Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The September Spending Freeze: Lessons Learned

Creditcard{via pinterest}

It's been a month and a half since the end of my September Spending Freeze.  My month of "no spending" came and went, and since that last day in September, I haven't talked too much about what I gained from the Freeze.  However, I haven't forgotten the Freeze, or the lessons I learned along the way.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.  I've been doing a lot of thinking, some of which was prompted by a friend's question of "So now that September is over, are you just going to go back to spending like you used to?"  My initial answer, "Of course not," was soon followed with some self-reflection about what would change following my month of no spending.  I realized I needed to redefine my spending style, nailing down what needs continued attention and effort when it comes to spending.  So here are the highlights of my Freeze, as well as the biggest lessons learned along the way.

1. I spend entirely too much on clothes. This is without a doubt, the biggest and most uncessary source of spending in my life.  I won't act totally surprised, I knew I was shopping a bit more than I should have been, but when I crunched the numbers and saw just how much I was spending, I was astonished.  It was literally sickening to see how much I was spending on clothes and accessories.  I wish I could pretend it was a top here, a dress there, and a cute scarf every now and then.  But it wasn't.  It was out of control.  This part of my spending absolutely has to change.  I cannot claim to be a responsible adult and continue to spend so much of our income on clothes.  I can't, and I won't.

2. I don't wear the things I love nearly enough. One day in September, I wore one of my very favorite things to work (hint: this orange sweater.)  By 10:00 am, I'd gotten more than a handful of comments about the sweater and how great it looked, followed by a comment from one of my coworkers, "Is that new?"  "Nope," I replied.  "I've had it for a while."  The minute the words left my lips, I realized something.  This is one of my very favorite things from my closet, yet I've worn it one time in six weeks (and still haven't worn it since).  How is that possible?  I realized it's because I have a lot that I love hanging in my closet, so much so that I only wear it once or twice a season.  And I realized how insane this was.  Why buy another gold statement necklace when I don't wear the three I have nearly enough?  Why look for a second leopard button up when I've only worn the one I love twice this fall?  Somewhere along the way, we've gotten the message that new is better, and it's simply not true.  I need to wear what I love and if that's not happening, then I need to get real with myself and realize it's because I have entirely too much.

3. $5 lattes are insane. This lesson isn't a shocker, and I'm betting most of you learned this long ago.  I did too, really, but I pushed it aside, trying to convince myself it was okay.  It's not, not for me anyway.  I'm sitting on a giant pile of Ph.D student debt, and its insane to be shelling out $25 a week on coffee.  (Sidenote, that's $100 a month; $1200 a year.  On coffee!)  That is just crazy, crazy, crazy, and I can't do it.  I've left myself a little bit of room by allowing Starbucks when we travel and some Monday mornings when I make the two hour commute back from Chicago, but that's pretty much it.  Until my next trip, goodbye grande soy sugar-free caramel latte.

4. Preparing for the grocery store and being a bit more flexible can save me a lot. I've mentioned my awe for the extreme couponers before.  Getting all those goodies for close to free, who wouldn't be impressed?  And while I don't take near as an extreme approach, I have learned the value of grocery deals and steals as well as how to shop with an eagle eye.  Since we don't get a Sunday paper, I skip on clipping coupons, and instead use the online program offered by Dominicks.  By using a combination of their digital coupons, personalized offers, and deal matches, Matt and I have been able to save 25-50% on our grocery visits.  Not bad for an extra 30 minutes of prep work before a trip to the store and some extra diligence while shopping the aisles.

5. Accountability is key. The dedicated work out people and the bible study regulars have known the value of this lesson for a long time, so I'm clearly a slowpoke for just now catching on.  It's true; having people know your goals helps you stick to them.  Plain and simple.  When I wanted to cheat, I thought about this blog and the people who knew about my challenge.  That snapped me back real quick.  Enlist the support of people close to you: friends, family, coworkers, etc.  You'll be surprised how much it helps.

6. The ordinary can become extraordinary with just a few details. The no dining out rule was a bit challenging for us, especially living in such a fun foodie city.  I like the experience of dining out, the atmosphere, the music, the fun cocktails, the ability to try new things.  And while these are all fabulous at restaurants, they're also fabulous at home.  A Sunday lunch at home is suddenly spruced up when you pack it in a basket and take it across the street to the park,  An easy at home pasta is a bit more fancy with candlesticks and a bottle of wine (even if it is 2 buck Chuck.)  We've got the ability to make things more special; it just takes a bit more tweaking.  Read more about the power of recreating here.

7. Wanting something does not mean I need something. Nor does it mean I deserve it.  I had this little ephinany halfway through the freeze, and its one of the most powerful things to come out of my spending freeze.  There is a big difference between my wants and needs.  I have to remind myself of this on a weekly basis, and whenever I'm feeling particularly entitled, I reread this.  Major lightbulb moment for me.

Now let me be clear that in no way am I all of a sudden a spending expert.  Even with these lessons, I still find myself wandering into stores, tempted beyond belief.  And while I've gotten better at handling that temptation, I'm not perfect.  Since the Freeze, I've purchased 4 articles of clothing, and though I tried to reason myself out of buying those pieces, I didn't quite succeed.  But I'm getting better, one temptation at a time.  Each time I say no to myself, to Starbucks, to my online email offers, I can feel myself getting a little a bit stronger.  Another thing that's gotten stronger?  Our bank account.  The freeze and the lessons learned have drastically changed our spending and in turn, our bank account.  We're still sitting on a big old pile of Ph.D debt, and that will take us years to work through.  But we're plugging away, doing much better than before.  And that would not have happened without the Freeze.  If you are at all wanting to take a look at or revamp your spending style, I highly suggest doing a spending freeze.  I promise, if you stick with it, it will change how you spend and how you see your bank account.

So for those of you who participated in the Freeze, what did you learn?  And for those of you who didn't, do you think you would learn anything from a month of essential only spending?


Jamie said...

I am SO glad that you posted about this! Ever since I did the September spending freeze, I have been thinking the same thing. Our spending did go back to about the same, but I have so much guilt knowing that things can help us along the way. $5 lattes are a joke, but yet they feel so good when they warm your belly, and eating at home was a blessing but now we continued on and are eating out more. Everything has to be in balance, and you are so fortunate for the wisdom you have to reflect upon great lessons you learned.

Alivia said...

You have inspired me to crack down on my "not buying anything for myself until January" freeze. So, so motivated to keep up with it-- and you are a HUGE help. I love that you reflect and continue your growing process and all that lovely stuff.

Lindsay said...

It's amazing to me how just taking one single month and not spending any money can have such an impact on your spending habits. Since the freeze I notice that I feel guilty even looking at frivolous things for myself when I go shopping. I've definitely gotten much better at telling myself NO when I really really REALLY want something that I really really REALLY don't need. And it feels good to have the self-restraint, because while it may feel good when you buy it, as soon as you see the credit card bill those good feelings go right out the window.

I would definitely recommend everyone to do a spending freeze - it teaches you so much about the way you spend your money. And if you can't bring yourself to completely stop spending, take a month and just write down every single thing you buy. I'm sure that will work just as well :)

Natasha xoxo said...

Love this post! I hope to have learned a few lessons from your spending freeze.

xo, tasha
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Dad said...

Wonderful lessons. It's never too late to address the "spending addiction". I still hold out hope for your mom.