the monthly spending diet

Have you ever been enticed into reading an article about how to save more money that ended up telling you that in order to save, you need to cut x, y, z, a, b, c, d, e and f from your budget? I always come away from those articles thinking “I don’t even have x, y, or z and I don’t know about the rest.” I know a lot of other millennials always feel like they can’t really cut much out. But if you’re like me, there is room to remove excess from the budget. I just don’t want to delete everything I do from my spending, because that’s like deleting my life. I enjoy going out to dinner; it’s one of the top ways you get to spend time with friends or get to know new people. I want to share a new strategy that I have been working on for the past two months in order to decrease my spending.

In November, I went bowling with some friends and two of them were chatting. One woman said “this month without beer is rough” and the other laughed as if she knew what she were talking about. I thought the woman was sick and her doctor told her not to drink. I stupidly asked this. She told me “no, that’s this month’s theme – no beer.” As she went on to bowl, the other woman explained to me that every month she takes on some challenge, focused on health and fitness in order to stay sharp. She’s done other themes like 100 pushups and pullups every day or running 100 miles in a month. I immediately loved this idea and wanted to incorporate it into my life somehow. Not being the fitness buff my friends are, I wondered if I could make this a financial concept instead.

I’ve read blogs and Facebook posts about people doing a “no-spend month” and I made it maybe a week the two times I tried to do that. You just end up depriving yourself of your life if you cold turkey cut everything out. That week that I did survive the no-spend month, I felt sad about not being able to do what I wanted. Then I ended up spending money, and I felt guilty. Then I quit the idea and felt liberated. Who wants to feel guilty about spending their hard earned dollars? Not me. However, at the same time, I know that I do waste money. I’ll look at my monthly statements and ask myself, did I need to buy pizza 5 times this month? And that’s where I started. I decided to do monthly themed financial diets. The first one was in December, appropriately titled “no-pizza December.”

 

A month is the ideal time frame for change

The psychology of the monthly theme is brilliant. Goals need to be realistic and measurable, so 30 or 31 days is the perfect time frame. They say it takes 28 days to form a habit. You go into it thinking that you only need to do the thing for a month, but then you might just build a habit from it. It might seem silly that I was buying pizza all the time and needed a formal title to cut back. The deeper issue is that we are creatures of habit and we aren’t always aware of our habits. I was making a habit of stopping by the local pizza shop because a) the pizza is delicious b) it was cheap due to its personal pan size and c) it was fast – only about 5 minutes total to make and box up. Oh and I was also justifying it to myself as supporting a local business of a family I know. I’d be driving home from work, exhausted from working with teenagers all day, hear my stomach grumble and think “wow I really don’t feel like cooking right now but I really need to eat.” The easy fix is to spend 5 extra minutes before I get home and have a delicious pizza. It so easily became a habit that I wasn’t even thinking about.

The other psychological piece of it is something I’ve said before: it’s easy to spend just X number of dollars because you know you have it. But spend 5X, and you might have spent too much. Repeatedly spending money is where the waste comes from. It’s $6.95 for this delicious little pizza. It’s really not that much. Five times means I’m spending almost $35 a month on a pizza. Plus that time I also got a salad. Plus those 3 times I was craving a pop and bought that too. I know that most people reading this have something that they regularly are spending money on but really don’t need to. Just look at your debit or credit card statements.

 

Impact on your life and wallet

So how did my month without pizza go? I genuinely craved pizza multiple times per week. I didn’t cave though. I did not buy a pizza and now in January, I have bought one pizza. I haven’t rebuilt the pattern. That one pizza I bought was definitely for convenience sake and was also for nostalgic reasons. It was the last meal I had in the last rental I’d ever live in. It was the perfect way to close out a chapter of my life. I feel good knowing I am not wasting money on pizza anymore.

My January spending diet was no candy. I have a terrible sweet tooth. I honestly love candy. Halloween was my favorite holiday as a kid. Twix, Kit-Kats, Reeses, Hershey, Dove Chocolate, Sour Patch Kids, Dots, Twizzlers, Orange Slices, Spice Drops… you get the point. Around Christmas the treats start coming into the teacher’s lounge and I start thinking, I’ve been so good the past few months not eating candy, that the habit picks up again. Yeah, I’ve been craving a Reeses this whole month, but I haven’t spent money on impulse buys at the grocery check-out or the gas station. Again, I feel good about this small change. My next diet is no Amazon purchases.

These spending diets are not 180s.  I saved maybe $35 in December from what I normally spend. Maybe $20 in this month. Yet, that’s better than spending it! The point is more so to deflate your spending just a little bit and refocus your habits. If I had continued on my pizza path, that’s a potential of $420 over a year spent on one type of food. I keep coming back to what my dad taught me to ask myself, “Do I need that? or do I just want it?” The spending diet cuts back on things I want but don’t need, without completely depriving myself. I feel so much better when I curb useless spending this way than the bigger diets I’ve tried to implement. I believe that after 6 months of doing this, I will see a transformation in my overall spending because I have spent short spurts focused on one thing. As I have demonstrated, the diet becomes a habit that continues. After six month-long diets, I could have eliminated the same waste that people on entire no-spending months are attempting to eliminate. I won’t notice a major change in my life because it isn’t major. It’s small changes, one at a time, that I hope to let build. Small changes that last are better than big changes that don’t.

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