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What I Learned From My 90 Day Spending Freeze

We’ve all heard of “cleanses” or “detoxes”. Although traditionally meant for weight loss or breaks from social media, spending freezes are gaining popularity as a means to cut spending and flush out bad money habits. Here’s a personal story where one of our writers was forced to check herself before debting herself and what she learned from a 90-day spending freeze.


Setting the Scene

Earlier this year, before COVID-19 entered the Canadian news cycle and Taylor Swift released her Folklore album, I put myself on a 90-day spending freeze.

Let’s go back to December. I received an email from the corporate payroll team, “SUBJECT: Important – Response Required – Pension Enrollment Form.

I guess I forgot I would start contributing to the employee pension program after my first year of employment. I was already saving for retirement and contributing 5% of my net income to my RRSP every pay period.

Hot Tip: If you’re entering the job market or changing careers, consider if an employee pension program is offered in the compensation package. If you’re comfortable with accepting a compensation package that doesn’t include an employee pension program, you can create your own “DIY pension program”. Have a conversation with a financial advisor, or someone you trust, to choose a retirement savings plan that works for you and build scheduled contributions into your budget that come directly from your paycheck.

Time to Freeze

I’m a single income earner, so saving more for retirement through the employee pension program meant my household income would be shrinking.

I knew that I could adjust my budget in real time to manage my cost of living with a lower net income, but without knowing how to adjust my budget to spend less, I could easily fall into a cycle of spending more than I was earning. You can’t lie to yourself and have healthy money habits.  I chose to enter a 90-day spending freeze, starting on January 1.

“Like, you didn’t spend any money at all?”

I set very specific criteria for this spending freeze. It was an ambitious goal, like Taylor Swift’s cross-over from country music to pop music. It had to be calculated and fearless.

The purpose of the spending freeze wasn’t to deprive myself or to remove joy from my life but to understand how to protect two healthy money habits I practice: 1) not spending more than I was earning, and 2) contributing to emergency savings, long-term savings, and saving for retirement. My mission was to  reveal how I needed to adjust my budget to spend less, with a lower income.

The most common reasons people aren’t successful in budgeting is because they haven’t built a realistic budget or they aren’t committed long enough for it to become a money habit. I made a deal with myself that I was in this for the long haul and would track every receipt and be disciplined for the full 90 days. I was already a budgeter before I started the spending freeze, but if you’re not a budgeter, that’s an important foundation to start with. I track every receipt and enter it into my budget, and during the spending freeze it showed me how much money I wasn’t spending. You need to see how you’re spending your money to know how much you’re saving or not spending during a spending freeze.

I began by considering all the things that I valued most from my lifestyle that was discretionary spending and excluded those categories from my spending freeze. For instance, I didn’t even consider freezing my fitness membership. I like the accountability my barre studio puts on me to hold a plank for a minute longer and that doesn’t translate to home workouts for me.

I froze spending money on restaurants and food deliveries, unless it centered around an experience with friends. The relationships in my life are important to me, so I was intentional about which invitations to accept and which invitations to decline knowing that it’s hard to go out with someone and not spend money. For example, when my friend was going through a difficult time in her life, I arrived at her house with pizza and wine. But when I was starving on my way home from my barre class, I didn’t give into ordering food and would make something at home.

What I removed from my budget during my spending freeze:

  • Clothing (I’m a big shopper so this was an accomplishment for me!)
  • Housewares
  • Alcohol
  • Tickets to entertainment
  • Travel
  • Spa & Salon experiences
  • Personal care items that I didn’t already use.

What I kept in my budget during my spending freeze:

  • Fitness membership
  • Personal care items (ie: lipstick) but ONLY if I was replenishing a product I already use
  • Gifts for others
  • Streaming subscriptions (ie: Netflix, Amazon Prime)
  • Cable subscription
  • The routinely scheduled hair cut & color I get quarterly, but no other spa and salon experiences
  • Massages, supplemented by my benefits coverage

What I Learned…

I began the spending freeze on January 1 and retail stores and restaurants closed in mid March when the State of Emergency was declared in Saskatchewan so I made it 77 days on my own without stepping foot in HomeSense. Even without the option of entering a store, I wasn’t in the clear because the convenience of online shopping can still tempt you – especially when you are cooped up in your home with nothing else to do. There were some close calls but I made it the full 90 days without spending money outside of the criteria I listed above. Outside of cutting my spending by 10%, I was able to nail down realistic goals for my budget categories knowing what I could and could not live without. Thanks to this 90 day cleanse, I have eliminated any sort of excuses to pad my budgets for categories like eating out or shopping because I know I’ve done it before. It’s amazing how much money you can save with a little confidence in yourself and the discipline to make it happen.

If you need help starting your own budget or want to see for yourself how much cutting your spending will impact your income, check out Conexus’ budget calculator tool!

What else did I learn from a 90-day spending freeze?

  1. You do not need to deprive yourself to practice healthy money habits.
  2. Avoiding the stores where you commonly spend money is way easier than visiting those stores and trying to limit yourself to one purchase.
  3. Choosing not to browse online or in-store completely removed the temptation to spend money. A lot of the time you are shopping for a distraction so if you are watching a TV show and your mind gets antsy, pick up a book or grab a paper and pen to doodle to keep it occupied.
  4. Talk about money! I was open about challenging myself to a 90-day spending freeze and so many others responded by sharing their money goals. We celebrated, leaned on each other as accountability partners and learned from each other along the way.
  5. Spending less than I earn felt so much more satisfying than abandoning my budget to buy whatever Jillian Harris is promoting on Instagram.

What else do you want to know about my spending freeze that I didn’t answer in the blog? Ask your questions in the comment section below! Let’s break the myth that it’s impolite to talk about money! Let’s learn from each other and celebrate each other’s healthy money habits.

How COVID-19 Affected My Wedding Day

Uncertainty, frustration, sadness – not the things I was expecting to feel in the months leading up to my wedding and not something that was stopping me from becoming Bridezilla. Unfortunately, COVID-19 took the decision out of my hands and I was forced to let go of the wedding vision I had dreamed of since I was a little girl. Read on to find out how I managed my stress levels, changed plans (sometimes on the fly), managed the fluctuating budget and ended up having an amazing wedding day during COVID-19. 


You know what they say about the best laid plans…

I got engaged at the end August 2019 and to say I was excited to plan the wedding is an understatement. Not only do I love to plan things, but like most women, I’d been thinking about my wedding day for years and had more than one Pinterest board all queued up and ready to go. My new fiancé asked me to marry him and then promptly left for three weeks to work up in northern Saskatchewan – great timing, I know. Fortunately, this gave me the perfect opportunity to plan the whole wedding. I created our wedding website, booked the majority of our vendors, chose a date (I did consult with him on this part), booked a venue, lined up my bridesmaids, started dress shopping and let the people know who were traveling when they needed to be here. We were going to be married in Regina at the Wascana Country Club on June 13, 2020. In the next few months, I ordered my dress, chose the bridesmaid dresses and got all of the invitations sent out. Things were cruising along really well. I was buying everything in advance so that we were ready and so we could sit back and not have much stress in the months leading up to our wedding day. Queue the global crisis…

Who needs pre-marital counseling when you have a pandemic

When we first heard about the coronavirus, I initially thought it wouldn’t affect us or our special day. Then the borders closed, the cases started to rise, and we were both home – 100% of the time. During those few months, we were able to work through and talk about a lot of things. To say the stress levels were high would be an understatement, but we really focused on making decisions together and keeping open lines of communication. Except for the part where I unanimously made the decision to push our wedding reception a year, including all of our vendors, and then told him after the fact.

“Sorry honey”.

Vendors, deposits and budgets, oh my!

I was very fortunate that we didn’t lose any money when we chose to change our wedding plans and we were able to simply shift everything by one year. This meant that all of that planning I had done wasn’t going to go to waste. I did hear about a lot of people that made the decision to cancel their wedding and lost money and I feel for them. It’s always a great idea to create a wedding budget and stick to it because weddings are expensive and it’s easy to go into serious debt in the planning and spending, especially when you go to wedding expos and see what others are doing. But one thing you can’t budget or plan for is when you end up losing your deposits and that can make a stressful time much worse. I’m not going to go into the debate of signed contracts, non-refundable deposits and whether or not a pandemic that is out of your control is grounds for a deposit return, however, I will say that every single one of my vendors was very easy to work with and they, and their businesses, were feeling the financial burdens and uncertainty we all were.

If you are currently in the position of deciding whether to postpone and are afraid to have the conversation with your vendors – I highly recommend just ripping off the band-aid. Although we are all feeling the financial burden of the global pandemic, these businesses survive on positive word-of-mouth and referrals and many will deliver on good customer service in order to win your endorsement. They will understand and the sooner you let them know – the more flexible they can be.

So what did we do?

Well, I am now a Mrs., and our wedding picture is at the top of this blog, so we did get married June 13. We chose to get married at my parents’ lake house with those of our bridal party that could attend and my parents’ best friends (limited numbers made it easy to cut down the guest list). The biggest thing we learned is that missing out on many of the material things did not make the day any less memorable or perfect. Although we had to shift our initial vision of what the day was going to look like. at the end of the day I was able to get married to a wonderful man surrounded by love and even those far away were able to be part of it via live steam – and that, I wouldn’t change for anything. We are going to have a reception next June (fingers crossed) and we will be able to celebrate with everyone at that time.

Tips for getting married during COVID-19 (or any pandemic)

  1. Breathe – you can do this. It may feel like it, but it’s not the end of the world (hopefully). Plans will change and you will have to be agile and flexible, but I believe in you.
  2. Lean on others – there are lots of others going through the same things and you can get lots of tips from them. Talk to your family and your future spouse, they want to be there for you and help you through this.
  3. Take time to pause and process what you’ve lost – at the end of the day, it’s sad when your sister and best friend literally cannot come to your wedding because it means traveling or your grandma can’t attend because it’s too dangerous. It’s important to take a minute to just say “this sucks”, maybe yell or throw things or go find a batting cage or hit some golf balls. Whatever it is, let yourself feel the loss.
  4. Don’t dwell on what can’t be – you will drive yourself crazy focusing on all the things you can’t have and your wedding will be overshadowed by sadness rather than being a celebration of love and happiness.
  5. Decide what you need and what you can do without – whether you are going ahead with a paired down version of your wedding or moving it to next year, decide what things you can’t do without and what you can. The same goes for guests.
  6. Look for ways to include those who can’t be there – for us, it was live streaming the wedding, calling people after the ceremony and FaceTiming my sister from Australia for the entire dinner and speeches. Best part, all of that was free.
  7. Stick to your budget – there is a good chance you may lose some deposits if you decide not to postpone or reschedule and that will have a huge impact on your budget. If you decide, like us, to have a wedding now and a reception in the future, you need to decide if your wedding budget will remain the same or if you are going to create a different one for each event and that may mean more money is going to be spent. Either way, make your budget and stick to it.
  8. Talk to your vendors – regardless if you are postponing or going ahead, keep in contact with your vendors. They are probably wondering, just like you, what’s going on. Be patient with them as well – they didn’t plan for COVID-19 either and are going to be a lot more willing to work with you to find a solution if you don’t go bridezilla on them.
  9. Make it a memorable day – no matter what, it’s still your wedding day and you need to make it about you and your future spouse. Find ways to keep the day about you and not the pandemic and what you’ve lost.
  10. Don’t let people call you a COVID bride – COVID-19 may have forced you to change your plans, but it’s not what should define your wedding. Unless that is your theme, then you do you.

COVID-19 Blew Up My Budget & How I Pivoted

Adjusting a professional budget or a personal budget due to financial strain is never fun but can save you a lot of worry by putting a plan is in place. This #MONEYTALK blog highlights a personal story where COVID-19 impacted a family’s income and what was learned while she pivoted during a vulnerable time. 


Ouch.

When COVID-19 arrived, it happened fast. Our worlds were turned upside down as the world entered a sudden lockdown which resulted in canceled travel, activities, and events and forced many restaurants, schools and business to shut down.

For the lucky ones, there was an opportunity to work from home and for many others, there were layoffs, reduced hours, and reduced pay. Health concerns surrounding COVID-19 are already stressful enough but concerns about money during an uncertain time amplifies this stress and anxiety to an overwhelming state.

My family was a mix of the two categories. My income was not impacted and I was able to work from home, but with my husband working in the trades – things got a bit uncertain. We were used to his variable income, his hours fluctuating each week and his net pay always being different. Creating a monthly budget was often a bit of a strategy game as we tried to estimate what his monthly net pay would be. Sometimes we’d over budget over and many times we didn’t budget enough but typically it all seemed to work out.

COVID-19 changed a lot for my family. There was no more work travel, he experienced reduced work hours, and my husband saw his pay decrease. Comparing March, April, and June to the few months before, we calculated a 30% decrease in our family income. Though we were lucky to both still be working and were used to having a variable monthly income, a 30% dip was unexpected. In order to support our family that includes two teenage girls, some budget shifting was clearly needed.

Budgets do help, especially in times of uncertainty

We’ve been using a monthly family budget for the last three years that outlines all of the money we anticipate to bring in and how we plan on spending that money. This also includes how much we plan on taking from each paycheck and putting away into a savings account. Throughout the month, we track our spending and compare it to the budget to see where we sit and if we need to watch our spending in certain categories. Spoiler alert: we are almost always over our Restaurants & Take-Out category!

When COVID-19 happened, we went back to our budget and re-adjusted the number to our new reality – decreasing our anticipated income and relooking at our expenses to see where we could reduce. Though there was a bit of stress at the beginning due to the unexpected income decrease, this was quickly gone once I was able to plug in the numbers and see that with a few changes to our budget – it would be okay.

Advice: A lot of our worries around money surround the anxieties of not feeling in control. Creating a budget helps you feel at ease and allows you to buy-in to your gameplan. It may seem like work to track all of your purchases and hold yourself accountable to stay within these budget categories but the peace of mind it brings you is very worth it! If you need help getting started, try our free budget calculator.

Mini Eggs add to the budget and waistline

Did anyone else feel they were no longer doing three meals a day but instead ten? With school being closed and us working from home, the sound of the fridge or pantry opening became more and more frequent. Snacking increased and our meals seemed to be more extravagant for every day of the week. Although delicious, this caused grocery lists, bills, and waistlines to inflate. Food kept us company during quarantine and a family sized bag of mini eggs was a very popular roommate in our household.

After a few (larger than I’d like to admit) grocery bills that brought us close to our monthly budgeted amount, we realized our current amount was not going to work. We increased our budget a bit to accommodate for the increase in fridge and pantry visits and then created a plan. This plan included setting out the menu for the week and making a grocery list of the ingredients needed. We also made sure to look at what we had in our freezer and pantry to use items that we may have forgotten we had or preparing simpler meals like soup and sandwiches. These minor habit changes allowed us to focus our spending and stick within the budget we had set.

Advice: “Leftovers” feels like a derogatory word. But if you cook with extra portions in mind, your monthly budget flourishes. We’d schedule “leftover night” into our weekly menu in order to save some room in our budget while also not having to worry about time preparing the meal.

Do I need this?

With stores closing down, I was no longer able to shop just for the sake of shopping. No more “just because” Winners trips that resulted in a $200 receipt from purchases I didn’t need.

COVID-19 helped me realize the unnecessary shopping I was doing and that I was adding budget line items to accommodate for these impulsive purchases. When looking at how to readjust our budget due to decrease in income, I looked at each budget item and asked myself: is this a NEED or a WANT? This helped me understand some of my impulsive spending habits and decrease areas within my budget that weren’t absolutely necessary.

Advice: Quick purchases may seem small but they add up quick. I challenge you to resist the urge of small, minor purchases (ie: picking up a coffee on the way to work) for a month and keep track of what they would have cost you. The results are eye-opening!

No money required

Before the pandemic, our family was always on the go and if we didn’t have a sport happening, we kept ourselves busy by going shopping or  an activity of some sort that usually had a cost associated with it. With everything being canceled or closed, we had to find new ways to stay busy.

Endless browsing of stores turned into walks around the neighbourhood and all the projects we had pushed to the side started getting done.  COVID-19 taught our family that there are many activities you can do that don’t cost you money. This was another expense we were able to reduce within our budget. We quickly learned that we don’t need to spend money in order to enjoy each other’s company and even when things return to “normal”, I can see us being a lot more frugal with how much we spend on activities.

Advice: Pinterest is a great source of inspiration in order to find free or low-cost activities for your family. Did you know you can combine cornstarch, water and food colouring to make your own sidewalk chalk paint? This is an example of how you can utilize items you will likely have around the house for a fun activity with no extra spending needed.

Be prepared for the unexpected

In the past, our family has experienced layoffs, illnesses, and injuries that prevented us from working and receiving a paycheck. We were never prepared for these unexpected events, which led to a lot of financial stress in figuring out how to pay bills or put food on the table.

We started putting money from each paycheck away into an Emergency Savings Account to be prepared for these unexpected moments. When our income dropped by 30%, there was a sense of relief as we had these emergency savings to lean back on if needed. Even though the adjustments in our spending prevented us from needing to dip into the account, it was nice to know it was there if needed.

Advice: You never know when there may be a pandemic, job loss, injury, or even an event that you weren’t planning on such as your water heater stopping or a car accident. An emergency savings account helps you be prepared for these moments and reduces any stress you may have from trying to find money within your budget to cover these unexpected expenses. Check out the #MONEYTALK blog, The Importance of Having an Emergency Fund, to learn more.

While COVID-19 caused some inconveniences and made our family shift, it also allowed us to re-examine our spending habits. The lessons we learned and the changes we made are ones we will continue doing, even as things, hopefully soon, return to normal.