As you may know from my resolution posts, I’m trying to cut back on my expenses to get out of my debt and of course prioritize my spending for dreams (like travel or to buy tech tools or education that will help further me in my career).
On reading many travel blogs, I’ve noticed that a lot of bloggers say “You want to travel? Prioritize your spending.” And that’s it. Instead of the clothes or going out to restaurants, use that money for your trip fund. It really made me start thinking (and tracking) what I was spending at home.
That said, it’s MUCH easier said than done. So when my good friend Arianne –who also writes on the blog “Other Voices” for financial guru Gail Vaz-Ozlade–told me that she was going to take a week and spend nothing on EVERYTHING (including gas, food, etc) and pre-plan for the week, it was major incentive for me to cut back on my vice: eating at restaurants.
Confession: I did end up spending twice. The first spend was $2 on a car service that was deposited to my credit card that I wasn’t able to pre-determine. The other spend was on a flight that I had to buy to claim my points so I could get a lower interest rate at the bank. It was just a matter of timing. That said, the challenge was Monday to Friday. I made up for it by not spending anything on Sunday. Otherwise, my major focus was mindless spending on food (including the categories of coffee, croissants, lunch, dinner and alcohol). And in that regard, I was successful!
Here’s what I learned:
Pre-planning is everything. I know the saying: Time is money. Money is time. So by taking out the time to plan out every breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack, I was able to curb the urge to go out because I felt like it or was too lazy to cook dinner. I know I’m constantly on the go and don’t have the time, so I brought extra microwave meals (President’s Choice Blue Meals have lower sodium and are tasty), brought pre-packaged oatmeal and pre-cut strips of beef so I can throw it in the pan for a wrap or burrito.
Another vice of mine is croissants. The cost comparison between buying at the grocery store and coffee shop is HUGE: $1.50 per croissant to be exact. So if I brought four croissants at $2.50 at the coffee shop, it costs $10. If I brought four croissants at $0.79 to $1, that’s $4 max. That’s a savings of $6 per week, $24 per month and $288 per year just on the mark up! Even if I’m buying two croissants a week at the coffee shop (which is more realistic to me), it’s $5 and four croissants is $4, still saving me $1 and getting me two extra croissants in the week.
Even though I had to go to the grocery store three times, I saved myself both time and money. The grocery bill was big but the items have spilled over into this week as well.
I ate better. Since it’s been a while since I remembered what it was like not to eat out all of the time, I planned like I was going to die (I wasn’t sure if I’d get through the week. Such drama!). I started eating breakfast regularly. Buying pre-packaged yogurt and storing it at work helps (and as annoying as I am to my fridge mates, everything I need is in the company fridge). I brought lots of fruit to eat with it; I brought pre-packaged spinach and started eating more salads instead of having it as an option beforehand. And for snacks, I brought chocolate and chips. But because I knew I couldn’t buy it elsewhere I ate it sparingly (for example, I’d eat one peanut butter cup at a time throughout the week instead of wolfing down all three in one sitting). On top of that, I still have extra chocolate for this week! I also prepped with coca cola (my other vice) but didn’t bring it to work. Instead, I ended up drinking a lot more water (and pre-packaged iced tea mix). I felt fuller for longer and less tempted to go elsewhere.
I was proud I said no. There were many temptations throughout the week. Invites out to restaurant tweetups and urges to go down and buy a can of coke at the company cafeteria when I forgot my stash at home amongst many other invites I would have immediately said yes to. I’ve learned that even though people know my situation, they don’t really care (“Oh come anyways!” “I’m on a budget too.”). But for me, I had to buckle down and I’m proud of it.
I had (a little) more time. Not going out to restaurants all the time meant going straight home. I needed to do so for a while. Not that it was a productive week, per se, but I did manage to clean out my sock drawer. I know what you’re thinking: Don’t go hog wild now!
Pre-paying for coffee makes you think twice about where you’re going. Many indie coffee shops don’t have pre-paid cards. But Starbucks does. So I put $20 on the card if I needed to be at a café. (Because sometimes I need to be at a café. This is my life.) That said, I couldn’t go to the independents where my choice of drink can easily add up to $5 per drink (and around $30 to $50 a month…which is my pattern. It may be worse for others). It’s all about taking advantage of the tea/coffee supply in the office. Luckily, I’m not addicted to coffee!
Having a support network really helps. Sometimes, it can feel like other people don’t understand because your goals are not their goals. But when you have other people in the situation, it’s nice to have someone you can vent to if you feel tempted. We created a hashtag on twitter called #zeroweek, we kept each other updated throughout the week and congratulated each other on our successes.
Zero Week was a success! Even though it was a small challenge, I’m continuing to push myself not to spend anything on food, at least, for this month. This doesn’t mean I can’t treat myself ( I did so on Saturday). It just means I’m a bit more mindful of where my money is going and proud of the purchases or savings I’m making in the process.
Big shout outs to the #zeroweek group: @MarigoldsDriver, @BettyKiss, @zsanett101, @maggiegiles, @Katiegiles and @GailVazOxlade. Now go all follow them on Twitter!