Tomorrow is the end of my four week experiment of fasting from consumerism. Of all of the spiritual disciplines that I have practiced, this may be the one that has opened my eyes the most. It started out as a desire to submit my financial behavior to God. I was unhappy with the amount of debt that I was incurring and knew that my spending habits were irresponsible and out of control. I began to believe that I was spending on “stuff” to fill a hole that I should be filling with God. I wanted to be able to give more of my money away to support the work of Jesus on this earth. I wanted to become free from the grip of consumerism; from that constant nagging feeling of needing “more”………
While my husband and I were living with my Mother who has Alzheimer’s, I knew that there was little hope that my spending habits would change. I was getting burned out from full-time caregiving in addition to a full-time job and part-time graduate school. I was needing to hire more and more help to come into the home to give me a break. Everything just felt too hard. Saving felt too hard. Cooking felt too hard. Grocery shopping felt too hard. Most days, breathing felt too hard. Take-out and restaurants were my friends. Some weeks, my only relief was to get out of the house for a movie, a trip to the beach or an overnight in a hotel. Those activities were keeping me sane and there was no way that I was going to give them up.
Things are different now. After a horrible, terrifying summer of not being able to find appropriate care for my Mother, we have finally made the transition to nursing home care. As sad and emotionally difficult as this has been, it now means that our home is a peaceful place for the first time in many years. My husband and I no longer have to “get away” in order to have time alone together. We no longer have to pay for hotel rooms and restaurant meals to have what most people take for granted in their own homes.
I wanted to look at my spending and see where I was “triggered” to spend. I discovered that sometimes I spent as a response to advertising. Sometimes as a response to stress. Sometimes as a response to reading home decorating magazines and watching too much HGTV. We got rid of that right away when we scaled back our cable package……..
I set-up some parameters for my experiment…….No more Starbucks. No more Dunkin Donuts. I would bring my coffee from home. No more take-out. No going out for lunch. No going out for dinner. If friends wanted to get together, I would invite them to my home. I would only be allowed to spend money at the grocery store. No Kohl’s. No Target. No Amazon. No ordering cable movies. No buying books (probably my biggest weakness of all). No Kindle downloads. I could borrow whatever books and movies I wanted from the library. For free.
I decided that I would keep a log. Whatever I would have spent but didn’t, I would record in my log. At the end of the week, whatever I saved would go into starting an emergency fund. This would mean I would no longer have to use my credit cards but could draw from my emergency fund to handle unexpected expenses. I removed the credit cards from my wallet. I confess, I could not bring myself to cut them up. I did take them out of my wallet and hide them. It will be difficult for me to use them and that is the point.
The first area I noticed a difference was at work. I noticed how I used my spending to relieve my stress in the classroom. Mostly, I spent because I wanted somewhere to go on my break, which was usually the pizza shop followed by Starbucks. By bringing my coffee and lunch to work, and going for a walk or staying in the building, I saved an average of $13.00 a day. Over the course of five work days that came to $65.00 a
I often stopped for take-out dinner on the way home. By cooking a few things over the weekend that could easily be heated up or eating scrambled eggs or a sandwich for dinner, I could save another $20-40 a week!! The highlight of my week last week was when Market Basket had a big soup sale…..$1.00 a can. I happily bought a lot of soup that day. It felt like winning the lottery.
The experiment started to become addictive. This may be one area where my addictive personality was actually going to help me. As each week went by, my emergency fund grew. I decided that once my emergency fund reached $1,500 I would start paying off my credit card balances. I made a plan.
Tomorrow the shopping ban will be lifted- but just until Christmas. (I’m not going to be a total Scrooge about it!!) I will buy some gifts for my loved ones but this experiment is going back into effect right after Christmas. I don’t need anything. I could live for the next three years in the clothes that I have and not need anything new. Going to the library each week for my books and movies has become a great diversion. When my co-workers come into work with Starbucks cups, I am no longer green with envy. I am loving eating tasty, home cooked meals with my husband in our peaceful,chaos free home. When a friend in ministry asked for financial help last week for a project to help the homeless, I was able to give freely, without worrying about the cost.
I now notice when I am triggered to spend. I stop and think it through. Why do I want to spend? Do I need this? Am I trying to soothe my stress? What can I do instead to soothe it? Do I notice myself desiring things being advertised on TV? Why do I think that I need them? What purpose will it serve? How is my spending on this hurting my long term goal of financial freedom?
Total amount saved in four weeks??
$ 742.00 !!!!!!! Hello emergency fund!!!!
Talk about an eye opener. Money was flowing out of me like a bleeding wound.
Am I feeling more in control of my life?? I am. Do I have more hope for my financial future? I do. Am I less ashamed before God about how I spend my money? I am. And that, my friends,is priceless.