Money Fasting: Resisting the Hunger to Buy Stuff

Reading Time: 7 minutes

It just doesn’t make sense.

For being loaded with health benefits, fasting seems completely counterintuitive. You mean to tell me that by not eating for a duration of time, your body actually thrives? Well, yeah. Fasting within healthy limits has been shown to help with everything ranging from how your body controls blood sugar levels, manages blood pressure, all the way to help regulate your metabolism and decreasing the likelihood of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. For these reasons, many have sought out fasting from food or drink for its incredible benefits since the dawn of history…and it’s back. 

What if we applied these feelings about the consumption of food the way we think about how we consume with our hard-earned dollars?

Like Fasting, Budgeting Sucks

According to a survey conducted by in 2019, despite 93% of participants claiming that everyone should have a budget, only 67% of these same people reported actually having one. Where’s the disconnect? The participants’ reasons for not having a budget ranged from feeling that they either had too little or too much income to justify a budget to thinking that budgeting is only necessary during certain times of year — like holidays. Others said they had tried budgeting, but that it didn’t make any difference. 

Among the answers, the answer of 22% of these was by far the most ambiguous: “…budgeting is too time-consuming to do.” It takes too long? Take a second to think about how long it would take you to subtract your expenses, savings, and investments from your income, determining where those amounts should be, and then developing a plan for staying within those amounts. Even if you did this once a month, how long would this take? 15 minutes? 30 minutes, tops? So, in less time than one episode of Breaking Bad, you could have your budget drawn up. 

Let’s be honest — the real answer to this selection should be that, while making a budget is relatively simple, sticking to that budget sucks. It means a whole lot of saying “no” when we want to say “yes.” In this sense, sticking to a budget is almost like sticking to a fast; despite having incredible, life-enhancing benefits, they both drastically suck while you’re in the middle of them. 

Still, we’re likely more apt to be successful with a fast than a budget. Why is this so? Fasts have weight.

Treating Money Fasts Like Physical Fasts

When engaging in a fast, few people are “just trying” to fast. They go into the process fully cocked, knowing how hard it is going to be. They realize that their stomachs will growl like grizzly bears, that their energy will seem sapped, and even a sleeve of saltine crackers will suddenly look like it was prepared by Gordon Ramsey himself. 

Well, why don’t they just eat, then? Because they know that this is mostly a spike in the Ghrelin hormone in their brain and not actual hunger. 

  • They know they’re not going to die. 
  • They know that if they stay the course, then they will experience the benefits of the fast. 
  • They know that if they give up too early, all of those awkward abdominal ramblings in the morning meeting will have been in vain. 
  • They believe in the power of delayed gratification. 

We can do this as well with money fasts. 

Saying “no” to that better pair of headphones or that new laptop can be hard. After all, your headphones, despite still working as well as they did when you bought them, have paint starting to chip from the ear cups and the top head cushioning is starting to form a tear. Your laptop is still ok, but takes a bit longer to load up and only has a specific resolution display. Nevertheless, you know that buying either of these new products would reduce the amount you can save and even potentially make things tight before payday. In a worst-case scenario, these items may exacerbate your debt. However, if you see your money fast like a physical fast, you will know that this hunger for non-essential items is just that — temporary, no more significant than missing breakfast. 

And there’s even better news…

Like Dietary Fasts, Money Fasts Get Easier With Time

Whether you’ve been on a dietary fast before or you know someone who has, one thing becomes evident: they get more comfortable with time. I remember the first few hours of my first Yom Kippur fast were pretty bad. Because I had never fasted before, my next meal felt like it was a week away. Just three or so hours into the fast, my stomach started to scream at me. Fast forward to the final hour leading up to the completion of the fast, food wasn’t really on my mind so much anymore. In fact, eating felt downright optional, and my energy levels felt surprisingly reasonable. 

I’ve never done a fast lasting longer than 24 hours, but my wife had this to report:

“The longest time I’ve ever fasted was three days. The first day was like a normal fast — pretty average. The second day was rough…by the third day, my hunger subsided even more so than day one. When I finally broke my fast, I didn’t even taste the first two bites. They felt awkward in my mouth.” 

Many have reported this surprising lack of hunger once their bodies knew that eating was off the table (no pun intended). This is largely because, for most of us, the hunger we experience daily between meals isn’t really hunger at all. Instead, these desires to eat are merely Grehlin hormones poking the “eat something, stupid” button on our brains. Like a cat that realizes that playing in the recycling bin no longer gets your attention, it mostly gives up. This isn’t to say that it goes away for good, but it dials down the intensity until not eating starts to become dangerous. 

Just like a physical fast, a money fast also gets more comfortable with time. For most of us, the non-essential items we buy weren’t purchased because we actually needed or even wanted them, but because we wanted the feeling that purchasing the item could provide. The increased instant access to goods today has wired our brains to more closely tie together the rush of good emotions with a neat purchase and the item itself. Online retailers like Amazon know this, which is why two-day or even next-day shipping has become increasingly available. They know that if you have to wait a week or so to receive the object you purchased, the thrill of the purchase begins to wear off. Have you ever had to wait a month or longer to obtain some obscure item? It almost feels like someone else purchased it by the time you receive it. The thrill is almost completely gone. 

When we take the purchasing of non-essential items off the table with a money fast, the hunger to buy grows less intense with time. The impulse/hunger to buy non-essential items, even seemingly insignificant objects, will begin to fade.

Tips For Maintaining a Money Fast

Making Purchasing a Pain

Retailers have made it easier than ever to buy stuff. Via an application on your phone, you can buy a sauna with the ease of sending a text message. To combat this, create some friction in your buying process. Remove apps like Amazon and eBay from your phone. Sign out of these services when not in use. Don’t save your credit card information or shipping address on online retail websites.

Replace the Pleasure

Trying to break a bad habit is much easier if you have a good habit to take its place. This good habit also needs to be similarly pleasurable. One way to replace buying a cool new widget with not buying it is by gamifying the experience. Using a daily routine app like Roubit, you can create a daily routine of being on a money fast. For every day you don’t buy a non-essential item, you get to tick the box for that daily task/routine. After a few weeks, you can look at the calendar feature in Roubit to take pride in your non-spending streak. For more, you can consult the piece I wrote about forming new routines with a routine generator app.

Put It Off

What if I told you that there was a way to make procrastination work for you? Well, now you can! Whenever you find an item that looks cool, instead of impulse-buying it, list it on your chosen calendar a month out. When that day comes up, truly determine if the item still appeals to you. There’s a high likelihood that it won’t. If it does and you know you want it, then budget money to pay for it.

Appreciate What You Have

I recently saw a GQ video with acclaimed climber Alex Honnold. Honnold is most well known for free solo climbing (climbing with no ropes or other safety equipment) the El Capitan granite rock face in Yosemite National Park — some 3,000+ feet. The video, however, was entitled “10 Things Alex Honnold Can’t Live Without.” From a materialistic standpoint, it was one of the most boring videos ever. His wallet was an everyday brown, leather dad wallet. This MacBook Air was from 2012. His laptop bag a decade-old hand-me-down, saying “Maybe someday, I’ll replace this. For now, it still works.” His headphones aren’t wireless. His iPhone SE was over 3 years old with a broken case. Despite being endorsed by North Face, his North Face backpack was several years old with severe cosmetic tears and holes from being dragged up rock walls all over the world. Despite the wear, he said, “this will last me at least another 5 years.” If he wanted, Alex could have North Face ship him a dozen replacement bags, but he feels that he has a perfectly good bag. For most of us, even without physically demanding jobs or endorsement deals, we always want more — new stuff for the sake of new stuff. We likely also have multiple versions of the same thing. Before you purchase a flashy new widget, ask yourself, “Is what I have good enough?” 

Don’t Confuse Want & Need

There are few things we truly need to the point where the definition of the word is misused and misunderstood. 

“…people confuse wants and needs. What we need is air, water, health, and a roof over our heads. Pretty much everything else is a want. And if we’re privileged enough, we decide that those other things we want are actually needs.” – Seth Godin, This is Marketing

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The Cosmic Mulligan: Change Your Identity Right Now

Reading Time: 2 minutes

During my morning prayers last week, I remember reading two seemingly contradictory passages in the Amidah — the Jewish standing prayer. 

The first was in the section asking for forgiveness.

“Forgive us our Father for we have sinned, pardon us our King for we have willfully transgressed, for You pardon and forgive. Blessed are You, Who is gracious and ever willing to forgive.” 

In this section, we admit our shortcomings and ask for not only forgiveness but also pardoning — the first like a child before a parent and the second like a criminal before a judge. 

The second was a prayer against…sinners? 

“And for slanderers may there be no hope; and may all wickedness be destroyed instantly and may all Your enemies be cut down quickly. Quickly uproot, smash, and cast down the arrogant (some translations say “willful”) sinners and humble them quickly in our days. Blessed are You, O Lord, Who breaks enemies and humbles arrogant (/willful) sinners.” 

Whoa. Not only does this seem a bit harsh, but it almost doesn’t seem to be in our best interest. Weren’t we just admitting that we are, in fact, willful sinners? Now, we’re asking for willful sinners to be uprooted, smashed, and cast down? How does this even compute? 

Among the many blessings of life, one of the most significant such blessings is the ability to change ourselves. We can alter our appearance. We can change jobs. We can choose the people with whom we interact. We can leave uncomfortable situations or even move to new places.

We can alter our identity based on our behavior. We can go from cruel to sweet. Arrogant to humble. Outspoken to inquisitive. Hasty to patient. 

What do these changes require? The willingness to do so. 

When we ask for forgiveness and pardoning of our wrongdoings, we’re not only asking God for a cosmic mulligan, we’re announcing our change in identity. This transformation can take place immediately — even between one blessing in a prayer service and another. Had these blessings with the Amidah been swapped in their order, they would be at odds with one another. Because they exist as they do, we can ask for God to cleanse the world of wickedness and for willful, arrogant sinners to too be humbled so they may also choose to change their identities as well — and without hypocrisy. 

We can change, we simply have to decide to do so.

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My Secret to Building a Daily Routine: Playing with My Phone

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the last two weeks or so, building my daily routine has received a shot in the arm. No, it’s not from reading self-help books or listening to insightful podcasts. What is my secret? Playing with my phone. 

I know this sounds completely counterintuitive, but it’s true. You’d think that as a digital minimalist with no Facebook profile or a single social media application installed on my phone that I would be preaching against the dopamine hijacking of mobile applications. If this were any other article, that would be true. In this case, messing with apps is really helping me remain consistent. Let’s go back to how this silliness started. 

In May, after reading Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris, I was sold on the benefits of daily meditation. To help me start my meditation routine, I looked around for free meditation phone apps. Though I found one that offered free guided meditations, I began to prefer breath-focused mindfulness meditation over guided meditation. Despite this, the same app offered a meditation timer that utilized a soothing gong sound instead of a startling alarm. Snooping around a bit more, I also found that the application tracked the duration and frequency of my meditation sessions. 

deep meditation app screenshot
Keep in mind that it’s only the 20th, ok?

Looking at the dots on the calendar reminded me of hearing about one of Jerry Seinfeld’s secrets to success: his comedy calendar. The premise was pretty simple — he’d get a huge wall calendar that showed every day of the year on one page and a big red marker. For every day that he wrote a new joke, he would write a giant red “X” on that day. 

“After a few days, you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

crossing off calendar dates

Like Jerry’s calendar, my meditation app became my wall calendar to help me build my meditation routine. After every 10-minute meditation session, I would check my stats to look at another gorgeous dot butted up against yesterday’s gorgeous dot. The days I wouldn’t get around to meditating made my beautiful smile of a calendar start to look like a mouth missing teeth. 

Over the course a few weeks, meditating came more natural — not just because I enjoyed meditating and the life-altering this attention span weight training, but also because I wanted to preserve my precious calendar. I hated breaking the chain. Any missed day was like punching a tooth out of the mouth of my calendar. One day in particular, I knew there was no chance of meditating once I got home from work. I couldn’t bear to imagine a hole in my routine calendar. To get in my daily meditation session, I meditated in the waiting room before a doctor’s appointment. I hope the sight of a guy with a long beard sitting with his eyes closed only to be “awoken” by a gong tone on his phone didn’t freak anyone out. Then again, that’s probably the least weird thing to happen in a doctor’s waiting room. 

As I aimed to craft a solid daily routine, I decided to look for ways to track habit streaks for the other positive daily habits I wanted to develop. After a short search in the Google App store, I found an application called Roubit. Roubit is essentially a self-refreshing daily habit to-do list attached to a calendar. Users can enter daily habits they want to achieve, which days of the week they want to accomplish them, and the application does the rest. Your daily habit to-do list refreshes every day, and you can check the activities off as you go. Depending on the percentage of daily habits you accomplish, a different type of emoji-like face shows up on the calendar for that day. The goal is to complete each habit and have a streak of smiling faces on your calendar. There are tons of applications like Roubit, but I can only speak for Roubit. 

roubit to do list
Hopefully, I’ll be able to tick-off that money fasting box before bed.
roubit calendar
Goal for next month: all smiles.

There are days where I really don’t want to jump rope or do my 7-minute high-intensity workout. Still, as silly as it sounds, I have gotten out of bed and worked myself into a winded, sweaty mess just to be able to tick a box on an app. It’s really more than fiddling with a phone app. It’s the feeling of accomplishment that I know will wash over me when I can look back at a solid week, month, and hopefully year of ticked boxes, smiling faces, and unbroken chains. 

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Forget the Scale: The Life is the Goal

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Looking into the mirror just before I stepped into the shower, I didn’t like what I saw. While not necessarily obese or even experiencing any health complications due to my weight, I simply didn’t like that I didn’t have full control. A protruding dad gut. Love handles. Arms that appeared to be one single piece of meat. Flabby thighs. It was around this time that I decided, for the first time, at age 32, to take control of my body. 

I began a routine of jumping rope — a childhood pastime activity I was excited to start again. It looked fun. Starting wasn’t easy, but as my stamina increased, I actually began to crave jumping rope in my driveway. I added some simple living room exercise intervals — planking, push-ups, wall sits, that kind of thing. Next, I started documenting what I ate, which led to some changes. The exercise and intentional diet began to move the scale a bit…but not as much as I had hoped.

I realize that the scale isn’t the best metric of health. All it can do is tell you how heavy you are — not what that weight consists of. I knew I was losing fat, but I was simultaneously gaining muscle, leaving the scale stuck at 209 pounds for several weeks. 

“If only I could dip below 200,” I would tell myself. 

Suddenly, another voice entered my head.

“What then? You’re good? You’re done? Mission accomplished?”

After a few more weeks, the numbers on the scale crept lower. 207. 205. 203. (Yep, always in odds, for some reason.) Still, I then realized that hitting 199 wasn’t going to feel as momentous as I once hoped. I knew that the “And now what?” voice would return to dash my satisfaction. I needed a new “satisfaction” metric. 

Would it be 190 pounds? What then? 180? I’m 6-foot-two and building muscle — any lighter than that isn’t exactly what I wanted. But what did I want? 

I began to realize that no bodily metric would ever be satisfactory. Worse, hitting that metric would inevitably justify a backslide. Even if I were to work to maintain those ideal body metrics, what would happen as I’d age? Would maintaining a certain body-fat percentage or weight be possible in my 60s? My 70s? My 80s? Anything short of those arbitrary indicators of success would be a continuous disappointment. 

While washing my hands in the bathroom at work one day, I had an epiphany: forget the finish line and concentrate on the race itself. Continuing to run (or more accurately, jump rope) would be the race itself. My goal wouldn’t be a bodily metric, but making a healthy lifestyle second nature.

After a few seconds, my goofy grin in the bathroom mirror reminded me that the water was still running. Still, I was excited to attack this new mindset immediately. I could finally stop looking at the scale and stay focused on the to-do list until a to-do was unnecessary.

This concept wasn’t completely foreign to me. Ever since reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, I had been obsessed with breaking unproductive habits and making good habits second nature. In the past, I’ve written about solidifying my prayer life by adjusting my identity. I didn’t “try to pray more”, but instead decided to simply be a person who prays every day. After a few months of calendar reminders, these notifications started taking up space on my calendar because I hadn’t missed a single day regardless. That time every morning was and still is roped off for prayer. 

“Now, I just have to do that with exercise and eating,” I thought to myself as I left the bathroom. 

Ultimately, my goal now has nothing to do with a scale. It is to make not exercising more of a hassle than my morning workout routine. 

  • To make jumping rope every morning in my driveway as routine as my first cup of coffee….into my 80s.
  • To make my 8.5-minute living room strength training session as intuitive as taking a multivitamin. 
  • To make eating sensibly as lucrative as eating terribly once was. 
  • Where doing all of these things near-daily just feels better than not doing them. 

My goal is ultimately to be an elderly man with a long white beard and still reply to the question of, “Ken, did you exercise and eat decently today?” with “Duh.” 

Aside from Saturdays. All bets are off on Saturdays.

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