The Fiscal Fast: A Success!

January 13, 2014 ♥ Posted in: Journal by Kristina Horner

For the past week, my friend/roommate Eia and I participated in something called a “Fiscal Fast” – a term we learned from watching Extreme Cheapskates on Netflix late one night. Now obviously, this is a show is meant to put “cheapskates” in a relatively negative light, but not everything you see on the show is a terrible idea. I’m not going to start enforcing reusable toilet paper in my home anytime soon, but a lot of these people have some ingenious hacks to save money and live on a budget. It made me realize there’s a lot of things I blow money on that are totally unnecessary and impulsive.

We picked up the idea of the fiscal fast from a guy who also eats food he finds in the dumpster, but I don’t think that makes the concept any less brilliant. Basically the premise is that you don’t spend any money for an entire week. Like no money, at all. I was intrigued by the idea… there were a few things we had to exclude: gas for our cars (but only for necessary trips), bills, and pre-planned activities. But as we were just coming out of the holidays, I didn’t actually have a lot going on, so it was relatively easy to not spend money for seven straight days. The places I slipped (or almost slipped) were extremely eye-opening as to what I blow my money on.

The times I slipped: Only twice! Once was to buy Joe a very inexpensive birthday present I couldn’t pass up (to supplement the other present I had already purchased for him BEFORE the fast began) while waiting for my books to be counted/totalled at Half Price Books. The other was to buy (big surprise!) another present for Joe that I might actually save for Valentine’s day since it’s right around the corner. It was something that was only available online for 24 hours, so I couldn’t wait until the fast was over. Looking back neither of these purchases were necessary, but I don’t regret them because I at least was doing something nice for someone else.

The times I almost slipped: There were a number of times I ALMOST spent money, particularly when I went to Half Priced Books. Usually I sell a big bag of books and replace them with 2-3 new ones using the money I made. Not a bad system to be honest, but it was also interesting (and difficult!) for me to actually walk out of the store having made money. I also cashed in some winning scratch tickets I had gotten for my birthday – usually I use winning scratch ticket money to buy more scratch tickets (why not, right?). But during the fiscal fast, instead of spending money that day, I went home having MADE $18 on scratch tickets and used books. It felt really good, but I won’t admit it was difficult to break those ingrained spending habits.

I also felt the pang to stop for fast food on the way home from a Job Hunters meeting, though that urge was a bit easier to quell. It’s really not too tough to just continue driving your car home rather than stopping at Arby’s. Before the fiscal fast I easily gave in to these fleeting urges because I tend to value convenience and quick reward turnover over, you know, being smart about food/money. If I was craving McDonald’s, I could easily get McDonald’s. But being on the fiscal fast, I found I valued having a strong reserve more than I valued these empty rewards. I craved the challenge more than I craved french fries.

Sometimes it was tough to figure out what to make for meals at home, since I couldn’t just pop to the store to pick up eggs or milk or Cap’n Crunch. It made me more inventive in the kitchen, and I managed to clear out some of the stuff that’s been taking up space in my cupboards for weeks that never quite made the cut when I could just order in Chinese food.

I think the absolute hardest part of the fiscal fast for me was two-fold. The first was online shopping. I get so many Groupon emails and ModCloth sale notifications delivered right to my inbox at all hours of the day – it’s honestly amazing I ever get any work done! It was actually alarming how difficult it was for me to keep from getting sucked in to those “deals” while trying to not spend money. I literally had to unsubscribe from a few of them, which was probably a good long term idea anyway.

The other was app-based micro-transactions. I play a number of games that gently encourage you to spend money to improve your game experience, and while I didn’t fall prey to these during the fiscal fast… I was definitely not so innocent in months prior. Those purchases add up if you can’t keep a handle on it, and sometimes it was physically painful to not beat a level I was so close on when I knew a quick 0.99 cent purchase would get me there. That’s not how gaming should be. The fiscal fast made me realize how much of a sucker I’ve been about that.

I am writing this on the the day after my last non-money spending day. It was a crazy week, but I am super proud of myself and Eia, because we didn’t just not spend money. We took an active step toward becoming more responsible about money, cutting out unnecessary purchases and impulse buys or at the very least making ourselves aware of those urges. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying Groupons or going out to eat or buying yourself new clothes every now and then, but it’s also good to look at why and how often we do those things. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my habits, and it’s almost kind of exciting to be coming back into the world of spending money with this slightly different outlook about it.

Have you ever gone a whole week without spending any money? It’s a lot harder than it sounds! Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever successfully tried, or if it sounds like something you might want to do.



Christy Lou says:

I am really really bad at spending money. I commute to work for about an hour each day and it’s VERY difficult for me to not stop for a bag of chips or a soda. Some how I feel like those make my drive easier. I should probably stop doing that, I’d save a lot more money. Maybe I’ll try the fiscal fast for a week!

Sarah says:

Aww, yeah, the gifts shouldn’t count against you ! Impressed that you went to HPB and didn’t cave ! I would have to stay far far away if I did the challenge. We have a HPB outlet ( which is pretty neat. They don’t buy your stuff, but 90% of the books are priced at $5 or less. (when I went to a normal one, the pricing was the opposite of that, but maybe other locations are cheaper ?) So it’s very dangerous ! But awesome. 😉

Oh wow, yeah this site is really going to cut into my ability to fiscal fast… 😉

Julia says:

A fiscal fast sounds like a really good idea. I don’t have the same hard time as you about fast food, because I hate driving in Seattle. I want to make as few stops as possible! But there is a Starbucks in the same building that I work in, and that is just too tempting. I try to bring my own snack instead of buying yummy pastries and coffee, but I can’t always resist!

Super impressed that you could hold out even at a bookstore. I wouldn’t dare go in there if I were on a fast…

Crystal says:

Psh you think it’s hard to not buy stuff at Half Price Books? Try working there. All day I see stuff I wanna buy. I’m amazed my bank account isn’t in the negative.

But good for you for not spending money! I need to be better about that. My biggest thing is going out for lunch, mostly because I just wanna get out of the store for a bit.

Oh dear, I can only imagine working at HPB is a trying activity. I used to work at Target. I feel you.

Sami says:

I know people who have done similar challenges but more aimed at gaining empathy, such as trying to live on the minimum wage for a week, or even more extreme, trying to live on the equivalent of food stamps for a week. All challenges like this can be great for learning about how and what we consume.

Abby says:

I’m reading this book called 7 where the author spends seven months looking at seven different areas of excess. One of the months she only spends her money in seven places. Another month she only eats seven foods. The food month is the one me and my housemates are going to try in February!

What an interesting idea!

Gulde says:

This defenately sounds like something I would want to try. Its an interesting idea 🙂

Sarah says:

This is such a good idea, I was just griping about how I don’t have “enough” money when I totally do I just spend it all on stupid stuff I don’t need! I’m totally doing a fiscal fast this week!

Emmie says:

I once had an enforced fiscal week (or two really) because a transfer of “living money” hadn’t come through on time (it was the bank’s fault!). It’s not that I normaly zero at the end of the month, but I was just starting Uni in a different country, so I stood there with like 20 pounds total, and no end of it in sight. Okay, it was given I’d get dinners in College, but lunches/breakfasts needed to be provided. I ended up practically having pb/j on toast for 2/3 meals a day. yum. And I learned to drink non-sparkling water (which is hard for a stereotypical German, let me tell you! )

Jay Zaugg says:

I did a fiscal fast for a week last year. It is time to do it again. I did not spend a dime. I had so much food in the freezer, and a garden/can food so that part was no problem. I walked to work and also really watched my utility usage. That is something I have continued.

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