Last year I took an in-depth look at my savings and checking account. I knew it was fairly healthy, but when I started to poke around, I quickly realized that while I had recently gotten a small bump in pay, my savings account wasn’t growing. In fact, it hadn’t grown in over a year. Of course, I’m lucky to have a savings account at all, but I still wanted to see it reflect my income, and projected savings more than it was.
I crunched some numbers and made a quick spread sheet, inputting my daily and weekly frivolous spending, and calculating the totals with a sum function. The lesson I learned is one we’ve all heard before: the little things add up. I could take this story back even further, because this is a lesson I’ve learned many times. In 2012, I lost 150 lbs. I tracked everything I put in my mouth, and realized it was almost ridiculous how much I’d lied to myself about my input (calories). With this in mind, I wanted to know if my financial output was also grossly underestimated.
So, I saw my problem: I was spending money on things that I thought were essential, but could easily be trimmed. I knew I needed to cut, but why stop there? Why not try and go a full 30 days without spending a dime (or penny for that matter)? I’ll be honest, when I tried this last November, I ended up spending $21, which is cheating, but I think I could’ve avoided that had I been just a bit more prepared. I paid all of my bills early in the last week of October, filled my car with gas, and picked up my prescription early. I did not do one large grocery trip, but that would’ve helped immensely.
Here are the rules I set for myself for No Spend November:
I decided to eat through my pantry/freezer until it was completely out, regardless of whether I was craving takeout. To remain social, I limited myself to walking in the parks, and attending free entertainment (which my city, Philly, has plenty of), and enjoying friends’ company over anything else. I paid off my credit card before November, so that I could focus on my savings. I wanted to still uphold polite etiquette, and bring food/drink to friends’ houses when invited (including Thanksgiving, which of course falls in No Spend November).
I decided that I would not buy coffee, or shop on Black Friday or Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t buy a drink or a meal out, because I couldn’t pay for it. I didn’t want to stiff anyone that performs a service for me because my frugality shouldn’t affect anyone else’s income.
One month after November 2014 (which is when I completed my very first No Spend November), I went to a coffee shop (for the first time in 30 days), and sorted through my thoughts on a month of no spending. Here are a few takeaways from the project:
Dry cleaning is a non-essential, if you learn how to iron a dress shirt. Buying bulk and frozen veggies or meat can make a meal taste great, if cooked properly. Being drunk at a bar is overrated, and I didn’t find it frustrating to be the sober one, while everyone else was buying drinks. However, I did turn down an expensive date on the basis of No Spend November. I took advantage of the free coffee at work and it saved me over $100 because I had not been broken of the terrible habit of buying coffee out, until November 2014. On a related note, not eating out doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight. In fact, I ate a lot of office leftovers, and a few home cooked meals when visiting my parents’ house.
I was surprised at how easy it was to decorate for the holidays using paper, tape and other odds and ends that I found around my house. I managed to throw a potluck dinner cooking a dish I had in my house, and encouraged my friends to come over, cook, and bring BYOT (Bring Your Own Tupperware). We all (myself included) ended up with a good variety of left overs that we ate for lunches for the next few days.
To fill my extra time (not spending money on adventures through Philadelphia freed up an extra five hours per week!), I took up reading and decided to visit every park I could before it got too cold. I also took the time to reconnect with old friends via Skype — it’s free and I got to fill hours with adventurous stories. Volunteering became a big part of my No Spend November plan too, and I have to admit that I got a lot of perks out of those opportunities. For example, I volunteered at theaters and saw shows for free, and learned that soup kitchens hand out their leftovers to the staff at the end of the night.
While it required a lot of planning ahead because I wanted to get a lot of expenses paid before November. The only major bills I paid during November were rent and utilities. This year, I’m not upping the ante, I’m just going to attempt to live on what I’ve got, and have done a few careful preparations for this month. I prepaid my bills in October for the month. I’ve got a few gift cards laying around I’ll try to use to the max. This upcoming month is really about kicking out the daily/weekly expenses that aren’t needed, in my opinion, like coffee, liquor, expensive dates, hair cuts, clothing, etc., and using what I’ve got. It’s not a sustainable lifestyle, it’s a “I need to save money quickly so I can buy gifts around the holidays and grow my savings” month. However, it does teach me that I don’t need all of my extraneous spending, and inspires me to cut back for the rest of the year because it shows me how much of my “necessary” spending isn’t at all necessary.
So, here we are, at the start to another November, and I’m going for round two of No Spend November. I’m excited to see how creative I can get, and how far I can take this. If you’re in for a challenge, want to join me? The beauty is everyone can put their own spin on No Spend November, and give themselves a chance to cut expenses.