8 Things I Learned From Doing A 5-Week Spending Diet + Earning Spree

What's a spending diet? How do you do one? If you're looking for budgeting tips or ways to make extra money, this post is for you! Click through to learn more!

It’s June 27th and I’m sitting in my car outside the dog sitter’s house, crying over my AAA card.

I was supposed to be 100 miles into a road trip right now. Instead, I’m waiting for the tow truck – again – and realizing that it will cost me $1,200 to rent a car for two weeks over the July 4th holiday.

I guess I’m not taking a road trip. I guess I’m buying another car.

And that, my friends, is how I found myself doing a five-week Spending Diet + Earning Spree!

“What’s a Spending Diet? What’s an Earning Spree? Why were you trying to take a 2003 Ford Focus on a 1,200 mile road trip, Sarah?”

Thank you for asking, friend!

1. A Spending Diet is when you put yourself on a tight budget for a specific amount of time in order to reach a specific financial goal.
2. An Earning Spree is when you get very creative and tenacious about finding ways to bring in extra money in order to reach a specific financial goal.

I’ve been doing Spending Diets for years (re: most of my time in graduate school) but this was the first time I’d paired it with an Earning Spree. Here’s what I learned!

8 Things I Learned From Doing A 5-Week Spending Diet + Earning Spree

My goodness but this ish is effective

Because I believe that talking about money is a gift to everyone around you, I’m going to give you guys cold, hard numbers.

In the last five weeks I’ve spent less than $150 on fun, unnecessary things and I’ve brought in $5,467 extra income. That’s a lot of money! I mean, it’s a lot of money to me.

I’m generally quite good with money (I mean, I created a course about it, after all), but even I was surprised by this. It probably seems obvious, but putting yourself on a tight budget + taking initiative to earn extra cash = more money in your bank account! WHO KNEW.

I value things more when I pay for them in cash

File this one under “Dur” and “Psychologists figured that out a long time ago, Von Bargen.”

Be that as it may, I find myself more likely to wear items of clothing, use makeup, and read books when I had to count out cold hard bills to purchase them. Though I kicked most of my regrettable spending habits to the curb years ago, I’m more likely to carefully consider a purchase if I’m paying with cash.

I actually do *more* when I put myself on a Spending Diet

When I’m not on a Spending Diet I forget all about Minneapolis’s nearly-endless supply of free activities. Somehow all the free movies and music in the park slip my mind. Walker Free Thursdays? What’s that? Open mic nights? Never heard of ‘em.

When I’m trying to milk as much fun as I can from $30 a week, allofasudden I get more creative and more intentional with how I spend my time and money. Being on a Spending Diet gives me the nudge I need to actually take advantage of the myriad things I could do anytime. Constraint creates creativity: it’s a thing.

Sometimes money is less of a barrier than your mindset. Click To TweetRelated: 22 free (or cheap!) things to do when payday is far away

Living on a tight budget makes me a more empathetic human

While I’m not wealthy, when I’m not on a Spending Diet I don’t have to track my finances down to the penny. I can buy the fancy cheese at the fancy grocery store. I get the occasional pedicure.

Living on a tight budget for any amount of time is an excellent reality check. Did you know that the rise in the cost of living has outpaced income growth over the past 13 years? Median household income has grown 28% since 2003, but medical costs increased by 57% and food prices increased by 36%.

Did you know nearly half of “middle class” Americans (people who earn between $40,000 and $100,000 a year) would struggle to find an extra $400 for an emergency expense?

If you’re lucky enough that that’s not your reality, putting yourself on a Spending Diet will give you insight into how many people – regardless of their salary – live on a day-to-day basis.

Keeping cash in my wallet helps me track my behavior

I’m a super cool person who’s somewhat prone to overworking and under-spending. Earlier this month, when I was launching Make It Stick Habit School, I preeeetty much just worked, walked the dog, and ate leftovers. This is not the end of the world, but it’s also not a marker of good health or self-care.

Looking in my wallet and seeing the cash I hadn’t spent that week was a physical reminder of the world outside my laptop. It reminds me of all the things I could be doing, and OMG SARAH LEAVE THE HOUSE AND GO DO STUFF.

Weird things happen when you decide you want to bring in more money

Let me preface this by saying I do not particularly subscribe to the Law Of Attraction. I have a lot of feelings about The Secret.

That being said, one week after I decided I was putting myself on a Spending Diet + Earning Spree I sort of accidentally earned $1,300.

Some of this was money I’d been chasing for months and given up on. Some of it was unexpected affiliate payments. Some of it came from strangers hiring me for work that’s not even listed on my professional website.

Did I “manifest” this money? Did I place an order with the universe? Who knows!

But it’s probably never a bad idea to announce your intentions. You never know what might happen!

Related: How to get what you want (it’s easier than you think) 

Doing work you don’t usually do might help you appreciate your ‘day job’

Part of my Earning Spree was doing things I don’t normally do to earn more money than I usually earn. I retired my ghostwriting services over a year ago but I decided I’d reach out to a few former clients as part of this Festival Of Earning.

And you know what? There’s a reason I retired my ghostwriting services. Those clients are so lovely! And the work they do is so important! And I’m so proud to be part of it!

Also: I’m exhausted, my well of creativity has been tapped dry, and I’ve been driven to googling physical therapy videos for my wrists, neck, and hands. Conceptualizing and writing a month’s worth of content for several different companies in two weeks is, uh, A LOT.

You can do anything for five weeks

Skipping dinners out, working extra long hours, rice-and-beans-ing it isn’t the most fun you’ll have this year. It’s also not the end of the world.

And a Spending Diet + Earning Spree has an end date! My goal was not to live on $30 a week for the rest of my life. My goal was to live on that amount for five weeks. My goal was not to work 60 hours a week forevvvvver. My goal was to work extra hard for five weeks.

Think about other things you’ve done for five weeks. You were The New Person at your job for five weeks.  You’ve probably spent five weeks mourning a break up. You spent five weeks packing up one apartment and unpacking in another one. All those things suck way more than living on a tight budget and working a bit harder than usual! And you did them and lived to tell about!

Want to try a Spending Diet + Earning Spree for yourself? I created a 30-page workbook to walk you through the process, help you live on a tight budget without hating life + brainstorm ways to bring in extra money! It’s $17 so it won’t even cut into your fun budget!

Reboot your finances + fund your dreams for $17

I want to hear from you! Have you ever done a Spending Diet? Or an Earning Spree? If you have – how’d it go? Share your tips in the comments!

P.S. If you’d like support around money stuff, we have an awesome free Facebook group for that!

photos by scott webb and heidi sandstrom // cc

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  1. Anonymous

    I’d like to know your many feelings on The Secret

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      My understanding of the law of attraction and The Secret is that whatever you experience in life is a direct result of your thoughts. What about people in war torn and developing countries? What about victims of rape? What about children of alcoholics?

      I think positive thought can be very powerful. I think it’s suuuuuper important to be open, honest, and vocal about our goals and dreams. But I don’t think we can look at someone who has struggled in life and simply chalk it up to, like, them not thinking positively enough.

      I’m sure there are plenty of people who have a different interpretation of the law of attraction and The Secret! Maybe if I read about it more in depth I’d feel differently. But honestly, I’d rather spend my time and energy investing in methodologies that resonate more with me 🙂

      • Anonymous

        I’m no expert on this subject, but it’s my understanding that “The Secret” is actually a sort of pop-culture version of the Law of Attraction. The people who made is supposedly ripped off the teachings of Esther/Abraham Hicks who “channels” this information during meditative states. Esther’s story is pretty fascinating in its own right, but I think there is documentation out there where The Secret people co-opt and twist the message she shares, basically making it sound like a get rich quick scheme instead of a spiritual practice.

        • Sarah Von Bargen

          Oh! Interesting!

      • Moonsparkle (ZM)

        I’ve studied the Law of Attraction (LOA) for several years now and I do know it works but I do still struggle with certain aspects such as the things you mentioned above. Also it does make me worry about bringing “bad things” into my life, especially because I have anxiety. From what I understand it’s more of a “vibration” that attracts good and bad things. Like when you wake-up in a bad mood and things go from bad to worse- you stub your toe, get in an argument, can’t find the item you want at the shops etc. (That’s my interpretation). When it comes to the really bad things like war, I don’t know though. I just don’t understand it myself. 🙁

        The reason I say it does work is because sometimes I set intentions and they work or I get questions answered randonmly straight away. An example is that I wrote “Try root beer” down on my Life List (Bucket List) a few years ago and not long after a Facebook friend posted that she had some and it was from a shop near me, so I got to try it! (I’m in the UK and it’s not that common here).

        Also I’ve had smaller things manifest like a BlackBerrry in the make and model I wanted at an affordable price for me and a PS3, but not bigger things like a great relationship or a holiday to Miami! LOA says that’s because I’ve got blocks on it, but it all gets very frustrating sometimes! Anyway, just thought I’d share my perspective. 🙂

        P.S. If anyone wants to try out experiments you could check out Pam Grout’s books E-Squared and E-Cubed. I had mixed results, some experiments worked for me and some didn’t. But enough that I do continue to believe in LOA. 🙂

  2. monica

    !!!! if you are having wrist pain, soreness, twinging, tingling, i highly recommend a wrist brace! carpal tunnel syndrome or other repetitive stress/use injuries are common (like 4% of women and like 3% of men?) and I find that wrist brace wearing PREVENTS so much! target.com has the best price on futuro ‘for her’ wrist braces- 21.99!

    Also if you yoga, do dolphin pose instead of downward dog pose all the times.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Ooooh! Thanks for the head’s up!

  3. Jessica

    Well done, Sarah! And that is a great point the less you can spend the more you will look into free activities! We are going to Europe this year for the 2nd time. The first time we took lots of day tours which added up, but this time we are aiming to just explore on our own with a car to try and save money and are taking the time to do the research ourselves. Also staying at airbnbs so hoping we can save on accommodation and cooking costs! Congrats on the successful spend diet! 🙂

    • Charlotte

      To Jessica’s comment: Try out Sandeman’s free walking tours! They have them in most major cities and are AWESOME! It’s a great way to get to know a new city on day 1, and find places that you’d like to return to/go inside of. Have a fab trip!

  4. Anonymous

    I am getting the Reboot your Finances workbook tomorrow, pay day!!!!! Thanks for all you do, You are AWESOME! I am sure that you already know this 😉

  5. Lindsay

    Man, it is SO refreshing to read a blogger who is honest and transparent about money! I read a number of blogs who have me scratching my head and wondering “How does she do it??? A $10,000 couch and $500 shoes and I have no idea how she makes money?”
    This is suuuper helpful. I took a long-weekend girlfriends’ getaway last weekend, and it was AWESOME, but my wallet is hurting. A spending diet sounds great. Although – I’m not sure how to do an earning spree, as a regular-full-time-9-5-er without a side gig. I’ll think on it!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, I’m so glad you found this useful! And, yes, I have totally been there with the “HOW DO YOU DRIVE A BMW WHEN YOU’RE A SOCIAL WORKER???” And there are tons of things you can do as a 9-5-er to bring in more money! I go over them in depth in the book, but this is a good place to start, too!

  6. Camila @ Adventitious Violet

    I love this! Since I started my new (high paying) job I’ve kept an eye out on my spendings because we want to buy a house and go on 3 trips in the next year. So it means I’m writing down everything I spend and at first it was daunting to see how much I was spending on stupid stuff like lunch at work (I’ve brought lunch every day since). Anyway, I find I already don’t spend much so my life is a bit of a spending diet haha I wanted to not spend more than £80 this week but I bought a new pair of glasses yesterday so that went up £200, but it’s for my vision so it’s not unnecessary 🙂

  7. JB

    With regard to the secret and law of attraction, I am not going to claim to be an expert, but the whole thing to me seems like spinning natural, obvious truth into some kind of belief system. Setting intentions, etc. doesn’t cause the universe to manifest anything for you, it just causes your subconscious to scan for the thing you’re looking for. The thing is there regardless of your intention, but your subconscious is looking for it. One of the comments above talked about a blackberry phone at a certain price point manifesting. More likely, the person thought really hard about that phone and the price that would be workable, and when the phone went on sale she noticed it because she was looking for it. It should be obvious that we are more likely to see things we are looking for. There’s a million phone sales every day, but they’re irrelevant to me and I don’t even notice them, because I am not in the market. But when I’m phone shopping I am aware of the sales. Same thing goes for negative stuff. If I’m having a bad day and convinced that everyone is out to get me, I will more easily notice negative stuff. It’s the confirmation bias. I’ll notice people giving me dirty looks, etc. In fact, my negative attitude will probably affect my body language, and I’ll wind up rubbing someone the wrong way, triggering one of those dirty looks in a self-stoking cycle. Moreover, in such a brooding mood I won’t be very present as I’ll occupy my mind with negative thoughts, missing other key pieces of information, and I’ll wind up stubbing my toe, or spilling coffee, etc. It’s not the universe, it’s psychology. You’ve probably seen the study where participants watch a video of a ball being passed around and are asked to count the number of times it is passed. Most people miss a person who walks out mid video in a gorilla costume, stops, waives at the camera, and exits. The brain filters it out to focus on counting passes. Such is the secret of the secret, imho.

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