Preparing for a Low-Spend Winter

I'm using my No-Spend November this year to kickstart a Low-Spend Winter. There will undoubtedly be plenty of financial benefits to setting aside an entire season to spend as little as possible, but there's prep work involved to make it a successful season of saving money. I've broken down my approach to a Low-Spend Winter into prep work categories below.

When, Why, and How

Remember learning Who-What-Why-When-and-How in school when it came to story-telling? Well, most of those questions are important here for figuring out goals.

  • When: determine which months or timeframes fall into your low-spend winter (or other season of choice).
    My when consists of your typical Minnesota winter months--November, December, January, February, and March.
  • Why: determine why you want to have a low-spend winter/other season.
    My why is multi-faceted. First, I want to have a solid 6 months of expenses put away in a savings account. Second, I want to pay off my new car loan early. Third, I want to do my part to fund some home upgrades, like replacing old windows and putting up a fence in the back yard for our puppy. Finally, I have been wanting new tattoos for years, and spending less on everything else will help me make room in my budget for them.
  • How: determine how you can achieve a low-spend season.
    My how is to cut back on parts of my budget (like groceries and discretionary purchases) much in the same way I cut back across my whole budget a few years ago when saving for a down-payment on my house.
  • (Bonus) Who: determine who else will be affected by your low-spend season.
    My who is my husband. We each pay for different joint expenses, so we'll be sharing where we each plan to cut back in our budgets.

Take Notes & Make a Budget

Knowing exactly where you're starting from before adopting a restrictive budget plan is important for measuring your overall success. (Unless you're not as data-driven as I am, which is weird to me but fine.) Budgeting in a way that will make sense and feel good long-term takes a few prep steps.

  • Take note of the starting balances of each checking account, savings account, credit card, and loan on the first day of each month. The end result will be seeing how low credit/loan balances get, and how high savings/checking balances get over time. Being able to quantify financial victories is always empowering.
  • List any spending areas you want to limit by looking over the spending tracked by your credit cards and checking account. My most common areas to cut back are groceries, dining out, wine, and clothes.
  • Make a budget that accounts for all of the necessary expenses like rent/mortgage payments, utilities, and other loans. These expenses tend to be pretty static and help you see what you will have left over for savings and discretionary spending.
  • Determine what your discretionary spending will be. Mine is normally around 20% of my net income, but I plan to limit it to 0% during No-Spend November, and to 2% during the rest of Low-Spend Winter with the exception of three tattoo sessions that I scheduled back in September.
  • Make sure you're being specific with where and by how much you want to cut back. These can be percentage amounts, or dollar amounts. For example, I plan to cut our monthly grocery budget in half, which will be a good boost to my savings accounts.
  • Make resolutions that align with your goals. This can be as simple as resolving to spend one day a week meal planning lunches for the month to save money on groceries, or as complex as resolving to check all of your bank balances every day to see if you forgot to add any items to your budget.
  • Look back as time goes on to remind yourself of your goals, and to see what you can accomplish each month. It's one thing to set goals, but it's another to refer back to them and stick to sustainable resolutions that help to reach those goals.

 Act on Your Budget and Resolutions

With your budget and financial goals set, and resolutions set which align with your goals, the last thing to do is consciously act on them. I know that sounds abstract, but here are a few tips to help guide you toward goal-oriented actions:

  • Unsubscribe from marketing and promotional emails
  • Set reminders on your phone or calendar to:
    • Check in with yourself and see if you're sticking to your resolutions
    • Revisit your list of goals
    • Transfer money into savings or pay extra on bills at the end of each pay period
    • Act on resolutions, like meal planning or balance-checking
  • Check in with the other people who are budgeting with you to keep each other accountable 
  • Share your intentions by journaling about them for yourself, or by talking about them with friends

And that's about it. I'll be posting weekly in November to detail what I do during a no-spend month, so stay tuned for those if you want to see a no-spend month in action. Otherwise, if you plan to do your own low-spend/no-spend month or even a whole season, I hope you found my tips helpful. Happy budgeting & happy saving!