careful searching for positions that might be available to you. Apply to the most promising ones and see what happens.

7. Thirty days to develop and optimize a debt repayment plan

A debt repayment plan is just what it says it is – a plan you develop and execute to manage your debts and eventually get rid of them. Getting such a plan in order and optimized can require a lot of leg work, though, so devote fifteen minutes each day to getting your plan in place.

8. Thirty days to develop strong personal goals

What do you want out of life? Where do you want to be in a year? In five years? In twenty years? If you don’t know, spend some time thinking carefully about those questions. Put some time aside each day to think about what you really want out of life. Once you have those goals in place, it becomes a lot easier to make choices in your life that work towards something truly big instead of just wandering day to day.

9. Thirty days to improve your work relationships

Professional relationships are the lifeblood of many careers, but it’s quite easy to get caught up in the day-to-day bustle of work and let many valuable relationships die on the vine. Spend a half an hour each day sprucing up these relationships. Touch base by email or Facebook. Make a phone call or two. Stop by an office or a cubicle. Ask what they’re up to and offer what you have to share. Every relationship you build with something of value is something that can help you out later when you really need it.

10. Thirty days to try out budgeting

For many people, a budget feels like a major step, one fraught with a lot of stress and a lot of challenges along the way. However, a well-executed budget can really help you to get your spending under control. Pick up a great budgeting guide, develop one for yourself, and pledge to stick to it for thirty days. If nothing else, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your spending along the way.

11. Thirty days to investigate a new career

Are you feeling burnt out with your current career path? Have you fallen out of love with your work? It might be time to think about a new career. Spend the next month investigating potential alternate careers for your skill set.

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  1. Patrick says:

    If you want to do push up training – visit http://hundredpushups.com/
    I haven’t made it to 100 yet,still working on it, but I like the site and the path to 100 is all laid out for you. Good luck!

  2. Becca says:

    I’ve been doing a sort of 30 day challenge by tracking my cash spending (not bills or anything, but literal cash expenses) to see where it’s actually going, and I’ve found it very helpful. I have a little spreadsheet that I carry around with me that allows me to categorize and write it down immediately. It’s a great tool in addition to receipt saving to really get the full picture of spending habits. There are a few entries about it on my blog, if anyone wants to see the spreadsheet I use.

    I definitely do think it’s a very valuable exercise to do for 30 days, and if you’re having trouble with budgeting, it’s a great place to start.

  3. RJ W says:

    These challenges can be fun. A couple that have worked for myself is tracking every dollar, working out, and flossing.

    In the future, I have always wanted to track what I eat for 30 days and contact a family member each day.

    I got this idea from Steve Pavlina, and find it to be very useful.

  4. Sarah Eliza says:

    Wow, this is such a simple idea, but so good… I have been feeling really overwhelmed with the idea of job searching again, even though my current job has begun to feel intolerable. Focusing my search into a thirty day project just might make it manageable enough to tackle… Thanks! And on that note, if anybody has any job-search / finding your passion related advice, I would definitely appreciate hearing it.

  5. Gabriel says:

    My dad, a professional writer, used a similar thirty day trial to write his first novel. It really helped him stay on track, and his book is fantastic!

  6. Beth says:

    I am also doing a 30-day challenge. I am trying to drink at least 40 oz of water a day and eat at least 2 serv of each veggies and fruit. At first it was just to get myself healthier, and now it has really boosted my savings a little as well. Instead of grabbing a soda or coffee, I know I need to make my water goal for the day so I grab some free water. And same goes for the fruit, as long as I go to the grocery store every week, it’s a lot cheaper to eat an apple or banana then a bag of popcorn or chips everyday. So it’s kinda a two for one deal. If it lasts longer than 30 days hopefully it’ll be a routine I will keep and maybe improve on continually!

  7. Chris says:

    I really believe habits come in series of 3’s. People who have quit smoking seem to break their habits in 3’s. 3 hours, 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months and 3 years. All major milestones to breaking the habit. I think this is similar in concept (it does have a 3 in it).

  8. Gord says:

    This has many similarities to givving up things for Lent, which would be about 40 days. Not that I am particularly religious, just sort of remembering it from childhood. Some might find that is extra incentive to keep working at the change.

    I have used this in the past to change diet habits, by giving up hamburgers for lent. This forced me to look at healthier choices for lunches etc. After 40 days, it does become a new habit, and I went from having hamburgers (and fries) as a meal 5 times a week to now perhaps once a month.

    This idea in general is a great way to make a positive change in your life, and keep it up long enough to make it a habit.

    Tying it to easter and lent kinda forces me to make a positive change at least once a year.

  9. I may have to use the work relationship suggestion. It’s definitely a good idea for developing a new habit. I love the way leo thinks.


  10. Jillian says:

    If you haven’t already, check out hundredpushups.com for pushup training. I’m as unfit as anything and am absolutely amazed at how far I’ve come. I had to repeat some weeks so it’s been longer than 30 days but I’m well on track to complete 100 pushups next weekend. When I started I could only do 9!

  11. brooke says:

    My thirty day challenge is to get into the habit of calling my family more often. I haven’t lived near my family in over 5 years, and I don’t want to look back later and wish that I had called when I had the chance. So, everyday, I take 15 minutes to call and check in with someone I love. I even put it on my calendar at work, so when the day is almost over, I am reminded to call my family that evening. I think it will greatly strengthen my relationship with my family, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to do this thirty day challenge to adopt a new habit.

  12. Elisabeth says:

    For the money tracking one, I recommend wesabe.com.

  13. John Simpson says:

    I love the idea of this 30 day thing. If I were not already doing a 30 day blog turn-around, I’d start this tomorrow.

  14. Merry says:

    Another hundredpushups.com user here. Our whole family is doing it and now the kids remind us when it’s pushup day.

  15. I’m familiar with Leo’s 30-day challenge idea, but I hadn’t ever taken the time to figure out specific areas where I could apply it. Thanks for the list of suggestions.
    One of the things I like about this site is that I often learn new things from the comments, in addition to the information in the posts. To the hundred push ups commenters, thank you. My family has been working on a small exercise program since January, but I’ve been really frustrated with my inability to do a decent number of push-ups. I’m heading over to check out the site.

  16. AnswerGuru says:

    I think the 30 day plan works for a lot of things in life…we are creatures of habit and once a habit “begins” (over 30 days) it can stick with us for a long time. A related post was written by Steve Pavlina:


  17. Dana says:

    I am an avid reader of The Simple Dollar and have been able to put much of your insight to practical use. I have 2 teenagers and a preteen and all of them are involved in many activities. I know you have very young children and that it is hard to put yourself in my shoes. I would like to keep track of my “miscellaneous” expenditures and even try to not spend outside of the regular bills for 30 days but I am discouraged because it is almost impossible for a day to go by where I don’t have to pay $5 for a school dance ticket, $15 for a birthday gift, $7 towards team trophies, $20 for new saxophone reeds (you get the picture). We already have a system of what the kids pay for and what we pay for but these things always come up unexpectedly (like on the way to school). I would love to hear what ideas you have for balancing opportunities for your children (when they are older) and not breaking the bank.

  18. Katrina R. says:

    I’ve been reading Leo’s book too, and I really like this 30-day concept.I’ve put it to work with fellow freelance writers, and we’ve created a system of accountability for 30 days with contacting new editors. It’s so true you can take this simple idea and craft it to help improve areas in your life.

    And your book is next on my reading list, Trent …

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