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The Experiment

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

I decided to clean out my office in an attempt to locate a gift card I'd received for the local java joint. If I use the card, I rationalized, I'm not really spending. Though I failed to locate the coveted card, cleaning out my office provided its own reward, so I moved on to my closet. Then I cleaned out my daughters' closets. The amount of unused clothing, shoes, and stuff we had was unbelievable. I gathered three large garbage bags of items to donate to charity, and gained a new appreciation for all we already own.

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Related Topics:Choices; Fasting; Simplicity

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Displaying 1–3 of 7 comments

Margaret

March 03, 2011  8:59pm

Thank you for this article Celeste. i believe you have hit on what (for me at least) has become the true meaning of fasting. Simply put, it is making space for God.

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Debara

February 10, 2011  12:46pm

Thank you for this article....I want to "attempt this". I am thinking about a move abroad and suddenly my world feels weighed down with possessions I thought "needed" - this is just the help I needed to look at this as an opportunity not a burden.

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Anonymous

January 26, 2011  12:43pm

Great article... really relevant. I don't think the slightly ironic comments from people who have less, are warranted. We all have different amounts of money; there are always others who are better or worse off. The thing that makes this so valuable as a thoughtful article is the fact that this woman made the decision to change the way she spends. That's good sense. Kudos to you, no matter how much money you have.

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