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Between going back to school and working, money has always been tight. But last month, I looked at my credit card bill and realized: Holy moly, I don’t have enough money in my checking account to pay my bill.

I was mad at myself. I could not remember one thing that I bought last month. Scanning the credit card bill, I saw retail stores, Starbucks, wedding gifts for friends, and dinner out with friends.

With four weeks until I had to pay the bill, there was nothing else to do but cut spending. So, I forced myself on a 30 day financial diet. The rules were simple: I could only spend money on essentials. I defined essentials as food, medicine/doctor visits, and anything else I needed to either stay healthy or be within the law (like the new driver’s license I had to get). Non-essentials were everything else and a “NO-NO” for the next 30 days.

  • The first week was hard. I felt like an addict, detoxing from my lifestyle’s naughty ways. I was forced to *remember* to bring lunch from home; I said no to social events; and I had to learn to make ice coffees. I felt somewhat alone and isolated.
  • But by the second week, I began to feel empowered. I realized how easy it was to go an entire day without handing over my hard-earned cash! When a coworker wanted to meet at Starbucks, I found the courage to tell her that I was on a financial diet. Instead, I suggested that we meet in the courtyard and I could bring caffeinated beverages from home!
  • By the third and fourth week, I learned to socialize within my nonexistent budget. I invited friends over or I would go to the bar and sip on a water with lemon (I’ll keep my $6 thankyouverymuch). And my financial diet had an effect on my waistline too! I lost 4 lbs just from eating more food from home.

After a month, my credit card bill began to look more manageable. And the whole experience was so rewarding that I signed myself up with another 30 days, with slightly altered rules.

Need to go on a financial diet? This is how I made the last thirty days so enjoyable:

1. Scrutinize Your Credit Card Bills From the Last Three Months: Before you begin your financial diet, you must do inventory of your spending. I like to put my spending in categories: grocery store, clothes, gas, eating/snacking out. Determine what is essential and what is not, and set your own rules.

2. Unsubscribe from Retail and Daily Deal Emails: Those twenty emails a day I got from my favorite retailers enticing me with 40% off sales or some local service for half off was killing my budget. I had to remind myself that there will always be another sale. And if that sale was really that good, I would hear about it from my favorite couponing websites. I can always resubscribe at a later date!

3. Learn to Make Your Favorite Caffeinated Drinks: The Internet is full of recipes for your favorite drink. Make it at home, experiment, have your kids help!  The morning muffin, bagel, or pastry – you can make a huge batch on Sunday and take one with you each day. Need another drink mid-day? Bring a box of tea bags and leave it at work. Add a fun-size candy and you have yourself a rewarding mid-day treat.

4. Fall in Love with Leftovers: In order for me to get excited about my home-made lunch, I got creative. Instead of making spaghetti for dinner, then eating it the next day for lunch, I started making two meals at once for dinner. The spaghetti would be dinner, and the pizza I was baking was for lunch. That way, I was excited to eat something new and did not want to ditch it for something else.

5. Wait To Send Your Wedding Gifts: Wedding etiquette allows you to send a gift up to a year after the wedding. So, with twelve months to send your gift, you can wait for a coupon to come out or for an item to go on sale. These savings will make big difference financially in the long run!

The 30 day financial diet is the reboot button you need to change your spending and your mind on what is necessary. It may seem hard, but it is truly rewarding. Your budget will thank you in the end!

This has been a guest post by Jul from Bethesda, MD
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