Sometimes, disaster really is the mother of invention. In this case, money got tight, really tight. I needed to avoid spending, any spending, for 10 days and so, the $20 spending challenge was born.

As I talked about in The Dangers of Denial, my once successful online retail business took a serious downturn. The last 12 months have been witness to consistently decreasing income. Unfortunately, it took me a while to accept that the platform I was using was the problem and I needed to work on other options rather than continue to throw time, money and energy at a lost cause. Fast forward to today and the comfortable buffer in my mortgage (line of credit) and emergency fund are gone. For the first time in over 20 years, I am faced with the prospect of not being able to clear the balance on my credit card (which I use for all expenses) when it is due. It’s a real challenge for me to admit that.

The $20 Spending Challenge

No more time for denial, only decisive action. So, with 10 days left before the end of the card’s billing cycle, I determined that I could spend only $20, which in addition to some small change, happened to be the cash in my wallet. There were still some business expenses that would need to go on the card, that was unavoidable, but nothing else would go on the card for the next 10 days.

Here’s how I did it…

Shopping the Pantry

spending challenge dinner rolls

$20 Spending Challenge – Homemade oat bran dinner rolls, perfect with soup from the freezer.

I’ve always maintained a well stocked pantry so the $20 spending challenge wasn’t as painful as it could have been. Maybe it’s a hold over from feudal (as opposed to just frugal) times and the need to be prepared for a siege? Whatever the reason, I feel more secure knowing the pantry is well stocked with all the usual staples. Additionally, my freezer was, well, not bursting with prepared meals, but there were several individual serves of main meals and soup plus some meat and frozen vegetables. The humans in the house were not going to starve but the felines’ pantry was getting low. A nice side bonus of needing to be creative in the kitchen, I found this wonderful recipe for Dorset Apple Tray Bake – simple to make and delicious.

What I spent during this spending challenge = $18.04

What I spent it on:

  • Cat food $10.03
  • Milk $6.62
  • Butter $1.39

Fuel

At the start of the 10 day spending challenge, I had roughly one quarter of a tank of petrol. I was sure I’d need to top up at some point which would take a huge chunk out of my budget – $10 doesn’t go far when fuel is $1.30 per litre (approx $5 per gallon). Usually, I use the car every week day to take orders to the post office but on the days that I had a lighter load, I chose to walk to the post office instead. It’s probably only a 2 mile round trip so not arduous by any means but a little challenging while carrying the orders.

As a result of this spending challenge, I hardly used the car at all and got a lot of extra walks so no need to buy petrol.

Fuel costs during spending challenge = $0.00

What I learned during this spending challenge

During the 1o days, I only spent money on milk, butter and cat food. The primary reasons I was able to stick to spending under $20 during that time were:

  • A well stocked pantry
  • Being able to ‘walk’ errands, but most importantly
  • No unexpected disasters.

This experience has reinforced the importance of having  the very practical insurance of a stockpile. Without it we wouldn’t have been able to get through those 10 days, let alone get through them with relative ease.  It’s also highlighted that even though things are tough at the moment – it’s temporary. Unfortunately there are lots of folks out there for whom a spending challenge like this is what they call life.

We’ll be on a bare bones budget for the next three months so I can make sure there’s nothing outstanding on the credit card and build up that buffer again. Luckily I have the ways and means available to do so. I’ll also be looking for ways to add a few extra dollars to the kitty, too.

Realising I needed to tackle this spending challenge was scary but the lessons learned from it will continue to pay dividends long after that fear has faded from memory.