I'm starting to realise just how lucky I was while studying abroad in New Zealand. As I was experimenting with the idea of financial independence, I made it a goal to minimise my costs, so each month I decided to assess my spending habits. This lead to some very scary realisations; it's freeing to know you can get by for over two months with only around NZ$800. However, a big question mark fell upon the previous five years of education and the future fifty years of a career; what was I working towards when I could happily cover my expenses with a minimum wage job at merely ~20 hours a week?
Before I start, I'd like to say it's been a few months since finishing this self-imposed challenge. I honestly couldn't recommend it, even as a short term experiment and particularly as a long-term lifestyle. Now that I have had time to reflect, I would say if you feel compelled to challenge yourself in such an extreme way - keep it to a month and already be very healthy; I had just finished a raw vegan diet experiment.
I lasted for around three months and believe this diet ought not to be sustained while working/studying full-time; the only way it could become sustainable is by gardening/foraging (which would take up too much time). To be honest, that appeals to me, but it's not everyone's cup of tea. It may also help if you worked in a kitchen.
What I Ate
In the first month I went to a local supermarket and bought the cheapest source of oats rice and pasta and started from there:
- 3kg rolled oats NZ$8.38
- 3kg sugar NZ$4.99
- 1kg peanut butter NZ$5.99
- 1kg pasta NZ$1.58
- 10kg white rice NZ$6.49
Free food wasn't out of the question either, if I was offered food by friends or at an event, I saw no reason to hold back. I also didn't want to waste my hard work in the garden and made sure to pick my fair share of fresh kale and tomatoes. I didn't touch any food I bought before the start of the challenge.
In this first month, I was a lot more confident about the sustainability of the diet. After all, Christchurch is a surprisingly abundant city - the red zone is full of fruit trees - and Feijoa was in season. This is where the questions started coming in: If I weren't working/studying, then I'd have more time to forage and garden, increasing the healthfulness of the diet.
After a month's break from the diet (due to a road-trip) winter had long since rolled in.
Crunching the numbers, it seems the rice and sugar were the cheapest sources of calories, so on my next trial, I skipped out on the oats and pasta. As I foresaw the end of my time in New Zealand, I decided to start getting through my food from before the challenge (only around 2.5kgs of lentils) this meant that I lasted over a month with the next lot of shopping.
I've since lost the receipt for the second wave of purchasing, but for a long time it was literally just sugar-water throughout the day with peanut butter and sweet rice for dinner - when I was out of peanut butter I switched to lentils. Funnily enough, this reminded me of when I tried Durianrider's sugar challenge. With the constant supply of sugar, I actually felt incredibly good (there was no crashing). That was until my body adapted to the sugar and was drained of nutrients. The glow my skin from when I tried raw veganism had slowly faded, as did my mood. Signalling to me that it was time to go back to a 'normal' diet.
Have you made an effort to reduce your food costs? What do you find does/doesn't work? Share in the comments!