I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I first head about the idea of practicing poverty on the Tim Ferriss podcast.
Tim says that, every so often, he’ll take a week to “practice poverty”, in which he actually lives out the worst-case scenario of life as though he had very little to no money.
Unlike a shopping ban, he doesn’t just forego dining out and shopping. He also commits to wearing the very basics when it comes to clothing and even takes his meals down to cheap staples like rice and beans. Now, you might be wondering why a millionaire would try living like he has so much less, but Tim’s rationale is sound and its worth copying his practice yourself.
Canada seems reluctant to call anyone “poor”, but there is the low-income cutoff (LICO) which seems to be the polite way of doing exactly that. The LICO is determined as half the median household income. This number can vary from province to province, but the national average for a single person it is $13,650 or about $1,140 per month, and $41,568 or $3,464 for a family of four. Depending on where and how you live, this might not be enough to cover your essential bills, which is humbling in itself. The very fact that you enjoy a lifestyle unaffordable to more than 10% of the population suggests that things probably aren’t half bad.
This Week: choose 3 outfits from your closet, give yourself $50 for groceries & personal care, and forego any form of entertainment or leisure that costs money.
Despite your deepest secret fears, it’s probably very unlikely that you will ever go hungry or homeless. Your personal worst-case scenario likely consists of dramatically scaling back on non-essentials, particularly clothes, food, and entertainment. It probably means dining in for every meal, and taking public transit. It means giving up your pricey gym membership, and never shopping at your favorite stores. But you don’t have to wait and worry about this reality coming true in the future, you can test this out now.
To practice poverty for a week (or two, if you really want to get into it), all you have to do is select a limited number of clothes from your closet, shop the grocery store as if you are on the strictest budget imaginable, don’t drive your car, turn off your TV, and cut out any extra spending from your budget. You will be left eating ramen while reading a library book and wearing the same clothes you wore yesterday.
But that’s it. That’s as hard as it gets.
One week is enough time to give you perspective without drastically upsetting the rest of your life. It’s like the next-level of a spending fast or shopping ban, and you’ll probably get more out of it in a shorter amount of time.
You will overcome your fears of scarcity.
This is what you’ve been so afraid of, and it isn’t scary at all.
Many of us, myself included, worry incessantly about not having enough money. We’re afraid of not having enough money now in the short-term, and in the long-term when we retire. We fear what life will look like if can’t afford the things we think we want, and are forced to subsist on the bare necessities. If you actually make the effort to live as though you had no money, you realize that it’s not as scary as you might think.
No one cares about the clothes you wear. I learned this when I spent the better half of 2015 in the same t-shirt and jeans. You’ll also find that while simple meals may be boring, they can still make you full. But most importantly, you will probably find that you feel approximately the same amount of happiness living on less as you do when you have it all. In fact, virtually all evidence indicates that buying more actually makes you unhappy. In other words, spending a week practicing poverty might actually make you richer!
But seriously, there is something very powerful in arriving at the place you were so afraid of, only to realize you imagined the worst of it. Reality is not that scary at all.
You will feel grateful for the abundance that you have.
I was surprised to learn when researching for this post that 1 in 7 Canadians live in poverty. I’m typically looking for the figures that define the top 1% in wealth and income, that I rarely look at the other end of the spectrum. Realizing how many are struggling just to put food on the table makes me feel guilty for lamenting that I can’t max out my RRSP.
Taking the time to live with less — much, much less, not just going down to the basic cable package or only buying clothes from your favorite store when they’re on sale — will help you realize how much luxury you enjoy every single day. Some of these are small, like being able to buy coffee on Friday mornings, but others might be huge, like driving a reliable car. Chances are, you have more luxury and abundance in your life than you even realize, and going without for a week will help you remember!
You will be able to make a difference.
I typically spend $200 to $400 each week on “luxury” purchases. New clothes, books, take-out coffee, restaurants, bars, and travel are major spending categories in my budget. This means spending a week practicing poverty will leave me with at least $200 to donate to a good cause, preferably a non-profit working to combat poverty or homelessness in my city. You can choose to do the same with the money you save, or use it to bolster savings or pay down debt in order to relieve some of the financial stress you’re experiencing in your own life. You really can’t lose!
At the end of your week, you will have the luxury of going back to your rich life — something those really living in poverty don’t have.