For the entire month of February, I’m going on a self-imposed spending freeze/shopping ban. That means no new workout clothes, no new home goods, no shopping at all for anything I don’t most definitely need. The goal of the spending ban is to pause for a moment each time I am about to spend money and say: “do I REALLY need to spend this, or can this thing wait?” It’s a practice in teasing out whether each purchase is an actual “need” or just a “want”.
This idea might sound like torture to some of you, but this isn’t my first voluntary freeze and it won’t be my last either. Although they’re not totally “pain-free”, overall I’ve gotten so many benefits out of spending freezes that I like to do one every year or two. Here are some of the advantages I’ve found of doing a freeze:
It teaches you to appreciate what you have
If you’re always looking for what’s newer and better, it takes away your attention from what you already have. When I take the focus off of the hunt, it creates space for me to really acknowledge that what I have is enough. And actually, besides being enough, a lot of my stuff is actually pretty awesome. It’s easy to say you’re grateful for what you have, but stopping the constant wishing and buying really drives this point home in a bigger way.
It’s important to practice discipline and willpower
You might’ve heard it said that willpower is a muscle: if you don’t use it, it wastes away. I for one definitely believe that to be true. It’s a crucial life skill to be able to turn on your self-discipline when you need it. It’s important to learn how to be ok with temporary discomfort and to be able to tell yourself no in favor of some greater good. No one wants to be one of those entitled people who dissolves into a puddle when they don’t get what they want. It’s totally possible to spoil yourself as an adult, but voluntarily practicing discipline is a good way to make sure that doesn’t happen.
It will jump start your savings
If you have a financial goal you’re working toward, a spending ban can go FAR in helping you make headway. For my first ban, I managed to save $500 in spending, on top of what I normally saved. Since I didn’t make much at the time, that was hue for me, and seeing the bump in my bank account was an amazing reward in and of itself.
I’m sure everyone here has some financial goal in their future. Maybe it’s a cool trip you’d like to go on, a down payment for a new home, loans to pay off, or just a savings account you’d like to beef up. No matter what the goal is, a month-long commitment to saving toward that can be such a positive experience. If you can see real, meaningful progress on that goal in just one month, it’s extremely empowering and self-reinforcing. Besides enjoying the benefits of that big boost itself, it can give you a glimpse of what’s really possible, and encourage more savings-oriented habits.
It “resets” your spending patterns
Whenever I’m on a spending freeze, I always keep a running mental tally of the things I want but am not buying due to the freeze. I always tell myself that I am allowed to buy whatever I like (within budget, of course) after the ban is lifted. It helps me feel in control and not like I’m deprived. This thought process might sound counter-productive: if you just buy everything you want right after the ban, wouldn’t the ban cease to have helped you?
Ah, but there’s the catch. It turns out that waiting a couple of weeks can do wonders to shorten your wishlist. If I got the urge to buy, say, 20 things over the course of the month, usually only 5 or 7 of those will have the staying power to make me get my credit card out on March 1.
Making a spending freeze successful
If you find yourself spending a bit more than you think you should, you might think that just deciding to spend less is the answer, rather than going so far as to do a spending freeze. For me, trying to just spend less in vague terms usually results in half-hearted, guilt-ridden results. Instead, having a defined period where I go cold turkey (for a month, anyway) helps balance things out for more than just that month, and I feel self-motivated to spend less rather than guilty about what I do spend. In other words, I find that a freeze is way, way more effective when it comes to enacting meaningful changes in my spending habits. And like I said above, there are some other nice perks you just don’t get with a general reduction.
If you choose to do a spending ban, it’s up to you where you draw the line between essential and non-essential. I’d encourage you to go just a little bit beyond where you feel comfortable. Be a little bit conservative when it comes to the need-vs-want line. And most importantly, create clearly defined rules for yourself and stick to them.
It’s also helpful to reduce your exposure to temptation. Don’t check lulu’s Tuesday uploads. Instead of going window shopping on weekends, go to your local library and find a book or take a nice walk in a park if the weather’s nice. And if reading this blog makes things harder for you, by all means get out of here! Everything will still be here in March, promise!
If all this sounds like something that would benefit you, I encourage you to join me in February for a no-spend month. February is the shortest month, after all. ;)