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My ‘No-nonsense spending November’ plan

Sienna Kossman

While some men are ready to sport ungroomed facial hair next month in honor of “No-shave November,” I’m preparing to take on a more gender-neutral month-long challenge: “No-nonsense spending November.” Less stubble, more savings is how I see it.

Last month, I wrote about how telecommuting has padded my budget and allowed me to increase monthly student loan payments and pay off some lingering credit card debt, among other things. It’s now almost two full months later and based on that early fall budget analysis, I thought I’d be able to report that I’ve put substantially more into my savings account by now. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.

A closer look at my credit and debit accounts shows that smaller, nonessential purchases are really starting to add up and derail potentially awesome savings.

These “nonessential” purchases are typically under $50 (averaging around $25) and are often from spontaneous card swipes and dips. While I can afford to pay them off later, I don’t need them. Here are some prime examples:

  • Weeknight dinners out. My boyfriend often works late so I’m usually on my own for dinner but there’s no reason I can’t cook for myself. Last week I bought takeout for myself three times, totaling almost $45. Not a huge expense, but when I have a stocked fridge it’s totally unnecessary.
  • Random gifts. If I see something that I know someone close to me would love — like a coffee mug for a friend or rawhide bone for my dog — I typically won’t hesitate to buy it. I love making someone’s day like this but my card statements show those small gestures can really add up. And with the holiday season right around the corner, there’s no sense in buying more presents than need be.
  • “Stocking up.” I’m that person who walks around Target armed with a smartphone to scan products for discounts and a handful of paper coupons. Saving 50 cents to $1 here and there never hurts, but buying extra tubes of mascara or four more boxes of breakfast bars just because they’re on sale isn’t always a way good to shop. In this case, those items will go bad before I’ll be able to use them and I’m spending more money than I would if I just bought what I need, when I need it.

The more I look at what I’ve been doing, the guiltier I feel. I know better than this and have let my padded budget encourage more spending, even if it’s only in small amounts.

So with a new month on the horizon, I’ve decided to follow a “no-nonsense spending” plan. It started as a “no spending” initiative, but I think that’s a bit unrealistic. I have groceries to buy and a dog to take care of, after all.

Here’s my “no-nonsense spending” November plan:

  1. Pay for essentials only. Food, gas, dog food, bills, etc. If it’s an expense I don’t need to function daily or keep myself out of debt, I won’t be making it.
  2. Use a cash-back card for most purchases and pay it off Dec. 1. Since recently opening my first general purpose cash-back card, I’ve been trying to strategically use credit cards to help me earn rewards. It’s now time to amp it up. I’ll use each of my credit cards once during the month, but the bulk of my purchases will go on my new cash-back card so I can get as much back as possible.
  3. Note potential “nonsense” purchases. I already love using the notepad app on my smartphone to make grocery lists, so I figured making lists of the things I feel like buying but don’t need to might also be helpful. At the end of November I can review the notes and see where my weaknesses lie and keep that information in mind going forward.
  4. Compare November to October. When the month is over, I’m going to tally up how much I spent and compare it to previous month totals. There are a few days left in October but as of now, I’ve spent almost $2,200 this month — living costs, loan payments and “nonsense” expenses included. Fingers crossed that number drops substantially in November.
  5. Tuck savings away ASAP. Any extra money I have left in my checking account after paying off my credit card bills, living expenses and monthly debt payments at the beginning of December will go directly into my savings account, no exceptions.

By sharing my plan with the digital world I’m hoping to be more inclined to stick with it. Help hold me accountable, would you? I’ll be sure to share my results in early December.

If you, too, are looking to save money before the holidays, consider joining me in this November challenge. You can always still ditch your razor for “No-shave November,” too (and spend less money on blades in the process). Tell me about your plans, and let’s subdue our “nonsense” spending together.

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