30-Day Expense Elimination Challenge Wrap-Up

Well, it’s been a fun challenge (see the final results at the bottom).  I succeeded, with almost $40 to spare.  For those who haven’t been following along, you can see my original post here and every post that contained a 30-day challenge update here.

If you recall, I typically would spend on average $1,400 per month on “non-fixed” expenses.  In the past 30 days, I spent nearly $1,000 less than that.  It feels good, but there were times when I needed or wanted to buy something and had a difficult time restraining myself.  Anyway, this would all be for nothing if I didn’t walk away with some insight and advice for anyone else who is trying to cut back on expenses and tighten a budget.  Here are my general notes from the challenge:

  1. One key to cutting back on expenses and keeping it sustainable is to really figure out what you can sacrifice.  In my case, it wasn’t the food.  To a certain extent, yes, I sacrificed eating out, but in the end, I really cut back on my miscellaneous purchases – clothes, candy, and other random things you might buy at Walgreens or Target.  At the end of the day, you want to enjoy your life.  It’s simple: cut back on the expenses that bring you the least enjoyment.
  2. For me, this challenge was all about breaking old habits and forming new ones.  When you’re in the habit of going to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for coffee 2-3 times a week (maybe more), you can’t picture your mornings without it.  Surprisingly, this was one of the easiest habits for me to break.  Now, I make coffee every morning at a coffee machine in my office building – it doesn’t taste as good on its own, but after adding some flavored creamer ($2.50 can get you a bottle that lasts for more than a week), it’s fine for me.  If you don’t have a coffee machine at work, make coffee at home.  Get it going before you hop in the shower (or have one that you can set on a timer and prepare the night before), and you’ll have a hot cup off coffee ready for you on the way to work.  Right off the bat, I estimate this saves me at least $10-15/week.  That’s easily almost $800/year.
  3. I couldn’t eliminate eating out – I do like to cook, but I love going to restaurants, mainly on the weekends.  If you take a look at my updates, you’ll see I generally still ate out on Fridays and Saturday, often paying for two people.  The one thing I did reduce was eating out for lunch.  We all know that making your own lunch is cheaper and probably healthier, so I’m hoping I will continue to bring a lunch to work most days.

Thanks to the fact that I set my own rules, I didn’t break any of them.  There were some flaws with the challenge, however:

  • Deferral of “big” purchases – When you constrict your budget, you can reduce or eliminate a lot of expenses, like I did with restaurant food and coffee.  However, any major expenditures that are on your horizon can only be deferred.  For example, my desktop computer has a dual-monitor display.  During this challenge, the older monitor of the two burnt out.  Because of this, I need (more like want) to buy a new monitor.  I didn’t want to purchase it during my challenge, but I will purchase soon now that the challenge has ended.  All the challenge did for me was defer the expense.  One way or another though, you will always buy the big things you need – it’s just a matter of when. 
  • Access to freebies – As a co-worker of mine aptly pointed out to me, I went longer than usual without grocery shopping, only periodically eating out on the weekends.  I couldn’t have done this without free food at work (random bagels for breakfast/lunch, dinners when I work late).  Obviously, this isn’t something you could do if your work arrangement doesn’t provide for it.  If I didn’t have access to the free food, I would likely have needed to cut back on eating out even more, in favor of buying groceries.
  • The $500 limit -There’s a reason you’re encouraged to set “reach” goals for yourself – goals that are very difficult, yet possible, to achieve.  If you set the bar too low, you won’t push yourself.  My selection of “$500” as a goal was pretty arbitrary.  I could have selected $400 or even $300 and probably still achieved the goal.  In retrospect, I definitely could have saved even more money, especially if I had set a more difficult goal for myself.
    • To go along with this, I think it was very important for me to know my current daily expense average.  It’s hard to imagine your spending over an entire month, but breaking it down into daily goals helped me stay on track.  If I know I can spend $17 per day and I don’t spend anything for 2 days, I feel okay going out to eat on the 3rd day and spending $30+, because I know my budget allows for it.

Where do we go from here?  I’m not really sure.  If I find that my spending gets out of control again in the future, I may do one of these again.  For me, expense control is only a very small piece of the pie.  The larger challenge to tackle is income generation – more specifically, automated income generation.  This still remains atop my list of desires, and slowly but surely, I hope to get there.

    The next “30-Day Challenge”: Squeezing 30 Hours out of a 24 Hour Day (working title, subject to change).
    30-Day Challenge Final Update – Day 30 (2/24):

    Gas:                                            $ 12.01
    Dinner:                                             9.87
    Day 28 Total                               $ 21.88

    30-Day Challenge Expense Total: $461.17

    “Allowed” Expenses Remaining: $38.83

    Overall Average Daily Expense:  $15.37 (Target Average: $16.67/day) 

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