I don’t know if people even try this, but I think it’s very difficult to set a 12-month goal, especially when it comes to money. And even more so after coming back from a holiday season. But I have found it’s useful to take smaller steps and find something to reenergize yourself around your goals in the new year.
One thing that has worked very well for me is to go on a spending diet. I’ve found that I can stay on track with reasonable spending 80% of the time. And that is sufficient to reach my financial goals. What that means though, is a few months of the year — typically August and December, when I tend to take more time off to see loved ones — I spend well above my average. Therefore, the months AFTER those where I spent more than normal, I go on a spending diet.
What does a spending diet look like?
My January spending plan, then, closely parallels what I am also doing health-wise… getting back to healthy eating plans, cutting out sugar and white flour, committing to my workout schedule again. I find that I can make specific commitments for money that I don’t necessarily need to keep (or even want to keep) up for 12 months at a time, but the break “resets” my brain back into my normal routine.For a spending diet, make specific commitments for money that you don’t necessarily need to keep (or even want to keep) up for 12 months at a time... the break will “reset” your brain back into your normal routine. Click To Tweet
For the next month, then, I am committing to:
- Only buying normal, everyday things I need to live and work. This means that I will pay regular monthly bills and grocery shop, but pretty much anything else I see that I want, I have to put it on a list and see if I still want it in 30 days.
- Entertaining myself inexpensively. No new Kindle books (only library books). I even commit to no movie rentals because there are so many free ones on Netflix (to which I already subscribe). I can see a friend for lunch or coffee, but no fancy dinners. If I want to invite someone over for a low-key dinner, fine (and people appreciate that as they recover from Christmas).
- Amazon hiatus. Sorry, Amazon… For 30 days, unless it falls under the category of regular expenses, I put everything I see at Amazon on the Wish List. (You would be surprised what you don’t remember putting on there when you look at it after a month!).
- Online shopping hiatus. And not just Amazon… Why go virtually window shop when you’re not planning on buying anything? I just keep a list of things that I think of (usually on my iPhone so I can add to it at a moment’s notice) and when the 30 days is over, I buy what I still want/need.
- Reviewing self-care. I typically get a pedicure about once per month because I find them very relaxing. But it’s no big deal if I don’t, and I don’t mind going without sometimes if it honors a higher ideal, like getting back on track and recommitting to healthier spending patterns. For example, my pedicure appointment this month would fall on the last weekend of the month — so there is no reason why I can’t just move that over to the next weekend in the next month. That is a zero-sacrifice option.
- And P.S. – if it does feel like a sacrifice and it’s a part of my regular, monthly schedule, I keep the appointment. This isn’t about sacrifice, this is about resetting your brain to remember that you were happy on your regular routine, before your month of excess.
Coming out of it…
Once your spending diet month is over, you want to be sure and put an end to it! This isn’t meant to go on forever. But I love it as a return to consciousness. The best way I know to do this is with a little conscious reflection – I love asking myself:
- What did you NOT miss that you thought you would? Whenever I tell myself I can’t buy books, it feels hard… But after a month of keeping myself busy with library books and borrowed books, I realize most of my issue is in my head.
- What were your triggers to WANT to spend more money and how did you cope? I tend to spend more when I am tired or stressed. Those feelings aren’t going to go away, so I find distractions and alternate behaviors. I also don’t expect them to work 100% of the time!
- What do you think is sustainable going forward? During one spending diet, a friend and I discovered we actually preferred dinner and wine, sitting on my couch and hanging out, over the upscale dinners we used to plan. It was nice to realize our friendship is more about connection than trying the latest hot spot.
Of course, your mileage may vary! This is as much about discovering how this new way of spending feels for you as it is about reining in your cash outflow. For more information about creating a long-term spending plan, check out my library of resources about conscious spending instead of budgeting.
And remember: This isn’t for life! If you can’t do one for 30 days, pick a shorter time frame, you will still get the benefits from it and your wallet will thank you!