How to Put Yourself on a Spending Time-out

If you’re like me, we’re mid-way through January and you’re still recovering from the holidays. Not only did the bread pudding and the breadsticks (see a pattern here?) take a toll on my mostly-healthy eating and fitness habits, my pocketbook was not too happy with me as well.

My spending wasn’t out-of-control or anything like that, but with a son home from college, we did our fair share of eating out, watching movies and some shopping, of course. Now that he’s back in school, I’ve been spending the past few days just reining everything in including my spending, in order to get back on track.

January is a popular time for starting (or re-evaluating) anything – diets, gym memberships, resolutions, name it. If you can go on one of those popular juice cleanses to get your metabolism back on track, I bet you can do it with your money too!

I’ve done spending time-outs in one form or another throughout my adult life, where I consciously decided not to spend for a few days or a week, opting to stay in and cook, read books for entertainment, work out at home – you get the drift here. Here are a few reasons why:

  • To get my budget back on track.
  • To build a savings and/or an emergency fund.
  • To keep a big goal in sight – a vacation, a home improvement project, etc.

It wasn’t always easy, but it can be done if you commit to it. Here are a few ways to go about it:

  • Decide on a start and end date. Be realistic. Usually one to two weeks is sufficient. A month would be a stretch, in my opinion.
  • Get your family and friends on board. You will be more successful if you get those closest to you on the same page. It will be easier to explain why you can’t dine out or join them on a skiing trip, for example.
  • Decide on the time-out categories. It doesn’t have to be across the board. You can just pick a category like groceries or dining. Whenever I go on a grocery spending time-out, I just “shop” my pantry and fridge and cook based on the available ingredients. Be flexible and give yourself some leeway too. One time, I had everything I needed for a pasta dish but I didn’t have onions so I went out and got onions to fill that “food gap.”
  • Do a home inventory. You may have presents lying around that could either be returned or re-gifted. For purchases, hopefully you kept your receipts and can still return some unused or unopened items.
  • Diligently review bank and credit card statements. Look for subscriptions and recurring payments. Check out this site which finds and cancels subscriptions for you with a text. I haven’t tried them but I have heard some good things. Think unused or under used Netflix, Hulu, Spotify or Audible subscriptions.
  • Get creative and take advantage of free entertainment around you. This month, I will be taking my daughter to two to three museums on Sunday, January 29, which is Museums Free-for-All Day in SoCal. Also, the National Park Service just announced 10 Free Entrance Days across 120 national parks that normally charge an entrance fee. Take a hike or camp on those days!

Be sure to set aside the money you’ve saved from your time-out, hopefully somewhere not easily accessible like an online account or a CD. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Way to start the year right!

Have you ever done something similar to a spending time-out before? What were the results like?

Mira Reverente

Mira Reverente is a journalist, editor and blogger based in Southern California. She is always on the look-out for uplifting and local stories to tell from personal finance to fitness to family events. She currently writes and edits for a few regional publications. More

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