How Military Families Can Prepare for a No Spend November

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(Mary Davis/DVIDS)

Each year, Americans start spending money for the holidays earlier and earlier. This year, we saw Amazon Prime days in October and are already gearing up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. In 2018, $6.2 billion was spent by Americans on Black Friday and $7.9 billion on Cyber Monday.

While 2020 is the year of the unpredictable, we’re still going to see high spending for the holidays. And when combined with the additional costs of child care, reduction in wages for spouses who were working outside the home and the mess surrounding military moves, the impact of the holiday spending may not truly be seen until January. Yup -- that’s right around the time the payroll tax deferment repayment period begins.

So how can you plan to enjoy your gift-giving season and make smart financial decisions? One idea is by jumping on the “No Spend November” bandwagon. Before you worry that we mean you should spend nothing in November, hold on, keep reading. No Spend November doesn’t mean not spending any money at all -- because that’s not practical for most of us.

Typically, families define their No Spend November by eliminating “extras” like Netflix, clothing purchases or eating out. Some set very tight food budgets and eat out of their pantry as much as possible. Others use it to say “no” to extra activities that come up during the month. It’s completely up to you. There are no firm “no spend” rules.

But what does that actually look like and how do you do it? Here are some tips.

Set Goals

Lacey Langford, an accredited financial counselor, says that winging your No Spend November is not the best idea. “Have a plan for why you're doing it, what you want to accomplish, and how you're going to make it happen.”

Some people are using the month to save up for holiday spending, while others are working toward a year-end savings goal and some are looking to pay off debt. By stipulating how much you want to save this month you can look at what costs you need to reduce and what you can keep. You can also measure your progress.

Make Your Rules

The first thing I recommend is to set your personal ground rules for what it means to you. Be sure to communicate this to your spouse or partner if you have one, so you are both on the same page,” said Ryan Guina, Military.com financial columnist and owner of The Military Wallet.

It’s important to realize that your No Spend November may look different than your neighbors. That’s OK because you likely have different financial goals and lifestyles. The plan is for you to save money in a way you can.

Figure out what you can’t cut.

You can’t go an entire month without spending a single dollar, so you need to start by establishing what you must spend money on.

Guina said, “Most people define No Spend November as only spending money on essentials, such as bills, food, transportation, and work-related expenses.”

But he cautions that Thanksgiving and holiday expenses may creep into the budget if you haven’t figured out how to deal with them. Planning will help with this as well as making a list of the things you have to spend money on.

Then look at what you can eliminate.

Food is one of those grey areas. Yes, you need to eat and will probably need to buy milk, bread and vegetables. But you can also be creative. Navy spouse and Military.com financial columnist Kate Horrell suggests shopping the pantry first.

“Start every week's meal plan by going through your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. When you have random ingredients, do a google search on them and find a way to use them,” she said.

Creativity is key.

Guina, Langford and Horrell all mentioned being creative. Not spending money doesn’t mean you stop living, just that you’re more deliberate. Guina suggests having friends over for appetizers and drinks instead of going out for happy hour as a way to cut spending. Horrell mentions avoiding extra trips for errands and trying to cut back on using gas.

Avoid temptations.

This one is the hardest thing to do, especially during November, but it may be the missing link. Take some time to unsubscribe to all the emails you get that tempt you. Avoid going into stores (ahem, Target) and maybe change your route so you don’t pass Starbucks anymore.

Horrell suggests one more step here, “Identify your favorite retailer, and pledge to not make any purchases from them for the month.”

As you inch closer to your goal, you’ll be inspired to continue moving in that direction. Keep track of your wins and celebrate (without spending any extra money) when you reach your goal.

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--Rebecca Alwine can be reached at rebecca.alwine@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebecca_alwine.

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