How long could you go without spending any money?

A day? A week? Hamm says imagining how long you could go without spending any money is a good way to figure out what your financial priorities are.

Wilfredo Lee/AP/File
A wallet containing cash and a Visa card is displayed. Hamm advises imagining how long you could go without spending any money to sort out your needs from your desires.

Given the resources you already have on hand, how long could you go without spending any money at all? You can assume that paying taxes and paying for basic utilities like electricity is okay, but buying anything else isn’t allowed.

What would you do for transportation? Could you get to every place that you need to on foot or via bicycle? Maybe you have a mass transit pass that would enable you to use the subway or the buses for a while.

What would you do for food? Do you have plenty of food on hand that you could use in a pinch?

What about entertainment? Do you have a bunch of unread books on your shelves or unwatched movies on DVD?

We’ve done money-free weekends many times and we’ve done a money-free week a few times, but we’ve never really worked toward seeing how long we could go without spending money. My estimate would be that we could go for about three weeks in the winter and for a little over a month in the summer without spending a dime.

This is an interesting idea, of course, but what value is there in thinking about it?

For me, at least, there’s a great deal of value in thinking about these types of scenarios. They force me to examine my day to day choices from a different angle.

When I think about what I would have to do in order to live for weeks without spending money, I’m forced to think about the many ways I spend money and whether or not those choices I’m making are really bringing me value.

Could I do without my vehicle? What needs do I have that are fulfilled by a vehicle that aren’t fulfilled by a bicycle?

What foods do I have on hand that I could construct meals out of? How many meals could I get out of the contents of our pantry, the contents of our garden, and bartering with neighbors?

Do I really need to be spending any money on entertainment if I have unread books on my shelf?

Do I really need this cable subscription? Do I really need this magazine subscription? This Netflix subscription?

When you ask yourself how long you could survive without spending money and start carrying that scenario forward into the specifics of your life, you begin to, very effectively, separate needs from wants and get a strong grasp of what your actual needs in life are.

Give it some thought today. How long could you survive without spending? What choices would you have to make in order to extend that streak? What’s preventing you from making some of those choices anyway in order to ensure the kind of long-term life you want to lead?

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