The Austerity Diaries: How Long Can You Go Without Spending Money?

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Most people spend money every single day.

I’m not talking about your day-to-day necessities like house payments and fuel for the vehicle. I’m talking about those little impulse buys that most of us make without thinking twice about them.

We spend more money than we realize on silly things.  If you spend money on the following, you could go a lot longer than you think without spending.

  • Drive-thru coffee
  • Delivery or takeout pizza
  • Lunches out with friends from work
  • Buying a drink while you are out
  • Buying magazines
  • Going for manicures/pedicures/facials
  • Driving places just to have something to do

It’s these little things that add up and can take an enormous chunk out of your budget. We’ve become a nation of consumers that think nothing of plunking down 5 times the value for something because we’re out and it’s convenient.

Instead of the above, you could…

  • Bring your own coffee in a thermos from home
  • Make pizza from scratch
  • Organize a workplace potluck
  • Keep a small cooler in your vehicle with drinks from home
  • Read online
  • Change to a simpler beauty regimen
  • Stay home

By doing this, you could save thousands of dollars per year.

My favorite calculation is this: If you went to Starbucks every morning before work and purchased a $5 coffee, you spent a whopping $1300 on that morning routine.

One thousand three hundred dollars.

And that is just for one frivolous expenditure. What if you added them all up? My guess is, you’d discover you were spending far, far more money than you realized.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying we should never have a treat.  We tend to go out to a nearby city for supplies once a month, and we often grab a coffee out when we do so.  That day is our big outing, and picking something up then is a treat.  That’s because a treat is, by definition, something outside the norm. When you do something every single day, it’s no longer a treat – it’s a habit, and an expensive one in this case.

Consider these big questions. How deeply ingrained is your spending habit?  Could you institute a spending freeze for an entire week? For a month? How long could you go without spending money?

Breaking the Spending Habit

Spending itself is a habit. If you can break the habit of thoughtless spending, you’ll be much further ahead.  You can put that money towards large investment purchases that you never realized you could afford. If you took you $1300 in Starbucks spending at the end of the year, you could make one large purchase that could help your family be more self-sufficient – maybe you could build an outdoor kitchen or put a solar pump on your well. Now imagine if you corralled all of that frivolous spending what you could do.

It might be more than just saving your pennies for a large expense. The way the economy is going, it might be a matter of survival to learn to limit your spending.  Prices are going up, incomes are staying the same, and jobs are getting lost and not replaced.  It’s better to start now on the road towards non-consumerism, than when you are forced to do so in order to eat. I’d rather these things be my choice, not just the effect of a personal financial downturn.

Here are a couple of different ways that you can start a spending freeze:

First, give yourself an allowance.  That’s right – give all of the people in your family who spend money an allowance.  Make it cash, and collect the bank cards, credit cards, etc.  This doesn’t mean that purchases cannot be made, but it will take some effort to do so, and that effort will give you time to think it through.  Do you really need that pair of shoes that goes with that one outfit in your closet?  You know, the outfit that you wear once every two years?  By giving yourself a little cool-off time, you’re less likely to make regrettable purchases that just don’t add enough value to your life.  By having your spending money in cash, you have a very tangible way to see how much you’ve spent. Your goal should be to finish the week with a little money left over, instead of ending the week trying to dip into next week’s money.  This also helps to limit the amount of frivolous spending that any family member can do.

Second, challenge yourself to see how long you can go without spending money.  Once you’ve gotten your food for the week, paid your bills, and fueled up the vehicle, see how long you can go without spending anything. Nothing will make you more aware of your normal habits than stopping them completely.  Because I work from home and I have to drive half an hour to get to anyplace to spend money, this is a little easier for me than it is for someone who goes to work outside the home every day. But it’s possible. I know, because I haven’t always had this lifestyle, and as a single mom with no other financial contributions, it was a matter of survival for us.  I tried to make it a game and came up with all sorts of creative ways to avoid spending money. We’d walk instead of driving, have movie night at home with stovetop popcorn when something good was on network TV, and read books from the library.  Life without spending money does not have to be grim and miserable.

Third, turn off your “consumer” button.  It’s time to stop being such a consumer. Think about that word, “consumer” – it always makes me think of a horde of locusts, descending on a field and picking it clean.  I don’t want to be one of those locusts, consuming just because something is there, until it’s gone. Whatever it is you want to spend money on, you might not even need it.  If you do need it, instead of buying it, try making it. Not only do you save money, but you develop skills too.  Learn to entertain yourself without spending.  Teach your kids to be entertained without electronic devices. Develop hobbies that are productive instead of expensive.  Truly give thought to where your money is going when you purchase things created by multi-billion dollar conglomerates. Do you want to contribute to some executives annual million dollar bonus or do you want the satisfaction of doing something yourself?

How to Become a Happy Non-Consumer

So how can you switch gears and become happy about making changes that might initially feel like a step “down” or a punishment?   When you change your mindset, you can successfully change your life. Start with these 8 mental adjustments.

  1. Be grateful.  An “attitude of gratitude” is the most vital part of embracing your cheap side. If you’re happy with what you’ve got, you will find that you “need” far less than you did before.  That’s because you aren’t seeking some momentary hit of joyous adrenaline by purchasing something.  That rush rarely lasts and you’re just left with more stuff and less money.
  2. Be creative.  How can you make something, save something, or repair something in a totally original way?  Embrace the challenge and tap into your creativity – you may just discover that, in your originality, you’ve come up with something far better than the purchased alternative. (We’ve found this to be especially true with fashion accessories, home decor, and birthday parties!)
  3. Give.  Don’t let your pursuit of frugality make you stingy.  There are always people who are worse off than you. It’s important to give a hand up to those people.  If your kids were hungry, or cold, or without shelter, wouldn’t you hope that some kind person would help them?  Even at our absolute rock bottom financially, we donated one can of spaghetti sauce and a package of noodles to the food bank every week, which hopefully provided a warm comforting meal for someone who needed it. It isn’t really necessary to debate whether people are truly in need or just milking the system.  That is a subject for them and their consciences.  Just give.  You are responsible for your intentions, not theirs.
  4. Spend your money where it really matters.  We opted to move to a very small community into a drafty little cabin in the woods.  We made this decision as a family, in order to reduce our monthly output.  By getting rid of “city rent” and all of the bills that came with it, we cut our monthly output in half.  This means that I can spend a little extra on high-quality meats and dairy, for example.  When my daughter needs new glasses, it’s not a problem to pay for them.  It means my older daughter can get through college without crippling student loans.
  5. Less need equals more time.  Not only does a thrifty lifestyle mean that I can refocus where my money goes. It means that I can refocus where my time goes.  I don’t have to work quite as hard on stuff outside the home and can focus on farm and family.  I have the time to make hats and scarves instead of purchasing them. I have time to garden and can the harvests.  I have time to perform money-saving tasks like cooking from scratch, which goes into a big happy circle of having more money to put towards important things.
  6. Stay home.  When you stay home more, you are tempted less.  You aren’t thirsty, requiring a beverage. You aren’t hungry, requiring a snack.  You aren’t using the car, requiring gas.  You aren’t tempted by all the colorful and wonderful things in the stores.
  7. Hang out with like-minded people.  It is so much easier to embrace your cheap side if you don’t have people telling you how deprived you are all the time, or berating you for being too cheap to spend $27.85 on a movie ticket, popcorn, and a soda pop.  Most of my closest friends are thrifty.  We swap  clothing, we borrow and lend tools, and we cheerfully hang out without spending a dime.  Instead of going out to sit in a boutique coffee shop sipping a $6 latte with whipped cream, we sit in the garden at one of our houses sipping a coffee that one of us made, along with a nice fresh blueberry muffin.  We enjoy the same conversation we would have had at that coffee shop too. Instead of heading to the mall, we chat on Skype.   When your nearest and dearest are on the same page, life is a whole lot easier.
  8. Turn off the TV.  People go to school for years to study how to make people want what they don’t need.  That great big brainwash box sitting in the living room is a direct pipeline into your brain.  From the beautiful homes on the TV programs, the fancy clothes and cars, and the ads for food, recreation, and new cars, the whole racket is designed to make you feel you what you have now is inferior to what you could have.  Kids are the biggest target of product placement advertising in popular shows.  If you watch TV, limit it.  Become aware of the scams and discuss them with your kids so that they can easily identify how marketers are attempting to manipulate them.  (Confession: we do watch a little bit of TV in our home, and when we do, it’s a big game to identify the hidden ads. While this may sound contrary to the advice to turn the TV off, I believe that some limited viewing coupled with an awareness of the marketing techniques inoculates my children against the sales pitch.)

To switch over to a frugal lifestyle successfully, you really have to want to do it. If you’re constantly bemoaning what you don’t have, you’ll be miserable.  If you are resentful that you can’t have “stuff” then you won’t stick to your frugal plan.

The most important thing of all is to switch off your personal “want” button.  When you don’t want or need the things that the ”elite” and the big corporations are selling, then you are suddenly free of their restrictions.  You are no longer a slave to the wages you must earn to pay for the things they tell you that you should have.  You don’t have a lifestyle built on expectations, debt, and the never-ending search for happiness bought from a store.

(This sections is an excerpt from a previously published article, found HERE)

 How long can you go without spending money?

If you put yourself and your family on a personal spending freeze, how long could you go?  Here’s the challenge for the week ahead.

Make a careful list and plan out your meals, 3 per day, for the next week. Fill up your car with gas, and put aside money for more gas if you use more than a tank per week.

Then lock up your bank cards and credit cards and put away your cash.  Can you go for an entire week without spending money?

Post your results here!

Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor.  Her website, The Organic Prepper, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at

(Originally posted at The Organic Prepper)