We Spent No Money For An Entire Week. This Is How It Went.
Incidental spending. Anyone who’s tracked their spending will tell you: it’s a real budget buster. You can think you’re on track, but then you have a second drink after work on a Friday night and suddenly you’re buying rounds and getting a taxi to the club. Then there’s impulse buying, incidental spending’s close cousin. Had a bad day? “New sneakers will help!” says your sneaky, lying brain.
At the time, these purchases may seem small: $15 here, $40 there. But they add up. The Cusp’s staff writer Josie and editor Amelia decided to confront their impulse and incidental spending – by spending no money for a week.
Of course, our rent was already paid, the lights were on and we bought our groceries before we started the challenge so we weren’t going without food. The point of the challenge wasn’t to lazily engage with poverty. Money challenges that profess to give well-meaning participants a better understanding of poverty can never give a full picture of the long-term stress that living in poverty brings – it literally changes the brain.
We wanted to tackle lifestyle inflation, to find out what our triggers are and how we can change our behaviour to save more cash. Here’s how it went.
Josie: Most of my no-spend week was spent resenting how I wasn’t allowed to buy the little things I usually buy in my day-to-day existence. Which made me realise how much I relied on these things to get me through a regular work week, and how devastatingly quickly they all add up.
For example, I grab at least one, usually two, coffees from the downstairs café every single day. That’s $8 right there. Times 5? $40 bucks. I try to bring in lunch when I can, but I forget to do so an average of 2-3 times a week. Three $10 lunches a week? $30 bucks. Not to mention the occasional treat: $10 or so. The Sunday brunch: $25. The last minute items picked up from the grocery store because I didn’t plan my meals in advance: $30.
I’m looking at $135 on completely avoidable purchases every single week. $135! No wonder I get to the end of the month scraping by on mere dollars, complaining that it’s been far too long since I’ve booked a holiday. I’m eating and drinking my way through potential savings.
I’ve realised that my biggest expense is sheer disorganisation. I buy food and coffee so frequently because I don’t put aside time to prepare my own. At the beginning of the experiment, I thought I’d be wrapping up my no-spend week by splashing out on the consumer goods I missed. But I’m actually doing the opposite, seeing the numbers that show up on my bank app in a whole new light. I’ve been making a concerted effort to meal prep every Sunday so I have lunch for the week. I’m drinking more instant coffee, limiting myself to only one bought a day. I’m not buying any more frivolous treats.
Another thing that spending no money for a week made me realise is that little luxuries like buying a $4 coffee a day and going for brunch on a Sunday are worth the cost. I’m no angel. I can’t completely cut out general pleasures, nor should I have to. Spending money on two coffees and lunch every day is reckless. But the occasional coffee and weekly brunch is a lifesaver.
My no-spend experience was the spend detox I drastically needed.
I spent the first few days of the week fretting about how to navigate the dinner catch-ups I’d planned. I began to think long and hard about how – at least among a lot of the people I know – it’s rare to have a social engagement that doesn’t involve spending a not-insignificant amount of money. It’s one of the side effects of living in Sydney: catching up for dinner, accompanied by a couple of drinks to let the gossip flow, can easily see you down by $40, even $50.
I’ve tried to curb my food expenditure this year by having a Sunday cook up and prepping my lunches for the week. It’s been pretty successful – I’ve only purchased lunch twice this year (I apologise for the humble brag but this is something I am genuinely proud of). But the phrase “let’s catch up for dinner!” is decimating my bank account. I’ve since vowed to suggest free activities or dinner at home.
As it turned out, I ended up cancelling my dinners anyway – I came down with a terrible cold that saw me spend a few days in bed. It was like “the universe” (a new-age concept I don’t believe in, just to be clear) was deliberately playing havoc with my no-spend intentions. I couldn’t order Thai delivery like I usually would when I’m crook. And most insidious of all was the boredom. I couldn’t do much except scroll for endless hours on the internet. I found myself reading the kinds of articles I usually avoid – ones about style, like “The 10 Must Have Items Every Woman Needs This Winter”. Articles designed to make you spend. And then I found myself on internet shopping sites, fave-ing shirts and skirts out of boredom.
Overall, the week gave me a real insight into the things that make me spend – my “triggers”, if you will. Socialising shouldn’t be an expensive pastime; and boredom should be addressed with a good book or Netflix binge, not a new top. The week without spending may be over, but I’m taking these lessons into my day-to-day life.