I’m not great with money. My rent is more than half my monthly income (financial no-no number one), I’ve still got student loan debt and my credit score is weep-worthy. A few months ago, a friend unexpectedly paid back a bit of money he’d owed me for five years. I immediately spent it on trips to London and France instead of saving it for more practical things like a) my own debt repayment, b) taxes, c) my nest egg or d) anything other than trips to Europe.
Though I may always be a bit financially messy, I recently decided it was time to change the frivolous ways in which I blow my cash. I resolved to put myself to the ultimate test: I vowed to go one week without spending a dime. Here’s what happened when I gave my wallet a breather.
Not Spending Money Is Hard
It's easy not to spend money if someone else pays your bills, brings you food and otherwise handles the daily maintenance of your life. If it's all on you, however, it's a different story, and it requires some planning. On the Sunday before I start the experiment, I organize my meals for the week and grocery shop for them meticulously, making sure I have all the things I can't possibly live without (coffee, duh). I stock up on frozen food in case something spoils or I don't have time to cook. Then I fill my gas tank, evaluate the length of my bangs (a last-minute trim will require $10 and I can be a bit OCD about their state of affairs) and get a manicure.
I quickly realize that not spending money means I can't attend events that require cash for parking or entry, so I also take a look at my social calendar. Being an introvert, I actually find canceling all my plans an exciting concept ... until I remember I've also decided to give up TV for the week (for a separate experiment) and therefore can't opt to stay home with Netflix. So I give friends and dates on my itinerary the option of canceling or paying for my part of the check. To my surprise, they all agree to cover me! The preliminary phase of this little initiative is feeling like a stroke of genius.
On the first morning of my spending fast, I wake up late and rush to work, only to discover the office is out of coffee—for the first time ever. After some debate with my conscience, I decide it isn't cheating to spend the couple of dollars hanging out at the bottom of my purse on a fresh brew (or if it is, I decide I don't care because my only other option on a caffeine-free Monday morning is to quit my job).
Later, I get the urge to go to yoga after work, but quickly realize I can't. I don't have a pre-paid package, and classes are $25 a pop. This really bums me out because I rarely exercise, so to be benched on a day that I'm actually motivated is not cool. Instead, I choose to go home and work on my fitness via YouTube. Spoiler alert: I don't actually do it.
As the rest of my restricted week unfolds, I find the most difficult thing to resist spending on is food—lunch, in particular. I run late practically every morning and don't have time to cook, which means I'm stuck with frozen food from Trader Joe's. Anyone who works an office job knows lunch is basically the highlight of the day, so this part of the program really dims my shine.
On the flip side, the best part about the experiment is getting treated by my friends to drinks and dinner. I mean, I'm saving hundreds of dollars on overpriced tapas and truffle-infused Mezcal cocktails—that's the dream, right?
Going into the experiment, I was already a Digit subscriber: It's a financial app that tells you your bank balance every day. Before my no-money diet, mornings involved a horrified reaction to a precipitous drop in funds available to me. During my week of no spending, however, I enjoy watching the account balance stay steady. Though the change isn't huge, my stress lessens considerably. I find that most of the stuff I typically would've purchased over the course of the week—$15 lunches, impulsive Kindle downloads, drinks—aren't really worth the money-related anxiety they induce. Despite the agony of avoiding my favorite vintage shops that have always been the source of joy-filled purchases, I realize this is actually something I can keep up for the long haul, and consequently save myself hundreds of dollars a month.
So I know what you're wondering: How much have I actually saved in the span of a week? Although I haven't kept a running tab, I've conservatively saved about $300 on meal expenses alone. And while making my friends pay for my meals is obviously not a long-term solution, aiming not to spend on weekday breakfasts and lunches does feel like a worthwhile ongoing goal, one that doesn't have to involve a frozen-food diet if the snooze button can be resisted.
After the experiment ends, I decide that a realistic plan going forward is to better police my spending habits. Ergo, I've started recording every dollar I spend in a spreadsheet. I average out how much I make per day (spread out over seven days instead of five) after taxes, and I subtract what I spend that day from what I earn. I prep meals for the week on Sunday, and I leave my debit cards in my car while at the office. I've started choosing less expensive restaurants and bars so the numbers I enter into my spreadsheet are not as shocking. These little shifts have made an impact on my bank balance slowly but steadily, moving it away from what I call the "red-adjacent" zone. I'm not rolling in the dough by any means, but I'm much more aware of the ways in which I'm wasting cash. If I can keep this up, one day I'll be able to buy a home with all the money I'm saving on overpriced (and still sad) desk lunches.
Bahahahah. Just kidding. That will never happen, but at least I won't be out on the street anytime soon. For more money-saving tips, read on here.