As part of the debt series here, I thought we needed to add an action layer. I decided to do an experiment where I would try to spend $0 for a whole week. Mainly, this meant not spending on going out to eat and drink or shopping for things. My fridge was stocked with food, so it was a good time to start. Anything that was a true necessity was allowed- for example on Wednesday, I realized my utility bills were due, so I paid those, because you have to keep the lights on!
I came to this decision because I've been monitoring my spending and realizing I was spending a stupid amount on going out to dinners, going out for drinks, to the movies, etc. My meals and entertainment budget was bloated. And since I need to practice what I preach, it seemed like a great step. Also, I had begun to feel like a lot of the things I spent money on, didn't make me feel happy and sometimes made me feel guilty. I needed to understand what was behind those feelings.
I also journaled every day about the experience. Because, it's actually a really difficult exercise. I wanted to see what the urges are behind the spending. Is it that I really crave certain foods, and if so, why? Is it that I want to go buy a beer because I'm bored, because it is a habit on a sunny day or some other reason? Am I looking at another workshop I want to attend or gym I want to go to or pool that costs money?
What I've done instead of spending on those things is:
1. Cooked all my meals and they were healthy ones that fit into my health goals.
2. Not had any alcohol- vices are really expensive!
3. Stocked up on books at the library- I'm a compulsive reader, so this is a must.
4. Went to our community pool for the first time (it's free) and was impressed and will certainly go again. Why pay to belong to the pools around here when there's a FREE option? Best of all, this pool had less people than the membership pools.
5. Spent more time exercising outside.
6. Spent a lot of time thinking about my habits and life-style.
7. Haven't seen my friends. LOL. Unfortunately, not spending money is also kind of a downer on the socializing unless I can convince someone to go hiking with me in 90 degree heat...
8. I actually turned down going for pizza with my husband. That may not sound big to you, but I have a HUGE pizza addiction. I made a nice, sensible meal instead of spriralized zucchini, mozzarella, tomatoes, and olive oil with some over medium eggs.
I have spent some small money though. I run two businesses, and I do not have an office, so I meet people in coffeeshops and feel like it is only fair to support the local coffeehouses by not just taking up space without buying something. So I did buy a total of two coffees this week for work for about $8 (granted I could've gotten water and dirty looks, but I love these coffeeshops and their owners) and had a business expense of postage of $1 that had to happen. And of course, the before-metioned utilities set me back about $250.
I still have three days of this experiment to go and a weekend ahead- where all the big spend usually goes. I've already eyed a kayak trip that's happening tomorrow and then realized it's a no.
The big question is how to transition from this experiment to something that is work-able in real life? How to I modify this so that I am more mindfully spending and reducing my unnecessary spend? That will be the real work.
I think some good boundaries would be that spending for necessities is fine as long as they are actual necessities. Business expenses, as long as they are really needed, are also ok. Maybe some of the continuing ed workshops that aren't necessary and can be reduced. But what about fun? I need to think about how much fun money is allowed on a weekly basis, especially as I have some busy weeks ahead with summer holidays, etc. How can I make these fun trips and socializing be less expensive? These are the things I'll be working through.
My hope for you is that this sort of experiment could be helpful in your own life. Maybe your budget item that's out of hand is electronics or comic book collecting or who knows what? What would it be like to take a week where you didn't spend anything you didn't absolutely HAVE to spend? What could you learn from that exercise? I challenge you to try it and please report back! I'd love to hear what you learned from it.