My year long spending fast is over.
For the last year, I’ve been on a 12 month personal spending fast. The rules are here if you want to read them, along with two updates I gave along the way (at 3 months and 8 months). (The 8 month update includes the only case where I broke the rules.)
But basically it meant I agreed to purchase no new technology, music, apps, clothing or other discretionary personal items for a year.
I was inspired to begin it by my assistant Sarah, who had spent the previous year on a personal spending fast. You can read about Sarah’s fast here.
My twelve months came to an end on the weekend.
I could give you a play by play, but I thought instead I’d drill a bit deeper into some of the theological/philosophical issues I think God has been dealing with inside me during this twelve month journey.
Here are 7 lessons I’ve learned.
1. Ego drives spending. Probably my favourite moment of my spending fast was when a 6 year old criticized my two and half year old iPhone 4. I let him take a picture with it and he handed it back and said “Whoa…you’re phone is slow.” (Always nice to be trashed by someone in kindergarten.) Had I not been on a spending fast I would have gone out the next day and bought a new phone. But it wasn’t an option. I’m still using the phone.
2. Entitlement masks itself as need. Of all the lies we tell, the ones we tell ourselves can be the most subversive. I realized the way I was masking entitlement in my own life wasn’t by telling myself ‘I deserve this’. Instead, I was telling myself ‘I need this.’ Then I would come up with 18 reasons why I needed it. Truth: I didn’t need it. I wanted it. Unmasking that was so helpful. Moving forward, here’s the lesson. If you’re going to just go ahead get something you want, why not just be honest about it? Just say you got it simply because you wanted it. Sure, it’s ugly to admit. But the darkness begins to flee when it’s continually exposed to light.
3. Impulsiveness fades if you deny it. I can be an impulsive person. If I think something is the right thing to do, I feel like taking a stick of dynamite to the barriers. That can be a good quality, but not always. I can also be impulsive in spending. If I want it, I often just go get it. I’ve learned that when you habitually deny your impulsiveness, it fades.
4. Denying yourself breaks the power of envy. Confession: I used to go to visit friends who had better TVs, killer outdoor kitchens or BBQs, super high tech toys or more expensive cars (we all have our poisons, and those are some of mine) and I would replay a “how come my stuff isn’t that nice?” looped tape in my head. I’d come home and think my gear wasn’t that good anymore. I would then try to figure out how I could upgrade at least something. As a result of my fast, now when I see “better things” I genuinely feel happy for people (they have some nice stuff!) and when I get home I feel much more content with what I have. I like that feeling. Envy appears to have lost some of its power.
5. Gratitude increases as spending decreases. I have probably never felt richer or more grateful in my life. Sure, I have struggles. And yes there are things I want. But I feel like I have so much. Godliness with contentment, as Paul says, is great gain. I feel closer to that sentiment than I ever have. I got a $15 iTunes card as a gift card before I left for my trip. I smiled every time I played the songs I bought with that card. Prior to the fast, I might not even have remembered how I got the music.
6. You find what you need. If I really wanted a song (I couldn’t buy new music), I would make a like a 12 year old and find it on Youtube and just listen over and over again. I also discovered Songza, as free streaming music app. Additionally, after a few months I stopped even looking at the paid Apps on the app store–I only looked at the free stuff. I needed several new pairs of pants for a recent trip (for once in my life I didn’t have enough pants to last the length of a trip – I had worn three pairs out during the 12 month fast), so in compliance with my rules but I bought used clothing. Not surprisingly, used pants are as comfortable and stylish as new. And a fraction of the price.
7. Tough decision are easier than you think. Actually spending nothing on yourself is less difficult than you think. The first month was the toughest. With each month, it got easier. In the last six months, I often forgot I was on a fast. New habits had been formed, and the desires were gone. I didn’t even want to break the rules toward the end. I think if we transferred the energy we spend resisting good decisions into fulfilling good decisions, we’d be so much further ahead.
In case you were curious, I believe I realized all of my original spending fast goals (including giving more away).
So…did I break the fast with a big spending spree? So far, 48 hours later, no! (But I I’m going to pick up a few new clothes soon.)
So that’s what I’ve learned.
How about you? Feel free to leave a comment with any questions you might have.
And I’d love to hear some insights you’ve got from fasts you’ve embarked on.