Radical Ways to Accomplish Your Financial Goals

One of the most common questions I get in workshops is, “Where can I possibly find the money to…” save, give, get out of debt, or simply make ends meet? The answer is often found in questioning our spending assumptions.

I once met a couple that did not have Internet access at home. What? That’s just plain crazy, right? I mean, how could they survive without Internet access at home? They explained that they were tired of money being a struggle, so they looked at everything they spend money on to see what was truly essential and what they could live without. Their Internet service was deemed non-essential.

I recently worked with two couples and recommended that they go from two-car households to one-car households. They had never considered such a move, but fairly quickly realized that they could make it work with just one car, especially in light of all the money they’d save.

The most radical money move of all

Quite possibly, the most dramatic step I’ve heard of anyone taking to get his or her finances right is going on a spending fast.

(Also read How Serious Are You?)

Julie has gone on several spending fasts over the years. Her most recent one lasted six months. Of course, she didn’t stop spending completely. She just didn’t spend on anything that seemed optional. That meant no new clothing, shoes, jewelry, household items such as towels or pillows, movies, music, hair products other than essentials, and restaurant meals that were not work-related.

Applying the “no discretionary spending” rule to groceries, she whittled her shopping list down to twelve essential items. She kept her cell phone, but took it down to the least expensive plan.

It wasn’t debt that motivated Julie to go on the fast. She saw it as an experiment to see how much money she could give away. The fast enabled her to give away nearly 50 percent of her income, whereas she used to give away around 20 percent.

The early days are the toughest

At first, Julie felt deprived. Gifts were the hardest thing to give up. She said, “I love to give gifts and I’m big on hospitality. Clothing was tough, too. But it taught me to get creative and put together new combinations of clothing.”

When her fast ended, she no longer felt deprived. In fact, she found it difficult to spend money. To celebrate the end of her fast, some friends took her — where else? Shopping! At midnight they went to a discount retailer that’s open 24 hours. Even though the store had thousands of items to choose from, she left there with just a couple of inexpensive clothing items.

Redefining normal

While Julie has gone back to spending money on gifts, many of her spending habits have been forever altered. She now gives away about 30 percent of her income.

She says the fast helped her see with new eyes the influence of our culture. “I had allowed my sense of normal to be shaped by the behaviors of people around me. People think they don’t have any margin, but it’s because their ‘normal’ is so out of whack. From the food we consume, to the clothes we wear, to our choices of entertainment, to the frequency with which we buy shoes or pillows or winter coats. Who said that we need new stuff every year?”

The power of a partial spending fast

If this idea intrigues you but a complete spending fast feels too overwhelming, try a partial spending fast. You might go on an entertainment spending fast, for example, looking for all the free things to do in your community for a period of time. Or try a clothing fast, buying only what is truly essential, while, as Julie did, creatively coming up with new combinations from the clothing you already own.

A spending fast is arguably the most effective way to free up money for whatever it is you’re trying to free up money for – whether speeding the process of getting out of debt, building savings, or increasing generosity. And you may just find that the fast helps reshape your sense of normal.

What’s the most radical thing you’ve ever done to free up money for a goal that’s important to you?

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6 Responses to Radical Ways to Accomplish Your Financial Goals

  1. Brad Jack November 21, 2017 at 10:55 AM #

    In a growing suburb of a large city in Texas, property taxes have risen 2.8 times what they were when we bought our present home 27 years ago. This is now the lion’s share of our housing category. If we weren’t faithful over the previous 12 months to save, we have to go on a spending fast in September through November to pay taxes by the end of the year.

    • Matt Bell November 22, 2017 at 10:51 AM #

      Taxes can sure get crazy in some parts of the country. When we lived in Chicago and got our first property tax bill I thought one of our kids had been kidnapped and this was a ransom note. Such a good idea to set aside savings each month for those crazy big periodic bills.

      Blessings to you and your family this Thanksgiving, Brad, and always.

  2. Chris November 7, 2017 at 8:41 PM #

    Interesting idea. I think most of us could make do with much less than we think we can. We’ve turned what used to be luxuries into needs (smartphones, cars, etc.) There’s always an alternative. Food for thought if you really want to save.
    Thanks for sharing.?

    • Matt Bell November 7, 2017 at 9:11 PM #

      So true, Chris. The Pew Research Group did a study a number of years ago that made the exact point you’re making. I forget all the devices and appliances it asked people about, but it clearly showed that yesterday’s luxuries quickly become today’s necessities.

  3. Aaron November 7, 2017 at 1:15 PM #

    My wife and I recently spent some time at a B&B – and the owners (now retired) didn’t own a tv and hadn’t in years. When we would come in and out during our stay they were often found with a book in hand.

    To top it off, they were probably some of the more interesting people we’d ever stayed with and were very well-versed in all the goings-on of culture, etc.

    We often feel like we need something only to find that when it gets taken away, we can usually make do without it.

    A spending fast is a great way to find this out.

    • Matt Bell November 7, 2017 at 9:09 PM #

      Great stuff, Aaron. Reminds me of a friend who has an amazing home in Colorado with stunning views of the Rockies. For the most part, he rents it out and purposely put the only TV in a small bedroom that doesn’t have much of a view. He wanted the rooms with the great views to be distraction-free. But man oh man, the complaints he gets about not having a TV in the great room! We are more addicted to our phones and TVs and computers and… than we probably realize.

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