How to Succeed at a No-Spend November
November is just around the corner. The holidays are coming quickly and spending can easily creep up with them leading to a busted budget. I’m not immune to extra spending either.
It’s sometimes a struggle to stay frugal. I love saving money, but November is full of temptations. I already know I’m going to be contributing to Thanksgiving dinner and then hitting up subsequent Black Friday sales. If just thinking about these kinds of events cause you stress and anxiety, then a No-Spend November may be the perfect challenge for you.
You may be wondering what a No-Spend November entails. Instead of doing a cleansing food diet to get your eating back on track, you do a spending fast to get your finances back on track. Let me share some tips for how it works and how you can be successful at it.
A No-Spend November doesn’t mean cutting out all spending. I’m sure you have bills to pay and food to buy to feed you and your family. No one can fault you for spending on those things. The key to this challenge is to identify what’s essential versus non-essential. You keep the essentials and drop the non-essentials.
Decide on a goal
As with any challenge, one of the best ways to motivate yourself is to start with a goal. Why are you saving? Do you want to buy something in particular – Christmas gifts, car repairs, new shoes? How much do you want to save? Do your finances allow you to save $300 or $1000?
When I did a no-spend month, I didn’t have an amount in mind to save. My goal was to prove to myself that I didn’t need to spend money to have fun. I filled my weekends for the entire month with free activities to prove to myself that I could enjoy being both creative and frugal.
Figure out what’s essential
Most no-spend months differentiate between essential and non-essential spending. A no-spend month isn’t meant to bring you terrible deprivation. You can still buy gas so you can commute to work and pay your utility bills to keep the lights on and water running. A no-spend month focuses on trimming your non-essential spending.
Take a look at your budget these past three or so months and identify what you’ve been spending on. Which are your essentials and non-essentials? Common essentials include rent or mortgage payments, groceries, health insurance premiums, and childcare. Many things like manicures and gym classes can slowly make their way into the essentials category if you’re not careful.
Once you have that figured out, you can decide how to approach your no-spend month. Some people take a more lenient approach. That might mean deciding to give up a few things like buying coffee and eating out for lunch. Others may be stricter about their approach and cut out all unnecessary spending. Which path you take is up to you depending on your goals.
Take a look at what’s coming up in the month ahead so that you can prepare yourself for obstacles to your no-spending challenge. If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving and know you’ll be spending more on meals out and entertainment with family, then it’s going to be hard to stick to a no-spend month. You can give yourself a break from the challenge when you’re on a vacation and continue when you return home. Or you can try to get your family on board and hope they’ll be eager to join you in the challenge.
One of the most common non-essential expenses I see is dining out. It’s so easy to stop into a restaurant or a grocery store with ready-made food and buy some on your way home from work. You can prepare to eliminate eating out by meal planning. Gather recipes and ingredients that you know are quick and easy to make. Then stock your fridge and cabinets each week with what you need. You might even take a day out of each week to prepare all your meals and then refrigerate or freeze them to make them last longer.
If you’re worried that you’ll get thrown off track by your social circle, let family and friends know about the challenge so they can support you. Back when I was paying off my student loans, I told my family and friends that I wasn’t going to travel until they were paid off. I got a lot of support and encouragement because they understood. You might find friends and family to be very supportive of your participation in the no-spend challenge.
Is online shopping your weakness? Unsubscribe to emails from online retailers. If you find yourself missing them after a month, then you can sign up again. Chances are though that you won’t even miss receiving them and the money saving will continue. Do you have gift cards or credits to redeem? This might be the time to gather them up and keep them at hand to use with the itch to shop strikes. Brainstorm what other challenges you might face during the month so you can prepare to handle them.
Related post: How to Talk Finances with Your Partner
Figure out alternatives for your challenges
A second tactic to help you succeed at the no spend-challenge is to find alternatives for the moments you know you’ll be challenged. As mentioned above, one way to tackle the urge to eat out is to plan your meals ahead of time. You’re more likely to eat at home if you have easy meals to cook with ingredients already on hand.
If you like to shop, put together a list of other things you can do when the urge to shop strikes. You could take a walk outdoors, practice an instrument, read a book, or clean out your closet. You might even find a new hobby out of all the extra time that you don’t spend money.
A few other challenges and alternatives:
Your friend’s birthday dinner —> invite your friend over for brunch
A musician you want to see is playing in town —> go to a free show and see the musician the next time around
You want to start guitar lessons —> Borrow a guitar from a friend and start learning with free online tutorials
Yoga class at a studio —> hit the gym with a membership you already have, use a video tutorial, or go for a hike outdoors
Shopping for new clothes —> mend a few buttons and holes in the clothes you already have to make them wearable again
Wine tasting at a vineyard —> invite friends over and have some wine and cheese at home
Visiting a museum —> take a self-guided walking tour of your city and take pictures of your own
Running out of makeup —> use an alternative in your makeup kit or do without
The key here is also to avoid things that make you want to spend your money. Focus on alternatives and the goal you set for yourself. Imagine how happy you’ll be when you achieve it.
Related post: How to Stop Unnecessary Spending Once and for All
Remember that it’s for a limited amount of time
You might encounter difficulty or resistance to the no-spend month, whether from yourself or others. When that happens, remind yourself that you’re only doing it for 30 days. You can do most everyday things for 30 days, things like riding your bike to work instead of driving the car, washing dishes instead of using the dishwasher, eating the Keto diet, and cutting your non-essential spending.
The first time I did a no-spend month, I did it for the first two-three weeks without even realizing it. Once I saw what was happening, I was happy to let it continue and see if I could save for the entire month. The second time I did it was much more difficult as I found more things I wanted to spend money on. I became a grouch but stuck it out because it was for only one month.
Calculate how much you’ve saved and reward yourself
Celebrate your success at the end of the month. Calculate how much you’ve saved and reward yourself! It may be that you spend the money you saved on something you really want or you just give yourself a pat on the back.
If you’re doing this in November, this is a great way to start your holiday shopping. You have some money saved and now can responsibly spend on family and friends.
Related post: 8 Tips to Manage Holiday Spending
A No-Spend November isn’t an easy task. November is a particularly hard time of year to save money because of the holidays, social events, and sales that go on. For those that are having a hard time with the idea of not spending for 30 days, try it for a week or two and see what you think. You might be motivated to continue for the whole month.
You can also move the challenge to January or any other month of the year. No matter how long or when you do it, if you stick to it, you’ll be better off than when you started. And that’s something to celebrate.