There are always times in our lives where we have to scrape by with just a few dollars to spare. Whether it is sudden unemployment, or moving into your first apartment after college, it is often surprising at how far you can get by on just a few dollars. Just the other day I was reflecting back on the time that my roommate and I lived for about a month with barely any food, no internet, no television, no telephone, and no couch. It wasn't exactly the most pleasant time, but we definitely survived, and were able to save enough to acquire what we now consider “necessities”. Perhaps there's a way of harnessing that saving power of doing without on a regular basis, so I came up with the idea of a financial fast.
Essentially, a financial fast would be where you cut back on all non-essential financial spending for a set period of time in order to focus on saving money, whether that be for debt repayment or otherwise. This could be something as simple and small as a single day, where you ensure that you are not spending any money on anything throughout the day. No buying lunch, no paying for parking, no picking up groceries on the way home from work. If you use a pay-as-you-go cellphone, that means no phone calls or texts either. You simply do not spend. Now, if you are fasting for just one day, you might not notice a discernible benefit to your bank account. A week would definitely make a good short term difference, if you are worried about making rent next month, for example. However, I think that the biggest benefit would be felt from a one month financial fast.

Now, to clarify, if you are going to be doing a financial fast for a month, you may still spend money on the essentials. While this, of course, looks different to everyone, the essentials would be rent/mortgage, bills, loans/debt repayment, food, and transportation. However, while “transportation” is an essential for life, in order to get to and from work, this does not mean you can go for a nice long trip around the country during your financial fast. Instead, you drive to and from work, and limit all other driving that is not necessary. That means no extra trips to the grocery store, or going for a lazy Sunday afternoon drive. You only use gas for the essentials.
To take this even further, get in contact with your cable / internet / cell phone provider, and ask to see if you can get put on “vacation” for a month. Some providers are willing to stop service for a month and let you resume when you return. If you're not quite willing to part with everything for a month, you can always see if you can drop the extra television package, or the data plan on your cellphone to save a few bucks while you fast. In terms of food, you are going to have to learn how to go without eating out for a month, because there's no room for that while you are financially fasting. Instead of ordering pizza, learn to make your own pizza dough and make it yourself. If you can, try to reduce the amount of “meal ready” foods you buy in the frozen section of your grocer as well, and try to make everything that you can from scratch. You'll have the time – you don't have TV/Internet and you're not going out to the theatre either. In addition to all of this, you will also not be buying any video games, renting any movies, window shopping at the mall, or ordering anything online, which of course, doesn't sound like a lot of fun – but you'll survive.

So what's the reward? Why put yourself through all this pain? Well, the more committed you are, the more you will save. If you take a look at your budget right now, you can probably estimate your potential savings. Just subtract your essential spending from you regular monthly expenditures, and you'll see that you probably are spending a lot of money on things that are “nice”, but not absolutely essential. While it might be uncomfortable to go without these services or without shopping, you have the potential to save hundreds over a typical month. To make it even better, if you time your monthly alongside a month where you get paid three times (if you are paid bi-weekly), you very well could take an entire two weeks pay and put it against your debt repayment or into your savings account.

Have you ever done a financial fast?

About Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.