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
Medical insurance premiums
Doctor visit copays
Going to movies
Outings with friends that cost money
New clothes, jewelry, or purses
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.
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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Pay off debt, save money, declutter, and attain financial freedom!
You CAN achieve financial peace.