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Food + Cooking

Extreme Frugality: Gearing Up for the Z-Day Challenge

During the month of September, how many days can one man go without buying anything?

After a 7 p.m. dip in nearby Lake Megunticook—necessitated by an almost-100-degree day that had all six of us squabbling like we were on an 24-hour car ride to see my mom in Mississippi—we were hard pressed for dinner ideas until Helen, our budding 11-year-old Julia Child, piped up, “Why don’t we make roasted veggies?” Minutes later, the entire family was off, like it was Christmas morning, to see what we could dig up.

Quite a lot, it turns out: Bumpy, fist-sized potatoes (except for the perfect golf-ball-size reds), similarly proportioned beets, a smattering of miniature garlic heads, and a handful of thyme sprigs.

Forty-six minutes later (45 for roasting at 400 degrees—not the smartest move on the summer’s hottest day—and 1 for eating), I realized the moment of truth had arrived. The Z-Day Challenge, our personal anti-stimulus project. For the entire month of September, we’re spending ZERO dollars. We’re ready. Our garden’s ready.

It’s our civic duty.

As some of you may remember, I’ve theorized (read ranted) that spending our way out of this current mess is wrong. To me, it’s like putting an overweight person on a 1,000 calorie-a-day diet of ice cream. It may work in the short term, but it’s definitely not healthy in the long run. We need to remember—or in most cases, learn—how to save money, pay off our debts, and become one with reality: The party has now been over for quite a while.

So, on August 31, after topping off the cars and stocking up on groceries and a month’s worth of animal feed, we’re migrating to Unamerica—a land where misers are heroes and spendthrifts are scorned. A land of limited horizons and very little opportunity. A land where … well, you get the idea. I know this sounds like a gimmick since we have a fairly full pantry, nearly a quarter of a cow in our freezer, and we will still pay our monthly bills, but answer this: What’s the longest you’ve ever gone while living your normal daily life without buying something? Think about it. Be honest. A month? A week? A day? For me, during this frugal year, I’ve lasted around two to three days. But I want to do better. It’s time to shake off the shackles and see what it’s like without consuming.

And if nothing else, we’ll be well under our $550-a-month allowance.* So why am I writing about this? Because I want you! See how long you can go without popping into a store for some must-have item or without killing time by buying online. When you finally break down and buy something, let me know.

Good luck!

* After accounting for a month’s worth of the quarter cow that cost us $500 (it will last us eight months), the $100 in gas bought on the 31st, the $75 spent on groceries on the 31st as well, and a month’s use of the pantry, we’ll only spend $300.

Frugal Tip of the Week
This one’s for my fellow carnivores. Buy a local steer—anywhere from a quarter cow to a whole one. If you are as lucky as we are, it might even be grass-fed. You will get every cut imaginable (and then some) for a ridiculously low price. We paid $3.50 a pound, and it’s the best meat we’ve ever tasted.