No-Spend November – How to Win It

Paper pumpkins, leaves and acorns around the word "thankful" on a wood table
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Cold air is finally here, and Christmas decorations are all over the drugstores. After binging on Halloween candy you’ll be ready to swear off chocolate for a month. Is it time to take the No-Spend November challenge? Yes, it is, and this is how you can win it.

What Is the No-Spend November Challenge?

No-Spend November is a spinoff of the popular No-Shave November, a cousin to the Movember movement, which started as a movement to raise cancer awareness among men. Fortunately, you’re allowed to groom yourself during the No-Spend November challenge!

Why November? November is, after all, the month of Black Friday and very often Cyber Monday too. Why not a No-Spend February when the calendar automatically gives you two fewer days to blow your budget? The answer is simple: if it was easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge. November is genetically modified to make you do the maximum amount of impulse buying. If you can master that beast, your budget skills are a double black belt.

What about Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwaanza gifts? What about the blowout Thanksgiving dinner you’re planning for the family down to the third and fourth cousins? Of course, you have to buy gifts, you have to celebrate life. The No-Spend November Challenge isn’t about renouncing life and moving to a cave on top of the tallest mountain, it’s about becoming aware of your spending also known as budgeting — and not letting yourself get swept away by all the excellent marketing that kicks in around mid-October.

You will spend money in November, but this year, you’ll spend it smart.

How to Prep for No-Spend November

Of course, that means the time to start prepping for No-Spend November is now. The first thing you want to do is prepare a budget. Some great apps help you make a budget and keep to it, like Rocket Money. You can also create a budget in Excel if you’re feeling DIY-y. Figure out everyone you need to buy a present for, everyone who will eat at your house this season (including yourself!), and most of the fun holiday stuff you’ll do.

Yes, most of the stuff because there will inevitably be a situation where you realize you forgot something, and you’ll be tempted to spend. But you have to ask yourself, do I need this? Will the good feeling I get from buying something cute that caught my eye while I was walking down the street or scrolling through Instagram be better than the good feeling I get when I have an extra $1,000 at the end of the month?

You can give that thought extra weight by planning what you’ll do with the money you save. First, figure out how much that might be by looking through your receipts for September to now and seeing all the things you bought that really weren’t worth it. $100 for a shirt you haven’t worn yet, $45 for random coffees throughout the month, $200 for eating out! If that all added up to $1,000, what do you wish you could have spent it on? Make that your goal.

How to Stick to Your Plan

Like I said before, you will be tempted to splurge now and then. That’s life, and we just have to deal with it by making it a part of the plan.

Every successful diet bakes in a couple of “cheat days.” Go for a week without carbs and you get a night of unstructured indulgence that might feature pasta and a big-bodied, earthy red wine. The same goes for your No-Spend November budget. The key is to make the rules so that you really earn your cheat. For example, if you have many unused gift cards in your wallet, that spending doesn’t count against you.

Or maybe try only spending with cash. Psychology tells us that you’re a lot less likely to spend when you feel the pain of parting with cash. Spending with a card or using an app that makes buying as easy as a swipe lets you forget or ignore the money coming out of your wallet. When you actually have to see the bills in your hand as you give them to the cashier, and when you look inside your empty wallet, you think twice about your purchases.

Finally, if you earn the reward by making yourself stick to difficult pre-set rules, it’s that much sweeter. You actually get more joy out of shopping when it’s difficult.

To Recap:

  • Create a budget, whether with an app or in a spreadsheet.
  • Add up your receipts for September and October and see how much you spent on stuff you regret. Make that your savings goal.
  • Tell the kids you’re not buying anything randomly thrown into a shopping cart until after Christmas. (That goes for in-app purchases too.)
  • Give yourself some flexibility — either say ahead of time you’ll have a couple (meaning exactly two) “cheat days,” or use cashback apps or survey sites to pad the budget with extra earnings.
  • Make a plan for the money you will save.

This last one is the most important. You should probably put some of that savings in a high-yield savings or a retirement account. But you should also reward yourself with a treat that lets you feel good about your discipline over the last 30 days. Plan a date night or take the family to the Holiday Spectacular. Whatever it is, it will be a fun reminder that you deserve a little fun at the end of the year.

Read about micro-investing and how to get started with our complete guide: Micro-Investing: What It Is, Why It’s for You, and How to Start.

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