Fiscal fast: Laura Ryan spends no money for a week

Illustration: Dillon Yeh
Illustration: Dillon Yeh
Illustration: Dillon Yeh

I think I should just come out and say it. I will. No, really, I can do this. My name’s Laura, and I’m a cheapskate. There it is. I can’t deny it any longer. I just can’t stand spending more money than is absolutely necessary.

Bargains make me feel warm inside, safe and alive. I will gladly leave the warmth of home, pause a TV show, or even abandon a room of friends to forage for Tesco bargains. I know what time the reductions happen, and I’m not telling you when that is. I’ve come to know the pension-age men and women who crowd regularly around the cut-price offerings like dogs smelling a steak; I’ve developed a strange fondness for this ragtag group of penny pinchers.

My week-long project was inspired by an episode of the American TLC show Extreme Cheapskates. Stars of this show steal leftover food from restaurants, buy wedding dresses in pawn shops, and even plan their funerals in their thirties in order to save a buck or two.

One particular episode featured a middle-aged couple who had managed to retire many years before their contemporaries through something they called “fiscal fasting.” This term refers to a week where you challenge yourself to spend no money. With the exception of anything you find down the back of the sofa, on the ground, or anywhere else you weren’t expecting to find it, you keep your purse zipped and your bank cards on ice for a whole week. Of course, the challenge appealed to me immediately.

Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough to meet my thrifty Dutch kindred spirit in St Andrews: someone to accompany me on nighttime Tesco bargain runs, help me make something palatable out of bizarre but cheap ingredient combinations (parsnips actually go well with a surprising number of things), and keep me sane during this week without a single visit to a pub or impulsive Amazon purchase.

It turns out that Geordies and Dutch people have a lot in common: we’re both into football and throwing beer around, we both have funny accents, and, most crucially, we love saving money. Together, my flatmate Anna and I planned a week where we would spend absolutely nothing. We would live on previously acquired Tesco bargains, along with a couple of luxuries purchased at full price the week before: milk, cheese, ham — nothing too extravagant.

The week began well. On Monday, a full day (three and a half hours of seminars) distracted us from our pecuniary project; we had a stir fry composed of unidentified meat and re- duced mixed vegetables. On Tuesday, we dodged a meal at Forgan’s with friends and instead opted for fish and chips at Tailend (free when you download their app!). Around Wednesday, the inevitable chocolate cravings set in. Unable to satiate them with copious amounts of Cadbury’s, I instead settled for some cut-price bread and jam. The suffering was almost Dickensian in nature. Later, we enjoyed a slightly uncommon amalgamation of a chicken risotto meal, mashed potato and lettuce; it was surprisingly edible.

Free lunches abound in St Andrews if you know where to find them. Religious groups, talks and meetings are all good places to load up on gratis grub (take a lunchbox if you’re feeling shameless, as people are normally glad to be rid of excess food). Free drinks are also relatively easy to come by. Try crashing well-funded society events, even if you’re totally uninterested in the society or (even better) totally opposed to their political ideals. Get there early to avoid being left with only dregs of Tennent’s.

On Thursday, we enjoyed the complimentary lunch bar at Solid Rock, where a free baguette and doughnut is accompanied by a short account of God’s good work in the lives of students. Later, I flexed my very British culinary skills and made a cottage pie featuring bargain mince and potatoes, picked up for 20p each.

Towards the end of the week, having become somewhat hermit-like in our cocoon of frugality, we rather cheekily invited some friends over to cook for us and played a Swedish geography-based game. As predicted, the main downside to this week was missing out on nights out and social occasions where expenditure would be largely unavoidable; no one wants to hang out with the weirdo drinking water in Brew Co.

Crisis struck on Saturday when we ran out of toilet paper. Having managed the chocolate cravings and endured the strange food combinations, our week of thriftiness was for the first time truly threatened. Could we take two days of stealing from pub toilets, the library and the Union? For my flatmate Anna, this was too far, and with that our no spending pact was unceremoniously broken.

As I write this, I find myself at the close of a week of fiscal fasting, having earlier feasted on a last low-cost supper of steak slices (like Scottish burgers) with parsnips and yet more mashed potatoes. At the stroke of 12, I could run out to Aikman’s to get a late round in or begin furiously ordering all of the unnecessary purchases I’ve tacitly denied myself this week. But I won’t.

I intended this article and this challenge to be a light-hearted exercise, but as the week progressed, I realised that I could not entirely skirt the more earnest side of the project. At the start of this article I admitted, slightly ashamedly, to being a cheapskate. But perhaps I need not be ashamed. My penny pinching is not merely a curious pastime or a silly week-long challenge, nor is it the result of simple meanness or an inherited frugality.

In fact, my survival depends upon it. St Andrews ranks among the most expensive student towns in the UK, so I always knew that my time here would be something of a rocky financial road. As a self-funded Master’s student, I do worry about money. Every time I fork over a handful of cash or type in my pin number, I feel a pang of discomfort. I know that the Student Loans Company won’t deliver a fresh pile of money into my account each month. What I have is enough, but only just.

This week was fun, no really it was! And I hope that you, dear reader, have picked up some useful tips to make your own money go a little further (kudos on reading this free newspaper!).


  1. I’m not self funded, but with a student finance allowance of £5,600 and rent coming in at £5,000 for the year, money is really tight. It makes it harder when friends are significantly better off financially and don’t realise that when you say you can’t afford something you genuinely mean you don’t have the money to pay for something.


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