Why I Started a Three Year Spending Ban All Posts / Frugal Living / Saving Money

Six months ago, my husband and I realized something: we could save nearly $40,000 in interest if we paid our student loans off in three years instead of 10.  We didn’t have to remain hopeless, depressed, and trapped in debt for the next ten years.

We started with $117,000 of student loan debt (we’re down to $95,000!), so paying that off in three years is a nearly impossible goal.  In order to accomplish this, we live with my parents, we drive 15 year old cars that are paid off, and we started a three year spending ban.

Typically, when I tell people about my spending ban, they look at me like I’m crazy.  I’ve been asked:

  • Don’t you want to have a normal life for someone your age?
  • Don’t you deserve to have a little fun once in a while?
  • Isn’t this too extreme?

It may seem extreme, but a spending ban is easier than I expected it to be.  I am an abstainer – someone who finds it easier to stick to hard and fast rules.  (This is why I completely eliminated ALL processed food from my diet recently instead of taking a more moderate approach).  Some people are moderators – those who find it easier to stick to less extreme goals.

An abstainer prefers to eat NO junk food or spend zero dollars – because eating one cookie often leads to five cookies, and spending $10 can easily lead to $50.  A moderator, on the other hand, feels constricted when given such strict rules – if this person decides to eat NO junk food and spend NO money, they may freak out and eat a whole cake or go on a shopping spree.  A moderator would prefer to eat pastries in moderation or to keep spending on non-essential items – just in moderation.

If you’re a moderator, a complete spending ban might not be the best option for you – for you, cutting back on spending may be a better idea.  But if you’re an abstainer like me, a spending ban is an awesome way to decrease your expenses while you pay off debt.

Spending bans are used for other reasons as well – some use them as a way to encourage a minimalist lifestyle and decrease clutter.

The first step for implementing a spending ban is to determine which costs are essential and which are not. Keep in mind that there may be some “wants” that to you are considered non-negotiable.  It’s okay to put these in the “necessities” column if they are really important to you.




iPhone with internet

Car insurance

Medical insurance premiums

Doctor visit copays

Prescription copays

OTC medications

Cleaning supplies




No More:

Eating out


Going to movies

Outings with friends that cost money

New clothes, jewelry, or purses

Nail polish

Haircut/color appointments at fancy salon

Boxed hair dye


Buying expensive gifts

Photo albums, frames, and prints

Frequently asked questions

These are some of the most commonly asked questions about our spending ban.

You NEVER go out with friends or have a date night with your hubby?  Don’t you deserve to have a little fun once in a while?

It’s a common misconception that you need to spend money in order to have fun with your friends or your SO.  My hubby and I get together with friends often – we have just found free things to do with them.  If you need some ideas, check out 20 Free Things to do This Weekend, 15 Frugal Fall Activities, and 10 Cheap Winter Activities to Beat the Winter Blues.

No, I don’t deserve to spend money I don’t really have.  I deserve to get out of debt and finally enjoy financial freedom.

You NEVER go out to eat?

I do make occasional exceptions to this rule – typically for birthdays or my anniversary.  Still, I do my best to keep it affordable by choosing a cheap restaurant or going to lunch instead of dinner.  My hubby and I were fortunate to receive small cash gifts from my mom, my mother-in-law, and my grandmother-in-law for our one year wedding anniversary.  We used this money to pay for lunch at a wonderful restaurant for our anniversary.

I also received an unexpected holiday bonus at work in December, and while the majority of it went to student loans and car repairs, I also used $12 of it to treat my husband to lunch at his favorite Chinese food place – they offer enormous portions, so we split one meal (and still had leftovers!).

You really NEVER buy new clothes?

Not usually.  Once in a while I may make an exception if I feel there is something I TRULY need – like if all of my shoes are falling apart and snow is getting in them, then I’ll buy a new pair.  The only types of new clothes that I can justify buying are new shoes and new work clothes that I’ll wear all the time.

Luckily, I am fortunate to have a grandmother-in-law who is a sweetheart and a generous gift giver.  This year, she gave me a $75 Kohl’s gift card, and I found warm, high-quality Crate and Barrel sweaters on sale for $13 each  – I purchased five of them and still had $10 to spare (there’s no tax on clothing in Minnesota)!  I’m all set on work clothes and really shouldn’t need to buy any for the next couple of years.

Isn’t this too extreme?  Do you feel like you’re depriving yourself?

Spending money on “stuff” does not make me feel satisfied or fulfilled.  The most important things in life do not cost a thing.  There are certain experiences I wish I could afford – like traveling, massages, a package at a yoga studio, kickboxing classes, etc., but I will be able to enjoy all of those things in just a few years.  I may be a little “deprived” now, but it’ll be well worth it when we’re debt-free in just a few years.

The very frugal may ask…

Aren’t Netflix, makeup, and an iPhone just “wants”?

Yes.  None of these things are actually necessities and I am privileged to be able to enjoy these things.  Typically, even the most frugal people have one thing or a few things that they prefer not to give up.  I personally feel that these three things are worth the cost.  Netflix is only $8/month (much cheaper than cable), and my husband and I have watched hundreds of shows on Netflix.  We’re both homebodies, so we get plenty of use out of our Netflix subscription.



As for my iPhone, I pay $45/month for it and get A LOT of data, so I feel it’s worth the cost.  I’m on my husband’s parents’ family plan which keeps the cost reasonable.  Prior to joining their plan, I was paying $65/month for a Windows 8 phone.  If you’ve ever used Windows 8, you know that it, um, well, sucks. It’s not worth any price, let alone $65/month.  I feel $45/month is worth it for an iPhone and more data than I could use.

Makeup is another item I consider essential.  I am sacrificing having nice hair (for the next three years) by going back to my natural dishwater blonde hair.  For me, my hair was always the one thing I used to splurge on A LOT – for some people it’s cars, for some it’s clothes, for others it’s home décor, and for me it was my hair.  Skipping hair dye completely is a big enough sacrifice for me – I’m not willing to give up makeup too.

End Note

A spending ban may seem extreme, but it’s well worth it if it helps you to pay off debt and attain financial freedom.  If you’re interested in implementing your own spending ban, try the following steps:

  1. Determine whether you are an abstainer or a moderator. If you’re a moderator, a complete ban may be difficult for you and it might be better to cut back on your expenses instead. If you’re an abstainer, a spending ban may be a great option for you!
  1. Decide which items are essential to you and which are not. Keep in mind that these lists will vary from person to person.  There may be a couple of items on your “essential” list that are not truly necessities – but if they’re important to you, keep them on the list.
  1. Implement your spending ban. Refer to my answers to the FAQ if anyone looks at you like you’re crazy when you tell them about your plan.
  1. Pay off debt, save money, declutter, and attain financial freedom!


You CAN achieve financial peace.

What are you waiting for?


  1. So inspiring! It’s interesting reading about Abstainers and Moderators. I’m not sure which I am, but if it’s a spectrum, I’m probably closer to Abstainer. I like your needs/wants list…we all have different wants and needs. I actually just got rid of Netflix, but there are other things I can’t part with. You make so many good points…I love it! Especially that you don’t need to spend money to have fun! Give me some books and maybe a cat and I’m set!

    • I’m a frugal gal but being my hair started going gray, I wanted to color them. I didn’t go crazy, my husband and I did the research and decided henna was the smart choice. No toxic chemicals that not only destroy your hair, but are carcinogens and cause birth defects. He has been cutting my hair since we started dating, so I know he would do a great job. I get a full application every three months and root touch up at six weeks between. He does my trims at the same time now. Haircuts are free and henna is about $40 a year. So I think it is a manageable luxury. I know friends who pay more for just one haircut, and my husband has never given me a bad haircut, can’t say the same for the salon.

      • That’s awesome and a very affordable way to go about it! One of my friends has a mom who used to be a hairstylist, so her mom does her haircuts/colors for free (and it always looks great).

        I used to go kinda crazy with my hair – I would spend a couple hundred dollars (every three months) to get it cut and dyed at an expensive salon. It always looked amazing, and my stylist was incredibly talented, but I can’t justify spending that kind of money on my hair when I’m buried in debt.

    • Thank you! I read an article recently on The Frugal Girl about the abstainer vs. moderator distinction, and it was really interesting! Suddenly it made sense to me why more traditional/less extreme approaches (that are all about moderation) to things like saving money or dieting don’t work well for me. Yes, it’s definitely possible to have fun without spending money! Spending some time with a book or Netflix, my hubby, and cats is my perfect night!

      • We aren’t buried in debt thankfully, but my husband has always been very good financially and when he found out what it would cost for me to get it done in the salon, he said OK, he would be my colorist. Him cutting and coloring my hair is personal bonding time and he is such a perfectionist doing it, he focuses just on the task at hand, no tv, cell phone or anything else, and he does a great job. My sister-in-law spends $130 every six weeks for a short haircut and color, and the last time it looked horrible. My brother-in-law told her she looks like an animal chewed on the back of her head. She suggested my husband could do hers next time, he said he won’t touch bleach and that there wasn’t time in our schedule when we visited. He did not want to get in the middle of their issue and be blamed for her already badly damaged hair, he told me later. I was glad he declined, I was thinking, don’t get stuck with a mess. Maybe I am a little territorial, but I do tell my friends that he does my hair, but also tell them that he only does my hair and my children’s’ haircuts, and that’s the way I want to keep it.

      • It sounds like that is probably for the best! Haha, you don’t want to get stuck with a mess! It’s crazy how expensive many salons are. That’s awesome that you found a super cheap way to do it and that your husband does a good job.

  2. Great post! I really like this line: “No, I don’t deserve to spend money I don’t really have. I deserve to get out of debt and finally enjoy financial freedom.” My husband and I have experienced similar reactions when we explain our frugality to others and this is a fab rejoinder!

  3. It was intresting learning the difference between an abstainer and a moderator. Important to know which kind of person you are.

  4. I love this! I think it’s awesome that you are willing to make short term sacrifices to experience long term benfits- that’s something that a lot of people simply don’t get. We did some really crazy things too the first 5 years that we were married so that we could pay off our mortgage fast. I won’t lie, it was super hard and even annoying sometimes. But it was so worth it! We have not had any debt for the last 4 years and that is an amazing feeling! It’s also allowing us to pursue dreams that we likely wouldn’t have pursued if we had a huge mortgage hanging over our heads still.

  5. Thank you! It’s tough to make sacrifices, but it will be well worth it in a few short years. Congrats on being debt free! That’s awesome!

  6. I just want to say I stumbled on your blog and I’m so glad I did! You present a lot of great ideas. Thanks for the interesting articles.

  7. I need to adopt this mentality. I do good for awhile, then it all crashes down! Congrats to you 🙂

  8. I support baby steps.
    Stop carrying access to money with you today. If you don’t have it you can’t spend it.
    Stop going to stores as a hobby. If there is nothing to tempt you, you wont want to buy it.
    Do this for a day, then a week, then a month.

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