You probably know what it’s like to spend money fast. It goes out much more quickly than it comes in! But have you ever considered a “spending fast?” Putting your discretionary spending on a diet? Some people do this to save money for a vacation or to get out of debt. Others realize that curbing excessive spending habits can make a significant difference in changing the world for someone else. Like a spiritual fast where one refrains from eating for a period of time, a spending fast can likewise heighten our sensitivity to greater truths.
We decided to go on a discretionary spending fast for a year. We had to redefine the word “need.” We thought we needed newer kitchenware but ours still functioned fine. We wanted newer technology because ours ran slow, but we we didn’t need it. Something broke, but we could fix it.
But it wasn’t just about giving up. There were things (besides saved money) that we gained. We found that cooking together at home brought us closer together. (And generally the meals were healthier.) We found watching a $1 rental DVD on the love seat was more enjoyable than $20 at the movies. We found that going for walks hand in hand beat about any other money spending activity.
Our spending fast was not rigidly set. We splurged with the occasional $1 ice cream or a date night at a restaurant. We used saved money to visit with friends on a vacation. But the spending fast taught us (and continues to teach) important lessons:
1. Buying new stuff doesn’t make us feel better. We think it does, but it’s almost always a temporary and empty illusion. We’re happier when we are the people we were created to be. God called us to be good stewards not consumers.
2. Entitlement is a trap. We say, “I deserve this. I need that.” But often it’s a lie. If we’re honest with ourselves, it comes down to our own desire for “more and better.” It leads us down the path of ignorance and insensitivity to our real needs and the blessings we already have.
3. “Thou shall not covet” is a lot easier to keep with a clear conscience when you decide to put the spending beast on a diet. Life is more satisfying when you learn to find joy and contentment in “what is” and not concerned about “what others have.”
4. Self-control (one of the fruits of the Spirit) is not a gift; it’s grown and nurtured. When impulses are repeatedly ignored, they lose their power over us. This is true for other aspects of life beyond spending, like feeling you always have to be right.
5. Spending less grows a thankful heart. There is a certain richness in enjoying a simple meal when you realize it would be considered a feast in many parts of the world. It gives new meaning to the prayer, “Give us today our daily bread” (even if it’s not Ciabatta, Focaccia, or Asiago Cheese).
6. A thankful heart leads to generosity. We’re called to invest in others. We’re blessed when we “pour ourselves out on behalf of others.” You can buy a family’s food for an entire day with one trip to the specialty coffee shop. A month’s worth of trinkets could pay for a semester of school for a poor child. Living simply provides resources so others can simply live.
7. You find what you’re looking for. If you measure your life by the things you buy you will find the small measure of fulfillment they offer. Measuring your life by how fully you live gives you joy no money could buy.
Maybe you’ll take up the spending fast challenge for a week – or two. Limit it to one type of spending if you want. Remember, it’s not about living with less. It’s about living with more. More contentment. More fulfillment. More meaning. More accountability.