Financial Detox: January spending freeze

Last spring I had a little “come to” meeting with my bank account; my unnecessary spending had become out of control. I wasn’t spending more than I brought in or racking up massive credit card debt, but I wasn’t saving very much and I felt the last few days before pay day were always giving me some anxiety. I did a lot better the rest of the year when it came to my finances, but I feel like I need a little post-holiday detox. So, for the month of January I am on a spending freeze, I can buy groceries and gasoline and other absolute necessities, but no unnecessary spending. No books, no cute tops on clearance, no extra throw pillows or picture frames, no fancy drinks or check-out-line glossy magazines. I tried this once before and had really great results, it was a lot easier for me to see how much money I could save if I just thought about it a little.

I no longer work at a mall with restaurants and clearance racks to browse on my lunch break (my office building was above one of the downtown malls in Salt Lake City). That major switch will eliminate a lot of opportunity for impulse spending right off the top. I also have spent the last two months packing and then unpacking every single one of my belongings, and if that doesn’t cure you of buying MORE things, I don’t know what will.

I think my biggest hurdle will be not running out to buy house things, we have all of the necessities and many of the fun extras, but I can’t help but plan and sketch out improvements and adjustments¬† to our home. And then, of course, sketching leads to online shopping which inevitably leads to buying. I have PLENTY of projects to finish up that do not require that cute throw pillow or side table or picture frame or whatever. There are still about 20 boxes that need to be unpacked, the garage still needs some work, and the backyard needs a major weeding session. (Fun fact: in Arizona, winter is the only season you can do yardwork without melting your face off.) That will keep me busy for several evenings and Saturdays, I don’t need to start any new projects quite yet.

So, here we go, a whole month without spending! Do you have some kind of January Detox planned? No sugar? Whole30? No spending? No social media?

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