The journey to an impossible dream begins with one week of not spending money…
I opened my eyes in the dark room on January first and listened to the cat tear apart some small piece of paper somewhere in the distance. My brain felt different, as if it had been reprogrammed overnight in my determination to reach long held goals. While I had always been frugal, there were a few habits that were derailing my tiny budget. I anticipated their haunting in the days and weeks to come. Coming to terms with an old, destructive habit can be distressing. This is the reason I have put it off for so long.
My no spend January budget allows up to $50/week for groceries for myself, and I made sure to get a few of the staples New Year’s Eve (TP, box milk, and dish soap). I knew when I opened my eyes on New Year’s morning, that the coffee tin was full, there was a loaf of sliced bread in the freezer, and a dozen eggs in the frig. Despite all this, there was a trigger in the back of my brain begging for a ready-made coffee drink. A strong espresso topped with real, full fat cream. I laid in bed and conjured the scent of it, and mourned just a little before padding to the kitchen to fill up the French press. I don’t often go out for coffee and I couldn’t help but wonder if I wanted one today because I knew I would not allow myself to buy one. I don’t like feeling deprived.
As the kettle simmered to life, I opened the cupboard doors and mentally took an inventory of all that was there. It was a lot of odds and ends; rice paper wraps, opened bags of noodles, and cans of vegetables. There were plenty of yeast packets to make bread and lots of tea bags to keep the pitcher full for at least a month. It occurred to me that I could save even more money if I used up all the scraps of groceries that were left – it would be a challenge! It would also take care of one more thing to do (empty the cupboards) before moving in May.
I contemplated for a moment the types of meals I would be having for the sake of not spending money, and I felt an ache in my heart. It would require strength to remind myself that sometimes in life I must eat to live, rather than eat as an indulgence. First world problems.
So, for the first two days of the no spend challenge I ate leftovers from the holiday before they spoiled. I made my favorite for Christmas day, glazed pork belly. Yum. Part of the process is boiling the belly with ginger, green onions, and garlic. Once the pork was removed, I boiled down the stock and put it in the freezer for pho, at a later date. This would save some money, and use up some of the open bags of noodles in the cupboard.
Ordinarily, I would have been “tired” of leftovers and gone to the store for something I was “craving” instead, letting the carefully packed bits of the week’s suppers languish in their plastic containers. On Sunday (day three), as usual, I cleaned out the refrigerator, piling all the expired foods on the counter. As I stood before a pile of containers to be emptied and cleaned, I had a moment of silence for my budget and the planet. I resolved to throw away containers and cook for one without leftovers. Before I knew it, I had cleaned out the container storage basket.
“I’m going over to 7-11, do you want anything?” my son asked me on just the second day of my no spend. It was pretty regular that one of us would walk the few blocks over to the convenience store to refill our cups with soda from the fountain, or indulge with a candy. It was a normal occurrence, but it seemed very wasteful all of a sudden. Involuntarily, my brain calculated the money I had spent in the last 20 years on this seemingly harmless habit of indulgence. It made me cringe in shame as I told him no thank you. And just like that, I realized my spending habit had been perpetuated on to the next generation. And that’s all I have to say about that…
And with each day it became more evident to me how often I go out to buy things without any real reason. The impulses haven’t stopped, but the creativity of how to make do with materials on hand has been an exciting adventure. As I cleaned out the frig, I found a plastic box of wilted lettuce mix. I can’t ever seem to use up a whole box before it goes bad. So, I took the plastic box and used it to plant lettuce seeds. Lettuce grows fast and regenerates when cut, so it made sense to grow it indoors year round. It was another simple way to cut back on expenses, food waste, and plastic waste.
I heated up a screwdriver to burn drainage holes in the plastic box.
The first week of my no spend experience was like emerging from underwater. I did not need to go to the store, therefore I saved money on gas. Because I was not going anywhere, I had a lot more time on my hands to tackle projects that I have been procrastinating. It was all a glorious revelation that made me both elated for the potential, and shamed for my past behaviors. I’m currently talking myself off the ledge of “If only I had done this sooner…” More than saving money, I am working on my relationship with money and cultural values revolving around money. Sort of like fasting for spiritual enlightenment, the no spend January is improving my psyche!
As a teacher, I was paid once a month. Because of this, I am accustomed to budgeting on the last day of the month and paying all the bills on the first. Provided there are no unexpected surprises, my discretionary funds for the month of January are $289.33. This is the amount of money left over after paying bills and making a small contribution to savings.
At the end of week one, the balance of my discretionary funds is $260.90. On day six of the challenge, I spent $28.43: $22 for a business expense and $6 for grocery items. I drove my car less than 10 miles this week and did not require the purchase of gas.
Due to the unseasonably warm weather, I’m also saving on energy! Now that the momentum is going, I’m looking forward to another week of challenges.