I wrote in late February of 2020 about doing a very self-educational month-long money detox month for March of last year. It felt fantastic to make a commitment. I really thought it out, got back in touch with the part of myself that needed a break from constant capitalism, and I got ready to get my spending under control. As a data nerd, I was also excited to see just how low I could go.
The March money detox kicked off with an awesome event — a naked lady party thrown by a friend. I had no idea how much I would come to appreciate the wardrobe refresh as well as the social fun over the next 10 months. Then, as you may just possibly remember, everything hit the fan for most of us sometime in the month of March. And, given that I wasn’t totally broke, I felt compelled to support local businesses and nonprofits. This paradox helped me refocus a new lens on spending mindfully. I also re-examined my scarcity learning from an early age and thought about how I cultivate an abundance mentality without acquiring through spending.
Who’s with me?
I think that, like a lot of people, my spending patterns were strange throughout the past year. So, for February, I am going on a data-gathering mission and re-examining every purchasing decision. I called a fiscal fast February in my headline, but it’s gonna be waaaaaay more about gathering awareness and sitting with my discomfort under capitalism.
“Spend well on the things you love, and cut mercilessly the things you do not!”
This little nugget of wisdom from the FI (Financial Independence) community is a great way to approach how you mentally approach balance while being a cheapskate who still wants to enjoy life. Decide what things you love to spend on or places you like to spend with, and then stop beating yourself up about those spending choices. Make lists if it helps.
My love list includes: farmers market produce, local restaurants, handmade art, Portland’s Black-owned bookstore/businesses, local shops/emporiums, good causes and heart-string plucking Gofundme campaigns, our house and garden, sending postcards, letters, art, and gifts by USPS. All of these things bring me true joy.
My do not love list includes: Amazon is the only source items (HATE), fast fashion (complicated as I actually love garbage clothing but hate that I love it and hate buying more), new technology/devices, and cars/transportation, junk food and prepackaged food I could cook instead. None of these things bring me joy.
This Year’s Method
This year’s money detox, devoted to mindful spending, will be all about intention and values. Last year’s lessons learned and reminders included observing the joy we get from supporting great local businesses that we want to survive these shitty times; feeling personal pride in fixing, repairing, and mending thing we already have; and buying better quality items with a longer potential use life.
I want to put every spending decision through a funnel of these questions and considerations:
- Do I/we need this? (Do we already own something similar that can be adapted to be this thing? Are we replacing something that could be repaired?)
- Do we need it right now? Can it sit on a shopping list while I investigate all of these questions?
- Can I make this instead?
- Can I get this from a local source? Is that source aligned with my values? Maybe even owned by people I care about? ( For example, can I buy this at Cherry Sprout or a farm stand/booth/CSA instead of Kroger?)
- Can I get this used from a Buy Nothing or Freecycle group 1st, or Craigslist/another used marketplace 2nd? (We often joke that Craigslist is sometimes “Ikea remix.”)
- What is the impact of this item and the way its supply chain operates on our world?
- If this is an item we do not need in any way, but I am still having strong feelings of desire around it? Why? What are those feelings? When was the first time in my life I felt this way about a similar thing? What happened when I did or did not get it?
Tracking and Learning
Last year I used (barely) YNAB, Mint, and Dollarbird for budgeting and tracking. I abandoned all for budgeting and barely still use Mint to track and to keep general tabs on my overall financial picture. I really liked Dollarbird’s user interface the most, and that ould be what I would recommend if you're looking for a simple way to track and/or budget regular spending. I have found that the act of logging all of your spending at the end of the day can be enlightening. I also quickly abandoned my spending journal once the pandemic shut down went into effect.
So, this year, I am thinking that I will ask myself to narratively journal, as part of my regular journal, about my spending at the end of every week. I’m going to give myself this writing questionnaire every Sunday:
How did I spend $ this past week? Was anything wasted? Did any purchases make me sad or mad? Why?
How would I like to spend next week? How would I like it to feel? What is on the $ horizon? How could it be different?
I will also engage in tracking by taking a weekly look in my credit union account and making note of any purchases or expenses that surprised me or that I would like to change.