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:
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.
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.
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 ;)
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.
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.
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