No Spend November
From time to time, my wife and I like to give ourselves challenge. It helps us feel like a team, accomplishing some big goal together and it also let’s us see a little clearer what’s of value to us. Our challenges range from spending every Sunday reading the paper at a different coffee shop, to spending a month without eating sugar, cooking every meal for a week, re-watching an entire tv series together.
Our latest challenge was No-spend November. It came after an expensive Summer of getting married, honeymooning and a change in job situation which left me making less money. This month should have been an easy one: we were traveling to Chicago for a wedding and Thanksgiving was just behind that. Our rules were simple: we’re allowed to buy groceries once or twice a week. Recurring utilities and bills like the gym or subscriptions don’t count. And together we have a combined $100 of “just in case” money. That’s it. No other spending.
For the first three days we would come home and high five at the ease in which we didn’t spend money. Pre-packed lunch. No coffee. No happy hours. We signed up for 3 different dinners-in-a-box companies over 3 weeks, which give you the first box of meals for free (FYI we liked Plated the best. #NotAnAd). The challenges are never hard in the first couple days. It’s always easy when it feels novel and you have a partner to remind you to stay on track. It’s especially difficult if you’re social and like meeting new people. Right now, specifically, when I have more time and doing a little bit of jobbing (I never call it a job “search” which feels a bit thirsty like you don’t know what you’re looking for; that’s a topic for another post). So I’ve been meeting about 3-5 new people a week, which can get pricey in coffees, lunches, happy hours and dinners. On day four I went out to a lunch with a potential employer. We chatted work and future projects and the chemistry was feeling right. When the bill came, I had thought it was going to be obvious– he picked the place and we talked almost entirely about his work and what I could help out with. And then he spoke those three words I was hoping not to hear… “down the middle?” Ok no big deal. Day four and I’ve already spent $20.
Traveling to Chicago for a long weekend was supposed to be cost-free. Spending time with family and driving around site-seeing. Getting to and from the airport, we always take the train and the bus, and this trip was no exception… Except on the way back our flight was delayed and we landed just after 11pm. Google estimated a 90 minute train ride home, or a 22 minute taxi ride. Given we had to be at work the next day, we opted for the taxi, which set us back $40 and went against everything in our bones about how we like to spend money. There was an accidental coffee and a beer that was unavoidable, but we’ve got a few more hours left in the month and we’re under our allotted $100.
There are a few takeaways for me from this month’s experiment. First of all, it’s nearly impossible to see people in NYC without spending money. Even harder in the winter. But you’re always grabbing coffee or beer or meals that you may not even want to have in the first place, but the purchase implies that you have some sort of “right” to use table space. But if the goal is just to talk and get to know someone, or catch up, or visit, then there should be nothing stopping a meeting in the park, going for a walk, or just sitting and not needing to order (that works better in some coffee shops than others, and almost no restaurant).
One big observation is that the people we love, also love this challenge. Our friends, when we were more honest about it, responded so positively and were willing to change plans or help us figure out something more creative to do. We didn’t limit our social calendar because we weren’t spending money. Instead, we spent more time in houses, opening bottles of wine we already had, or bringing food over to cook with our friends. Or going on a bike ride or sharing a home-made lunch In a park and in an office, instead of dropping $20 on a sandwich I could have made. It also felt incredibly easy and empowered to not need anything. Specifically shopping. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, even just a regular Wednesday where I happen to be bored for an hour when I happen to get an email from J. Crew. The things I have are enough (for now) and this month won’t last forever. But I really don’t need any of that. Our bank statement and credit card bill makes us feel good. We were able to save almost double what we normally save in a given month.
It’s not quite a sustainable lifestyle, but it was a really healthy reminder about how dependent we are to spending and thinking that spending money is so necessary. One interesting sidenote and outcome from this month was an increased sense of generosity. While it was easy to feel “cheap” and Scrooge-like, there was something inside us both that made us want to be more generous. We donated to several places after the election to support values we believe in, we donated to friends’ causes and to family fundraisers. Much more than we normally would have, and that feels even better than buying a coffee a day.