Contrary to popular belief, Florida does have seasons. We just catch up a little late.
Now that the air’s finally dropped a few degrees, pumpkin spice lattes have been spotted or sipped and leggings have fully regained their status as pants, we’re finally closing in on our admittedly laughable version of winter.
For someone who lives in scathing summer heat almost year-round, that’s exciting for a lot of reasons. But it’s also worrisome.
Winter’s arrival means lots of holidays — which can mean lots and lots of spending.
Christmas presents, big family meals, dresses for holiday parties and winter weddings (yes, it’s a Florida thing)… as excited as my heart is for all the celebration coming up, my wallet is cowering in the corner.
So to get ahead of what could easily become a financial mess, and to improve my budgeting skills in general, I’ve decided to take the plunge.
This year, I’m participating in the month-long spending freeze called No Spend November.
What? Why? How? Yeah, I’m reeling, too — but here’s my plan, and how you can jump on board if you’re facing the same set of winter worries.
What is No Spend November?
The idea behind this month-long challenge is pretty simple: Stop spending money on anything that’s not essential.
By doing so, you’ll find leaks in your budget: Those little, one-off ways you nickel and dime your bank account that don’t seem so bad, but keep you from saving for the financial future you really want.
For example, one of my favorite weekend pastimes is to hit the cinema. That movie ticket’s only eight bucks, right? But then there’s the popcorn (whose clarion call I can never seem to resist), and the cool new film coming out next weekend.
Before I know it, I’ve blown $50 over the course of a month on this “cheap” activity — all while I’m still struggling to pay down my auto loan.
And that’s just a budget leak I know about.
By forcing me to step away from all non-essential spending, No Spend November will reveal other places I don’t realize my money is going. And since it’s only for a distinct, limited time, none of the sacrifices I have to make will feel too overbearing.
As far as a specific strategy goes, when it comes to No Spend November, you make your own rules. You decide what’s essential and which caveats you’ll include.
My own rules are simple: With the obvious, unavoidable exceptions of regular bills, gas and groceries, I will not spend any money in November.
No meals out, no cocktails with friends, no last-minute drop-in yoga classes — and, most harrowingly of all, no coffee shop coffee. For a month.
Why, oh why, did I pitch this idea, again?
Why I’m Participating in No Spend November
To be perfectly honest, I know my budgeting problems go a lot deeper than blowing some money at the movie theater.
Penny Hoarder confession time: I sometimes use that “It’s on sale!” mentality to spend money I might otherwise have saved.
For instance, a $600 round-trip fare sale to Dublin looked too good to be true. It was only available for a limited time, so I jumped on it.
Let me be clear: The trip was incredible.
But after car rental, accommodations, food and everything else, my actual expenditures were close to $3,000 — a price I probably could have paid for an all-inclusive trip planned much better than my own.
Or we could talk about the (gorgeous!) bike I just bought. It was on sale for only $120 on Amazon, down from about $300! How could I pass it up?
But after I bought a cute basket to go with it — I mean, come on, I had to — and paid the neighborhood bike shop to give my shoddy assembly a safety-ensuring once-over, I wasn’t far off from doubling the sale price.
Deals can very quickly become financial duds if you don’t actually need the item, or if it causes you to spend money you weren’t initially planning to spend.
So I’m using the month of November — prime time for big, often-impulsive spending — to get a handle on my budget once and for all.
Along with the rules I’ve described above, I’m limiting my grocery budget to $100 per week. That includes everything — paper towels, toiletries, dog food, all of it.
If anything’s left over, I’ll allow myself to use that little bit as fun money… but considering I average more than $100 per week on this line item as we speak, that seems unlikely.
Final rule: The money I spend on laundry doesn’t count, because I already have a stash of quarters reserved specifically for that purpose.
Needless to say, this is gonna be a challenge.
Things I’m very happy about:
- Six bottles of wine are currently headed my way courtesy of an awesome Groupon I nabbed, so at least I’m covered there.
- I already purchased my favorite holiday tchotchke: cinnamon brooms (yes, plural; I have a big one for my house and a teeny one for my car).
- GUYS I AM GOING TO SAVE SO MUCH MONEY
Things I’m not so happy/a little worried about:
- … OK, this is embarrassing to admit, but I somehow got into the habit of getting professional manicures and pedicures every two weeks and I’m really not looking forward to ditching them.
- I have a wedding to attend in Miami this month. While I’m allowing myself a caveat here — I mean, I’m going to have to eat a meal or two out since there’s a road trip involved, and I refuse to not have a mojito and a Cuban sandwich — I’m concerned that the trip’s expenses might offset some of my no-spend savings.
- I was also just invited to a friend’s November birthday party, and it involves going out for dinner and drinks. Do I skip dinner, just come later for drinks and clutch a glass of water? Do I bring a flask instead of buying her a shot?
My life just got a little more complicated. Good thing it’s only for a month!
Need Help on Your Budget? Join Me in the Challenge!
There are lots of reasons you might want to give your own finances a pre-holiday makeover.
It could help you save money for Christmas presents, set the tone for a financially fit new year or even just reassure you that your budget’s on point.
But no matter your personal reasons, if you choose to participate in No Spend November, we’ll be here to support you!
I’ll be keeping track of my challenges and triumphs this month to write a post summarizing what I learned come December, but I’d love the opportunity to share those struggles and takeaways with you real-time.
So if you plan on participating, post your own rules, progress, complaints and discoveries in our community Facebook group.
Here’s to an interesting November — and a healthier budget for December and beyond.
Your Turn: Will you participate in No Spend November? Keep in touch in our community Facebook group!
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder who might just be in waaaaay over her head with this no-spend November thing. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.