Exploring a Financial Fast

There are always times in our lives where we have to scrape by with just a few dollars to spare. Whether it is sudden unemployment, or moving into your first apartment after college, it is often surprising at how far you can get by on just a few dollars. Just the other day I was reflecting back on the time that my roommate and I lived for about a month with barely any food, no internet, no television, no telephone, and no couch. It wasn’t exactly the most pleasant time, but we definitely survived, and were able to save enough to acquire what we now consider “necessities”. Perhaps there’s a way of harnessing that saving power of doing without on a regular basis, so I came up with the idea of a financial fast.

Essentially, a financial fast would be where you cut back on all non-essential financial spending for a set period of time in order to focus on saving money, whether that be for debt repayment or otherwise. This could be something as simple and small as a single day, where you ensure that you are not spending any money on anything throughout the day. No buying lunch, no paying for parking, no picking up groceries on the way home from work. If you use a pay-as-you-go cellphone, that means no phone calls or texts either. You simply do not spend. Now, if you are fasting for just one day, you might not notice a discernible benefit to your bank account. A week would definitely make a good short term difference, if you are worried about making rent next month, for example. However, I think that the biggest benefit would be felt from a one month financial fast.

Now, to clarify, if you are going to be doing a financial fast for a month, you may still spend money on the essentials. While this, of course, looks different to everyone, the essentials would be rent/mortgage, bills, loans/debt repayment, food, and transportation. However, while “transportation” is an essential for life, in order to get to and from work, this does not mean you can go for a nice long trip around the country during your financial fast. Instead, you drive to and from work, and limit all other driving that is not necessary. That means no extra trips to the grocery store, or going for a lazy Sunday afternoon drive. You only use gas for the essentials.

To take this even further, get in contact with your cable / internet / cell phone provider, and ask to see if you can get put on “vacation” for a month. Some providers are willing to stop service for a month and let you resume when you return. If you’re not quite willing to part with everything for a month, you can always see if you can drop the extra television package, or the data plan on your cellphone to save a few bucks while you fast. In terms of food, you are going to have to learn how to go without eating out for a month, because there’s no room for that while you are financially fasting. Instead of ordering pizza, learn to make your own pizza dough and make it yourself. If you can, try to reduce the amount of “meal ready” foods you buy in the frozen section of your grocer as well, and try to make everything that you can from scratch. You’ll have the time – you don’t have TV/Internet and you’re not going out to the theatre either. In addition to all of this, you will also not be buying any video games, renting any movies, window shopping at the mall, or ordering anything online, which of course, doesn’t sound like a lot of fun – but you’ll survive.

So what’s the reward? Why put yourself through all this pain? Well, the more committed you are, the more you will save. If you take a look at your budget right now, you can probably estimate your potential savings. Just subtract your essential spending from you regular monthly¬†expenditures, and you’ll see that you probably are spending a lot of money on things that are “nice”, but not absolutely essential. While it might be uncomfortable to go without these services or without shopping, you have the potential to save hundreds over a typical month. To make it even better, if you time your monthly alongside a month where you get paid three times (if you are paid bi-weekly), you very well could take an entire two weeks pay and put it against your debt repayment or into your savings account.

Have you ever done a financial fast?

Written by Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.

8 Responses to Exploring a Financial Fast

  1. Great idea! Of course you will get a financial boost from doing this. But I also like to think of the dose of reality that will likely come as well.

    You can see that your life will not end if you didn’t have X in your life! Then you can put away the excuses and take control of your finances!

  2. Financial Fast was fun during college days, trying to save and reduce spendings in comparison to all others staying along in the hostel. The biggest cut when I stooped opting for colas post meals and shifted to water it saved a lot in my monthly spending.

  3. I was reflecting on my spending habits just last week, and realized I’m already moving in this direction.

    Over the last three years, our finances have gotten continuously tighter and tighter because of dropping income for various reasons.

    I now find myself sometimes going an entire week without spending a single dime in non-recurring expenses (not bills, etc.).

    Years ago, I would have never imagined this as a “good life” to have, but I actually feel like I still have more than enough to live on, and are happier than ever in many respects.

    The biggest lesson of this recession is probably that there’s more to life than a fat income.

  4. Some of us live like this most of the time anyway. You can get used to less and still enjoy. it is amazing what one can get used to, whether living cheaply or expensively. They say we most enjoy experiences, not things in any case.

    As you point out, one could always cut back more. We could have fewer TV packages added but we already get a reasonable combined cable, phone and internet package. We asked to cut the amount and they (Shaw) did, we only end up with fewer long distance minutes that should suffice. Many of these monthly contract companies will try to cut your bill to keep your business.

    We could cut back on restaurants but these are only a few times a week, usually cheaper anyway. We find Chinese and Vietnamese give you the most good food for the money. We often have leftover that we don’t get in most other restaurants.

    We hardly get delivered or frozen meals and don’t miss them. I actually like a microwaved baked potatoe or sweet potatoe.

    We save some and splurge on a few experiences.

    Some may think we are rich with our income and house but we are sometimes amazed how expensive others eat at restaurants or with delivered food. Many choose more expensive, less efficient suvs and trucks which take more fuel, esp. if you accelerate quickly as many do. Many do not seem to know that vehicles cost at least $5,000 to $6,000 year or more. If you chose this, please don’t complain about fuel costs, you’ve made your bed. I spent years without a vehicle (granted living near a downtown or 1/2 by transit) and then took taxis or rented when needed and was ahead hundreds of dollars a month.

  5. i do this yearly with my food budget.i coupon and sale shop heavily from aug-dec1 and then nothing but bread and milk until feb or march, eating out of my food pantry. its about a 600-800$ per month savings! usually the sales arent great at that time anyway due to holiday food shopping anyway and i dislike pushing a heavy shopping cart through ice and snowy parking lots. it can be done if you plan ahead, extra wiggle room in your budget.

  6. Enjoyed the comments.

    I’m almost 60 and the older I get, the more I realize the less I need.

    I’m by no means a good example, but deep down, I firmly believe a life with a certain amount of aceticism is a life that will bring the most joy.

    But it takes courage and discipline to acquire less. Plus you have the outside world that is always tugging.

  7. Shopping is often done as a habit/relaxation rather than necessity. When starting a financial fast you realize how much money but also how much time impulse shopping takes.

    If you are close to your favourite restaurant in the afternoon, buy your dinner at the low afternoon price as a take out and warm it up in the evening.

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