I am currently working on a mini spending fast. You know my current obsession with minimalism, I trust, and I am also getting into a bunch of different things on how to try to make some progress on my school loans. Admittedly, I do not have the "gazelle focus" championed by Dave Ramsey, but I'm trying to figure out what I can do that works for me. Yes, I know that the only real way to get rid of debt quickly is to ruthlessly and relentlessly only put extra money towards debt. Yet, (and maybe it's all rationalization) I keep finding things that are hard for me to define in terms of "want" vs. "need".
One example is food. I eat a lot of food. (It made me laugh earlier this week when I went out to breakfast with a friend; she knows I eat a lot, but I don't think she's ever seen it. Her eyes got pretty big at the amount of food I could eat at one sitting!) I also have allergies and intolerances that mean that I respond better if I eat organic food, etc. While groceries are a growing expense for everyone as food gets more and more expensive, there are things that can be done to make the grocery bill cheaper that I am not willing to do. I don't really need to lose weight (okay, I'd like to drop a few pounds that I've regained in the last 1-2 years, but 5-ish is more maintenance than true weight loss), so eating when I'm hungry really is about fueling my activities. I'm not going to cut down amounts. As to the health difference I feel, even though I don't like having to be a princess about the quality of my food, that is not even a consideration.
What about something like massage? I know that there is no way that the financial gurus out there would consider that a necessity. It's a luxury item if ever there was one! Yet, I do not find it to be so. I am a movement and body worker. Not to mention the fact that I have been known to play hard outside. There is is huge difference in how I move and feel if I keep my muscles from getting too tight. Yes, I have learned a few tricks to self treat as much as possible, and I certainly spread them out as much as I can to save some money, but I do not feel that it is strictly a luxury. Again, maybe it is a rationalization, but I do feel strongly about this.
Then there are doing things with friends. I have been working on this category. Thankfully, most of my hiking and such can be done for the price of gas. But there's cross country skiing and the occasional weekend trip, as well as maybe a vacation. Yes, I know that these are luxuries, but as a single person with not a lot of family in the area, I have a hard time ignoring this stuff as well. I know how I get if I spend too much time alone in my house, and it is not pretty.
Ahem, now that you know about all of the things I feel guilty about and keep rationalizing to myself, here's one of the things that I've decided to do to start to address some of it. I keep hearing about people who have done year long spending fasts and the way that they have knocked out huge chunks of debt as a result. Granted, they had that "gazelle focus" and didn't rationalize the way that you see here. I can't quite bring myself to do that, but I did decide that I would try for the month of January to only spend money 2 days a week (as much as possible). One is on my day off, because that's when I have to get errands done, and it's a good day to get bills paid and so forth. The other is on Saturday, because that's the day that I'm usually going to go do something with friends. The exceptions to this is if I legitimately run out of food (that is, there is NO food, not just that I'm not in the mood for what I have or it's a weird meal that uses up leftovers), or if I'm meeting with a friend on a different day of the week. Hey, in the last year or two, I let my social life dry up a bit because I stopped working so hard on it and as people moved away and got busy with other things, I got left behind. I have to rebuild, and that is definitely a priority!
As I write this, I'm about a week in (because why wait to start in January when I could start now?), and it is crazy to me how even this little move, even with all of my rationalizations and exceptions, makes a
difference in my approach to things. It's even crazier how it helps me to address a number of goals all at once!
Okay, this is the primary goal of doing this. Here's what I'm finding. So far, I am too early into it to have much of an idea of what it may be saving me in terms of actual dollars and cents numbers. What I do notice is that I have a tendency to run to the grocery store for any little excuse. Maybe I'm a little extra hungry, so I eat some of my snack food because I figure I can replace it before I need it. Or, I go to the grocery store when I am in a low willpower situation anyway (hungry and/or tired) so I make extra impulse buys. Knowing that I am not going to the grocery store for a week makes me really stop and think about how hungry I am and what I choose to eat. For example, I do have a lot of snack food on hand because I need it to get through my work day. When I'm home, it makes me not choose my work snacks but maybe eat leftovers instead.
There's also a matter of food waste. I got a spaghetti squash one Thursday with a plan to make a recipe with it later the next week. Squash can sometimes last for a good month or two. Well, not this one. On Saturday, I noticed that there was a small, localized soft spot. If I made the squash that day, I could probably use most of it for my recipe. If I waited, I would likely have to toss it. Prior to my little spending fast, I would have taken note of all the stuff I had to do that day and decided to pick up another squash the next time I was at the store. This time, I knew I had to make time to make the recipe, because otherwise I was out a squash. (By the way, it was this recipe, and I thought it was pretty tasty!) So, not only would I have spent a few more dollars on another squash, but I would have probably picked up some other things that I didn't need that much.
Beyond food, I have found that there are a couple of other purchases that I have needed/wanted to make recently, and having an extra couple of days before I could go get them helped me make a little smarter choices. For example, instead of just going out and buying a couple of things, I realized I could get them on Amazon, and while I sometimes like avoiding the giant, I happened to have some rewards points that I could redeem for making those purchases with something that felt like free money. It's also a great way to help weed out a few impulse buys. If it's not still on my mind and list a couple days later, I really didn't need it!
I've already given you the boring details of my food issues. (In this post and too many others! Sorry!) However, like everyone, I don't eat as well as I should. There are always things that I can clean up a little. For one, there are certain processed foods that fit my dietary restrictions, and because they are easy, I eat them more than I should. By knowing that I can only shop about once a week, I get enough for the week, but not enough for the impulse moments when I'm hungry and they're easy and they just sound good. Instead, I have to turn to leftovers, or a bag of apples. It makes me eat better.
This also helps with my weight maintenance goals. While I am not trying to actively lose weight, the impulse eating may be a big part of the extra couple of pounds. Sometimes if there's too much availability of comfort food, I may want it due to hunger, but I may also want it due to the fact that it tastes good or that I am tired or bored. I am much more likely to be okay with the leftovers if I am truly hungry, and I eat less of them than the food that just sounds good.
My sister and I slowly worked our way through "Laudato Si" last year. I loved everything about it, but it does make me think about and challenge some of the ways that I do things. Realizing how much I consume in general and how that affects my humanity throughout the world makes me want to find even small things that I can do to make progress. This is definitely one of the reasons that I feel so good about minimalism in general. Once a week grocery store purchases make me be very mindful of what I buy, I tend to get more fresh foods that I will have to cook (again with avoiding the excess snacks and all their excess packaging!), not to mention the gas I save from going once and being a little more organized about my errands to fit them all into the day. Not to mention something like that squash that I ate instead of throwing it out.
I recognize that I have more time as a single person than some people do, but I still want to use time the best I can. There are a lot of things that I want to do that I say that I don't have the time to do. That's silly. To be honest, I have plenty of time if I am better about using it. It takes a lot of time to make several extra trips to the grocery store each week!
This is one of the things that I love the most about this little experiment. I can't tell you the number of times that I've had a long day at work, so I feel like I "deserve" whatever impulse buys sound really good at the grocery store that day. Or I'm a little down, so I feel like I deserve that extra snack, etc. It turns out that I don't need or deserve those things at all. What I am finding is that when I don't gratify every little desire every time it comes to mind is that I am enjoying what I have so much more! When I am truly hungry, I am grateful for those apples or leftovers that wouldn't have been my first choice. And, yes, I still do buy those treats, but knowing I can't just run to the store and replace them means that I wait for the appropriate time to eat them, and I enjoy them so much more as a result! Yes, some people have enough will power that they do this anyway, but I am not one of those people.
There you have it. Even with all my exceptions and rationalizations, recognizing that I could do more, this little plan is still doing something significant. The fact that it is a bit of a challenge, but still feels very doable means that I should be able to at least keep it up for January, and possibly beyond.