Money Stories: Not Eating Out For A Week

This is a guest post by Dani Parnass. She is a freelance writer living in New York City. If you enjoy this post, please follow her on twitter.

On a recent Sunday, as I was scrutinizing my leftover situation in the fridge, I had something along the lines of an epiphany. What if, with some cooking and creativity, I could cut out all eating out food expenses for an entire week? It’s not exactly a groundbreaking idea to some, but I’m used to eating out somewhere for either lunch of dinner about 5 times a week, so it’s a big deal to me.

The challenge was on.

Yup, I decided to see if I could go a full business week without spending a dime. So I went to the grocery store on Sunday to pick up the essentials and then locked up my wallet for good. Here’s what I accomplished:

Monday

There’s nothing like the first day of a challenge that deludes you into declaring “mission accomplished” before you even crack open your tupperware. I headed into morning rush hour with an oversized bag full of breakfast, lunch, and snack with unparalleled determination. Everything was fine until around 4 pm, when my co-workers started making their afternoon coffee runs and ransacking the vending machine. I have a jar with some loose change for such occasions, but I stayed strong. When I got home, I went for a run, made some stir fry, and went to bed with the quiet sense of satisfaction that comes from a full day of free activities.

Tuesday

I decided early on in the week that consistency would be the best strategy for making sure I didn’t spend money on food during the day. In general, the days I don’t bring a lunch are the ones during which I get sick of the same veggie burger and try to expand my culinary horizons. When I have to make that decision at 8:15 in the morning, I have little chance of sticking to my plan and I end up giving in to lunch at the local deli. Cheap, but still an expense. So on this bright Tuesday morning, I reached for the sandwich, yogurt and granola, and headed off to work. Dinner was easy enough and I was almost halfway to my goal.

Wednesday

Major curveball. My friend decided to turn 24 during my self-imposed week of lent. We went out to celebrate, but the bouncer didn’t exactly care about my resolve not to spend any money, and apparently cover charge is non-negotiable. I had a dilemma. I could have left, but felt that the purpose of this challenge was not to avoid life at all costs but to see how I could integrate a budget into my lifestyle. Avoiding the problem wouldn’t have solved anything. On the other hand, the only other way to get in was to borrow from my friends. After some cajoling and enduring a little ridicule, my roommate agreed to spot me in exchange for lunch one day the following week. I felt it was a nice compromise. Once I was in, drinks weren’t a problem ;)

Thursday

Home stretch, I can do this! But, man veggie patties are boring. And dinner of brussel sprouts, although delicious, wasn’t so filling. I was so close my goal, I couldn’t cave in now! I went out that night, but this time had the prescience to avoid bars with cover charges.

Friday

I finally made it to Friday. I woke up a little early that morning and made a tuna wrap for lunch, because I felt it would be nice to round out the challenge with a little variety. By the end of the day, I was finally able to say “mission accomplished” and mean it! Props to me. Thank you.

Success?

So was this challenge a success or just a waste of time? Did I go through unnecessary lengths just to be cheap for a week? Did I learn anything at all?

The whole spend-no-money-for-a-week thing isn’t a great long-term strategy for budgeting. But living on zero dollars a day does teach a lot about being resourceful and not excessive in your spending. It’s a fun exercise, if you have the time and patience.

Image from alexmuse

15 Responses to Money Stories: Not Eating Out For A Week

  1. For the most part I guess I don’t see this as all that extreme. A good portion of my coworkers don’t spend anything during the week on going out. I am usually the bad influence but I am usually only in the office once a month. This week we finally got back into our groove of not eating out for dinner and I have been cooking all week long. It is amazing the power of writing out a menu plan for the week.
    .-= Kyle C.´s last blog ..Sell Your Car Yourself, Screw the Dealership – Part 2 =-.

  2. So, I have to ask, did you go out to eat on Saturday? :)

    I would have a hard time with this because I am a stay at home mom (kids in school), so lunch time is my social time. I am so busy every single evening, I would be so isolated if I didn’t get out to lunch a couple times a week. I realize it is a money drain, but it is really the only thing I spend money on.

    I do love when I have the chance to cook a lot of big dinners, and have those leftovers available for lunch for the whole family.
    .-= Everyday Tips´s last blog ..What Are You Saving For, Besides Retirement? =-.

    • @Everyday Tips, sadly, I did eat out on Saturday night. I could only keep the challenge going through Friday and kind of caved on the weekend :)

  3. I don’t do it that often but when I do I don’t find it that hard. I work for myself on my laptop so luckily can easily stay home but do miss being around other people so often do head out… I try and pack lunch when I do this.

    Anyway well done… Maybe you should make it a once monthly event.
    .-= Forest´s last blog ..Does A Minimalist Lifestyle Breed Laziness? =-.

    • @Forest, yea the truth is I usually look back at the end of each work week and find that if I was diligent I really didn’t spend that much money at all, even if I wasn’t on a self-imposed challenge. I guess good budgeting habits aren’t too hard to keep up!

  4. Interestingly enough, when people eat at home, they typically eat healthier, which hopefully will cut down on future medical expenses :-)

    That said, veggie patties and brussel sprouts will not compel anyone to stay home and eat on a consistent basis :-P
    .-= David´s last blog ..Hello world! =-.

    • @David, I can’t argue that, but with the right ingredient brussel sprouts really can be delicious!

  5. I thought this was a great exercise! I just finished a challenge like this a few weeks ago and by the end of it I was pretty sick of what was in the fridge too. I agree with you though, it does teach you about resourcefulness. I really appreciate the fact that you went into this not trying to avoid life either. What this means is that even though a zero dollar budget is a little unrealistic you can start to train yourself to be a more conscious saver-and that’s pretty important. Great work!!
    .-= Nunzio Bruno´s last blog ..Negotiate Your Debt Like A Pro =-.

  6. Sometimes I read posts on the blogosphere that make me realize why I’ve found it so easy to save and invest my money.

    Not eating out five times in a week!? I don’t eat out five times in a *month* (and I consider myself someone who likes eating out. ;)

    Try not leaving the house for a week (in bed sick with back pain) and so not being able to top up your food supplies, and so having to be increasingly ‘creative’ in the kitchen. (Starvation has its uses. :( )

    • @Monevator, I also rarely eat out (MAYBE 3 times a month), but she did include the morning muffin, quick lunches, and late night snacks. By being more conscious, she was able to cut back pretty significantly, probably saved a bunch in just a week, and hopefully she’ll be able to cut down more and put the difference into savings.

  7. I’m with @Monevator and @Roshawn. This isn’t a mind-blowing ‘experiment’ for most of us — it’s everyday life to make our own meals and brown-bag our lunch. I’d be broke if I did otherwise (not to mention the food is extremely unhealthy when you eat out). Our one splurge is sushi or sandwiches from the deli, maybe once a month.
    .-= Rainy-Day Saver´s last blog ..Giveaway Winners! =-.

  8. I was confused by Wednesday’s dillemma. I thought the experiment was to “cut out all eating out food expenses for an entire week”. So then why would paying cover to get into a bar be a problem? Did you buy food at the bar? If not, then I am not sure how that affected your experiment.