Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Spending Fast

OK, so, this is probably about something exactly opposite to what just about anybody reading that title would expect. It’s not about spending money fast – it’s about not spending money at all.

The first time I went on a spending fast was nine years ago almost to the month. We were desperate – behind on almost every bill we had, my father-the-CPA had just gone over the situation and even he thought perhaps we might want to consider the idea of {whisper} bankruptcy oh the shame of it! {/whisper}, the weekly paychecks were being spent long before they hit the bank…something had to be done.

It was an act of sheer desperation. For two weeks, I didn’t spend any money. No groceries, no vending machine, no new (or used) anything. No garage sales. No ‘saving’ money shopping the sales.

It did us a shocking amount of good. We cleared out the kitchen cupboards (which had a surprising amount of food in them) and the fridge (which then got the good cleaning it really needed), and at the end of the two weeks I had enough money to at least pay something to everyone standing in line for it.

We went off the fast for two weeks, and then after much discussion, went back on it ‘until we’re current’.

We stayed on it for almost two months. We limited our spending to only what we needed. I planned our meals and bought only and exactly what I needed for them each week. We cancelled cable, dropped the cell phones, turned off the air conditioning in the apartment – any spending we had immediate control over, we stopped.

At the end of the two months, though, we were current with all our creditors, the phone calls had stopped, and we were actually making headway instead of merely treading water.

But here’s the weird part: when we said, “OK, we’re current! Let’s get some of that good stuff back!”, there was a lot of stuff that we just never put back in. All the kicking and screaming and crying and whining about giving up such things as cable television and the daily pilgrimage to Starbucks…but once they were gone for a while, we discovered we didn’t really miss them.

We talked about what kinds of things we did miss, and added those back in. And we were happier than we had ever been. We had peace; we had everything we needed, and a lot of what we really wanted. We had enough. It was like a spiritual epiphany, to realize just how much we didn’t need.

This week, my mission is to start another spending fast. It’s hard, especially when you’re working and ergo under hefty time constraints, to give up things that feel good. Just this morning while getting dressed, I dreamed up about $750 worth of stuff I’d like to treat myself to, from a spa treatment to getting my eyebrows waxed to sitting in the air conditioned splendor of Starbucks with a frappucino to work instead of sweating my butt off here at home. (Mostly because I look like death warmed over this morning – eyebrows like great big fuzzy caterpillars, saggy behind and pasty dry skin that looks like I sneak around in the night biting people on the neck.) (Also, because they keep advertising things on the radio like laser hair removal. For only $300, I could never have to shave my armpits again? Oh Lord, where do I sign up?!)

But we’re spending way too much on our conveniences and pleasures. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were worth the price we’re paying to us; but they aren’t. They’re nice, sure. And yes, we enjoy them. I’ve enjoyed my maid service so much it’s downright disgusting.

However, we don’t enjoy them as much as we want other things. Pretty high ticket items, too, thank you very much. A major house remodeling project, a new minivan, college funds for four children, early retirement. All of these things are at the top of our list of things we’d really like to have…but we’re basically pissing away all the resources we need for them on other things that we want, uh, now.

It’s easy to give up the future for the Now. Now is much louder than Later. Now is immediate. Now is easily grasped. You know how good a double scoop of chocolate ripple is Now – it’s hard to put your arms around the concept of how good it will feel Later, in ten-fifteen years, to be sitting on our patio drinking coffee at 10:00 in the morning reading the newspaper while everybody else is scurrying off to work.

We tend to appreciate the things we have more, though, when we've either worked hard for them or have carefully chosen them while letting other things slide. I like knowing that we can afford what we have, that I'm not a few dollars away from being in over my head.

Besides. I don't like being owned by anything. Not even my own hedonistic delights. I like to think I can give up darn near anything, if I want something else more. It makes me feel free.

I don't feel very free right now. I feel encumbered by wants, weighed down by all the stuff I "have" to do, to pay for the things I "must" have.

Letting it go isn't a matter of depriving myself. It's a matter of giving myself more.

By spending less.


Anonymous said...

You have truly learned that "The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what we want MOST for what we want NOW".

Very Herodotus said...

Does this mean you're giving up your cleaning service? I'm still trying to figure out how to get mine back, after being without for a year and a half. I can't keep up, and I have half as many kids as you do!!!

21st Century Mom said...

"Letting it go isn't a matter of depriving myself. It's a matter of giving myself more. "


You will feel so much better when you clear the deck.