Giving My Credit Card a Rest

I wanted to simplify. But could I really put a stop to all my spending?

"I've stopped spending completely," my sister-in-law, Lori, announced one day. "I'm going on a spending fast."

"You're doing what?" I asked, almost choking on my latte.

"I'm going on a 40-day fast," she explained. "I'll buy groceries but nothing for myself. No shoes, no clothes, not even lipstick. I'm going to break myself of my spending habit."

I hung up the phone challenged. I always counted on Lori to support my spending. She'd tell me, "Indulge a little; you're worth it." Her spending hiatus made me think about my consumption habits.

I've never considered myself a big spender. In fact, when I was a newlywed, I kept my checkbook balanced to the penny and budgeted every purchase. Yet as my income increased, so did my propensity to spend.

These days, I don't really think about what I need, just what I want. I have to admit, I spend impulsively. Perhaps, I thought, I should go on a 40-day spending fast too.

The plan

Surely I could give my credit card a rest for 40 days. If Jesus could resist the Devil that long, I could resist the mall. But it proved harder than I thought.

The first thing I did was mark the 40 days on my calendar. This took some planning, as any given 40-day stretch included birthdays or holidays. What would I do about gifts?

I made a budget, giving myself a cash allotment for groceries, gas, and basic necessities. For the special events during my spending hiatus, I'd find a way to make do. And on all personal expenditures, I decided to go cold turkey—including even what I call my "paper-cup habit," the feeling I got from holding a coffee-shop drink made just for me.

Just as Lori announced her no-spending resolution to me, I told my close friends and family. I knew if I was to stick to my plan, I needed support. I got instant buy-in from my husband who, after I advised him of my hiatus, was as happy as a man at the Super Bowl. Friends and extended family provided encouragement by limiting their invites to fancy restaurants and shopping excursions, and by holding me accountable.

The period

The first few days were a breeze. Delighted by my ability to stay out of stores and make meals at home, I fancied myself a true money maven, sailing on a sea of savings. But by week's end, the winds picked up and the waters got murky. I wanted a paper-cup fix, was asked to host a holiday party, and needed to purchase a new book for my book club. I had to become more resourceful.

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