January Spending Fast

In January of 2015 I embarked on my first spending fast, based on the book 21 Days To Financial Freedom by Michelle Singletary.  It was my first experiment with deliberately not spending money on anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary.  It challenged me to be very creative in meal planning as well figure out what free entertainment was available in my area.  Errands were postponed to save on gas and I walked to the library for books and free movies. You can read more about that journey here.  In January 2016, I didn’t do a formal fast because I was working on some aggressive savings goals so that I could retire later that year.  Every month that year was a thirty day spending fast and I was able to reach my goal and retired in November.  

This year, like last year, despite being on my normal tight budget, I’m doing the fast again.  It never ceases to surprise me how many times I think of something I would like to buy and have to remind myself that it will have to wait until February.  The curious thing is that most of the time I completely forget about whatever it was that I wanted to buy in that moment. In fact, I distinctly remember telling myself that I could buy something in February, but I no longer recall what it was!

Online retailers have made buying things so easy that it takes very little effort to click a button and have something delivered straight to my door. This is why I keep all my disposable monthly income in the form of cash. It hurts to spend cash, especially when there is a finite amount of it. It makes the decision of whether to make a purchase very deliberate. If I’ve budgeted a hundred and fifty dollars for groceries, it’s the 25th of the month, and I’m down to my last five dollars, it’s very easy to decide that I don’t need that delicious bar of organic free trade chocolate or Lay’s Lightly Salted Potato Chips (you can read about my undying affection for these chips here) and should probably opt for some fresh veggies instead. 

If you’ve ever wanted to find out where your money goes, get your debt under control, or try to figure out how to save for something big, I recommend the following resources:

  • Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Hands down the best book I’ve ever read for getting out of debt – so good, in fact, that I’ve used it twice to get my debt under control (some life lessons are much harder to learn than others)!  Dave designed a curriculum called Financial Peace, which I’ve not only gone through, but facilitated – it’s that good!  If you ever have the opportunity to see Dave live, I promise – you will be inspired to make changes.
  • How to Get Out Of Debt, Stay Out Of Debt, And Live Prosperously by Jerrold Mundis.  There are great tips in this book and I still use a modified version of the Spending Plan to track where my money goes every month.
  • 21 Days to Financial Freedom by Michelle Singletary.  Michelle’s book is a great resource for understanding your relationship with money and learning a better way to do things.
  • Living Well & Spending Less by Ruth Soukup.  Ruth also has an online course, Living Well Spending Zero, which walks you through a 31 Day spending fast.  It’s great for looking at what you already own and determining what to do with it, whether it’s finally eating the beets in the pantry because you’re not buying groceries until you use what you already have or decluttering to make more space in your life for the things that matter more.

Have you ever completed a spending fast?  Please tell about your journey using the comments button or by leaving a reply on Facebook. If money or debt is something that is causing you a lot of pain right now and you’d prefer that the world not know, but want to talk, please feel free to send me a private message.

Screen Free Bedroom

One of this years experiments is a screen free bedroom.  A year or so ago, I discovered one of my favorite podcasts, the Slow Home Podcast with Brooke and Ben McAlary. In 2016, they tried a new experiment every month, most of which were really inspiring.  Their success during and after the experiment made me want to try it for myself.

It’s my hope that this change will help me to be more mindful of how I spend my time (making sure my actions are in alignment with my desires and values) and that the quality and duration of my sleep will improve.  Though I rarely have trouble falling asleep, it’s difficult for me to sleep past 5:30 or 6:00 AM, making it impossible to get the recommended eight hours a day. 

What is a screen free bedroom?  No computer, no iPhone, no iPad, and I may even expand it to no electronic items at all (for example, a power strip or electric toothbrush charger).  What does this look like after only three days?  Well, I have no idea what time it is, what’s happening with the weather, if I’ve received any important emails, if there are new tweets on Twitter or pictures on Instagram, what my former colleagues are up to on LinkedIn, I’ve hardly played any Scrabble or Free Cell and I’ve got an ebook languishing in my Overdrive app. 

Can I really trust this old school thermometer?

Also missing are any texts I’ve received after 9:00 PM when I retired to my room to read for a couple of hours.  On the other hand, between the two hours I allocate for reading at night and the couple of hours I now read in the morning when I wake up, I’ve plowed through Dollars And Sense: How We Misthink Money And How To Spend Smarter by Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler and have nearly finished At Home In The World: Reflections On Belonging While Wandering The Globe by Tsh Oxenreider, both of which I’ve really enjoyed.

This is fitting in nicely with another thing I want to do this year, which is find more time to read.  It’s also in alignment with another experiment that I started on January first, to only get on the Internet from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, with limited exceptions (online banking and a Facebook group I facilitate). 

Since I want to have lights out and start falling asleep at 11:00 pm, I have to get out of my toasty bed and see what time it is.  When I wake up, I have to get out of my toasty bed and see what time it is.  It’s a bit of an inconvenience.

Since it’s winter in Michigan, I have a general idea of the outside temperature (cold or really cold) but for some reason I want to know the wind chill, whether it’s going to snow and how much (seems likely and probably a lot!), whether there are any warnings (even though I rarely have to go anywhere), and what’s happening in the cities where all my family members live.  Mind you, knowing any weather related facts changes nothing – I’m still going to wear as many clothes as possible and will be cold when I do chores and snowshoe around the field.

This is what it looks like when you’re oblivious to the weather.

There’s been no noticeable difference in my sleep pattern yet, but I’ll give a full report at the end of the month.  Two nights is hardly enough time to know if the lack of screens will have an impact.

It would be a lie to say that this has been a breeze, that my mornings are more calm, peaceful, meaningful.  Breaking the Twitch is challenging and I’m likely missing out on some  exciting stuff, or at the very least, not knowing stuff when everyone else does.  There were times when I simply flitted from app to app in the morning, killing time until it was light enough to get up and start the day.  Another habit I’d gotten into was hopping on the Internet to research things late at night, whether it was just something that popped into my head or something I read in an ebook that I wanted to investigate further.  While it’s all quite entertaining, I’m not sure it’s really how I want to spend my time.

Why a screen free bedroom?  The dependence and attachment I have to my devices bothers me.  The things I rely on so heavily didn’t even exist for most of my life so why have I allowed them to take up so much of my time and attention?  Am I really better off?

Has anyone done a similar experiment?  If so, I’d love to hear about it.  In the meantime, I’m hoping to borrow a wind up clock from my Mom so I know what time it is without having to get out of bed!

21 Day Spending Fast – Weekend Read

In January of 2015, a few months before I started this blog, I decided to do a spending fast, based on the book The 21 Day Financial Fast by Michele Singletary. Last year I opted not to do the fast, but this year, since I’m on a fixed income of sorts, I’m going to give it another shot. Since there are so many other things I want to talk about this month, I’m not going to log the daily journey, but I’ve copied and edited excerpts from my 2015 Facebook posts below.  It’s my hope that you will find it somewhat entertaining and inspiring.  Typically I don’t post anything this long on the blog, but feel free to read it in snippets or as a long weekend read.

Day 1 of the Financial Fast was easy – it’s really easy not to spend any money if you don’t leave the house! I’m vacationing in Arizona so it was a day of rest and relaxation interrupted only by a walk on a trail to a nearby park.

Day 2 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: I’m still in Phoenix and there are all kinds of fun things to see and do here. Since I knew I was going to be doing the fast, I researched what we could do for free. I did this all the time when my kids were little (and it was much harder then because there was no Internet!), but I haven’t done it in a long time. We went to see Sahuaro Ranch in Glendale. We walked around the grounds and I learned a lot about the crops that were grown here and about life on the ranch. We even got to see a wedding that was happening in the rose garden! Since there was no admission, day 2 happened without any spending.

Day 3 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: I flew from Phoenix, AZ back to Michigan today, along with about a million other people. My sister was so sweet to pack me a lunch so I could eat it on the plane. In addition to the fast, I’m also one of those crazy environmentalists, so I had my refillable water bottle. Most airports have a dispenser by the water fountain so you can fill your bottle before you get on the plane. Yes, it did require a little planning and I had more stuff to carry, but it is possible to travel without spending money on exorbitantly priced food and water.

Usually when I’m in the airport I will walk through a store or two, especially if they have toys that I might want to buy for my grandkids. I purposely avoided that today – a week after Christmas, there’s certainly nothing else they need right now.  I did have to put gas in the car on the ride home – $23.50.

Day 4 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: I drove back home to Nashville today. My aunt sent food home with me and I brought water so my only spending today was for gas.

Today’s topic in the book is tithing. I’ve been tithing for several years now and I occasionally give an offering so I was feeling pretty good about myself! But then I realized that even when I was pretty much broke and on the verge of bankruptcy, I had food to eat, clothes to wear, and a place to lay my head at night. So do I actively look for ways to bless people? Umm . . . Or give sacrificially trusting that God will provide for me? Uhhh . . . Guess I have a little work to do here.

Day 5 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Ah, Sirius, how I have loved you! We have traveled many miles together and I have enjoyed your company immensely, your commercial free programming, your myriad of stations to choose from, the way you are always there for me even when I’m driving through remote places. But today’s topic is entitlement. I really, really tried to justify my NEED for satellite radio. I travel a lot. It’s commercial free. I listen to Christian music on The Message. But truly, there’s no way I can justify $200+ a year. Sure, I was given the option to change to a more affordable subscription and I really wanted it. But I stood fast on my decision and kept saying no thank you. And for the price I pay for my semi-annual subscription, I can support several of my favorite artists by buying their albums.

Day 6 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today’s chapter was about contentment and cleaning your house. Literally cleaning out every room in the house and looking at all the stuff. I’ve been on a purging binge over the last couple of months and here’s why. Three years ago everything I owned fit in a van. And I didn’t own the van! I bought a car and filled up a one bedroom apartment. Then I moved to a two bedroom apartment and filled that up. On a recent flight I passed the time by making a list of every possession in my house. It was a long list. But none of those things offer happiness or contentment.

I am incredibly blessed by the things that do bring me true contentment. My kids, their wives, and my grandchildren, my siblings and my aunts and uncles and cousins, too numerous to mention by name, my job, the awesome people on my team, dear friends that are always there for me, and a ridiculous dog that wants to play ball 24 hours a day. Just thinking about all these people as I type puts a huge smile on my face.

I’m going to keep purging things. I want to spend my time hanging out with people, not cleaning and shuffling all my stuff around. I like the freedom that comes from living a simple life. And at the end of my life I hope people remember me for the great times we had together and not for all the stuff on my long, long list.

Day 7 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today’s topic is budgeting. Now, I’m somewhat odd, because I love spreadsheets. And spreadsheets are great for budgeting. So great, in fact, that I’ve had a budget for every year since 2003. Yay me, right? I can tell you what I’ve spent in every category in my budget for over 10 years! And I always balance to the penny due to an awkward perfection gene that runs in my family.

Looking at those dollars is pretty sobering at the end of the year – sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so much. This year I realized that I spent over $5000 on food. Mostly for myself. Because I really, really like food! And I like to buy it directly from the farmer at the Farmer’s Market or from The Turnip Truck, an awesome grocery store here in Nashville. I picked 42 pounds of peaches this summer along with assorted other fruit. I even bought half of a pig this past November. But here’s the thing. I have a lot of food in my house. I can probably go for several months without buying much. And that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m going to see how long I can go without buying food at the grocery store. It means giving up some stuff, stuff I really like, but the truth is that I will still be far more well fed than 90+% of the population. And I hope at the end of the year that line item on my budget will be much more in line.

Day 8 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: I’m a third of the way through the fast and so far I’ve stayed the course. Today’s topic is saving. It’s funny – we all KNOW we’re supposed to save but very few of us do. As much as I’ve wanted to do the right thing, I rarely have. I could give you a lot of excuses, but to be honest, they’re all lame. I got paid today so I took Michelle’s advice and only a little reluctantly put 5% of it into my savings account. It wasn’t very exciting – no feelings of happiness and pleasure like I get from buying an antique or a new book or CD or something fabulous to cook and eat. But maybe that’s a good thing. I need to remember where true joy comes from and it’s not from stuff I buy with money. No more excuses, it’s time for change.

Day 9 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today’s topic? Investing! Yea!! I definitely would have preferred to take a skipsies on this chapter. I got started investing late in the game (as in just a few years ago) and it seems like every time I turn around I see some ad asking if I’ve socked away enough for my future. In a word? No. So I’m probably going to be working until I’m 87. I was supposed to go on the internet, login to my account (did that and the same paltry sum was in there) and check out some investing sites (not gonna do it – c’mon, it’s Friday night!). So to appease my guilt at not following the plan I cleaned out two drawers and two cupboards in my kitchen (see Day 6). Now I’m going to play with the dog so she stops putting her head in my lap, read some FB posts, and read a book that doesn’t make me think about stuff I sometimes would rather ignore.

Day 10 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Money and Marriage is today’s topic. It seems like every marriage has a saver and a spender, right? All I can say is that if you’re married and you haven’t completely merged all of your accounts and you aren’t completely transparent about your finances, there might be problems. Okay, there WILL be problems.

It’s Saturday and on Saturday I usually load up the dog and we run errands – grocery store, pet store, thrift store, maybe an antique store. It felt pretty odd not to do those things. I did go to the library to borrow a movie, though. It’s free so I thought it would fit into the fast. 

I also did more purging today – this time tackling the bedroom closets. Since I purged a few months ago, there weren’t too many things to put in the donate pile. Then I dusted the dressers and decided that I’m done dusting a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really have a purpose and that stuff went into the donate pile. Now the bedroom looks much neater but my spare room is filled with piles of stuff!

Day 11 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today’s topic is talking to your kids about money. I will have to let my boys say how successful I was at this. I did talk to them about budgeting – even made them come to a Financial Peace course I taught! They were in High School at the time and I’m not sure they really appreciated it. In my experience knowing the right way to handle money and actually handling it that way are two different things. We live in a seductive world that’s always trying to get us to buy something and it’s really hard to resist it.

I think this is the longest I’ve ever gone without going to the grocery store in my adult life. I’ve had to plan a little more when it comes to meals and what I come up with isn’t always a favorite, but it feels good to be deliberate about it. Of course, it’s easy to say that now because I’ve got a bag of chips stashed in the cupboard. I may be singing a different tune in a couple of weeks!

Day 12 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: I’m halfway through the fast! Today’s topic is debt. I don’t have anything good to say about debt. I’ve been on both ends of the debt spectrum and I can tell you that debt free is hands down the better choice. In December of last year, I read a fabulous book by Bill Hybels called Simplify. On page 103 of the ebook version he says, “Debt comes from wanting more than God’s provision for your life and arranging other ways to get it.”  Yikes! I never thought about it that way before – “hey, God, thanks for making me richer than 80% of the world’s population so I never have to worry about being fed and warm, but that’s not quite enough for me so I’m going to take things into my own hands and get some more stuff, m’kay?”

Day 13 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today’s Chapter – The Curse of Credit. I’ve been without a personal credit card for about 2 years. I’m not gonna lie – it was a little scary – it was my safety net! There are a few things that are a little challenging without one, like renting a car, but my life went on without any ripples. The thing that struck me most about this chapter was this statement by Michele Singletary: “Researchers have found that people’s willingness to purchase more products or services increases with the use of plastic.” That’s been true for me – it doesn’t matter if it’s a store credit card or a Visa or MasterCard – I don’t think about how much I’m spending because I don’t have to deal with it until the bill comes. When the bill comes it’s just like other monthly payments – I don’t think about the individual transactions, it’s just another monthly bill.

I’m very curious to know how many of the people I know live without personal credit cards. It’s a very odd thing to be without one today, when we know we shouldn’t leave home without it. The most ironic thing about all the credit cards I’ve had in my lifetime? It’s likely that I no longer have any of the stuff I purchased with them. How important were those purchases when I don’t even have them anymore?

Day 14 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today’s chapter is about co-signing. Whew, I’m good on this one – I’ve never co-signed on a loan for anyone except my spouse. I’ve signed on a lot of loans, though, never really thinking about how much less I would have paid if I’d saved the money and paid for it up front. Even though I know it’s possible to live life differently, I’m not sure I could save up for a big ticket item like a car or a house. That would take a lot of discipline and I’m not sure I could be that patient. I mean, I don’t need immediate gratification, but the thought of having to save up for YEARS to buy something, that would be hard.

There’s only a week left of the fast. So far I’ve given my tithe, saved some money, gave some money away, paid my car insurance, and filled the car with gas a couple of times. This weekend will be the true test as it will be the second Saturday with no grocery shopping and I’m having to get more creative with meals. And as the daughter of one of my best friends used to say – “there’s nothing to eat, there’s only ingredients.”

Day 15 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today’s topic is greed. My instant response was, hey, I’m not greedy, I don’t even like stuff that much! But Michele insisted we think about all the items that are in our cupboards and our closets and our garages and our storage units . . . and then she said “In 2007, nearly 1 in 10 US households rented a self-storage unit.” According to the SSA (Self Storage Association)website, the self storage industry in the United States generated more than $24 billion in annual U.S. revenues in 2013. That is a lot of stuff! I confess that at one point in my life, I was one of those US households. I’m sure I paid more in storage fees than any of my stuff was ever worth. Even though I’ve been purging the last couple of months, my cupboards, drawers, and closets are still full of stuff. Not full to overflowing, but full none the less. The purging must continue!

The other point in the chapter was that we often times try to get rich quick by playing the lottery, making risky investments, etc. It’s tempting to spend my time thinking about ways to earn money without having to work much, trying to come up with that brilliant idea that will make me wealthy. Much to my disappointment, I haven’t yet had that revelation. And I think that’s because it’s not how God intended it to be. I am supposed to use my gifts and talents to help others, to be a good steward of everything I’ve been given, whether it’s time or money or my stuff. This fast has reinforced that I just need to do the right thing every day – tithe, give, don’t buy stuff I don’t need, don’t go into debt, and save a little from every paycheck.

Day 16 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today’s chapter is about Caregiving. First assignment? Research Long Term Care Insurance. My first thought? It’s so unfortunate that I did not plan ahead and stock up on adult beverages before I started this fast. Sigh. So I went to www.naic.org and www.medicare.gov and even www.longtermcare.gov to check out my options. Yeah, not even a big glass of wine could have made that more interesting reading. Here’s what I’ve decided for now. I am going to do everything within my power to stay healthy, eat right, exercise, try to get more sleep. But if my good health fails me, I trust that my boys will be fighting over me to see who gets to have me move in with them. I’m officially crossing the first assignment off the list. Boys, please break the news to your wives.

Second assignment: Talk to your parents about their care. I am extremely blessed that both of my parents are still living. Last year my Dad had a stroke and though he’s doing well, his recovery is ongoing. It hasn’t been easy for either parent to adjust to all the changes in their lives and all us kids aren’t really sure of the best way to help. It’s awkward to have this conversation, I think mostly because it means I have to acknowledge that they will not always be here. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a money talk with my parents so it will be pretty uncomfortable when I force myself to do it in a few months. Maybe I’ll see if one of my sisters will come with me on the visit . . .

Day 17 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today’s chapter is about peace, Financial Peace and the peace that goes with it. I’ve spent a great deal of my life worrying about money. I’ve been rightsized a couple of times and it’s not a comfortable position to be in. I made bad choices and fretted when I had to experience the consequences. While I was mentally reviewing these times in my life, I realized something. When I was doing my foxhole prayers, praying that God would rain down large sums of money (that never happened) to solve all my financial woes, he was meeting my needs in a completely unexpected way. During all the most difficult times he provided a friend, a sister who walked along side me through the darkest days. Whether it was a buddy to ride bikes with or friends to join me on my two hour daily commute or a trip across the country, or share food stories after a grueling workday, or someone who could make me laugh until tears rolled down my cheeks, he made sure I had someone to help carry my burdens.

Day 18 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: The last few chapters of the fast are about attitudes and feelings about money. I think I’ve sorted through most of mine, but it’s still hard for me to spend it on myself, especially if it’s something expensive. I usually have to research and ponder and pray before I pry open my wallet.

I’m trying to have fewer feelings about money and instead use it as a tool, as a way to vote. I know that sounds a bit odd, but here’s what I mean. I haven’t given up on our political system (yet), but I often find that our legislators don’t always seem to value the same things I do. So I vote every time I spend money. When possible I support small businesses and not big corporations. I buy direct from farmers. I eat at restaurants that use organic ingredients and sell grass fed beef and free range chicken. I buy things made in the USA. I buy used instead of brand new to try to cut down on all the resources that are used to create new products. Wanna join me? Maybe we’ll start a revolution.

Day 19 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today we’re talking about Stewardship. Here’s the part that hit me hard, ” . . . one day you are going to have to give an account of how you managed the resources entrusted to your care. Could you defend your actions and provide proof that you managed your time, talents, and treasures in a way that glorifies God?” C’mon Michele! So yeah, there are a lot of things that I can’t defend let alone give proof. I didn’t manage things well, I spent time doing stuff that doesn’t matter and a lot of money on stuff. I had a really, really nice truck and a really nice boat and none of that brought me one step closer to God.

I spent a lot of time today going through my stuff and purging. How many summer shirts does a person need? When I laid them all out, I had 13. Probably too many. What’s the right number? That’s just summer – I’ve got fall/winter as well! So far I have 12 boxes of stuff to donate, give away, or sell, not including the box and giant bag of stuff I dropped off at Goodwill today. Giant as in the guy had to roll out a cart to put it in. Despite all the sorting and purging, I still haven’t gotten through every drawer and cupboard.

I’m not beating myself up for the past, though. I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of weeks, about myself, about how I spend my time and money and what things I want to do differently moving forward. When it comes time to give an account, I’m going to say it took me a while, but I finally got it!

Day 20 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: The fast is coming to a close so hopefully the hardest chapters are behind me! Today’s topic is Relationships and the assignment is to contact someone you normally exchange gifts with and agree that instead of exchanging gifts, you will spend time together instead. I’ve never been much of a gift person – my love language is quality time – so this really appeals to me. I agonize over buying gifts for people who seem to have everything they want or need. If you typically exchange gifts with me, you should expect an email.

Money can cause a lot of problems in relationships, which is really unfortunate. I wish I had something brilliant to say on that subject, but my expertise is really more of a story of what not to do. I leave the topic to the expert – everything we need to know about wise stewardship is in the Bible. Even if you’re not a believer, I promise you that you will not go wrong if you follow what it has to say on the topic.

Day 21 of the 21 Day Financial Fast: Today is the last day of the fast and I’m a little sorry that it’s over. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of making due with what I have on hand and really thinking about what’s a want and what’s a necessity. In this last chapter called Financial Freedom, Michelle says this: “The point of this financial fast wasn’t to set you up financially to acquire more things. It’s to help enrich you so that you can bless others – in your family, in community, and in the world. That’s the purpose of prosperity – to help others.” That’s exactly what I wanted to accomplish from doing the fast.

Today’s assignment is to calculate what I’ve saved by not spending. I don’t have a dollar figure yet, because I’m going to try to go to the end of the month without buying any groceries. It could be an interesting 10 days! I sure hope my supply of chips lasts! I’ve been limiting myself to 10 per day for the last two weeks! Whatever I end up saving, I’m going to donate to an organization that helps to feed the hungry.

I’ve been incredibly blessed to have my aunt take this journey with me for the last 21 days. It’s been great to have someone to encourage me and help me to be accountable. The last assignment is to encourage at least one other person to go through the 21 Day Fast.

January 31, 2015.  I made it! I got through the entire month without spending any money other than on necessities. I had to go to the grocery store to get dish detergent the day after the fast ended and my accountability partner approved a stop at Panera for bread so I could take it to a get together last weekend, but otherwise I’ve lived off the food in my cupboard and freezer. I have had some preeeeetty interesting meals. I had to limit myself to 10 chips a day so the bag would last the whole month. A huge thanks to everyone who gave me food or chocolate for Christmas! It was very much appreciated and made it much easier to get through the fast! I am looking forward to grocery shopping next weekend and having some fresh veggies and some of my other favorites that I’ve missed over the last month.