What I Learned From A Two-Month Spending Fast

mbg Contributor By Leigh Weingus
mbg Contributor
Leigh Weingus is a New York City based freelance journalist writing about health, wellness, feminism, entertainment, personal finance, and more. She received her bachelor’s in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis.
What I Learned From A Two-Month Spending Fast

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What do I really need to spend money on? That's a question I asked myself when I decided to embark on my first-ever spending fast two months ago.

The idea of spending only on the necessities was a scary one, but I was determined to try it. I've been in a financially stable place for the past few years, but my early 20s were characterized by expensive bags and ridiculously pricey (albeit very soft) cashmere sweaters that I couldn't afford. I remember all too vividly waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking about my credit card bills.

My anxiety levels have leveled off since those days, making me a big proponent of financial wellness. I'm now proud to report that I spend within my means, but thanks to aforementioned 23-year-old mistakes, my savings account still isn't where I would like it to be. A quick way to get myself on track, I'd learned, was a spending freeze.

So I took a deep breath, tucked my credit card into the back of my wallet, and froze my spending.

My spending fast rules.

A couple of clicks around the internet and a few nights spent paging through personal finance books told me I could set the rules of my spending freeze, which made the process less daunting. Some things were obvious: There was no question that I had to pay my rent, electricity bill, refill my subway pass, and pay for my Wi-Fi. And of course I could go a couple of months without buying new clothes or shoes, even if that made my life slightly less exciting.

Food was more difficult, though. Yes, I had to eat—but I didn't need to go to the most expensive grocery store in town, and I certainly didn't need to eat lunch or dinner out. And while I love a bowl of ice cream once in a while, it doesn't have any nutritional value, so I don't actually need it (my taste buds think otherwise). Exercise was another tough one. There's nothing I love more than a yoga or group fitness class, but technically I'm completely fine running and walking outside, and as a certified yoga instructor I have no problem putting together yoga sequences at home.

So I froze my yoga and gym memberships and limited my spending to the necessities and nutritious food from Trader Joe's, which is typically a lot less expensive than other grocery stores.


What purchases actually make me happy?

While the first couple of weeks were full of moments spent daydreaming about what I couldn't have, by Week 3 the things I actually missed became more clear. Yoga was a big one. My flexibility and strength hadn't taken a hit, but I missed the community feeling of moving and breathing with my fellow yogis, and I had to avoid the street my yoga studio is on, so I wouldn't get too sad (really!). Another thing I missed was going out to dinner, drinks, and coffee with friends. It was less about the food, as it turned out, and more about sitting down with a friend and catching up. I was able to remedy that one by suggesting walks or hanging out in the park (it's a good thing it's summer), and after a few raised eyebrows, most of my friends happily agreed.

Another interesting thing was how much I missed spending money on other people. Studies show that spending money on others makes us happy, and I found this to be very true. When a friend was having a particularly bad day, I desperately wanted to get her flowers to cheer her up or offer to take her out for a drink, but I couldn't. When another friend had a birthday party and I showed up empty-handed, that didn't exactly feel good.

The main thing I noticed was that the only time I missed spending money was when it had to do with other people. Skipping a new pair of summer sandals for a couple of months took no toll on my happiness whatsoever, and that realization was actually really liberating.

What my spending looks like now.

My spending fast ended a couple of weeks ago, and although I'm definitely glad to have the freedom to spend money again, I'm a lot more mindful with my spending. Will that four-dollar almond milk latte really make me happier than the free coffee at work? Do I really need that T-shirt right this instant, or can it wait until fall?

For the most part, the answer is no, or that I can wait. After years of feeling like I had no control over my finances, this is one of the most empowering feelings I've ever experienced. And my savings account looks ridiculously good.

Intrigued by the idea of a spending fast? Read up on the habits of debt-free people.

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