SmartMoney Podcast: ‘Can a Spending Fast Save Me Money?’

February 17, 2020




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Welcome to NerdWallet’s SmartMoney podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions — in 15 minutes or less.

This week’s question is from Lucy, who asks: “Have you guys heard of a spending fast? And what tips, ideas, insights do you have on that?”

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Our take

A “spending fast” is like a diet for your budget. You stop spending on anything but the essentials — and you get to decide what’s essential.

In fact, you set all the rules, including how long you want to try a spending fast (a month is traditional, but you can opt for a weekend and some people have done it for a whole year).

Many people define their essentials as the spending that can’t be put off without serious consequences, such as rent, food, utilities and other bills. Nonessentials often are things like eating out, buying clothes, paid entertainment and taking Ubers instead of the bus.

You may want to include “cheat days” where you’re allowed to spend on wants instead of needs, such as if you have travel or a special event planned, or you just had a hard day and need a treat. But you also can challenge yourself to find creative solutions, because there’s often a no-spend workaround. You can suggest to friends who want to get together that you have a potluck instead of going out to eat, for example.

People do spending fasts for different reasons. They may be trying to save money for a specific purpose, or just in general. They may be trying to pay down debt. They may just want to be more mindful of their spending so their money is going where they most want it to go, rather than down the drain. Getting clear on why you’re fasting can help you stay motivated.

Our tips

A spending fast is a break from your regular spending. You decide to stop spending on nonessentials for a period of time (usually a calendar month, but it can be longer or shorter periods).

Before you start, figure out your “why.” Are you trying to pay down debt, save more money or get more mindful about your spending? Any or all of those can be good reasons and help you stay motivated.

Set your (own) rules. Essential spending is usually the stuff that has serious consequences if you put it off, such as rent, utilities, loan payments and so on. Many people vow not to eat out, go to the movies, take trips, buy clothes or spend on anything that can be delayed.

Expect the unexpected. Surprise expenses and opportunities to spend can crop up. Try to think of creative workarounds, but don’t put off an expense (like a car repair!) if the delay could be expensive (such as needing a new engine!).

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