My So-Called Fiscal Fast

How many times have you gone to Target for some toilet paper and walked out with more than $100 of stuff you didn't really need? It happens to me more often than I'd like to admit. So the idea of going on a fiscal fast, where I couldn't spend a single penny for a whole seven days, sounded like the perfect way to purify my credit card.

My household's fiscal fast was last week and I recruited friends and family as well as Shop To It readers to join me. I hope you'll post a comment about your experience. My fiscal fast wasn't as successful as I would have liked it to be. Even though we had to spend money three times during the week, I learned some valuable lessons.

Lesson #1: Not spending money takes organization and planning. I had my annual doctor's visit on Day One of the fast. Instead of paying $6 to park in the garage conveniently located next to my doctor's office, I parked a few blocks away on the street for free and walked. I couldn't have done this if I was running late so it was essential that I allowed myself enough time to find a parking space and to walk the few blocks. Organization also means packing a lunch so you don't have to eat out and planning out dinners so you don't have to order out or buy expensive prepared dishes at the grocery store. (By the way, the doctor is sending me a bill for the co-pay, which I'll eventually have to pay but I did avoid it during the fast.)

Lesson #2: I buy stuff I don't need like the weekly $5 green tea latte that I always treat myself to on Tuesdays when my kids are with grandma. After cursing the fast for denying me this weekly treat, I realized that if I permanently cut it out, I'll save about $260 a year. I also had the urge to get some toys and books for my family's upcoming week-long vacation. But my kids already have a vast collection of beach toys and books they love. There was no need to spend $20 or more on new stuff.

Lesson #3: Sometimes buying stuff you don't need is fun. I look forward to my green tea latte splurge each week. So if I cut out one week per month (thank you, Shani) then I will save $60 a year. That's a good compromise right? One luxury that just couldn't be compromised this week was getting our central air conditioning repaired. In the name of saving my marriage (heat and humidity can make two laid back people pretty grouchy) and re-introducing clothing to my children, I spent $1,800 to bring cool, dry air back to my house. While my husband argues that central AC is a necessity, especially in Washington, I say it's a luxury, one I'm not willing to give up.

Lesson #4: Conservation is key. Whether it's conserving gas or diapers, being aware of how much of your supplies you use is vital in cutting back on spending. Miraculously I made a tank of gas last a whole week by walking my kid to summer camp as much as I could. We even had enough left at the end of the week to drive to Bethany Beach, arriving on fumes. However as much as I tried to conserve my 6-month-old's diaper supply by only changing her when it was actually necessary rather than automatically changing her every few hours, we did run out on Day Six.

Lesson #5: Think before you buy. The fast has been over for three days and I've lost my will to buy anything but the necessities. I bought food and gas as soon as the fast was over and I have to admit, I felt alive again as I pulled out my credit card to pay. But I found myself thinking about every item I put in my grocery cart and asking myself if we really needed it. And the usual pull I feel by the silver jewelry stores and fun gift shops that surround me in Bethany Beach is gone... for now.

So will I do a fiscal fast again? I will. Because I saved at least $50 on stuff that we didn't need that at this point, I won't go back to buy. If I did a fiscal fast every month, that would be about $600 in savings.

So how did the fast go for you? What did you learn about yourself? If you didn't do the fast, do you think you could? Post a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  July 17, 2008; 3:00 AM ET General Interest
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In lesson 2 and 3 you talk about a $5 weekly expenditure on a green tea latte, but the numbers you discuss saving don't seem to add up. If you cut out one week a year for a $5/week indulgence you save only $5, not $60. Typo maybe?

Posted by: Shani | July 17, 2008 9:31 AM

she said she'd cut one a week per MONTH, to get the $60 savings.

Posted by: read it again | July 17, 2008 12:06 PM

I lasted about two hours into my fiscal fast, and you're right, it takes planning. On Day 1 I forgot my lunch! God forbid I skip a meal! I was forced to go across the street from my office to the countless Panera's, California Tortilla's, and Baja Fresh's and break my fast....fiscally and physically. You're right though when you said it did make me more aware of the some of the luxuries in life that I didn't necessarily need to spend that extra $5-10/day on. All in all, it was a good idea but a little unrealistic. As you saw with your air-conditioner breaking, you can try not to spend but sometimes life just happens.

Posted by: Big Spender | July 17, 2008 2:33 PM

A journalist with Time Magazine did it, but I think for a month, but it was limited to non-necessities. She could buy groceries, but not a new pair of shoes or a new outfit. She even looked into freecycle and the freegan movement. It was very interesting. I tried it and was surprised at how much money I had leftover at the end of the month.

Also 12:06, YOU should read it again, Tania corrected the error AFTER Shani pointed it out.

Posted by: Donna | July 17, 2008 3:08 PM

Ms. Anderson I want to thank you for the challenge of the fiscal fast. It was both challenging and fun at the same time. I agree to the planning piece for sure. It's amazing how much a little planning can go along way. As a Costco shopper by buying in bulk and freezing whatever you won't eat right away, plannning is much easier. Personally I really didn't think my life missed a beat. I shopped on Sunday before the fast and in all honesty probably bought too much food to last the week but wanted to be safe. In fact here we are on Thursday and I've not been back to the grocery store. Cooking planned meals as well as getting creative with left over fresh vegetables and whatever else may be laying around was very enjoyable. We tend to lose our creativity when life is easy because we can spend our way out of it. We had a sickness in the house at one point and instead of running to the store we looked up a home remedy on-line..wife not happy but we didn't break the fast...another occasion kept me from paying $25 to park at the Nats game (tickets were purchased before the season started) on Wednesday and instead park in lot 8 at RFK and take the shuttle....a great way to see the game and save money...we tailgated with hot dogs from the freezer and ate left over kabobs...and of course one should always have a bountifuly selection of beer in the fridge to take on such trips.... Aside from the Nats game we were forced to find other free things to do. One night we took the dog and child to a lake in Reston for a swim, another day we drove around to look at what's latest in new home construction. All in all, it was a really enjoyable week and I was very proud of my wife who put aside her clothes shopping, Starbucks guzzling and eat out every other day for lunch habits aside :) She could not do so without the occasional complaint or eye roll but she did it. When it got tough I tried to remind her that we were lucky at this stage to be able to choose to do this fast and unfortunately many folks in our area and around the country do not have that choice. Thanks again Ms. Anderson for the challenge and awareness. You are wise beyond your years and I truly enjoy your blog ! - Sharon's husband.

Posted by: Sharon's husband | July 17, 2008 3:30 PM

On saving on diapers:

Have you thought about elimination communication? If you save just one diaper a day, that's... a lot of money saved. It's pretty nasty to let your kid sit around in her own urine, but you can still save $$ and your baby's skin and dignity. And you already have a toilet - so you don't have to buy anything new!

Posted by: Karen in AL | July 18, 2008 12:26 PM

Tania, this was not difficult for me because I live like this most of the time. In fact I went 10 days before I spent my firt penny, only because I went to this Antique Store and and couldn't resist taking home with me this beautiful 4x6 antique rug. One thing I did do was plan ahead of time, and I think thats the key to success. I did not miss a thing, maybe my aAccountant is right when she says that I am the most frugal person she know.

Posted by: Mom | July 18, 2008 12:34 PM

I didn't specifically do the fiscal fast this week but then I only buy things I need. Not to say that I don't indulge myself ever but not on any regular basis.

But I agree with your overall points. Some planning ahead of time makes all this much easier. I always plan which stores to visit and what to buy at each, and stick to them when shopping there so my bills are never too large.

Posted by: Little Red | July 18, 2008 4:57 PM

Cloth diapers are cheaper and better for the environment.

Posted by: stef | July 22, 2008 3:59 PM

I was a little surprised that the author ran and bought diapers on day six...what about cloth? She should be using cloth at home as they are better for her baby and the environment anyways. Fiscal fasting is about reevaluating our high consumption ways not sacrificing. Like a food diet it only works if you make lifestyle changes a part of your ongoing life. Honestly bringing your lunch to work is healthier and uses no more time than sitting in the restaurant waiting to order and getting food! My daughters and I are very competitive to see who gets the best value in their lives with maximal is a family sport to see who is most creative. Try it for a month and lets talk!

Posted by: Ellen | August 17, 2008 6:28 PM

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