Cecile Meier: A week without spending
Last week I kept my purse strings closed. No coins, notes or cards were allowed out. This wasn't because of a reality TV-style intervention to save me from crippling debt. In fact, I don't have any debt. But I also don't own anything and I have been slack at watching my expenses lately.
Some weeks I buy half a dozen lunches, two or three slap-up suppers and enough drinks and coffee to drown a fish.
Just as I realised that this lifestyle was not sustainable on a reporter's salary, my English friend Andrew became obsessed with early retirement. The concept is to slash your spending and invest your savings until you get enough money to "retire" (that is, to have enough money that work becomes optional).
To immolate his wasteful spending habits, Andrew decided to go on a spending fast (no spending outside of housing costs and groceries) for an entire month.
At first, I thought he was insane. Surely he would lose all his friends and starve himself to death with his meagre cooking skills? (He is English, after all.) But then I thought it might be fun to give it a go for a week and compare my experience with his.
An easy place to start was by not paying to go to a yoga class. I practised at home some days and went jogging on others. That was fine, but I did miss being in a group.
Would my whole week be antisocial? Staying at home, avoiding fun places like bars and cafes? No - I just had to find other ways to hang out with friends.
I invited Abbie over for brunch and made bruschetta. It cost me less than $10 in groceries and I felt super-smug about my cooking skills. It's nice to go somewhere and be pampered, but there's a lot of value in doing things yourself.
Not spending often meant being less lazy. Bringing packed lunches to work every day demanded a bit of organisation, but once you get into the swing of it, it's just another habit. My home-made lunches were also healthier than my normal diet of rice balls and sandwiches.
So how much did I save? About $150 in a week. It doesn't seem like much, but that's $7800 a year. Assuming I invested that much every year for 10 years (and assuming 5 per cent interest), I'd have $110,000. Not enough for early retirement, but a good start.
Christchurch's bar and cafe owners will be relieved to know that I'll still be hanging out in their fine establishments, just maybe a fraction less often, and making my own lunch is here to stay.
As for Andrew, I emailed to ask him how he was getting on. When I finally got a reply, he said he had been in a wood scavenging for mushrooms while trying to grow flax in a bumbag. I can only hope he was joking.