Not Spending Money as a Spiritual Practice

I qualify for DA because I am a compulsive debtor. But, additionally, I have the disease of compulsive spending. In fact, money burns a hole in my pocket. Because of this program that I am working using the H.O.W. format, I actually have nearly $15,000 in savings. The bigger miracle is that, after close to four years in recovery, I am finally at the point of not trying to find ways (excuses) to spend it.

The Challenge of Saving Savings

Actually, I started out having nearly $18,000 in my Prudent Reserve, the remainder of the 401K that I closed out when I left my job to go on disability. I managed to justify spending close to $5,000 of it, so it was as low as $12,000 at one point. Some things were truly needed, such as coming up with the money to visit my 92 year old father who died later in the year. But many were wants that I convinced my PRG were needs.

I may be facing losing my private disability and, because of my recovery work, I am grateful that I am looking at how I can make my spending plan work without touching my savings, instead of looking for ways to spend it.

Discretionary Spending

But what I really wanted to write about today is my discretionary money. I have a category for fun stuff like art supplies, movies, books, and any other entertainment. We just upped this category (whooopppeeee!) so right now, I get $60 per month, with some additional money in a couple of “fixed” discretionary categories (e.g., I buy so much through Amazon that paying for Prime is a huge savings for me, so I save $6.58/month to accrue for this once a year cost of $79).

The problem is that I spend this money on the first of the month, then wait in delirious anticipation for the next month so I can spend again. It’s abstinent, but not sober, spending. By the time the new month begins, I am like a race horse, waiting to burst through the gate.

It’s not that I am debting because I commit the money and stop when I have none left. I don’t surreptitiously take from other categories to increase this one, which would lead to debting and is a break of abstinence because it is dishonest. Yet, it feeds my compulsion, which is a monster that feeds on this behavior and fills me with the RIDS (restless, irritable, and discontented). Plus, it keeps me from living in balance, which is an essential aspiration of recovery.

On a monthly basis, I am filled with longing and convert needs into wants at the drop of a hat. This, I can do with the blessing of DA because I am living within my means. But I know how that feeling can drive out my sense of peace and make staying in recovery more difficult.

So, this month, I have watched more carefully. It is now January 3rd. I have spent only $6.35. Ironically, $1 of that was a frame from the dollar store that is the wrong size and the rest was on a frame that is cracked so needs to be returned. I had that yearning as usual this month, but because I’m torn between desire for about $200 worth of items, I have decided to pause.

When I paused, I realized that not one of these things is a need. That may seem obvious to you, but my “want” meter converts all wants into needs when the obsession gets strong enough.

Even though I am out of certain colors for the brush pens I use on a daily basis, I am still just pausing on that purchase. In that case, I think the pause has more to do with the $8.99 shipping cost, which is a big chunk of that discretionary money.

In addition, one of my issues is not having enough for certain items that cost more than $60. So I struggle and suffer. But the fact is, if I actually saved my discretionary money for a few months, I would be able to get that bigger ticket item eventually. In fact, I might be able to purchase enough to waive the shipping for my art supplies instead of buying smaller amounts each month.

Which is Worse?

So the issue is which is worse:

  • The pain of holding the money until I get through this delusion of false need and accrue it for what I actually want, not just whatever passing fancy comes in front of me.
  • OR

  • Getting the temporary and quickly passing fix of spending now, knowing that the pain of desire will just spring up again shortly thereafter.

For today, I am choosing to hold off spending. I am researching into how to frame my odd-sized art on a budget. And I am watching how my desire for a $28 book moves up and down in the rankings.

Not All Discretionary Categories are Equal

It is interesting that I don’t have this problem with all my discretionary categories. Take clothing. Because I stay at home most of the time, I don’t have a big need. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have desire. Yet, I am able to be calmer and more patient about it. I believe it is because I have struggled with the pain of going to the store with only $50 for clothing and finding so much more. For me, the decision in the store is far worse than the pain of just waiting to accrue enough funds to satisfy my urge.

At one point, I accrued over $200. That was nearly a fun experience (save for the dizziness I experience in stores, but that is another issue). In that case, I had about $250 of items I wanted (of course), but releasing those other items was not nearly so painful when I saw how much I was able to buy.

It’s a Trade-Off

As with so much around money, which is finite, it is a trade-off. I have to accept the fact that, as an addict, I am going to experience emotions around money, whether it’s spending it, saving it, or having to pick and choose what I will buy. But working my program can help me change from suffering to acceptance around it.

Yes, the wonderful irony, in recovery, is that I now often find much more peace in not spending than I do in the temporary “ahhhhhhhhh” of buying something. For today, I did not commit to any discretionary spending and I feel calm about it.

All those items are still walking around in my mind, but for today, I don’t have to make a choice. For today, I feel gratefully released from the yearning to buy any of the items … and we’ll see what tomorrow brings when it comes. For today, not spending my discretionary money is a spiritual practice. By living in delayed gratification, this practice shows me that I can be grateful for what I have and not painfully yearn for what I don’t.

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