I Survived A No-Spend Week & This Is How I Did It
Finance writer Michelle McGagh from London gave up spending for a whole year, aside from her mortgage and bills as well as £30 (RM167.15) a week for groceries and essential toiletries.
She said the frugal life made her happier, healthier and allowed her to overpay almost £23,000 on her mortgage.
Being spendthrift by nature, I decided I should give it a shot. I have always had problems reining in my finances and it’s about time I embarked on some plan to keep my money in check.
And as I am a little wiser – after my failed attempts to fulfil any New Year’s resolution – I decided instead of doing a McGagh, I would attempt to not spend for a week and see how much I’d save.
So, here’s how I did it:
Have a well-stocked pantry
As my wife cooks most of our meals at home, I already had canned food and other dried ingredients stored at home. If you are the proud owner of a skeletal pantry, stock up ahead of time.
I discovered that knowing that I have a well-stocked kitchen motivated me to stick to my no-spending approach. Why? Because I am less tempted to pick up take-out after spending a decent chunk of my salary to fill up those shelves.
Also, it gives me an idea to plan meals and also expect the unexpected. In moments where I need to dash off to work and have no time to cook, I just need to pop open that can of tuna and throw the meat into a Ziploc together with salad leaves – lunch is served.
Cheap ways to stock your pantry
- Hold on to whole grains
Fill your pantry with whole-grain favourites such as brown rice, barley, rolled oats and whole-grain pasta. Stock up when you find a good sale or buy in bulk – bulk bins usually offer better unit prices than packaged grains.
- Bet on beans
These are versatile sources of protein which you can add to soups and salads. They are cheap and lower in saturated fats. When buying canned, look for no-salt added or low-sodium.
- Nosh on nuts
The dried variants might be expensive but it is good to have them around – great for snacks, breakfast and even salads.
- Fill your pantry with flavour
Vinegars and other condiments such as Dijon mustard are great for quick, homemade salad dressings. Apple cider, rice and balsamic vinegars are all good options.
- Spice things up
Speaking of flavour, keep the dried herbs and spices used often on hand. Use to add taste in place of extra salt or fat. The trick is to keep a few staples that you will use in most of your dishes, such as black pepper, oregano and thyme, which will go well with pasta.
- Invest in healthy fats
Canola oil is a lower-cost healthy choice best used for cooking. Olive oil may be worth the extra cost when making dressings or vinaigrettes. By having different types of oil, you can choose to use the more expensive type of oil sparingly, and for certain types of dishes only. For example, you can use canola oil when you are deep frying, and use olive oil when you are pan-frying.
- Buy basic baking items
Always have basic ingredients like flour, baking soda and baking powder stored completely in your pantry. They are great to turn one ingredient into a complete dish such as overripe apples or bananas? Make an Apple Crisp or Banana Crumble for a healthy dessert. Who says you need to throw away overripe fruits?
- Don’t be shy of instant noodles
I am no healthy living evangelist and instant noodles have saved my life more than once. I don’t binge on them but once in a while, they serve as great comfort food. They have a long shelf life and cheap, too.
Pick the best week
The week doesn’t need to start on Monday or end of the weekend, but I am a traditionalist, so it had to start on a Monday and end on a Sunday.
The last week of June worked best as it was when I naturally had to stretch my ringgit and it so happened there was a company dinner – that took care of one meal.
It also allowed me time to plan and get my family in on it. Planning is crucial because you need to buy enough to last you for the week. It also has to be the week where you’d exercise the least amount of effort.
Plan, revise, repeat
I factored in unforeseen circumstances, such as toilet paper running low, and even that usual run to the hypermarket to buy baby’s milk. I took into consideration that the weekend also coincided with Hari Raya, a major festival.
I wrote all my weekly financial needs, saw what I could do without – and this bit is crucial because I had to let go of some expenses – and repeated the whole process until I knew how much I could comfortably set aside for groceries and necessities without exiling my entire family to frugal-land.
Some of the expenses that I had to say goodbye to during the no-spend week was, my usual morning coffee, lunch at work and the occasional indulgence of snacks.
Learn to adjust
That’s the toughest part: adjusting. Giving up that morning cup of Starbucks for free coffee from the office pantry was painful to say the least. I couldn’t have that Sub of the Day and had to settle for some egg sandwich, which was equally tasty.
There were days where I just wanted to spend, spend, and spend. I would even find a reason to spend when I didn’t need to.
As my colleagues knew about my valiant effort, I knew I couldn’t lose. So that provided some motivation.
Also, my wife helped me to cook the meals. If it were left to me, I would have just had bread and fried egg for most of my breakfast and lunch.
So teamwork is necessary, one way or the other.
So how much did I save?
This is how much I usually spend on any given week, including those family outings on weekends:
However, I only need RM250 for a week’s grocery for a family of three. So just by cutting down on food, and applying a no-spend week, I saved RM434! Stretch this over four weeks, and I can potentially save RM1,736!
With that amount, I can easily build an emergency fund or even invest that money in a unit trust and reap the rewards in the long run.
If doing it every week is too far-fetched, you can definitely do a monthly detox. The money saved over a year – that’s RM5,208 in savings – would bring you closer to your financial goals, or even your annual family vacation!
All you need is: to start
That was my problem. When I pushed forward the idea it was months before I attempted to try a no-spend week.
But once I got the ball rolling, it was manageable. As I am writing this, I didn’t spend on breakfast, lunch or dinner. That already amounted to some savings.
Of course, like all goals I did reward myself with a latte, and that felt good. However the exercise drives home an important point: no matter who you are or what you do, you can still exert some control on your finances.
Even though my no-spend week has come to an end, I still find myself packing my lunch to work every other day. The exercise has put in place a routine of preparing my meals from home, and it is a much welcomed routine for my wallet – and stomach!
5 tips to no-spend success
- See what is going on in the week. Pick a week that isn’t going to be stressful. If your desired week is period where you’ll use a lot of money, don’t pick that week.
- Decide what you want your surplus cash to go toward. The concept is saving money but a plan on what to do with the extras makes it easier to have that extra motivation.
- Set a budget for groceries and necessities for the week. Take stock on anything you are running extremely low on, including toilet paper or shampoo. As for meal planning, pick local ingredients.
- Get creative with entertainment. If you want to save on leisure, then the nearby park is a great way to unwind. Also, why not relax at home?
- Track your progress. Use an app or even a spreadsheet to note your progress and how much money you’ve saved each day.