Google the words “spending fast” and you’ll find that there are hundreds of ways to enact a financial freeze in your household. I found many helpful suggestions, but struggled with challenges that also involved me cleaning out my pantry, not buying any groceries for 30 days and surviving with only the gas that I had in the tank of my car at the beginning of the month. It was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. So, here are my simple suggestions for you and yours if you decide to embark on this adventure.
1. Examine your reasons & boil them down to a sentence/catch phrase/mantra you can use all month.
My recent job change meant that Phil and I had to make some spending changes in our lives. We’ve never been lavish, if anything we enjoy the simpler things in life and long for less. The decision to stop spending for 30 days was an easy one for us to make in light of our budget changing dramatically. But, we agreed to my decision to leave my job because it best reflected our shared values – care for ourselves, do not sacrifice our well-being for the sake of money, be fearless and take leaps of faith. Our catch phrase boiled down to “it doesn’t reflect our values.”
2. Create guidelines that you agree to as a couple or that you can hold yourself to as an individual.
Get to the specifics here. If you’re going to not spend for 30 days, you need to know what “not spending” means. Here’s what we agreed to -
- No restaurant/ice cream shop/coffee shop visits. No stopping at Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chipotle, etc.
- No paying for entertainment. We could use museum memberships, see free outdoor concerts, etc., but nothing otherwise.
- No personal shopping. Nothing online, no clothing, nothing to improve the house.
- Groceries were fine – we would not limit ourselves to shopping only once for the month. We could also buy Whole 30 food items, as we were also going to be following the plan for the month. So, some may think that kombucha is superfluous, but we drink it to add probiotics to our diet.
- No special treats for the kids. We would offer them the opportunity to spend their own money if they felt like they wanted something. A slushie at the beach? They would need to use their own money for that.
- No paying for convenience work, i.e. buying a car wash or paying for the dogs to be bathed at the dog store.
Finally, we agreed that if circumstances were extreme, we would be willing to step outside of the boundaries. Phil was asked to unexpectedly work a longer shift and we agreed that he would need to buy dinner at work, since he had only packed a lunch. We used common sense and agreed to talk about our exceptions if they came up.
3. Enlist the help of all family members.
Do not make this just about you and your spouse. You have the opportunity to teach your children a valuable and meaningful life lesson by including them in your discussion. It was back to school time during our challenge and our 10 year old questioned if he would be getting new shoes. His current shoes fit just fine, but he inevitably wants new shoes for basketball season every year. We agreed that he would wait and get new shoes closer to his sports season starting. I waited for him to rebel, but he agreed that it was a better idea.
Share your pledge with your extended family members as well. Think about how you’ll turn down dinner invitations or other events that will include spending. While you’re explaining, go back to Step 1 and recall your catchphrase/mantra. Consider sharing it with your family members and friends and ask for their support.
4. Brainstorm a list of things that are free and that bring you joy.
Call this list whatever you like, but make one and try to do as many things on this list as you can during your spend-free month. Here are some of our favorite “free bucket list” items.
- Going to the beach with my kayak. Paddling, swimming, playing in the water.
- Watching the sunset.
- Taking our dogs to the park.
- Visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art – we’re lucky to be home to one of the largest, free art museums in the nation.
- Attending free concerts in our local parks.
- Playing one of the many board games we have in our family’s collection.
- Visiting our local library to take out books and movies.
- Revisit an old hobby – knitting supplies hidden in the closet? Cookbooks collecting dust on the shelf?
- Take a family bike ride.
- Finding free yoga classes to take around Cleveland.
5. Spend time during the month examining what you already have.
Gratitude for what we have can be a powerful antidote for the constant need to have more. Perhaps you spend time this month cleaning out a closet or a drawer. If you’re like me, you’ll find clothing that you forgot you owned. You’ll also discover items that you no longer need, that no longer reflect your catchphrase/mantra. I found knick-knacks that no longer reflected who I am. They got packed for Goodwill. I had photos tucked away in envelopes dating back to 2007. I took the time to sort through them, discard the duplicates and organize them in a photo album. This small act gave me more room in a cupboard and a wonderful walk down memory lane.
I also spent time looking at the large collection of recipes I had collected on Pinterest and actually made them. Our coffee shop problem – let’s kindly say problem and not addiction – was a huge chunk of our spending. I took time this month to learn how to make cold-brew coffee, date paste, and almond milk and started experimenting with being my own barista.
I discovered that the lack of spending got easier as the month progressed. Phil and I are examining our budget and truly looking at whether or not what we buy reflects our values and goals. Is it difficult to drive by a coffee shop and not stop for a pumpkin-flavored concoction? At first, yes. But then you realize that $5 for coffee is just not you anymore. And then the drive home feels all the more free.