Lent things.

I wonder if I will ever grow out of wanting to ask for the Lent things back? No sign of it yet…

But seriously. I have set myself a couple of fast-like challenges for Lent and this post is all about explaining the why and what of them.

The first is straightforward – I will give up all alcohol for the whole of Lent, bar two days. What are those two days? First is a day I am in Rome, at the Spring Event. The second is an afternoon watching Ebbsfleet United. So far I’m three days in, and that’s included two pub trips with the two groups of people with whom I drink. I guess I had half-expected peer pressure – but actually once people understood I really did just want water, no more was said. Mild teasing about religion, but then I take that as standard and just a good opportunity to gently correct misunderstandings about the true nature of Christianity. I’ve been pretty public about this, posting to Twitter and Facebook.

The second challenge came out of a conversation I had at Christmas about the idea of living on $1 a day. This is a widely quoted marker of absolute poverty from the World Bank (the figure’s currently $1.25/day which loses a bit of the powerful alliteration!). That’s about 78p. Given that I cost around £40 a day in train fare, rent and bills, I’m always going to be wealthy on that scale. But, this did make me think a little about what my biggest variable cost is – food. I spend around £40 a week, plus every six weeks or so a further £100 on a big buy-everything Sainsbury’s trip. My shopping list isn’t unhealthy – the largest cost is salad, fruit and vegetables and I rarely buy meat. It’s a long time, too, since I threw anything much away – I have a slightly cavalier attitude towards use-by dates. But I have stockpiled more than I need (4 packs of spaghetti?) and relied on relatively expensive fruit and vegetables as an easy way to stick with the Weightwatchers plan. So my other challenge is: Spend as close to £1 a day during the week, £2 a day at the weekend on food. That’s a week’s budget of less than a tenner on which to eat a diet that includes my 5-a-day. Hence recent tweeting about good ways to cook lentils.

I’d like to say that the money I may save is going to go to charity. And in the long run, it will – the priority for me at the moment is to reduce my overdraft. I’m not sure it’s sound to give away money that actually belongs to the bank, even if the bank charging me for the overdraft is the ethical Co-operative Bank.

Weightwatchers will have to take a back seat, but given that I’m not drinking, that will (hopefully) help.Fruit juice is a relatively cheap way of adding 1 portion of my 5, but in WW terms, it’s quite high in points compared to fresh fruit.

Yesterday I hit about £1.12. Today I’m making Quorn fajitas for lunch and dinner (same thing twice is a frequent side-effect of living alone). The big extravagance today is a 54p pot of sour cream, the wraps were 50p and everything else was in the cupboard already so I’ve not priced those. (Cheat!) The use-by Nov 2010 tin of kidney beans is going to be made into a refried beans style dip later.

On Thursday I went to Asda with just £15 in my pocket. I’m not suggesting that my shopping was reckless, done without checking prices, but I never needed to come in at an exact budget because I just paid by card. Adding things up to the nearest penny as I went along was a new experience. In the end I went over my £10 target by 13p, as I bought (reduced price) hot cross buns. How lucky I am, though, that this is a choice I make rather than a circumstance I cannot avoid.

So it’s a fast of sorts – a fast from the convenience of expensive foods; from over-buying; from using food too much as an excuse or a reward for how I feel; from the ‘I deserve the best’ school of thought.

The third is to read Maggi Dawn’s Lent book in a moment of quiet each morning. So far so good apart from Thursday when I was running late and ended up reading whilst cleaning my teeth. Already I have been challenged on my Lent challenges – what are they for? Are they too individualistic? What’s the relationship with my faith…? And this blog post is going some way to understanding the answers to the first two.

I’d be interested in people’s opinions. Particularly on the charity vs overdraft question as I’ve wrestled with it for some time. (I do give some money away to church, a sponsor child and the YMCA roomsponsor scheme – not planning to change that).


  1. Thanks for sharing your lent thoughts/challenges. Going to the supermarket with only cash is one sure way of sticking to your lent decision – I did that when I was running very low on money in the last year of the PhD (before I had my current job!).

    The charity v overdraft is an interesting question as it probably raises questions about your motivation regarding doing lent in this way? I.e. spiritual versus financial motivations. However, I think it’s in Romans it says owe nothing to anyone, so in this respect reducing your overdraft could actually be interpreted as a spiritual discipline.

    I’ve decided to give up meat and fish for lent after reading a book called “Eating Animals” – on one hand a spiritual dimension of being more frugal, but on the other hand one way of finding out whether being a complete vegetarian is something I could get used to.

    Otherwise I’m trying to not eat in front of the television (another challenge of being single apart from eating meals several times in a row) and I’m fasting Sunday services at my church (to get away from my misery of being in church which distracts from focusing on the real stuff).

    • I think that the motivation for the strict budget is more spiritual so the financial thing is a secondary concern. I feel a bit like I did when I got the Great North Run place, though – everyone asked me which charity I was running for, when that hadn’t occurred to me because the challenge was the race. I’m aware though that I don’t always make great financial decisions so trying to sort the overdraft is becoming a priority.

      Good luck with the meat/ fish decision. I have been practically vegetarian for a while – not out of ethical concerns, well, I suppose it is in a way – if I can’t afford to buy meat from decently-reared pigs and chickens I’d rather not have it; and since that kind of organic/ free range meat is expensive, I rarely bother.

      Fasting Sunday services sounds drastic; but you’re connected to other people in other ways aren’t you? Drastic and sad that church makes you miserable. Though I think I understand…

  2. Same thing for me regarding the getting decently-reared meat. Only Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s close by…
    I’ve got the college chapel and choir on a Sunday night plus I’m part of a new weekly group where I’ve even been able to bring my gaybour, so I’m still connected. They’ve seen a bit more of life than my previous group and I feel really welcome and loved. At the moment 10-20 minutes of a nice chat over coffee after church just doesn’t weigh up the 90 minutes of misery during a church service.

  3. Your frugal eating fast is commendable and must be a real challenge. I do wonder how you’re approaching the ethical side of it. I would struggle to stick to a budget and ensure what I am buying pays the producers a fair wage, treats the soil and watercourses with respect and rears the animals humanely. But for a short period it sounds like a great discipline and a real motivator to avoid buying food unnecessarily. Good luck!

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