Each month I try to challenge myself to go without something I love to develop my frugality muscle. I’ve been without hot water showers and alcohol in the past. In January my partner and I decided to go without buying food for a whole month.
I’m not going on a hunger strike – far from it - I’m just using every last item in the pantry and fridge and completely avoiding the supermarket, cafes, restaurants, or take-away shops. I didn’t stock up at the end of December so I’ve had to be creative with meals and have repeated many meals.
You can see from the image above that I had a heap of tuna, rice, pasta, oats, tinned tomatoes, spices and a good selection of staples. I’ve been eating rice and tuna for lunches, and pasta with a simple sauce for dinner. I have also had vegetable curries and risotto. It hasn’t been difficult at all.
What Is The Point of Depriving Yourself?
This is a fair question, and the simple answer is to see if I can.
Most of us are extremely fortunate to live in a privileged society that is abundant in every sense. We are used to driving down to the shop if we run out of food or simply because we want some variety. We can have pizza delivered hot to our door and are happy to pay for the luxury.
I want to retire in ten years without having a huge income which means that in order to save the amount of money I need to retire, I need to save aggressively. This means making some sacrifices so that my greater goal, financial independence, can be achieved.
I have discovered that as I train myself to go without things that most people consider must-have items, the happier I become. I can’t explain precisely why this is, but the simplicity that comes with a life without trying to keep up with the latest gadgets, cars or furniture is very satisfying. It’s a much less stressful way of life because I’m genuinely not concerned about keeping up with the Joneses.
The Benefits of This Challenge
Not shopping for food for a month will have a number of benefits that aren’t directly related to developing willpower, the most important of those are:
- I will spend no money on food in January. This will to some degree just delay the spending until February, but it also will lead to real savings. Some items in the fridge and pantry would have gone bad before I ate them had I not done this challenge. Many of the staples that I’m living on are extremely cheap, so the meals I’m eating are much simpler than they would be without this challenge.
- I’m avoiding waste. Nothing in the fridge can afford to go off this month. I’ve noticed that the garbage bin needs to be emptied much less regularly than normal.
- I have learned to be more creative with the staples and food I already had. This is a good lesson to learn and has application in other areas of my life. We are all imbued with significant skills and talents which we frequently choose not to use or develop. Learning to be creative and to do things yourself is a great lesson to learn, even if it’s just about food this month.
- I’m doing something people think is impossible. It’s fun to do things that other people consider too hard. By doing a series of things that other people aren’t willing to do, I’m going to be retired from work well before I’m 40. Knowing that is immensely satisfying.
- I get to empty out the pantry and start again.
Why I’ll Continue Challenging Myself to Go Without
When I went without hot showers for a month, I did so to see if I could and to possibly save some money on my electricity bill. What I discovered is that I really love cold showers. They make my skin zing, my heart race and make me feel completely alive. There isn’t a better way to wake up in the morning. I haven’t had a hot shower since.
I expect that I’ll save a few hundred dollars per year from my new habit, but I’ve discovered a much greater thing: the joy of being jolted awake by freezing water.
We are used to such a ridiculously high standard of living that we forget that us humans have very few actual needs. Our only true needs are food, water, shelter and company.
By having a very high standard of living, most of us spend almost every cent we have and then some. The rate of consumer debt in Western society suggests that many of us spend far in excess of what we earn. I have realized that this standard of living comes at a very high cost: that cost is working until I’m 65. I’m not willing to pay that price.
I’d prefer to continue down the path of frugality because the simple life it gives makes me happier and it will allow me to avoid a life of work. If you can save 75% of your income, you can retire in 10 years. Free in ten years. What are you willing to give up to retire early?
James is a 27 year old preparing to retire in ten years. He blogs about his journey to an early retirement at Free in Ten Years. He believes the key to financial independence is to be as frugal as possible, have a number of passive income streams and do what you love. Follow him on Twitter.