Last month, Jackson and I decided to participate in a modified, watered down version of No Spend November. We realised that there were a few areas in our life where we weren’t using our money wisely and saw this as a good opportunity to turn that around.
My hope going into this challenge was to strengthen my self-discipline, begin spending money more intentionally, and to increase the amount that we are able to dedicate to debt repayment each month. Rather than declaring all things non-essential to life to be off limits for the month, we started by defining what we would and would not spend money on according to our values and known weaknesses/trouble areas.
In order to make this work, I took a look back through our spending in previous months and identified some areas where spending could/should be reduced, as well as those that provide a high enough return to be worth continuing to invest in, even during a month of reduced spending. This is what I ended up with:
Rent & other monthly bills
Cat food + supplies
Replacing a consumable item that we’ve run out of
Theatre, film, festivals, or other cultural events
One weekend car rental (grocery shop/visit parents out of town)
Dinner out for Jackson’s birthday
New makeup/nail polish
Home decor/other household items
Cake, cookies, etc. (bakery or grocery store) - things I can make at home
I would track our spending using Quicken as usual, but also keep a daily journal to look a bit more closely at my feelings and patterns around the things we were spending money on.
Buying junk food at the grocery store. As much as I loathe to admit it - to myself as much as anyone else - I am an emotional eater. This is a coping mechanism that I once had under control, but have been forced to recognise has become more and more of a problem this year as I’ve struggled a bit with my mental health. Watching the small but alarmingly frequent grocery store purchases for a pint of ice cream here or a bag of chips there add up over the month has been concerning, and I am equal parts grateful to have become aware before doing too much damage to myself and annoyed to feel like I now have one more thing on my plate to tackle.
Tea. Something I found surprising throughout the month was just how much I missed buying loose tea from places like David’s Tea. I found myself getting cranky about not being able to spend money however I wanted in this area, and there were a few instances throughout the month where I almost broke down and just went for it. Overspending on loose tea was one of the things that led me to consider No Spend November in the first place, though, so I restrained myself and eventually it got easier.
We ate healthier meals. Surprisingly, the area where I was the most worried about us caving - takeout - was the easiest to avoid. Sure, there were temptations, but I quickly found that by investing a bit more time in meal prep on Sundays (prepping more dishes at a greater volume), I was able to make sure that we had plenty of quick meals on hand throughout the week for a fraction of the cost of takeout. This meant a lot more home-cooked, veggie-filled meals - even on days when neither of us felt like cooking. Bonus: as an introvert who has really been struggling with stress and anxiety these past six months, those hours alone in the kitchen each week have been extremely therapeutic.
We shopped local more often. Deciding to ditch spending in a few areas decreased the overall amount of money we were spending during the month significantly. This left more room in the budget to invest in local products from local businesses, rather than simply doing all of our shopping at Superstore or other big chain stores.
I began to feel like we have enough. I grew up without a lot, and have spent the twelve or so years since graduating from high school and leaving my hometown slowly clawing my way into the middle class. It hasn’t been easy, and sometimes I feel frustrated about paying back student loans instead of decorating my space to my satisfaction, travelling, buying the things I want without guilt, or being able to pay for more education without going further into debt. I know that I sometimes spend money on things I don’t need - particularly for our home - just because I want to feel like I can. Saying no to those purchases for a month helped me spend more time appreciating the things we already have, and I have begun to realise that just because I started at a bit of a disadvantage doesn’t mean I can’t get to where I want to be - it will just take patience and continued effort.
Our financial position improved. To be honest, the numbers became pretty secondary by the end of the month. Still, it is worth mentioning that restricting our spending in this way led to an increased cushion in our bank accounts and a sizeable chunk of debt repaid. I definitely feel more comfortable about our financial position now than I did a month ago.
It wouldn’t be realistic to suggest that we will continue to restrict our spending in this way forever; however, there are a few adjustments that we’ve decided to make going forward. We will be eliminating takeout completely from our spending and will instead continue to shop locally as much as possible. I have also decided to go without purchasing any new makeup or new/thrifted clothes for at least another month, and will likely keep that up until spring. I’ll continue to drink plain old Tetley from the grocery store on weekdays instead of loose tea, and will buy loose tea for the weekends from a local shop instead of David’s Tea. And - perhaps the most important and difficult adjustment - I will continue to restrict my spending on home decor and furnishings until I have reached debt repayment goals that I’ve set out for myself.
So that’s that. Overall, I’m happy with how the month went and how well we stuck to our plan, and I’m feeling optimistic about our ability to exercise self-discipline and meet our financial goals in the future.
Have you ever participated in No Spend November or any other spending challenge? What did you learn?