Spending fast
Life Transformation

Reset Your Finances with a Spending Fast

Last Updated on May 7, 2020 by Alex

Money is a lot like food. We tend to crave it, overindulge and regret it later. Our bellies get bloated, as do our credit card bills, while our self-respect and bank accounts get drained. You can reset your finances with a spending fast just like you can reset your eating habits with a juice or water fast.

Otherwise known as a money detox or a money cleanse, the basic idea of the spending fast is that you are first going to remove all but the most essential spending, maintain a period of strict adherence to spending minimalism, and then replace your old spending habits with new ones.

The fast is both stricter and less prescriptive than other protocols that are out there. Stricter because you are going to reduce your spending down to the absolute bare bones for a period of time, no exceptions. Less prescriptive because it isn’t composed of a bunch of stages and doesn’t include cute but questionable practices like giving money during the fast in order to create an “abundance mindset.” Absolutely nothing like that.

This is going to be really simple and austere.

It’s probably going to hurt at the beginning.

Then you will love it. 

Getting Ready

This should only take a day because you have just a few tasks to complete in order to be ready to start the spending fast:

  1. Identify all of your subscriptions, from Netflix to iCloud to the gym to product subscriptions on Amazon. Make a list.
  2. Note all upcoming events and commitments that would involve spending. This includes dates, nights out with friends, weekends away and so on. Add below your list of subscriptions.
  3. Identify all remaining sources of spending that you would normally have, such as gas for the car, subway tickets, work lunches, coffee, etc. Mentally go through your days and then write down all the remaining ways you spend money below the upcoming events and commitments.

That’s it. 

Choose a Period of Time

There is no magic period of time for a spending fast, just like there isn’t for a juice or water fast. How long you go should depend on two things:

  1. How long you need to go for the fast to be effective.
  2. How out of control your spending is right now.

Obviously, the two are related. If you are a basically thrifty person whose one money vice is that you indulge on expensive coffees and giant Dagwood sandwiches, a week would be a good period of time.

If, on the other hand, you often struggle to make it on your paycheck each month or have credit card debt, often buy on impulse and generally don’t exactly know where your money goes, your spending fast should be a month. (Don’t be surprised if after the month you feel so good about it that you hang on another month.)

Be honest with yourself. The spending fast is intended to reset your spending by resetting your mind. To be effective you’ll have to go through a kind of spending detox at the other end of which you no longer have the compulsions and spending habits you now have.

How long will that take?

The Fast

You’ve prepared an overview of your spending. You’ve picked a day to start and a period of time that the spending fast will last.

Now you are ready to begin. 

Here are the rules:

  1. Cancel all subscriptions that have monthly payments that can be cancelled at any time, with the exception of cloud storage that you absolutely need. But check how much you actually use and downgrade your plan if you’re currently paying for storage space that is empty. Also downgrade your phone plan if you have that option and it wouldn’t end up costing you more because minimal phone use would cause you to exceed the plan’s limits.
  2. Cancel or reframe all upcoming events and commitments that require spending with the exception of professional commitments. Reframing means shifting from a spending to a non-spending activity. If you were going to go to a restaurant with your date, change it to an afternoon playing frisbee in the park and picnicking on homemade Dagwood sandwiches.
  3. Eliminate all remaining non-essential spending that is on your list. Be creative. If you take the subway to work, think about if you can walk it or cycle the distance. Reduce car driving to the minimum. Eliminate all coffees not made at home. Everything must go.
  4. List out what is left—all of the essential spending. Mortgage or rent, utilities, food. You may have a couple of other items. If you have kids you definitely will have other items. But make sure these are really essential. Life just can’t go on without them.

A note on food: The point of the spending fast is to reset your finances and your mindset around money. Resist the urge to transfer the spending habit from Amazon to the grocery store. Eat simply—as simply as you possibly can. You are paring down your spending to the bare minimum. Buy dried beans in bulk and make big pots of them for bean burritos. Eat brown rice, simple salads, fruits that are in season and, if possible, local. 

Simple, cheap.

Restore Spending

When the fast is over you will want to bring life back to normality, but let it be a new normal. 

Before you start spending more money again, reflect in a journal what you’ve learned during the fast and how it has changed you.

Then, slowly, increase your spending. 

Restore subscriptions services you really, really missed, but keep it to a minimum. Cooking at home usually results in weight loss. Maybe you want to keep that habit, adding only a fraction of the restaurant meals you used to have back in. 

The expensive coffee bar coffee? How many of those in a month do you really need? 

By restoring spending slowly and reflecting on each expenditure, you will likely find that you won’t be spending nearly as much as you used to. Now would be the time to give—from the money you save, find a charity that really helps people.

Take at least a week and up to a month to restore spending that is now in line with your new values and habits.

Consider looking into minimalism as a new lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

Remember, this is a fast. It’s temporary but it resets the way you spend money. 

You’ll find out that you can not only make do with less, but that you are happier and more fulfilled leading a more frugal life.

Inevitably you will replace activities that used to cost you money with no-cost ones. You may discover yourself reading more, running and working out more (you can substitute calisthenics workouts at home for gym workouts), meditating more—or learning to meditate—and improving yourself in other ways. 

Value these improvements in your life and well-being. They are far more important than anything you would have gotten out of spending more money.

Hi, I'm Alex. I’ve been working since the age of 12, have had over 30 jobs in my life, and have been a professor for over 20 years teaching environmental studies. During that time I’ve consulted for governments around the world as well as UN agencies and the European Union, have published poetry and short stories. I’ve been married, divorced and married again, and have four incredible children, and I am a long time student of Tibetan Buddhism. I’m deeply interested in how to navigate change in a constantly changing world and how to optimize our lives for happiness, well-being and growth.

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