Now that I am two-and-a-half months in to Project Pocketwatch, my year of needs-based spending, I am getting emails from friends asking what they need to know before starting a Spending Fast of their own. They've seen my success and they want in on it. Can't blame 'em; this has been such a welcome, dramatic shift. Without further ado, here are the five tips I give to anyone who wants to start a spending fast...

 

Mind Over Matter

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It's important to be in the right mindset when approaching your Spending Fast. Before you start, tell yourself that this isn't a punishment. You aren't "financially grounding" yourself. Switch perspectives and tell yourself that you are doing this as a gift to yourself. Whether your goal is to get out of debt, pay off your house, save for a vacation, or create a cushy savings, keep that in the forefront of your mind when faced with financial temptation. Words have power.  Instead of saying "I can't buy that new jacket," say "That's $75 better spent on my vacation." Be kind with your mind. If you approach it from a negative point of view, you are bound to fail.

 

Have a Plan

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A Spending Fast doesn't have to be a year. It can be a month. It can be a few months. Whatever time frame you have set out for yourself put your start date on the calendar, and your end date.  Then look at the important events in between that you simply can't miss, and figure out how you can still attend, but not go overboard. For example, a friend of mine has her cousin's wedding coming up in August. She doesn't want to miss it, naturally, but being a guest at a wedding can be expensive. I told her to reach out to her cousin to see if she could help with making party favors and centerpieces in lieu of a traditional wedding gift. I also suggested she ask around to see if any of her friends have an outfit she can borrow so she doesn't have to run out and buy something new. Who's going to know it's borrowed, right? I have another friend who cannot miss Pride. I said, "If that's important to you, make it happen, but only bring $20 in cash. Leave the debit card at home." Think of it like a diet.  It's okay to have ice cream once in a while, and when you do, it tastes so much better.

 

Tell People

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I know that it's weird to make a public statement of intention, but letting people know that you're going on a spending fast is really very important.  This way if someone invites you out for their expensive birthday dinner, you can politely decline, siting your fast. No hurt feelings. Also, once you throw it out there, people come out of the woodwork to help you reach your goals. Really. Once I said "this is what I'm doing," I had friends volunteering movie nights at their place, or telling me we could still keep our coffee dates, we'll just move it from the shop to the home. One friend went through her beauty products and gave me some make up for my theater kit that she wasn't going to use. I also had people admit to me that a cheap night in is perfect, considering they, too, are looking to cut some corners, and that I would be doing them a favor. You have no idea the support you have around you until you make your needs known.

 

Set Your Rules

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There are some things in our lives that we simply cannot live without. I need to knit or I will go insane. A friend of mine loves her some Pepsi. You have to tell yourself what you can and cannot spend money on. I decided that during my year of needs-based spending, I would bust through my yarn stash and actually finish projects. If I was to buy any new yarn, it would have to be from the bargain bin, I could only spend $20 a month, and anything knit from that yarn is meant for donations. Well, after I did the whole "tell people" thing, I had so many people give me yarn. I haven't had to spend a penny. I also just donated 33 winter hats to The Kalamazoo Jaycees' Duffle Bags of Love. It's been a productive couple of months. Now, my friend who loves Pepsi? There are two schools of thought in how to approach that one. Either limit your caffeine habit to a few a week, or treat them as a reward; for every $100 saved, a Pepsi is earned. Be honest and reasonable about what you can't live without for sanity's sake. So, what can I spend my money on? Bills, groceries, and my bi-weekly eye brow waxing. I'm not limiting myself to a $25 a week grocery budget, or living on Ramen. As long as I cook it, it's fair game. And the eye brow thing... that's more a favor I'm doing to my stylists than for me. Trust me.

 

Stock Up

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You're going to need supplies. Believe me. Before your start date take stock of everything you already have and what you might need. If you are going to start taking your lunch to work, make sure you have enough containers. You won't be able to replace something that breaks, so make sure you have plenty of super glue on hand. I will always need pantyhose for plays I'm in, so I made sure to buy several pair for the year. Get a sewing kit for repairs. A lot of what I just listed can be obtained for a nominal fee at The Dollar Store. There will be things that pop up along the way, that require you to open your wallet, certainly. You ran out of sandwich bags or you need shampoo. When you think about it in terms of "do I need this" and really feel that word, you will start to make a distinction and decisions will become easier. I'm not perfect. I had an instance in early April where I had to use all the money I saved in March for a car repair. You bet I rationalized a bottle of wine as a need that evening. But just like a diet, I got right back on the horse the next day. You're going to have temptations and make a few bad choices here and there, but dust yourself off and start over. Tomorrow is a new day.

Bonus Video: The Return of Crystal Pepsi