Andrew and I are in the middle of a rousing game of Don’t $pend a Penny. He got a raise a couple of months ago and since then we’ve been on a [minor] spree, giddy with false financial freedom – false because A) the raise doesn’t actually take effect until August and B) we have other real and serious financial priorities.
The decision to “play” was a mutual concession. It hit us that, though we weren’t being reckless with our funds, we weren’t being careful with them either and we needed to take a time-out to evaluate our situation and settle into a more solid financial plan. So what do we do? Compete! Who can go longer without buying anything? While it seems self-explanatory from the name of the game, there are a few rules, or principles rather, to keep us in line.
1.) Self-Control: We don’t usually blow our cash on bigger purchases like new entertainment speakers or designer purses; instead our money tends to trickle out in the forms of coffee and frozen yogurt. They’re small pick-me-ups – so accessible and convenient that we’ve become quite comfortable with the view from the “drive-thru.” The cost, too, feels inconsequential at just a dollar or two per occasion and when we have a coupon it feels like it’s practically free! Aside from that, my own weakness is the Fossil Outlet in town. So cute and so affordable that with a sale on top of the outlet prices, I’d be crazy not to buy, right?
I didn’t realize how much we were inclined to treat ourselves until we were scooting about town running errands and the temptation came up. Needless to say, this habit is kicked cold-turkey. We can do coffee and other fun snacks at home or, for the time, FREE coffee at Wendy’s; and I broke up with Fossil too. Cute, but unnecessary, and hardly a priority considering that we have children and a house. Any other unnecessary purchases are delayed until the game is suspended and we’ve budgeted them in. Which brings me to the next principle…
2.) Ultimate Survival: Without the convenience of buying what’s convenient, you learn the fundamental concept of surviving with what you have and nothing else. During Don’t $pend a Penny I try to avoid even the grocery store and the gas station for as long as I can. The gas station is easier than you might think. Because I’m not driving around spending money, I use less fuel. Less fuel = fewer trips to Circle K = keeping money in the bank for longer. I postpone grocery trips until we’re slightly desperate and out of stock on essentials like milk and eggs. Do you know how much you can save by actually using what you have? I did a whole week and a half of meal planning by restricting myself to our current pantry and freezer. A few days later, my trip to the store was delightfully brief because I grabbed only the needed basics, maintaining fidelity to my creative menu.
In the game, we recognize the difference between what we need and want and then follow through with the former. I’d love a new pair of boat shoes since mine are a little rough-looking and leaky these days, but can I get by with what I have? Certainly, so I’ll delay that purchase for a while and budget it in when the opportunity comes.
3.) Honesty: I’m truly happy to say that I returned the merchandise I bought during the aforementioned spree. Well, most of it. You can’t return frozen yogurt. But I had to return them because I found myself in a state of unrest with my purchases. When you get something new, it’s exciting and fun, but with this stuff, I was robbed of the thrill knowing that I was spending money we didn’t have. I thought, Do I really need this or even want it? When I’m honest with myself, I know that I’ll feel safer and more secure returning that which is excessive and then resisting impulsive frivolousness. By the way, returning un-used merchandise for a refund or store credit is a great way to put wasted money back in your pocket.
And finally, hands down, one of the most important rules of the game is: 4.) Know when to quit :) Don’t $pend a Penny is a great game because it forces us to be creatively stingy and overall pretty miserly for the sake of stepping back from immoderate spending. The idea of playing keeps things light and more fun instead of oppressive and limiting. We want to spread our cash across more blocks on the calendar and the way to do that is to keep it instead of spend it. That’s the objective within the game. The overall point, however, is to re-teach ourselves prudence and while we joke about it being a competition, it’s always a team effort complete with communication, prayer, and mutual obedience. We don’t always play Don’t $pend a Penny because it’s so restrictive and because a knee-jerk reaction to the other extreme of a behavior (too much spending versus no spending at all) is often as bad as the initial vice itself. All things in moderation, after all!
The humbling truth is that the money we have isn’t ours – it’s God’s gift entrusted to us and we are the stewards. In trimming the fat from our expenditures, we re-learn the discipline of budgeting, of denying ourselves unnecessary and pointless purchases, and ultimately temperance.