Spending Diet

I have a weakness for kitchen stuff. I might not have an actual need for another new set of vintage-inspired hand towels, but they're just so darn cute! However, a recent desire to save more money and stop filling my house with even more pointless things led to my family's current project: A month-long spending diet.

Whether you want to sock away some extra money, pay down debt, or simply put the brakes on constant consumerism, a spending diet can help. When you participate in a spending diet, you only spend money on essentials, like food, bills, gas, and medical expenses.

It can be tough to say goodbye to drive-through lattes and the aforementioned kitchen accessories, but once you get into a groove, there's something surprisingly liberating about a spending diet. Before I started, I feared that the anti-spending mandate would make me feel chained down. Instead, I feel freer because the expectation of always having to be consuming and acquiring has been lifted.

My goal is to extend the diet through the entire month of February, and no, it's not a coincidence that it's the shortest month of the year. So far it's gone well, with only one Valentine's Day slipup: My husband and I ordered take-out sandwiches in lieu of a romantic dinner out.

A few temptations are harder to beat than others, though. So if you, too, would like to give a spending diet a try, here are a few tips for sticking to the plan:

Tell your friends and family: A few weeks before we embarked on the spending diet, I emailed our closest friends to tell them about it. Not only did this ensure their support, but it kept me out of the position of having to turn down invitations out for an entire month.

Plan nights in: Instead of going out for dinner and a movie, mark your calendar throughout the month with planned nights in. Maybe this is a special movie night with your kids, complete with popcorn, candy, a darkened room, and special "theater seats," like beanbag chairs. You could also invite your grownup friends over for a couple of potluck dinners or game nights. Planning these activities in advance will make them feel extra-special.

Find free things for your kids to do: There are lots of fun things kids' activities that don't cost a penny. Of course, playing outside is the most obvious one. Public libraries are also treasure troves, from offering story times and regularly scheduled art and science activities, to providing passes for free admission to local museums. Also look for kids activities at local bookstores. 

Meal plan, and stick to it: Sometimes, after a long, stressful day, the last thing I want to do is figure out what to make for dinner, especially when takeout pizza is just a phone call away. That's why I've made it a point to plan and shop for an entire week's worth of easy-to-prepare meals and keep track of them on a dry erase board throughout the week. And remember: There's no shame in frozen pizza.

Swap, don't shop: My girlfriends and I used to have "clothing swaps" when we were in college: We'd all haul out the clothes we didn't want any more, dump them in the middle of the floor, and take what we wanted of each other's stuff. The rest, we donated to charity. You can do this kind of swap with any items: Books, purses, jewelry, kitchen gadgets, sports gear, kids' toys; the sky's the limit. You'll get a chance to hang out with your buddies, unload some unwanted things, and satisfy any cravings to "shop."

Start small: A month-long spending diet might be too ambitious right out of the gate, so be realistic and go easy on yourself. The answer might be to start small by aiming for a week-long spending diet before embarking on a longer one.

What tips do you have for curbing your urge to spend on unnecessary things?

written by:

Alexandra Pecci

Alex is a freelance lifestyle writer and sometimes-blogger. She loves spending time with her husband and five-year-old daughter, who are always willing to sample her kitchen successes (homemade taco seasoning) and failures (homemade mozzarella). She also loves to write, travel, cook, eat, and laugh loudly with friends.

See more from Alexandra Pecci