During World War II, there were patriotic posters advising Americans to “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do” because our resources were needed for the war effort. These posters are great reminders in our disposable society that we often feel the need to buy something to solve a problem that we could easily fix with what we already own.
I was reminded of these posters when I first heard of financial fasting. A financial fast is a personal challenge to refrain from any spending for a set amount of time. The length of a fast can be as short as a week, or as long at several months, or even a year. Financially fasting pushes you to re-evaluate your spending habits, helps you jumpstart your savings, and challenges you to “use it up, wear it out, make it do” or do without. In essence, all of the tenets of being frugal.
How to Start a Financial Fast for Your Family
While every financial fast can be tailored to each family who takes on the challenge, there are several common fasting guidelines:
1. Reduce spending. Obviously, the first rule of financial fasting is to keep your cash and credit cards in your wallet. But what about buying food and medicine and paying your bills? Those are just fine in a financial fast. You obviously need to be able to purchase the necessities and pay off your bills during your fast. The question is what is a necessity—which leads to guideline #2.
2. Plan and define! In order to be a successful faster, you need know ahead of time how you will deal with different situations that arise. Planning for how to make do during the fast is key—or else it will be far too easy to fall back into old spending habits. Similarly, it’s important to define necessity before the fast begins. While it is obvious that you need food to live, for example, that does not mean that you have to eat out or even go grocery shopping. Your fast could be the impetus for the family to clear out the pantry and freezer. Making sure that everyone is on the same page with what constitutes a necessity will make sure that you are able to maintain the fast and not cave into the “need” for a haircut or a new pair of shoes.
3. Pay with cash. When you do have to make a purchase, leave the plastic in your wallet, or better yet, at home. You are much less likely to buy impulsively if you have to count out the bills to pay for your purchase.
4. Don’t tempt yourself. Don’t go to malls or shopping centers or even surf your favorite retail internet sites. Financial fasting is an excellent way to suddenly notice just how much we as Americans are told to buy buy buy. By avoiding all buying situations and stimuli, you’ll feel much more in control of your own money.
While a financial fast may seem extreme, it’s an excellent tool for anyone looking to take control of finances. Not only do you save a great deal of money quickly—in the same way that an extreme diet will help you lose a lot of weight quickly—but you also learn where you spend your money. Knowing what your financial weaknesses are will help you learn how to spend money consciously and avoid those pitfalls allowing you to keep more of your cash for yourself.
Just remember—you can use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!
photo credit, NH govt.