How A Spending Fast Helped One Woman Get Out Of $24,000 In Debt

She spent a year saving every penny she could.
Laurence Dutton via Getty Images

Six years ago, as she faced a growing debt of nearly $24,000, Anna Newell Jones decided to make a big change.

Budgeting hadn’t been effective -- she would find herself with just $30 extra at the end of the month. This time, Newell Jones set out on a year-long spending fast, during which she only spent money on necessities and built up enough savings to pay off her credit card debt and student loans. Her spending habits, she discovered during the process, were dismaying: She had been overspending by around $300 a month for the last nine years.

“I felt like crap about myself,” said Newell Jones, whose new book, The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Spending, comes out this month. “I was desperate enough to take action I needed to take to make serious progress on my debt.”

To her own surprise, the effects of the spending fast were immediate. After her first month, Newell Jones found she had saved $500. The next month, it was $900.

“I was super shocked that there was all this extra money that I'd just been spending frivolously,” she said.

Of course, it's hard to save by cutting out all unnecessary expenses if your main costs -- things like rent and health insurance -- are breaking the bank. And for many Americans, these things are far too expensive. But for some, choosing a spending fast could be a way to help conquer bad habits.

Here, Newell Jones shares some tips about how people can go on their own spending fasts:

Start with a weekend-long fast

A year-long spending fast is definitely a commitment. For those looking to just dip their toes in the water, Newell Jones suggests starting with a weekend-long fast that focuses on small goals.

Decide why you want to do this

For Newell Jones, getting out of debt meant getting her independence back. She wanted to get out of the downward spiral of constantly owing money and fix her spending habits for good. Newell Jones recommends visualizing what your ideal life looks like and working toward achieving that goal.

Create a want vs. needs list

A spending fast is a fast. That means cutting out the unnecessary and potentially superficial things that are sucking up your money, and focusing on the things you really need, like rent and food. “Identify problem areas and habits that are automatic,” Newell Jones said. Shopping and happy hour with friends are probably the first to go.

Practice saying no

“The social aspect of turning down invites is so overwhelming,” Newell Jones said. Instead of going out for $100 dinners with your friends that you can’t afford, look for free concerts and events, or offer to host a potluck.

Get your friends together for activities that don’t cost a lot

Newell Jones found that during her fast, she became more creative about how she could spend her time. One night, inspired by a page she had seen on Pinterest, she invited her friends over for a spa night complete with sugar scrubs and other activities. “It ended up being super messy and super fun,” Newell Jones said. “It’s something we would not have done if I wasn’t on a spending fast.”

Be open about your debt

Talking about debt can be awkward. But Newell Jones found that being honest about what she was going through had its own benefits: Her friends became more willing to talk about their own challenges with their finances, and readers following her spending fast through her blog were encouraged to start their own. “Knowing you’re not alone is so helpful,” she said.

Turn the weekend fast into a year-long fast

Once you’re comfortable with the short fasts, it’s time to take on a longer one. Newell Jones recommends a year-long spending fast so you can really learn to get rid of bad habits and save up bigger chunks of money. It’s helpful to go through several months’ of old bank statements and note where your money has been going.

By going on her spending fast, Newell Jones ended up paying back her debt in just over a year. “I felt a huge wave of relief when I decided to do it,” she said.

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