Financial Detox: August Spending Freeze

Every so often I like to give myself a little kick-start towards more responsible budgeting by instituting a one-month spending freeze. Now, I know a lot of people who have done various versions of this financial detox, and everyone has their own set of rules. Some don’t spend anything other than mortgage and bills; some give themselves a set budget for groceries and other sundries, with rules on what kind of discretionary purchases are allowed; and a few allow a few dollars a week for gasoline and milk and everything else must come from the pantry/freezer.

My rules have been almost the same over the last few years of this detox. I give myself a grocery budget to allow for fresh veggies and meats but not for three new bottles of nail polish or a new set of kitchen towels. No trips to Target for new t-shirts. No Amazon Prime click-bait purchases. No picture frames or throw pillows or house plants. For me, a financial detox has a lot to do with figuring out how to live with less, figuring out how to re-purpose, to consolidate, and to give any purchases–major or minor–more thought and more impulse control.

In January I had marginal success in my financial detox, but I should never have tried to go 31 days without spending any money just three weeks after moving into a new home. That was a very very bad idea, and while I managed to curb my spending considerably in other areas I went hog-wild in house spending. All were pretty necessary, and still regularly used, but definitely not part of a financial detox plan. Ahem.

And so, we try again. For the month of August I will not buy new, unnecessary incidentals. I won’t buy any house things, no matter how perfect that side stool or storage bin would be for that one little spot. It will wait. I won’t buy nail polish, heaven knows I have more than I could use in half my lifetime. I won’t buy any books and I won’t do any online shopping. No clothes, no shoes, no office supplies (sob!), nothing. I will use up or make do with what I have, and I will learn to live without immediately replenishing non-essentials, I will figure out a runner up option where I can and put all the saved dollars into my piggy bank for…well, to be honest, for what I haven’t quite decided yet. Part of me thinks a little shopping spree September 1 would be a great idea, but most of me knows that the whole point of a financial detox is to re-teach yourself better financial habits, not to just put a temporary hiatus on unchecked spending.

Harriet sig

Financial Detox: January 2016 Report

So, a month ago I  wrote about wanting to do a major financial detox and spending freeze and reduce spending in all areas thru January. Well, I tried, and I give myself a solid C+ grade. Not a fail, but certainly not an easy A.

What I said I’d do:

  • No personal spending or unnecessary, thoughtless spending
  • No book buying
  • No eating out
  • No house spending

What actually happened in each category:

Personal: B grade

I actually did quite well in this category. In the whole month of January I only bought two things for myself. One was a potted miniature rose bush that I got at the grocery store for $5.99 because it had been raining and cloudy every day for over a week and I needed something to cheer me up a bit. I also bought a new pair of jeans, cheap ones from Target. I am in the process of losing  quite a bit of weight (more on this later). My fat jeans were either worn to threads with holes in the bum and on the inner thighs, or they were so loose they really didn’t fit anymore. My one-size-above-target-size jeans are still too small, they are pinchy and I can’t sit in them. I didn’t have any in-between pants and found myself without something to wear to a few networking type events. So, I bought a pair of $24.99 jeans to bridge the gap. But! No shoes, no clearance tops, no leggings, no nail polish or manicures or fancy facial cream to try. No coloring books or art supplies or cute earrings or chunky necklaces. No glossy magazines or pretty notebooks. I did not buy all new underwear and bras, or all new gym clothes, even though most of my current things need to be replaced and/or burned in a fire. I believe this shows an incredible amount of progress on my part.

Books: A grade

I did not buy any books this month, something I haven’t done for a VERY long time! I am trying to decide how long I can go without buying a single book and still maintain my own sanity and happiness levels. (Don’t you dare Marie Kondo me on this one, she and I are not remotely on the same page when it comes to books!)

Eating Out: C grade

I was great at not eating out…for the time I was at home in Arizona. But, I totally spaced the fact that I’d be in Salt Lake for a week for work, and ate out lunch every day and two dinners while I was there. I also went to a buy-your-own-dinner networking event here in Arizona and wasn’t committed enough to a) eat before I went and/or b) bring my own dinner to a restaurant. BUT! I didn’t spend money at Starbucks on the daily drink runs with my co-workers, and I didn’t buy dessert (except that one time, okay, twice) which is “extra” of the eating out expenditures…so, not awesome, but not terrible either. And I really only sucked at this one for a week, the rest of the month I did a solid A- grade!

House Spending: F grade

You guys, we had great intentions. And I would like to point out that no additional throw pillows or duplicates of things we already have were purchased. AND I took two full car loads of things to the thrift store (lamps, pillows, blankets, clothes, books, decor items) and sold several via CraigsList.


We bought a new California King mattress for Christmas, and after it was delivered realized that we needed a new bed frame…we carefully bought the one that didn’t also require a box spring… but turns out, it totally required a box spring. And we needed sheets to fit the new (gloriously large!) mattress…and a mattress pad, and a bed skirt to hide the ugly bed frame…and it got very “if you give a mouse a cookie” when it comes to bed things. The queen-sized duvet and comforter are still making do as is, but frankly, that is more because I haven’t found a replacement I like and less to do with trying to save money.

Also, after MONTHS of searching, I finally found the rug I want for our master bathroom….and I bought it, on the spot and without even thinking about it, because there were only two of them and one had some weird staining in the corner.

I ordered a pile of custom mats for various frame-able art pieces that I wanted to get unpacked and hung. We have guests coming mid-February and I wanted to make sure all the art was hung and off the floor before then, so I took the plunge (and, can I just say, my gallery walls are looking SO SO GREAT! Decor win, financial detox fail.)  I also printed some poster-size prints of a few photos to hang, and I love seeing them framed and “important” in our home.

I did unpack all our moving boxes but one, and ended up buying some bins and storage containers to help keep the closets tidy. I could have used cardboard boxes, yes. But I wanted those spaces to be done so badly, I ended up biting the bullet and buying the bins I wanted. Seeing my own closet in a state of contained zen gives me warm fuzzies every morning, I’m not even upset about it.

We spent quite a bit at Home Depot, but ended up buying the last of the paint to finally get rid of the horrible yellow-diarrhea-brown walls in this house, and we bought most of the supplies for finishing up the garden planter  boxes in our backyard.

Things we did not buy: plants for said boxes or said yard; the rug and chairs I finally decided upon for the porch off our master bedroom; the lovely throw pillows that would be just perfect for that one spot; a rug for the dining room; extra frames for the gallery wall in my office and our bedroom; a bulldog puppy; a pony.

Ok, so lots of things for me to learn, here. I think a financial spending freeze is generally probably a bad idea within 30 days of moving into a new home. Perhaps I’ll try this again in March and see if I can improve my grade.

Have you ever done a spending freeze?  Would you ever consider it? For you, what constitutes a spending freeze? Not spending ANY dollars outside mortgage/rent/bills/gasoline? Or any unnecessary dollars? How do you calculate grocery bills into that number?

Harriet sig



Spending less money: how it went

A month ago I decided to stop spending money more-or-less cold turkey. I mean, I still paid my bills and filled up my car with gasoline and went to the grocery store, but the plan was to cut out as much superfluous spending as possible. Overall, I am quite pleased with how I did on this. To recap, I had become very lazy about bringing my lunch to work, making my own dinner, and had dozens of little impulse purchases adding up to a significant chunk of money every month. I was still living within my means, but I was really surprised to do the math and see just where my money was going

In the last month I have not bought any clothes, not even a cheap t-shirt or pair of socks. I have not bought any books, which might actually have been a first for me in many, many years. I did not go to Target to wander and I did not buy any new beauty products to try. I cancelled my monthly car wash “subscription” and also cancelled my monthly massage–both of which I think will stay cancelled. I looked at my cell phone bill and my internet bill and have made steps to reduce the prices on both of those things. I was careful about my grocery shopping and made serious efforts to eat the things in my fridge instead of letting them go bad.

Now, the one area that had been the biggest offender of random purchases was in taking myself out to lunch. I wish I could tell you that I didn’t do that once in the last 4 weeks, but that’s not true. I was a lot more careful, and on the days when I forgot to bring my lunch I opted to get the cheapest sandwich instead of something I would truly enjoy. Not sure if that last part was really necessary, but it made the idea of going out to lunch a lot less desirable, which was kind of the point.

I also wish I could tell you that my bank account has eleventy-million dollars in it now, but, um, that’s not true either. I was able to put some extra funds in my savings account, and pay for some updates for the new house. Moving forward this summer I want to keep some of these changes and I want to be careful not to fall back into old, comfortable habits–especially the ones that involve waltzing myself to lunch five days a week–and I will be more diligent about creating and sticking to a monthly budget to save up for larger ticket items, contribute to my savings account, and generally curb my consumerism. Win-win, right?

Harriet sig


Confession: I spend too much money

A few years ago in an attempt to better regulate how I spend my money I decided to take two weeks and write down everything I spent, cash and debit card, all of it. I know it’s all there online, but the physical act of keeping a list really was eye-opening to me. I mean, I live mostly by myself, I don’t have kids, I make good money and only have a few bills and expenses. I can usually buy most things I want or need without thinking twice about it. And, um, I was not thinking twice A LOT. After this little budgetary exercise I decided to spend a month with a pretty restricted budget on going out to lunch or dinners, shopping, and even tried to be more careful at the grocery store.

Ya’ll, it’s time for that type of “detox” again. I have decided that May will be a month of no additional spending. I have gotten very lackadaisical about keeping a discerning eye on my wallet and in doing a little math today I am horrified at the number of dollars that have been spent with very little to show for them as far as quality experiences, quality meals, or quality products. I’m not saying that all purchases need to be for the highest quality consumption only, but looking over my account history I have WAY TOO MUCH low-quality spending.

So, I’m making changes. And instead of thinking about this for a week or two and then selecting a perfect day to start (you know, a week or 10 days in the future so I can “stock up” before the spending freeze), I’m just going to change. Immediately. Starting right now and going through the end of May.

A few luxury categories where I feel I can really save some pennies:

1. Food. Of late I have become really lazy about meal planning and have spent far too much money (and calories) in lunches and take-out for dinner. I need to buckle down and watch what I eat a little better, this will benefit my bank account AND my waistline. Those white jeans I bought last year will be worn much more frequently this summer if I don’t feel like a stuffed sausage when I pull them on.

2. My feet. I really don’t need another professional pedicure; I’m pretty good at doing them myself and already have all the supplies. Also, I need a new color of nail polish like I need a hole in the head, so that is being cut immediately. (Side note: WHY DO I HAVE SO MUCH NAIL POLISH!? Oh. Because I keep buying it.)

3. Books. It hurts my heart SO MUCH to have to list this here, but I went back for the last six months to calculate just how much I’ve spent buying books…and it’s kind of exorbitant, more than $100 a month. Now, I read voraciously, but I already have more books than I can probably read in the next two years, even at my 10 books/month average pace. I can probably go a whole four weeks without buying any new ones, and I can probably cut my monthly spending down significantly without feeling any real cramp in my style. (Sob!)

4. Car washes. Months ago I signed up for an unlimited car wash service that costs my about $35 a month. Honestly, I use it about once a week, so it’s not like it’s wasted cash. I like Miss Persimini to look her shiny best and my long blonde hairs need to be regularly vacuumed out of the carpet. But at $35 a month that is about $250 worth of car washes until I move to Arizona…and that suddenly seems really, really expensive. I’m going to try canceling it this month and re-evaluate in June to see if this expense is truly justified, and perhaps see if there is a less expensive overall option.

5. Impulse shopping. Again, this has been my downfall. A cute v-neck t-shirt! (just $12 bucks!) New chapstick! ($3 bucks) New nail polish! ($8 bucks) Cute cloth napkins with birds on them! ($10 bucks) A comedy show with friends! ($30 bucks) An “It’s been that kind of a Monday” sushi lunch! (only $25 bucks) Followed, of course, by Taco Tuesday ($7 bucks) and Burrito Thursday ($12 bucks) and…well, you see where this is going, don’t you? I don’t need any of these things, and while I am not willing to cut little luxuries like this out of my life and budget permanently, I could really be better about paying attention to how I am spending my hard-earned monies.

Um….Hi, my name is Harriet and I have a super first-world spending problem….good hell, this list is depressing in its admission of enormous levels of economic privilege. Blergh. I kind of hate myself right now. The best we can do is admit where we are falling short, make changes, and move forward with a new perspective and new habits, right?

Okay. Here it goes.

From now until the end of May I am in major curb-my-spending mode. Of course I will still be paying my bills and I’ll be going to the grocery store every week and if there is some kind of medical emergency I will not for one minute choose not to use my health insurance and HSA card (hiiiii, economic privilege!). BUT, I won’t be shopping aimlessly; I won’t wander around Target or Etsy or the J. Crew Outlet website; I won’t waltz to a sub-par food-court type restaurant for lunch four days a week; I won’t be buying new makeup products to experiment with; and I won’t be adding to my bookshelves in any way.

Honestly? This probably won’t be easy for me. I hope it will be the kind of budgetary cleanse I need to keep my spending more in check. Have you ever done a month of no spending? Or more? What did you think? Did it help curb some of your habits? Did you find you could overall live with spending less after your little experiment? What was the hardest part? Easiest? Most enlightening? I’m so curious about your findings and overall results.

Harriet sig