Frustrations about the Spending Freeze

Wow. Such an interesting dialogue about how people arrange who does what in a relationship to make it work. I’ve found all of it very enlightening and I know I, and we, have a lot of work to do on all of this. I promise I’ll keep you updated as we hopefully move forward making positive changes in our dynamic so both of us are happier.

And now, a little rant at the end of the fourth week of my non-consumables ban. (Sorry it got so long, when I get mad I ramble…)

So there was a little fudging this week, which I’ll talk more about in my official budget post. This week, and especially the past two days, I’ve been dealing with some frustration and anger surrounding this ban I’ve imposed on myself. I suppose it was to be expected, but I didn’t expect it to be so intense.

But first, a little backstory.

So there is something I haven’t mentioned before here. I didn’t technically have to mention it because my ban started on the first day of summer and I never agreed to give any information on what spending occurred before that date. I announced my ban at least a week before it started, and then didn’t say a word about what happened in the days leading up to my spending freeze.

I’m someone who loves to start a new “regimen” at the beginning of something. A week is good. A month is even better. These random days marking arbitrary units of time feel like blank slates to me. And it’s so much easier to go back and appreciate how long you’ve stuck to a new habit when you have easy to name units of time at your disposal.

Back in my “consistently starting a new diet” days I ALWAYS waited until Monday to start my next food restriction of some kind. And there were always a few days in between the decision to start the diet and the Monday when the diet would actually begin. And I ALWAYS spent those days binge eating all the shit I would not be allowed to eat as soon as the restriction started.

Am I the only one who did this?

I can’t be.

{Raise your hand if you can tell where this is going?}

In that week between when I decided to freeze my spending over the summer and the actual beginning of summer I went on a bit of a spending binge. I don’t think I was consciously buying everything I might have wanted over the summer so that there wouldn’t be anything to tempt me during those nine weeks, but that is basically what I was doing. I bought a lot of shit. I did not keep track of my spending. I hoped like hell I hadn’t blown through a huge chunk of my tax refund, but I didn’t log into my credit card account to find out. And I didn’t say a word about it.

In the end I didn’t do nearly as much damage as I had expected. It seems that all these years of trying to be more mindful about my spending have tamed my shopping splurges considerably. I don’t think I touched my tax refund at all, actually.

But I did buy a bunch of stuff, a bunch of stuff that would absolutely NOT be allowed during the spending freeze. I kind of expected to feel some buyers remorse after the initial high, but that never happened. I did take back many of the items of clothing I bought because I’m still good at only keeping what brings me joy, but I never wished I could take back any of the other stuff.

In fact, I’ve REALLY been enjoying most of it.

One thing I got was a sensory table for our dining room. I filled it with rice and the kids play in it throughout the day. It probably gets an thirty minutes to an hour of use daily and is especially popular when I’m making meals. It does have its drawbacks–my son occasionally throws rice with wild abandon–but the positives outweigh them. I appreciate that my kids have something to do that inspires their curiosity and lets them explore their world and I love that it’s right next to the kitchen so I can keep an eye on them while they do it.

I bought my daughter a set of play silks for her birthday, along with some sets of clothing pins, and I adore watching her create “fashions” or transform her stuffed animals or construct forts under her loft bed. Those play silks have been front and center all summer long–her playtime is much richer for having them.

The sandbox and wading pool in the backyard have been equally well used. We spend part of most days in our backyard and I love having that space as an option when we need a way to kill a morning or a couple of hours before diner. I’ve always wanted to utilize our backyard more and because of those purchases we do.

The literal day before the spending freeze I bought (used) a small play structure for my son’s room. It has a basketball hoop and a climbing arch and a slide and it fits nicely in the space that used to be occupied by the elliptical. We play with that thing every single day. It’s the focal point of most of our afternoons and it helps us pass the seemingly endless hours between when my son wakes up and when it’s time for dinner. My son slides down it, my daughter slides down it, I slide down it, we all slide down it and collapse into a heap on the floor. We slide into each other, we race to the top against each other… it allows us to be physical and move our bodies in a small space. Most days it means the difference between bad moods and good ones.

You all know how I debated whether or not to get the seats for the bike, but I couldn’t be more pleased that I committed to that project. I’m finally feeling really comfortable on it and I use it a lot. I want to write a whole post about why I love it, but I felt I needed to mention it here because it was a significant expense that I think was totally worth while.

I kind of expected that I’d feel worse and worse about what I bought before the spending freeze, but instead I’m feeling more and more thankful that I got these things. Why is this happening? Have I already failed in some way?

The point of the spending ban was to help me break a habit and to give me some perspective on how much I spend on things we don’t actually need. I’m sure it will achieve both of those outcomes. I’m just not sure that at the end of this I’m going to believe that not buying stuff should be the goal.

I read so many blogs now where that is the message–you don’t need the stuff and it won’t make you happy, so don’t buy it (and you will be happy?–this seems to be implied more than said outright). But what if the stuff does make us happy? I look around this summer and see all these things that I bought right before the spending freeze and they are making us happy. I think our summer would be less than if we didn’t have them.

And there are things I want to buy now that I think it’s dumb not to buy just because I created this arbitrary spending ban. I’m currently questioning my reasons for not getting them.

One thing I want is a simple fan for my bedroom. The days have been kind of muggy and it sucks to workout on the elliptical when there isn’t a shred of breeze. Sure I don’t need one, but a fan would make working out a WAY more pleasant experience. The idea of enduring six more weeks of stifling exercise because I told myself I couldn’t buy anything is frustrating at best, infuriating at worst (like when I’m on the actual elliptical machine, drenched in sweat).

The second thing is a lot more complicated because it’s for my daughter. I want to write a separate post about her sensory assessment, but I’m waiting until we get the actual report to do so. While I’m not sure exactly what the OT is going to say officially, at the end of the assessment she mentioned that my daughter would benefit from OT, specifically this special swing that is basically a stretchy hammock she crawls into so they can spin her around until the fabric is really tight and she feels pressure from all sides. One of these swings (and the hardware to mount it) costs less than one session of Occupational Therapy. If that is really the biggest reason for her to go, why shouldn’t I just get one and save myself the money on future OT visits? Again, I could wait until the spending ban is over, but providing the sensory stimulation for my daughter could make these long weeks so much more bearable.

So that is where I am right now, unsure of how I feel about my spending ban and worrying that I may not be learning the right lessons from all of this. Is this my materialistic side trying to assert itself in a power play for dominance? Am I feeling this way because there is a part of me that is threatened by doing things differently? I don’t think so, but I’ve never been in this position before so I can’t really know. All I do know is that I want a fucking fan and I want to get my daughter the swing and I don’t really understand the value in NOT getting them. There have been things I have seen the value in not getting, but I just can’t with this stuff.

Do you believe we’d all be better off if we didn’t buy anything, or only bought what we absolutely need? How would you proceed with these things if you had imposed a only-consumables spending restriction for the summer?


  1. I think there’s a big difference between impulse purchases made because I’m bored and go to Target to kill an hour and thought out purchases made to improve our quality of life. All of the things you bought are open-ended creative toys/gear- and will improve the quality of your days. They aren’t junk that will lose their novelty in a few days. As for the swing BUY IT. Every family I know with kids with special needs or sensory issues have benefited from a swing. My friend whose son has autism has the exact swing you describe and he spends hours in it and greatly calms and grounds him. I have some websites with swings you can check out if you are interested.

  2. The end point is two-fold.

    1. As Elizabeth said, to (learn to) spend consciously, to spend mindfully. To only purchase things that will “spark joy” in the language of that Kondo book. To get value for your money and not spend tons of time decluttering wondering why you ever bought so much junk.

    2. Financial security. If we all made tons of money we wouldn’t have to make sacrifices to keep from having to cut way back in the event of a jobloss. There’s no shame in spending on “wants” but that spending shouldn’t be at the expense of increased financial uncertainty.

    The way my family does and has always done toys is that we get them at Christmas and birthdays (and a little bit at Easter). We learn to save up and wait (and to anticipate and that sometimes we change our minds before we get the thing). Something that a doctor recommended wouldn’t be considered a toy.

    Spending freezes aren’t the only way to get to #1 and #2 above. But they’re the way you’re trying out because you think they’ll work with your personality, and you said you wanted to do it for the entire summer. It is pretty common to have a burst of frustration before getting used to making-do with most of these kinds of challenges. Given that’s the case, don’t give in, except for maybe what the OT recommends (if that’s a medical need). If you do give in, figure out how to get the money from another account (by spending less elsewhere) or how to earn the money from a separate pocket.

    1. I was going to say the same thing but someone beat me to it!

      It’s a great accomplishment that you are sticking to the “spark joy” rule. I’ve started to follow it (although more in regards to whether a particular dessert sparks joy).

      But, it seems like your financial goals require you to forgo some joy in your life. It’s possible that eventually, what sparks joy in your life may shift as you start purchasing less. You may find renewed joy with what you already have. But even if not much changes, you will probably have to adjust your expectations.

      I’m sure other people have a lower joy threshold than others. For example, I’ve started reading Frugalwoods and her weekly meal plan sounds completely inadequate and boring and even a bit disgusting but she says it is delicious. I don’t think my food-related joy threshold will ever drop so low. Or even my basic need level. I’d seriously be hungry all day if I ate like she did.

      Anyway, I don’t think the chair for your daughter is part of the “stuff ban” because it’s related to her health. But it sort of illustrates why you may need to forgo joy in other areas — if you had some extra cash, it would be a no brainer for you.

      Good luck. You’ve come so far already! Enjoy that!

      1. “I’m sure other people have a lower joy threshold than others. For example, I’ve started reading Frugalwoods and her weekly meal plan sounds completely inadequate and boring and even a bit disgusting but she says it is delicious. I don’t think my food-related joy threshold will ever drop so low. Or even my basic need level. I’d seriously be hungry all day if I ate like she did.” HAHA! I was totally thinking the same thing when I read her post. Also, eating out and new restaurants is fun! And a great way to enjoy in your city! And be with friends! We can’t have people over for dinner because our place is small, with very limited common areas and our walls our thin so talking and laughing would wake our kids (our younger one isn’t even asleep until after 10pm most nights! She’d never stay in bed if she knew we had people over!) so we can’t social in the evenings without going to a restaurant. People never really invite us for dinner–I think in SF people have small places and don’t feel comfortable having dinner parties, or maybe we just hang out with the wrong people when it comes to frugal living. I brought that up in her comment section and someone else said they were wondering the same thing. She responded, but I feel like everything she says she does to avoid eating out I just can’t do with kids at my house. I’ll be curious to see how she manages that when she has her kid. Maybe they just don’t see friends much? That is also a possibility.

        1. A place like SF you can eat picnic lunches with friends at the park. I have fond early childhood memories of my parents having wine and cheese and baguettes both in the city and out. (They were big Sierra clubbers– they actually met at Mt. Tamalpaias.)

          Some of our friends out there also belong to “stroller” clubs where they go hiking easy hikes in groups with their kids. With the great weather and the generally frugal culture (given how expensive housing is) and high taxes there’s a lot of fun stuff to do on the cheap.

          Instead of thinking about things you can’t afford (which encourages a deprivation mindset), can you focus on fun (free) things to do that you haven’t tried yet, or haven’t done in a while? Most cities have somewhat regular street festivals in addition to their other full-time amenities.

          1. There is definitely tons to do in the city without spending money during the day. It’s at night–which is the only time I can see other adults–that it becomes problematic. It’s always cold here at night, and when it’s dark I don’t feel super safe taking long walks outside. There just isn’t as much to do on a weekday evening with another adult that doesn’t involve spending money on food or drink.

        2. Im also wondering how they socialize without eating out, seeing movies, or really doing anything.

          I think I can probably stop eating out for several months (my husband can’t so that would never happen) but they eat the same meals every day and the only animal protein they eat is frozen salmon. She eats hummus for dinner. I’m a huge meat eater.

          Dinner parties are harder in places like SF. I lived in NYC for years and it was hard there. I remember I always hated birthday parties because I was forced to buy expensive drinks at a bar or an expensive dinner at a restaurant. And it was never relaxing.

          We have friends over to grill a lot. They come around 4 and we all eat at 5:30 No one seems to mind my son’s presence. He goes to bed at 6:30 and then we hang out without him. But I imagine this is much harder with your daughter! People eat out in LA all the time but it’s definitely easier to eat in someone’s house as well.

          1. If both our kids are around we can’t really social with other people. They both get all up in everyone’s business and demand all attention is directed toward them. My daughter especially. When adults have conversations that don’t include her she loses her shit. And then I have to take her inside and spend a LONG time calming her down.

            We do have friends with kids over to our place to hang out (with their kids–during the day) and that is fun. We also meet up at parks a lot. Again, this isn’t possible in the evenings, especially not with people who also have kids that have to go to bed relatively early.

            I also hate going out for someone’s birthday and not only having to get my own drinks but having to split the birthday person’s drinks (or get him/her drinks) because you can’t let them pull out their credit card on their birthday. For that exact reason I invited people over to our place on my birthday, so they don’t have to buy drinks at all, we can treat them! I so wish I were invited to more birthdays like that. I’m trying to treat others as I want to be treated (even though having my house “ready” is already stressing me out and it’s a week away).

            1. Yeah. I have no idea how to socialize without kids at night without spending money unless we are staying in. There are outdoor concerts I guess but they never really appeal to me. I guess the solution for you is to send your kids to grandparents for a night!

      2. re: Frugalwoods– oh my god I KNOW. I commented on their post a while back about what they eat that to me (putting aside issues of variety, because I actually can and often do eat the same thing for days/weeks at a time) the AMOUNT of food they eat is way way way less then we eat. I thought it was because of our activity level, but she commented back that they are very active too (in other words, I have no excuse, I’m probably just a big pig?) I would be starving if I only ate that much.
        Also, I LOVE eating at restaurants. I just love it. There is a great food scene in our city and I love to have food I could never make at home AND not have to clean the kitchen after.

        1. I’m curious to see how having a baby will affect their lives. They seem to have so many people ready to just give them everything they need, they’ll probably make it look like you don’t have to buy anything to have a baby. But most of don’t have those people waiting in the wings to just donate all the necessities. I was the first of my friends to have a baby and all my extended family lives 2,000 miles away. I didn’t get one hand my down for my daughter, nor did I get a piece of maternity clothes. I had to buy all that myself. So yeah, that part of their blog frustrates me, because not everyone has that kind of network and I feel like it’s rarely mentioned how unusual all those hand-me-downs are.

      1. Yeah. I’m MUCH better at this, but I know I could learn a few things too. If you have any suggestions let me know. (I will say up front that I tried to join SF FreeCycle–because it’s always suggested–and was denied membership. I have no idea why, but that is evidently not an option for me.)

  3. Such a surprise that you did spending prior to the Freeze. (Not.) I believe the majority of people who have joined The Compact (1 year of no spending on new items except on exempt items) have done precisely and exactly this the first year. Then there is the celebration day of buying what was waited for a year and usually a recommitment immediately.
    The Compact says medical needs are exempt from no spending on new items. (They are big on use it up/out, recycle, make do, and do without.) The hammock is medical need in my opinion from what you say. Though I do like the suggestion above of looking for other places to cut from budget to eventually cover the cost… I say eventually because it may take more than a week/month to spread the cost impact.
    SO GLAD you are finding you ARE using the bike with the children successfully. And also impressed as two children on the bike plus you in Not Flat San Francisco is a gigantic achievement.
    HAPPY RENEWAL WEEKEND!!!!!! Much joy and peace and happiness with your husband.

  4. Very interesting dilemmas. Money is so weird. We went shopping yesterday to kill time before a movie and I couldn’t think of a thing I needed or wanted to buy, and I have to tell you it was a refreshing satisfying feeling.
    I would be super annoyed about the fan and I would buy the swing for my daughter, mental health takes precedence for me. I can’t wait to see what you do!

    1. Sometimes I’m the same way, I walk into a store and can’t think on one thing worth getting. Then other times I really want a fucking fan… 😉

  5. I am on freecycle but have rarely used it (I usually just post things I am trying to get rid of, but never had anyone bite). I also ask for things in our mom’s listserve, and there is a new thing in our neighborhood, a “buynothing” group on facebook that gets a ton of traffic. People post random things they are getting rid of and you can comment and get it if you want. I think a fan would be something you might get for free somehow.
    I also agree that the swing for your daughter falls into “medical” and not an impulse or unnecessary purchase, esp. if it will end up helping you save overall.
    In terms of all the toys you bought—yes, individually each one sounds reasonable and certainly you are enjoying them. Going forward, though, those are the kinds of things you will need to space out, save for one at a time, or try to find for free/extremely cheap. Sure, the kids use them, but if you didn’t have them, I suspect they’d find something else.

    1. I’m curious about this buy nothing group on FB. I’m going to look into it. You’re absolutely right about the stuff I bought before the freeze. I’m going to have to prioritize that kind of stuff and only get what can fit in my budget. This will be really different for me. This will be really hard for me.

  6. I read the subsequent post before reading this one, so it’s really interesting to see where some angst is coming from. First of all, yeah, the time I went on a yeast free diet I ate pizza, ice cream and drank beer with abandon the night before I started. Not joking. I’d say it’s pretty typical to do something like that.

    Second, a spending freeze is so hard! I like to shop, and I found that I transferred my buying clothes for me to buying clothes for my family. Somehow in my mind, that made it “different”. Except it isn’t and the bank account shows that. :/

    I tried freecycle and I didn’t have much success. Have you looked for free stuff on Craigslist?

    1. I have a feeling that the things I want are too specific for Freecycle to be very helpful, and around here you can just put something on the street with a FREE sign and it’s gone within the hour, so I’m not sure it will be super helpful. But I’m willing to check it out.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *