If you're looking to take control of your spending habits and financial future, a spending cleanse might be just the thing you need to get on the right track. A spending cleanse is a dedicated period of time, set in advance, where absolutely no spending on non-essentials happens.
Spending cleanses tend to provoke the same polarizing reaction in the personal finance community as fancy fad diets do amongst nutritionists. Both are extreme lifestyle options for helping you reach your goals in the shortest time frame possible. On one hand, they might be quick on results; on the other, they are not known for being sustainable in the long term.
Sure, if you only eat grapefruit and spinach for three days, you’ll lose 10 pounds, but when you go back to eating a normal diet, you will start to put that weight back on. The same goes for spending: If you forbid yourself from spending any money on non-necessities, there’s a good chance that afterward you might bust your budget at the mall and erase some of the gains you made during your spending hiatus.
Whether it’s gourmet cupcakes at your local bakery or a new pair of shoes, at some point, you’re going to want to splurge on something. The danger is that when you do, you might feel a sense of shame, which can lead you down an exhausting path of constant restricting-then-bingeing.
But, there is a way to do a spending cleanse effectively. What I have seen work is moderation, consciousness, and proactive planning. If those qualities are incorporated into your spending cleanse, this exercise can be an effective boot camp for learning how to say no to yourself and how to question your expenses. Taking a period of time to contemplate your cash flow can show you what’s really important once you get past the initial desire for instant gratification.
Financial freedom isn’t about finding a way to be happy living with just the bare necessities — it’s about affording a lifestyle you truly desire. Rather than going completely cold turkey, a successful spending cleanse doesn’t ban non-essential spending altogether. Instead, it includes a limited amount of monetary “junk food.”
If you think doing a spending cleanse might be a good way to reboot your money mindset and guide you to a healthy balance of wants and must-haves, here are some tips to keep in mind as you proceed:
1. Plan ahead for your detox. Create a budget and know how much you have available to spend, as well as what expenses you can expect to incur. Irregular expenses, like new tires or a wedding gift, may come up during your cleanse. As long as you have a cushion, covering these costs will not throw your cleanse off track.
2. Avoid pesky influences. Clear out all the coupons and discounts from your inbox and unsubscribe from vendors’ newsletters. Make sure you’ll be surrounded by friends and family that support your spending fast and won’t coax you into giving up. You need to fill your time spent shopping with another activity. Try taking up an inexpensive hobby, like cooking or knitting or (my own personal favorite) Tetris. Don’t leave that space open for a relapse.
3. Get clear on why you want to rein in your spending. My 7-Day Get Fiscally Intentional Challenge is great for this! If you don’t have a goal to work toward, you have no incentive to stick with this arduous money workout. Knowing your “why” will help you practice patience for everything you want. And maybe you’ll see that you don’t actually need some of your spending cravings after all.
4. Don’t give up if you slip up. Acknowledge the losses but focus on the wins. It’s natural to steer off course, so you’re actually just test-driving real life. Cut yourself some slack. A planned and controlled amount of discretionary spending will keep you motivated, so readjust your budget and move forward. Before you know it, your spending cleanse will become your natural financial lifestyle.
Michelle Bobrow is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.