Financial guru Suze Orman once challenged her fans to:
- Go a day without spending any money,
- Go a week without using
credit cards, and
Go a month without eating at restaurants
Her advice stunned listeners. Some couldn't imagine a single day without spending money. Others castigated her out of fears that she had single-handedly crushed the restaurant industry. Lost in the tempest were some real gems of advice that we could all benefit from.
Step 1: A Day Without Spending
Just a single day without spending would be most noticeable for the little things, like money not spent on coffee or at vending machines. Having enough gasoline in the car to get you through the day is likely the largest concern.
Money saved is the most obvious benefit from the exercise. Whether its $5 or $50, it's easy to see that if you increased your efforts and didn't spend for a single day each week, you could keep a nice little stash of cash in your pocket.
Savings aside, the exercise also helps you learn to plan. Having a full tank of gas is the most obvious planning need, but not the only lesson. Setting up your coffee maker the night before so that your coffee is ready when you get up can lead to planning a few minutes to savor the coffee and enjoy the silence of the morning instead of sucking down coffee in a rush while you sit in traffic breathing smog and cursing the drivers around you. (For more, read Squeeze A Greenback Out Of Your Latte.)
Making your lunch instead of buying it, and pre-planning healthy snacks (very little of what comes out of most vending machines is healthy) are not only good for your wallet but also encourage a healthier lifestyle. Just a single day and already so many lessons, both financial and otherwise!
Step 2: A Week Without Using Credit Cards
The next step is to go a week without using credit cards. It's money not spent, interest not paid and impulse purchases avoided. (To reinforce the value of this effort, read Nine Reasons To Say "No" To Credit, which will help you talk yourself out of buying things you can't afford instead of rationalizing the decision to buy them.)
Once again, there are even more benefits to the exercise than the obvious ones that come from saving. By deferring purchases, you just might learn that if you wait to make a purchase, you may not even want to buy that item later. If you do buy it, you may learn to appreciate it and enjoy it more - whatever it is. (Read Should You Pay In Cash? to see how avoiding all forms of plastic payment can do wonders for your stress level and pocket book.)
Step 3: A Month Without Eating at Restaurants
This one can result in tremendous savings, unless you routinely eat a 99 cent fast food entrée for every meal. While such dining habits would save a few bucks on your monthly food bill, this meal plan just might kill you 30 years earlier!
Interestingly, many people are absolutely dismayed at the prospect of skipping lunch at a fast-food restaurant or dinner at a sit-down place for an entire month. Financial savings aside, taking up this challenge can help you learn to eat healthy, help make special occasions special because dining out is no longer a routine matter, and teach you to appreciate your good fortune when you do have the money to splurge and eat out instead of cooking at home. (For more on how these savings add up, see Squeeze A Greenback Out Of Your Latte.)
Spend It If You've Got It
Now, some space for the critics. That last item got Orman in hot water, as fast-food addicts, fine-dining junkies, restaurant owners and employees complained. To their point, yes, restaurant owners need to eat, too. So, if you've got a Donald Trump-like bank account, party 'til dawn, bathe in Champagne, eat out three meals a day and gorge yourself on fine dining and fast food until you can't stand up. Live large, eat out and enjoy yourself!
Now for a reality check. The advice to forgo eating out is obviously meant for the 95% of the world that would benefit from a few more dollars in their pockets, a few more good times with friends and family at home, a little less focus on consumption and a little better appreciation for how much more fortunate we are than the millions of people wondering how they are going to eat today or how they will keep their families safe tomorrow. (Read Stop Keeping Up With The Joneses – They're Broke for more.)
The goal isn't to put anyone out of work or out of business. It's to help people who are struggling under the financial pressures of modern living and the stresses that come from a culture of consumption. These steps can help to save few dollars, reduce stress levels and maybe even spur the loss of a few extra pounds. And, if the prospect of people who can't really afford to dine out saving their money by eating at home drives you into a rage, perhaps you too could benefit from reduction in stress, too. Try it, you just might like it! (Check out Top 5 Budgeting Questions Answered, for more savings tips.)