Have you noticed how aggressive merchants have become? They create favorable spending conditions for you, constantly. They generate sales and deals almost monthly. They play offense while, subconsciously, you play defense, continually. You must fight back or financial stress will overwhelm you! At least yearly, each of us need to go on the offensive, get off merchants’ agendas, and do a spending fast.
Let’s look more closely at what, why, how, how long, and when to do this spending fast.
Here is Webster’s definition of a fast: “to eat sparingly or abstain from some foods.” A spending fast is different. To be sure, you want to eliminate some spending, but mostly, you want to learn about you. This is my definition of a spending fast: “a specific period when you spend for items ethically, legally, morally, and life-sustaining only, recording all spending, and procedures followed before spending.”
Before you start, understand ethical, legal, and moral relate primarily to prior commitments you must honor: rent, mortgage, credit card balances, taxes. Life-sustaining refers to needed food, groceries, and medications. Look closely at your diet and medications and understand you don’t need all you have been buying.
Review your eating patterns and grocery list–if you don’t have a base list, prepare one. Exclude junk food such as pop, chips, and other unhealthy items. Do you smoke? Do you eat out regularly? Do you know why you take prescription drugs? This preliminary review might suggest areas needing attention. Don’t try to fix them now; merely note them for later reference.
Do you know most folks don’t know their spending habits, drivers, or patterns! They don’t know leaky areas, weak spots, or how to control spending–they look at “cutting cost” instead of changing behavior. The goal of the spending fast is to learn your spending drivers, habits, and patterns: why you spend, when you spend, and the procedure followed before spending. That’s it; it’s not to “save money.” With this knowledge, you start behavior changes leading to a new spending approach, and in turn, to lower spending. But, I repeat, lower spending isn’t the goal!
You need a couple aids. First, a notebook or computer file with these headings: Date, description, amount, comments. As you spend, record the date, enough description for later review, amount, and most of all, how you decided to spend: did you look at need, compared with want? Was it needed legally, ethically, morally, or to sustain life? Don’t try to change your habits now; this is not the goal. Do what you wish, just record it. Remember, your goal is learning about you. If you decide to splurge, or you notice you are splurging, record in as much detail as possible, what led you to do this: problems at home, work, church? Disappointment? Celebration? Don’t beat up on yourself, just record events. If feasible, talk about what’s happening with your accountability partner. Again, I emphasize, the reason to talk it over is not to fix it but to understand what’s happening.
Next, you need someone to hold you accountable to complete your goal. Choose a reliable, positive person and define his or her role clearly. Agree in advance review times with this person. Irrespective of review times, daily, write comments in your notebook or file and note specific learning for later action.
The longer the better; if you decide to do the spending fast, you will learn much about you. You will spot leaky areas and opportunities to change behavior to reduce spending. I recommend a calendar month. But, a week is better than nothing.
September or October, ahead of the spending season, will provide great learning. If you want to be bold, try December. Again, I remind you, the goal is to learn your spending drivers, patterns, and spending habits.
At the period’s end, based on knowledge gained, develop goals and plans to change specific behaviors. You might have noticed you spend $5.00 each week day for lunch, and you might decide to take lunch to work and cut $5.00 daily. As well, you might notice when you quarreled with your wife you went to the mall and bought a cool watch you had been thinking about for a while. It added to your credit card balance, but you felt good when you got it–you have the opposite feeling now.
Most folks don’t know their spending drivers, patterns, or habits. Do you shop when you are bored? Tired? Frustrated? Depressed? Do you spend regularly on Fridays? Wednesdays? How much do you spend eating out regularly? These are a few questions a spending fast might answer.
After the fast, the results will challenge you to behavior changes that will help you get on top of your finances. Try it; there is no downside. Most folks I know who have tried a spending fast, saw at least $250 monthly they could stop spending immediately!
Copyright (c) 2010, Michel A. Bell