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7 Lessons from My Year Long Spending Fast

7 Lessons from my Year Long Spending Fast

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.

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  • sarah

    I am just about to start a spending fast so I’m reading how others did on their fast. I’m glad to see this helped with gratitude and that it became easier as time went on. My husband and I are planning on starting a family and I just took a dream job that unfortunately pays a bit less than I make now so I’m hoping to tackle debt to put us in a better situation. Thank you for the inspiration!!!!

  • Great strategies. Thanks for the reminders.

  • Beth Marshall

    This is such a compelling article, Carey- thank you! And, I love the link to Sarah’s article on the I Was Broke, Now I’m Not site. Sarah- you are an amazing inspiration!

  • Joshua Wilson

    No. 8: A lot of people live like this because they have to.

  • RocketMom

    I have close friends and neighbors who are thrift shop/rummage people. They are constantly showing me what they purchased and what they paid for it, although their houses are overflowing. I honestly don’t know what to say to them each time they show me their purchases.

  • Ally

    Am so glad to have read this! Am starting month one of a spending fast and found your blog in search of some support and encouragement. I love the lessons you learned. Thanks for writing and sharing! – Ally

  • Pingback: My Favorite blogs posts by others in 2013 |

  • Lorrie

    I too embarked on a 24 month spending fast. Amazing how much free stuff one can find if they force themselves to. I just ended the fast and bought 7 new pair of undies. These undies are the most amazing I have ever bought. The little things are so precious when we limit ourselves by so much.

    • cnieuwhof

      You are right. Scarcity creates gratitude.

  • John Markov

    Carey this is very inspiring and very challenging. I actually think this is something I need to do. When you find yourself constantly updating your iTunes wish list, and your ebay watch list, etc… there may be a problem – that’s me. My birthday is coming up in 2 weeks – I think I’m going to psych myself up and do it. One question though – Starbucks? – did you allow yourself to get coffee out? Should I buy an espresso machine the day before my birthday? I know this sounds ridiculous – I’m a slave to the bean.

    • cnieuwhof

      John I’m so proud of you. I got asked about food alot. I did not cut back on eating out at all. One of my rules only because so much of my life is lived on the road – even when at home. So I didn’t cut out drive through or anything. Funny…someone asked me if I was cutting out food for the year too. I had a hard time not responding with “well, I’d pretty much be dead if I did that, wouldn’t I.”

  • jonathan manafo

    I’ve done this with clothing for 6plus months. Very freeing indeed. I’ve been thinking about doing a whole year and include other things too. Good for you. Looking forward to my experience soon.

    • cnieuwhof

      Way to go Jonathan!

      • jonathan manafo

        Hi Carey…I’m in the middle of a 12 month fast now. I’m learning lots. Thanks for the inspiration. Been posting about it at

  • Sarah

    Carey, am I allowed to say that I’m proud of you?? 🙂 Congratulations!

    I loved reading about what you learned and seeing the similarities reflected in my own experience. Like you said – we all have our poisons. It’s a hard challenge to take on when we’re not used to living that way, and what gets revealed can be surprising! But it can also be life changing… it has been a privilege and honour to watch your experience unfold!

    Thank you for sharing it with us! It’s inspiring and rings so true 🙂

    • Thanks Sarah. You have inspired many people, including me.

    • Thanks Sarah. You have inspired many people, including me.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for sharing so honestly and candidly about your experience Carey. You lead by example and I really appreciate your leadership.

    • Thanks Nancy. I just find we all struggle with the same things, so why not just talk about them? Spiritual growth happens that way.

  • cnieuwhof

    Thanks for all the encouragement, and thanks for sharing your personal stories. It’s funny that even when a discipline is ‘forced’ on you, it can result in good. Appreciate hearing those.

  • Hi Carey, I need to get in touch with you about something. Is there an email address I can send my message to? Thanks! Anna

  • Very cool stuff Carey. Crazily enough Dmac used to encourage me to go on a savings fast because I am such a tight wad with money :). All kidding aside your discipline is inspirational and thanks for sharing the lessons so I don’t have to do it. I hope all is well in the great white north.

    • cnieuwhof

      The next time you break your savings fast, I’m going for BBQ with you. Good to see you last week Troy. Never long enough!

  • Julie Charters

    Wow!! A year already! I missed your updates and have wondered if that was still happening!! Good for you! A year is a long time!! When you first posted this, Dave and I sat down and discussed where we wanted to cut back. We didn’t go on a spending fast like you did, but we did prioritize things and changed our spending habits. Might be time for us to sit back down and re look at everything!! I think it will be a life long task!! Thanks!! Always enjoy your posts!!

  • That’s pretty cool Carey. I’d never thought about doing a spending fast but I can see how this could be beneficial and put our eyes on the right thing and not just our desire to have more stuff.

  • Julie

    Awesome! I like it… a lot of what you have said I’ve thought of many times before too… but yours is in writing and it all makes perfect sense! Thanks for sharing! We in Canada have way too much… and yes going on a fast would help us appreciate more of what we do have… maybe one step further would be to give to some charity what you typically would have spent on yourself during the fast!

  • i enjoyed reading this, carey!
    i have lived on a “spending fast” kind of lifestyle for as long as i can remember…. back to the days when i became a mother actually. i think it was a good combo of the fact that i had a baby to busied with and to enjoy, coupled with the surprise of how expensive kids actually are! lol
    i love this lifestyle, actually. sure, there are times when there’s a slight appearance of that monster known as envy, but i can honestly say that is a very rare appearance.:) i have had the privilage to experience seeing SO many (too many!!) people caught up in the “keeping up with the joneses” contest, and i can honestly say that i feel really badly for these people in a way that breaks my heart a little. when people get caught up in materialism, they lose sight of what is important, which is living in this world to glorify god. when a window is opened for materialism, it also lets in envy, jealousy, boastfulness, selfishness, idolatry (yes! IDOLATRY!), and overall, a lack of faith as well as a slap in the face to the man that hung himself for YOU. the lord provides! when you have provisions to live a well life, and you say it isn’t good enough, you are saying that you do not trust that the lord provides, and you are insulting everything one man has endured by saying that you deserve better. we don’t deserve as much!
    it’s so nice when people shift their focus from themselves to serving others. (proverbs 19:17). you are highly favoured and rewarded by jesus from what you sow while you are kickin around this joint. ;D

  • Mark

    Great story Carey! I totally understand the idea of a spending fast. After going through my divorce, I was forced into a spending fast for financial reasons. 3 1/2 years later, while doing much better financially, I still am living that kind of lifestyle. Yes I would like a newer TV (my 32 in, 168 lb rear projection set could be updated), and other things could use upgrading or replacing but I have found I am more likely to talk myself out of spending money reasoning that I don’t NEED it. As you stated, it get’s easier with time and becomes a new thought process. I do buy things I don’t ‘need’ but appreciate them more because it’s much more the exception than the rule. We could all learn a lot by trying a spending fast for a length of time..