Think it's possible to go an entire week without spending a dime? New Yorker Natasha Huang agreed to embark on our Financial Detox Challenge, with hopes to save enough to earn herself a much-needed vacation. Here's how the challenge works…and how Natasha fared:
First, prepare for your Financial Detox by stocking up on the basics, whatever you need to survive a week without compromising your health, or your job. This includes filling up your gas tank, shopping for a week's worth of breakfasts, bagged lunches, and dinners, and filling any prescriptions. Natasha says, "I started by loading my subway card with $50 and going grocery shopping, where I spent about $50, or about $100 for the week."
Leave your Cards and Cash At Home
Begin the financial detox by leaving your cards and cash at home; see how it feels to go without your usual, everyday temptations like your morning cup of joe, or an impromptu happy hour.
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Next, cancel any commitments that will cost you money this week. "By nature I'm a really social person and like to go out, try new restaurants. So that's been really difficult. [For example} it's hard to get a group of people to come to my apartment and crack open a bottle of wine, versus going out and enjoying the nice weather, enjoying a cocktail or an appetizer." Instead, Natasha says, she met a friend for coffee and ordered a cup of ice with water. "We still had a lovely time and it was a way I could be social without spending any money."
Not spending money proved to be more difficult than Natasha thought, as she's accustomed to walking past retail stores on her way home from work and "popping in to see what's new." She says, "I've realized from this challenge that I'm quite a shopaholic. Before, I'd walk into Bed Bath & Beyond for a bar a soap and come out with a new bathrobe and pillows, things I don't really need. Or, I'll often tack on a 10 minute massage to a pedicure." Now, she says, she has a better idea of what a "want" versus a "need" is.
Get Things Done
When you're spending time NOT spending money during the detox, it's important to stay distracted. Now is a great time to check off items from your to-do list. "I couldn't believe how much I got done! I finished 3 Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons, a big pile of magazines I'd been meaning to go through, and I finished the book I was reading," says Natasha.
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Track and Calculate
Every time you get a craving to spend money on something you'd like to have, but don't need to have - note the item and what you would have spent to buy it. When you've reached the end of the detox, look over your list and add up the costs -- this number represents your savings for the week.
Natasha explains that she had to delete Daily Deal emails from Gilt, Groupon and Living Social from her inbox, because in a normal week, she'd often be tempted to spend more than $200 online for things like massage packages or pedicures -- credits she'd never end up using.
Learn from Any Mistakes
Natasha did eventually run into trouble on the detox -- she ended up spending money on day four. "By midweek I had run out of food, and had to buy lunch and grocery shop," she says. But, if Natasha ever does the detox again, she says she'll definitely make better food choices, stocking up at Costco for bulk items and making sure she has more than just perishables in her fridge.
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Despite Natasha's setback on day four, she still had a successful detox -- in fact, she estimates she saved herself around $500. Though this is more than most could save -- or spend! -- in a week's time, even the most modest of spenders can benefit from pre-loading purchases in order to prioritize expenditures.
In the end, Natasha says, "I learned that though it's hard not to spend, I really don't need to be doing it as freely as I have been. Moving forward, I'll hold off on getting that extra round of drinks, or cab at the end of the night."
With these strategies in mind, Natasha thinks she'll be able to take a little R&R on a long-awaited vacation she's been saving up for, in about a month's time. "This really fast-tracked my savings," she says.Want to take our Financial Detox Challenge? Send us your results by connecting with Farnoosh on Twitter: @Farnoosh using the hashtag #finfit.