I just finished Michelle Singletary’s 21-Day Financial Fast. I spent money only on necessities. Here is what I learned.
Personal finance columnist, Michelle Singletary led a 21-day financial fast that wrapped up a few weeks ago – and I finished it. During the three week fast, you can only spend money on absolute necessities with no credit card use and debit card use only for groceries and gas. There is no eating out, no random shopping and no entertainment spending during the fast. To get the full benefit, I purchased her book and read one short chapter a day. The chapters are divided into themes that are meant to challenge our deeper “money thinking”.
Initially, I took the fast lightly. I thought, “Of course, I’ll fast. It’s January. The holidays are over. This is a great time to hit my money reset button.” I had no idea what was in store. No idea.
I am a frugal momma. Not cheap — frugal. I shop sales and use coupons for everything, but bargain shopping is still spending. The financial fast forced me to stop all unnecessary spending and go about my days with a quiet focus on how I think about money.
Here are five things that I learned from the fast:
Not spending money is harder than spending money. Duh, right? The opportunity to spend money is everywhere. Buy this. Charge that. Ads even follow you online. It’s interesting that most financial advice starts with a directive to stop spending. Well, let me tell you to not spend money requires planning. For example, to pack a lunch for work every day requires grocery shopping (which involves planning) and meal prep. Doable, but it requires a plan. Now, I look for ways not to spend.
Much of what we describe as needs are actually wants. Michelle Singletary writes extensively on needs versus wants. We are constantly bombarded with messages to buy bigger…buy more…upgrade. How much of these things are real necessities? Certainly, the answer to this question differs for every person. I need a roof over my head. I want a new kitchen gadget. To focus only on necessities makes the distinction between needs and wants crystal clear.
Unplanned eating out will wreck your budget. Prior to the fast, I prepared most meals at home. I am a busy mom, so I always considered eating out as a viable option. Post-fast, I plan more and we eat out a lot less. I prepare virtually all our meals at home. Truthfully, we eat heathier and I have greater confidence in what we eat (due to recent food scares). I am no less busy – just more plan-full.
Here’s my new moto: You don’t have to cook every day, but you do have to plan to eat every day.
Resist shame spending. I read about his phenomena, recently. In short, it is parents being shamed (or feeling pressured) into buying things for their kids. For example, purchasing expensive classes or pricey gadgets for their kids because others in their social circle are doing so. This happened to me with food. The fast helped me realize that I shopped at a pricey grocery store, because friends swore it had the best, highest quality food. No, it wasn’t wrecking my budget, but I did take a look at my spending and decided to readjust. The biggest lesson here was to base my goals on my priorities – not someone else’s.
A focus on necessities fosters a greater appreciation for everything. The fast helped me to identify my real priorities. Now, I can let everything else go. This letting go leaves only the most important things. I discovered that there is a role for gratitude in our household budget. The temptation with gratitude is to be grateful that my situation is better than someone else’s. But, the deeper challenge is gratitude for its own sake – to walk in humility for your own met needs and your own personal progress.
I found this money fast to be life changing. It was a great way to stop, reassess and shift toward new goals. Check out Michelle Singletary’s book and her nationally syndicated column.
Could you spend only on necessities for 21 days? It’s not easy, but I bet you could.
I write for the parents who, every month, aspire to stay on budget.
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