It’s 4:30am at Melbourne Airport, and all I can think about is how much I want to buy a coffee but can’t.
The cafes are open and baristas are busily pouring out orders, but I’m on the last day of a week-long experiment of not buying anything and determined not to break my winning streak at the 11th hour. Instead of caving, I go to my boarding gate and wait for my flight, where I know there will be complimentary coffee and breakfast service.
Mostly, I decided to undertake said self-imposed experiment as a way to re-evaluate my relationship with shopping and how much I buy on any given day, but a secondary benefit has also turned out to be how much money I’ve saved, particularly when it comes to incidental spending on things like coffee and food.
Instead of forking out for an average long black and piece of fruit toast, I save myself $15 to put towards the weekend away I’m about to have in Brisbane, where a friend is getting married the next day.
At the beginning of the week, I had thought the greatest difficulties would be avoiding spending related to the weddings; buying a new outfit, getting a manicure, finding a fresh lipstick, brunch on the day of the wedding and an even more indulgent brunch the day after the wedding. And while these were all things I thought about spending money on at some point over the past seven days, I quickly came to realise that small one-offs like morning coffees and breakfasts are not only the place where I spend the most money but also where I can save the most.
The day before I began the experiment, I did a big grocery shop, buying enough healthy food for a week’s worth of dinners and at-home lunches and all to pre-planned recipes so that there’d be minimal waste — a bag of coffee beans, lots of leafy greens and bananas, berries and fish to keep things healthy.
Almost as soon as I unpacked everything, though, I got cravings for junk food and wanted to go back to the shops. Before the experiment, I tried to not have too much chocolate in the house using the logic that if it’s there, I eat it all.
But I’ve come to realise that this mentality just leaves me going to the closest (and overpriced) convenience shop to my apartment most evenings and that instead of using the flawed logic of lots of little trips to the shops that ultimately end up costing a lot more, I need to learn more about and start practising mindful eating and look to what is already in the house (pink lady apples! Bananas! Hummus and carrots!), equally as delicious, and packaging-free.
By making my own coffee every day, making all of my meals at home and skipping my late-night sugar snack runs, I saved around $150 and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Making my own lunch meant that I gave myself a proper lunch break and stepped away from my phone and computer for long enough for my neck to stop hurting; I could sit outside and watch the day go by for half an hour and enjoy a meal that tasted great and required zero packaging to the world.
At dinnertime, I would put on some music and have a dance in the kitchen while my husband and I alternated cooking and talking about our days. He said that the experiment seemed like a great idea and showed surprise at how much money and garbage we were saving through my dogged commitment to not spend a cent.
By day four I felt truly in the swing of things. I was sitting out in-person yoga classes at a studio that charges $22 per session and instead returned to the Youtube hero of lockdowns, Yoga with Adriene.
Admittedly, it felt boring and limiting to not go anywhere or do anything sometimes, but whenever the feeling stuck, I found myself messaging friends and going out for walks with them and my dog. Hinged around talking and spending time outside, these moments came to feel infinitely more special than going out for drinks or finding some other way to spend money.
On one walk, my friend asked about the trip to Brisbane and what I was going to wear, something I had been thinking about a lot. The vast majority of my wardrobe could best be described as casual — jeans, t-shirts, tailored shirts and a lot of slides and sneakers.
Naturally, going to a black-tie wedding had me scratching my head and wondering how, as someone almost physically averse to dressing up, I would pull this off. When I told her this, she pulled out her phone and scrolled through photos, showing me what she owned that I could borrow. When I mentioned the hair and makeup conundrum, she sent through links to the best tutorials and reassured me that I could do it myself.
“Plus,” she pointed out, “unless you’re the bride no one really cares what you wear or what your makeup looks like.”
At 4am, my alarm goes off and as a final end to the experiment, my husband gets up and drives me to the airport, one final act of kindness in my frugality experiment so that I don’t have to order an Uber. I promise to text when I arrive and confirm if I make it to the end of the day without any purchases.
By 7pm, I’ve landed and settled into the house of a friend who lives in Brisbane and, annoyingly, realise I have to break my buying ban because I’ve forgotten my toothbrush and toothpaste.
So with five hours left, I swipe my debit card for the first time in a week and realise how simultaneously familiar and foreign it feels. Still, for a full week, a $7.20 late-night purchase at Woolworths isn’t too bad.
Want to shop more consciously? The Latch has partnered with Green Friday ahead of their four-day sales event, running just before the big shopping dates of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s a challenge to consumers and organisations to do better. They only showcase brands that meet their sustainability framework and direct consumers to products they need that cause the least impact on the planet through purchasing. You can read more stories about Green Friday here.