A fad diet for your finances

Can books and blogs promoting extreme challenges really change your consumption habits?



From the April 2011 issue of the magazine.



Does extreme budgeting work? Certainly there has been a healthy crop of books and blogs advocating the practice recently. In the book 100 Thing Challenge, readers are urged to fight consumerism by trimming their possessions down to 100 items. On a dollar a day tells the story of two teachers who cut their grocery bills down to, well, just $1 a day. The blog Six Items or Less encourages readers to spend a month wearing only six items from their wardrobe.

Most such challenges make a good point, but can they really help you save? “Like fad diets, a lot of these challenges are good ideas pushed too far,” says Matt Wallaert, a behavioural psychologist. He says that while eating on $1 a day might force you to pay more attention to your food bill, it could be nutritionally harmful, and it’s almost certainly unsustainable. “It might help jump-start your savings, but the only way to permanently improve your situation is to permanently modify your behaviour.”

Wallaert says less dramatic changes will likely have a greater long term impact. “A written budget that you pay some atten­-tion to every month will save you more money than any of these fad challenges.”

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