Smart Money Podcast: Revitalize Your Budget with a 30-Day Money Cleanse

Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions. In this episode:

Discover how to revamp your finances with a 30-day money cleanse that aligns your spending with joy and personal values.

How can you set a budget that aligns with your goals?

How can you optimize your spending to reduce waste?

NerdWallet’s Kim Palmer talks to Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, author of The 30-Day Money Cleanse, to help you understand how small changes can make a significant impact on your financial health. They begin with a discussion of the financial cleanse, with tips and tricks on aligning spending with personal values, creating lasting habits in 30 days by using a method that has saved others an average of $950 over 30 days — without feeling deprived.

They also discuss money management tactics that include keeping a money journal, practicing visualization and having money parties. They discuss the benefits of recording feelings associated with each purchase, indulging in simple low-cost activities that bring happiness and aligning spending with personal values for a more satisfying approach to personal finance.

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Episode transcript

This transcript was generated from podcast audio by an AI tool.

Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money Podcast. I’m Sean Pyles.

On Smart Money, we’re all about answering your money questions big and small, ambitious and easy. This episode we’re taking on an especially ambitious question, how can you transform your finances in 30 days? And Kim is here in her role as the host of our regular book club series to guide you through this conversation. So Kim, who are you talking with?

I’m speaking with Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, author of The 30-Day Money Cleanse, which is the focus of our conversation today. Feinstein Gerstley is also the founder of The Fiscal Femme, which offers online money courses, and she’s also a certified financial planner and a financial coach.

Sounds great. Well, I will let you take things from here.

Ashley, welcome to Smart Money.

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

So Ashley, let’s start with what is a financial cleanse? Does it involve lemons and vinegar?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

You’d think, right? You’d think that it would have some interesting food items as well, but it is about letting go of the things that don’t bring value to our lives and realigning and rethinking how we spend our money so it can be more conscious and intentional.

What do you like about the financial cleanse concept? Because I think you’re right, we usually apply that to food. So what is it you like about applying that to money?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

Originally when I created the program, it was actually created after a food cleanse in the same format because I think food and money are very similar. They are both emotionally charged. There’s so much more to them than just the numbers. And that’s what I was seeing over and over with clients is that sometimes we don’t have the education and we aren’t sure what we should be doing, but then even once we know what we should be doing, oftentimes we’re not doing it and that’s where our money mindset came in. And so The Money Cleanse definitely helps us shift that and put together that plan over the course of the 30 days.

And what is it about 30 days? Why did you choose that versus a week or six months?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

30 days gives us enough time where it’s that first week when we do something, we can feel really excited and have a lot of momentum. And then in maybe week two, week three is where it can get challenging and where we might end up giving up. And so I think a lot of the transformation in The Money Cleanse happens in those two and three weeks. And also there’s just a perfect amount of content to cover over the course of four weeks because we don’t want to take on too much. We all have a lot going on. We have jobs and social lives, but there’s a lot to cover. So if we are able to break that down into more bite-sized weekly chunks, I thought that was a really great format for The Money Cleanse. And even though it is called a cleanse, the idea is at the end you have a new lifestyle that lives on far long after the cleanse.

We’re definitely going to get into all of those details in a minute, but first I wanted to ask you what you learned personally the first time you applied this to yourself. How did it go and what did you learn from it or change?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

A lot of the concepts were concepts that I applied to my own life as I was learning and not in any given order, but what I found is that working with people across different goals and income levels, I was saying a lot of the same things over and over again and a lot of the lessons that I learned and provided me with a lot of transformation worked really well in this money cleanse format where we first focus on ourselves and then also on the environment around us. I think a lot of times we think of our own money lives, but so much of our lives are interacting with our family, our friends, our coworkers, and so how does that work with our finances as well?

The numbers you share in the book I thought were pretty shocking. You say that according to your research, the average participant saved $950 over 30 days, and that is more than 20% of their pretax income on average. That’s amazing. Where are these savings coming from?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

Honestly, a lot of it is just from intentionality. The coolest part about that stat to me, I was very thrilled always at the end of The Money Cleanse program. I ran it live for five years before turning it into a book, I would ask people at the end about their results and really understand what their income is and how that savings kept going. I think a large portion of that savings was happening month after month after The Money Cleanse, but I think the best part was that they mostly didn’t feel deprived and that it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m staying home and eating canned beans every night in order to save that $950.” It was a lot of shifts and a lot of things that actually didn’t feel bad to them, which makes something that you’re able to keep going and keep consistent.

Yeah, I think that goes back to what you were mentioning before in that you don’t want to just do this for 30 days, but it’s about setting up some new habits and some things that really stick with you.

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

So who would benefit most from doing a 30-day financial cleanse? Is there anyone who doesn’t need it, like Elon Musk?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

Honestly, I’ve found that most of us will benefit from a money cleanse. I’d say the more you don’t want to do it, the more you probably will benefit. One of the exercises we do is keep a money journal, much like a food journal, where you just write down everything that you spend and earn. And I found that the people who dread doing that the most, have the most to gain from actually taking a look.

So I’d say I really think it’s something that most of us will benefit from regardless of our income, because what I found with working with clients across income ranges is you really can’t out earn it. We might think, “Oh, if I just make more money, I’ll finally start saving the way I’d like to.” And then you get the raise, get the promotion, this happened to me over and over again and next thing I know at the end of the month, I’m not saving a lot more than I was before. So I think we might imagine that doubling our salary or getting the raise will actually be the fix that we need, but then somehow our expenses tend to creep up, and that’s where The Money Cleanse can come in.

I know like you said, it varies based on each person, but are there some common things you notice people cutting back on to find those savings? For example, for me, I know when I really focus on it and I short term stop myself from spending, it’s all about those recurring purchases on Amazon, for example, that are so easy to buy quickly. Are there some examples of expenses that people did find relatively easy to cut and really stick with it?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

I would say some common offenders, definitely technology has made it so much easier to spend money and that just keeps getting easier and easier. So I would say Lyfts and Ubers were a shocker to a lot of people. Takeout. UberEats now is one that people complain about a lot. Any daily habits, if you’re grabbing lunch every day with your coworkers or a snack or smoothies. And also just the grocery store in general, which with prices where they are, it’s really hard to decrease spending there, but it is something you can strategize with and try.

Yes, what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty a little bit for someone who really wants to try this and get started. When you talk about beginning your 30-day money cleanse, you suggest signing an agreement with yourself and you are acknowledging it’ll be hard, but you’re going to make it a priority. Can you explain why that can help?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

I think often when we start something, and I mentioned this earlier, we can have a lot of energy around it, be excited around it, but I find just going through and thinking through what this commitment actually is, how much time I want to dedicate to it, it’s just a different level of commitment and promise to ourselves. And so along the way, any way that I can, have people feel more accountable or more dedicated to their money cleanse, I want to do it.

The other thing which you’ll notice throughout the book is that over and over again, I am allowing people to make mistakes, to forget to keep their money journal, to feel like they’re completely fallen off the wagon because that’s what happens to all of us. And I’ve noticed that we tend to want to do The Money Cleanse when it’s a week where we have no plans and we’re not going to be spending a lot of money, but it’s actually really great to do it when your life looks typical. Maybe it could be during the holidays when it’s extra challenging or you have a lot of plans with your friends, because that forces us to create a cleanse that works with our life as it actually is, not this time where you can just stay home and cook dinner every night.

You also write about practicing visualization and how that can help people stay on track. How does that work? What does that look like exactly?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

There’s some very cool research about how our mind works when we see things and believe that they are true and can visualize them. I also find a prompt that’s so helpful is to think about someone, let’s say if my goal is to save X number of dollars or to feel a lot more peace of mind with my money, I think there can be very objective goals, but then also more feelings based like, “This is how I want to feel and interact with my money” and thinking about, “Okay, if I were that person, what decisions would they be making?” It allows us to try it on and it also puts our brain to work making that reality happen and reconcile it.

You have already mentioned money journals a few times. I want to understand that better. So what does your money journal look like? Does it help to have everything written out? Is it like any other journal?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

I think the more challenging it sounds to you, the simpler I would recommend keeping it. So the simplest form is the item and the amount. And it can be if you are someone who loves writing things, I have the worst handwriting, but when I’m thinking or trying to brainstorm, I love writing by hand. So if you have a journal you’d like to keep it that way, definitely write it out by hand. But you can also keep it on notes in your phone and use an app. As long as you’re manually entering it in, that part is really important for registering the expense. You can get more fancy with it, more creative. If you want to take note of how you felt before an expense or how you felt after, that can also be really helpful. But I think at a minimum, just the item and the amount is great.

Oh, okay. That’s so interesting. So you would write down every single thing that you spend. And then I like your add-ons as saying how it made you feel. I think I would go that route because I love keeping a detailed journal. So you can say how it made you feel and then does that help inform your future spending decisions?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

I think it does because what happens is you reflect and realize on any expenses that do not feel good afterward, you might notice a common feeling beforehand. So something that happened with a bunch of people who’ve taken the money cleanse is they’ve noticed when they needed a break from work, they would leave the office and go on a walk. They needed that break. They were craving some kind of R&R after working really hard on something, but that might lead to a purchase that they didn’t feel great about. Maybe it was window shopping, then they ran in and bought something they didn’t even know they needed, but now they needed, or they used that time to grab lunch and they didn’t really even enjoy the $16 salad that they were getting. I think noticing how you’re feeling before, especially if how you’re feeling after is opposite or a feeling that you would like less of could be really beneficial and helpful information.

One of my favorite tools that you talk about is focusing on frugal joys. And you include a list of things that sound so appealing, but they’re also free or very inexpensive, things like having a picnic, calling an old friend or taking a free online class. How can focusing on those frugal joys help?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

I’m such a fan of frugal joys too, and while I list out a hundred of them, there really are limitless frugal joys. What actually brings us joy can be very different for each of us. So something that I love doing, someone else might say that sounds horrible. But that’s kind of the fun of it, is testing them out and see where we can add joy in our lives. They’re a great tool. If you want to trade out some joys that cost money for some free or inexpensive ones, that’s great for creating room in a budget. Or if you just want to add joy to your life, you can just start working in those frugal joys. Starting with just trying to find a couple a week I think is great, but if you can incorporate some frugal joys and focus on that joy and really relish in it, that’s a practice that is great for money and just life in general.

You also talk about really thinking hard about your values and what’s important to you, the trade-offs that you are willing to make. For example, maybe you would give up buying that expensive coffee every day if it meant you could go on a big vacation at the end of the year instead. So how do you recommend thinking through your values and what trade-offs make sense for you?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

This was something that really opened my eyes because I often thought of our spending as, “Oh, this is what people do.” I never thought of it as a real opportunity cost. Every time we spend a dollar, we are losing the opportunity to spend it in a different way or to save it. And so in a lot of cases, people are rearranging their spending. They’re not even changing a behavior in order to save. They can be changing a behavior in order to spend it in a different way that will actually bring them more joy.

It’s kind of a bummer at first to realize we can only use or spend our dollar one time, but then it’s also very liberating and creates a sense of intention with how we use our money. And I find that when we look at our spending, and this is something that I recommend doing in any budget, in The Money Cleanse, is looking at each expense in terms of how much you spend on it each year that can allow you to say, “Okay, if I brought my lunch to work, which can feel like a hassle, or sometimes people are going into the office less, maybe both times they go in bringing lunch instead of getting it out or doing it one time instead of doing takeout twice, how much does that save me per year? And is there anything else I’d rather do with the money?”

In The Money Cleanse, we think about the things that bring us the most joy that cost money, and we look at each of our expenses in terms of those things. So for me, especially when I started this money journey and was doing these exercises, I really thought I couldn’t afford to take a trip, but when I added up those daily habits, it was clear that I could if I made some changes, and that was really motivating to me. And it could also be money that you put towards a goal as well, not necessarily other spending. So I find it to be a really powerful exercise to decide what is worth it to us. And the cool part is that there’s no right or wrong answer. Something might be just worth it to you and you decide to keep it and it might not be, but now at least truly which item you want to be spending your money on.

It’s so amazing how quickly those small expenses add up when you look at the whole year, like you said. I think that is such a powerful way to think about it.

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

It gives you the true number that you’re working with instead of, “Oh, this thing could never add up to that,” or “I can’t afford to do that.” And also thinking of it in terms of other things like it could be a monthly massage that just felt so out of reach but now feels, “Oh, if I just did this, I could get that.” Or the trip or savings or paying down a credit card, whatever it is.

Let’s talk about how to stick with it after the 30 days. So say someone applied these tools and had a great 30 days and just wants to make sure to extend that. How can we keep it going?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

My favorite financial habit is having money parties. Money parties are time we set aside every month or even every week depending on what you prefer to show our money some love. The main things that I’d recommend doing in your money party is definitely look at how your spending and earning looked for the last period. If it was a week, if it was a month, checking in on any goals, checking in on any guidelines from your money cleanse that you’re trying to continue to live by and what challenges came up. And if they did, instead of punishing ourselves, think “Interesting. What other strategies can I use to stick with them?” And I call them parties for a reason. I think we can make them fun and something that we look forward to.

I have a really fun money party playlist that I’m happy to share, but it’s basically songs that pump me up about money and I get in my PJ’s, I get a cup of tea and I reward myself after, then I’m done with my money party. So there are ways to make it a time that we look forward to and just to set up that calendar reminder so that it’s not something that we put off for months and months.

Yes. I’m so glad you brought up the money parties. And let’s just explain to people what money parties are exactly, because it’s not necessarily… You’re not inviting a ton of people over, right? It can just be with yourself.

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

Yes. I would say most money parties are with yourself. If you have a long-term partner, if you’re part of a family, you can definitely bring them in on it. They don’t have to be there the whole time, but the more we’re on the same page with partners and families, the better. I’ve had people do them with friends as well, even digitally. I used to run digital money parties where we would do them all together online. But then you can go out with your friends after. You can go on a date night after. But generally it’s great to do them on your own as well.

That sounds perfect. Well, thank you, Ashley. Any final thoughts to share to leave people with?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

I think the overall thought I’d leave everyone with is that the whole idea of The Money Cleanse is that small shifts and small changes and little steps that feel manageable and accessible can make a huge difference and we can make big progress over time. So it doesn’t have to be hard. It can be fun and you can do it.

Thank you. That is a great message to end on. Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, thank you so much for joining us today.

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley:

Thank you so much for having me and for this great conversation.

That is all we have for this episode. To share your thoughts on talking about finances with your family, shoot us an email at [email protected].

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This episode was produced by Sean Pyles and myself. Tess Vigeland helped with the editing. Sara Brink mixed our audio. And a big thank you to the folks on the NerdWallet copy desk for all of their help.

And here’s our brief disclaimer. We are not financial or investment advisors. This nerdy info is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances.

And with that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.

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