This past week my lovely wife was out of town for a business trip. She would be gone for exactly seven days, and I knew this was an opportunity to test my budgeting abilities. Throughout college I would do budget tests where I could see if I could only spend $20 in an entire week. When I say spend $20, I literally mean $20 for everything: Food, gas, laundry, friends, whatever the weeks expenses were. They did not include things like rent, PGE, etc. These challenges were fun and really helped me practice prioritizing my spending. I learned so much from these challenges, that I knew it was time to take it up to the next level. Spending ZERO dollars for an entire week. (Numbers at bottom of article)
In order to do this challenge I had to plan ahead a little bit. I stocked up on a few perishable groceries (milk and eggs) that I knew were about to run out before the week started. I did not go to Costco and stockpile on food, because part of the game is to utilize some of the food you have that
may not always be your first choice (those canned vegetables in the back of the pantry, the slightly freezer burned meat, etc). I filled up my gas tank the day before the challenge. I have to do a fair amount of commuting to work each day, and I know that if I fill up my gas tank, I can make it to and from work each day and make 1 or 2 other trips total if needed before I need to fill up again. Normally before starting a challenge I would go to the bank and ceremoniously withdraw a $20 bill. In order to keep with tradition, I proudly went to the bank to withdraw a $0 bill, and headed home to prep for the week.
Initially I figured that the week long challenge would be a breeze. How hard could it be not to spend any money for a week right? Sunday morning at 5 am, I dropped my wife off at the airport, headed home, and started the challenge. I did an at home work out instead of paying for the gym, and then proceeded to spend some quality time with Netflix. This was a poor decision. As the week progressed, I realized I had a habit that I have been doing for god knows how long. Whenever I turn on Netflix, I typically eat a bowl of cereal, a sandwich, something while I watch. Because my wife was gone for the week, my Netflix time greatly increased, and so did my food consumption. This is a very long way of saying that by Thursday, my food supplies were running dangerously low. And I still had three more days to go. Or at least that is how I felt. In reality, there was still plenty of food in the pantry, but they were the undesirables. The mysterious foods that you do not remember buying but keep because they are still good.
As the week dragged on, I found myself disgusted with Netflix and Cheez-it lifestyle. I needed an escape from the digital world. My first reflex was to rally my friends and try to arrange some sort of dinner meet up. I thought this through and realized that I going out to dinner was out of the question. Likewise, although I could invite people over to make a “free” dinner at my house, my meager offerings of mystery canned corn might do more harm to my friends than good. Many of my favorite “free” activities such as hiking or exploring the city were also off limits, because I knew that I would exhaust my gas by driving to these locations. On the food front, I was left with odds and ends of ingredients with no interest in applying the effort needed to convert them to something edible. Slowly but surely I tapped into the undesirables, while filling my head with dreams of all you can eat buffets and a better time before my wife left for the week.
The High Points:
As the week came to a close, I started to put together more meaningful time with my friends that didn’t cost us anything. I arranged for a board game night at the end of the week that was more fun then I have ever had at a dinner. I also was able to clearly outline what my grocery shopping list would be for the next week, and was able to prioritize what I eat regularly vs what I will buy and stick in the pantry for later (never). I was able to make some new meals I had never thought of by searching for recipes based on what I had rather then what I
thought would sound good. The new meals actually came out really good, and I learned a new way to track down recipes! Instead of driving to remote locations for outdoor activities, I opted to do the unthinkable. I walked. I walked over my entire neighborhood, and in the process found a lovely park that I am very excited to show my wife! I realized how much time I waste on Netflix each day after having a few bing days and realizing they left me feeling unsatisfied! Half way through the week, I started turning my efforts into research, reading, and writing, and actually felt like I was making the most of my time.
The Take Home:
One of the most important things I took away from this challenges is my weekly “boredom” spending. Although I have been staying well within my budget each month, I realized through this challenge how much money I waste each week simply to combat boredom! Once I ran out of things to do, my first reflex was to spend money on dinner, bars, movies, you name it! I was able to have a lot of fun this week by taking advantage of local amenities around my neighborhood and simply getting down to basics when visiting with my friends.
- Shopping cost of favorite foods: $50
- Meeting up with friends for Dinner: $20
- Extra gas used driving around: $20
- Bar night with the guys: $30
- Total saved: $120 in ONE week.
Do I even come close to spending this much every week? No, having my wife gone made me a lot more prone to spending money while visiting with people as a way to get out of the house. Now that I have completed this challenge, I am a lot more aware of the little ways my money can slip away each week. I am more specific with what I buy, I am not using nearly as much gas, and I had a great week with walks outdoors and times with friends that didn’t cost me anything!
Readers, I challenge you to try a $20 week! Keep track of what you WOULD have spent and then stick to the challenge as best you can. Let us know in the comments where you think your money is going each week