Spending Freeze 101

Last week in my 5 Things Newsletter I talked about how I am putting myself on a spending freeze for the month of January. There was enough follow up, and as a matter of accountability for myself, I thought I would write a little blog post about it.

Exactly one year ago I started tracking my finances - like actually putting every expense into a googledoc, categorizing it, and justifying it, not just opening my banking app and hoping for the best. I had just moved to Kansas City and was making more money, but also spending more, and I felt like I just needed to make sure I knew what was going on. I keep a list of “expenses I had this month that I won’t have next month” and a list of “anticipated expenses next month.” I then use that information to set a categories based budget for myself.

I loosely, and I mean, loosely follow a Dave Ramsey-esque plan, but I also use credit cards because I am a fan of cash back. My parents did put the fear of God in me re: credit card debt, so yes dad, I pay my full balance every month.

Twice in the past year, I’ve looked at my spreadsheet and thought “oof, that’s not cute” so I put myself on a spending freeze. It’s not fun per se, but I do think the challenge of being more thoughtful and creative, is rewarding.

Ok now for the how-to:

Pick an amount of time and tell a trusted friend what you’re up to. Elissa Temple is my designated spending freeze friend. She is very disciplined and gracious, so she’s the perfect accountability partner. I like to shoot for a month because it’s doable, but decreasing spending over that amount of time will actually make a difference.

Take a good look at the month ahead and expect the the speed bumps. Who has a birthday this month? Is there any travel? Are you running low on toothpaste? Are there any appointments already set that will include expenses?

Take a good look at the past few months and be honest about where money was spent when it could have been saved. Too many manicures? You bought toothpaste when there was already five things of toothpaste at home? You bought a sale package of spin classes right before your sister gifted you ClassPass? Do you buy five books at time from Amazon and then only read one? Are there certain stores you need to all together avoid?

Decide if you want a slush fund, and if so how much. This month, I am letting myself use $100 cash, and some gift cards from Christmas for eating out. This will be gone before you can say, “can you really spend that much on eating out that quickly?”

Now get ready to tell yourself it can wait. Getting a haircut can wait. Buying that book can wait. Those shoes can wait. Groceries, gas, actual necessities more than likely cannot wait. But almost everything outside of your needs can wait. Almost all of your subscriptions can wait - put that Audible on hold, baby. Loft will in fact have a sale like this again, that sweater can wait.

I read this quote in the New York Times, and I think of it often, “there is joy in using what you already have.” One of the best things I’ve learned from spending freezes is that I already have a lot. I already have a stockpile of mini toothpastes. I already have six unused birthday cards bought many moons ago. I already have tweezers, so this month I don’t need to pay someone to fix my eyebrows. I already have books to read. It can wait, and I will experience joy in using what I already have before getting my hair colored in February.