For many of us, November and December are the most expensive months of the year. Not only are heating and electric bills high during the cold, dark winter months, but the season is filled with celebrations. It’s wonderful to get together with family to exchange gifts and celebrate traditions, but it doesn’t come cheap!
If you’re worried about being able to make it through the end of the year without breaking the bank, consider a No-Spend November. This annual event is a radical way to cut back on non-essential spending, save a lot of money fast, and reset your financial mindset.
The rules are simple—but simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is No-Spend November?
No-Spend November is a popular challenge that asks you to cut out all unnecessary spending for 30 days. Usually, this means no dining out, no shopping for clothes or housewares, and no entertainment that isn’t free. If that sounds like a bummer to you, then you might be the kind of person who can benefit the most from a month of no spending.
Scientific research has shown that spending so-called fun money—aka retail therapy—can actually make you feel better in the moment. Shopping can help you feel more in control of your life, reduce feelings of anxiety, and supply a hit of dopamine, a feel-good chemical that’s released when you do certain activities.
However, we all know the downside of recreational overspending. A no-spend challenge invites you to be much more mindful of how you spend money and can reveal new ways to get that dopamine without the hefty price tag.
Is This Challenge Right for You?
As with all financial challenges, this one isn’t going to be a good fit for everyone. If you’re already on an incredibly tight budget, then a “no spend” month isn’t that different from any other month. On the other hand, if you’re already hitting your financial goals, then this challenge might not be as helpful for you.
The people who can benefit most from No-Spend November are those who struggle with impulsive overspending or don’t understand where their money goes every month. By eliminating everything except essential expenses, the challenge can help you see exactly how much money you’re wasting every month—and understand the impact it has on your well-being.
It’s also a great way to save money quickly—something that could come in handy if you’re hoping to take a vacation or treat your family to lots of presents this holiday season. The savings you’ll rack up during a no-spend month can make up for an entire season of procrastination if you haven’t been putting money away.
Read More: How to Save Money on Your Holiday Feast
What Can You Spend Money on During the Challenge?
It can be surprisingly difficult to separate “needs” from “wants” in your budget. After all, you could argue that you need to spend money on new shoes or a night out as a form of self-care, right? Well, for the month of November, “retail therapy” is a no-go. Instead, you can only spend money on the following necessities:
- Rent or mortgage
- Utilities, including phone and internet
- Transportation (though try to cut back on unnecessary trips)
- Insurance premiums
- Basic care and cleaning supplies
- Pet supplies
- Essential groceries
If the shoes you wear to work every day bite the dust during November, then yes, you can buy a replacement pair. But in general, shopping, entertainment, dining out, and other “treats” need to wait until December. Not only will this help you save a surprising amount of money in just 30 days, but it will also force you to wait before making impulsive purchases. It’s a lot easier to avoid excess spending when you take away the instant gratification.
How Are You Supposed to Eat During This Challenge?
The most daunting part of No-Spend November isn’t necessarily cutting out “fun money” and putting your recreational shopping habits on hold. Instead, it’s figuring how you’re supposed to feed your family without going against the spirit of the challenge.
Groceries are essential, right? We’ve all got to eat. And if you’re committed to not dining out for the entire month, then you’ll need to buy more groceries than usual. A potential problem here is buying yourself too many “treats” at the supermarket. Ready-to-eat meals, drinks from the in-house coffee shop, junk food, and other high-cost, low-nutrient purchases won’t help you win this challenge. It’s all too easy to tank your budget without technically breaking any of the rules if you splurge too often at the grocery store.
Meal planning is essential for success. Go to the store with a list—and eat before you shop so that you don’t load your cart up with anything that looks good! Shop in bulk whenever possible and stick to store brands if you can. It’s not a bad idea to cut back on meat during this challenge, so look into vegetarian recipes that are packed with protein. If you have a bad habit of letting produce spoil before you get a chance to use it, consider switching to frozen veggies this month. The idea is to spend as little as possible while eating a healthy diet.
Another way to cut back on grocery spending without going hungry: shop your pantry. Before the month begins, take stock of what’s in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer. Make an actual list of everything and then figure out how to use it up as efficiently as possible. For example, if you’ve got several cans of black beans, you could plan to make chili, soup, burgers, and even brownies! Check out this amazing list of recipes from A Taste of Home to get inspired.
But What About Thanksgiving?
There’s one major problem with cutting back on your food budget in November. I’m talking about Turkey Day. Now, if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, then it’s just another Thursday for you. In fact, you can even score some amazing deals on groceries in the days after Thanksgiving. Bonus!
But for those of us who like to gather with loved ones and enjoy a feast each November, the idea of spending zero dollars on Thanksgiving sounds like a pipe dream. Luckily, there’s an easy solution. If you usually host the event, consider making this year a potluck.
Tips and Tricks from No-Spend Champions
Are you feeling inspired to plan a No-Spend November? You’re not alone. Tons of people attempt this challenge every year, and you can find communities across the internet for advice and encouragement. In the meantime, here is some of the best advice from people who have succeeded at this challenge in years past.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Step one: unsubscribe from sales emails! This might seem like a minor thing, but avoiding promotions can have a big impact on your spending habits. If you don’t know that a sale is going on at your favorite store, then you won’t be tempted to check it out. If you’re a frequent online shopper, you can take things a step further by temporarily blocking those sites on your computer or phone. Out of sight, out of mind—and out of your budget, too.
Save Your Gift Cards
Seasoned no-spenders know that moderation is the key to success. While you shouldn’t cheat, there is a loophole. That loophole involves gift cards. Bank any gift cards you might receive so that you can enjoy the occasional coffee or movie night without impacting your budget. Note that this is not an excuse to buy yourself a bunch of gift cards on October 31st!
It’s Harder to Go Solo
If possible, try to get friends or family on board with the No-Spend November challenge. It’s so much easier to stay motivated when you’re part of a group. You can cheer each other on—and encourage each other to get back on the program after a slip-up.
When you’re the only person in your household who wants to try the challenge, expect resistance. And temptation. Stick to your plan! It can help to explain why you’re doing a no-spend month. It’s also a good idea to think about potential alternatives for your usual spendy traditions, such as free date nights and low-key hangouts.
You can easily combine this no-spend challenge with the envelope or cash-stuffing method of budgeting. In fact, the two go together perfectly! Just put the amount of cash you’re willing to budget for each of your essential spending categories—here, that might include groceries, transportation, and basic supplies for your household. If you come in under budget for that pay period, stash the extra cash in savings rather than rolling it over into the next period.
Look for Freebies
Speaking of free stuff, one way to get around the no-spend month is to indulge in free stuff. That can be as simple as “renting” a movie from the library or as involved as signing up on freebie sites. Check out your community calendar for free events that the whole family can enjoy.
Finally, the most important tip for succeeding at No-Spend November is to stay positive. Remember, you’re choosing to do this for a reason! Think about all the money you’ll save and the bad habits you’ll reset! Try to get out of a scarcity-based mindset, and don’t let yourself dwell on feeling deprived of your favorite treats and activities. Instead, look at this as a golden opportunity to try new things!