My Dwindling Bank Account Was the Best Thing That Happened to My Health
Save for a bit of shopping every season, I spent 99.9% of my hard-earned paycheck on food, cocktails, and cabs. It's a dangerous habit, I'll admit.
Previously, I'd never take a cab unless completely necessary (for work, usually) and find the best route via public transportation. Somewhere along the line, though, that practice went out the window, and apps like Uber and Lyft became my most valued resource. Add my daily habit of ordering food and penchant for expensive cocktails, and you've got a recipe for disaster. Each month, I'd look at my bank statement and genuinely wonder how I was going through so much money. Then, I'd remember the added $10 delivery fee for my already-expensive dinner (because I deserved it) and the cab I took to and from my friend's house (because I deserved it).
With my bank account resembling that of an irresponsible teenager instead of a settled, responsible adult, I decided to make a change. I vowed to not spend a single dollar on cabs, cocktails, or food (at an actual restaurant or via Seamless)—and record what happened. Keep reading for how my self-induced experiment yielded much more than extra money.
Ah, my Seamless habit. What seems like an easy way to bring delicious foods to your doorstep at all hours of the night is, well, just that. I order Seamless for most meals (that is, the meals I don't spend at a restaurant) because I hate to cook. It's not that I'm terrible at it, per say; I just think it's generally boring, takes too long, and I'm left unsatisfied. Sure, I could learn to cook, as my family has suggested a thousand times—but Seamless is so easy and wonderful.
The problem? To meet high delivery minimums and satiate my need for variety, I order portions that are far too large and cost more than they should. There go my money and my wellness plan. For my two-week-long experiment, however, I didn't order a single thing. On the first Sunday, I hit up the grocery store on my block and picked up a few things: eggs, full-fat organic yogurt, chicken sausage, avocados, pasta, tomatoes, and arugula. It came out to $18 and change (which is probably the same amount I spent on that Sunday breakfast of pancakes and bacon above).
My first morning was easy—I grabbed one of the yogurts and ate it while I sipped my coffee. I had a salad of arugula and chicken sausage tossed with olive oil and lemon for lunch, and made myself eggs for dinner. (I'm a breakfast person, what can I say?) I made it through the entire day without spending a dime. I went on like that for two straight weeks—I made homemade tomato sauce to serve with the pasta and repurposed the sausage, leafy greens, and eggs in a few different ways. I ate a full avocado every day. I even made shakshuka one night when I was feeling crafty.
Needless to say, spending less than $20 on two weeks' worth of food saved hundreds of dollars in the end. Sure, I had to turn down a few dinner invitations and cheated when I had a work breakfast to attend or ate the free snacks offered at our office, but I was proverbially rolling in dough. The unexpected outcome, though, was how much better I felt. My jeans felt roomier. I realized by buying my own ingredients, I had so much more control over what went into my body. Instead of ordering Chinese food three times in one week (I've done it) and not giving my subsequent bloating a second thought, I knew exactly what I was eating and portioned it out based on how hungry I was. I was spending less, eating thoughtfully, and just as satisfied as any other week. Plus, the avocado gave my hair a sheen I've never seen before.
Cocktails and I have a lovely relationship. My drink is a dirty martini with olives, but I'll go for anything spicy with tequila, crisp and refreshing with gin, or vacation-inspired with rum. There's nothing better than catching up with a friend or love interest over a delicious (and overpriced cocktail) in a pretty setting. The thing is, I was doing it all too often. My bank account was dwindling, and my once glowy skin would turn puffy and sallow by morning. I decided to nix the booze for two weeks, along with my Seamless habit, to save on cash and morning-after brightening products.
It wasn't hard not to drink, but the social aspect was difficult to give up. So I had to resort to conversations over soft serve and water bottles in the park. The fact of the matter is, it was absolutely doable and, frankly, quite enjoyable. There's so much to be done in New York and more time to do it if you're not eating and drinking the night away. I went for walks around my neighborhood, watched movies I'd always meant to see, and even spent an evening at my roommate's rock-climbing gym (yes, really). Just like with food, I noticed results in my physique right away. But the real kicker was how much my skin improved. I washed my face each night because I wasn't too tired to do it. I woke up feeling well-rested, with my signature under-eye circles nowhere to be found. My face was radiant in a way it hadn't been in so long—all because I declined a cocktail in favor of a more restful sleep.
I'm not entirely sure when my excessive cab habit began, but here we are. I use all the apps, hail yellow taxis—the works. It's so easy. Sometimes, after a long day at work, I want to feel luxurious and relaxed, so I take a cab. Others I'll have a ton of beauty products research to take home, and I'll need to pile it into a car. Honestly, the majority of the time, it's because I'm late to something or feeling lazy. The fact of the matter is, it's an expensive (and unnecessary habit). I live and work close enough to the subway to always use public transportation.
I finally purchased a monthly unlimited metro card—something I haven't done in ages because of business travel and Uber. Giving up $120 right out of the gate felt like a step in the wrong direction, but I vowed to make it worth my while. I took the subway to and from work, googled the best way to get home on the weekends, and kept the bus schedule on my phone for when the subway wasn't the quickest option. And yes, as I write this, I know it sounds ridiculous, but old habits die hard, and the ease with which Uber can bring a cab to exactly where I'm standing is hard to shake.
Now that it's been two weeks and I've walked anywhere and everywhere and taken the subway as often as I should, I realize how insane it was that I was wasted my money on cabs. It takes just as long (if not longer, with traffic) to get anywhere in this city by car. It's not harder to figure out how to get from one place to another, I just had to set rules so I wouldn't get lazy. Again, the added walking time did wonders for my Health app steps average and I noticed a difference in how I felt. Plus, the extra money is reason enough to keep this going. I deleted Uber (again) and Lyft to be safe. I'm a pedestrian now for the long haul.
In the end, the experiment worked. I spent a total of $200 in two weeks and gained some perspective in the process. I will no longer take a cab unless it's absolutely necessary. I'll still enjoy a dirty martini every once in a while, but only as a treat, not as a go-to. And, yes, I've finally given in and started to cook more meals than I order in. It makes me feel productive, healthier, and more in control of my body. I'll take my residual weight loss as a sign that most diets are unnecessary—I can eat fresh, nutrient-rich, real foods in order to feel and look good. I just have to make very small changes—and I can even save money in the process. I'll take this one as a win.