Growing up, money was always a touchy issue. After my father’s business failed, we lost our home and faced many hard times. Thanks to church food banks and the generosity of others, we always had what we needed, but not always what we wanted, which led to some unhealthy money habits for me later in life.
We experienced most of these financial hardships when I hit junior high—right around the time clothes and my overall appearance became a concern for me. I remember some classmates making fun of my secondhand clothes, and it really stuck with me.
Once I started working and had my own money, I was careful to save at first. I even bought my first car with cash! But soon, I realized I had the ability to buy more things—things I had always wanted but had never been able to afford.
Although there’s nothing wrong with buying things for ourselves, what I didn’t realize was that I was buying things because I thought those things could change my identity.
Without realizing it, I was using money and things to gain value in the eyes of others. It made me feel better initially, but it never brought lasting relief. Over time, my poor money habits created a pile of debt I struggled to pay back, trapping me in a vicious cycle of buying stuff to feel temporarily happy, yet always feeling strangely empty and stressed.
Finally, I realized that emptiness could only be filled by rooting my identity in Christ—not in money. (See Luke 12:15, Matthew 6:24-34, and Colossians 3:1-4.) So one year, I decided to do a spending fast. During this fast, I challenged myself to do the following for three weeks:
1. Identify where my money was going and why I was spending it.
2. Spend more time in God’s Word to remind myself of my identity in Christ.
3. Only buy what I needed—not what I wanted. For me, this meant sticking to my grocery list, not using credit, and nixing luxuries.
Of course, this will mean something different to everyone. For one person, a luxury may be buying coffee, while to someone else, it’s buying meat. I defined a luxury as anything I thought I needed but only actually wanted.
I also decided to stay off social media for these three weeks—after realizing that my feelings of comparison grew stronger while scrolling through my social media feed.
I learned so much about myself and my money habits during this fast. One thing I realized was just how much I thought about buying things! It consumed my mind more than I ever realized. By focusing on only what I needed and by being intentional to prepare for each day in advance by bringing my own coffee and lunch, I found I had so much more mental margin for other things.
I also realized I had a greater capacity for generosity. By not focusing so much on what I wanted, I was able to save money to bless others, which brought me real, lasting happiness—not fleeting satisfaction from buying something new.
I had always wanted to have a generosity budget—an amount of money set aside just for giving. But I saw this as something I couldn’t do until I paid off all my debt or won the lottery. Through this fast, I was reminded that if what we value determines what we do, generosity could be a part of my life daily.
Having money and spending it on yourself isn’t a bad thing. But if consuming stuff is consuming you, maybe it’s time to consider a spending fast. For me, it’s one of the most helpful things I’ve done to make sure I’m honoring God with my finances.