I am a practicing Baptist, not a Catholic, which means that during the Lent season I can still eat meat on Fridays and I don't have to give anything up as a sacrifice. However, I live in southeast Louisiana which is deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. This means that during the weeks between Mardi Gras and Easter Sunday I'm surrounded by a Friday night fish fry at the Knights of Columbus and friends talking about how they miss diet Coke, chocolate, or whatever else they've given up for Lent. Actually, eating deep-fried catfish is my idea of a great Friday night so I'm more than happy to partake in the Catholic traditions.
Each year when I was in the working world and around other adults (instead of these two hooligans who only care about snack time) the discussions starting in February always centered around what everyone was going to give up for Lent. I listened with interest but never gave a thought to participating myself. However, two years ago I was in the throes of spending more than I knew was necessary and on top of that was considering staying home. I knew if I became a stay-at-home mom my spending habits would need to drastically change so I decided to give up shopping for Lent. I know, crazy right?
The only items I allowed myself to purchase were groceries and any needed emergency items such as medicine or tampons. Tampons are important, y'all. The first week wasn't so bad but as time went on it got harder and harder not to pull into Target, Ross or TJMaxx and see what new goodies they had. I had justified my previous spending because, as the earlier list of cheap stores shows, I never shopped expensive retail stores. I was always shopping in the bargain stores for all of my home and clothing stuff. However, $50 here and $100 there quickly adds up and until I stopped shopping cold turkey I had no idea how much money I was blowing every month on things I didn't need.
As the Lent season progressed I realized that shopping for me wasn't just a transaction. It was an outlet, an emotional experience. If I was having a bad day or displeased with something in my house or closet I went out for some literal retail therapy and felt better...for a moment. Then buyer's remorse would usually set in because what I purchased wasn't a necessary item and then I would get bummed out. And the vicious cycle continued.
It wasn't until I had to literally keep myself from pulling into the parking lot of a store that I realized how much time and money I had been wasting on unnecessary things. I began to see purchases as falling into one of two categories: Need or Want and I came to see that the vast majority of what I purchased each month was a Want and not a Need.
It was eye-opening to see that my son didn't need more clothes. My husband didn't need new ties for work. I didn't need new throw pillows for the sofa. When I pared my life down to the essentials I realized how much we already had and how little extra we really needed. I'm embarrassed to remember how much money I wasted and am forever grateful for that Lent season two years ago that taught me that blessings do not come with price tags.