Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fiscal Fasting - My Month on a Spending Diet

So, our fiscal fast ended on Valentine's Day this month, and I figured I should catch you up on our spending. Our total spending for the month ended up being: 
  • Joint Account: $260.71 
  • Personal Account: $38.90 
  • Cash Spending: $92.00 (includes $57 in court payments) 
For a total of $391.61 spent on groceries and incidentals. We also spent $180 on utilities and my gym membership (the necessities I mentioned at the beginning), and we haven't paid rent yet in light of the heat incidents, but we would normally also have paid $1,640 on that as well.

That would bring us to a total of $2,211.61 spent for the month. For myself, I was able to save just about $400 for my personal account this month, which is probably the most I've managed to save since I finished grad school and lost my stipend last May.

Honestly, it was less of a success than I'd hoped it would be. We spent more on take-out and going out than I'd hoped (budgeted: $0; spent: $81.62), and our grocery bill didn't seem to decrease at all, considering I really felt like we were using A LOT of ingredients from our cabinet. We spent 228.71 on groceries, which is pretty normal for us. Much of the money went to groceries we didn't need: a giant plate of delicious bbq nachoes we made in our last week, ham sandwiches we made to bring to Danielle's house to watch the Olympics, a big burger and beer night at Rob's house. It's still a lot cheaper than going out to dinner, so it was definitely better than it could have been, but still, I was hoping to get our numbers way down, and that didn't really happen for us at all. Food is definitely the biggest budget breaker we have, and I think we really need to sit down and talk about whether there are any ways to fix that.

If I'm being honest, it was also really hard to do this alone. Roger agreed to do it with me, and then backed out after two days to take a weekend trip to Boston. He was always supportive of me doing it, but he definitely ordered take out on days when I would have just eaten soup, and generally made it harder than it would have been if I were living on my own. I know this because when I was living on my own, this is how I lived most days, and I never really felt deprived, while I felt pretty much constantly deprived during this fast. [Editor's note: I won't say anymore on this because Roger is planning to write a response about his experience with the fiscal fast.]

Another thing that made the entire experience particularly painful was our lack of heat. In addition to costing us over $200 (between court fees, increased electric bills, buying a second space heater, etc.), it also made it really hard to want to stay home or enjoy our time there because it was freezing all the time. (It also made us not want to clean, because it was so easy to just create a nest in the bedroom around our one space heater, and the dirty apartment made us also not want to hang out in filth.) So, on times when we would normally have been happy reading or playing board games in the living room, we were stuck in the bedroom freezing and whining. 

There were a few successes, though. For one, my credit card bill was under $100, even with my gym membership, for the first time in years. I felt great about that! I took out a bunch of library books and got more in touch with the free things we could do around the city. I checked out Super Bowl Avenue, went to some house parties, and took advantage of Roger's museum ID to see some free exhibits. With the cold temperatures, I didn't go on as many walks as I normally would have, I think, and I didn't go to as many free lectures as I would have liked to, but it was great to discover how many affordable things there are to do again. I also realized how incredibly supportive my friends can be. When I had to decline an invitation, no one was ever cranky about it, and several friends seemed happy to find free things to do with me. A few people even treated me to drinks or meals so I could join in the fun without messing up the fast, and those people deserve a huge thanks (and I'll get you back when we get together next, I promise!).

What did I learn? It's not that hard. I'd read a lot of blog posts from people who did it for a week and found the fast to be really difficult. Honestly, in the first week, I didn't even realize I was doing it. I was just more diligent about packing lunch. We cheated a fair amount, as you can tell from the above spending list, so I'd really love to try it again, perhaps in the summer when there's more to do outside, and really stick to a limit.

What did I miss? The ease of take out, saying yes to invitations, and buying gifts for people. There were so many little gift-y things that I wanted to get for people, and forcing myself not to do that was pretty hard. But, my second biggest "debt" category on Mint (where I track my "debts" based on a budget I've made for myself - I'm really lucky not to have any actual debt) is usually gift giving, because I love to shower people with presents. This month, I was able to pull myself out of that debt, so that in the future I can start putting more money toward my other big debt areas (travel is #1, now followed by shopping and food), and that's another really great feeling. I realized I can show how much I love people by spending time with them and letting them know I am thinking about them, instead of by getting them little thoughtful items. A big one for me!

What have I bought since finishing?A haircut, a few new items of workout clothes, and a weekend in Albany. I decided to push getting new glasses back a couple months, until I have my next eye exam in June, even though insurance will cover the new ones. I may need to buy contact lenses before then, though. In March, I've decided to go on a cash budget for myself of $200, in the hopes of spending more wisely, so I will keep you posted on how that goes. I'd also like to go on a cash budget for groceries, but I have to talk to Roger to see if he's on board.

Would I do it again? Yes. I think I might try it again this summer and see how it goes. It was a great way to flush myself out of spending habits in the new year, and start off my goal of spending more consciously. I would also definitely recommend it to anyone else, so if you're interested in starting one and have any questions, let me know and I will definitely be more than happy to answer them!


  1. I think you did a great job! I've been really enjoying these updates. Our fast was definitely more of a diet, but it did really help me to take advantage of the free things there are to do in DC, as well as remind me to pack my lunch more regularly. I would do it again, although probably for just 2 weeks next time. A month was just a bit too long for me.

    1. Thanks, Carrie! I think two weeks might be more realistic for us, too, and would probably lead to a bigger success. By the end of the month, we were cheating a little more often, and it really felt like it was time to end it.