Improve your life with a 30-day challenge

calendar on table
Public Domain MaxPixel -- You can do anything when it's limited to a single month!

Life is more manageable when it's divided into month-long chunks. Use it for self-improvement.

Have you ever embarked on a 30-day challenge? There's something greatly appealing about the idea of trying something new for a defined period of time. Perhaps you want to develop a skill, adopt a healthier habit, or track a specific behavior.

The month-by-month approach is helping me tremendously with financial awareness. For the first time ever, I tracked every dollar I spent in January, in an effort to understand exactly where my money goes. Tallying up the numbers today, on the first day of the next month, was an eye-opening experience. Thank goodness February offers a fresh challenge to bring those numbers down further!

Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar delves into the value of 30-day challenges in a recent article. He likes to use these challenges as a way of introducing new habits into his life, tackling a new one each month while continuing the old ones. He says it's effective because:

"Thirty days is not quite long enough to burn a new routine in as a new personal habit or routine that you do naturally... However, 30 days is long enough to figure out whether this is a habit you want to continue and it’s long enough to start seeing at least some benefits (or drawbacks) from that new habit or routine."

Hamm goes on to suggest a wide range of 30-day challenges that sparked my curiosity. His are mostly finance-based, since he writes for a finance blog, but as you'll see from my favorite picks in the list below, they run over into other areas of one's life as well. Here are the ones I found most interesting:

#1: For 30 days, make all of your meals from scratch.

Spending can skyrocket when you start paying for food outside the home, especially if you're feeding a family. I know that, if I eat out with my kids and husband, we easily spend one-third of our monthly grocery bill in a single meal. If you're paring back on food expenses, this is the best place to start. More: 5 ways cooking from scratch will change your life

#2: For 30 days, don't use a credit card for any purchases.

I would struggle with this one, since my husband and I purposely use our credit cards for most expenses in order to get the travel points that have paid for numerous family trips. However, Hamm makes the wise point when he says that credit cards "make purchasing way more convenient, which means it is far easier to make spending mistakes and buy things you can’t afford or have forgotten about." It would be a good exercise for anyone to stick with a cash budget for one month.

#3: For 30 days, don't turn on the TV (or iPad!).

Any regular readers will know I love this suggestion. Especially if you have kids in your house, this can be a very rewarding experience. Hamm's main motive for doing this is to improve quality of life by creating time for hobbies and more sleep, while reducing exposure to advertising, which in turn reduces the inclination to spend money. More: 7 strategies for keeping kids entertained without screens

#4: For 30 days, keep your thermostat five degrees lower than normal.

This is reminiscent of something I wrote about a few weeks back, how one financial independence blogger I like, Ms. Our New Life, suggests being "hardcore" about one thing in life. For her, it's keeping the house cool. The benefits go beyond financial savings; read more about it here.

#5: For 30 days, brainstorm each day 10 gift ideas for someone in your life.

Huh? Maybe you're scratching your head, as I did when I first read this, but Hamm explains his reasoning:

"It’s simple. By the end of the challenge, you should ideally have a list of 10 good ideas for everyone in your life that you ever have to buy gifts for. Now that you have those lists, you have ideas for all upcoming gift occasions with a ton of lead time between now and then. This means you can start searching for those very items to find huge bargains on them."

Brilliant, isn't it? For those of us without a knack for gift shopping, this challenge promises to make life much easier. I'm going to start right away.

These are just a few of Hamm's suggestions (see the whole list here), but there are so many others out there. It's the start of a new month today, so why not choose a 30-day challenge for yourself?

There is the Minimalists' 30-day challenge to get rid of a number of items each day that corresponds with the date, i.e. 1 item on the 1st of the month, 15 items on the 15th day. Read more about it here.

Anushchka Rees has an interesting 30-day challenge to introduce you to mindful, minimalist living.

If you've been wanting to try veganism, why not participate in Veganuary... in February? (Yes, I realize February only has 28 days, but you can spill over into March.) Having an end date will make it easier to manage, and who knows? You might not want to stop when you reach the end.

As for myself, I plan to continue to track expenses obsessively, avoid spending on unnecessary items, and do a simpler version of the minimalist challenge, which involves removing a single item from my home each day.

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