Hey everyone! Today I have a great guest post for you by Jenny from Good Life Better. If you’re still looking for a resolution this year, why not start a spending fast? Jenny explains the process and shares her own spending fast below. Enjoy! ~M$M
Resolving to lose weight and be healthier may be the most common New Year’s Resolution, but tackling debt isn’t too far behind.
Based on this 2015 research by Nielsen, 1 in 4 people who make New Year’s Resolutions reported vowing to spend less and save more. If you are one of them, maybe you should consider a spending fast to kickstart the year.
What is a “Spending Fast”?
I don’t know who to credit with the idea of a spending fast, but the concept isn’t difficult to grasp: you identify a discretionary budget category that represents an area where you tend to overspend, and you cut it out for a particular period of time.
The logic is that, for this budget category, moderation isn’t working very well (if it was, you wouldn’t be going over budget) and so you eliminate it as an option completely.
I first came across this strategy of abstaining in Better than Before, Gretchen Rubin’s book about breaking bad habits and adopting good ones.
While it may seem counterintuitive, for some of us it is actually easier to eliminate something completely then it is to partake some of the time.
“When we Abstainers deprive ourselves totally, we conserve energy and will-power, because there are no decisions to make and no self-control to muster.” –Gretchen Rubin
This strategy means I make one decision and then I don’t have to make any additional decisions (I share more about the rules I live by here).
Identifying Your Achilles Heel
Ready to dig in? If so, the first step is to take a hard look at your spending habits and identify your Achilles heel.
For a lot of people, eating out is the biggest drain on their discretionary spending budget because it is just so darn easy to grab something on your way home from work or while you are out running errands.
Other culprits could be always buying the latest technology, new clothes for every occasion, last-minute weekend getaways, or the need to be front-row and center when your favorite band is in town.
Whatever it is, own it and be ready to live without it.
The next step is identifying the timeframe during which you will abstain (and don’t be a smartass about it).
If concerts are your weakness and you already know there are no artists coming to your city that you will want to see in January and February, setting those two months as your timeframe is pointless. Instead, pick a time frame that causes some discomfort.
If it helps, harness your competitive nature and/or stubbornness to motivate yourself. If calling it a 90-day challenge helps, that’s fine. The goal is to stretch yourself and figure out why you overspend in a certain category and what you can do about it.
The Fast Itself
The third step is to implement, implement, implement. Time may seem to slow down, but I promise the days, weeks, and months are still passing.
Depending on what you cut out, find other ways to fill the time. If you stop going out to dinner, check out some recipe books from your local library and have fun re-creating your favorites at home. No longer dashing off to NYC for the weekend? Explore your own city. You may even find that your local museums offer free admission one weekend each month.
Live and Learn
Once the fast ends, don’t just breathe a big sigh of relief and go back to spending mindlessly. Take some time for self-reflection to figure out what is going on that is causing you to overspend. Maybe it is as simple as you aren’t budgeting enough for something that is as essential to your happiness as breathing.
More likely, the reasons you are over-spending are much deeper. Ask yourself: what did you miss most? Least? Why is this such a crutch for you?
My Spending Fast
I stress self-reflection following a spending fast because I know firsthand how powerful they can be: from Memorial Day to Labor Day in 2016, I cut myself off from clothes shopping, which at the time was the biggest drain on my discretionary spending budget.
That spring, I had taken two trips that each required new clothes and shoes. As a result, my credit card balances were once again uncomfortably high. Knowing my closets were full of summer clothes already, I decided that for those three months, I couldn’t buy any new clothes, shoes or purses.
Did I succeed? Yes. I made one planned exception when the strap broke on my favorite pair of black sandals but other than that, not only did I stick with it but once Labor Day came around, I found it really hard to go back to spending like I had previously.
This is because of what I learned from the experience:
- I shopped because I was bored or wanted to distract myself from other things going on in my life
- I owned more clothing than one human could possibly need
- My consumer debt was completely unnecessary—it was 100% about me living beyond my means and not, as I had been telling myself, a result of not earning enough
Prepare to Be Challenged
During your spending fast, occasions will arise that can derail you: Don’t Let Them!
First, don’t put yourself in a position where failure is inevitable. If you pledge to not eat out, then pack your lunch, bring a snack, and go to the grocery store so you have food in the refrigerator. If you don’t do these things, then you probably aren’t that serious about the fast and need to rethink your commitment.
Second, identify strategies that will help you stick with it. I mention one above (distracting yourself). Another could be delay. It’s amazing how often waiting 15 minutes will resolve my desire for a snack. Use these strategies to your advantage!
Finally, don’t wait until you are in the moment to break your fast. Instead, negotiate planned exceptions with yourself in advance.
I noted above that during my spending fast I did buy one pair of black sandals to replace a pair on which the strap broke. Not only were these my favorite black sandals but they were a discontinued style so I knew that if I didn’t buy them right away, I wouldn’t be able to find them at a later date.
This was the kind of thought that went into that purchase and I encourage you to put a similar amount of thought into any exceptions you make during your fast.
Jenny is a younger GenX blogger on a mission to help women–especially single women–do what they need to do now to have an amazing retirement later. Learn more about her journey to build wealth, create an amazing career, and live a happier and healthier life at goodlifebetter.com, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.