At the beginning of August I set out to go an entire month without any additional spending, hoping to reset my spending habits and kick start a financial detox. Now, I tried this in January as well with pretty mixed results (free tip: don’t try this kind of budget experiment two weeks after moving into a new house), I was hoping for a better grade this time around. I still bought groceries, including lots of fresh produce, and I still bought gas for my car and paid my bills, I wanted to reduce frivolous impulse buys and curb unnecessary, spontaneous spending. Here’s the somewhat ambitious plan I committed to:
For the month of August I will not buy new, unnecessary incidentals. I won’t buy any house things, no matter how perfect that side stool or storage bin would be for that one little spot. It will wait. I won’t buy nail polish, heaven knows I have more than I could use in half my lifetime. I won’t buy any books and I won’t do any online shopping. No clothes, no shoes, no office supplies, nothing.
Ok, so, how did I do? Well, overall, I think pretty well.
I started a new job mid-August and that necessitated some very minor office supply purchases, specifically, a little desk fan because my new office just does not have very good air circulation and I was battling major claustrophobia without the relief of a little cross-breeze (turns out, circulating air is essential for my sanity). Even with the major transition from working from home to working in an office, I still did not take myself out to lunch; I brought lunch every day my first two weeks…and that was sometimes a lot more difficult task than I really wanted to think about at 7:00 in the morning trying to get out the door. HOWEVER! I did it.
I did not buy any books, I actually have been utilizing the library more in the last month than I have in, probably, the rest of my life combined. Now, most of that utilization has been for audiobooks which I listen to on my commute, but I feel it very important to point out that before this little financial detox I was *buying* audiobooks via iTunes, not borrowing them for free from the library or using (and LOVING!) Overdrive. Definitely a big step in the right direction for me.
I didn’t buy clothes or shoes or new running socks or nail polish or replace slightly dried up makeup or used up perfume or anything! In the spirit of full disclosure, I did buy a tiny silver mountain-y necklace….and I know I should feel some sense of, I don’t know, remorse? guilt? failing student-itis? because a delicate mountain silhouette to hang around my neck was NOT part of my financial detox plan; but I’ve worn it every day since it arrived and it reminds me so much of the mountains that hold my heart. Saying goodbye to my Salt Lake-based job and that direct and consistent link to my Utah roots necessitated a mountain charm to wear next to my heart. Zero regrets. Zero apologies.
Also, in the spirit of full disclosure…I bought a rug. A big one. One that I have been looking at and lusting after for months and months and months. Now, pay attention because this is very important: it was suddenly on sale for 90% off. NINETY PERCENT OFF! It’s huge, a 9 x 11 footer, and made of 100% wool, and NINETY PERCENT OFF!! They were practically GIVING it away! I had the money for a rug set aside for months, waiting to find one in the right price range that I loved, this one was a perfect pattern/color/size, but I’d only ever seen it 30% off, and I couldn’t afford it at that price. But, at NINETY PERCENT OFF! I pounced on that thing and plunked down my debit card (ok, my Paypal password) before even thinking that “oh, hey, no giant rugs this month! Hope it’s still on sale in 3.5 weeks!” (It’s not; it’s sold out completely.) I couldn’t NOT buy that rug. It is huge and soft and covers up so much of the not-my-favorite beige-y tile in the dining room. And, again, NINETY PERCENT OFF!!! With free shipping! Yes, that rug was practically free. And practically free is mostly in-line with a month of no spending…right? Right. Ahem.
Ok, so let’s recap: one tiny office fan (aqua! so cute!); one sentimental-but-inexpensive necklace; one practically free rug. I’d give myself a solid A- grade, all things considered.
Want to know something else that made this whole financial detox particularly difficult and the timing especially poignant? When I switched jobs I got paid out for all my unused vacation time from my Utah company…and it was a significant payout, I had more than two full weeks of unused vacation time accrued. Having all those extra dollars sitting in my bank account, mocking me and daring me to go on a little shopping spree…it was rough, yo. To be completely honest, had I not been in this self-imposed financial detox I absolutely would have splurged on a few fun things for myself. Or maybe more than a few fun things. Instead, I forced myself to hold off on any purchases and see this financial detox thing through, and I transferred those dollars in my savings account. I do have a few little things that I will most likely buy in the next week, things I’d been “saving” for the end of this detox (running socks, and I really want to replace my empty perfume bottle), but it’s a lot less of a list than what I would have spent had I not forced myself to hold off. And that little experience, all by itself, has been a really great lesson for me, a way to identify my “natural” spending habits vs what I’d like them to be. If I can wait two weeks I will either a) no longer be interested in x, y, or z item; or b) be absolutely positive that it will be a necessary and welcome addition to my life.
Have you ever done a month of no spending? How did it go? If you were to try it, what kind of rules or parameters would you set? Do you like your current budgeting style? Do you stick to it? Do you know where all your money goes, down to the pennies? Or is it all vaguely loosey-goosey?