Money Fasting: Resisting the Hunger to Buy Stuff

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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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