Most everyone struggles to save enough. This is understandable because spending money is awesome and saving money is boring. I most definitely do! If you’re naturally like me and drawn to spending money like wild raccoon to ripe trash, I have a solution that will help you save.
If you haven’t read the story of how I came to be called the Dumpster Dog, do that first! In summary, I overhauled some pretty nefarious spending habits, shifting from a lifestyle of blatant indiscretion and into that of aggressive saving. It was so aggressive, in fact, that I ate actual trash and my coworkers (lovingly) nicknamed me Dumpster Dog. The experiment was hard but totally worth it to save $30,000 and quit my job to travel for a year.
Using inspiration from my time spent “Dumpster Dogging,” I’d like to share a strategy to save money for those of us struggling to tuck enough away. The savings method is a bite-sized version of what I did, but much more practical and with far less risk of public backlash. This system does not involve you salvaging a coworker’s half-eaten southwestern chicken wrap from the rubbish bin. I did it six times last year and saved several thousand additional dollars!
What is Dumpster Dogging?
Dumpster Dogging is a strategy where one cuts off all spending beyond basic needs for designated periods (I’ll call these “Dumpster Periods”). The rest of the time, do and spend as normal. The spending freeze is the financial equivalent of a juice cleanse, crash diet, Sober January, or self-levied period of chastity after a particularly skanky month. Most of the time, “you do you,” but other times, the gushing faucet needs a jumbo tampon corked up inside.
For example, eliminate all auxiliary spending one week out of every month or two months out of every year. Currently, I Dumpster Dog for one pay period out of every four, and I save money without having to keep a budget.
Now, before your brain explodes out through your ear holes and you pooh-pooh my suggestion, hear me out: I agree that Dumpster Dogging is no substitute to regimented monthly saving. The very best thing is to stash at least 15% of your salary for retirement and another 5-10% for a down payment or business endeavor. But let’s be fucking real; while saving 20% of your income is the ideal, it isn’t doable for most people. If you currently save 20% of your salary, no need to read further. If you don’t, Dumpster Dogging may be a perfect (and perhaps necessary) bolster to whatever automatic savings you’re currently doing. Here’s why it works:
Everyday Moderation Sucks and Doesn’t Work (At Least For Me)
Moderation is a human-constructed concept evangelized the whole world over. Sack lunch every day, they say! Be more like the French, they say! 8 raw almonds is a lovely, satiating snack, they say! FUCK U, GIMME 9 CINNABONS. Considering so many people I know struggle with moderation AND the average person has credit card debt and nothing saved for retirement, perhaps we should question the very tenets of moderation. Something isn’t working here. Does a better guide exist for us? Or at the least, is there a way to structuralize moderation without defaulting to the futile slog of daily temperance?
Take me for example. I’m a pretty all-or-nothing gal in lots of ways, particularly when it comes to, ahem, zee nightlife. I’m either hibernating in a dark cave or I’m butt-naked and swinging from a lamp post during a San Francisco street rave. I am either sober as a subzero wind or I am down at the local watering hole, twelve scotches deep and on the hunt for a fistfight. Many of my friends are like this (to a lesser degree), and maybe you are too. I actually think it’s somewhat normal.
If this is so, then we must explore a method for saving that aligns with who we really are as humans, and not some model of who we should be. To deny the seasonal nature of humanness seems like a set-up for failure. I don’t know ’bout you, but I’d rather eat turnip juice and chicken breast as lean and pale as Keira Knightley’s titty for a week if that meant I could hoover down fries for every meal the following week. Unfortunately, that’s not a viable option for what we put inside our bodies, but since colon health is not a factor in money management, could we potentially apply our desire to lock it down sometimes and let loose during others to a successful savings routine?
Because really, what is moderation? Moderation in the spending sense is far too squishy a goal. Is spending $100 for a purse too much? $150? Is it aiight to eat out for one meal a day? Two? Buying a purse and eating out aren’t criminal, of course, but in a world where we are constantly making money decisions, how does one mentally tabulate what is okay and what is too much? No one needs to be Henry David Thoreau or Buddha here, but there’s a helluva range between Jesus Christ and the Rich Kids of Instagram. We often navigate this space solely on instinct, using a loose definition of “moderation” as our guide. And guess what? A culturally-constructed idea like “moderation” sometimes takes a back seat when synapses are involved. Our cavewoman brains are ones of beautiful function but they are simply not designed to feel a connection to long-term consequences. We are chemically driven towards immediate gratification. Don’t get me wrong, we all have willpower—some of you have heaps of it—but no one’s willpower tank is always on full. That’s why humans sometimes work best with predefined boundaries. And not only are we often more successful with boundaries, we’re often happier with fewer choices! Sometimes, it’s a relief to have decisions made for us. (We all want freedom of choice, of course, but tell me I’m not the only one that has full-on meltdowns trying to choose a fuckin blouse for the day.)
I like the lessons we can learn from Weekday Vegetarian, a movement started by author, Graham Hill. Weekday Vegetarian is pretty self-explanatory stuff: On the weekdays, Hill doesn’t eat “anything with a face.” On weekends, everything is fair game. Watch his full TED talk to know the reasons why he wanted to reduce his meat consumption, but our takeaway is what he is able to accomplish through clear, black-and-white boundaries.
If the world needs to eat less meat, why don’t we encourage people to make regimented strides towards eating less, instead of expecting people never to touch a fish taco again? Not everyone can be a vegetarian (or perfectly frugal), but we can all do something. Both the strategy and math are easy and powerful: By eliminating meat on weekdays, consumption is cut by 70%. How can we apply this simple wisdom to saving? What if we could cut extraneous spending by 20% or even 30%, simply by creating a similar schedule with YES and NO spending days?
Consumerism Has Us By the Short & Curlies
Dumpster Dogging works because we need separation from daily temptations to spend money. It’s a god-damned war on our retirements (aka freedom) out there, my friends! Every day, we make dozens of decisions about whether to spend or not to spend, decisions that litter our paths like mines in a minefield. Simply spending all of our waking hours in the minefield—which we have no control over—is bound to cost us a proverbial arm or leg.
Think about how quickly a day with no spending plans can spiral into a frenzy: A breakfast burrito here, fancy coffee there, run and get a manicure at lunch, procrastinate at work so you go online to buy “that thing you need,” agree on a whim to go to the Portland Trailblazer game tonight, take a Lyft to the game, spend $12 on a hot dog and $120 on plastic cups of piss-lookin’ beer, drunkenly buy a fuzzy logo basketball head, take another Lyft home. Probably a great day, but also, a minefield.
Days like this are fun, sure, but not every day can be like this. What about waking up some mornings where the day that lies ahead is free from all potential spending? Your path is predetermined, and it’s clear. There is no whiffle-waffling, the answer is always NO. You may miss some things, but the reality of modern life is that more is available for us to do and consume than for any other generation—which is great—but unless you’re stupid-rich, you can’t buy or do it all.
This is also about eliminating the hundreds of provocations we face each week to buy things we don’t need. When is the last time you dreamt and dreamt about something from Forever 21 that you tried on but didn’t buy? Um, NEVER. How many stupid, old articles of clothing from Forever 21 do you own that you’ll never, ever wear again? We’ve all got at least ten tops, ruched dresses, or pairs of patterned shorts with an exposed zipper that make us question every fashion decision we’ve ever made. And while it would be lame to assume that the ovule of our generations’ saving foibles lies in the occasional trip to Forever 21, the “fast fashion” industry is a perfect petri dish from which we can observe how the consumer goods industry drips on us: Your thing already sucks, buy the new version.
I’m going to refrain, for now, from erupting into a critique on consumer culture because I’d rather focus on what we can gain from Dumpster Dogging. But I can’t do that in good faith while ignoring the reality that consumerism exists acts as a pillar of our savings dilemma. And I don’t blame us, the consumers! When you buy something and it feels out of style in two measly weeks, it is no accident. When your electronic device seemingly surrenders its will to live at precisely 18 months, it is no accident. When you feel like you don’t have enough (when in reality we own more stuff than any generation before us) or own the right stuff, it most certainly is no accident. It ain’t our fault that this is our world, but it’s on us to recognize this and to devise a plan to prevent these forces from seducing us. Dumpster Dogging is a way to say No and to let seemingly whimsical, unneeded purchases float right past us without giving ’em so much as a second thought.
Putting the Theory to Work: How to Dumpster Doggy
First, determine when you want to Dumpster Dog. Like I mentioned earlier, I think one week per month (each month), picking an entire pay period, or even committing to a whole month are all great places to start. The more time, the better—especially concurrent time. Taking the occasional day off IS NOT going to make a dent in spending. Impressive savings build-up only happens with time stacked on top of itself—enough time to get over whatever’s in your Amazon queue.
Why not try a No-Spend May? The term “No-Spend November” has seen some light press in the past, but I don’t want you to wait until November to give Dumpster Dogging a shot. (Unfortunately, Miserly May doesn’t have such a great ring to it.) If you would prefer to do one week per month, consider making yourself a calendar, printing it out, and tacking it somewhere you can see it. When I first started Dumpster Dogging, my biggest adversary was run-o-the-mill forgetfulness. Nothing malicious! Just falling back into ingrained money-spending routines. For fun and accountability, pick a friend or significant other to Dumpster Dog with!
It’s up to you exactly how you want to run this show, but here are my recommendations on how to do it.
Here is what you can buy during designated Dumpster Dogging periods:
Food to cook at home, a box of cheap wine, unavoidable transportation costs (if you can walk or bike, DO IT, buses are fine, no Ubers!!), bills. Always pay your bills right after you receive them.
Here’s what you cannot buy during designated Dumpster Dogging periods:
Food at restaurants, live entertainment, clothes and shoes, specialty cocktails, anything from Crate & Barrel, anything from Target, anything online, any beauty-related product or service. You’ve got food and soap and books at home; use ‘em. (Quick vent sesh: There is nothing that makes me want to stick needles in my eyeballs as much as these memes about women being obsessed with Target.)
Take advantage of your heightened focus while Dumpster Dogging and clear your bankroll of any subscriptions which do not serve you. Between gym memberships, music streaming, Prime, Netflix and Hulu, news and magazine subscriptions, Audible, software subscriptions, and cable, you could easily be looking at $300 per month. Go a step further and unsubscribe from newsletters and emails selling you clothes and homewares and unfollow Instagram feeds that tempt you to spend. I used to get a daily reminder from skinny-assed Revolve models that I’m basically the Kimmy Gibbler of fashionability, and frankly I don’t need that shit in my life. Just say no to inbox fat and fashion shaming!
Make it work for you. If you don’t wanna give up meeting friends for a few beers once or twice a week, I respect that! Neither could I. The idea is to be scrappy and resourceful, but don’t torture yourself. Self-torture will end in failure. (But we’re also only talking about one week or month here, so don’t be a patsy either.)
After every Dumpster Period, usher those savings away into a designated account, whether for retirement or other purposes. JUST GET IT OUT OF YOUR CHECKING ACCOUNT. Focusing on how the money adds up is inspiring, and may even encourage you to cut back during non-Dumpster times!
Further, think of a Dumpster Period as an opportunity, not as crushing austerity. The extra effort spent saving will enrich your future, for certain, but it may very well enrich your present, too! It is scientifically established that the pursuit of material objects (beyond our basic needs) not only doesn’t improve happiness, it can make us unhappy. Use your weeks or months away from spending to do the things you always say you’ll do, but don’t. In the end, you may just find that these periods of “restriction” are some of the freest in your life. AND you save that money!
I don’t claim this method to be easy or for everyone; it is but one idea to navigate a world that’s complicated and distracting—a world that is both joyously full of opportunity and options, but also one where our deepest insecurities are continuously tapped into, whether we know it or not. Knowing this, how do we proceed?
Cheers, amigas! Your friendly neighborhood trash raccoon <3