How to Do a No Spend Month

Image showing a white piggy bank and a woman in a yellow shirt adding a coin to the piggy bank.

It’s No Spend February! Traditionally once a year our family takes a month to evaluate our spending patterns and consumer behaviors. Sometimes this takes place in January, other times in February.

We specifically choose the winter months because we are already spending more time at home. Taking a month’s break to purposely evaluate what we want, what we need and what we can wait to purchase gives us space to make use of what we have and save money for the things we want.

Over the years, we’ve learned as a family and as individuals that sometimes we think we really want or need something in the moment only to realize: we don’t really need it, we have something at home that can be repurposed to achieve the same result or help us decide what we really need, we can wait and we can and should price compare.

The following are the “rules” we used to give us structure for the month.

We can spend money on necessities, such as:

  • gasoline
  • groceries
  • rent or mortgage
  • utilities
  • insurance (car, home, etc.)
  • childcare
  • other fixed expenses (for us this is Netflix, Roku and iTunes)
  • presents for those outside of our family

We avoid spending money on:

  • dining out (lunches or dinner)
  • clothes shopping
  • trips to the movie theater, amusement park, museums, etc.
  • coffee shops (see dining out)
  • Amazon purchases (we do make heavy use of the save for later feature)

The rules have also evolved over the years to become dependent on the month and allow for oddities such as an unexpected car repair or celebration. As three important events occur for our family in February, we plan ahead or use gift certificates if the No Spend month will be in February.

For us, a no spend month boils down to: is this a want or a need.

If it is a need, then that’s the end of it. If it is a want, then we wait and if it is something we can live without for the month, we reevaluate if it is something that can wait longer.

One of the best things that happens this month is we get to really evaluate how we use our resources in both time and finances. We have conversations about our home and what our next big and small projects should be.

We also use the time to declutter and go through what we already have. We donate items, sell items and  enjoy the less cluttered space.

If you’ve never taken a break from spending and focused on what you spend, where and why, you should consider taking a break if not for a whole month for a few days or weeks.

I expect if you do, you will be as surprised as I always am at how much money you save and the clarity of what are wants and needs for us.

Emphasize Your Why in Cover Letters + template

Cover Letter Advice by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

There are more than 6,560,000,000 search results for “cover letter template.” Nearly all of the results recommend starting with the standard, “I am [adjective] excited to submit my application for [job title] at [company].”

Starting a cover letter this way practically ensures the recipient will skim the opening and the rest of your letter.

In the positions I’ve hired for, I prefer to read cover letters that start with why. Why this position? Why this company?

Specifically, tell me a story and prove you’re a writer.  For example:

I would like to express my interest in the [position title] position at [company]. My interest in [field] has taken me from [experience] to [experience]. I believe that my passion for [aspect of your field or background], a strong commitment to [aspect of your field or background], and interest in [aspect of your field or background] make me an ideal candidate to join the [department] staff at [company]. I’m specifically interested in [company] because [related to the company mission statement, reputation, a specific project, is in one of your areas of interest, etc.].

This tells me you are not only looking for the position title but at my organization, which makes me inclined to look closer at what you would bring to the role. Which is exactly what you should spell out next.

As a candidate, here’s what I could immediately bring to the table:

  • An [adjective] [descriptor that reflects transferable skill outline in the job description]: In my role at [current or previous job], I [action or accomplishment with outcome emphasized]. I was also able to [verb] my [skill desired in job description] abilities as a [role or responsibilities outlined in job description] in [project name] by [what you did].
  • A [adjective] [descriptor that reflects another transferable skill outline in the job description]: I have always displayed my [soft skill outlined in job description] to [job responsibility outlined in job description] by [action]. At [current or previous company], I [time such as always or frequently] [action]. In addition, I had the opportunity to [action or accomplishment], which further shows my [noun such as commitment or dedication] to [aspect of your field noted in the job description].
  • A [adjective] [descriptor that reflects another transferable skill outline in the job description]: Every step in my career is driven by my [noun such as interest, appreciation, recognition] in [aspect of your career field noted in the job description]. [explain how you keep up with industry trends and tie this sentence back to the specific company, for example, While actively managing more than 10 social channels, building and supporting the online community, I still regularly dedicated part of my week to stay current on marketing and social data trends. Given [company’s] [recent award or recognition] I strongly believe this established routine would make me a valuable part of the team.]  

Looking for even more hints? Find your current job description or rewrite your current job description and compare it against the job description you are writing the cover letter for.

As a hiring manager, if your cover letter makes it past the algorithm, I want to see you can write, learn more about why you think the company is where you want to work and if your skills are a good fit beyond what your resume tells me. 

How to Politely Decline a Second Interview or Withdraw Your Application (with samples)

image of two women seated in an implied interview situation to depict How to Politely Decline a Second Interview or Withdraw Your Application (with samples) by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

We’ve previously talked about always taking the call and accepting an interview when the opportunity comes up.  What do you do if after the interview you’ve decided this job isn’t the one for you? As nerve-racking as it may be in the moment, it will always be worth it to trust your gut feelings now than to regret it later.

The most important thing is to remember you as the interviewee hold half the power. If something feels off about the job or the management or it just isn’t a good fit (and you either currently have a position or have another interview lined up) you can do one of two things:

  1.  wait for the interviewer or recruiter to reach back out to you (typically this is for a second interview) OR
  2.  send the interviewer a note thanking them for the opportunity and asking to withdraw your application.

Here’s what I have used in the past:

Thank you very much for considering me for the position of [position] with the [Organization]. After careful consideration of the responsibilities and time requirements [or other two elements that may not make this a good fit] as indicated in the interview, I would like to withdraw my application for the job. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to interview me and to share details about the position and the mission and goals for the [Organization]. I wish you luck in finding the right person for the position.

The recruiter or interviewer may react one of three ways:
  1. Be appreciative of you not wasting their time and may even (politely) inquire further
  2. Not respond at all
  3.  Tell you not to apply with the company ever again.

How you respond to the interviewer or recruiter asking for more information is completely up to you. I’ve provided additional detail in some instances and not in others. How you respond depends on what the interviewer or recruiter is asking and if ensuring the relationship needs to be positive (because for example, the community is small and you might run into them regularly, the person is very well known in the field or you might be interested in another position with the company in the future).

If you get a burned bridge response and you don’t need to keep the relationship positive, count your lucky stars you did not continue in the process as the company has revealed quite a bit about how they work with employees.

How to Ask Your Network for Help (templates included!)

image with hand and graphic representations of people in white depicting How to Ask Your Network for Help (template included) by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

Is there a specific organization you are interested in or job title you are looking for in your next position? No matter where you are in the search process, you absolutely must start making connections with organizations or individuals who can help you make that step.

You should start by scouring the openings at those organizations and measure your current skills with what they are looking for in a new hire.

Additionally, I would suggest reaching out to a friend of a friend or a former colleague to see if you could be connected to a recruiter or a hiring manager, ideally, through an email. LinkedIn is a great place to find connections (just make sure your profile is professional and up to date!).

For example, you could asl your mutual connection to send an email like this:
Hi NAME, my friend [YOUR NAME] is looking to [get back into the industry, take the next step in her/his/their career, change career paths, etc.] and is very interested in our organization. I wanted you to meet her/him/them in case you have any openings that might be a good fit for her skill set or you might have time to connect. I’ll let you two take it from here!”

Here’s an example I recently wrote:
Hello, NAME! I wanted to introduce you to our mutual colleague NAME. [DETAILS about who colleague NAME is and the connection/reason I’m writing].  She’s [job title plus a job-related compliment or achievement] and is an all-around really fantastic person. 

[mutual colleague NAME], please meet NAME. [DETAILS about NAME is and the connection/reason I’m writing. NOTE: this should reflect what you wrote above]. She’s [current job title and reason you are introducing these two people]. She’s [job-related compliment or achievement].
I will let the two of you take it from here!
Aurora 

Then as the person who is looking to make a change, you could reply, reiterate your interest in the organization and inquire if the person would be willing to talk [phone is preferred, though email can also work] suggestions and recommendations to make your candidacy stronger.

You did not build a network to look at, do not be afraid to use it! 

Other Duties as Assigned

Other Duties as Assigned Post Image depicting a computer with Job Description written and a keyboard by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

Almost all job descriptions use the phrase, “other duties as assigned” and this might give some candidates pause, but it shouldn’t.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management for federal employees, the clause, “other duties as assigned” is meant to refer to minor tasks related to a certain position.

“Because minor duties normally do not affect the classification of the position, are usually unimportant to work operations, and change frequently, it is generally not necessary to mention them in the position description,” according to the Classifier’s Handbook. “A statement, such as “Performs other duties as assigned,” covers such situations adequately.”

While some employers may abuse this, there are a few ways to inquire about what these could look like during the interview. As a candidate, you should ask:

  • What about the job isn’t included in the job description?
  • Can you share some examples of projects or responsibilities that could be included in other duties as assigned?
  • Could you share some examples of opportunities for stretch projects?
  • How do you respond to employees noticing something and correcting it or bringing it to your attention?

As both a manager and an employee, I have found that more often than not other duties as assigned may include filling in for someone who is on vacation, mundane tasks such as getting and sorting the mail and opportunities to grow your position or scope of responsibilities. 

The mundane tasks or ones that are completely out of the scope of your job description can be looked at one of four ways:

  • One-time requests to be helpful (ok but be mindful of when and if these cross a line or become more than just once in a while)
  • Other departments asking for your help without going through your supervisor (this article from Muse has some great suggestions for how to navigate those)
  • Covering for a team member as needed (vacation, sick, etc.)
  • General helping out (noticing the copier paper is low and refilling it for example)

A quick word of caution, don’t let the mundane tasks take your time away from your actual job responsibilities because it could prevent you from future opportunities to grow your position or scope of work. 

While the mundane tasks can be seen as ways to be a supportive team member, opportunities to grow your position or scope of responsibilities are what will continue to make you valuable as an employee. Mundane tasks accomplish a specific goal, stretch projects are growth opportunities and are a good indicator of trust. 

(Note: there is a difference in growing your position and scope of responsibilities and coming in with a know it all attitude or intention to fix everything you see wrong. I often recommend those just starting with an organization give it at least six months and ideally a full year before asking for stretch projects or opportunities to try something new. However, during that time, your supervisor may give you stretch projects or opportunities and you should absolutely take those.)

The best supervisor I’ve ever had once told me, my job is to give you the tools to be successful, the objectives you need to achieve and the timeline. How you create that success and reach those goals is up to you. 

In other duties as assigned, you can find opportunities to learn and hone new skills and gain experience to elevate your career.