Up until a few months ago, I failed at every money-saving challenge I tried. Whether I attempted to walk home from work, stick to a cash diet, track my spending, or save my spare change, I just couldn’t stick to my goal. I tried many methods:
The No-Car Challenge: I walked home from work every day for three weeks until one day I found myself without rain boots or an umbrella and ordered an Uber.
Expense Tracking: On one ambitious vacation, I successfully wrote down every single expense, down to my ice cream cones. But my regular life was a little too crazed to keep up – and what was the point of doing it half the time?
The Spare Change Challenge: As a kid, I saved every penny, nickel, dime, and quarter in a fishbowl. I managed to fill two fishbowls. As an adult, I hate carrying heavy coins around all day and end up leaving my change in the tip jar.
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A Cash Diet: In an effort to reduce my spending on weekends, I tried a cash diet on nights out. I didn’t like keeping track of bills in dimly lit bars, and got worried about having enough taxi fare to get home.
After so many failed attempts, I decided to try something new: the Pantry Challenge.
For seven days, I wouldn’t spend any money on food or beverages. No takeout, brunch, grocery runs, Starbucks, dinner dates, bodega snacks – not even going to bars.
I became keenly aware of my vices.
Apparently, I am a fiend for Sunday brunch, delivery apps, and treats from the bodega (I’m looking at you, coconut water). My family ate out a lot growing up, and it’s hard to kick a childhood habit. When we weren’t eating out, I usually scavenged to put together a meal – just like the Pantry Challenge.
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I enjoy cooking, so I turned my money challenge into a culinary challenge. I made lemon paprika humus, quinoa curry, and fancy breakfast smoothies. As my supplies dwindled, my dinner prep looked more and more like a real-life version of Chopped.
It was easy to stick to the Pantry Challenge because it involved doing more of what I love.
Plus, I felt better physically. Restaurant food is tasty, but all that extra oil, sugar, salt, and fat leave me feeling a little blah. After eating home-cooked meals for an entire week, I felt energized and slept better. The Pantry Challenge doubled as a pantry cleanse!
Date nights with my boyfriend became home cooking adventures, movie nights, and long walks around the neighborhood. Dinners or cocktails with friends turned into picnics with snacks, drinks, and appetizers I prepared at home.
I also saved a lot of cash. At the beginning of the week, I spent $11 on yogurt, soy milk, and a few fresh vegetables, then my food costs were down to zero. Literally – zero. I usually spend almost 10 times that!
There were so many opportunities to cheat. I work out of a home office, and nobody would know if I ordered pad thai or walked to Chipotle for lunch. But I did it. I realized that I can stick to money challenges – I just need to choose the right ones for my lifestyle.
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