33 Days of Spending Less
What I’m learning about simplicity and Target through my shopping fast
I worry about what others think. I don't like being inconvenienced. I may be addicted to “new” and “more.”
And I learned it all while fasting . . . from spending.
This summer I read 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. In the book, she shares her experiences in seven different month-long fasts to combat the tug of greed, materialism, and overindulgence on her life. She fasted from food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, and stress.
During her food fast, she stuck to seven foods: chicken, avocado, apples, whole wheat bread, eggs, sweet potatoes, and spinach. Then she chose seven articles of clothing to wear for a month, and spent money at only seven places for a month. She gave away seven items a day for a month, picked up seven green habits for a month, and observed the (seven) “hours of prayer” for a month.
As I read through her honest and funny accounts while I laid on the beach—on vacation—I teetered between full conviction, wanting to start my own fast that day (God has spoken!), to laughing at the prospect of eating only seven foods (absolutely ridiculous!).
With a clearer, post-vacation mind, I decided I definitely needed to fast. I needed a kick in the pants, more clarity in my relationship with God, and an opportunity to grow. And that’s what fasting, and other spiritual disciplines, can offer.
I began weighing my options. A food fast? Maybe I could limit myself to 77 foods.
A stress fast? I’m not waking up in the middle of the night for a scripted prayer!
A clothes fast? Two words: cold sweat.
After much deliberation, I decided on a spending fast. I would pay any bills that came in, and I would continue to tithe, but I would only buy things at four places: our local farmer’s market, Trader Joe’s, Target, and the neighborhood gas station (but only for gas).
Now before you giggle too much at including Target on the list, I did place further spending requirements on myself. Target would be a last resort. If we needed something, the first place to shop for it was the farmer's market. If it wasn’'t available there, we could get it at Trader Joe’s. And if it still wasn’t available there, I could shop at Target. In other words, no going to Target just to shop around for clothes, home decorating, or electronics.
Now I’d like to point out a few things about this fast (because I am still in the midst of it, and I want you to know how much I’m suffering). No Starbucks. No trips to JoAnn Fabrics or Hobby Lobby or any other crafting store to get supplies for that Pinterest project. No waiting until the last minute to fill up the tank (because I probably won’t be close to home and my approved gas station). No quick trips to the neighborhood grocery store when I forget an item for a recipe.
This fast has caused a deep craving for a specific, local ice cream shop and their incredibly rich, limited-edition, seasonal flavors. I’ve pouted as I drive past favorite restaurants. I’ve deleted countless e-mails about sales I “need” to attend. I’ve missed great sales on things I could actually use. I’ve had super awkward conversations with people who don’t understand what I’m doing. I’ve realized I can’t make some of my favorite recipes because I can’t get the ingredients at my approved stores. I’ve attended a lunch meeting at Potbelly without ordering anything. I have an incredible urge to buy anything from Target that is not food or toiletries. I’ve been tempted just to get that one little thing that no one will ever know about.
On the other hand, I’ve made more coffee at home than ever before— locally roasted coffee I bought at the farmer’s market. I’ve found time to read and journal and relax. I’ve cooked more. I’ve baked more. I’ve whipped together odd meals of things we have in the house: yogurt and string cheese and carrot sticks, anyone? I’ve become familiar with what the farmer’s market and Trader Joe’s offer. I’ve eaten more whole grains and whole foods than I have in a long time. I’ve discovered what I already own. I’ve invited people over for coffee instead of meeting them at a restaurant. I’ve rediscovered simplicity.
Most of all, though, it’s made space for God, and that’s brought clarity. When our routines are jostled, we gain new perspective: Why do I always stop at Starbucks on the way home? Why do I eat out so often? Why do I go to Target three times a week? Why do I buy new items instead of repurposing old ones?
That perspective shift allows space for us to meet with God, for him to show us who we really are, and for us to confess our all-consuming consumerist urges. This clear picture of myself keeps me running back to God, convinced of my desperate need for him.
I’ve got several days left in this spending fast, and I’ll admit I’m reaching a point where I’m tired of it. The novelty has worn off, and the reality has sunk it: this stinks. This stinks because it’s hard. This stinks because there are more things I’ll have to turn down in the days ahead. This stinks because God’s showing me just how sinful and broken I am.
But I’ve also felt a twinge of hope. God has reminded me that true transformation comes when we allow ourselves to die. The dying hurts. It’s painful. But the new life is completely worth it.