I first heard the term ‘fiscal fast’ on an episode of TLC’s Extreme Cheapskates. I was just getting into the couponing craze and seeing people take my love of saving money to such outlandish ends was fascinating. Regardless of how crazy some of the lengths they went to in order to save $1, there were some good tips. The key word is SOME. Forget the times a man boiled road kill in his wife’s used panty hose, or the family that went to buffets only to eat the remains of others plates. The basic idea to find creative ways to reduce your spending resonated with me.
When my daughter was born, I became overwhelmed with my couponing efforts.
It was fine pre-kids to sit in front of the TV with a glass of wine, clip coupons, and search the internet for deals. Add a baby into that mix? Fugghhheddabobboutit. Now, I shop according to store sales ads, fill in with trips to Aldi, and use coupon phone apps that require no effort. Easy peasy.
A fiscal fast will not cure bad financial habits.
It’s a way for my husband and me to give our budget a breather and continually evaluate how/when/where we spend our money. We typically do it for a week at time, and I check our family calendar to see what we have going on that week. If we have a lot of obligations like birthdays or planned events, I pick a different week. First things first — pay your bills. Those don’t count since they HAVE to be paid. It’s no fun to “fast” so much that you are left in a cold dark house. (By the way, ask me how I know that — thanks to my 24-year-old self.)
Here are some of our personal rules for our fiscal fast weeks:
1. Before ‘fast’ week, I’ll make a meal plan focusing on using ingredients I have on hand in the pantry, freezer, and fridge.
If we are running low on something (including toilet paper, detergent, and hygiene items), I’ll add it to that week’s grocery list. Meal planning is key to having a successful week to avoid the temptation of eating out. I use supercook.com and myfridgehome.com to search for recipes based on ingredients I already have on hand.
2. I fill up my car with gas the day before our fast starts and it has to last the entire week.
I’m a SAHM, and this means I have to make choices about what types of outings and activities we can go on so gas stretches the entire week. My husband works outside the home, so gas is a staple for him and we consider it a bill that has to be paid.
3. All our entertainment and activities have to be FREE.
It is a money fast, so spending money is out regardless of how cheap it might be. I take advantage of all the wonderful activities our library offers and we visit the downtown library (Lawson McGhee branch) for a special treat — their children’s section is amazing and we can stay for hours playing and coloring. Fellow contributor Sara Hill has a great article on all the benefits of our local libraries. We visit the park and splash pads when the weather is good and take a picnic from home. During the summer months, we like to attend any free concerts given downtown and at the Pinnacle in Turkey Creek. Just be sure to pack snacks or a picnic so you’re not tempted to purchase any food during the outings. We also chill at home more, and I look to Pinterest for activities to keep my kiddos busy. We play in the water hose, draw with sidewalk chalk, have movie parties, build forts, take hikes, read books and then act them out, bake cookies and other treats, and have art activities galore.
4. We keep a mental list of all the times we are tempted to actually spend money and tally it up at the end of the week.
That money goes into a special account and we use it for vacations, family entertainment (we’ve taken our kids to Peppa Pig Live and Disney on Ice), amusement parks, or save for larger items. We are currently working towards an outdoor play set!
5. I use our fast weeks to evaluate our home and “stuff.”
I try and find up to five things I can sell. Our last fast came after a move, and I sold a floor lamp, two pieces of wall decor, an electric skillet, and a new sheet set we no longer needed and made $125! That money doesn’t get spent that week but goes into our special account. Some fast week I only make a few dollars, but every bit counts.
6. Once the fiscal fast week is over my husband and I make some time to re-evaluate our budget.
It’s eye opening to see where your money goes when you’re not spending it at all. I find that I have tendencies toward impulse convenience purchases like hitting up Starbucks instead of making my own iced coffee or going through the drive-thru instead of remembering to pack snack and quick lunches when we’re on the go.
There are so many benefits to doing a fiscal fast. I am a SAHM, so we have one income to support our family, and having a fast week stretches that paycheck even further. It’s basically an extra paycheck since it stretches a full extra week! Just think of all the ways you can use an extra weeks pay — it can really add up over the course of a year.
You could pay a yearly lump sum toward any debt like:
-Save towards down payment on a house
Adding just ONE extra payment on your mortgage each year can shave off YEARS from your mortgage. (See Dave Ramsey’s article for a more in depth look and tips/tricks). **Always check with your loan company to make sure there are no penalties for making extra monthly payments and/or early loan repayments.**