Sometimes, I’m just astonished. I look at the credit card bill and think—how did we spend that much? The evidence is on the page—a latte, a run to the office supply store, a visit to the hardware store. It’s not exactly an extravagant lifestyle, yet cumulatively these small purchases seem to gang up and kick us in the financial groin.
But can you just go cold turkey and not buy things? Is that possible in our consumerist culture? I decided to declare a “no spend weekend” to see if I could go an entire 48 hours without spending a dime. I chose a weekend when my partner was away, so it was just me and our four- year-old daughter, Melissa. Friday night was a breeze. We ate, we played, she went to bed. No temptations. I went to sleep smug.
The rest of the weekend didn’t play out so smoothly. Saturday morning was met with a crisis—no discs left for the coffee machine. In a nanosecond I was at my laptop ordering more when I realized my coffee addiction would need to wait. I had some chamomile tea instead.
Later that day, while playing outside with Melissa, she pointed to some lavish bird poop splattered on the car. “That’s okay, honey. We’ll take it to the car wash,” I said. Then I remembered the no-spend policy. Sheesh. Wash it myself? I don’t think so. Washing the family car was one of my chores growing up, and I have no intention of starting that again. Hmm. Money sure can be helpful.
I made lunch, and listening to WHYY, became caught up in a story about a classic jazz album that sounded great. The idea of downloading the song began to dance in my head. I could have that music! Now! I had to sternly wag my finger at my intense desire and say—can you exist without this? I was beginning to see how money just drains away.
In the afternoon, it was getting hot, and Melissa was getting whiny. My automatic thought was “let’s get some ice cream.” I had the car keys in hand when I realized what I was doing. Now this was difficult—a combination of my spending addiction and my sugar addiction. I couldn’t believe how automatic my thoughts were. Heat plus stress meant ice cream equaled spending. It seems my default solution to momentary distress is to spend money.
On Sunday there was a “meet the counselor” session at Melissa’s upcoming summer camp. Since this was a social interaction with nothing to buy, it was temptation free, and I felt strong, contained and oddly—pure. I can do this! I can resist the forces out to take my money! But on the drive home, I saw a sign for “local strawberries” and almost turned into the parking lot. Am I really that Pavlovian—offer me something and I must buy?
By late Sunday afternoon I was on the home stretch and feeling good. I hadn’t spent a thing. But suddenly I heard the buzzing of a lawn mower. Oh no! I’d forgotten that a neighborhood kid cuts our grass every two weeks. I felt a sense of panic. Does writing a check count as spending? Had I blown it? I told myself that as a pre-arranged expense, it didn’t count, and got out my pen. (Rationalization is at the heart of all spending, it seems.)
Monday morning, I felt proud. I’d made it! I took stock of what I’d learned. If I saw every desire to purchase something as a choice, rather than a need, then perhaps I could intercept myself and think: Do I really want this? But it’s going to take a lot of practice. Maybe there’s a book I could buy to help? I reach for the laptop. Noooooooo!
Suzanne Levy is a journalist and TV producer from Cherry Hill, NJ, who is constantly on the lookout for ways to sustain her soul.