The end of the experiment. (Conclusions on the spending rest.)

In the past 350-ish days, the category of life I’ve decluttered the most is my money. If you’ve been reading my light updates, you know I embarked on a year-long spending rest inspired by this book, and that I’ve been budgeting through YNAB*. As the experiment comes to an end, I thought I'd share some final thoughts, major milestones and powerful realizations.

*[I’m a part of YNAB’s referral program, which means if you click on my referral link and sign up, you get a free month, and I do too (this kicks in if you continue your subscription after the free trial period). The subscription price stays the same for you whether or not you sign up through my link. Thanks for your support, and know that I only recommended apps + products I personally use and think are cool.]

Like I always say: A rule is cool.

In New Order, I chat about how in adulthood we need to make our own rules to follow—guidelines that can point us in the directions we already want to go. The freedom I found in knowing exactly what I could and could not spend money on was exquisite. Along the way, I never felt like I wasn’t allowed or was being told I couldn’t. Instead I felt relief because the decision had already been made for me. Of course, I had some cheats throughout the year. But each time I broke a cool rule, three things happened:

  1. I told myself it was okay. Rules are here to be our helpful, gentle guides…not to be used as an excuse to self-hate each time we mess up. A few times I found myself on the other side of town without a packed lunch. Instead of berating myself for not making a lunch that day, I’d just go to the damn restaurant—and enjoy myself.

  2. Each “cheat” had to be made up for in the budget somewhere else. I had no active budget category for Eating Out this year, but if I caved and grabbed a gourmet sandwich one day, then I would take that money out of another category so my budget was still balanced. (I took from the grocery budget more than a few times, and it simply meant I had less to spend on groceries for that month.)

  3. I became much more conscious and appreciative of the thing I’d purchased. I finally learned how to put actual value on the amount I was spending. After all, it's my money—and anything that’s mine should have my full attention, consciousness, and respect.

I didn't spend money on clothes, even when it wasn’t “real” money.

I donated a ton of clothes this year—and sold about $100 worth at Crossroads Trading (a buy/sell/trade chain). I received that $100 in the form of store credit and had several conversations with myself about how the credit wasn’t really real money and so I could just use it to buy more clothes…a loophole in the spending rest! But I knew I was just fooling myself. The spending rest isn’t just about money. It’s about coming face to face with your habits/demons and the reasons for them. How foreign it felt to be in a clothing store—especially one with very "affordable", trendy clothing—and walk out empty-handed. Nay, to walk out without even looking at the racks! And how crazy that it took so much willpower to do that. I confronted the fear, the unease, the addiction to spending, the need to get a quick fix, the feeling like I won’t look cool enough in what I already have in my closet, and the realization that unconscious, habitual clothes-buying is, for me, the exact same thing as eating a candy bar—just another unhealthy substitute for love. D'oh!

I’m happy to report that the $100 in credit is still in my wallet, and my closet hasn’t had to endure the declutter-but-then-just-buy-more-stuff cycle this year. But get this: that $100 isn’t only waiting for the new year to be spent. It also waits for a time when there is something specific I want to buy. Meanwhile, I’m choosing closet clarity, self-awareness and an ever-rising bank account. Those things will keep me just as warm.

I paid off $21,000 in credit card debt.

Ummm….yeah. (Way to bury the lead, Fay.) Amazing, right?? Let me first say that I went way back and forth about whether to come clean with this actual number. I wish I had been bold enough at the beginning of the year to shout out my specific in-the-red amount. But after years of crappy budgeting, I was afraid that I wouldn't succeed at wiping it out. And as a savvy business owner and author, I was afraid of looking like a fraud. (You have debt? Get out of this profession! And that other one!) And as a regular ol’ human being, I felt shame, along with everything else that bubbles up when digging into old emotions and family histories surrounding money and self-worth and oof…you get it. But when I hear other folks tell the truth about their lives, I feel better. I’m hoping that my truth does the same for you. So I’m shouting this out: I HAD $21,000 IN CREDIT CARD DEBT! AT TIMES I’VE HAD A WHOLE LOT MORE! AND BY LEARNING HOW TO BUDGET + CURBING MY OVERSPENDING, I PAID IT ALL OFF IN LESS THAN A YEAR! AND YOU CAN TOO! WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! Okay cool. Thanks for listening to that.

Allow me to acknowledge that this is a lot of money for many people to be able to set aside and pay off in a short period of time. Naturally, mileage may vary depending on your income and expenses. But I will repeat what I did say back in January: The amount of debt and/or savings I have are notultimatelya result of the income I earn. They are the result of my spending habits. What was mind-blowing to me was not the actual amount of debt I paid off, but how quickly I was able to save even hundreds of dollars by simply not buying things I didn't need. Meals out, drinks, coffees, movie tickets, gifts... Removing these items alone—even for a short time—will change a life. And fast.

As the experiment ends, what takes its place is nothing short of a complete and total lifestyle shift. I can never go back. ...To not understanding how to spend / not spend / save the money in my bank account. ...To all the stories I told myself about not making enough money and about lack. ...To the fears that I wouldn't be able to figure out budgeting, after failing so many times before. I'm lucky to have built a successful business and creative life in spite of my former money habits, and my relationship with my finances doesn't define me. But learning how to take power and control over it now enhances that life, and allows everything to grow and happily prosper that much more. (Can I get an F yeah?!) I'm still only at the very beginning, but it's already worth it.

While I’m not a financial blogger or money expert, I’ve obviously chatted a lot about the subject this year to bring you on my personal journey with it. I will likely continue to touch on it at times, as one’s relationship with it can be directly related to clutter, creativity, and general happiness. If you’re looking for blogs that have so much more money goodness, try this one, this one, and/or this one.

Free thinking (+ tips!) on Decluttering, Creativity, & Adulthood? Join up right here…

    Fay Wolf