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How a Spending Fast Could Lead to Long-Term Changes

If you've been dropping more dough than you can afford to, a spending fast can help you make long-term changes. Here's how to kickstart a no-spend challenge.

So maybe being cooped up during a stay-at-home order has you spending a tad more online than you should. Or you might've gone overboard on sending gifts to friends and family during the holidays. Whatever the case might be, it might be time to take a second look at your spending habits and scale back a bit.

Easier said than done, right? Breaking a habit and developing new ones is hard. And to help you get back on the right track, consider going on a spending fast. Just like how a juice cleanse could help reset your eating habits, putting the brakes on your spending could help you save money and re-examine how you spend.

Set Up Rules for Your Spending Fast

Before you start, create some rules for your no-spend challenge:

Set a length of time. The key is to not be overly ambitious—don't aim for a year or a few months. You might want to commit to not spending for an entire weekend or for seven days.

Time of year might also be another deciding factor. For instance, spendy times of the year such as the holidays, summer staycations, and back-to-school shopping might make going on a no-spend challenge tough. Instead, consider hopping on a fast right after, say, the holidays, to reset and recover from holiday debt hangover.

Know what you can spend on. Before you start, make sure you have what you need to survive without needing to buy anything. Load up on a tank of gas, and make sure your fridge and kitchen pantry are well stocked to tide you over. You might allow yourself to spend on essential items such as groceries or to replace a food staple, such as milk or eggs. If you're committing to a longer stint, you might allow yourself to spend money on small gifts.

Get off social media and unsubscribe to newsletters. Those emails from your favorite online stores and sales alerts that pop up in your Instagram feed can lure you back to spending. To make it easier for you, unsubscribe to some of those emails and unfollow retailer accounts.

Along the same lines, to make it harder for you to spend, temporarily unlink your cards to your PayPal and Amazon accounts and freeze a few cards so you can't make any purchases on them.

Write in a Journal Daily

Besides saving you money by not spending on non-essentials, a major part of a spending fast is examining your spending habits. Consider writing in a journal for a few minutes each day. Ask yourself the following:

  • How much money did I save today?

  • How does spending make me feel?

  • How does not spending make me feel?

  • How am I using my time and energy now that I'm not spending money?

  • Going forward, what can I do to make it harder for me to spend?

You might discover that you aren't buying because you need something, but because you do it out of habit, to pass the time, or to potentially fulfill some emotional need. Our money decisions aren't always rooted in logic and sometimes have an emotional side.

Be Reasonable

As you're going cold turkey, to avoid setting yourself up for failure or feeling discouraged and abandoning the spending fast completely, consider doing the following:

Choose a length of time when you're less prone to temptation. If you tend to spend more on the weekends because you have more leisure time, kick off your no-spend challenge during the week. On the flip side, maybe you spend more during the week because you're too tired to cook and tend to order takeout, or you buy out of boredom or anxiety.

If it's easier for you to stop spending during the week, do a five-day spending fast during the weekdays. If you have an easier time during the weekends, consider a fast on the weekend. By enjoying an early win, you'll most likely stick to your no-spend challenge.

Give yourself a jail-free card. You also might want to give yourself a pass if you end up spending a little bit. For instance, you're allowed one $10 dollar purchase on a non-essential item.

Focus on a specific category. If a full-blown spending fast feels a bit overwhelming, considering starting with a specific category. Which area of spending do you have the most trouble with? Is it on food, clothes, exercise gear, or an expensive hobby? By choosing just one area could make it more doable.

If you are going this route, consider setting limits in other spending areas. That way, you don't go overboard because you aren't allowing yourself to make purchases on certain items.

Put That Money Saved to Good Use

Assign a task to the money you save on your no-spend challenge. Perhaps it can go toward savings or toward some credit card debt. Giving that money a job can help you from spending it willy-nilly after you've completed your no-spend challenge.

While a spending fast isn't intended to cure you completely from overextending your finances, it can be a way for you to examine why you're spending more than you can afford to in the first place and help you make changes in the long run.

Jackie Lam

Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer whose work has appeared in Salon, Business Insider, and GOOD.