Living Lean: The $100 Workweek

Starting this week, I’m embarking on a personal challenge of personal finance. Here’s the challenge: For the next four weeks I have to live on a pure cash economy, spending no more than $100 a week.

Allow me to explain further…

My reason for attempting this is simple---I have spent like whoa in recent months and it’s catching up with me. I tend to carry as little cash as possible at all times and am fully aware that when I purchase with my debit/credit card, it doesn’t really FEEL like I’m giving up money. It might sound crazy, but I can’t be the only one who thinks this way.

In an effort to get back on track, I’m trying to go lean as hell. One important word in that sentence is “trying”. I know all motivated types say to eradicate “try” from your vocabulary, but I honestly have no idea if it will be possible, so although I say I’m trying this for the next four weeks, in actuality I’m taking it one week at a time.

I do have some caveats and rules. Have a look:

  1. The week starts on Monday. On Monday morning I withdraw $100 from the ATM. My ATM PIN is…(just kidding)

  2. All transactions in the week must come from that $100 in cash. That means no online shopping, no putting it on my card and having someone else pay me back in cash, no quick swipe here or there, nothing.

  3. Basic living expenses do not count as part of the challenge. I still owe rent and monthly bills. I don’t think I can get away with telling the parties I owe, “but I’m doing a $100 challenge!” (Groceries are part of the challenge, though)

  4. Public transportation does not count as part of the challenge. Due to the Ventra Card conversion in Chicago’s CTA system, I have no choice but to use a card that’s linked to my bank account.

  5. Weeks may “rollover”. Meaning, if I spend $80 one week, I get $120 the next week. Since I would still have that same $20 cash on me, all I’m doing is just adding the next weekly bill to my wallet. This still allows me to plan that in one week I may need to cut back if I anticipate spending more the next week.

  6. On November 16th at 10 AM, tickets for Wrestlemania XXX in New Orleans go on sale. This is something I have had on my calendar for two months and I am not missing out just because of this challenge.This will be an online credit card purchase, and it will not count in my $100 for the week. Am I cheating? Well, that’s your call, but at the end of the day it’s my challenge.


When you think about all of the things you spend money on in a given week (lunch, taxis, groceries, dry cleaning, restaurants, bars, to name a few), living lean means giving up a lot--or at least being far more economical about your approach. Let's also keep in mind that if I do make it to the end of the month, Black Friday hits hard.


I plan to provide progress updates as this month unfolds. My girlfriend is joining me in the challenge. Join us, won’t you?


Rajiv Nathan is the co-founder of Idea Lemon with a background in digital and mobile strategy. He is passionately curious, a people-meeter and lives by the motto, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.