Fortunately, as a dual income family that has always “lived-within-our-means”, we are generally able to buy what we need, when we need it.  We also generally have the means to buy what we WANT.  For that, I am truly thankful.  We’re looking to redesign our lifestyle, however, and that includes reigning in our discretionary spending to allow for more travel.  We have a big savings goal for 2013, and have also…gulp…calculated our per day cost of living.  So, I thought…

Another bright idea!

Let’s go 7 full days without spending a penny.

I shared my idea with Ben, he rolled his eyes, and dutifully agreed to my crazy scheme.

Rules:

  • Mortgage and bills are paid to date
  • No grocery purchases
  • No fuel for the cars
  • No gifts
  • No giving to charity – :(
  • No restaurants or coffee out – :( (that’s Ben’s frown)
  • No using gift cards or prepaid meals

So, how did we do?

If you’ve ever dieted, or gave up something delicious, you know the first few days are difficult. It.Is.All.You.Think.About!  Same for me on the first day of no spending.  Would you believe me, though, if I told you we actually made money this week?

When I first posted the kickoff to this project on Facebook, one friend said something was sure to come up.  In fact, two things came up – a Christmas tree and “chips & dip”.  

Christmas tree:  We really needed one because a special person is coming to visit from California (Hi Grandma!) and we wanted the house festive.

Chips & Dip:  Ridiculous, I know, but Ben’s work was having a potluck and this was his assigned item and we had nothing resembling chips & dip in the house.  His coworkers were not likely to go without snacks for the sake of my spending fast.

How did we handle these critical expenses?

It was important to stay true to our zero spend goal.  So, I pulled out my selling hat and posted a bunch of stuff on our local Buy, Sell, and Trade Facebook group.  One hour of work on Friday night netted $83 on Saturday in meet ups and money under the mat– books, toys, clothes, even a dog harness.

Now that we had some unexpected cash, we needed to make the most of it.

Hauling our catch!

We always visit the same tree farm, cut our own tree, and have our picture taken in their decorated barn. After some complimentary cider and yummy butter cookies from the big blue tin, a nice teenager then bales the tree and ties it to the minivan.  We then tip him a folded up $20, which he gratefully puts in his pocket without looking.  As we drive home we picture his (hopefully pleasantly surprised) reaction when he finally unfurls the 20-spot.  This tradition is pretty important to us.

Ben said “well, with our budget you can’t tip the teenager $20 like usual.”  WHAT?  That’s a highlight for me!

So I said, “Well, what if we got a smaller tree, between $40-50, so we still have $20 in the budget to tip?”  Done.  Sweet!

Having a clear budget made our tree hunting more efficient.  Our budget didn’t allow for those funky, expensive skeleton trees (ya’ know, the kind Ben likes).  Instead, we chose a bushy, perfectly cone shaped weak-limbed tree (ya’ know, the kind Ben thinks look like a shrub).  We ate the cookie, tipped the young man, and spilled our cider in the minivan.

Success – and right on our $70 budget.

Maintaining Tradition

When we got home, we pulled the seven totes of Christmas items out from under the stairs (yes, seven).  After my prior haul, I was still in selling mode, so as we decorated I looked at each item critically.  I ended up with a large “sell” stack made up of some Christmas favorites, like a beautiful 28” plastic “ice” wreath that drops beads all season long and kills bare feet.  Another hour of Facebook selling netted $91.  This was more than enough to get the chips & dip.  In fact…

After buying the $44+tax tree, $20 tip, and $15.33 worth of chips and dip…we still came out $89 dollars ahead!

When not selling, what did we do…?

We went without coffee shop coffee. Sigh. It wasn’t so much the caffeine we missed (we made coffee at home), it was the experience. Ben generally purchases two coffees per day at his office (total: $1.20) and I like to go work from Starbucks an afternoon or two a week – gets kind of lonely working from home.  I know, having to make coffee at home is a first world problem.  We survived.

We didn’t go out to eat.  This was a biggie – again because we enjoy the experience as much as the food.  We don’t eat much fast food.  We prefer the taste and ambiance of sit down restaurants but, who am I kidding, we often eat the same type of junk (burgers and fries, etc.).  Also, our “kids” no longer eat from the kids menu, making our restaurant bill between $40-$70 for each visit.  Instead, Saturday afternoon I made delicious grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough bread (from the freezer) served with tomato soup. “Isn’t this delicious!?”, I asked the kids, “And we’re saving so much money!  I think it even tastes better than [insert any restaurant name here]!”

Blank stares became empathetic …“Uh…sure mommy, whatever you say.”

Damn.

Down to one pear and the last bottle, and it’s only day two! Desperate times!

As mentioned, we ate through a lot of freezer and pantry goods. We have a freezer full of frozen veggies, salmon and steak, but I am not good at pulling said meat from freezer to make dinner planning a breeze.  This week, we had to.

We ran out of fruit.  Fresh fruit, and the fruit that is pressed, fermented, bottled and aged to perfection. This was a problem and poor planning on my part.  Should have stocked up.  Instead, we ate lots of smoothies using frozen fruit. And, Ben received a gift of two bottles of wine from a coworker.  No rules against that!  Whew!  Of course, some random things came up that will have to be paid for later.  Nothing significant, though, and while it may seem like all we’ve done is shifted our spending patterns, we definitely saved money.  The biggest thing, though, is…

We were acutely aware of our spending, or lack of, at all times.

Will we change our behavior on a regular basis?  That remains to be seen.  I think we’ll be more mindful of our food spending and will continue selling our treasures-that-other-people-want.  We have a big savings goal for 2013, so I have suggested we do this activity once per month.  If nothing else, it forces me to clean the pantry and freezer.

We will make an exception for purchasing fresh fruit however.  And wine, unless someone wants to donate to the cause…

So, that was our 7-day spending fast.  How do you handle saving?  Budgeting?  Does your family roll their eyes too?

9 Comments

  1. You did great, that’s a lot of selling in one week, I can’t cut back much more on wine, saving is fine, so long as you’re not totally miserable!

    • Alyson – wine is also very important to us. :) Honestly, I didn’t realize we were down to a single bottle until we were entering the weekend – eek! I actually didn’t “stock” up on anything prior to the spending fast, primarily because of time. Next time, I’ll be much more mindful of the wine. Agree – don’t want to be totally miserable!

  2. You guys are awesome. I’m inspired, and I love that you wrote your story.

    • We have done this on a shorter 3 day scale congrats. thanks for writing about it, it is a great teacher of how much we choose want over true need. I would love more info on how you decided or knew price points for the items you sold. definately teaches the lesson of choice and as with new practices, awareness is the big lesson. super cool, and thanks for the challenge.

      • Hi Jill – thanks for the read and comment! It was a lesson in want over need. We’ve been in a non acquisition mode for a few months, so not bringing much “stuff” into the house anymore, but still critically looking at what we have and what we do with it was good.

        For pricing stuff, I’ve been guessing largely. However, I’ll price higher than I would for a garage sale, but low enough to acknowledge the used state of the item. I also look through other postings on the FB page to see how others are pricing. If it’s a major item, or an opened, but unused toy for example, I will look on Amazon for the new price and put that in my description: “$5 100 Piece President’s puzzle, gently used, complete, $20 new on Amazon.” I’ve also checked eBay for other items just to get perspective. It’s worked pretty well. There are times when I probably could have charged more for an item based on the interest, and there are other times I’ve overpriced or just have a dud of an item. I try to learn from those and then lower, or end up donating. With the FB group being local, I’m sure to be reasonable in my pricing…since they are all neighbors, friends of friends, etc. We’ve been selling on there since Labor Day, and have made almost $900. Most importantly, we’re getting rid of a lot of stuff we don’t need AND allowing people to buy/choose what they WANT and it makes them very happy. Honestly, the latter is probably more gratifying than the $. We usually donate things, and we still do, but the beauty of this is selling to local folks who really want it. With donations, often you don’t get to see how it makes people feel. Sounds corny, but it’s the truth! :)

        Let me know if you want to go to coffee or something! We can chat further.

    • Thanks Teri! It was a really fun challenge. I love testing myself for a week or a month. I think it was 2010 when I had a focus every month – like no coffee, or no wine (eek!), or no TV…I had hoped the challenge would create new, sustainable habits (you know, they say it takes 21 days to create one). I made a few lifestyle changes – I gave up coffee in the morning as it gave me the shakes while I was working. Now, I’ll have one in the afternoon on occasion. Instead, I started drinking tea…which provided the opposite, calmness. I also hardly ever watch TV any more. I think that year I started reading a ton. Fun for me – but the family doesn’t always appreciate my experiments :)

  3. Way to go! I was planning a 30 day challenge after the holidays but after reading this, Im thinking that 30 days is just plain NUTS haha.

    You are really racking up the money selling on FB and CL – very impressed and inspired by your enthusiasm :)

  4. If we ever meet up, we will bring the wine!

    Part of the reason we wanted to “just go” was to get away from all the habits. It is very hard. We’ve done stuff like this, and when you do it you discover just how addicted to the routine you really are. It’s great to try and force the change. Smart!

    The more you can stay away from store, the better, but man is it a challenge. On some level I think we are trying to get as far away from stores as possible because we just can’t stop ourselves!

    • We look forward to a glass of wine together — somewhere in the world! We’re on a budget, so we are completely accepting of boxed wine (good for camping too!):).

      You are so right – the routines and habits are hard to break. I think we’d need more than just 7 days for breaking those. We haven’t been caught up in the holiday buy fest, because we truly are in non-acquisition mode – “If it can’t go around the world, we don’t buy it!”

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