The Zoe Report

The 21-Day Pre-Holiday Money-Saving Challenge

Yikes. Somehow, it’s already November, which means we’ve got to come up with some excess cash ASAP for holiday parties, travel and, of course, gifts. It seems like just yesterday we were blowing our entire emergency fund on summer excursions and itty-bitty bikinis, and our bank accounts have yet to recover. If you’re in a similar situation, don’t despair—to help you acquire some holiday savings, stat, we’ve compiled a list of 21 money tricks we suggest you adopt for the next 21 days. Note: If you don’t have a savings account, some banks will allow you to set up a sub-account, which you can simply label “holiday savings.” Or, there’s no time like the present to open a savings account (you should have one anyway)—here, NerdWallet’s favorites. In the tips and tricks listed below, when we say to “transfer” the money into this account, you can also just mentally set it aside—just make sure it goes into your savings account at the end of the 21 days!

Getty Images21 Tricks For Saving Money, FastTry The Daily Dollar(s) Challenge

Set aside $1 today, $2 tomorrow, $3 the next day, and so on. By the end of the 21-day challenge, you’ll have saved $231 in this manner.

Go On An All-Cash Diet

Set up a budget for the next three weeks and then divvy up that amount in cash into separate envelopes for gas, food and etc. When an envelope runs out, that's it—try not to take more cash out under any circumstances. If this method is too low-tech for you, try the SimpleTrack app instead for similar results.

Keep The Change

At the end of each day of the challenge, transfer the change amount in your checking account to your savings account. In other words, if you have $2061.32, for example, transfer the $0.32 to your savings. By the end of the month, these negligible amounts will add up to around $10 or more. If you bank with Bank of America, enroll in its Keep the Change program, which does a version of this automatically. If you're on an all-cash diet, keep a change jar.

Track Your Spending

At the end of each day, write down the total amount of money you spent in the day. Most days, this number will shock you, in a good way. Mindfulness will help you save.

Try A “No-Spend” Day

Once you’ve managed it the first time, this can be an addictive and anxiety-reducing challenge. Repeat as often as possible throughout the 21 days.

Get A Money Buddy

You can pick a friend whose finances you admire, or one who is just as lost as you are—the idea is mainly just to be held accountable to your goals on a regular basis. Here is an inspiring story of how one woman paid of $35,000 in debt this way.

Dry Out

Ugh, we know, but you’ll have plenty of time to imbibe once the holidays arrive, and $8-$15 drinks add up, big-time. The added benefit of this one is that your skin will be clear in holiday photos. 

Scour Your Statement

Scour your last bank statement for any charges of which you might not be aware. Cancel any unnecessary subscriptions ASAP.

Practice A Daily Money Minute

This should be less intensive than the prior exercise—it's just a simple check-in to make sure you don't see any odd charges (double-charges, strange fees, etc.).

Eat In

Think about it—if it costs you $40 to eat out and $5 to eat in, you're saving $35 a day. That's a total savings of $735 in 21 days.

Try Meat-Free Meals

You don’t have to completely give up meat, but if you eat animal protein 3x per day, drop it down to two (and so on). Here are some easy meatless meals that will take you 30 minutes or less to prepare. One uber-affordable hack for those who aren’t necessarily top chef-caliber cooks? Replace your typical protein with beans.

Sign-Up For Digit

This is the most mindless way to save money, ever. According to the Digit website, "every few days, Digit checks your spending patterns and moves a few dollars from your checking account to your Digit account, if you can afford it. Easily withdraw your money any time, quickly and with no fees."

Exercise At Home

Selena Gomez and Jennifer Lopez both have great workouts you can do without spending a dime.

DIY Your Mani/Pedi

Here, our step-by-step guide for even the most amateur of nail artists.

Drive Less

Look at your schedule and see where you can cut drive times—ask a friend to switch dinner locations to somewhere closer to where you live, for example, or route out your errands to minimize mileage.

Tip Yourself

Calculate the amount of money you would have tipped a barista, bartender, or waiter when you skip on that spend (by eating at home, for example), and then pay that tip fee directly into your savings account.


Apply to transfer any credit card debt to a card which offers 0% interest on balance transfers for one year. If you don't qualify for a new card, call your the holder of your debt and ask them to lower your rate—oftentimes, they will just because you asked them to. Then, calculate the savings for the month and put that straight into your holiday slush fund.

Save What You Spend

If you can't live without your $4 latte every day, put $4 into savings every time you buy one. (If you can't afford the $8, total, you can't have the latte—sorry!)

Save Your Savings

When you’re at the grocery store, drugstore or the like, take note of the money you’re saving at checkout with your rewards card, and then actually transfer that amount into your savings account. Even a few dollars a day adds up over time.

Clean Out Your Closet

Generally, we think of this as being more of a springtime activity, but doing it now will enable you to start the new year on the right foot and potentially pad your pockets in the process. Here’s our guide to selling all of your old stuff—clothing, books, electronics and more.

Spend Your Time Wisely

When you're wanting to buy something, take the cost of the item and divide it by your hourly wage. Is it worth that many hours in the office? We didn't think so...