Thursday, January 2, 2014

Financial Fasting

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.


  1. Wouldn't rent (or mortage payment), utilities bills, etc., also count as "essentials"? I'm not sure how one could get through three weeks without one of those coming due.

  2. Hmmm... interesting. I will say that I'm not much of a faster either. I think if I take a look at the way I operate, then I'm probably not a great candidate for something like this. I do go large stretches of time without making non-required purchases, but that doesn't always end well. For example, I might not buy new shoes for ages, and then I wake up one morning and everything I own is falling apart and I lose the plot and rush out and buy something without thinking it through because I can' If I make myself do occasional updates, I'm happier and less crabby.

    It would be interesting to know what I do spend on things that aren't absolutely necessary. I'm not much of a shopper and I can resist the siren song of Target and the like, so the hardest part would be the occasional coffee out.

    I've always been intrigued by the idea of only making or repurposing gifts though, something that was mentioned in the article.

    I actually want to pull the trigger and spend more this year - dive into some big lingering projects and get them off the to-do list and start enjoying them. And currently everything in the house is breaking, so there's the non-joy of repair/replace costs. Ugh. Perhaps forgoing some of those coffees could get me a little closer, maybe!

    Good luck with the fast!

  3. I love the idea of the financial fast and I've been considering it as well! We can definitely do this.... It's only 21 days, right?

  4. As long as vodka and wine are considered "essential", I am totally in!!

  5. Hahaha @Lindsey.

    I've never fasted food, but you know I've done sweets. It's good discipline and it's great for control freaks. :)

    I'm a bargain shopper all the way, but even a financial fast scares ME. I totally get the idea of being more conscious of your spending. I am guilty of the same-- a latte here, impromptu Amazon purchase there...

    I won't be joining you, but I'm really anxious to read about your experience. We're currently on a SORT OF grocery fast since I bought $800 worth of groceries (okay, $200 in wine) when our local Safeway chain just went out of business... so I'm on a self-induced spending budget of $50/month for basically produce, milk and bread.

    And that whole idea that people never save because their "needs" just meet their current income? Yeah... terrible! Elliot is very money conscious and is always saying that you can never be on top if you don't save substantially more than you make. Live well below your means, essentially.

    Hopefully it doesn't just turn into a list of things you'll buy after the 21 days are over. But I can see this being great for making you conscious of things. Do I really NEED that cute new purse? I find that if I don't purchase right away, I lose interest in most things I once wanted very badly.

    Good luck, my friend!

  6. Interesting idea....Good luck with it!

  7. We use Mint to track our spending and it synchs with our bank accounts and categorizes everything--groceries, fast food, retail, mortgage. Totally embarrassing and worth it to see each month where the money goes. Great luck on this goal!

  8. Ok thank you for sharing this because I was going to do some sort of juice/cleanse before turning 30 but really didn't want to. Would much rather try this but yes, not going to Target for three weeks will be the biggest challenge.

    But what if I NEED things at target? Toilet paper or ya know something that could be considered a need but still enable me to get my target fix. That's probably dangerous though. Like asking an alcoholic to go to a bar only for something to eat.

  9. I basically did this through the month of December except for Grace.

    And then I bought cutlery for myself off ebay because it was maybe 80% off and I felt it was a financial bargain. ha. :)

    I also just bought myself an external hard drive for that syncs with my MacBooks so I can finally make a memory/photo book of Jack since my photos are on my old macbook which is basically crumbling.

    What else did I buy? Oh, new bralls because the ones I have and wear are either too small or the shoulders are stretched out and I figured small purchases could circumvent the need for extensive reconstructive surgery later. ha. :)

    I hate the idea of not going to Target for fun.

  10. I don't like this at all! I like Target too much lately but good luck.

  11. Hopefully it doesn't just turn into a list of things you'll buy after the 21 days are over. We use Mint to track our spending and it synchs with our bank accounts and categorizes everything--groceries, fast food, retail, mortgage.

    Kopi Luwak