How to Do a Spending Fast in 16 (Easy!) Steps

by Anna Newell Jones on 4 May 2012 9 comments

A spending fast (also known as a spending freeze or a spending lock-down) is a method of getting out of debt through the elimination of all "non-need" spending.

By doing a spending fast, I was able to substantially improve my financial life by paying off $23,605.10 in debt in a matter of 15 months! Now I am able to live a debt-free and autonomous life, one where my goals take priority and the debt doesn't. (See also: How to Not Be a Debt Slave)

Before deciding to do a spending fast there are a few factors to consider; these are all elements that will affect how quickly you are able to become debt-free.

Factors That Will Affect Your Spending Fast

  • The total amount of debt you have
  • Your income
  • How much spending you decide to cut out
  • The duration of time you chose for your spending fast 
  • How much money you can make by selling your unused possessions
  • What you chose to do to generate additional income 

My life completely changed when I finally decided that I had to be done with my debt. The cycle of debt and remorse needed to end once and for all. Life is better on this side — the debt-free side. So, if you want to get out of debt and change your life by doing a spending fast, this is how it's done.

1. List Your Debts and Their Interest Rates

Make a list of all your bills. Write the highest-interest rate bill at the top of the list and the lowest interest rate bill at the bottom of the list. This will determine the order in which you will eliminate each bill.

2. Ask Your Creditors for Lower Interest Rates

Some credit card companies will actually lower your interest rate, so it's worth a shot to call them and ask.

3. Picture the Life You Dream of Living

Determine your priorities by putting actual pen to paper and by writing down your ideal life. What would you be doing if you didn't have to work for a living? How would you spend your time, and when are you the most happy?

4. Ask Yourself, "Is There Any Way That I Can Reach My Goals With the Debt I Have?"

If the answer is "no" and you don't feel good about it, then it's time to start thinking about making some serious life changes. If you find yourself making decisions about things to do (or not do) things based on how much debt you owe, be very honest with yourself. Does your debt prevent you from living a life that is true to you? Does your debt (and your obligation to it) pull you and angle your decisions in even the subtlest ways?

5. Decide to Be Done With Debt Once and for All

If you're not ready to be done with your debt, then you might want to try some other methods first. The spending fast technique requires commitment and dedication. A spending fast is a way to get extreme results in a relatively short amount of time, but you have to be ready to go forward full-force with it. 

6. If You're Partnered, Try to Get Them to Do the Spending Fast With You

It's a lot easier to change your life if your partner is on board but, if they aren't, then consider doing the spending fast solo (separate bank accounts are very helpful here). 

7. Set a Time-Frame for Your Spending Fast

I recommend a year, so you can get past the difficult beginning part (where all your habits are getting changed) and into the real benefits part (where your debt is getting paid off).

8. Make a Public Declaration of Your Desire to Become Debt-Free

Tell your friends and family about your decision to do a spending fast so you can have the accountability that comes along with it. In addition to telling your family and friends, you can take a Debt-Free Life Pledge on my spending-fast site.

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9. Create a "Wants and Needs" List

The "wants and needs" list will serve as the backbone of your spending fast. On the "needs" list include the bare necessities needed to live: rent, food, utilities, etc. On the "wants" list, put everything that is an "extra" in your life. Things that went on this side of the list for me were items like clothes, coffee at coffee shops, movies in the theater, gifts, bed linens, new music, new make-up, shoes, etc. (Here is my original spending fast wants and needs list if you're interested in seeing it.) The "wants and needs" list can (and will) be different based on each person's varying priorities in life.

10. Spend Money on the "Needs" Side of the List Only

This is the simple-but-not-easy part of the spending fast.

11. Think About What You Can Buy Rather Than What You Can't

If find yourself starting to feel bummed out when you're in the thick of the spending fast, try to shift your perspective, because it will do wonders for your morale. Remember to keep having fun (just the free kind). Remember that the spending fast isn't forever. There is a light at the end of the tunnel (that's why you set a time-frame at the start), and remind yourself of why you're doing the spending fast in the first place — it's to get out of debt once-and-for-all and to change your life!

12. Become Immersed in a Community of Like-Minded People

On my spending-fast website, And Then She Saved, I've started a community page where people share their questions, struggles, accomplishments, set-backs, tips, tricks, and most importantly, their getting-out-of-debt successes. It's a great place to get a reminder that we aren't alone in our dreams to live debt-free lives.

13. Attack Your Debts

At the end of the month, send all the money that is left in your account to the bill that has the highest interest rate. Continue to send the minimum due on your other bills. Once a bill gets knocked out, be proud of yourself! You're really doing it! Then, attack the next highest interest rate bill on the list. Become competitive with yourself; try to get better numbers than the previous month and keep track of your savings from month-to-month. To be able to see all of the savings at the end of the year is amazing.

14. Be Committed to the Process

It's unrealistic to think that "mistakes" won't happen so keep going even when they (inevitably) occur. 

15. Continue With the Spending Fast Until You Reach Your End Date

Stick with the spending fast for the entire time-frame you committed yourself to. If you reach your goal of paying off your debt and you happen to do it before your predetermined end date (um, awesome!), then why not keep going? Squirrel away the extra money and prepare yourself for the next step — financial security.

16. Be Proud of Yourself for What You Accomplished — Big or Small 

When you come to the end of your spending fast, look back on all you were able to do. Being proactive and being willing to take charge of your life and finances is definitely something to be proud of!

Throughout the spending fast, always be on the look-out for ways to cut the "needs" list down even more, get creative with ways to save money, and be willing to make things yourself in an effort to save.

Before you know it, saving will become (unbelievably) more fun than spending and your financial life will be forever changed.

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Meg Favreau's picture

I'd love to hear from other people who have done spending fasts -- what was the experience like? Or is anybody out there thinking of doing one soon?

Guest's picture

I'm certainly going to try this. This is great. It expands from the teachings of "The Richest Man in Babylon"

Anna Newell Jones's picture

I've never heard of that book before... got to check it out from the library asap!

Guest's picture
Guest

Some suggestions when you want to limit spending:

- recycle any catalog immediately upon receipt
- don't go to the mall
- stop and think before taking out your wallet; remind
yourself of your goals
- spend some time clearing out clutter and maybe trying
to sell some of it. It will remind you how you wasted
your money when you bought it.

Anna Newell Jones's picture

The 1st two suggestions you listed are invaluable since they help curb temptations from the get-go.

Guest's picture

I did this for six months -- no clothes, no haircuts, nothing, except paying off debts. It was kind of awesome, and austerity led me to more austerity. Now that the credit card debt is gone, I'm not doing the extreme measures anymore. But I still haven't paid retail for clothes, and the credit cards have been paid off since February!

Anna Newell Jones's picture

That's so awesome to hear! Cutting back and eliminating superfluous spending definitely changes your life...

Guest's picture
doris

wish I could learn not to spend frivilously I have taken taken my credit cards and frozen them (literally) using only debt card still have a hard time not buying things I don't really need Getting better everytime I get the need to shop I go to clean out a drawer then I gind I need things to organize the drawers UGH see what I mean

Guest's picture

Great post, Anna! And congrats on paying off $23,605.10 in debt in 15 months! That's amazing and super inspirational!