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Just Me, Odds-and-Sods

A lesson in frugal living (Part 1 of 2)

This week I am undertaking a little social experiment.  I decided to join some friends in trying to live for a week on under £20 (595 czk in case you were wondering – let’s call it 600). This was prompted by a (fairly old) article by Stuart Jeffries at the Guardian in which he tried to do the same, only for just a tenner, as part of a scheme to persuade big spenders to embrace a simpler life.

Am I a big spender? I would love to deny it but in all honesty, yes I am. Embarrassingly big actually. I do things like hide receipts and lie about the cost of purchases in order to avoid rebuke. Presumably this does not bode well for a week of frugal living.

The Rules

In line with the rules that Jeffries followed, accommodation and utility bills do not count. The original experiment aimed to track how much people spend/waste on transport, food and luxuries, rather than what we might term ‘essentials’.  Any food already in the fridge/cupboard is ‘free’. I must say, even before I start I feel a bit like a fraud – taking accommodation, heating, clean water and food completely for granted makes me uneasy. A week of living frugally is an interesting experiment for someone with a healthy salary, but is an unfortunate long-term reality for people from all over the globe, including in ‘developed’ countries.  Apologies in advance – this is not intended to be at all insulting to those for whom frugal living is a necessity not a hobby, but just a curious look at my ability to be more of a spend-thrift.

I already have a year’s Opencard for commuting – at 4750 czk per year (which I have always considered a bargain) this works out at 91 czk per week (out of a 600 czk budget, this suddenly seems like less of a bargain).

Sunday

Half of Sunday was actually already gone by the time I decided to join the challenge. Fortunately, I had not gone spend-crazy.  A lovely stroll with a friend in Stromovka Park followed by X-Factor catch-up (via broadband, which presumably we pay to use but I have no idea how, or how much). I make a tuna and bean salad at home for lunch and generally potter about. Hubby arrives home with a takeaway from the local Vietnamese Pho place – I nibble some when he is not looking and call it dinner.  Evening in - watching a film and getting ready for work.

All in all, a happy Sunday. I start to think that the no spending thing is easy, until I realise that I haven’t really done anything, have resorted to stealing food from my husband and have already spent around 20% of the week’s budget.

Total Sunday spend:

  • transport for the week – 91 czk
  • hot chocolate – 25 czk

Monday

Relieved the week has started – how hard can it be to not spend cash whilst at work?

I walk to work, which is free (but also makes me question  the rationale of having an annual Opencard).  Breakfast is bircher muesli, which I make in the work kitchen. I already have all the ingredients, except an apple (which I take from home – free) and apple juice.  My normal apple juice is 45 czk.  I opt for the cheapest in Albert, which is 32 czk. All the writing is in Czech, so I can’t be too sure, but I suspect this juice has never been anywhere near an apple… I forego my morning coffee from the Illy lady at Mustek station in favour of herbal tea (free at work).

Lunch time – I am at a strangely loose end. Usually I might pop out for a quick bite, or do a little Christmas shopping.  But today, being cost-conscious I munch yesterday’s leftovers at my desk. Containing both tuna and onion, this is not very social, but I can’t afford to eat out and it’s too cold to find a nice spot to sit outside.

I got a bit fed up at the thought that I might not go outside during the day, so I donned a hat and gloves and wandered down to Namesti Republiky. There is a very interesting (and free) open air photographic exhibition there, contrasting images of the Prague Spring with the Arab Spring – the revolutionary wave of demonstrations across several Arab states this year. I spent an enthralled 20 minutes here - a ‘must see’ for anyone interested in current affairs (and on a budget).  

The evening is a tricky one. I have dinner planned with my mega-boss, who is visiting Prague.  I clearly cannot cancel this. I suspect he will offer to pay but cannot be certain. I trot along to dinner resolving to eat as little as possible and not drink. Then I decide that I will have a drink, in case my not-drinking makes him assume that I am pregnant. Blimey, this is a minefield.

Total Monday spend:

  • rank apple juice – 32 czk
  • massive dinner out – 0 czk (in the end my boss made it very clear that this was on the company, so I had the proverbial lobster)

Tuesday

I am settling into the tedium of frugal living. Walk to work (free). Make breakfast (also free, although I am running low on almonds, apple and apple juice for the bircher muesli - will they last the week or will I end up eating dry oats?). By lunch time I am starving and my home-made lunch (very unappetising scrapings of tuna & bean salad – now three days old) is not tempting.   I just couldn’t face it so went out and spent 50 czk on soup at a nearby cafe. For anyone in Prague, this Expats.cz article on soup spots has made very interesting reading this week! 

In the evening I went to the gym (membership is free through work) and then came home and made soup for dinner and lunch for the next day.

The idea of spending the rest of the week working, cooking and sleeping bores me immensely. The rest of the week stretches out in front of me – punctuated only by meals of muesli and tuna and bean salad. This is not exactly rock n’ roll.

  • 50 czk – soup at lunch
  • 12 czk – 3 carrots for making soup

***

The week-long post threatened to become far too long, so I have split it into two. I am currently in  the middle of Project Frugal and have four days and 390 czk to go. I would welcome encouragement and any thoughts on cheap/free Prague activities (especially lunch-time places to go when you are penny-pinching).

Stay in touch for Part 2 – later this week!

Tune in here to see how my friends are doing on their challenges – based in Edinburgh and London

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About CzechingIn

A blog about an English lady living in Prague.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “A lesson in frugal living (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Too bad you’re not a fan of potatoes! They are our all time ‘frugal’ favourite!

    Posted by Emily | November 23, 2011, 1:06 pm
  2. I’m absolutely fine spending five stravenkas (5×70 Kč = 350 Kč) during a week – food for each of working days plus weekend (from breakfast to diner and snacks). I shop for food at the weekend; cereal buns, bread, slices of Eidam, ham, vegetable butter, fruit (apples, bananas, oranges… – not all of these of course at once, one or two kinds), eggs, milk, frozen vegetables/fresh vegetables, instant porridge, chocolate sticks (I love chocolate), tea, rice, pasta, onions, garlic… and live from that quite happily during the upcoming week.

    Other expenses are commuting of course (I have a pass) and then for example latté or a glass of wine with a friend and now in this season a small Christmas gift if I spot anything cute.

    I stick with normal food and preparing lunch for work at home. Nothing that difficult.

    You can always drink coffee at an office and not buying it on your way to work. For me as a Czech it seems like a useless luxury. I can better enjoy it when not rushing in a nice and cozy café while chatting with a friend.

    I would still quite comfortably fit in the 600 Kč limit, so buying cosmetics could be another expense.

    However, hard to say if this would be possible without stravenkas as half of their value is from a salary and the rest is a contribution from an employer… Hm I would say yes. As a student I used to get by only with equivalent of three stravenkas for a whole week without eating at an university canteen (and still going out with friends about once a week). It’s not that long time ago…

    Posted by Czech girl | November 23, 2011, 9:47 pm
  3. The key to nutritious frugal food is to learn to love lentils, liver and other offal and cheap cuts of meat. For example liver for two pensioners is less than £1. But the problem with a lot of cheaper meat is that it takes longer to cook, so you need time and more fuel, and the know how, which sadly isn’t taught in school any more. It’s amazing how long you can put off buying things – eg top up the seemingly finished washing up liquid with water and hey presto it’s good for a few more days. And if you keep samples of make up they can put off the mega-expensive trip to the cosmetic counter as I am finding out this week when my beloved Guerlain expired a week before pay day. Perhaps my elderly mother was right all along. She always said when going shopping, don’t think what you could do with, think what you could do without!

    Posted by Sue | November 23, 2011, 10:41 pm

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