I Survived No Spend November! Here’s What I Learned — and How Much I Saved

no spend november
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I paid for a $5 yoga class with No Spend-exempt laundry quarters.

I walked past the glorious scents of cheeseburgers, tacos, barbecue ribs and pan-Asian cuisine, arms crossed, breath held.

I successfully survived No Spend November.

And no, it wasn’t easy. But it was so, so worthwhile.

How I Prepared to Freeze My Spending for the Month of November

no spend november
Penny Hoarder writer Jamie Cattanach bought this bike on sale for only $120 on Amazon, down from about $300. Sharon Steinmann / The Penny Hoarder

You may recall the post I wrote a month ago, explaining why I’d decided to take the leap and freeze my finances for a whole month.

(Unhappily, the lovely, brand-new bicycle mentioned and pictured in that post was stolen less than three weeks after I purchased it, and I’ve yet to see it again. I guess that’s what I get for making an impulse purchase!)

Aside from steeling myself for a month-long display of iron willpower, I will admit to some other, more practical preparations.

I went on an extra-large grocery run on the last day of October, making sure I had expensive, non-perishable items like paper towels.

I replaced my dwindling makeup staples (read: black eyeliner) ahead of time, and treated myself to one last manicure.

I was also lucky (-ish?) to discover that my sneakers needed replacing before my No Spend descended: My toes came through the seam between the sole and upper of my right shoe while I was hiking in Georgia over Halloween weekend.

I ordered the same pair from Amazon at a discount, stacked up my rolls of excess toilet paper and took the lay of the land.

I was well-stocked and ready.

What could possibly go wrong?

What I Spent

no spend november
Jamie walks her dog Odin near her apartment in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Of course, No Spend doesn’t really mean spending nothing; I still needed to eat and keep a roof over my head.

As I mentioned in my first post, I also had to travel to Miami to attend a friend’s wedding, and I wasn’t willing to be super frugal in one of my favorite vacation cities.

Here’s everything I spent during No Spend November.

Regular Expenses: $1,331.31

  • Rent: $760
  • Car payment: $400 (Really, I only have to pay $305, but I round up on additional principal to chip away at my debt just a little bit faster)
  • Google Fi: $64.84 (usually $30, but I used more data than normal last month while travelling)
  • Internet: $35
  • Netflix: $10.85 (Although it’ll eventually be just cents on the dollar, since I mostly get it for free)
  • Gym membership: $10.65
  • Spotify: $9.99
  • Dropbox $9.99
  • Microsoft 365: $6.99
  • Dollar shave club: $11 (This monthly expense is usually only $6 — I had to replace my broken handle this time)
  • Contributions to artists via Patreon: $10

Yes, I could have canceled some of those subscriptions — in fact, a few commenters in the Penny Hoarder Community Group on Facebook bravely gave up their Netflix accounts this month. (Kudos!)

I also could have foregone my contributions to artists and journalism this month… but at just $12, I couldn’t really justify taking away funding from causes I believe in.

I am, however, looking forward to upgrading my Dropbox and Microsoft plans to more cost-effective yearly options, as opposed to month-to-month.

Other Necessities: $641.11

Groceries: $352.11

I am crazy happy with this number!

My goal of keeping to less than $100 per week on groceries has been a constant struggle (and failure), so having beaten it feels awesome…

… even though, yes, the fact that I spent five days at home eating leftover Thanksgiving food I didn’t buy probably has something to do with it.

(Oh, and also that I unabashedly stole most of the leftovers from making Thanksgiving dinner for this post — which, again, I didn’t pay for. Whatever, I cooked the darn turkey!)

Gas: $169

This figure’s a little steep, especially since I usually walk to work.

But it includes round-trip road trips to Miami and St. Augustine, which cost me $36.40 and $30.75 respectively, according to Gas Buddy’s trip calculator.

Dentist: $120

Hey, it sucks that my cleaning and checkup were due this month, but I’m not risking my oral hygiene or health over a financial experiment.

Exceptions: See below

I said I would let myself use anything left over from my $400 grocery budget for “fun” and other miscellaneous expenses, which means up to $47.89 of this is totally kosher.

I also decided that my weekend in Miami was essentially a wash.

Creative writing submissions: $12.50

A writing contest I wanted to enter had a $10 reading fee and a Nov. 15 deadline; another journal’s regular submission fee is $2.50.

My creative work is important enough to me to make a sub-$20 exception.

Miami trip: $302.97 total

I paid for my Airbnb months ago (it cost about $250 for three nights), and I factored in the cost of gas above.

  • Splurge meal: $59.90 (go to Uvaggio!)
  • Cuban sandwiches (yes, plural) from Versailles: $37 after sides, drink and tip. Yes, I bought two different kinds. For science!
  • Other meals out: $57.15
  • Miscellaneous expenses (coffee, snacks and other convenience store purchases, non-wedding-open-bar drinking, parking, etc): $92.92
  • Dog sitter and small bag of food: $49
  • Groupon for stand-up paddleboard (SUP) rental: $7

I probably could have eased up on the booze and meals out, although the number’s inflated because a couple of them were in my hometown right before departure. (My fridge was empty, but it didn’t make sense to go to the grocery store.)

Also: The SUP rental was originally $30 per hour, a number I was super-bummed to hear when I called to ask — I couldn’t justify it during No Spend.

But then I put on my Penny Hoarder thinking cap and checked Groupon. Seven bucks? Heck yes.

(Note: SUP is crazy hard, especially in the wake of a busy bay on a beautiful Miami Saturday.)

Seeing “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” at the theater: $13.25

My Harry Potter fandom is the stuff of legends, so I couldn’t miss seeing this on the big screen.

The ticket was $8, and I sprung for the popcorn for $5.25. #sorrynotsorry

Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales: $178.56

OK, here’s where things get admittedly hinky.

I was not at all planning to participate in Thanksgiving weekend sales — in fact, avoiding them is one of the main reasons No Spend November is a thing.

But I ended up making the following concessions to the Black Friday hullaballoo:

  • Old Navy: $68.37
  • Quest Bars: $110.19

Quest Nutrition had a pretty decent sale ($30 off orders of $95 or more), and I eat its products every single day.

It’s food, so technically it counts as groceries, right?

And Old Navy… well. I’ll admit I didn’t need another two pairs of leggings or a cute new dress or three.

But the whole site was 50% off, including clearance items, so I was able to get $30 worth of clothing for closer to $5.

And since I also shopped through Ebates, which was offering 10% cash back (up from an original 2%), and paid using my favorite travel rewards card…  I have to admit, I did pretty darn well. And I know the stuff I got will actually be useful — I wear Old Navy all the time.

So, I spent a total of almost exactly $500 I didn’t have to (exact figure: $507.28).

However I’d already made an exception for the wedding, which takes off $302.97, and I built $47.89 into my grocery budget.

So really, I spent a total of $156.42 more than I’d planned to, almost all of which I owe to finding great deals on items I’ll definitely use. Not too bad!

What I Saved

Here’s the fun part: What would I have spent, had I not been participating?

I’ve never been one to eat out all the time, but I was definitely craving a latte by day three. Looking through my records, I usually spend about $25 to $30 at coffee shops each month.

I also found myself wishing I could pop out and have a glass or two of wine somewhere while diving into a book. Furthermore, I missed a couple of dinner-and-bar-based birthday parties — but don’t worry, both birthday girls know I owe them one next month!

On average, I spend about $100 to $150 per month having drinks on the town.

Of course, I found a ridiculous fare sale less than a week into the month, round-trip from Orlando to London. Big fare sales are never out of Florida terminals! I was pretty bummed… but not being able to pull the trigger saved me $512, plus all the lodging, food, sightseeing and other expenses of the trip — let’s call that $1,000.

And then there’s the little one-off stuff: this random, almost-$30 sweatshirt I almost certainly would have bought; the just-released Twisted Peppermint lotion and shower gel from Bath & Body Works. (What can I say? Christmas scents are my favorite.)

I also came very, very close to nabbing a $40 original drawing of a rattlesnake from a local artist at a craft market.

Walking away from it was incredibly hard… until TPH photographer and visual editor Heather Comparetto suggested I commission the artist for my very own piece come December.

I’m already in the process of doing so — one of the coolest parts of this experiment has been figuring out how I do want to spend my money. (High on that list: Supporting the arts!)

All told, I definitely saved at least $600 this month, and probably closer to $1,500.

Better yet, I learned some great lessons about impulse spending and saying “No,” even when something looks like a bargain. Those lessons are likely to save me a lot more money over time.

No Spend November Takeaways

So now that November’s over, what lessons will I take with me through the end of the year and beyond?

Well, first of all, there’s a ton of fun, free stuff to do — just start browsing Facebook events in your area.

I found several free yoga classes, a free hoop dance class and even a free live opera in Tampa.

I also took lots of long walks and enjoyed several sunsets on the beach.

Plus, I learned that window shopping can actually satisfy my shopping craving — although this tempting tactic may not work for everyone.

Another thing: At this point, I’m crazy good at estimating exactly $100 worth of groceries just by eyeballing the cart.

But the most important lesson I learned during No Spend November actually occurred to me just five days in, as I walked sadly past the “Taco Night” installation of the St. Pete Food and Wine Festival.

I was all ready to feel sorry for myself, unable to participate in the event and taste all the amazing tacos, when I realized something really profound.

I hadn’t even known the festival was going on until I walked past it. I’d suddenly caught a case of FOMO about something I hadn’t even been aware of an hour before.

And that’s what impulse purchases are really attempting to resolve: The fear of missing out on some good or service that’s been effectively advertised to you. I realized that advertising, at its best, is supposed to create a new need — to explain to you why you want something you might not have even been aware of before.

You really only need a few things, and the hot new whatever-it-is probably isn’t one of them. And yes, that’s true in the case of experiences as well as things.

They’re just tacos. It’s just a drink. It’s just a trip to the zoo.

Yes, they’re all experiences — but realistically, the vast majority of our experiences are forgettable ones.

And if you practice saving your pennies instead of spending them, you’ll have the money to buy the experiences and things you really want… and enough time and forethought to figure out what, exactly, they are.

Your Turn: How did you fare during No Spend November? If you didn’t participate, would you next year?

Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.