20 things I learned living on $30 for a week

Let me just start by saying that I’m an average twenty-something, which means I’m pretty much useless with personal finance. Sure, I know that I should be saving. I only have to walk down the street to have that message shoved down my throat – thank you billboards – but unfortunately I’m not blessed in the money-sense department.

It doesn’t help that I get paid on a weekly basis, every Friday like clockwork. I save money for bills and rent (because even I know those are essential), but by Thursday I’ve always almost wiped out my ‘free income’. And, you know what’s worse? I honestly can’t tell you where the money goes. It’s not like I check my bank statement every day, but I do think before I buy something.

I am tired of getting to the end of the week and being all spent up – it’s no fun. So, I’ve decided to take action. Last week, I gave myself a budget of $30 to be spread over 7 days, just to see if I could do it and, spoiler alert, I did it, but it wasn’t easy. Here are twenty things I learned along the way.

1. Eating out is a true luxury

I don’t want to give you the impression that I eat out all the time. I don’t. But, when I do eat out, I generally don’t think all that much about it. It’s a necessity. My tummy rumbles and I obey. On the meager amount I had last week, though, there was just no way I could buy dinner – not even in a pub. It made me realize that eating out isn’t something that ‘just happens,’ it’s a luxury…. maybe I should appreciate it a little more.

2. You can make a meal for a few bucks (but it isn’t easy)

We all know that we can save money by making meals at home, but I have to admit I thought it’d be easier than it was. I have a pretty simple diet, so I planned a few meals out for the week – things that go far like pasta pesto and potatoes. After about day three, I was feeling a little bored of my meals. I wanted something different – something spicy. Unfortunately, I hadn’t bought anything to make a curry so I had to make do with beans on toast.

3. Coffee is crazy expensive

Coffee is my one true vice. If I don’t have a cup of it in the morning, I am the living incarnation of Cruella de Vil. I would say I buy two, maybe three, coffees out each week. No big deal, like. Except it is a big deal. Last week, I actually checked the price of a regular latte – around $3-$4.60. For that sum, I could get myself enough pasta to see me through till August (I mean, probably).

4. Social engagements can be free

Just because I was scrimping, that didn’t mean I wanted to miss out on seeing people. The problem was that after food, I had about about $7 left to spend. It felt weird asking people to ‘just go for a walk’ despite the fact that it was warm (ish) outside so I invited them over. Luckily, I had tea in to offer them – which I guess makes me a bit of a cheat.

5. Spending peer pressure is real

One of the things I found hardest about this experiment was when people asked me to do things. When I told people I was broke, they wouldn’t have it. “I’ll cover you and you can repay me next week!” they’d say as if it were no problem. It’s sweet of them, but it kinda defeats the point of things. I think I’m sometimes a people-pleaser because saying no to social plans near killed me.

6. Coupons are my new best friend

Oh, coupons – how I love you! I have a confession, I was a voucher-junkie before this experiment, but last week I confirmed my love for them. I relied on apps that provided coupon deals for meals. This week, that seemed like more of a stretch than usual, but meant I could have a nice sandwich for my lunch at least one day during the week. (The rest of the week was homemade sandwich city.)

7. I spend out of boredom (sometimes)

Each night, I had a genuine urge to go to the shop. I live in a city center, which means that there are plenty of late shops near me. I’d be watching TV at night and suddenly feel a craving for chocolate or sweets. “No.” I’d tell myself, not as firmly as I would’ve liked. Boredom does terrible things to people.

8. Small change is actual money

By the end of the week, I was down to small change. Usually, I tend to ignore little coins – they sit in my purse for days, weeks, months. This week was different. Every coin counts and it’s amazing how much cash you have when you think you’re flat broke. I resisted the temptation to crack open my Hello Kitty piggy bank this week, but only because doing so would mean I’d have to actually break her.

9. Ordering soft drinks feels weird

On Friday night, I went to the pub because I’m English and that’s what we do. Usually, I’ll indulge myself and get a glass of red wine. This week, though, I was on the soft stuff – cola. Ordering a soft drink when you’re in your twenties feels weird. It shouldn’t, but it does.

10. Free distractions are an absolute lifesaver

Remember when you were a kid and had to entertain yourself without spending any money? Yeah, well those were probably the best years of your life. Coincidence? I think not. Free distractions, from reading to walking, are a lifesaver. Last week, I read more than I had in years. I’m ashamed to say that I get lazy when it comes to reading, despite loving it, but last week I feel back in love with it.

11. Reusing coffee filters doesn’t actually work

Since I couldn’t buy coffee from cafes, I had to use filters. You get around ten in a pack… not enough for a week. By the end of the week, I was down to just one so I did the unthinkable. I reused it. Let’s just say the words ‘warm’ and ‘mud’ spring to mind.

12. TV is boring every night of the week

Disclaimer: I love TV more than anything. I love sitcoms. I love documentaries. I love films. I love Netflix. I love it all. Despite my passion for the telly-box, six nights of pure, unadulterated TV time drove me slightly insane. It’s fun as a way to waste time, but not every night.

13. How much I spend doesn’t determine how great my day is

You know those days when you get up and everything is perfect all day long? Your hairs falls right, your clothes look great and everything goes your way? They are rare – some people say they are but urban myths – but I swear to you I had one of them. And, it was on a day I spent less than $2. The point? Money doesn’t buy happiness, obviously.

14. Soup doesn’t go as far as you might think

Am I the only one who thought that soup was this magical food that went on forever? It seems as though, when you’re broke, people are always telling you to make soup. Well, I did and it was awful. Tomato and leek soup is not my forte. Also, it lasted one day because I was so hungry I had to eat twice as much.

15. Cats provide endless free entertainment

I’m lucky enough to have a little kitty, (Prince) Harry, who is just under a year old. He really helped me through this week. Whenever I was bored, I’d just watch him running around or chasing his tail. Yeah, I thought only dogs did that two. There is nothing like free feline entertainment to make you feel better.

16. Debit cards are the actual devil

At the start of the week, I took cash out of the bank so I wouldn’t go over my limit. Then, I hid my cards in my sock drawer, which may have been a little redundant given that I knew where they were the whole time. What I noticed was that, when I didn’t spend on my cards, I found it harder to buy things. It was more of a decision to buy something because I had to physically hand over the cash. My conclusion? Debit cards are pure evil, designed to turn us all into shopaholic maniacs.

17. Nights out cost a fortune

I obviously didn’t go out to a club during my experiment week, because that would have been crazy, but I did look at my bank statement. The week before I’d spend twice this week’s budget on a night out, which I’d barely enjoyed. Clubs are expensive. True story.

18. Real friends don’t care about your bank balance

I learned a lot about friendship during this experiment. Asking my nearest and dearest to do free stuff with me was a challenge, but it showed me who was there for me and who wasn’t. Friendship isn’t about going out and spending loads of cash; it’s about supporting each other.

19. Good weather = a cheap day out

When the weather was sunny (like one day during the week because England), I could spend the entire day out without feeling the need to buy anything at all. I live in a ‘green’ city and there are loads of parks here so it was pretty easy to fill my free time. When the weather was bad (every day but Wednesday), I wanted to go spending more than anything else. I wanted to sit in a cafe with a hot chocolate or go shopping or fill up on a tasty, expensive pie, but I couldn’t. Sunny days are inexpensive.

20. No amount of money buys you freedom

I thought I’d feel trapped when I tried scrimping, but I can honestly say I’ve never felt freer in my life. Having no money is fine – so long as you don’t worry about it. I didn’t have to make any pesky decisions because having nothing to spend meant that all my decisions were made for me. I mean, sure, I wouldn’t want to live like this every week, but once in a while, it’s kind of liberating.

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