If you read a lot of personal finance blogs, you might have come across the topic of spending fasts.
A spending fast is a period of time, usually a month, during which a person commits to not spending any money on frivolous things – no lattes, no dinners out, no fast food, no clothes. Just bills, groceries and gas. In fact, fellow blogger, Kylie Ofiu, is doing a spending fast right now. She’s calling it Nospendver (heehee).
The purpose of the spending fast (sometimes referred to as a “no-spend challenge”) is to save money, but as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve never felt the need to partake in one.
The reason? Because I already did one, and it lasted for six months.
It was July of 2000. I had just graduated college, and I had a mission. That mission was to save as much money as possible for my post-college European backpacking trip. I had exactly six months to do it.
So I moved in with my parents, got a full time job, and figured out my budget. After deducting my basic expenses, I gave myself an allowance of $25 a week for discretionary spending.
Now, depending on your frame of reference, $25 can either sound like a lot, or a little. For me, a then 22-year-old with an active social life, it wasn’t very much.
If I went out to the movies with my friends on Friday night, I spent $7.50. Then if we went out to dinner the next night, I spent around $14, so at the end of the weekend I’d be left with $3.50 for the rest of the week.
Not being one to turn down social invitations, I solved my budget limitations by conducting a “spending fast” Monday through Thursday, so I could use my money to go out with friends on the weekend.
I packed my lunch every single day. There was no wiggle room with this step, fast food was not an option with my budget. Sometimes that meant I was eating peanuts, raisins, and a boiled egg if that’s all I had in the pantry.
To get away from work at lunch, I’d drive down to the park and take a walk, or I’d sit in my car and read if it was too hot. I was reading The Fountainhead at the time, still my favorite book of all time.
On occasion I would splurge and go to Starbucks. But I wouldn’t be getting one of those fancy lattes, or even a plain latte, just a tall regular coffee. Sitting in the coffee shop and reading my book on my lunch break was my own private luxury back then.
I remember the highs and lows of this time period so vividly. Highs, when my friends would decide to hang out at someone’s house (free!) instead of going out. If this happened twice in one weekend, that meant all my budget money rolled over to the next week! Lows were when I ran out of shampoo, or worse, when I ran out of shampoo and toothpaste in the same week and had to spend half of my budget to replace them.
I thought really carefully about every purchase I made. On a week when I had a budget surplus I’d buy an Italian language book so I could prepare for my trip, instead of splurging on fast food or coffee.
I also lived for freebies. If my team at work had done a good job, our supervisors gave us movie tickets. That was heaven in a hand basket right there.
Sometimes on weekends I’d go visit my best friend when she was at work. She happened to work at Starbucks, lucky me. She’d be pouring my free iced soy chai before I even made it through the front door. I loved her for that.
Though living with this budget was difficult at times, I never felt the need to cheat. Never, not once in six months. My will, which under normal circumstances is quite weak, was determined to make it to the finish line. Every $30 I saved was another day in Europe. Every $300 I saved was another rail pass. It was do or die, and I did.
I have really fond memories of this period of time in my life. I set a budget, I had intense focus on keeping it, and I did it.
I learned a lot too. Not only did I learn I could accomplish something if my motivation was great enough, but I also learned how easy it is to spend frivolous money. Until you consciously say NO, you don’t realize how easy it is to say yes.
If you’ve never done a spending fast before, I recommend it. At least to say you did it. At least to learn what your will power looks like.
As for me, I did it once, I learned what it felt like, I learned my lessons, and I don’t feel the need to do it again. I kind of felt the same way after I did a dietary cleanse too. Maybe I just don’t like doing things twice. Or maybe I don’t have a desire strong enough to pull it off again.
What do you think? Have you done a spending fast? Why did you do it? Would you do it again?