Is a spending fast the right move for you?

If there’s a time of year that makes you feel that you’ve definitely been overspending, it’s the holiday season. Even when you try to be frugal, and keep the materialism to a minimum, spending still manages to creep. From the gift exchange you feel you have to participate in, to the food you purchase when you entertain, to the decorations that you couldn’t pass up because they were on sale, it seems as though it’s especially hard to keep your spending under control this time of year.

It’s especially hard for me to keep a lid on my spending during the holidays, no matter how hard I try. As a result, come January, I’m ready to never spend again. There’s a reason that so many people decide to go on a “spending fast” after the holidays are over. But is a spending fast the right move for you?

What is a spending fast?

A spending fast is a conscious effort to dramatically reduce where you spend money. In fact, much as you avoid eating and drinking for a set period of time when going through a fast, you decide on a period of time in which you won’t spend any money. Usually, a month is the desired amount of time, since it is a meaningful period of time, and it can help you develop new habits to replace the spending habit that you might be stuck in.

With your spending fast, you continue using your money on must-pay items, like your mortgage payment or rent, your bills, and making your debt payments. You should also purchase groceries as needed. Everything else is usually cut out, unless an emergency comes up, such as the need to repair your car, or replace a broken appliance.

Your spending fast should also consider cutting out extravagant spending, like junk food at the store. The idea behind a spending fast is that you only purchase true necessities. So, you might need produce for this week, but you don’t need to buy popcorn or candy. Many people also use a spending fast as a good time to make use of their food storage. If you are concerned about some of your pantry items reaching an expiration date, your spending fast can include these items. You won’t have to spend as much at the store, since you can use your food storage to prepare most of your meals. If you wait until later in the year, your spending fast can coincide with harvesting your garden in order to reduce your need to buy food.

Some people make it a point to go on a spending fast three or four times a year, just to make sure that they refocus their priorities and reduce the chance that lifestyle inflation will creep in.

Is a spending fast practical in your situation?

For my family, a spending fast isn’t really practical. That’s because my husband won’t get on board. He’s not really a big spender, but he likes to buy extra foods at the store sometimes, just to try them, and he enjoys being able to purchase collectibles when he wants, without having to worry about the timing. A spending fast isn’t going to work in my case — unless I’m willing to to just make it a personal spending fast.

A spending fast might not be practical if you have obligations coming up, or if you know that you will be spending money on something important to you soon. An upcoming wedding that you will have to travel for, or if you know that you are going to make other purchases soon, a spending fast might not make sense, since you won’t be able to keep with it.

On the other hand, a spending fast can be a good idea if you are trying to figure out what really matters to you. If you want to see what you can do without, and what you would like to cut from your budget, a spending fast can be a way to see what you truly miss in your spending, and what you don’t care for. Plus, a spending fast can help you set new priorities, and reduce your overall spending.

Finally, if you are determined to get out of debt as quickly as possible, a spending fast can be a way to kick off your efforts. A good spending fast, with the savings going toward your debt, can boost your morale and help you see good results.

What do you think? Have you tried a spending fast? Did it work?

5 Easy Ways To Save Money While Traveling

I bet you like to travel. I know I do.

In all my years, I’ve really only met one person who doesn’t legitimately enjoy getting away from it all for a few days — and that’s my dad. He really hates sleeping in a strange place. In fact, he gets so worked up about it that I like to tell him about my adventures just so he’ll start on a rant about how I’m wasting my money. It never gets old.

If you’re my dad, you’re probably going to want to click the back button. The rest of y’all should stick around though. I think these 5 tips will save you some cash the next time you head out of town.

1. Embrace the Hotwire

I have an irrational love affair with Hotwire. I could spend hours online looking at unknown hotels and trying to guess which ones they are. At least it’s cheap entertainment.

If you have your heart set on a certain hotel with that specific waterslide for the kids, Hotwire isn’t the route to go. But if you’re willing to be a little flexible, Hotwire (or any of its imitators, but I prefer the original) can save you a pretty penny. I’ve used it to score a room for under $100/night in Downtown Toronto, and to get a room at the Tropicana in Las Vegas for less than $30/night.

Guessing what hotel you’re going to get isn’t that difficult. Often it’ll tell you as you look at the amenities of the hotel. It literally says “the last person who booked this hotel got [hotel x]”. But even if you get it wrong and you’re a few blocks away, it probably won’t matter much. Just focus on saving anywhere from $10 to $100 per night compared to a hotel down the street.

2. Coupon codes

Thanks to coupon codes, I just recently got back from a trip to Japan where I was able to keep my hotel bill under $50 per night. How’d I do it?

Two words. Coupon codes.

Here’s what I did. Over the years I’ve ended up with accounts at each of the large travel websites. Once every few days, Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, and a few others send me coupon codes. Each are working really hard at promoting their app, so I was able to score some pretty sweet deals.

Hotels.com gave me $30 off if I spent $200. I used that to turn a $60/night room into a $50/night room. Travelocity gave me $40 off if I spent $100 using its app, turning two nights at $60 per pop into something much more affordable. And so on.

There’s a war going on to get your internet travel business. Take advantage of it.

3. Groupon

I only check Groupon for one reason — to get cheap eats when I’m going on vacation.

During my last trip to Vegas, I found a Groupon for $12 worth of food at Johnny Rocket’s for $6. I got a juicy hamburger, thick steak cut fries, and a chocolate milkshake so thick I almost choked myself with the straw. All that for $6. And since it had multiple locations up and down the Strip, I could visit more than one really easily.

There’s more than just food deals on Groupon. Everything from theater tickets to golf outings are offered at a pretty serious discount. Don’t go nuts on there — you’ll just be tempted to spend — but a little selective browsing can save you some cash.

4. Take the train. Or (gasp!) the bus.

I don’t understand why more people don’t take the train. It’s such a civilized way to travel.

Think about going from Toronto to Montreal, an important Canadian route. If you flew, you’d have to head out to the airport, get there an hour early, go through security, get into Montreal’s airport which is also on the edge of the city, and then make your way back downtown. Suddenly that hour long flight takes 3-4 hours.

Meanwhile, taking the train or bus takes a little while longer, but it’s usually considerably cheaper. But it takes you from downtown to downtown, and once you factor in a cab ride or two to the airport, it usually works out to be a lot cheaper. You’re on vacation, it’s okay to take a little longer to get somewhere. Sit back and read a book or something.

5. Stay off the beaten path

There are a lot of tourist traps out there. Don’t feel the need to visit everything a city has to offer.

When I go to a city, I like to find a few things that really interest me. Rather than trying to visit everything that I think I “should”, I just focus on seeing the stuff that sounds really neat. Sure, I might miss out on some hidden gems, but the internet generally does a pretty good job of filtering these things beforehand.

Plus, there’s plenty of stuff to do for free just about everywhere. Feel free to walk around a bit. A big part of traveling is just soaking up the atmosphere. There’s no need to fill up your days with activity for the sake of activity.

Any other tips for saving cash while traveling? Let us know in the comments.