I'm a few days out from the end of the freeze, and I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what the whole "no spending" thing has taught me. I think I'll take a good part of October to continue talking about my freeze lessons as well as talking more in detail about some of the things that have helped me survive. From week one, the biggest thing that's helped me survive is taking a serious look at the things I love to do (and spend money on) and figuring out ways I can recreate a similar experience at home.
Eating out with friends has been one of the biggest sources of spending for Matt and I over the past year. Chicago is really known for being a foodie city, so during our first year here, we seemed to justify every restaurant stop as part of "experiencing Chicago." But then we found out we were staying in Chicago long-term and our spending should of changed. But it didn't. We continued to eat out with friends several times a week, some days just grabbing drinks and appetizers and other days splurging on hip hot spots. But at the end of August, we took a good look at our American Express bill and realized just how much we were overindulging.
So the freeze started, and I was forced to give up eating out. But I found myself trying to be creative about ways I could still get the "experience" without having to eat out and spend money. I began asking myself what I enjoyed most about grabbing dinner and drinks with friends. And surprisingly, it wasn't usually about the food. It was about getting together, with people we love, and having a good time. We started inviting people over more, cooking for friends on the weekend, having them bring a bottle of wine or a few favorite local beers. When we craved patio dates with fun cocktails, we'd dust off our patio chairs, blast some fun tunes, and sit outside with the grill going. When we craved wine nights, we'd hold off on the downtown wine bars and instead hit up Trader Joe's for a few of our favorite cheese and jams, spread them out on our cutting board and open a bottle of wine. Same feel, same type of food, much different price.
So my advice is to think about the things that you love doing and how you can recreate them at home or on your own for a much cheaper price. Maybe its a dinner party, maybe its a backyard barbeque for two. Or maybe its as simple as buying a flavored creamer to create a home version of your favorite Starbucks drink. Whatever it is, find a way to recreate it, and watch your wallet grow.