When the idea to do a financial challenge came up, I jumped at the opportunity to be the guinea pig for the project. I'd love to say it was out of nobility and a thirst for knowledge, but the truth is, living in Australia is expensive and most weeks I find myself reduced to a similar bank balance regardless. This was the perfect opportunity to put it down to 'work' instead of 'financial struggle'.
So the 'how to survive in Australia on $100 per week' experiment was born. The rules were simple: all living expenses for 7 days had to come in at under $100.
Essentially I would have to live, eat, and entertain myself for under a crisp hunjie. Tough right? I thought so too, given my Deliveroo addiction and refusal to catch public transport, but as the challenge started, things changed.
Unsurprisingly, when I looked at the week ahead and mentally allocated my funds, most of my personal expenses came down to food and transport. But mostly food. OK, I spend a ridiculous amount of money on food.
However about 2 days in, I found that life was actually easier living on a budget. I ate healthier, got more sleep, and saw my friends and family a whole lot more. In fact I became so involved in the challenge that with 2 days left, and only a total of $48 spent all week, I decided to reduce the total for the week to only $60. And I could splurge on 2 large coffees. (Dang. I could have saved $9.)
Before we dive into how it's done, let's lead with the fine print: expenses such as rent, repayments, memberships and utilities were obviously excluded, because... well it's 2018 and that would be impossible. Also this is obviously an extreme way of living and not extremely sustainable long term if you'd like to maintain a healthy social life, however the takeaways can be impactful to every day life.
Petrol - $18
Food & Drink - $39
TOTAL SPENT - $57
HOW TO DO IT
Obviously working for a publishing company comes with it's perks. Yes, we get gifted a bunch of great protein balls, clothing, and experiences by PR companies. It's one of the great benefits of this job, and it definitely comes in handy when living on a budget. And while working for Men's Health has incredible perks, unfortunately my landlord doesn't accept free protein powder in the place of rent.
But you don't have to work for the greatest magazine on the planet to heist work perks. Every job has its own set of benefits, and learning how to identify these 'opportunities' (aka learning how to wrought the system) can be a great skill.
Look to your workplace and find opportunity. Instead of heading out for a coffee, hit up the free milk and instant coffee from the kitchen. Make your client take you out for coffee. Or better yet, take your client out for coffee and charge it back to your company. Have Friday night drinks in the office, instead of the pub. Suggest a 'team bonding' session to your boss. In 2018, corporate culture is King, so your managers will probably jump at the chance to socialise with you.
RETHINK THE WAY YOU SOCIALISE
We live in a culture that suggests that socialising HAS to occur over a meal or a drink. It really doesn't though. We have great live sporting events, parks and beaches that are perfect for catching up with mates, and even taking the ladies out on dates.
Sticking to a budget is an incredible opportunity to reconnect with your family and friends, and without having to distract yourself with constant 'activities', you can actually have a real conversation. Ask a mate to come over and watch the footy, or invite yourself over if you're 'that guy'. Forgoing the odd shnitty won't kill you. And while you're at it, visit your parents for dinner! They'll love it, and most likely feed you.
It had been months since I've had actual physical cash in my wallet. Pay wave is just way too easy, fun and widespread. However waving my card or phone to make purchases almost turns money into an intangible concept, an imaginary means of making purchases. It's a little bit like using Monopoly money.
However withdrawing cash from the ATM at the beginning of the week gives you a physical representation of your net worth for the week. Handing over cash is parting with an actual physical item, and you can visibly see your worth decreasing as you spend it. There is no hiding from your reckless spending.
BUY WHOLESOME FOOD
Despite the rumours, buying fast food is actually NOT cheaper than buying fresh ingredients. Even if you consider $5 for a cheap fast food meal (and you'd be hard pressed to find that these days), that adds up to $15 per day based on three meals per day. Already, you're up to a minimum of $105 spent on food for a week eating out.
During this experiment, I was able to maintain a healthy diet, albeit bland, for only $35, without impacting my current fitness and nutrition goals. I stocked up on oats, rice, sweet potato, frozen vegetable, eggs and tuna. The key to the shop was buying ingredients that could be used across multiple meals, and were easily combined to form multiple dishes. Sweet potato and eggs, eggs and tuna, veges and rice... it was a mix and match effort all week.
Yes, I did miss chicken, beef, fresh vegetables, milk and nuts, however getting creative allowed me access to some of these staples. Milk in the office kitchen. Check. Dinner at the folks place. Check. Low GI carbohydrate gains. Double check.
STEP IT UP
At the start of the week, I looked into public transport options in the hopes of cutting down on transport costs. I operated on about $20-$30 of petrol each week, which allowed me to get to and from work, to the beach for a surf, and to the gym. When I looked into public transport, my estimate reached around $60 and that was with giving up my surf trips. Bummer. I really wanted to root for public transport as a cheaper alternative that also reduced my carbon footprint, but unfortunately the intricate systems of our transport network meant that wasn't going to be an option on my new budget.
Therefore I needed to keep my petrol budget under $20. To do this, I laced up my runners, and took up walking as my main form of transport, again heisting lifts from mates whenever possible. Getting to and from work still required my car, but in hindsight, if I had a bike, it would have been the perfect solution to this problem.
- Public transport is expensive, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, and if you have a car, driving is actually a cheaper option, as much as it pains me to realise
- Preparing your own food is much, much cheaper than eating out (or ordering in)
- Yes, living this cheap will mean going without and isn't sustainable long term. However cutting back on non-essential luxuries is actually possible
- Catching up with mates, taking girls on inexpensive dates, and visiting your family is incredibly more refreshing that having to always 'do' something with them. A catch up in the park allows you to reconnect and tackle some big issues
- Staying in is OK. In fact, it's great. Living on a budget means limiting your night time activities, resulting in more sleep. I hit 7-8 hours almost every single night. Literally living the dream