February’s truncated length earns it a reputation as something of an odd month, but then it also contains three of the year’s strangest celebratory days. February 2nd is Groundhog Day, a day so quirky that it warranted its own Bill Murray film. Then there’s February 14th, Valentine’s Day, a day so bizarre it spawns at least five romantic comedies inferior to Groundhog Day every single year. Finally there’s the event that falls this year on the 21st of February, Shrove Tuesday, a day so extraordinary it, well, involves the consumption of pancakes, and that’s about it.
Ok, so not so remarkable. Or rather, like Valentine’s Day (and many other dates in the Christian calendar), the full meaning of Shrove Tuesday isn’t as widely known, or observed. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent (the traditional 40 day period of fasting before Easter) begins. Pancakes are made to use up all the more extravagant foods at once before the fasting period begins.
Cost of living indexes may make for progressively less inspiring reading, but only the most poverty stricken in ‘the west’ would cut back on sugar, fat, flour and eggs. However, in tight financial times there are definitely luxuries we could periodically go without. So here are ideas for a financial lent:
Because we’re on something of a biblical theme anyway, it makes sense to talk about the bad habits that cost us money. These are New Year’s resolution territory really, and things you may well consider giving up at any time of the year.
Considering how much money governments make in tax and duty from them, and how potentially harmful they can both be, giving up Alcohol and Cigarettes is always something worth considering.
In the UK, even a 10 cigarette a day habit costs you about £120 during a 40 day lent period. In the US, the cost can vary anywhere from $120 to $210, depending on what State you’re in. Even as these prices fluctuate, a 40 day saving is clearly substantial. And who knows what a 40 day quitting period could lead to. It goes without saying that quitting alcohol has much the same benefit.
There are countless ways in which we could be more efficient in our daily routines, and these are ways in which we could save money as a simple side-effect.
- Whilst many anti-wastage strategies involve spending a fair bit of money to make money, some of the cheapest things we could do are too frequently passed over. Incandescent light-bulbs are still in many people’s homes. So why not use Lent as a reminder to find and remove the hangers-on in your own home? Replace them with CFL light sources;
- Other cheap ideas: watch your water usage and throw away less (reusing containers and bags, for instance);
- Larger expenditures may seem at odds with the anti-luxury purpose of Lent, but if they ultimately result in frugal living I’d argue that they’re worth considering. Many national and local governments offer financial help with home insulation, because heating inefficiency is one of the ways in which you waste the most money.
Running a Car
Few who have given themselves the luxury of running a car give it up willingly: cars give us superior freedom to move about and get what we want to get done, done. But it’s no secret that running a car is expensive, even as the cost of public transport rises under similar pressures. Still, the idea of having a short break from driving may save you a reasonable amount. And who knows. You may even like public transport so much that you want to give it a longer try!
Convenience costs. There is so much we pay for that could be had for significantly less if we simply planned ahead, or were honest about whether we needed it or not in the first place:
- Long a symbol for ‘everything that’s wrong with the modern world’ (TM), bottled water is something that many people slip into the habit of buying. There is essentially no scientific evidence that there is any health benefits to drinking the stuff, and it costs about £1 / $1 daily, which clearly mounts up when you could be drinking water that is essentially free. True, some tap-water does have a somewhat less satisfying taste, and the fact is that home filtered water isn’t a lot less expensive... but this is one luxury you can definitely do without for 40 days;
- As a species, we should be over the idea that getting a machine to perform certain tasks offers value for money by virtue of being ‘fun’. If your car needs to be washed, do it by hand. And never buy from a vending machine;
- Vending machines are there for captive audiences, and there are plenty of places you’re likely to find inflated prices because you can’t get away. Silly thing is, we know them well: Stadiums, Cinemas, Train Stations. Think about where you’re going to end up in a week and buy accordingly;
- Subscriptions and memberships are too frequently maintained well past their usefulness. Face it, you’re not going to get back to the Gym that you haven’t stepped foot in for three months, so cancel your membership ASAP. And when we’re not kidding ourselves about how much we use our National Geographic subscription, we’re being too lazy to get round to stopping the direct debit for it.
Steph Wood is a copywriter and blogger on a number of subjects, if you would like more financial information check out this credit card guide for saving cash in the current financial climate.