The idea came from a magazine. Last November’s Family Circle mentioned the concept of a cash sabbatical—a day without spending—to help come to terms with the emotions triggered by spending. The concept was interesting but one day didn’t seem like a real challenge, so I toyed casually with the idea of a month. Then a December filled with too much indulgence (and large property tax increases) clinched the deal. So here it goes:
For the month of January, we plan to avoid shopping/spending. The list below contains our exceptions:
- Regular bills & school expenses (things like mortgage, utilities, field trips)
- Very limited entertainment (I have a few pre-planned lunches–and my daughter’s birthday meal is inviolable; but other events will be held, for free, at home)
- One can of paint (college daughter at home = free labor, limited time offer)
- Parts for our broken stove (more on this below)
- Milk, fruit and our monthly buying club produce box (we eat local and store for winter, but can’t imagine frozen fruit in my kids’ lunch boxes)
- A birthday card for my sister (milestone birthday: te, he, he)
- Mousetraps (sigh)
Many of the lessons that this exercise teaches should feel familiar to me. When a killer job combined with a dying father in the spring of 2009, I knew that 3 months of FMLA was not going to cut it. The job was history and our income went down to less than half of what it had been.
We refinanced the house and donated the 3rd car. Our daughter got a great scholarship, we ate at home and used library cards. Other highlights—finding two free Guinea Pigs including cage on Freecycle, giving a party for 55 without a fully working oven (cheap fixes are slower than running out for a new stove), sending to Canada for our cat’s eye drops ($34 versus $138), and nearly a week of free family holiday entertainment courtesy of Lord of the Rings movie nights and homemade eggnog.
Yet despite the successes, I could feel some backsliding. Yes I did buy Christmas ornaments at 60% off then realize I didn’t really need or care about them. I was clear about the difference between “needs” and “wants” and still able to afford a few “wants.” But now I was having trouble identifying my real “wants.”
Then there was the box of 2005 popcorn unearthed in the pantry (still pops–kudos, Newman’s Own!), the mold spots discovered in the currants and the sodden Bok Choy lost in the back of the refrigerator. Even our FIFO food system was breaking down!
Clearly we need some type of booster. The Internet bolstered my resolve with numerous accounts of month-without-spending success. From MSN.com’s experiment “examining our relationship with money” to countless blog stories, this is clearly an idea whose time has come. And it should provide some great incentive to try some new recipes. At least on the stovetop.