I have never fasted on purpose. Not for spiritual reasons or dietary/weight loss reasons. When I get hungry, I get super cranky and monstrous to be around. Sometimes I'll snap at David and he'll say, "Are you hungry?" and then I get really annoyed, but the thing is, he's usually right.
But I heard this interview with Michelle Singletary on NPR yesterday about financial fasting, and I'm intrigued. Now, with two mortgages for the majority of 2013, we spent the year being pretty frugal. In some ways. But we also bought a lot of stuff for the new house (we spent wisely and made careful purchase, but still, we were definite consumers of material objects) and although we didn't go into debt, we didn't save a lot of money beyond what was automatically taken out of our paychecks for retirement. I know we can do better. It was not so long ago that we were living on a graduate student stipend and a PE teacher's salary! So I think it will be really good for us to reevaluate our spending.
The thing that really struck me in the interview is something I've heard before--that no matter how much money you make, you never quite feel like it's "enough" because your spending rises to meet up with your salary. So it's not about being richer or really even about saving more. It's about feeling financially comfortable and not wasting money on things we don't need.
I've never been a daily Starbucks junkie, and (no matter what David says) I almost always limit my online shopping to things that we actually need (or have been wanting for a really long time) that I can get for a good deal. Since Zuzu has been born, I don't hit the mall very often and since I'm just now fitting into clothes I couldn't wear through two pregnancies, I haven't had to buy a lot of clothes. I seriously think I've purchased two tops and two dresses for work in the past eighteen months. So generally speaking, I think that we actually are pretty careful about our money. But I've never done anything like a financial fast.
One of the things I'm most looking forward to in 2014 is having a little more financial cushion each month (since our cushion won't be spent on the second mortgage), and socking away some cash for a rainy day (or Zuzu's college fund... whatever). I think that this fast could help us prioritize where we want to put our discretionary spending and help us save even more. In 2014, I really want to focus less on material things and more on spending money on experiences--or not spending money at all and just making use of what we already have.
The idea of a financial fast (here's a detailed article from the Washington Post) is that for 21 days, you don't spend money on anything except on absolute essentials. In our case, the only things that qualify for absolute essentials are food, medicine (if we needed it), and gas.
To be honest, most of the time I feel like ALL our money goes to gas and groceries, so I'm really curious about how much money I would be saving.
For me, I think the biggest challenge will be that I basically can't let myself go to Target for three weeks. But the other thing this fast may reveal is just how much I do spend on non-essentials without realizing it. Lunch with coworkers, a chai tea latte, that cute greeting card, a decorative tray or basket, a new pen to boost morale at work... I'm curious to see how deprived I feel when I quit buying these things and how much money it actually saves me.
Nationwide, this financial fast begins January 13. As I told David, this gives me a little bit of time to prepare, so any essential non-essential shopping for January (like a second car seat) will have to be done by the 13th.
And then we'll see how I do for 21 days of ONLY required spending. I think the fast appeals to me because (1) it's all or nothing so I really have to commit and (2) it's only 21 days. It's not just "be smarter about money" or "don't go out to dinner this month." It's also a good reminder that we really have everything we need and that only buying gas and groceries for three weeks isn't exactly deprivation. There will still be organic yogurt in the fridge and veggie straws in the pantry! I'm hoping after three weeks that the fast will work and I'll be less inclined to purchase non-essential items.
Anybody tried anything like this before? Anybody want to join me so we can commiserate and then congratulate ourselves and feel smug and superior to all the materialistic bougies around us? David's on board for this idea, so I think we're really going to give a try. I'm hoping that when February rolls around we feel a little richer in every sense of the word.