No Spend November

Before I tell you all about how we survived No Spend November, I feel I must first acknowledge the position of privilege I have to even be able to undertake this challenge. For many people this isn't a nice way to save some money, or challenge themselves, or even learn more about their relationship with money, but simply the reality of their everyday. Both times we have undertaken this challenge it has highlighted the need for change in our society, namely with the introduction of a living wage. Whilst we enjoy challenging ourselves to do No Spend November, it is not how anyone should have to go through life. 

But that's enough politics for today...

If you followed our No Spend November challenge on my social media accounts you'll already have some idea of how we got on and the rules we put in place for ourselves, but for those of you who are new around here, this is how it works; 

  • Regular bills and monthly payments all go out as per usual.
  • We get our weekly food shop as per usual.
  • We average 2 tanks of petrol a month, both of those are accounted for.
  • We can not buy anything else.
  • If we run out of something mid-week or forgot something in the weekly shop we have to go without.
  • We don't even allow ourselves to park in pay and display car parks.
  • No money is spent.

Now as much as these sort of challenges need a good set of rules to keep you on the right track, there is no point in becoming legalistic about anything. Having done this once before, last year, we already had some idea of what caveats we might want to allow ourselves. These were our exceptions;

  • School related activities and provisions were exempt. Anyone with children will know November and December are the most expensive months of the school calendar with various trips and concerts etc. So as much as I would have liked to say no to the school, it wouldn't really be fair on the children.
  • If we deemed it an emergency or vital for ours and our childrens' health and safety we would make an exception. For example last year our smoke alarm battery died, kind of more important than no spend November, so we got a new battery.
  • We also allowed ourselves to buy Christmas gifts this year. Mostly so I wasn't stressed in December that I had to cram it all in.
  • Work expenses were also exempt, eg. I had to pay for parking at photo shoots, Husband had client meetings in cafes, you get the gist.

Beautiful November light at Rhossili, perfect for free outdoor family fun.

So did we spend any money, I hear you ask?

Sadly yes we did. Quite a few of those afore mentioned exemptions came up. Here's what we bought;

I managed to lose my glasses on day 5. It was so ridiculous too. I put them somewhere "safe" as I was worried about losing them, and I still managed to lose them! I can't read without my glasses, I can't edit photos or write blog posts, and I probably shouldn't drive without glasses either so that was deemed an "emergency." It worked out quite well though as in a regular month finding money for glasses would have made things a bit tight.

We randomly found ourselves with the opportunity to get back my childhood piano which we had in our home when we first got married, but several house moves ago we'd had to part with it due to space issues. There was a November deadline on it, and whilst the piano was free we did need to put some petrol in our kind friend's van who helped us to move it. This was one of those moments when there is no point being legalistic about these things and you make an exception. My Husband is a musician and he had space for it in his studio, so it is now back home, and very much being enjoyed.

As predicted the children had school expenses. We tried to borrow where possible when it came to getting costumes for concerts, and outfits for dress up days. But the trip money and concert ticket expenses were unavoidable.

We did buy some Christmas gifts. I allowed myself the exception with the hope I wouldn't use it. I've had mixed feelings about it for the whole month and part of me wishes we had said no to it. Much like when you are dieting you can only think about eating, when you are doing No Spend November you can only think about spending money. So given that I had an outlet available to me I think I probably spent a lot more time thinking about Christmas gifts and browsing online for ideas than I ever would have otherwise.  However, it does mean that at the end of November I have finished the Christmas shopping for the children, and managed to get a few goodies in the sales and from charity shops for their stockings, and I have been able to buy a few gifts that time wouldn't have allowed if left till December.

Exploring Three Cliffs Bay, Gower. 

What we're the hardest parts of No Spend November? And what did we learn?

I think the hardest part is the isolation. You quickly get used to not spending money, and not popping to the shops at any given moment. After a time I wasn't phased by this aspect, and we planned our weekly food shops well enough that this didn't take it's toll like it did last year. I really didn't miss the "stuff" but I suppose that's not too surprising coming from a Minimalist. But it's the fun you miss out on, not being able to join in with social activities that cost money, and not being able to go out to a cafe to catch up with friends, or even just going somewhere indoors to entertain myself and my 3 year old on rainy weekday mornings. Husband had a few evenings where he would have liked to invite friends to meet up at the local pub, but since he couldn't buy a drink he didn't bother.

You have to think outside the box a bit more in these circumstances, and invite people over more, or head out for free entertainment like a nice walk on the beach, or trip to the park, but November weather doesn't always make that possible. We realised that a lot of our relationships are built around a mutual ability to spend money, you take it for granted, and it no doubt narrows our social circle somewhat too, which isn't something I would actively want to do. A good lesson to learn though, and I hope we can try to make more of an effort when socialising not to make anyone feel excluded based on affordability.

The constant thinking about spending money that I mentioned before, is a very strange feeling, and not a positive thing to experience. I have spent many an evening this month on Pinterest looking for ways to make my house a bit nicer, or to redecorate, and even completely renovate in some instances. I am not sure why, as this is not what I usually do, and generally I feel very content with our home and how we have it. There is a lot of potential in our home that people are quick to point out, the list of things we could do is endless, but I think in part due to minimalism, I can't help but think of everything else I would rather do with the money it would take, should we ever have it. Like go travelling more!

At the start of this month I had no ideas or plans to do anything to our house anytime soon, it was for all intents and purposes "done" until a day we are in a position financially to tackle some of the bigger jobs. But possibly due to No spend November, or maybe even a by-product of more time being spent in the house now winter is here, I have a big old list of plans, and I do not know how I feel about this!

The irony however is not lost on me, of spending a month going without to only end up wanting and maybe even buying more than we would have if we'd never done it. Thankfully minimalism has made me a very thoughtful consumer, and nothing will get ticked off that long list until it has undergone some serious pondering and questioning, which usually ends up with me realising I'm completely fine without any of it.

Exploring at Rhossili. Free fun for all the family.

So after all those tough bits, was there actually anything good about it?

It has been a real blessing this month to find ourselves on the receiving end of other people's generosity. After mentioning in one of my social media posts that I was missing flowers, I was bought not one, but two bunches of flowers from lovely friends, which really did make my week! My Husband and our 7 year old were also given free tickets to a Swansea football match that someone was unable to use. When you find yourself in the middle of a month where fun has been limited quite drastically it was really lovely for them to have such a special treat and to see how excited our son was about it.

When I started the challenge I was genuinely, maybe somewhat naively, looking forward to it. Primarily because I knew it would force us to slow down, and in this aspect it did not disappoint. Instead of popping to the local shop on weekends to buy some fresh bread for our lunch, my husband baked fresh bread every Saturday morning. Not only did it make my house smell amazing, but it tasted so much better than the shop bought bread. My sugar dependancy issues soon forced me into baking too. I can't remember the last time I baked if Im honest. I used to love it and bake all the time but somewhere along the way, in the last few years, it seems to have become reserved for special occasions only. So actually baking some cookies with the children was an unusual thing for me, but it helped to remind me how fun it can be, and it also helped me to see my children are, thankfully, past that stage in baking where it is just more stress and mess than it is worth! 

All this slowing down and having to be a bit more creative in what we did with our time on the weekends inevitably meant we had some much more quality family time together than we might have had otherwise, and that has definitely been worthwhile.

I also picked up my camera more than I might have done. Not being able to get out as much in the mornings with Ezra, our 3 year old, meant I got to document our time at home together a bit more. Our days at home are numbered, as he starts full time school next September, so this was a nice bonus.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the saving money benefit. The unexpected expenses I mentioned earlier meant it wasn't as fruitful as I was hoping. But a large chunk of Christmas shopping has been done with no financial strain being caused, and it's the end of the month and there is still money in our bank account. A very strange experience for us, but one I would be happy to repeat ;)

Mornings at home with Ezra.

So how do you go about doing your own No Spend November I hear you cry?

Well if after reading this you still want to do your own no spend month then I would highly recommend it. As much as I love alliteration it doesn't have to be November. Find a month in your yearly calendar where this would present the least challenges, and then set your parameters. You can use our guidelines above but chances are each household will be different. 

Then, and I think this is an important aspect, you need to go public with your decision. You don't have to post weekly updates on social media or write a blog about it or anything, but find some people you can tell about it and who you can talk to about it too, as it will not only make the process easier but I think it will make it much more likely that you don't just give up half way through. Knowing how many people knew we were doing it is probably the number 1 reason we made it to day 30. 

If you don't feel like you can handle a whole month then why not dip your toes in by trying a no spend weekend, or even a week? What could you lose?

If you decide to give this a try I can guarantee you it will be hard, but I can also guarantee that it will bring a fresh appreciation for all that you do have, and will teach you a lot of things about your relationship with money and your attitude towards spending.

As tough as it has been, and as excited as I am for December 1st, I am genuinely glad that we did it and I feel that it has left us richer, in more ways than one.

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