Sprints can put the rockets on reaching those short term goals

Sprints are often used in organisations to accomplish a more ambitious goal that would not be able to be achieved under business as usual operations. They might seek to speed up a schedule or increase on deliverables. It might be a response to an external opportunity or to catch up on schedule slippages. As the name suggests, sprints are short-term as they are not sustainable and need the application of resources taken from other business areas.

It’s exactly the same for sprints used to fast track or get back on track with personal goals. I used sprints a couple of times last year to help with my personal finance focus.

If you have set yourself a money saving goal that is important enough, you might be willing to make some additional sacrifices in order to get you there a little quicker. Alternatively, you might have slipped into spending habits in areas that you don’t actually value that much and need a bit of a detox to reset. If you’ve set yourself SMART goals and set up a budget, you’ll be able to see exactly what the impact will be and then work out whether or not it’s worth making the changes permanent or making the sprints more often.

If you’re in any way competitive, you might also find these as a fun kind of challenge!

A zero-spend day

A lot of saving money is around preparation, so that you don’t have to spend money for the sake of convenience. Setting yourself the challenge of a zero-spend day is a great way of thinking through what you need to do to prepare in order cut down expenditure on daily habits. You can then add these preparations into how you pack your day-bag and your regular shopping list, to help build some of these cuts into your routine. Once you’ve identified how you can achieve a zero-spend day, you can repeat the challenge with not much additional effort.

I swap barista coffee for instant, a bought lunch for a pack-up and forego takeaway dinner for cooking with what is actually in your fridge. I avoid the office snack bar and opt for a cup of tea and a square of dark chocolate. Try cycling or walking to work for the day, or swapping the car for public transport. Going for after-work drinks? Order water with a squeeze of lime.

As it’s only for one day, you can try things out that you are unlikely to commit to longer term to see how they feel. Plus, it can help reset your mindset if you need a bit of a dopamine detox from convenience purchases.

A zero-spend week

A whole week of not spending on non-essentials needs a bit more planning. For a zero-spend week I spend Sunday morning prepping packed lunches, and make sure that I’ve planned my meals and shopped appropriately. I’m much more likely to resort to takeaway if I don’t have things in the fridge. The weekend also adds the challenge of looking for zero-spend entertainment. Make use of things you have already paid for like subscriptions or board games that you already own, or free things like a hike or art gallery.

If you want to push this challenge, you can add in zero-spend on groceries for the week by using up what’s already in your cupboards and freezer. I combine a zero-spend week with my biannual clear-out.

Do an Ocsober or dry July (in any month)

The difference between the cost of drinking in pubs and bars and drinking at home is much more than eating out vs eating at home. Profit margins for drinks in restaurants are also much higher than they are on the food. I prefer to make this a sobriety challenge rather than just switching to drinking at home, as it forces you to separate out the social experience from alcohol. You also don’t need to persuade anybody else to change their habits, asking them to come over to your place instead of meeting up in that nice new craft beer pub that is close to work.

Taking a month off alcohol is a pretty common thing to do now, so there’s no problem telling friends what you’re doing so that you’re not expected to go in on rounds. Choose a non-alcoholic drink that is not a similar cost to the real thing – avoid mocktails and go for plain juice, soda or even water with a squeeze of lime or lemon (most places do this for free). Remember, you are there to socialise not because of the drinks! If you are meeting with a larger group, cut down the time that you spend in the pub by arriving a bit later and leaving a bit earlier.

Take a holiday that stays in your regular budget

Can you take a holiday that doesn’t cost more than your regular spending?
Everyone needs a holiday, but you don’t need to turn an annual vacation into a big savings goal. Try and think outside of the box, and see if you can limit the cost of your holiday to your regular budget during work time. The money you save on not paying for transport to get to work, parking, lunches and after-work drinks can be added up and put towards a trip.

Think local – where can you drive to (or even cycle to?) that you’ve always been meaning to visit but just haven’t got around to? Can you turn it into a road trip? Look into camping instead of shelling out for a hotel, and avoid expensive tours and activities and opt for self-guided and low-cost attractions. Don’t feel like you need to eat out for every meal – pay a visit to a supermarket at the start of your trip and only eat out if there is somewhere special that you want to eat. Remember, views are free! A picnic on the beach can be just as nice as eating in the café that overlooks it.

Do a non-essential-zero-spend month or year

A year might seem like a long time to sprint, but in the grand scheme of your entire life it’s not that long.

Decide before you start what your rules are on what is essential and non-essential. Some things are clear cut – food is essential and clothes are probably non-essential. But what if your laptop falls off the table and breaks? Can you still subscribe to Netflix? Are haircuts essential?

Last year when I was focusing on my personal finance, I set myself a budget for all non-essentials. This made me pick and choose, and instead of justifying everything I was forced to prioritise. Home haircuts and not buying clothes made way for an allowance for nice wine with friends, heritage seeds for my garden and BLTs at my favourite cafe on Saturday mornings.

Further reading

Have you sprinted towards any of your personal goals this year? Any tips for setting these challenges and sticking to them?

I am not a financial professional. This blog anecdotes my personal story and should not be interpreted as advice.