It has been a very long time since I posted, but I have several excuses! I took a long break from technology and social media (a much needed fast for me) throughout much of March and April. Then in May I got a new job, and to put it mildly, the schedule was utterly insane.
Somehow, the end of my 6 month Spending Fast crept up on me (almost) without my realizing. The good news, is that the fast was not nearly as difficult as I imagined it would be. I imagined myself never “having fun,” always turning friends down, feeling bored at the house, etc. This wasn’t the case at all! (More on that in a moment). The bad news is that I did cheat (partially out of necessity) a few times.
Here is what went well. I LOVED making DIY gifts. I made homemade sugar scrubs, cloth bowls, jellies, granola, and an earring holder for my sister. I managed to find simple and inexpensive ways to give gifts, which of course was great. But, even DIY costs money of course– and you have to budget time to do it. Still, it was well worth it and I plan to keep doing at least some DIY gifts in the future.
Cosmetics were another area that went better than expected. I made my own facial exfoliator using 2 ingredients– leftover coffee grounds and olive oil. It worked even better than store bought. I also tried to go “poo-less”— (the popular baking soda method, just google it and you’ll see)— but this was not right for my hair at all. I just looked greasy and smelled like biscuits all the time.
I also tried to make my own shampoo with water and castile soap and essential oils. Nope. Made my scalp itch like mad. Did not cut it. I ended up finding a good deal on my trusted Avalon Organics shampoo and conditioner and went back to buying it from the bottle. At least the bottle is “now more eco-friendly”…whatever that means!
I successfully avoided Etsy.com and modcloth.com (probably the most difficult part for me)– but when I got my new job, I needed to purchase a few more “business casual” clothing items and a laptop. Both of these were unexpected, but since they were work-related, I let them slide, although I felt some guilt about it.
Eating out, entertainment, groupons, etc. all turned out to be no big deal. We had friends over for lunch, or we had them over to play games, or I met friends for yoga or walks, etc. I did “cheat” on the coffee shops. I had a set budget for our groceries, I used cash weekly. And anything leftover was allowed to be used for the occasional coffee or bite to eat. A friend suggested that early in the fast and I am really glad she did!
But here is my biggest cheat. The fancy fitness classes I wasn’t supposed to buy? I bought a 15 class pack at Sync Studio (Cycling, Yoga and Circuit Training) just a few months into the fast. I love working out there. I again felt some guilt at first, but in the end I don’t regret it. I go there once a week as a treat to myself, and I think that sweating my butt off at 5:45 am because I enjoy it is worth the investment in my health and happiness.
At the end of the fast I didn’t find myself feeling deprived, or needing to get everything on my Amazon.com wishlist. In fact, I felt like my husband and I had created a lifestyle that we could sustain. I DID splurge on a “veggie spiralizer” and a new cookbook from Amazon when the fast was complete, AND another class pass card to Sync Studio. But that was it. We plan to stick with a grocery budget and do DIY as much as possible for gifts. About once a month we have a special date and go to eat out or see some local entertainment, again very manageable. Still no TV, still avoiding Whole Foods, heading to the library instead of Amazon.
The best feeling was how much of our debt we were able to pay off. It was incredibly gratifying each month to see the balance go DOWN, instead of hovering at the same place month after month. No numbers will be shared, but if we can keep up the “spending diet” we should have all educational debt eliminated within the next 2 years, which for us would be a huge accomplishment.
My Top 5 tips if you want to try a spending fast or “diet”—>
1) Don’t deplete your savings to try and eliminate debt! You never know when the car will break down or the roof will leak and you need some extra reserves. (Both of these happened to us!)
2) Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to meet for dinner or lunch at home, or go for a walk, or just spend time together. Chances are they want to as well.
3) When something breaks or seems to be working improperly, try to explore all your options before rushing out and buying something new. During the fast my watch broke, and instead of getting a new one, I discovered an old one and had it repaired for a fraction of the cost. Our washer was malfunctioning, but a few Google searches helped us solve the problem and continue using the one we have now.
4) Use cash whenever possible, especially for groceries and household items. This was probably the most helpful tool for me. If I went in with a set amount of money to use, obviously I was making more economical choices. And no, this doesn’t mean buying unhealthy foods or processed crap. It does mean buying more locally, purchasing bulk foods and checking out ethnic food stores for spices and herbs.
5) Auto debit is your friend. Oh, and mint.com. Setting up a monthly recurring transfer of my paycheck to pay off debt AND to go into savings takes all the thinking and work out of saving and eliminating debt. I highly recommend this if you don’t already do it. And mint.com is a fantastic budgeting tool, free and has a decent phone app as well.
So, I survived and thrived and lived to tell about my 6 month Spending Fast. I would love to hear your feedback, and tips and tricks you might have for living simply and being more frugal.