Is it time for a financial fast?

December 1, 2012 Financial Freedom

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Is it time for a financial fast?

How many of us have started a new diet by fasting to quick start our weight loss? It’s amazing how motivating it can be to lose those first few pounds. Losing those first few can get us in the mind set to lose even more. That’s one of the reasons many people utilize fasting as a jump start tool. One of the problems with fasting, however, is that it’s really easy to gain that weight back, since often what you lose is water weight.

What if fasting could have long term effects? Well good news—it can! But instead of fasting from food, how about fasting from spending? Here’s the good news—a financial fast won’t lead to weight gain down the road, but it can have that same motivational effect.

Pick a time frame—a day, a week, a month—whatever you realistically think you can handle. During that time, do not spend ANY money. Not a dime. That means no grabbing your favorite coffee from the local barista or even so much as picking up a pack of gum. This is an exercise in control, and it truly can be a great way to kick start a financial savings plan (or give you the money to use to begin a debt repayment plan).

As consumers, we tend to buy without thinking. A financial fast puts this into perspective incredibly quickly. Think about it—if you aren’t allowed to spend any money, you will still have the urge to do so. You will be forced to think about each and every one of those potential purchases very carefully. More importantly, you will definitely begin to see the difference between your wants and your needs. If you can get through a day (or a week, or even a month) with zero expenditures, you will begin to notice how many things you typically buy that you don’t actually need. Think about how much money you could save if you only bought things you truly needed!

Try to go into this exercise with the mindset that this is a bit of a game. Have fun with it. See what inspired sorts of things you can do to make up for the things that you want to buy, but now aren’t “allowed” to.

To get prepared, think about your daily routine. Do you usually grab a latte or breakfast on the run in the morning? Not any more—make your coffee at home and eat a bowl of cereal. While you’re at it, take a few minutes to pack a lunch—you’re not going to be able to stop at the local café if you’re not spending money, so you better have a plan or you’re going to end up very hungry at the end of the day. Do you usually head to the vending machine for an afternoon snack? Yep, better pack that too.

It may be very tempting to grab a pizza on the way home, but during your financial fast, this isn’t an option. Raid your refrigerator and pantry and make dinner at home. If you are doing this for a long period of time (a week or a month), some of those meals will begin to get very creative. And remember—just because a recipe calls for something doesn’t mean you always have to use it. There are lots of substitutions you can make. If you are wanting spaghetti but you are out of spaghetti noodles, but you have penne on hand, use that pasta instead. One night when I discovered I was out of spaghetti sauce, I made my own using ingredients that I had in the pantry—diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and some spices. Whoever said “necessity is the mother of invention” was absolutely right! This exercise is also a great way to use up things in your kitchen and clean out your cupboards. If you are craving dessert but don’t have any sweets on hand, that can of pineapple in the back of the cupboard might start to look pretty tasty.

Instead of buying things, see if you can borrow them instead. There are lots of projects that may call for a tool you will use that one and only time. See if anyone you know has one you can borrow.

If it’s a service you need, try bartering. Maybe you need an appliance repaired, and you have a friend who repairs appliances. Possibly you have a skill that you can “trade” for that repair.

If you have a special occasion that comes during your financial fast and you’re dying for a new outfit, don’t give in. Go into your closet and put what you already own together in a new way. Accessories can go a long way to breathing fresh life into an outfit you feel is tired. Possibly you have a friend or relative who would let you borrow something as well.

You might be surprised at the end of your fast by the things you realize you didn’t actually “need.” You should also be surprised by the amount of money you have saved. Keep track of what you didn’t spend, and either use that money to pay down debt or to put into savings. If your budget needs a little kick start now and then, try this exercise again. You might surprise yourself and find yourself really enjoying it!