Use this month before the holiday season to tighten up spending.
I love the beginning of a new month. Even though it comes around twelve times a year, it always feels like a mini New Year's Day, offering the chance for a fresh start, a new way of doing things, an opportunity to ditch an unproductive habit. I suspect much of its appeal lies in its boundaries; a month has a limit, so if an experiment does not go well, the end is in sight.
Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar is a big fan of the 30-day challenge, which I've written about before. He considers it a perfect length of time to figure out if a habit is worth continuing and what its benefits or drawbacks are. He recently introduced me to the idea of thinking about one's week in a different way, challenging readers to come up with ways in which they can make astute financial decisions over the course of a single week.That got me thinking. What if we applied a similar approach to a month – specifically, this month of November? With the holidays just around the corner, it's a last chance to tighten one's belt and get ready for the monetary excesses of December. And who knows? Maybe you'll love these new frugal habits so much that you'll carry them all the way through to the new year.
Starting today, November 1st, consider tackling one or more of the following areas of your life in order to get your finances in better shape. I'm not promising miraculous results, but you know how it works with these things: a small amount of effort can go a surprisingly long way.
1. Start tracking the money you spend.
In her seminal book, Your Money or Your Life (which I'm reading right now and you'll be hearing about soon), Vicki Robin insists that this is a crucial step in gaining control of one's financial wellbeing. Write it all down, using whatever system you like, but just be sure you know exactly what you're spending on what.
2. Commit to shopping at a discount grocer all month.
Avoid the fancy grocery stores at all costs and only shop at no-frills stores. Take it a step further by opting for store brands whenever possible. I've been doing this for two months and my family's grocery bill has been cut by at least one third.
3. Run a greener home.
Turn down your thermostat by 5 degrees and make a habit of dressing more warmly around the house. Place a moratorium on the dryer and commit to hanging all laundry for the whole month – if not outside, then on laundry racks indoors. Leave your car parked in the driveway and commit to walking, biking, or taking public transit to work for the whole month. Do a better job of turning off lights.
4. Do a temporary shopping ban.
Try not to buy anything new for the entire month of November, unless it's a household necessity, like food, basic toiletries, etc. What about all those Christmas gifts you're fretting about already? Start making them from scratch, using all those hobby supplies you never use. (Read: Not buying it: The allure of the year-long shopping ban)
5. Don't eat out.
See if you can go the entire month without setting foot in a restaurant. Focus on batch-cooking on weekends and stocking the fridge and freezer so that you can whip up food in a hurry. (Read: How to avoid eating out at restaurants)
6. Only shop the produce aisle.
This is one of Hamm's suggestions and it intrigues me precisely because it seems so difficult. He says to shop only for fresh fruits and vegetables in order to force yourself to use up the contents of a bulging pantry and freezer. Makes sense.
7. Make online shopping as difficult as possible.
Delete shopping apps from your phone, unsubscribe from newsletters, and erase all credit card information from favorite websites – anything that will make it harder to shop online and spend money unnecessarily. Maybe even get a new credit card if you know your old number off by heart. (Guilty here.) Then you'll have to go look for your wallet before shopping online.
8. Give up alcohol.
Sure, it's fun, but it has a knack for eating into your bank account, not to mention derailing health goals. Save the booze for December by embarking on a 'Clean November.' I have a number of friends who do this in September, following the debaucheries of summer, but doing it in advance of the holidays makes sense too. You'll feel less dreadful in January!
9. Declutter your house.
It's not a huge money-saver, but you might come across good-quality stuff you can sell to make a few extra bucks. The added bonus is freeing up space in your home. Commit a few hours each weekend to combing through rooms and donating unsellable stuff.
10. Cancel unused subscriptions.
Go through all the things you pay for automatically on a monthly basis – club or gym memberships, magazines, cable, newspapers, Netflix, Spotify, Apple Music, subscription boxes, etc. Assess which of them is really worth it and cancel the ones that are not adding value to your life. Remember, you can always sign up again if you miss it.