Could A Spending Break Work For You?

Life can be expensive sometimes. Things like rent, car insurance and power bills are unavoidable and can put a real dent in our savings. But then there’s the things we don’t really need but just can’t resist: that Thai delivery when you can’t be bothered cooking; the ASOS order you made because you’re bored of your party outfits; that candle you bought to cheer yourself up after a bad day at work.

Taken individually, there’s nothing wrong with these purchases. But if left unchecked, mindless spending can totally de-rail your financial plans.

Some of us respond better to rules and structure. That’s where the spending break comes in: rather than relying on in-the-moment discipline, setting some clear guidelines about spending for a set period of time can help you recalibrate your approach.

Decision fatigue is a key factor in this. It’s a psychological theory that prolonged decision-making leads to poorer quality decisions. If you’ve spent all day at work, making decisions like how much of your company’s budget should be allocated towards an important event, then choosing the colour of the new logo, and then which restaurant you and your friends are going to meet at after work, you’re less likely to make a wise decision about your money when you pop into your favourite boutique while you’re killing time before dinner.

You might know that you’re trying to save money and live within the means of your budget (you have one of those, right? Right?). But in that moment, you’ve made so many decisions that buying a treat for yourself – like a fancy journal you take home and later realise you don’t even particularly like – seems like a justified choice.

We’re not saying it’s not okay to buy nice things for yourself from time to time. In fact, that should be something you allow for in your budget.

But if you want to curb your thoughtless spending, and you like setting yourself challenges, you could go down a more extreme route. The most intense iteration we’ve seen is British writer Michelle McGagh’s no spend year. She didn’t even allow for things like moisturiser, or bus tickets (she rode her bike everywhere). By the end of the year, she’d saved an extra $36,000AUD.

Of course, that’s a full on approach. Designer Luschia Porter set herself some more realistic parameters for her spending break. She says part of her motivation came from studying object design. “I did the spending break so I could see the true value in objects, and can choose more carefully and slowly – quality over convenience.”

She says she realised she needed to make a change when she found eight metal rulers in her house – they were “so insignificant that I forget I even own them, and then I buy another of the exact same item for convenience’s sake, but then I also see the value in that object and then I can’t just throw it away.”

The rules of Luschia’s spending break? “I could still buy second hand things; I see that as recycling. I would also be able to spend as much as I liked on food, services and experiences, and essentials like washing detergent and toothpaste.”

She says the experiment lasted five months. The hardest part of the whole exercise, she says, was how time consuming it was to resist convenience. “You needed to really think ahead and prepare yourself for most things, but especially for gifting presents.”

Sometimes she had to resort to extreme measures. “My sister wasn’t super impressed with a car mobile phone holder I found on the street (it was still in its packet! But pretty chunky, which made me think it wasn’t quite the latest design).”

Ultimately, she considers it a success – she spends more consciously these days. “I saved heaps of money, and felt like my relationship with products and objects changed for the better.”

If this sounds like your kind of challenge, you don’t need to do it for five months, or a year – perhaps a week is a better time-frame for you. You could learn some important things about why you feel compelled to buy things, and the emotional connection to your purchases. And you’ll save some sweet, sweet cash.

Amelia is the Editor of The Cusp. You can find her on twitter @amelia___m or instagram @ameliamarshall.

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