For the entire month of February, I’m challenging myself and you to freeze your spending for an entire month. That means not spending money on anything you don’t need for all of February.
The first time I did a spending freeze was circa 2011. February always seemed like a natural fit for a spending freeze, not least of all because it’s the shortest month. I always get so much benefit from doing it that it’s become something of a tradition. So, this Thursday, I’ll be kicking off another year of Frugal February!
If you think you’d benefit from a similar challenge, I’d love for you to join me! Here’s more thoughts on the why and the how behind this year’s challenge.
What I want to get out of this year’s freeze
Reset my perspective on what I “need”
This is always the biggest reason for doing a spending ban. As the months wear on, I often find myself getting looser and looser with my spending. I don’t think so carefully about whether the potential purchase is worthwhile, or I start to become numb to handing over my credit card. I’m not comfortable getting too comfortable spending, so I like to rein it in.
There’s a theory known as “lifestyle creep” that suggests that as time goes on, things you previously perceived as luxuries become the new norm. You end up on a hedonic treadmill where it takes more and more money to sustain your lifestyle and make you “happy.” The bar constantly moves just a little higher.
I’ve found that a spending freeze is a very useful antidote to lifestyle creep. It short-circuits the knee-jerk “I need this” reaction that builds up over time. I always notice that my urge to buy random stuff I don’t need is very much quieted after a freeze.
Give my savings a boost
Something funny happens when you don’t spend money on things you don’t need to spend it on: you end up with a lot of money leftover. Yes, I know, it’s basically sorcery, right? :)
Whether I’m saving for a large purchase, gearing up for a big trip, or just saving for the future, it’s always satisfying to make an extra chunk of progress toward that goal all at once. This year, one of my big goals is to install new flooring in my house, and I like to think this freeze will make that happen even sooner.
Take time to manage what I do have
Have you ever thought about just how much time you spend shopping, or managing your stuff? Just this past week, I spent hours pouring over an endless sea of options for sweaters and storage bins. Hours! Besides the time I spend shopping, I spend even more time on top of that repackaging returns, listing unwanted belongings for sale, etc. It adds up.
Making a conscious choice to opt out of the shopping habit, at least for a little while, means I can step away and spend my time on other more worthy pursuits. I’m not saying all time spent shopping is time wasted, but I am saying that taking a step back to liberate yourself from that time suck can be very refreshing.
Force a little creativity
If I’m choosing not to go out to eat or go see a movie, that means I have to be a little more creative to infuse a little fun into my life. Going to the library and checking out a book doesn’t cost a thing. Instead of going out for dinner, I could spend extra time making an elaborate recipe at home or set up a dinner party with friends (or both at the same time!). I could put what I already have to good use and take a long drive to go photograph a beautiful area. Taking away the default mode of spending money to have fun means thinking a little bit outside the box.
This year’s freeze plan
This year’s rules are pretty similar to the ones I’ve followed in previous years. It’s so important to set rules in advance, because then you’re much more likely to stick to them.
Generally speaking, here’s what’s allowed during my freeze:
- All necessities: groceries, dog food, gas…
- Existing subscriptions (e.g., Spotify premium, Adobe Creative Cloud)
- Purchases for preplanned house projects
And this is what’s off limits:
- Eating out (including going out for coffee or drinks)
- Entertainment: movies, shows, etc.
- All other kinds of shopping: clothes, crap I find at Target, photography equipment, home decor…
Overall, my rule of thumb is that ANY time I’m about to put something in my cart or open up my wallet, I ask myself: can I go without this, or at least delay for a couple more weeks? If the answer is yes, I stop right there.
In addition to a spending freeze, I like to add on a little something extra to make the month-long challenge a little more fun. Here are two options to add some zest to your freeze.
Bonus #1: Shop Your Closet Challenge
The first one is the bonus I did last year: wear as much of my activewear collection as possible. It was a lot of fun! This challenge helped me to really focus on and appreciate what I already own. It also helped me be honest with myself on what was and wasn’t working out of my collection. Quite a few things went in the “sell” pile afterward.
If you’d like to read more about how this challenge works and how it went for me last year, you can see the posts here.
The big reason I did this challenge last year was because I felt like my collection was getting away from me. It was growing too fast and felt so unwieldy, so I wanted to take time to get re-acquainted with my favorites, new and old. This year, I feel more comfortable with my rate of growth (or lack thereof), so I’m trying a different challenge.
Bonus #2: Let Go of 28 Things in 28 Days
This bonus is what I’ll be doing this year in lieu of bonus #1.
For every day of the month, I’m going to find one thing in my home that I no longer need. I actually just did a bit of a clutter purge from my house, which will make this a little more challenging. I’ll have to dig a little bit deeper to find 28 things, but I’m up to the task. (That’s why I’m only doing 28 instead of 50 or 100.)
I’ll add that I’m going to aim for 28 substantial things, rather than “cheat” by getting rid of, say, a bunch of old socks and counting them as one each. I’m going for the spirit of the challenge here rather than trying to sneak my way to 28.
By the end of the challenge, all 28 things will be either donated, gifted, sold, or (last resort!) trashed. One caveat to this rule: if I list something to sell, that counts toward my total, even though it’s technically still in my possession. Things take time to sell, after all, so I’m ok with being a little bit patient. That said, if I put something in my “sell pile” without listing it, it does not count. I always feel better when I can stay in control of the sea of stuff. I’m excited to see what sort of progress I can make.