Hypothermia of the budget.

The concept of a “spending freeze” pops up every so often in the personal finance blogosphere. January is prime time for this tactic, given the joyful excesses of the holiday season.

Spending freezes have been announced at a couple of blogs I follow, Jana Says and The Frugalwoods. They’re slightly different: Mrs. Frugalwoods wants to help you “restructure your frugal mindset,” while Jana invites us to join her as she learns “to start paying attention again.”

While leaving a comment on Jana’s post I used the phrase “hypothermia of the budget.” That’s where DF and I are this January, and probably for the next six months. Or maybe longer.


In order to reach a couple of private financial goals, we’re embarking on a measured money slowdown. Financial hypothermia is gradual; a spending freeze is fast and hard, albeit short-term.

Generally the point of a freeze is not just to save some bucks but also to get control of one’s cash. Although some people stick to the concept of money minimalism, most go back to their normal spending patterns after 30 days.

Our slowdown will last longer than that. Not that we were spending like drunken sailors before, mind you. Neither of us has bought clothing for at least a year, and we tend to mend the garments we own. When DF purchased a car two years ago he paid cash (since the previous car was 14 years old he’d had time to save up).

Entertainment costs are a series of frugal hacks:

  • Sunk-cost season tickets to the symphony (paid for last summer).
  • Sunk-cost discounted gift cards for movies (I’ve got at least $200 worth).
  • I review theater and restaurants for the local paper (love it when someone else buys).
  • Free gift cards for movies and food from rewards credit cards, rewards programs like Swagbucks and My Coke Rewards.
  • Spending time together – talking, cooking, reading, doing garden projects (we are still entirely stupid about each other)

In the past year I made several trips Outside (that’s what Alaskans call the rest of the world), but one was to a conference paid for by my LLC and the others were super-frugal thanks to buddy passes, frequent-flier miles, a hostel, and the couches of relatives and friends.

Of course, the conference trip turned into a medical emergency and I wound up spending about $1,000 more than I’d planned – and most of it was not reimbursable as a business expense. But that’s why I have an emergency fund.


Cash-flow changes

Right now I’m working on Vol. 2 of “Your Playbook For Tough Times,” so I’m not bringing in a ton of freelance monies. Later this month I go in for cataract surgery, which will mean missing a few days of work and then figuring out how to deal with one improved eye and one that still needs serious correction. Since it isn’t clear whether insurance will pay for surgery in the second eye* just yet, one of two things will occur:

  • I’ll pop the left lens out of my glasses and carry on, or
  • I’ll pop the left lens out, work that way for another six weeks, get the second surgery done and then get new glasses.

As with any surgery, complications are possible but I’m determined to hope for the best. Even so, the little eyeglass dance mentioned above might slow down my earnings as well. (Picturing headaches or other issues with computer use. Hoping that won’t happen.)

Thus even if we didn’t have those personal money goals it would still be a good idea to take some nips and tucks in our relatively modest spending. Fortunately we already have a deep pantry; last month we spent less than $170 on groceries, and that included some foods for a holiday get-together plus a bonus turkey for canning.

Thanks to the hacks and habits noted earlier, it doesn’t cost us much to be entertained. Being easily amused is one of the greatest money-savers ever.

Readers: Are you doing/have you ever done a spending freeze? Got any tips to share?

*The ophthalmic surgeon said the condition in the other eyes is deteriorating, so even if the insurance won’t cover surgery right now “they probably will by the end of this year.” Um…yay?

468 ad


  1. Make Do Mom

    Holding good thoughts for success with your upcoming cataract surgery. Your resourcefulness will undoubtedly smooth the way until eye #2 is ‘eligible’ for correction.
    I love the idea of the spending chill rather than freeze… so much more sustainable. My only freeze was immediately successful, but ultimately felt more like deprivation rather than education.

    • Donna Freedman

      “More like deprivation rather than education” — that’s what can turn some people away from spending freezes/slowdowns.

      Thanks for your good thoughts.

  2. jestjack

    Holy Cow!!! Sorry to hear about your surgery….MAN you seem kind of young for cataract surgery…Thank you for the chuckle from “hypothermia of the budget”. And $170 for groceries…..pretty crazy especially for Alaska.

  3. Carolina Cooper

    Sending prayers and good wishes your way for your upcoming eye cataract surgery. I am trusting and believing that your DF will take good care of you in the recuperation period.

    • Donna Freedman

      Oh, he will. He’s a sweetheart like that. When I got back from visiting my daughter, he’d cleaned the house, washed and air-dried the sheets, and made a big pot of soup in case I was hungry when I got home. So nice to have someone who thinks about your needs instead of only his own. <3

  4. Catseye

    My late mom also had cataract surgery in her 50’s and had her eyes done one at a time, by her own choice. I’m hoping that you have a successful surgery and quick recovery.
    I love the phrase “hypothermia of the budget.” That explains what I’ve been doing pretty accurately.

  5. I had cataract surgery last spring, did both eyes only 1 week apart, with no problems. I still need reading glasses but I’m used to them & over the counter ones are fine. My one suggestion would be to invest in a pair of “interview” glasses which make it so much better to do computer work & read what’s on your desk at the same time, my only difficulty after surgery. The first pair were doctor prescribed, put into old frames. Now I’ve seen similar types in the drugstore for around $30. They have several graduated reading strengths in one pair & work just as well as my prescription ones. I bought a pair at Walgreens on sale & used my points for a good deal.

    • Donna Freedman

      The ophthalmologist said that I will always need some form of correction (I have weird eyes) so a prescription will likely be required.

      DF had the same surgery in both eyes a few years ago, so I know what to expect. Bummer, though — I can’t even malinger! 😉

  6. Sending wishes for a speedy recovery period.
    As time goes by we spend less and less, but still live well and have everything to make us happy. Our style seems to be similar to your way of living. This year’s “Spring Fling” is paid for, courtesy of Credit Card sign up bonuses and cash back throughout the past 2 years. 2017 looks promising………….

  7. Having done the Cataract thing one eye at a time over time, I suggest considering a contact lens for your non-surgery eye. It brings it much closer to a correction match than glasses will, which may allow a longer delay with more comfort and higher function than otherwise would be the case. (And,since you are only doing one eye, a set of contacts will last twice as long!) Good luck on your surgery.

  8. Good luck with the surgery!!

    Usually in January we have a “contest” with ourselves to clean out the pantry and fridge. How long can we go without grocery shopping? Granted, there are perishables we need – fresh veggies, fruit, milk, etc. But no canned goods, meats, or anything like that! We try to go as long as we can! I don’t remember doing it last year, and I can’t remember our “record” from years before that!

    • Donna Freedman

      That’s what we expect to do, too: Milk for my oatmeal and to use for making yogurt plus fresh produce, and not much else. We’ve got sooo much stuff stashed that it will be fun to see how much we wind up buying.

      A couple of days ago I did spend $58.21 for a considerable quantity of meat from the manager’s special bin (DF calls it the “used meat” section of the market), four large bags of his store-brand coffee sweetener (it was on sale plus we got a 10 percent senior discount that day), and a few other things I’ve already forgotten. The meat went into the freezer, to be used over the next few months along with other “used meat” that’s already in there. We did cook up a couple of the steaks, which wound up costing about $3.10 apiece — and since neither of us could eat more than half, the price dropped to $1.55 per luxurious meal.

      Tonight will be burgers made from on-sale-a-while-ago ground turkey mixed with on-sale-a-while-ago hot Italian sausage. Salad on the side, maybe some rice if either of us is in the mood for it. The rolls are fresh: DF made them yesterday.

      Hope you have as much fun with your contest as we will with ours.

  9. Tina in NJ

    We’ll be tightening our belts this season, eating from the freezer, etc. The last couple of months have really depleted the pocketbook. Happens every year with the holidays, but we had some medical expenses as well. Good luck with the cataract situation. I’m only a couple of years younger than you, and I” so near-sighted I have retina problems (myopic degeneration if you want to google it). At least cataracts are a relatively simple fix.

  10. Kate Nelson

    Sending you good wishes for the upcoming cataract surgery!

  11. After having cataract surgery on only one eye and having another doctor recommend the surgery on the second eye, his comment was any doctor worth their $$$ can write up a diagnosis to get both eyes done. Because of only doing one eye at a time, my vision is drastically different in the two eyes and necessitates glasses for more than astigmatism. Only fix is lasik, which is not covered by insurance and will not be happening.

  12. Good Luck with the cataract surgery and wishing you a speedy recovery.

    I have never done a “spending freeze” month/week! I am a planner ~ so we had a very nice Christmas but I had the money put away for it and was lucky enough not to go over budget. With it being January it is time to look and see where I can cut expenses and start getting our stuff ready to do the taxes.

  13. Best of luck with the surgery. I am delighted your relationship is going great and you are both still madly in love.
    I love the idea of a spending freeze and I hadn’t thought about it before now. I generally do better with short term goals. As I still work full time I tend to spend a little more on food to buy ready prepared items to save time and prefer to skimp on items such as clothes,household goods etc. I also drive an old car. I think this January, though, I will try more cheaper food items, beans, ham bones rice etc. Great post thanks.

  14. Christine

    You know, I always find your frugal hack mentions inspiring. Thank you for sharing them. I hope your surgery(ies) go smoothly.

  15. Best of luck with the surgery, and I hope the insurance covers the other eye very soon, so that you don’t have to wear wonky glasses long.

    I love the idea of “hypothermia of the budget.” That’s what we’re doing this January too, as we’re paying off some medical bills as fast as possible.

  16. Cathy in NJ

    Good luck with your cataract surgery. My mom said that the refrigerator looked whiter with the eye that was done. Then she couldn’t wait to get the second one done. So here’s to whiter whites and brighter colors.

  17. Diane C

    Oh Donna, I can so relate. I am nearsighted, farsighted, have astigmatism, glaucoma and corneas so thin I don’t qualify for Lasix. I fervently hope I develop cataracts so they can replace my original issue lenses with shiny new, improved models. My mom had cataracts in both eyes, so it could happen, riiight?

    Commenting not so much to whine, but to wish you well and to say I think you’d look dashing with an eyepatch, which could be a cheap, temporary headache solution, should one arise.

    As to spending freezes, before there were PF blogs, and before I was married @ 54, I used to do this every February (shorter than January, heh heh). Now that I’m FIRE, have a husband, bonus kid, MIL and her pal Al Z. Heimer, plus two dogs and a cat I really don’t have the energy, though my pantry could use a good purging. I’m following the Frugalwoods, the MMM Forums, and now here apparently, just to cheer everyone on. Go you!

  18. My mother in law just turned 60 and she’s having cataract surgery soon. I think she has to do one eye at a time as well. Seems annoying, like when I had to have my wisdom teeth pulled out one set at a time.

    As I told you, your frugality and resourcefulness amaze me. At least you know that’s one thing you won’t have to worry about.

    • Donna Freedman

      Ha! Thanks, Jana. I’ll deal with it the same way I’ve dealt with other challenges: Let it happen and change routines if necessary. As for the out-of-pocket costs, that’s why I have an emergency fund. Even though I hate taking money out, it beats the heck out of going into credit card debt.

  19. Just make sure to bring yourself out of hypothermia you slowly warm up the budget. Don’t want to go into shock! I like that term for a longer budget cutback.

  20. Good luck with the surgery!

    I’ve done a total spending freeze once in my life. I was in college and the government had shut down–meaning I didn’t have an income for a month. I locked up my cards and didn’t buy a damn thing. Things were pretty lean, but I made it work. I don’t do spending freezes nowadays since I just consider them to be a way to get out of desperate times.

  21. I’m doing a spending slowdown now. It really isn’t difficult. I just say no to any wants, and yes to needs, especially if they’re on sale. It is working, and seeing that is encouraging. I hope this will become a self-supporting habit. I’m looking at retirement in the next five years or less, depending on several factors, so the uncertainty is making me want to save as much as I can while I’m working.

  22. We’ve been “hunkering down” these last few months in anticipation of a job loss. Redirecting funds into the transition account has been going pretty well.

    Thanks for your book by the way. I got it as an after Christmas, Christmas gift, and read it in two sittings. Passed it onto our older son with the admonition to return it when he’s done. Full of helpful stuff.

    • Donna Freedman

      Good luck with the money redirection. Watching the numbers grow can help alleviate the stress of a potential job loss.

      That’s one of the three groups for which my book is intended: those looking at hard times or at least big changes on the horizon. I’m glad to hear that it helped you and hope that it will help your son.

      Could I trouble you to write a short review on the Amazon landing page? It doesn’t have to be a dissertation — just a few sentences about how and why it helped you and therefore might help others. I’d appreciate it.

      And stay tuned for Vol. 2: I’m working on it now.

      • Thanks Donna. We’ve been through a couple “whacks upside the head” before, but being older makes it feel a bit more challenging. At least this time we can see it coming.

        Sure, I’ll write some comments!

        • Donna Freedman

          I appreciate it. And the being-older part can be more challenging, especially if you have to buy medicine or if you aren’t able to do as many frugal hacks. However, you might also be more disciplined and more able to look at the big picture, i.e., what’s at stake.

  23. Lake Livin'

    I’ll be thinking of you! So glad you’ll be in good hands during your recovery with DF.

  24. Best wishes for successful surgery/surgeries and adequate insurance coverage.

    I tend to go the other way, because my DH and I have avoided doing spendy things over the holidays for several years now. That is, we hunker down and don’t spend a lot at the end of the year, then turn around and spend more money in Jan/Feb.

    The past couple of years have been serious debt-paydown years and this year will be too, so we are still on a budget, but we are not tightening things beyond comfort. DH has his own (non-portable) business and is doing what he wants, but I’m not. So I’ve made it clear that in exchange for living in a city I don’t want to live in, and doing a job I don’t want to do, we are going to budget for activities like dancing, museum visits, and going out to movies.

  25. Great Article! I’ve actually recently been doing almost the opposite. I’m not burning through my money but I’m taking the money I save and putting it into online consignment through Kickfurther. It’s a pretty cool site and i’m buying inventory that is purchase order backed. My point in speaking about this is I’ve made money without freezing my money. In fact, I just put what I would into savings every other pay period and put onto the site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *