Lately it feels like my spending is getting away from me. No matter how much money I try to save, I just end up throwing money at Starbucks, Uber Eats and Amazon rentals. I mean, all my excuses I make while spending the money are fantastic! Renting a movie is cheaper than the theater! Uber Eats is cheaper than eating out! I’m more productive when I work at Starbucks!
Sometimes these excuses are valid (yes, working at Starbucks does make me more productive), but sometimes it’s hard to decide which habits are valid and which should go bye, bye, bye.
Enter: the spending fast.
What Is a Spending Fast?
Spending fasts are exactly what they sound like: a period of time in which you don’t spend at all or only spend money on necessities.
Benefits of a Spending Fast
Financial fasts can help you reduce your expenses and lower your credit card bills. More importantly, they can help you trim the fat from your budget by shining a light on your expenses.
Some of the other benefits include:
- Discovering you don’t need that latte every morning
- Realizing you actually love making dinner every night
- Noticing how much you were spending on lunch at work every afternoon
- Deciding you don’t need a late-afternoon candy fix to get through the day
But Do They Work?
It depends. NBC reporter Emily Pandise tried a 30-day cleanse. At the end, she reported:
At the end of the month, I found that the money cleanse was fun and easy. I didn’t have to deprive myself of anything I wasn’t willing to let go of, and now I can start feeling better and doing better with my money.
Your spending fast is what you make of it. When I do one, I find it goes well when I know why I’m doing it — and set clear expectations of myself throughout the fast.
How to Do a Spending Fast
There are two ways to do a spending fast:
1. Choose a timeframe (day, week, month, etc.) and only buy necessities during that set time.
2. Make a commitment not to spend any money for a specific timeframe.
While the second option seems a little more extreme, I actually enjoy this version better. I make a budget for my fast timeframe and I purchase all the things I’ll ‘need’ for that time beforehand.
Ask Yourself Why You’re Fasting in the First Place
Before starting your fast, it’s important to know why you’re fasting in the first place.
Are you trying to save up a little extra cash?
Do you want to stop throwing money at Starbucks, McDonald’s or Amazon?
Do you want to stop relying on your unnecessary habits when you’re bored/tired/trying to make yourself feel better?
Your reason for your spending fast is between you and whatever god/genie/toaster you talk to each night when you turn out the light. But it’s important to know your why. Otherwise, you’re more likely to give up.
Track Your Finances
Most experts will tell you to cut everything non-essential from your budget during a spending freeze. I think that’s kind of bullsh*t.
The whole point of a spending fast is to look at your finances and notice what items don’t align with your lifestyle. Am I the kind of person who buys five bottles of wine in one week? Sometimes. Do I want to be that person? Not if I want to live past 50.
Cut the Fat
Once you have a good idea of how much you’re spending (and what you’re spending your money on), you can start to make adjustments. Some of the easiest items to cut during a spending freeze are:
- Eating out
- Junk food
Below, you can see my spending for one week when I was living in Buenos Aires for two months. Obviously, the cost is lower because of the exchange rate. Had I been spending my money the same in NYC, I would have easily spent twice this amount.
Example of Spending Log
Here you can see where my money went the week before my spending freeze… not bad, but not really what I wanted to focus on.
Groceries (+ Pasta Store) – $24
Wine – $20.50
Snacks – $9
Eating Out – $16
Drinks Out – $9
Drinks Out (Social) – $8
Uber – $8.65
Spotify – $10
Museum – $2.50
I don’t recommend cutting out everything you love on a spending fast. If you feel too deprived, you might fall off the wagon. Ideally, you want to target the items that aren’t adding any value (joy, pleasure, motivation, success) to your life.
The easiest way to stay sane during a spending fast? Planning.
Plan, Plan, Plan
If you don’t want to go bananas from boredom — or go hungry for that matter — you’re going to want to make a plan for your freeze.
I like to hit the grocery store the day before my freeze and load up on essentials. I make a meal plan, purchase all my ingredients — and stick to it.
I might even buy a bottle of three-buck Chuck or a box of wine.
While the whole point of a spending freeze is to cut out the stuff you don’t want in your life (or that’s sucking up your budget), you also don’t want to feel deprived.
I usually add a bunch of shows to my Netflix or Hulu queue to ensure I’ll be entertained — and won’t feel tempted to rent something on Amazon.
I’ve signed up for several free 30-day trials of Audible during this time (just don’t forget to cancel at the end if you don’t want to continue your subscription!). I also download a bunch of free 28-day trials of Kindle magazines, too.
Is this cheating? I don’t think so. I’m creating a budget with all the things I think I’ll need. No more, no less.
Choose Your Timeframe — and Stick to It
Decide how long you want to fast. I recommend doing a short finance fast for your first time.
You might decide you won’t spend any money between the time you wake up tomorrow and lunch. Or, if you’re a habitual hot-lunch buyer, you might want to extend your fast until 3 p.m.
If you feel good about a few hours, you might want to do a fast for an entire day. Then a week — and if you’re up to it, two weeks or a month.
The amount of time isn’t important. What matters is that you stick to your spending freeze plan.
After Your Fast
Congrats! You’ve completed your fast! How did it go? After I complete a spending fast, I like to do a little review.
How did you feel? Was it easier or harder than you expected?
What changes were the most challenging?
Was there anything you didn’t miss you thought you would?
Now is a great time to cancel any of those ‘free’ subscriptions you signed up for or to permanently cancel any subscription services you realized you don’t use or want.
How did your spending fast go? Do you feel good? Was it hard? Share your experience in the comments below!
I happen to love David Bach’s The Latte Factor: Why You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Live Rich. I found out about him from the podcast Afford Anything with Paula Pant. He recommends spending your money on things that will increase your wealth (like investing in Starbucks instead of buying it) and has some great tips for saving.
I’ve also recently discovered Jeff Kreisler (also an Afford Anything podcast find!), author of Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter. He breaks down why we think we want things — when we’re actually just all victims of tricky marketing campaigns. Basically, if I think there’s a conspiracy surrounding one of my behaviors, I’ll think twice before throwing more money at products that monopolize on that.
Hey, hey! Just a few things before you leave… this post contains affiliate links, so if you buy something after clicking on a one, I might (fingers crossed!) just get a little commission. Good news: I only recommend products that I love! Which means you can feel good about all of my recs.
Also, you should know that I’m not a lawyer or an accountant. More importantly, I’ve never played one on TV. Always consult your professional advisors before listening to me (or anyone else on the internets for that matter).