I am on a mission. A mission to free myself from over consumption. A mission to simplify my life.
A mission to put my happiness above all else.
In the past 12 months, I have rid my life of many things in the search for happiness. I left my steady, sensible, well paid job to chase my dream of self employment. I’ve halved the number of possessions I own. I’ve chosen who I spend my time with more wisely.
I’ve embraced the concept of minimalism in many respects. When I first heard about minimalism, I pictured a lone traveller, carrying all their worldly possessions on their back as they explored the world.
I see it very differently now. It can become a whole of life philosophy - one where you evaluate everything in your life against a very personal question - do I need this?
This question can be asked of anything. It becomes a question of the physical, the social and the spiritual.
My personal philosophy has become:
By eliminating the superfluous, we open the door to increased freedom. Without the shackles of excess, we can focus more on our passions and our personal growth.
A big part of this picture is also financial. What we choose to spend our money on has a huge bearing on the quality of our life. It determines how much money we need to earn, and therefore what we must do to earn a living. It dictates how much debt we saddle ourselves with, and therefore the burden our future selves must face.
When it comes to physical possessions, I can take or leave most stuff. But when it comes to food, I find it hard not to indulge in the finer things. I’m a self confessed foodie - I think about food every minute of every day, always planning my next meal.
I spent a long time battling my weight because of this love for food. This is something I came to grips with a little over two years ago. I retaught myself how to eat, in a healthy, satisfying way so that I could continue to enjoy food without being overweight. But that hasn’t curtailed my spend on food.
Until recently, I was spending A LOT of money on food. My husband and I would spend at least £100 on grocery shopping each week. On top of this, we would eat out or get a takeaway at least once.
The average UK household (of 2.3 people) spends £56.80 on food and non alcoholic drinks each week, which equates to around £3.52 per person per day - and this doesn’t account for meals out, alcohol or takeaways. So, we were spending AT LEAST twice the average on food.
So I asked myself, what would happen if I cut my personal food budget by 80%? This would be a huge saving, meaning a positive impact on my finances and, therefore, my overall happiness.
I’ve just completed 30 days of living on a £2 per day food budget. Here are 5 things I learned along the way:
1. We are all suffering from abundance anxiety.
We live in a world where our options are infinite and inexhaustible. As Simon Sinek pointed out in his recent interview about millennials in the workplace, we are taught from a young age that we can have anything in life, just because we want it.
The world is our oyster - everything is ours for the taking. So how do we choose what we want, when we can have anything? When we are spoilt for choice, how do we determine the right path?
We are bombarded with these decisions every moment of every day. Do you want a non-fat double espresso frappuccino, or a soya latte with extra foam? Do you want to watch the new series of Better Call Saul, or a documentary about Tony Robbins? Shall we go for a beer or catch a movie? Every moment of every day.
And this leads to what I call abundance anxiety - living in a constant state of worry caused by indecision and FOMO. By restricting myself to a food spend of just £2 per day, I found I was relieved of much of this stress - my choices were suddenly reduced, so I spent less time worrying over what to eat (which, in turn, gave me the headspace to focus on other things). This leads me on to point two.
2. Restriction leads to creativity.
When you have limited resources you have to think harder to come up with a suitable solution. To me, with food, ’suitable’ means a) that it tastes good, b) that it is healthy and balanced c) that it is environmentally sustainable.
I have found myself analysing ingredients to within an inch of their lives - what is this ingredient bringing to the party? Is it necessary, and if so why? Are there cheaper alternatives? This process has forced me to really think about my purchasing behaviour as well as my food preparation.
3. Value and cost are not the same thing.
I faced a real toughie on one particular day. I was due to catch up with some friends and we decided we would each bring along some food and create our own little buffet. I made sure my breakfast and lunch costs were kept to a minimum, leaving me with £1.36 to create something that would satisfy the 4 of us.
This was the crux of the problem in my head; what could I do to make sure I didn’t come across as cheap? I didn’t want to use the challenge as an excuse - after all, the whole point of this exercise is to introduce better behaviours to my life for the long term, and I knew I would face similar obstacles after the 30 days was over. I had to find a way to add value without adding cost.
It turns out that the food I took along went down a storm (I made some pea houmous and baba ganoush with crudites) - everyone wanted the recipe and it all got hoovered up! Nobody saw me as cheap - they loved my food and wanted to know more about my challenge.
What I’ve learned from this is that value and cost are two very different things. Value can be achieved through care, attention and time - in this case, a few simple ingredients become of great value with a bit of creativity and love.
4. Sometimes it’s OK to indulge.
So look. Living on £2 a day is fine, 95% of the time. But there are going to be occasions in the future when it’s not enough. If I was to stick to this rule rigidly for the rest of my life, I’d never travel, I’d never eat out and I’d never have a cheese board ever again (and that, my friends, is a step too far!).
And that’s OK. The whole point of this challenge was to prove to myself that reducing my financial burden on food is not only possible but simple. And I’m now convinced that this is true - for 95% of occasions. For the other 5%, I will enjoy the indulgence so much more than I have in the past.
5. Laser like focus in one area has had a snowball effect on other areas of life.
Getting so much closer to the cost of everyday food items has been a real eye opener. Certain foods that I thought were really cheap turned out to be much more costly that I expected. This insight has forced me to question everything I buy and consume.
I’ve started to equate every purchase with the alternative in food supplies, and it’s stopped me from buying things that I didn’t necessarily need but would have previously bought without much thought.
The whole point of this challenge was to simplify my life by removing unwarranted financial burdens, and I’m absolutely making a habit of this in all areas of spend.
What I learned can be summarised in one sentence: Life is about choice - we must embrace our decisions and accept the consequences, for it’s the little things that shape our existence.
Vincent Van Gogh put it in an even more succinct way:
Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.
And when these small things are shaped by a higher purpose - a personal vision - they become easier to do consistently and effectively.
My vision is for a simpler, happier existence. This experiment has enabled me to move one step closer to achieving this vision. And so for that reason, I’m labelling it a success.