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HOW TO SUPERCHARGE YOUR BUDGET WITH A SPENDING FREEZE

 

spending freezeIn todays post I share how implementing a spending freeze to our family’s budget helped break a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle and increased our cashflow. 

One thing I’ve learned about creating a budget is that there is no ‘right way’ to do it.  The best approach is what works for you.  The important thing is that you are budgeting, period.  You need to find a method that works and then stick to it.  Along the way, you’ll develop some ‘best practices’, and pick up cool ideas from others that you can incorporate into your routine! There is one factor, however, that you need to pay close attention to:

It’s all in the execution.

The key to any great plan or strategy is in the execution.  For example,  a large corporation can develop a strategy to build their business and take market share from the competition, but it’s useless if they can’t execute against it.  The same goes for a professional sports team.  The coaching staff can draw up a fantastic game plan on paper, but if the team fails to execute, they will be hard pressed to win.

Budgeting is no different. Your budget is a key component of your personal finance strategy.  It’s a plan you’ve drawn up to direct your spending and savings, in order to accomplish your short and long term financial goals.

If you fail to execute on the plan, you’ll never get ahead! 

My wife and I have budgeted pretty consistently for several years.  Regardless, it wasn’t always easy to make it from paycheck to paycheck.  At times, the 14 days between felt like a month!  The reason was simple.  I wasn’t executing on my game plan!

How did this happen?  

First of all, by nature, I don’t consider myself to be a very self-disciplined person.  I’m hard working and fairly ambitious, but I have to be very purposeful in developing daily routines. It requires constant focus.

For example, I’m the stay-up-late type.  Most nights, later in the evening, I get a burst of energy.  It doesn’t matter how busy my day has been, I feel like I’m ready to take on the world. I’ll often go to the gym for a workout at 9 or 10 PM.  I’ve been known to go for hour-long bike rides close to midnight.  It’s also when I tend to be at my most creative.  As a result, I often stay up too late.

My wife is the opposite.  She is one of the most disciplined people I know.  Whether it’s handling money, sticking to healthy eating habits or regular exercise, she makes it look easy.  I’ve always been impressed by people like her.

So when it came to our money, I struggled at times to stick to the budget we had set, to achieve our money goals.

That was, until I implemented what I call the “5 Day Freeze”.

It’s a simple concept: Include a spending freeze in your budget.  

It’s true that from time to time, people place freezes on their spending. Often it’s used as an emergency measure, a response to an unexpected financial crisis.

Other times people use it as a way to hit the reset button, and kickstart their finances.

How I made it work.

I get paid every second Thursday.  Previously, I would stick very closely to my budget for the first few days, but the following week my level of discipline would drop, and my execution began to falter.

Whether it was eating out for lunch, or making a spontaneous purchase, I often found it difficult to stay within budget.

Let’s take a look at a typical budget period, before and after implementing a spending freeze (and resulting emotions):

Bi-Weekly Budget Period (Before)

Day 1-4 (Thursday-Sunday)  High discipline, high execution!

Day 5-9 (Monday-Friday)  Weakening discipline, low execution (will payday ever come?)

Day 10-14 (Saturday – Wednesday)  Stumble to the finish line, frustrated with over spending.

Bi-Weekly Budget Period (Including spending freeze)

Day 1-4      High discipline, high execution!

Day 5-9      5 Day Spending Freeze, driven to succeed!

Day 10-14  Extra cash flow, feeling motivated, I’m on the homestretch!

This is a big reason we no longer live paycheck to paycheck! Nowadays, I make sure to maintain a few thousand dollars in cash as a buffer.  But the spending freeze and the discipline remains!

Organize our spending, Mystery Money style!

  • Scheduled bi-weekly payments are made during Day 1 or 2.  This includes mortgage, savings/investments etc.
  • Any monthly bills due within the budget cycle are set aside as well.  Most are paid automatically from our Visa, so we transfer the required funds in advance.
  • We plan our main grocery shop for Day 3 or 4 as well as purchase any other budgeted items.  I ensure to put gas in the vehicles during the weekend.
  • We do most of our grocery shopping at Costco, buy in bulk, and pick up select value priced items at Walmart. As such, we rarely need to spend money between days 5 and 9. My goal is to complete the 5 Day Freeze without spending a penny!

As a result, by the following Saturday, we are well within our budget and have money left over.  That provides plenty of motivation for the home stretch (days 10 -14)!

We don’t always achieve perfection.  There are times when the kids need a few dollars for school, or we run out of milk or bread prior to the weekend.  However, more often than not, our spending during Day 5-9 is zero, or very close to zero.  If something does come up, we make every effort to defer until the 5 Day Freeze is over.

Things to think about.

By implementing a 5 DAY freeze every 2 weeks, that’s 130 days of no spending over a 12 month period.

In a calendar year, it’s like making it all the way to May 10th without spending.  That’s pretty cool!

The beauty of this idea is that it’s completely customizable.  You can integrate it into a weekly, biweekly, or monthly budget, in the way that works best for you.  You can make it as short or as long as you want.

It also promotes healthy personal finance concepts such as frugality, delayed gratification, removal of the impulse to spend, saving money and more efficient use of time.

Summary

If you’ve got a great budget, but it’s lacking execution, give the 5 Day Freeze a try!

Comments 17

  1. Very informative article. Staying within budget is a very difficult thing to do at times. I commend you on your effort to break free from the cycle that you were in I know it wasn’t easy to do so.

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  2. Hi MMM! I’m paid biweekly as well, in some ways I think its easier than being paid monthly. I pay all the bills on the day I get paid and pay into my savings accounts as well. The chunk thats left over seems to disappear far too quickly. A spending freeze might be just what I need.

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      Hi Susie, thanks for your comment, I agree with you. I like resetting my budget every two weeks. Every few months, I make a summary of my monthly expenses, more as a check point than anything. And that’s exactly what the freeze is for me, it forces me to be very disciplined with that chunk left over! : )

  3. I love how you are working the spending freeze! Great concept. I like to have no-spend weekends a couple of weekends a month and I have done an entire month (typically in January). A few days of no spending now and then sure does add up!

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  4. One thing I am struggling with is how to apply savings to the bill I want to attack. My bills go out at different times. My wife get paid weekly and I get paid biweekly.

    I never know how much extra we have because of this. How do I get around it?

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      Matt, here are some thoughts I have, based on the information you’ve provided. I hope you find it of some help.

      1. With your wife being paid weekly, you could still create a biweekly budget, combining her two weekly pay amounts into your biweekly amount. Perhaps you already do. For myself, I find setting a monthly budget is simply too long a span of time. It would make it very difficult for me to stay on track.

      2. I create my budgets the old fashioned way, just using “notes” on my iPhone. I simply list my income and expenses for the upcoming 14 days. I have used lots of slick budgeting apps in the past, but I prefer taking the 30 minutes or so every 2 weeks to do it manually. Like you, I also have bills that come out at different times, monthly vs. biweekly, so my biweekly budget will vary a little bit. This means that some biweekly periods, I have more of a surplus than others, but the important thing is making sure I have a surplus!

      3. I don’t know if this scenario applies to you, but as far as ‘attacking specific bills’, it makes it much easier if you’re able to consolidate any revolving credit (credit cards, lines of credit) into a term reducing loan. That way you can specify a specific payment amount and simply arrange for the payments to come out on the date that works best, knowing that the balance owing will always be going down. I used to fall into the trap of trying to pay off credit card balances, but would always end up pulling money back out.

      I hope this helps somewhat. Feel free to drop me an email anytime as well, if you have specific questions, and I can provide more detail, to the best of my ability!

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  5. Think it’s a great idea.
    We don’t call it a freeze as such, but we do have a bit of a competition going, on how long we can postpone a visit to the shops. Conversation goes – we need some potatoes. Answer, let’s have pasta instead. We could do with some milk for the cereal. Answer, let’s treat ourselves and have some eggs, there’s plenty of them… Etc, etc, until you realise you have avoided shopping for nearly a week. We save loads by doing this. I hadn’t thought of giving it a term or making it a regular event. Great.

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      Love this, Erith! It’s good to get creative! Being at the store less often will definitely be a money saver. We don’t do the ‘five day freeze’ every week, but often. It could be a shorter or longer period of time too. I know Amanda from http://centsiblyrich.com, who commented above, has done a month long spending freeze. Now, that’s impressive!

  6. Interesting read. While I don’t do a typical 5 day freeze, the only thing I buy Monday-Friday for at least 2 weeks (if not 3) out of each month is dinner supplies for my Friday night dinner. I could but this on the prior weekend, but I like to purchase fresh ingredients. My rule is Monday through Friday (with the exception of Friday dinner), I don’t spend any other money. I do need to get gas every 3 weeks, and occasionally something comes up that requires money. While not an official “5 day freeze” this has been working great for me.

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      Hey Danielle, thanks for sharing! 🙂 It sounds like you’ve got a plan that works well. It’s not too much different that what we do. I do bend the rules for the essentials like groceries, gas, but try to avoid the discretionary expenses.

  7. A 5-day freeze is like an anti-Amazon Prime. It helps with learning to plan ahead and gives you time to think about an purchase that would otherwise be made on impulse. It’s a great idea and one we’ll try out too. Thanks!

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      Thanks CBL! Yes, I agree, it really stifles the impulse! My son just got his first ‘real’ job a few months ago, and has discovered Amazon. I’m trying not to be too overbearing about it, but finding opportunities to show him how even small purchases add up! 🙂

  8. Pingback: Important questions after a no spend month - Centsibly Rich

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