For the last few years, many people have been treating the month of November — the proverbial calm before the storm of holiday spending — as a time to drastically cut unnecessary spending. I tend to shun fad diets, the latest fashions, and have no clue what’s trending on Twitter, but this trend might actually be worth participating in.
A Myriad of Motivations
So why do people decide, out of all the months in the year, to stop spending in November? Everyone has a slightly different answer, but here are the most common motivations:
- To prepare for the glut of holiday spending in December
- To recover from the glut of holiday spending, if you’re an early shopper
- To ‘make up’ for lost momentum on financial resolutions started in January
- To find “leaks” in your budget
- To accomplish specific budget or financial planning goals
- To get back in control of debt
- To boost savings and emergency funds
- To give back to others, perhaps through a favorite charity organization
And the Rules Are…
When I started looking for a set of rules or guidelines for this “No Spend November,” I expected to find certain financial gurus’ multi-step plans. In actuality, the only ‘rule’ seems to be: make rules. The specifics will be customized to your personal goals and financial situation. In general, people strive to cut their excess spending by sticking to necessities: rent, bills, food — needs only. Even then there is deviation in how people define categories such as food: strictly groceries, or some eating out? Others might cut into ‘bills’ that are actually unnecessary services like regular tanning, magazine subscriptions, movie or book clubs, etc. The point is, your ‘no spending’ plan will look a lot different than mine, apart from a few simple guidelines:
- Make cut and dry rules (no gray areas). The less complicated your plan is, the more likely you are to follow it and succeed.
- Prepare for it to be challenging: it’s essentially a ‘crash diet’ for your finances. The key difference is that, unlike crash diets, disciplining your spending will be less likely to pose a hazard to your health.
- Find ways to keep it fun. You might start to feel like a martyr after declining a few invitations to eat out, so divert yourself with other forms of fun. Use the time you would have otherwise spent eating out, going to a movie, or shopping as a chance to pursue a hobby or creative project. Spend a little more time with your family, or invite a friend over for a cup of coffee.
- Keep your goals in mind (and view). For a constant reminder of why you’re torturing yourself, incorporate a practice used in other forms of discipline: physical, visible inspiration. This might be as simple as a 4×6 card on the back of your front door you can see every time you leave the house and face the temptation to spend, or giving the goal a code name on your planner.
Tips for Success
If you’re struggling with specific ways to handle spending differently during your spending freeze, here a few ideas others have found successful:
- Track what you’re saving over the course of the month. There’s no greater motivation than seeing that number grow larger and larger.
- Take your credit or debit cards out of your wallet, and reset the passwords to your online shopping accounts.
- Take out set amounts of cash each week for expenses like food and gas.
The goal of a No Spend November is not perfection but progress, because we’d all be disappointed otherwise. Even small steps can lead to huge changes, such as:
- New awareness of the location of ‘leaks’ in your budget
- More money in your pocket (some report more than doubling their savings!)
- A better handle on debt
- A more secure emergency fund
- Clues about your next best financial moves (better job, different location, smaller car payment)
Lastly, deciding to do a “No Spend November” can permanently change your perspective on spending, budgeting, and saving. And that’s the ultimate payoff.
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