Spending Moratorium

I did something insane. It didn’t seem insane at the time. But as I sit here today, it sure feels crazy.

Toward the end of May, I decided to enact a three month spending moratorium on a single category: Discretionary. My Discretionary category covers art supplies, books, entertainment, etc.

I guess I didn’t realize that three months was 90 whole days when I made this pledge. Insane, right?

But not really. Probably incredibly sane. Here’s why.

Why Do This?

I am like a racehorse waiting at the gate every single month. Come the first of the month, the adrenaline courses through me and I spend the entire category’s worth within days, and usually on some new arts and crafts idea I wanted to try. I rarely spend it on anything else. If you are a craftsy person, you know how much you can spend just on glitter! Gratefully, I decided early on in my creativity journey (which began in Recovery, thankfully), that I would NOT become a scrapbooker for that very reason!

OH MY LORD, going to the local crafts store often made me breathless and nearly faint with desire. And the irony is that I always end up coming back to my two tried and true activities. So there are lots of unused supplies lying around. Or given away.

What I’m trying to say is that, well, spending my discretionary money wasn’t exactly a peaceful experience. Every month became like that. After I’d spend it all, I’d start making a list of what I wanted the next month. I was willing to wait. But sometime around the 28th (OK, the 25th), I’d start chomping at the bit.

For some people, it’s clothing, medical, or food. For me, it was really art supplies and other creative stuff. I can accumulate clothing money for months without pain. But when it comes to books, tapes, art supplies, musical instruments, I have that gnawing pain of wanting it so badly I think I will die if I don’t buy it.

I’ve written a lot about that pain in this blog, but usually regarding my pre-DA HOW days when I was binging. Now here I was, abstinent, yet I was behaving compulsively when buying out of this one category. In recovery, this is not a comfortable feeling.

Delayed Gratification

I’ve become used to delaying gratification for a day or two (and even had delays of months on one specific item). But three months for all discretionary items? WHEW!

I know two people who had completed a three month moratorium on their Clothing category. They said that it was the best thing they ever did, and at the end of it, they didn’t even want to use the money. The compulsion was gone.

That was music to my ears.

So, I said, “Count me in.”

Update on Day 72

Here I am on day 72 (plus those extra days, though I don’t know exactly how many there are! AAARRRGGGHHH!). And I want to let you know how it has gone so far.

The first of the month comes and goes and it’s just another day. I love the fact that I’m not in adrenaline overload at the beginning of the month.

I have spent way too much time making “the list” of what I’m going to buy when it’s over. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be one of those who says they don’t want to buy anything at the end of this. Wish I were, but it’s progress, not perfection. I’m disappointed in my character defect, but the fact is, I’m still abstinent and working on being more sober with the idea of discretionary spending.

I bought clothing. Yep. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the high I get with the Discretionary. I really needed clothing actually.

My moods are out of kilter. I am more easily irritated, but that can’t be because of this … can it? (Yep, it sure can.) But really, the more present I am, the less bitchy.

I tried to scam my PRG team (and myself) by wiggling out of this on a technicality. Here’s what happened. I had a bunch of books and other items I use for a spiritual meditation process I did off and on for 30 years. But last year I gave them away, thinking I would never need them again as I was in the “off” cycle. Lo and behold, I suddenly realized, just as my moratorium was going full swing, that I really wanted to invest myself fully in this same meditation process.

BUT MY STUFF! Yes, about two weeks ago, I tried to convince them that buying stuff to replace stuff I had before was not a violation of the moratorium. I almost got away with it too … until I called someone I knew would not let me snooker her. And so I continued on my way, knowing that I can still do everything I need to do without said items.

I was so worked up over re-buying my stuff. But as soon as I accepted the truth and let go of buying it for today, I felt peaceful again.

I find that when I am fully present in the moment, I don’t have any feeling about the moratorium ending. It’s when I start thinking about it ending that I get a bit worked up.

My PRG team did let me go to the movies. This was never the way I spent the money and they felt that this moratorium covered so much that it wasn’t meant to be punitive. While I love the movies, it doesn’t have that same rush for me as acquiring new stuff!

This process has forced me to use art supplies I had laying around that I would never have used! Right now, I’m amped up about getting colored pencils (uh, for the third time – I’ve hated them each previous time and given them away, but THIS TIME will be different … yeah, we’ll see). But I’m using my markers that I love in the colors that remain (since I’m out of the colors I always use). And using up the stash of yarn that has been lying around collecting dust. It’s been fine.

One of my DA HOW friends who did this (one of those lucky ones who ended up not caring about using the clothing funds once it was done) said that she was in agony in the beginning. My experience has been the reverse. The first month, I was absolutely fine. Seriously, had no problem. Felt so “what’s the big deal” about this process.

This one is comical AND eye-opening! Through this process, I have gone through at least a dozen items I’ve desperately wanted to buy. I add them to my list. And watch how one after another has disappeared off the list after a week or two because I realize that I don’t want it after all. That has been the most valuable lesson to me. And why waiting is such an important part of my program.

Second month started out pretty good, but that’s when it really dawned on me what was happening. This is where one day at a time was a blessing and a curse. It was in the second month that my foul mood began to show up. And toward the end of that month when I tried to weasel out of the deal I had made with myself, my PRG team, and my HP.

This month, well, the first passed with joy again. I truly do love not being revved up at the beginning of the month.

My List

Today is 8/11. I am calm sitting here. But I could work myself up if I start thinking about how close I am to being able to get my list’s worth of stuff.

Most of it is to re-purchase all the stuff I gave away in my frenzy to declutter. I will post what I actually bought once this moratorium is over. I think my list is now final. I haven’t changed it for at least three days. But we’ll see.

Final Thoughts
Maybe the lesson for me is kind of like what they say about courage. It’s not really courage if you aren’t scared. So for me, doing this, despite wanting to buy helps strengthen my program.

I have never ever regretted waiting to buy anything.

Am I glad I’m doing this? Absolutely. As my husband said, delayed gratification builds character. I believe that. I’m learning that I can be just fine without more stuff. And I’m seeing that by waiting, I end up getting what I really want, rather than the next bright and shiny object.

11 thoughts on “Spending Moratorium

  1. Your blog is a breath of fresh air. I joined DA in 2005, and had by own relapse in 2011. It nice to hear some new ESH. It’s nice to hear someone else has 1 or 2 compulsive categories. I rotate–it would be gardening, clothing/. Hmmm… I could use a moratorium on clothing.
    I had a highly physical reaction when I stopped debting the first time; I thought I was going crazy, and oldtimer said she often had really physical reactions to shopping.
    For me, going Al Anon (recommended by my DA sponsor) has been huge for my program. Helped me learn about these things like boundaries, letting go, etc.

  2. Thanks, Sharon. I’m working on some training videos and hope to be blogging again soon. I appreciate your support. Hope you are beginning to feel more balanced and the home improvement project is coming along.

  3. Wow! I just found your site. You sound EXACTLY like me! I spend on books and art supplies too. I need help though because I cannot stop and it is out of control. I also give away books and stuff then re-buy it later. I am just amazed to hear someone talk about my issues specifically. I have not ever before.

    • Thanks, Toni. So good to know we’re not alone in this. Please know that recovery is possible. But it’s progress not perfection. I still struggle with desire sometimes even though I don’t debt of have spending binges.

  4. Great post. Thanks Susan. Funny how you mention meditation and being present. I have been going to Guided Mediation group and using Headspace app for several months while working with a life couch on mindfulness and being present and now I see mention of it in EVERY website/blog/facebook page I have been reading for years and never noted it before! DUH me! 🙂

    • That’s how it always works, right? 🙂 I’m glad you found the post helpful. I find that sitting through a meditation session, which can really bring up a lot of uncomfortable and downright painful emotions and sensations, really helps me sit through craving and other discomfort as I go through my day.

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