One Sure-Fire Way to Get Immediate Control of Spending

A financial fast will help you gain control of your spending

A single pear on a plate, representing control.
A financial fast is an effective way to control spending. Anja Baecker- Getty Images

When you control spending you can save money fast. But controlling spending is not always as easy as it sounds. I did it by putting myself on a financial fast. The definition of a “fast” is to abstain from something all together for a set period of time. 

Background

I was more or less forced into a financial fast, but it put a whole new perspective on money and how I relate to it. Just like a food fast, you have a new respect for what you can have after your fast…a hamburger never tasted so good…or did it?

How a Financial Fast Works

To embark upon a financial fast you cut out all expenses except those that you need to sustain life. I mean cut out literally, EVERYTHING. You can buy food and shelter (and pay for insurance, medical & taxes). That’s it. Otherwise, unless you have a debt obligation, the expense goes. Remember, you can add it back in later. But for the time being, your job is to get rid of expenses, not see what you can keep. By doing this, you'll find you gain a remarkable level of control over your spending.

It might take you up to a few weeks, or even a few months, to reset your spending habits in this way. The challenge is to stick with it for at least 60 days, or longer if you want to save more.

After your fast, as you begin to add spending back in, before you buy anything, ask yourself:

  • Do I really need it?
  • What are my alternatives?
  • Can I make this purchase in a way that is more cost-effective?
  • Am I getting my money’s worth?
  • What else could I do with that money if I don’t buy this item?
  • Am I better off saving that money for something else later?

Give everything at least one day before you make a purchase, that way you have time to think about it. Using this 24-hour pause rule can help you continue to control spending as you move forward.

Examples

  • Hair care: I know of a person who spends over $500/month on hair care. Yikes! Who would do such a thing? To begin with, I only spend about $150 a year on hair care, and yes, that includes haircuts. And I know that hair care can be done for much less.
  • Become a DIY (Do It Yourselfer). What many people do is spend because either they can or they need to fill some time. Especially if you have time on your hands, do it yourself.
  • About a month into my fast I ended up ripping everything out from under my sink, making more than a few trips to the hardware store and fixed my garbage disposal myself. Was it messy and inconvenient? Yes. Was it a time suck? Yes. But I had only spent about $20 when all was said and done, and I felt a bit proud for fixing it myself (no manual or anything). What I saved was about $500.
  • A need vs. a want. Although I thought a $5 cup of coffee was a need, as was cable TV and getting my nails done every now and then, after a brief time without these items I was able to realize that those were just wants…many things that I usually spent money on were just wants.
  • A comparison of some of the little “wants” that add up:
    • Old spending: Weekly coffee trip @ $5/trip. $260/year. Now: A trip every 2 weeks to a coffee shop where the typical drink I get is $3. $78/year. Savings: $182/year.
    • Old: getting nails done monthly @ $35 each time. Total $420. Now: two bottles of nail polish & nail polish remover. Total annual spending: $25. Savings: $395/year.
    • Some things that you might not want to drop, but could cut back:
      • Cell phone service: look into a lower rate plan…a much lower rate plan. Cut out anything above the minimum number of talking minutes you need each month.
      • Cable TV: this can be put on hold or you could drop to a lower tier subscription or different less costly carrier.
    • A few things that you might drop for the fasting period (assumes a 3 month fast):
      • $30 Newspaper ($10/mo)
      • $150 Internet ($50/mo); yes folks, the local library, and many other places offer the internet for free…use them, it is a want and yes, you can live without the internet
      • $900 Entertainment; $300/month on going to the movies, out to dinner and drinks, it adds up quick. Hint: stay at home and play board games, cards, video games, read a book, and buy food from the grocery store and cook it yourself.
      • $100 The Gym; if it’s nice enough outside, take advantage of your local parks or simply go for a run/walk with a friend. The fresh air will be nice. (By the way, here's how you can get paid to exercise.)
      • $450 Household: I’m talking about the people that do your yard work and clean your house. You can do these things for just the cost of a few household cleaning supplies and your time. If you have a yard and don’t own the bigger type items needed to fix up your yard and mow the lawn, consider borrowing these items from friends and family during your fast.

    What You Gain When You Control Spending

    • A new respect for the things you have.
    • An improved idea of what is a need and what is a want.
    • A bigger bank account, or if you can contribute to one, a bigger retirement account.
    • Freedom to choose what you spend money on and when and how much money you save each month.

    Other Tips

    Find support. Ever wonder why a diet/exercise plan has a tendency to work so much better when you have told somebody that you are on a diet or when you are going to exercise? Or why people use buddies to exercise with…group classes anybody? Money is usually not much different.

    Find someone you can trust. Even better, find someone whom you trust that will hold you accountable and that wants to do a financial fast the same time as you…you can hold them accountable too.

    Exceptions to the Fast

    Emergencies and medical expenses come up.

    These things are needs and if they do come up, try a financial fast at a later time. And of course, don’t fast to the point that health (yours or anybody affected by your fast) will be compromised.

    I challenge you to a 60 day financial fast. You’ll find it to be a far more effective way to control spending than anything else you’ve ever tried.