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Monday, November 5, 2012

You Should Try a Multi-Day Spending Cleanse

Carl Richards

Carl Richards is a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah, and is the director of investor education at The BAM Alliance. His book, “The Behavior Gap,” was published this year. His sketches are archived on the Bucks blog.

Bad habits are tricky. They sneak up on you. Before you know it, you're doing something that you didn't really think about because you do it out of habit.

We do this all the time with money. We spend for all sorts of reasons. It can be as simple as to make us feel better, to fit in with a group or just because we've always gone shopping the day after Thanksgiving.

Sometimes breaking these bad habits takes radical action. It's not enough to have a few conversations with a spouse, a p ersonal coach or a shrink. Some habits require a complete intervention.

I learned about one tactic during a conversation I had with Steve Fellows, a friend of mine in Las Vegas. When I asked him how he keeps his spending habits in check, he walked me through something he and his wife refer to as a spending cleanse.

Every once in a while for several days, sometimes as long as two or three weeks, they try to avoid spending money. He rides his bike to work, they avoid eating out (including lunches) and pass on any travel or movies.

It's hard, but he says that it has the powerful effect of helping you get clear about how you want to spend your money and time compared to what you might be doing just out of habit.

This approach is a bit on the extreme side, but sometimes an extreme exercises can be a powerful way to provide perspective. It can be a way to shock you out of a rut you may have been in without even knowing it.

Try it! Try going for a few days, maybe longer, without spending any money at all.

What about food? Go out Saturday and shop for a week in advance.

What about bills? Plan to pay them a day or two before you start and the day after you end.

What about trips? Don't go on any.

What about entertainment? This one can be interesting. Instead of going to the movies, go for a walk. Read a book. Go fishing. Ride a bike. Have a conversation. Draw a picture. There are plenty of things to do that won't require money. Those of you who lost power in the last week have probably learned a bit about this already.

Your goal is to prepare yourself to go for several days, even longer if you can manage it, without spending a dime. I have managed to do it for a few days previously, but I'm planning to try it again myself when I wrap up some travel in November.

Is it hard? Yes. But it will be worth it.

It will be worth it to see where we're spending money out of habit.

It will be worth it to see if this changes how we think about money.

It will be worth it to see if it can stop some of our worst money habits, perhaps ones we haven't even recognized yet.

Most of all, it's a personal financial challenge that ultimately doesn't cost us anything but can pay huge dividends. Once we're really clear about why we spend, it can be the difference that determines whether we'll reach our financial goals.

Isn't that worth a few days of zero spending?