Everyday Meals

I Didn’t Spend a Dime for a Week. Here’s What I Ate.

A few weeks ago, I sent this not-so-humble brag of a text to one of my best friends, Viki, after completing a self-imposed personal finance challenge in which I purchased absolutely nothing over the course of five business days. “I successfully spent $0 Monday through Friday this week and I’ve never felt more proud.”

That meant no grocery shopping, no online shopping, no coffee runs, no drugstore errands, no “unnecessary spending” whatsoever for five days.

“Holy hell. That’s impressive,” she responded with the kind of validation only a best friend can provide. “How?”

My brief but decisive spending fast was hatched after a few weeks of mindless spending, a bunch of unexpected but necessary purchases, and a weekend away with my former college roommates. I checked my bank statement and was taken aback by how far off-track I felt from my own best habits and goals.

I write a lot of stories about saving money here at Kitchn and do my best to heed my own advice. For the most part, I put my money where my mouth is. I’m a master coupon-er (I’m convinced it’s hereditary); have a Very Serious Spreadsheet, where I track every single penny I spend; and make my own breakfast, lunch, and dinner most days of the week (when I don’t have plans). So why did I get off track with my budget?

When it came down to a five-day no-spend week, I needed to pull out all the stops and take time off from eating out, spending, and splurging. Here’s what I ate.

My No-Spend Week of Meals

Breakfast: My freezer was stocked with smoothie ingredients (frozen berries, mango, and spinach), so I decided that I’d make smoothies all week for breakfast. I had a jar of almond butter in my pantry and added a tablespoon or two to each to give them a protein boost so they’d last me until lunchtime.

In addition to the smoothies, I made a vow that whenever I went into my office, I would ONLY drink the drip coffee in the communal kitchen. This meant no Starbucks runs, which was pretty devastating, until I dug up a Starbucks gift card (a stocking stuffer from Christmas). I was able to treat myself to two Grande Cold Brews which felt like a real treat, rather than a part of my routine.

Lunch: Hello, pantry, my old friend. I had a few cans of black beans and an onion so I texted Viki to walk me through her mom’s famous Cuban black bean recipe. It wasn’t nearly an exact replica (I didn’t have a green bell pepper to make the sofrito!), but I swirled in a spoonful of Trader Joe’s Zhoug sauce hanging out in my fridge and it gave the beans the extra oompf they needed to feel like a meal.

I paired the batch of beans with brown rice and portioned it all out in my favorite lunch containers. Towards the end of the week, I repurposed the beans into bean tacos, paired with the corn tortillas and cheese I had in the fridge, so I didn’t feel like I was having meal deja vu. I made it stretch and can proudly say that I didn’t buy a single $13 lunch salad all week. Go team.

Dinner: Back to the pantry for this one. It turns out, one of my favorite pasta recipes — puttanesca — is made entirely of pantry staples. I made a big vat of puttanesca sauce and paired it with linguine for a few nights. The rest of the nights I ate Banza chickpea pasta paired with cannellini beans and kale (which takes so long to go bad) sautéed in olive oil. Even though I didn’t have meat, the beans and the Banza had enough protein to keep me full.

3 Eating Lessons for a No-Spend Week

The biggest lessons I learned during my zero-spend week?

1. Take inventory of what you have more regularly: You might be surprised by what’s already on hand in your fridge, freezer, and pantry.

2. Repetition saves money: Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers.

3. POWER THROUGH! The five days will be over before you know it and you can take the lessons you learned from this challenge and apply them to the rest of the month.

A few days later, Viki texted me: “It’s already Wednesday and I am still going! You’ve inspired me.”

Have I inspired you? Have you ever done a pantry or fridge clean-out to save money? I’d love to hear your own lessons!

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