When we reported our expenses from October, we admitted that we had gone a bit overboard on both food and gas spending. And we resolved to do better this month. In that vein, we decided to try something we had never tried before - a spending cleanse.
What’s A Spending Cleanse?
It’s basically just a fixed period of time (we were aiming for Monday – Friday) when we would spend no money at all. No quick stops at the grocery store, gas station, etc. Mr PoP would have to bring his lunch instead of paying for it in the work cafeteria.
I had heard people talk about “no spend” days before, and I always thought they were mostly tricking yourself by adjusting the dates on bookkeeping entries. “What’s the point of putting off buying milk tonight if I’m going to have to run out and buy it tomorrow morning anyhow?”
But we had admitted defeat as part of our recovery from a bad budget month, so we were willing to give it a shot – with the caveat that we would track expenses carefully to see if we actually did save money or if was just accounting tricks.
We vowed to give it our all, even if Mr. PoP did balk at my suggestion that he leave his credit cards at home for the week. “I think you’re taking this too seriously,” was his response to my suggestion. (She was taking this too seriously! Just wait till she tells you about the 6lbs of blackbeans…- Mr. PoP)
How It Went
Monday: Did not bode well for the rest of the week…
- Mr. PoP had to attend a networking luncheon for work – $15. Unfortunate, but a business expense that we knew about in advance.
- Remember my complaints about my finger from last weekend? Well, it hurt so much because it was infected. Copay on my doctor’s visit was $10, but on the plus side it was reimbursable, and I got free antibiotics at Publix!
Tuesday: Email exchange midday Tuesday between Mr and Mrs PoP…
Mr – “Craigslist alert – my lawn mower is finally for sale. $50! I’ve been waiting 6 months for this and it had to come during no spend week. You planned this, didn’t you?”
Mrs – “haha… want to make an exception?”
Mr – “Nope! Tried to get [a coworker] to car pool with me to stretch the gas budget-no go!”
Mrs – “haha, way to stick with it, baby!”
Wednesday: Getting past hump day was an achievement!
- I wanted some some candied ginger on my way home, but didn’t stop.
- Mr. PoP and I fist-bumped to celebrate the success.
- Going strong with Mr. PoP bringing 2 small meals to eat at work during the day, and I’ve been bringing homemade veggie chili into my office to heat up in my mini-crockpot.
- However, Mr. PoP’s coworkers decided on Thursday afternoon to have “Thanksgiving” the next day. Mr. PoP needs to bring something in and we don’t have the time (or the ingredients). We decide he’ll just have to pick something up at Boston Market on Friday morning. *sigh*
Friday: The last day! Can we make it?
- Mr. PoP bought a coffee at his office for $1 in the morning to slap himself awake for a presentation. On the upside, the Thanksgiving luncheon ended up being less of a bust than he thought. Someone else organized the whole package and everyone just had to chip in $5.
- On his way home, Mr. PoP stopped for a haircut – $20. Oddly, neither of us thought of this as spending until hours afterward…
Total spending during “no spending” periods: $51.
Consider It A Success?
I’m going to give our first efforts at a spending cleanse a solid B grade. Over the weekend we stocked up on food and I cooked a LOT so that we’d have tons of food. The planning was good… even if we did get tripped up a couple of times.
In terms of time, it was actually a pretty big time investment to do all the shopping and cooking on the weekend. Shopping took an hour and a half or so since I had to go to both Whole Foods and Publix, and cooking was probably a good 6+ hours spread out across Saturday and Sunday.
In terms of money, we spent about the same on groceries that we would have if we had been spending throughout the week (~$100), but I definitely overbought as there is still tons of food. I don’t know why I bought so much… Wait, yes I do – I was oddly paranoid of running out of food during the week (dear lord, I bought 6lbs of dried beans…). There’s enough food already made in the fridge for lunches up to Thanksgiving just from the rest of the leftovers in the fridge. The key in this case I think is going to be not buying more until all the perishables are used up. (As of writing, perishables still include a head of lettuce, a tomato, button mushrooms, a small sack of finger potatoes, 2 sweet potatoes, half a can of olives, 2 apples, gallon of milk, yogurt, cheese, an onion… Yes, I admit it – I definitely overbought!)
Even though we spent about the same on groceries, we didn’t spend anything at Mr. PoP’s work cafeteria. We usually set $100/month as the budget for his work cafeteria each month, but it had been creeping up and last month was $125. So by not spending this week, that’s basically $25-$30 that he probably would have spent in a normal week.
Health-wise, we think it was pretty successful. Mr. PoP and I both want to get back into the habit of paying more attention to the proportions of protein, carbs, fats, etc that we eat – and by preparing meals ahead of time, this gives us a big leg up on doing that. We’re going to try and keep bringing lunches more often and be more consistent.
Bottom Line: Measurable spending savings of $25-$30… with the greater potential for more to be realized depending how much of the leftovers we eat.
We did notice a few weird things in this experiment.
Mr. PoP actually had to explain to a coworker what carpooling is. She was unimpressed and did not want to give it a go. That’s Florida! There are many things that I love about this place, but the addiction to cars isn’t one of them.
Mr PoP has a lot more daily peer pressure to spend than I do. I think part of it is the culture of the sales floor – managers like having sales people that like spending all their money. It makes them “hungry”.
Neither of us thought of Mr PoP’s haircut as spending. Weird, right? It wasn’t until we were going over the exact numbers in mint that I saw the haircut charge and got hit with a “duh!” moment. We had talked about the haircut; I complimented him on the haircut… yet neither of us thought of it as money out.
The prep was more work for me than the execution, where I think the opposite was true for Mr. PoP. Once all the cooking was done, not spending for the week was pretty painless for me. But Mr. PoP had to watch his gas tank more, and deal with pesky coworkers that want to make him spend all of his money on lunches!
Will We Do It Again?
Probably. As the haircut shows, there’s definitely an element of mindless spending that we don’t think about – and I think this little experiment has helped to show us how to bring more mindfulness back to our spending. Plus, we’re pretty convinced that by planning out our meals like this, that our health is going to improve, too.
Tentatively we’re planning on trying to do something similar to this going forward – bringing lunches to work and making an effort not to stop during the week for “little stuff”. If we are able to stick with it through the end of December (6 weeks from now), we’ll have a good comparison of what has happened with our food spending when we compare October, November, December trends. Plus, if we’re able to stick with it through the holiday craziness, there’s a good probability that we’ll have developed the habits to keep it up.
Have you ever done a spending cleanse? If so, what was your experience like? Did you also buy way too much food as though the world was going to end?
Also – would anyone be interested in reading/sharing favorite frugal recipes? Our ideal is a recipe that works out to about $1-$2 per entree serving, is pretty healthy, and not hard to cook. (A domestic goddess, I am not!).