It’s 21 April, and that means it is the end of the first month of our minimal spending challenge!
On 22 March we decided to attempt to make a permanent lifestyle change by spending the absolute minimum and saving the rest. In the short term we have a goal of clearing a debt with what we’ve saved. We were realistic and both agreed that if it felt too extreme, we’d let ourselves spend more. It has to give us enjoyment and energy, not be done under sufferance.
We want to see what we’re capable of. The possibilities for freedom as a result of spending significantly less are exciting. We’ve often wondered how it happened that most couples/families now assume that they need two full-time salaries to live on, when this wasn’t always the case. Has everything got so much more expensive? Or have we just got used to living at a higher level of spending?
So, we built a spreadsheet to track every single item bought, to work out what we needed to accrue for less-often-than-monthly costs, and work out our average daily spend on food and other items. The amount left over at the end will be used towards paying off debt.
Food was the real challenge as we have always spent a lot. Our goal was an average of £10 per day.
And, we did better than that! We averaged out at £9.56 per day on food.
At work, we’ve been taking cheese sandwiches and fruit for lunch. Lucy cycles 45 minutes each way to work and finds that’s not enough energy, so makes a batch of cocoa & mixed seed flapjacks at the weekend and has one for breakfast with fruit and almonds, and one in the afternoon! They work out about 25p each.
Brian’s son (11) was with us for a week at Easter and got almost more into the challege than we were, lobbied for No Spend Days, argued that a pack of £1.39 Tunnocks caramel wafers was a rip-off and was happy with kiwi fruit for afters. He particularly enjoyed the night when all we had to log on the money sheet was £1.25 for his Solero ice cream. We had several fried egg breakfasts in the wood with our home-made cooker, and made biscuits, cakes and flapjacks from what we already had in the house. We also did some visiting, and came away with eggs, jam, focaccia, and strawberry and tomato plants given to us (We did take cakes with us – we weren’t on the hunt for freebies, it was sharing!)
We also changed our shopping habits and have been going to Aldi. As much as we both feel strongly about the state of the planet, our green consumerism was getting very expensive. The most ethical and political thing we feel we can do now is to buy as little as possible, instead of worrying so much about provenance and ethics of products, although we would still only buy fairtrade bananas, chocolate and coffee. Aldi sell fairtrade organic bananas, and the cocoa for our flapjacks comes from Oxfam. No coffee was purchased this month! Wine etc is not an issue as we don’t buy it any more.
We’ll be growing some of our own food too as we are eating more vegetables. Each week we made a big vegetable stew with miso which lasted 3 nights. The only time we bought meat was some chicken legs for mother’s day, and a pack of bacon which won’t be eaten straight away! We also spent nothing on any puddings, chocolate or cakes, other than those Tunnocks wafers on the last day of our Easter holiday!
We didn’t have any meals out, and bought one takeaway, which was for Brian’s grown-up son’s birthday. Did we miss eating out? Not at all – there is nearly always something not quite right, and its much more comfortable to be at home! It also meant we savoured and appreciated the takeaway we did have, much more than we usually would – and that’s been true with everything we’ve eaten this month! Everything tastes amazing. We discovered pesto pasta (Aldi 99p red pesto, enough for several meals) – great for times when we have no bread.
Other than food, we spent money on: one bicycle light, fabric for making a skirt (more on Lucy’s clothes-making debut later), 3 fills of petrol, nose strips (sleeping aid), 1 birthday present, 2 tubes of toothpaste, shoe support insoles, and repairs to a chainsaw, plus a couple of bus rides.
As the month went on we got more enthusiastic as we found we didn’t miss anything and far from feeling like a penance, we enjoyed every change that we made. Being free of the attachment to a kitchen full of treats and eating quicker, simpler meals has given us time to do more of what matters: pottering in the garden, reading, and just chatting and being together. We’ve got renewed confidence and excitement about things we can do for ourselves like growing some food, cooking when family and friends visit, frugal ways to celebrate special occasions, making, mending and repurposing things. Really it’s a massive relief to have a clear reason not to buy and consume all the rubbish we have in the past.
And we had a real result too – a not insignificant amount of money left over to pay off the loan, which was almost 1/7 of the total amount to pay off!
We’ll have to wait and see if we’ve also reduced our electricity and water bills. Certainly we’ve been a lot more careful with our use.
On to month 2 – lets see if we can match that or even beat it!