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While I like to blog about frugal ways to raise a family, I have a guilty little secret.

My name is Jamie, and I have a fast food problem.

The reason it’s a problem is because one of the absolute best ways to save money is to tell yourself “No.”  As in “No, I don’t want to purchase this item, because that future thing is so much better!”

It’s as simple an idea as it is hard to carry out.

How to Say No

You see, when you are raising a medium sized family of 5 kids, life has its very busy seasons.  You know those days… we are running from an appointment to two practices, with homework and errands in between.  It can be exhausting and makes it tough to find time for a meal.  Fast food becomes an easy way to handle that problem.

To make it worse, have you ever noticed that the more fast food you eat, the more you begin to crave it?  I’ve read that the brain can become addicted to such fats much like an addiction to some drugs.  (You can read one such article here.)

How to say no

Better Than Before

While I do try to make some rules for myself as to when I can eat fast food, I find that the more junk food I have, the easier it becomes to justify the purchase.

I have been reading a great book called Better Than Before about forming habits.  In one chapter of the book, Gretchen Rubin talks about moderation versus abstinence when it comes to trying to get rid of a bad habit.

[Tweet “Are you better with moderation or totally abstaining from bad #habits?”]

Common advice that you will hear people give when it comes to dieting or quitting any bad habit is that you should allow yourself little treats and “cheats” every now and then so you don’t get frustrated and give up.  This advice works great… for some people in some situations.

But other people surprisingly find that it is easier to give up a bad habit altogether.  They know that they can’t allow themselves to eat fast food (for instance) once per week, because getting a taste for it just makes them want it even more.

Mr. Money Mustache talked about this recently on his blog, too.  (Fair warning, he uses strong language on his blog.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you if you click this link.)  He was surprised to find that he was wasting more time on his phone than he realized.  Rather than continuing to monitor his usage, he decided to totally give it up one day per week.

Too Many Decisions!

Part of the problem is that if you allow yourself moderation, now you have decisions to make on a regular basis.  “Am I allowed to have fast food today?  When did I have it last?  Does that really count, though?  What could I do to justify this meal?  If I do this today, am I allowed to do it again tomorrow?”  Etc, etc.

As for me, I know that I am a “cold turkey” type of person.  If it is truly time to cut something out, I prefer to make one final decision.  (I don’t buy fast food.)  This way, if we have a busy day and I am considering stopping for fast food, I won’t have to make the tough decision of whether to spend the money or not.  The decision is already made… I don’t purchase fast food.  I will have to find another way.

Side note…I feel like the words choices you use with yourself are important. “I’ll never eat fast food again” feels like a life sentence, whereas “I don’t purchase fast food” feels like an empowering statement.

In a way, abstaining totally from fast food is a giant relief.  I won’t have to make any tough decisions about it.  I will be forgiven my load of guilt.  And I’ll be saving money!

Yes, it will require me to do some planning ahead.  But I enjoy cooking, so I just need to be more intentional about baking things that are easy to eat on the go.

Are you a moderator or an abstainer?

Rubin says that to find out if a person is a moderator or an abstainer, she will ask them if they could eat just one square of chocolate and then put back the rest of the candy bar for another day.  I already know that I would devour the entire candy bar in one sitting, and I would be better off not having it around!

Be sure to also check out Is It Too Comfortable in Here?  (And for the record, I have been doing better about stopping for Dr. Pepper!  Now to carry it on to this other bad habit.)

Read our update:  We are using our new habit of avoiding fast food to help us funnel money towards our BHAG.

So how far do you carry your own “no”?  Are you an abstainer or a moderator?  What habits would you like to change?