Young professionals in one of WA’s biggest regional centres are undertaking a challenge to go without spending on non-essential items this month.

Dubbed Penniless March, the challenge is the latest in a string of cost-cutting measures many people are adopting in a bid to boost savings. 

The pledge is the brainchild of Geraldton-based physiotherapist Aaron Antonas, 24, who has convinced a group of his friends in the Midwest city to take part.

“We had a mate in January who was trying to avoid spending money and it just sort of gave me the spark for the idea of March to try and do something similar, but to a bit of a further extent,” Mr Antonas said.

Two men smile at the camera with beach in the background.

Geraldton’s Aaron Antonas and Callum Darch are questioning social norms about money. (ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt: Alice Angeloni)

His friend, Callum Darch, said it was not just about saving some cash, but also about getting uncomfortable and challenging social norms around money.

“It’s a way to keep that focus but also bring in that friendship component and try to have as much fun as you can in the month of March without having money as the thing that’s driving the fun,” Mr Darch said.

“I feel like we’ve just got these norms, whether it’s purchasing certain things, or whether it’s drinking at every social event, that aren’t necessarily healthy for us or our mental health.

“I feel like this is a great idea just to challenge that and say, ‘Is this actually going to make me happy, or is it just because everyone else is doing it’.”

Almost Penniless March

The friend group acknowledges that going without is not a choice for a lot of people.

And with some costs unavoidable, the friends will continue to pay their bills and have each allowed themselves two exceptions.

Some have pre-made and frozen meals to get them through, while others plan to eat through pantry supplies.

Anthea Buckley said her two “voids”, or exceptions, for the month would be fresh vegetables and fuel for her car.

An aerial shot of the ocean and a developed coastal area.

Ms Buckley says she’s lucky to have access to Geraldton’s free seafood bounty.(ABC News: Chris Lewis)

She said having ready access to local produce was also a bonus.

“I’ll try and go out and spear or catch some fish or some crayfish that we’ve got so much of here in Geraldton,” Ms Buckley said.

“Hopefully, come April, I will have a greater appreciation for where I put that money, into local vendors or spending a bit more wisely, to survive that cost-of-living increase.”

‘Culture of spending’

Financial therapist Jane Monica-Jones told triple j’s Hack program she was encouraged by the cost-saving challenge.

“We’re a total culture of spending,” she said.

“If we’re going to turn that around, not only is it going to set people up for the short term, but the long term as well.”

Ms Monica-Jones said in the same way spending had become habitual, saving could be too.

“A lot of research on habit-building [shows] if you practise something for 21 days, it will pretty much stick with you,” she said.

Ms Monica-Jones is encouraging people to make small, incremental changes to meet their savings goals, and also look for low-cost ways to feel good.

“I think it’s important that we look at low-cost or no-cost ways to make us either feel good or to boost our mental health,” she said.

“Just hanging out with friends, doing something simple, is actually really good for our mental health, and it doesn’t cost that much money.

“So if we can replace those things like comparison shopping … to something that’s a bit more nourishing and hopeful, which is like spending time in beautiful locations, it’s a better thing for our soul, essentially.”

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