Fasting is a refreshing way to reset your body’s internal regulation. The benefits of fasting include weight loss and energy gain. Intermittent fasting can give you the same benefits of longer term fasting without shocking your body so hard.
Fasting is necessary for most people due to awful eating habits. Processed foods and sweeteners wear the body down, requiring a fast to cleanse the toxins out. Periodic long-term (multiple day) fasts are punctuated by several shorter fasts. Continuous intermittent fasting can train your body to burn fat while reducing cravings and increasing energy.
Bad habits are solved with a reset. You start small so success is higher. Starting with a four-day or longer fast is certain to end in failure for all but the most determined. The longer fasts also require medical supervision. Starting with intermittent fasting or a one-day fast makes a lot of sense. The timeframe is reasonable and most people can stick with it, therefore, the benefits are received.
As much as the body needs cleansing, so do your financial habits. Spending fasts have been around as long as money. Spending fasts were a natural part of money management until modern times where spending opportunities are everywhere.
Mass media and opportunities to spend at every corner (and most spots in between) encourage the growth of terrible spending habits. Left unchecked, these habits will be a cancer on your financial life. Dreams of financial independence and early retirement will burn with the bad habits. The natural cure is a spending fast and you don’t even need a doctor’s note.
Like regular fasting, a spending fast has different levels of commitment. The idea is to start small, building your financial muscles before advancing to the next level. As your financial skills increase, you can engage in some truly historical spending fasts. And the good news is you get to keep all the money.
Before we begin I must point out spending fasts are not about frugality or cutting spending. The fast is designed to train you mentally and socially to live a normal life without money as part of every step. Enjoying a walk in the park with a significant other is an awesome and free experience. You can leave the wallet at home. Another lesson to learn is to walk out of a retail store without buying anything (or stealing it) if the item you were looking for wasn’t available. Shopping for the sake of finding a “good deal” is the mother of poverty.
I will outline 5 spending fasts starting with a simple financial purge all the way to the hardcore. I recommend starting small and working up. If you never manage a Level 5 Spending Fast in your life you are still a good person! Not everyone can handle a dietary fast of a week. Most will never manage it. Your health may not allow. The same applies to money. Anyone can manage the first few lower levels, but struggle as they approach the highest level. You may not want to attempt Level 5 in the same way you may never attempt to go without eating for a full week. It’s okay. Each spending fast level will help you recharge your financial muscles worn out by the constant bombardment from mass media. All fast levels are beneficial!
Also, use common sense. Turning off the heat in January in northern Minnesota is not a spending fast; it’s stupid. The idea of the fast is learn money doesn’t buy everything, even the most important things. Your geographic location will determine additional rules from those presented here. Safety first! If you require medication, you follow doctor’s orders. Don’t do anything that risks your health or that of your family or anyone else. Got it? Good.
Let’s get started.
Level 1: The Starter Fast
Breakfast (break the fast) is so named because it is the first meal of the day after not eating since dinnertime, 12 or more hours in the past. Technically you engaged in a mini-fast every day.
Your starter fast should be just as simple. Brown bag lunch to work. Better yet, leave your money at home one day per week. Driving is still technically spending, but you will plan ahead and avoid the need to buy gas the day of your fast.
The Starter Fast is short-term and in most cases less than a day. You need identification and/or driver’s license when driving or away from home, but cash, credit/debit cards and the checkbook stay at home. You can still pay regular bills as always. The light bill still gets paid. The idea is to strengthen your financial legs; learning to say no to minor spending habits. The first step is to stop spending at least a few days a month at work. No office pools, dining out or other crazy spending that takes place where you work. Work can be darn expensive and it destroys your financial goals! Your work should support your dreams and goals, not suck the financial life out of you.
Level 2: Serious Spending Fast
Level 1 is the training wheels level. Everyone should practice Level 1 fasting often, in fact, virtually every day.
From this level on we will engage in a full day or longer spending fast. At Level 2 you are allowed to plan ahead. Fill the car with gas beforehand. Stock up on staples to take you through the fast. Your habits will not change much yet at this level. The cable is still ticking away; so is the electric bill. You pay those bills timely; late fees are considered spending at this level and are punished with a stern look. Your spending fast at this level is more a shuffling of expenses. Gas is paid for before and after the fast, but the consumption is still the same. The real benefit is avoiding foolish spending. Lunch at work comes from the home fridge. No tavern detour on the way home from the office. Office coffee instead of a Starbucks detour
Level 2 can start at a full 24 hours and move up. Try one day where no spending is allowed for a full day. This is more than just a “leave your money at home when you go to work” plan. Online shopping is not allowed. Money is stripped from your daily lifestyle. Now is a good time to see what’s hidden at the bottom of the freezer. Past spending will fuel your daily needs. If you run out of something, you find a substitute or do without. The exception is safety related issues. Medicine is still purchased if necessary. If injury requires medical treatment you get said treatment. Yes, it’s spending, but this program is to teach financial skills, not harm you.
Once you start building your financial muscle, work from one day to two, then three, until you can handle an entire week spending fast, including weekends. Yes, even at Level 2 the challenge starts to make the muscles sore. That only means its working. Once you can do a week at Level 2 it’s time to move to Level 3.
Level 3: The Power Fast
Now we get serious. Once again we start at a single 24-hour period and move up to a week or longer. Pre-paying for certain items isn’t allowed. For example, driving the car is an expense regardless when you fill the tank so biking or walking to work is the only option.
Ideally, you want this fast to go for several days. The light bill and cable will still operate, but most everything else will require consuming only what you have at hand. The fridge and freezer will be your food supply. The rent or mortgage payment of course still get paid; the same with other debt. In fact, since you are spending on nothing else it might be a good idea to bury that money in debt reduction. Most people at this level will not have debt so the money will go to the First National Bank of Wallet, aka, your index fund. Saving isn’t spending; neither is paying off debt. Interest accumulating on debt is spending so I recommend taking an ax to it.
Level 3 is a lifestyle change. At this level you will start to learn how to live without money. Money becomes a tool only, instead of a means of distracting you from life. Acceptable spending is limited to minor recurring bills like utilities (phone, light, heat, Netflix).
Level 4: The Lifestyle Fast
Remember all the stuff you didn’t buy in Level 3? Well, I bet you found a way around the spending problem by shifting it to somebody else.
At Level 4 you are not allowed to accept spending from others. You might have accepted a meal from a co-worker as a work-around. If the weather was hot you might have used that as an excuse to enjoy air conditioning in a public building. Shifted spending ends now! The shifted spending mindset is the same one that tells you to steal all the soap from your hotel room, justifying the action by claiming it’s a minor thing. Unfortunately you are stealing and it is a form of shifted spending we don’t tolerate around here. Getting someone else to foot the bill is still spending! All you’ve done is shift your spend thrifty ways to somebody else’s pocketbook. Good friend you are.
Only the barest of necessities are allowed at this level. If you truly emptied all food sources in the house you may consider (I said consider) buying the most basic of food. This will be the healthiest and most basic stuff. I’m talking lentil soup folks. Maybe beans, the ones you soak all night and simmer all the next day. You’ll live.
The ultimate goal is to power through a month at Level 4. I encourage multiple food fasts at the same time. This is about living life at its most basic, where the real living takes place.
Level 5: The Insanity Spending Fast
This level is so diabolical my fingers are bleeding as I type. Level 5 requires a minimum of one week and ideally a full month. And everything goes.
Cable and Netflix are gone and unless your local climate doesn’t allow, you pop the main breaker to the house. No heat, air conditioning or electricity. This is brutal! Electricity is the ultimate shifting of spending. Electricity is cheap and versatile. For this fast you will learn to live in harmony with nature rather than forcing the world to your demands on the back of energy resources.
Once again, if your climate or health doesn’t allow for such extreme fasting, then don’t do it. You still need to take and fill prescriptions. If it’s well below freezing you still need to heat the house to above freezing. Broken pipes are spending! But don’t use climate as an excuse for your minor discomfort. A cool house (or humid and warm in the summer months) is no excuse to fudge on the fast. Beginners might want to plan this spending fast around a time of year where they experience the least discomfort and where utilities are least needed.
In addition to the fasting from Level 4, you will need to adjust to nature. When the sun goes down; you go down. Artificial lighting has given us a false sense of reality. This fast will break that illusion. Without electricity, TV and the computer will no longer occupy a large part of your day. You will rediscover library books and books from your personal library. You’ll also rediscover the lost art of communicating with neighbors and friends. If you have a significant other she will buck this fasting idea you have until she discovers you pay more attention to her. Real, undivided attention. It’s not a brave new world, just the one that existed from the beginning of time until the advent of modern society a hundred or so years ago.
A final recap of each fasting level is in order.
- A simple short-term fast similar to intermittent fasting
- This is more a “leave your money at home” fast for the workday.
- Most spending is still allowed.
- Driving to work is allowed; the stop on the way for Starbucks coffee is out. Drink office coffee. You will not die.
- The minimum is one-day for this fast and ideally a week or more is needed.
- Fill the car and stock the fridge because when it’s gone it’s gone.
- Medical is always allowed since we practice safety first.
- You still have Netflix and/or cable to entertain you.
- No stops at the tavern on the way home from work.
- You can accept gifts that are disguised as spending (co-worker buy lunch) if you must.
- Stockpiling is out except for food for home preparation.
- Burning gas still in the tank is de facto spending so walking or biking to work is your only option.
- You always pay the rent and mortgage because late fees and penalties are spending. You also still pay your taxes on time since interest and penalties are once again spending.
- You are encouraged to use the extra money you’re not spending to reduce and/or eliminate debt. If no debt, then invest in your index funds. Investing isn’t spending.
- Level 3 is still in effect.
- Shifting spending is out. Someone else spending on you is shifting your consumptions habits to others. How rude!
- Basic, simple, nutritious food only is allowed. Stock piling doesn’t help at this level. Lentil soup and other simple and healthy fare is your diet during this spending fast.
- You are reaching Stoic levels.
- Level 3 and 4 restrictions still apply.
- Cable and Netflix are out.
- If climate and health allow, pop the circuit breaker for the house. Electricity is still spending.
- Ideally you want at least a week to a month for this fast.
- Learn to live in harmony with the environment.
- Read more.
- Spend real, quality time with friends, family and loved ones. Spend real deep emotional time with your significant other. Without the distractions of modern life she will be the center of your world. I bet you’ll love what you find.
There is still one unmentioned level: Level 6. I’m numb just thinking about it. If you think you are ready for an even more rejuvenating spending fast you’ll have to take lessons from this guy.
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Debt Free Dr.
Saturday 4th of August 2018
Keith, it's funny I am reading this on our week vacation in Big Sky Montana.
We stayed in tents 2 nights and a dude ranch cabin 3 nights.
Our best night was when the power went out. We were already enjoying nature during the days but when we really we're disconnected, we realized that it doesn't take much to make one happy.
Saturday 4th of August 2018
I know some readers thought it was extreme at Level 5, but I was only being polite. A simple one-day fast from electricity is an enlightening experience. When natural disasters or weather interrupt life we freak out. But if we prepare by practicing poverty—as the Stoics recommend—we quickly learn there is nothing to fear. Then natural disasters are an inconvenience and weather events an opportunity to practice an unscheduled Level 5.
Thursday 2nd of August 2018
Level 5 is a little more extreme than it sounds even in your description. You've turned off electricity, so your fridge and freezer are no longer functional, and you don't have power so you may not be able to cook (and using gas to cook is also spending). May as well go camping.
Thursday 2nd of August 2018
Cate, did you check the link to Level 6? It does get intense. Yes, Level 5 is hardcore and not for most people. I throw it out there to show how serious you can get. The freezer and fridge will be fine if you think about it for a while. Food can be safely preserved. Why do I bring this up? Because if you can withstand a Level 5 fast a natural disaster will be nothing more than an unscheduled fast. Talk about being prepared without all the stress!
Thursday 2nd of August 2018
This reminded me of a "twist" on saving for lunch I did some 20 years ago or so. I was working an hourly consulting gig at $35/hour. I was approved to work up to 60 hours a week, so I was working M-F 7am to 6pm. I figured out about a month into the gig if I only took 30 minutes to eat lunch downstairs (usually about a $10 purchase) instead of 60 minutes (like the 3 other consultants with me), I could eat lunch basically for FREE. Taking 30 minutes less put an extra $17.50 into my pocket. This is a a +$7.50 after lunch, as compared to a -$45 the other way ($10 for lunch plus the $35/hour lost). Note, on a monthly basis, the hour lunch compounded by 4 weeks is $900!!! That was roughly my house payment in 1995. I tried to explain my logic to the other 3 guys, but they just didn't get it...
Thursday 2nd of August 2018
When you start thinking about money, JD, a lot of powerful ideas bubble to the surface. Spending fasts help stimulate this creative juice.