If you’ve ever fasted before, if you participate in Lent, if you’ve ever gone on a diet—consider a spending detox the financial version of all those things.
Choose a week (or a month if you can take it) to cut down on extras and stick to the basics. No shopping sprees, no eating out, no splurging. For that week, you’ll cut out any unhealthy spending and only focus on the absolute necessities. Groceries, utilities, medical bills are all necessities, but that Hulu subscription is not. Your credit card and loan payments are also essential to keep paying, but anything extra, like a girl’s night out, should be postponed.
A spending detox has the same purpose as any other detox: to flush out your system and start fresh. Of course, you don’t need to get Extreme Cheapskates with it and start swapping for scraps at the local butcher. Instead, use that time to get creative, eat the food you’ve already got, make the most of what you have on hand.
Call it old school or old fashioned—but you’ll come out of this spending detox feeling brand new with a better appreciation for your money and some refined spending habits. Not only that, you can bank the money you’ve saved.
1. Only eat homemade meals
Feeling lazy and want to order a pizza? Sorry, no can do. Time to make your own from scratch. But that doesn’t mean you can go running out for all the ingredients. If you can’t use what’s in your fridge and pantry, try cooking something else. Use up the leftover tortillas from your last burrito night, or the half-full boxes of pasta from ages ago. If you have the staples–grains, flour, milk, cheese–you can easily make your sauces. Just pretend you’re on Chopped and make the most of what you have. Not only will this keep you from spending, but it’ll also keep you from wasting the food you already have.
2. “Think local” for free stuff to do
You might think that, without money to spend at Redbox or being allowed to go grocery shopping, you’ll be bored out of your mind. Add to that; you’ll have a ton of extra time on your hands. This is where getting back to basics comes in. Take advantage of the free stuff in your neighborhood such as get-togethers in the park, or check out books at the library. Libraries have come a long way from dusty old shelves and outdated titles–current TV shows, music, and movies are all stocked these days. Get your family to start “detox week” at the library. If you live in a big city, you could get lost in your library for hours. And isn’t that the best place to lose yourself?
3. Curb all shopping, online and offline
The scenic route, one that goes past the downtown shopping center, or past your favorite superstore, should be given up this week. Remove the temptation to shop, or to “pick up a few things.” If you drive the same store-filled route home every day, you probably find a reason to spend money every day. So stop, take the highway, or back roads.
This also goes for your late-night web surfing, and QFC addiction. Replace those activities with a series you picked up at the library or planning meals for the week. If you must use your computer, limit your time online and block the shopping sites you frequent. Yes, this means no more Amazon, eBay and Etsy.
4. Staycations are better than No-cations
Reward yourself at the end of the week with a family staycation, a cheap or free trip to somewhere closeby perhaps, or a Saturday full of arts and crafts. This is the perfect time to spread out your tools and get hands-on, get crafty and work on those projects you keep putting off. Go out to the beach, or take a drive outside of town and have a picnic with your kids. Go camping if the weather’s nice. Throw a family gathering for no reason at all in a park, and promise to bring beverages and food you can make at home. It’s all about having fun and getting out, but for free.
5. Time for spring cleaning
When was the last time you ransacked your house top to bottom? Lifted sofa cushions, reached deep into the back of all the kitchen drawers, waded through the dusty piles and boxes in the attic? Well, this is a great time to do just that. Not only does this give you something to do when you’re yearning to go to the mall, but imagine all the stuff you’ll uncover that you think was lost, that you can quickly sell, that you can repair or recycle. And you might even find a good chunk of change under those cushions.
6. Go outside and play!
Remember outside? It was that place you used to go to during recess and then after school was out, that place where it smells like green grass and fresh air, and you can run as fast and as far as you want, or hug a tree or skip stones on the lake. Get dirty. Enjoying nature has always been free, and spending some time reconnecting with the elements might be precisely what you need to reflect on your consumption in general.
Think of a spending detox like cleansing yourself from the stickiness of consumerism. It will take some planning on your part, as well as dedication, but the glowing, pure feeling that takes over your mind (and your wallet) is more than worth the effort.
Suchi Rudra is an avid traveler and freelance writer from Texas who covers personal finance, travel, green building, tech, and entrepreneurship. Her work can be found in VICE, The Guardian, Vice, American Way, BBC Travel, Fodor’s, Transitions Abroad, PlanetEye.com, TravelStart.com, Expats.cz, The Writer and India Currents and many other publications.