Three years ago I joined Money Rehab, a Facebook group created by Kristin Sutton. Sutton – founder of hertherapyspace and a licensed therapist – started the group to empower young black women like me to change the way they think about money.
As a recent graduate, I was suffering from financial anxiety and I was using unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with it.
I like to refer to this period of my life as my “Sally the Swiper” days. During this time, every sale required my purchase, budgeting was a myth and my priorities included looking good no matter the cost and looking like I had it all together when it was quite the opposite. Needless to say, I quickly racked up close to $9,000 in credit card debt.
After a year of living in overdraft, it was a call from a collections agent that quickly sobered my spending hangover. Sick and tired of dealing with the emotional consequences that come with debt, I decided to try a spending fast in November 2017.
Coined by Anna Newell Jones, creator of And Then We Saved, a spending fast is a period of spending only on essentials in order to accelerate debt payoff or savings. I mercilessly cut costs anywhere and everywhere I could. Anything that was not a fixed-expense, such as rent, utilities, groceries, monthly bus pass, and debt payments, was axed.
Although I managed to pay off close to $5,000 in debt in three months, I felt deprived and discouraged and I would still spend impulsively from time-to-time. I soon learned from other members of Money Rehab that a strict budget that doesn’t include a little “fun money” is not sustainable. So about six months into my spending fast I started giving myself a small allowance (whatever you want fund) to “treat myself” without sabotaging my spending freeze.
Fast forward to now. I know that I have an overall healthier relationship with money and the risk of me sliding back into old habits is significantly lower. So I decided earlier this month to break my spending fast. And what better way, I thought, than with a Black Friday sale.
Back to Black Friday
The traditionally American retail holiday has become the most popular shopping event for Canadians. Nearly half of consumers here — 43% — plan to open their wallets on Black Friday, according to the Retail Council of Canada's recent holiday shopping survey. While Black Friday sales used to be constrained to a single day (as the name implies), Black Friday sales can now be found throughout the month of November.
I got wind of one of these sales happening on Nov. 9 at one of my former happy places — Sephora.
As I was getting ready to break my fast, I consulted a financial psychologist to get her thoughts. Her initial reaction was concern.
“Talk about picking a day when you would be tempted to overspend,” Dr. Moira Somers said about my decision to anchor my spending to this event.
As I was getting ready to break my fast, I consulted a financial psychologist to get her thoughts. Her initial reaction was concern
“So much of spending is environmentally triggered. In North America in particular, advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry. And they sure know how to get us to part with our dollars.”
I had my reasons for wanting to choose this month and specifically a Black Friday sale as the time to break my fast. Because of the way my pay periods line up, I’d be paid three times in November versus the normal two — meaning there was a little extra cash to allocate towards the planned splurge.
Armed with a firm budget and healthy “whatever you want fund” I walked into Sephora during their big sales event. It was a Saturday and super busy, so most of the sales associates were occupied. I was able to roam around the brightly-lit aisles without much disturbance.
I started filling my bag with products I wanted to splurge on, most of them expensive makeup I’d seen many of my favourite YouTubers recommending them over the year.
But as I approached the cashier, I started to feel doubt creep in and it was at this moment I realized that I wouldn’t be able to go through with the purchase. I put everything back neatly in its place, and hurriedly left the store.
I had the money saved up. So why did I feel so bad about spending it?
In the past, spending up to $100 and upwards on beauty products in one swipe helped me cope with stress and made me happy.
Confused about my feelings I reached out to Newell Jones for some advice on finding joy in spending again. To my surprise, she assured me that this was a “completely normal response” after depriving myself for so long during the spending fast.
“As odd as it is, enjoy that feeling because it is a signifier of the significant mental shift you have made,” Newell-Jones advised.
In the past, spending up to $100 and upwards on beauty products in one swipe helped me cope with stress and made me happy
But I realized I still wanted to break my fast. I had money saved and I worked hard for it. I wanted to do something nice for myself.
After a bit of thought, I decided that I could get over my aversion to spending by buying things I will actually need in the coming months. For instance, I’m taking a trip to Australia to see my family soon and I need a few items for the warm weather there. Getting them on discount during Black Friday will save me money.
So, I’ll still be breaking my spending fast on Black Friday. The only difference is that now that I’m at the end of this particular financial journey, I’ve come to realize that I have overcome my emotional spending habits and I don’t want to fall back into them.
No more splurging for me. Instead, I’ll be moving on to a new chapter of my finances where I’m not afraid to spend, but when I do, I’ll do so thoughtfully.
Illustration by Taryn Gee.