I’ve always had erratic spending habits. I’m naturally a good saver… until I walk into Target or HomeGoods. And while those spending sprees don’t happen too often, I recently decided I wanted to improve my habits even more. So, I decided to give myself a challenge: A week-long “spending freeze,” where I’d try to spend nothing for a full seven days. That means no using cash, debit, or credit. At the end, I’d tally up what I saved and put it towards something fun. Here’s how it went.
If you want to try a spending freeze, you can set whatever limits or rules you want. Here’s what I decided on:
1.) No spending, including using cash, debit, or credit cards in person or online.
2.) Any recurring monthly auto-paid bills would still be paid and would not go towards the weekly total. For example, during my spending freeze, our cell phone bill processed.
3.) No huge grocery shop directly before or after the freeze.
Saturday: Figuring out what to eat
In order to make this a bit more challenging, I last bought groceries on Wednesday. And since we typically only buy a weeks worth of food at a time, my fridge is not fully stocked. I look through the fridge, freezer, and pantry, and create a tentative meal plan for the week based on what we already have. There’s a bit of fresh produce that will last through part of the week, and some frozen stuff to get us through the rest. We spend the day with my in-laws, watching TV and doing some work. We pretty much chill all day, and I get the impression we’re going to be homebodies this week.
Daily Spent: $0
Total Spent: $0
Sunday: A potential problem
I’m feeling super productive around the house. The spending freeze is making me more creative with my time. Instead of looking for things to do out and about, I’m tackling some projects at home instead, like sorting through all my clothes. I create four piles: one to sell, one for a donation center, one for a women’s shelter, and one to recycle. I also tackled the laundry. Mid-cycle, the washer beeped and an error code popped up. My degree is in engineering, and the last time there was a problem, I managed to fix the machine with the help of YouTube. But this error code was different. After an hour and a half of using a Shop-Vac and checking the “easy” fixes, I decided to get a second opinion. My husband looks at it too and we both decide that it must be the drain pump, but to wait until tomorrow to check because we’ve already spent an hour on this.
Daily Spent: $0
Total Spent: $0
Monday: Ticket time
I get up at 5 and get to work. I left my full-time job six months ago to stay at home with our two kids for a while, as well as do some freelance writing. I also work on a few blog posts for my personal site, Budgets & Kale, and then start our morning. The weather has just turned and it’s freezing! I bundle up our 2-year-old and 7-month-old and walk the dog with them for an hour. We all love going for long walks and I try to do this on days I don’t find the motivation to get to the gym.
My husband gets home from work a little late because he had a doctor’s appointment at a downtown office he hadn’t visited before. When he walked in he handed me a bright neon envelope, stamped with the words “PARKING TICKET.” Whaaat? Neither of us has had a parking ticket since in college. (The reason for the ticket: He didn’t have change for the parking meter, and decided to risk it.) The ticket was $30, but we’d only have to pay $20 if we paid in the first 24 hours. I set it aside and we attempt the washing machine. It becomes clear that the pump is old and we need a new part. Instead of ordering it (or paying the parking ticket), we sit on the couch and watch Ozark instead.
Daily Spent: $0
Total Spent: $0
Tuesday: Breaking the freeze
I wake up and look into our fridge for breakfast and feel… uninspired. There are only a few eggs left and I want to save them in case they’re needed for a recipe. My toddler and I have cereal and applesauce for breakfast. I bought this box of cereal a couple of weeks ago and it was the first one I had bought in months. And today, I’m super grateful for it.
That evening, I’m cooking dinner when my husband gets home and asks if I paid the parking ticket. Oh no! That means paying the full $30. I head downstairs to my office and prepare to fully break the spending freeze. I pay for the parking ticket, then order the drain pump part and pay for the fasting shipping option. While I’m at my computer, I realize we are attending a wedding this weekend and haven’t bought a gift yet. I click into the couple’s registry and see that there aren’t tons of options left. I go ahead and pick out several towels and bath mats. While it’s not the most exciting present, I love giving wedding gifts that will actually be used. While I’m annoyed that we broke our spending freeze, these are all pretty necessary purchases.
Daily Spent: $30 parking ticket +38.72 drain pump +58.01 wedding present = $126.73 (ouch!)
Total Spent: $126.73
Wednesday: Free date night
I spend some time today listing the clothes I’ve set aside to sell online, using Facebook Marketplace and Poshmark. This task takes quite a bit of time but is usually worth the return. I make sure to find current retail prices, take pictures in good lighting, and post. Doing this can be a full-time business for people, but for me, it’s been a nice way to offset clothing costs.
Tonight is date night, and those have become so critical since having two kids and a puppy. My father-in-law comes over in the afternoon and picks up our kids. We are so grateful to have this option because babysitting costs add up so fast. We had planned to go on a hike/walk since we won’t be spending any money, but it is freezing raining outside. We end up with a night in and play a board game called Sequence. Normally, we’d go to a local brewery and get a bite to eat. Even those simple dates can cost $50 or $60. Tonight, I dig into the emergency stash of frozen honey barbecue wings and we have a side of veggies. While tonight is at home, it’s still a relief to be able to just talk and hear ourselves think.
Daily Spent: $0
Total Spent: $126.73
Thursday: Fixed at last!
I wake up with a major sweet tooth. When I open the fridge, I notice there’s a tub of crescent rolls leftover from a dinner last week, and decide they are going to become cinnamon rolls. I cream together some butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Then I lay out the whole can of dough onto a sheet, spread out the mixture, roll it up, and cut the rolls. I bake them for 15 minutes and voila! Okay, so these aren’t as good as my homemade ones, but they came together so fast that I don’t care. A cup of coffee plus a cinnamon roll (okay, two cinnamon rolls) tastes like heaven.
At this point, I’m feeling bored. I’ve noticed a trend of not wanting to leave the house. After all, if I don’t leave the house, there is less temptation to buy something. But I decide we need to do something, so we go to the library for a bit. We love our local library and all that they do for the community.
That evening, my husband is in a bad mood when it’s time to fix the washing machine. I predict it will be rough, and I am correct. He manages to break the dryer vent in the process of fixing the washing machine, so he heads to the hardware store to buy a new one for $15.13. He’s in a much better mood when he returns, and finishes up. Our total washing machine fix costs $53.85 and some elbow grease. Google tells me it would’ve been between $200-$400 to pay someone to do it for us, so I’m really grateful that my husband was able to fix it with the guidance of a YouTube video.
Spent Today: $15.13
Spent Total: $141.86
Friday: Definitely done
I completely forgot that I have friends visiting from out of town on the last day of our spending freeze. I already told them I would go out tonight, and since I haven’t seen one of them in two years, I keep my word. Parking is awful downtown, but I manage to find a spot just a five-minute walk from where we’re meeting, and I’m happy to save the $10-$15 in parking.
My friends are already drinking when I arrive, so I order a glass of prosecco. One benefit to driving is that it gives me an excuse to drink very lightly. Someone else covers my drink, and we head to another bar/restaurant. Once we get to the next place, we order a round, and I know that’s all I’m going to have for the night. My stomach is rumbling but the food prices are really high. We spend about 4 hours out, talking and catching up, and my bill with tip was just $15, which feels like a steal. Even though it causes me to break my spending freeze, I’m happy to spend this money. I got to see friends I hadn’t in years and kept the spending pretty limited.
Spent Today: $15
Spent Total: $156.86
Aside from the evening out on the last day, the spending freeze went pretty well. I noticed that when I took a step back from spending, I was so much more productive and motivated. It really helped me tackle some projects, like cleaning out my closet.
The washing machine breaking was certainly inconvenient, but since it happened during the freeze, it was so easy for us to cover the cost. While we do have a savings account for house expenses, it was nice to not worry about it. Since the experiment was before the holidays, my husband and I funneled the money we saved during this week into our Christmas fund. We have a separate saving account for that, and it’s the account that makes me the happiest.
Rachel Smith is a freelance writer and blogger. You can follow her at budgetsandkale.com.