I’m 26 and have been working full time for the past few years after college. I have no savings account and basically live paycheck to paycheck. This is not uncommon in the United States where people strive for the American dream but fall short and get consumed with increasing debt over time. For me, every time I have money starting to add up in my savings account, I get the urge to spend!! Something I didn’t think about before, I must have now.
I spend a good amount of time on Amazon and had the “Prime” membership for the past year.It wasn’t a bad deal, I mean most of the stuff I would buy at the store (in an area dominated by Whole Foods and overpriced hardwares stores) I could get close to half off on Amazon. So, each week, I would buy something new, something I thought I must have.
On top of me not being able to build a savings account, there is the fact that our landfills are becoming exponentially larger. There’s more plastic in our oceans then ever before and new products require energy and packaging to make it to that shelf for sale.
We’re constantly reminded to keep buying, we’re not important if we don’t own the newest greatest stuff. We’re overloaded and bombarded with advertisements everywhere we go, not only on tv but on billboards, scoreboards, radio, and online. I fall for this consumerist trap , sometimes consciously and at other times unconsciously.
Now, here I am, still wanting more but in a constant battle to free myself of clutter and put money in my savings account. I’ve decided to make myself a thirty day challenge of not buying anything except allowing myself a hundred dollars worth of groceries (no eating out). This way, I can examine what’s really important and at the same time, go through some of the food that’s been sitting in the back of my cupboard.
I will update the post with what I spend money on (groceries wise) and the thoughts that come up for me through this challenge. Hopefully, this will help you examine your spending habits.
Day 1 February 6th, 2014.
a short film worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.
“the Story of Stuff”
Day 2 February 7th, 2014.
Throughout the day I thought of stuff that I wanted to buy. For example, one of those white ceramic mugs with bpa free lids that look like paper cups because my tea or coffee always gets to cold in a minute or so (I like it hot!). I thought about buying screws to build a vermicompost (worm compost) bin but then thought about maybe grabbing some from work or finding some lying around in the shed. I really want a juicer to go along with my blender so I can make fresh juice for green smoothies. It will be hard to hold off on these purchases. Some purchases that I come up with in my head, I don’t remember in an hour so. It makes me think it must not be that important. I think this is great to do alongside my donating an item a day challenge. This is a challenge so far!
Day 3 February 8th, 2014.
With this day an age, Ebay, Amazon, and other sites make it easy to purchase items with one click. This challenge so far has made me pause from purchasing an item instantly. I think one thing I will carry from this challenge is to maybe wait a week before buying something, if I still want it after a week, then maybe proceed with the purchase.
Day 4, February 9th, 2014.
I bought some organic dino kale today that costed 2.69 for the bunch. My budget for groceries is down to 97.31 for the rest of the month. I’ve been burning through kale lately with my making of green smoothies daily. I could have not spent this money if I grew the kale myself. My kale plants right now are too small too harvest. I recommend growing your own produce when you can. I think it’s much better tasting, more nutrient rich, you know how it’s grown, and you become more self reliant. I love the way dino (lacinato) kale looks like with all it’s wrinkle and dark green foliage so, here’s a picture.
Day 5, February 10th, 2014.
Spent 14.10 at the farm stand and 14.70 at Safeway stocking up on veggies, nut milks, and organic bread. Have you ever tried Dave’s Killer Bread, so good and he uses juice instead of sugar. 97.31 minus 28.80 makes 68.51 to spend on groceries with a lot of time left in the challenge. This is going to be tough.
Day 6, February 11th, 2014.
Bought another bunch of organic kale, 2.17. 68.51-2.17=66.34. I’m trying to limit myself on money spent on groceries but I’m making a conscious effort not to eat unhealthy during this month.
Day 7-8, February 12-13th, 2014
Another 11 dollars spent on soy milk, carrots, and berries today. I was graciously given a huge bag of broccoli, chard, rutabaga, lemons, and limes from my farmer friend Phyllis. There’s nothing like fresh fruit and veggies you harvest yourself! It looks like we might be teaming up to do some farming this year which will be a fun and challenging experience and on top of that, help keep my food budget low. I’m very excited about this opportunity! Down to 55.34 for groceries for the rest of the month. I don’t know if I’ll make it but I will keep trucking along. I still haven’t bought anything but I really need a 3/4″ deep socket to install my hitch on my truck. Tomorrow, I will see if I can borrow one from work. Tip: Why buy something when you might only use it once in a blue moon? Well, I’m going to try borrowing first. If I happen to be needing that tool more frequently, then I might consider purchasing one for myself.
Day 9-10, February 14th-15th
Spent 3.68 on some organic bananas. 55.34 minus 3.68=51.66 left to spend on groceries for the month.
Day 11-12, February 16th-17th
I bought my dog some treats to clean his teeth. I don’t know if I can count this as groceries but I’m going to. If you smelled his breath, you would too! So, that was 8.50. 51.66-8.50=43.16
Day 13, February 18th
By not sacrificing health, I may end up going over the limit as I spent another 22 dollars today on groceries. I’m sticking with buying mostly organic produce. If this challenge was done in the summer when my garden is producing (which I might try) I think my grocery bill would be substantially lower. 43.16-22= 21.16. I’m still going strong with not buying anything other than groceries and gas. I’ve saved a substantial amount of money and decided that I would put the money into a CD so I can’t touch it for six months.
Day 14, February 19th
I’m very tempted to break this not buying anything challenge. I’ve wanted a Vitamix for the longest time and I don’t know if I can hold out for another week and a half. I’m moving towards a vegan/raw food diet and I think it will be a valuable tool. This is how I’m justifying it to myself. How do I know when if it’s really a justified purchase and not something I don’t necessarily need?
I guess in life there’s not many things you need, other than water, food, and shelter. But, I believe there are things that can make your life more enjoyable, healthier, and work as a tool to pursue your passions. For example, if surfing is a passion or hobby, maybe having a board would make it ten times easier for you to get out in the water. But maybe, renting or borrowing a board is all you really need because you don’t go out that much. Overall, I think it’s healthy to explore these opportunities, buy that kayak or get that Bowflex but when we realize we’re not utilizing these “tools”, it’s time to let go. Sell it, donate it, don’t keep it around or you will end up with all these items that don’t get the attention they deserve. They end up being distractions from getting anything done. You began to be spread to thin and then you’re not pursuing any of your passions.
Day 15-16, February 20th-22nd
Well, I’ve held off from buying the vitamix althought I think it will help me save on food in the long run. I have a dependable beehive blender that do the job for now. Unfortunately, my last grocery trip brought me over the hundred dollar limit. I had 21.16 left to spend. I spent 46 dollars. 24 dollars was dog food along with more fresh fruit and peanut butter. So, right now, that brings me to -25.00. I still haven’t spent money on eating out. Tip: I think it’s key to make your meals the night before you work. Also, pack more than enough food for the day. If you’re like me, I never seem to pack enough. I think it’s because I’m not that hungry in the morning. By midmorning, I need food!! So packing enough snacks like fresh fruit and nuts and a big lunch. I’m known to dip into my lunch before it’s time. Having enough food will save you money because you won’t be heading to the nearest fast food or Mexican restaurant when your stomach feels empty.
Day 17-19, February 23rd-25th
Over the past few days, I’ve spent more at the grocery store. I still have yet to eat out, that part hasn’t been really challenging. Keeping the budget for groceries under a 100 on the other hand, has been very challenging. I think it would be more feasible for me to shoot for two hundred dollars for groceries a month. Especially, if I want to eat healthy, mostly organic, and no processed foods. I spent 45 dollars on my last trip to the grocery store. That puts the total at 170 for groceries so far.
Tip: Oh, do I love my online shopping sites. Those sites that give you huge discounts like Sierra Trading Post. Once, I began to click on these sites,I start to find items that I didn’t think I needed before. So, my advice would be to stay clear of shopping websites and unsubscribe to many coupon email lists as well.
Day 20-23, February 26th-28th
I purchased another 26 on groceries and bought a five dollar juice when visiting family. That puts the total at 201 spent on groceries.I still have yet to buy anything besides food and gas. I find it almost exhilarating saving money. I like the fact that I don’t make a whole lot of money yet I’m able to set money aside if I make a conscious effort. When I stop spending money on frivolous items and take a moment to really think about a purchase, I end up with more money in my pocket at the end of the month and less stuff cluttering my space. By, cutting back on eating out, I spend more and more time in the kitchen cooking my meals. Which, are almost always healthier than eating out. A win win!
Day 24-27, March 1st-4th
I’m glad this month is coming to an end but that doesn’t mean I have enjoyed taking a close look at my spending habits. Everything from big ticket items to three dollar coffees when I’m on the run have been stopped for the time being. This has allowed me to save money this month, start a CD which I never have been able to do in the past. I am grateful for that. I realize what it would cost me to eat healthy for a typical month. For me, this is around 200-250 dollars. I stepped back from the consumerism culture and began to realize just how strong it is. I notice that depending on what sites you visit online, advertising can be just as strong online compared to television. NPR even sneaks in advertisements or sponsors for their programs whle my local sports station has constantly bombarded me with ads to buy chocolate strawberries for my valentine (if i had one) or buy a new mattress because my current one sucks. For the most part, I have not falling trap but that doesn’t mean I’ve been tempted to buy, especially, with the ads now that are tailored to your interests on practically every website you view.Three more days….
Spent 9 on groceries these past three days….for a total of $210 on groceries (110 over the amount I allowed myself).
Day 28-30, March 5-7
I finished up not buying anything else.
Day 31-32, March 8th-9th
I did buy some backpacking gear and found myself quickly in buying mode again. Oh man, it’s so easy to get back into the habit. Everything I learned over the month, I threw out after I bought a few items. Although, these items were used that doesn’t take away from money being spent. I thought, wow, this is a heck of a deal,I have to take advantage of it. What I bought will be used on the John Muir Trail in August, it will see good use and I can resell it if I need to. If I find these items aren’t being used,I need to make sure I sell them and not let them sit around. As I move forward, it’s important for me to put money into savings accounts I can’t touch, whether that be short term bonds or CDs. It’s a safety net for me. If I have several CDs going, I can withdraw from the in emergency situations and it stops me from spending extra money I have.
76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Let’s free ourselves from this vicious cycle by taking a deeper look at our spending habits and cutting back on those unnecessary purchases. Keep things new, try different recipes instead of eating out. Light candles in the kitchen and make that meal special. Explore regional parks and free recreation fun in your area. Limit yourself from going onto websites that encourage purchasing. I hope this article has inspired you to examine your budget and maybe encourage you to try the challenge.