No/Low Spend November – Benefits & Failures

This was the hardest week of no/low spend November.

Not only was there days off work, but also frankly we’re tired of not spending. The checking account (where we do the majority of our day-to-day spending) ran lower than it has in a looooong time. And although we were never in jeopardy of running out of money, it felt like a very long week.

So I’m glad it’s over. Today I’m going to recap not only the week, but also give some reflections on where a no/low spend month succeeds – and fails – you.

Lets get started.


Ah Black Friday, the day that I didn’t go shopping and instead decorated for Christmas.

Our holiday tradition on the day after Thanksgiving is to decorate the house for Christmas. Having lived on my own for 18 years now, and been a parent for fifteen, we’ve accumulated quite a bit of holiday stuff. We keep it all in bins down in the basement. Some of my favorite frugal items include:

Alex with Advent Calendar from Costco - Ten Years Old
Alex with Advent Calendar from Costco – Ten Years Old
Nick with the Christmas Tree - 18 years old
Nick with the Christmas Tree – 18 years old
Hearth decorations
Hearth with stockings – ranging from 18-3 years old – and homes gifted from a friends mother
Handmade Santa and Reindeer
Handmade Santa and Reindeer – made by my mother
Nativity scene
Nativity scene – handed down from my late grandparents, hand-painted by my aunt decades ago
Tiny glass christmas trees
Tiny glass christmas trees – handed down when my grandmother passed away

In the afternoon, I started cutting plywood for Nintendo Christmas World. We had homemade pizza for dinner, as is our Friday night tradition.

Unfortunately I made an appointment in the evening to go to the mall and have my phone screen repaired. “It won’t be crowded anymore”, I said. “Everyone will have finished shopping,” I said.

I was wrong. Ugh! This reminded me why my husband and I long ago vowed to not set foot in a mall after Thanksgiving.

It was going to take a few hours to have the phone repaired, and there’s only so long my boys can look at stores. My husband used the Christmas budget to pick up something for the Advent calendar, and then we all went home. I turned right around and went back to pick up the phone.

Plus I had to pay for the phone repair. And a better case so my phone wouldn’t break again. Ugh.


Saturday was spent mostly cutting, assembling, and painting Nintendo Christmas World as a family. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun. Projects around the house are a great way to enforce a no-spend day!

For dinner, my husband and I were both worn out from the activity all day. Both of us talked about how much we just wanted to order a darned pizza, but we were going to push through to the end of the month. So we made turkey meatballs instead.


Time to finish and assemble Nintendo Christmas World! This took most of our Sunday, which again helped with not spending, but not with our exhaustion. You can see the finished results in Monday’s post.

Note, these past few days I did go back to Home Depot a few times for supplies. This money came out of the Christmas budget, because these are Christmas decorations. I save money every week into a fund just for the holiday, which helps take a lot of the stress out. You can find my Christmas Club strategy here.

Creating Nintendo Christmas World – 2018 Edition


Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go!

With a burned wrist.

My poor burned wrist
My poor burned wrist

I burned my wrist pretty badly on Saturday night, while making a cake. The recipe called for boiling water, and as I was pouring it into the bowl, the cup got caught on the mixer. Boiling water splashed onto my arm, giving me a pretty severe scalding burn.

I ended up keeping this bandaged for five days, to help prevent infection. I’ve had several burns get infected and it is painful. I debated back and forth whether or not to see a doctor, but decided to just follow online advice about first and second degree burns. It worked well and is start to heal, although it still (as of this writing) looks terrible and hurts.

The last week off was great for recharging, relaxing, and spending time doing things NOT related to my day job (or this site, for that matter). Sometimes I need a break! And I know this month at work is going to be CRAZY. In fact, next week I’ll be traveling Monday – Thursday, so I’ve got a lot to get done this week to prepare.

Breakfast and lunch from home was packed, and eaten. Yum.

Bills: Hulu


Another crazy day at work, where I didn’t get home until almost seven. The boys have scouts on Tuesday, so they went off there while the little guy and I made white whole wheat chocolate cookies. I used this recipe and substituted white whole wheat flour for the all purpose. Also, I doubled the recipe (because with five people, a single batch is not going to last), and accidentally put in half the amount of brown sugar/double the granulated sugar. Oops. They still tasted great!

My husband also returned a bunch of books to the library.

White whole wheat chocolate cookies
White whole wheat chocolate cookies
Alex eating chocolate cookies
Alex eating chocolate cookies


Bills – Garbage


Another late day at work, I left the house before seven AM and got home around seven PM. Once I got home, I was frankly exhausted and didn’t do too much in the evening besides hang out with the boys. I thought about heading out to look at Christmas lights, but didn’t really feel up to it.

I need a nap!

My husband had an eye appointment all morning to check his vision – he had a medical condition called idiopathic intracranial hypertension, aka pseudotumor cerebri, which he has checked every year. Luckily he checked out fine – hooray! But he and the little guy were starving, and stopped for a slice of pizza each on the way home. Since this is the only time we’ve eating out all month, I think that’s pretty good.

Alex eating pizza
Of course, this made me want pizza!

My older boys spent the evening having a blast with our old game systems from the basement. My husband had dug out our old GameCube and PS1, which are probably 15-20 years old and somehow still work. My older boys are enjoying playing these retro/classic games! Free entertainment for the win.


Same work routine, with the same food for breakfast and lunch. Yum…

Got home at seven and it’s breakfast dinner night! Tonight we had wheat English muffins, turkey bacon, eggs, and baked hash brown potatoes. We usually have breakfast dinner on Thursday, pizza on Friday, and occasionally tacos on Tuesday.

Reflections – Benefits

So it’s finally over! I was able to meet my aggressive financial goals for the month, but as I mentioned at the start, my checking account got a bit low for my comfort.

When you intentionally decide to drastically reduce your spending for a month, I think you see a lot of benefits. You:

  • Use creativity instead of money to entertain yourself. Whether it’s Nintendo Christmas World, baking new recipes, making hand turkeys, or digging up games from the basement, you use your creative muscles instead of your wallet



  • Appreciate what you already have. You likely already have a lot of great things in your life. Sometimes we get caught up in the culture of more/new is always better, and forget to take time to appreciate what we already have. Family fun doesn’t need to be expensive, old books can be as good as new ones, libraries are amazing, and look what we have hidden in the basement!


  • Recognize what a privilege this is.  For many people, including myself at some points in my adult life, living frugally is not a choice. It’s what you have to do to survive. A no/low spend month is a great time to think about what it must be like to live close to the financial edge for real. Although you’ll never really understand it unless you’ve lived it, it can help increase your empathy for others. And you can use some of your savings to donate to help others, or perhaps perform some acts of kindness.

Reflections – Failures

There are a few things I dislike about no-spend months. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Deferred, not decreased, spending. For example, my kids need snow boots. Whether I buy them in November or December, the cost is going to be the same – and they still need snow boots. When you just defer spending to another month, rather than not spend at all, you’ve not really saved anything. It’s a bit arbitrary.


  • Risk of going crazy the next month. You have to watch yourself for this. If you let yourself feel too deprived, you just might wake up early the 1st of the next month and go a bit crazy buying ALL THE THINGS. The month should energize you, increase your appreciation for what you have, and teach you valuable lessons about yourself. If it just depresses you and makes you count the minutes until it’s over, you should probably dial back the deprivation a tad.


  • Feeling like a failure – even though it’s fine. Think about my haircut I forgot about in Week 3. I was annoyed with myself because at the start of the month, I laid out my personal exceptions to the “no/low” spend month. This wasn’t on the list. But then I realized that if I didn’t get my hair cut this month, I would have to next month. And I didn’t want to hurt my hairdresser because I decided to do a spending fast.

Did you do a no or low spend month in November? How did it go? And are you going to continue into next month, or no? Let me know in the comments!

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9 thoughts on “No/Low Spend November – Benefits & Failures”

  1. How cheerful and festive your house looks! My low spend November did not go according to plan, mainly because my little rabbit became ill. He ended up needing three visits to a local vet and two visits to a specialist almost three hours away.

    Gas, of course, also came in well over budget.

    I spent more then normal on groceries, although I expected to because of Thanksgiving. Additionally, my older daughter is visiting, so I am not the only one to cook for. Of course, this is a happy thing! Plus, I was sick the first two weeks of November and bought some over the counter meds.

    I bought a birthday gift for a friend. I bought a fast food meal, which I almost never do, on the drive to the vet specialist the first time. The second time, I bought a couple of coffees.

    Both of my local libraries had used book sales this month, and I spent $27 on used books. This was planned for, and it will bring endless hours of reading pleasure.

    I had two lunches out I had to cancel between my being sick and the rabbit, though I was able to keep a coffee date with a friend.

    1. I hope your rabbit is better! I have a pet fund specifically to care for my animals (I have a dog & cat). I had older cats before and know those vet bills can be huge.

      1. Thank you. Jasper, the rabbit, is on the road to recovery! And you are so right about elderly pets. I sadly lost my two dogs to cancer in2016, and my vet bills were enormous.

  2. Raina - Start Living Richly (formerly Reading Richly ;)

    Love your advent calendar! We get a 99cent one from Trader Joe’s each year, but I’m on the hunt for a permanent one.
    Kudos to you on making meat ball vs order pizza. That takes will power. We had one night like that too. I was soooo close. Domino’s coupon in my hand. Then I sighed, opened the freezer and made some frozen veggies and fish. Not so bad.
    Our goal was to save $1000 this month to pump our emergency back fund up.
    Good news: we did that!
    Sort of bad news: we bought a new laptop to replace our 8 year old one on black Friday. That ate up most of that.
    We decided this fell under the deferred category. We knew our current laptop was on the fritz. We found an awasome deal. It seemed silly not to buy just because of no spend. I guess I can look at it as the no spend month helped us afford it.
    Congrats on completing the month!

    1. Glad to hear you met your goal Raina! And you’re right, it’s a success if your no spend month helped you make a replacement you needed without financial issue

  3. One trick I picked up from my parents years ago was that if everyone’s gift for Christmas is a vacation somewhere in mid to late December, there’s not as much demand to spend time or energy decorating the house. Plus, it simplifies everything! I do love your hand-made decorations though. Thank you for sharing!

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