Welcome to the Scrimp City challenge—an anonymous chronicle providing a look inside the lives of women as they try saving more of their hard-earned dollars. Each installment dives into the big and small ways women across a range of pay scales and industries try to save money over the course of a single week.
While documenting their spending and savings tactics, each woman reflects on her triumphs and missteps to find out what works, what doesn’t and how they can chip away at that ultimate savings goal. Oh, and do so while making sure there’s still something left over for snacks
In this edition, we meet one 24-year-old woman who quit her job in Barcelona and moved to Amsterdam in hopes of finding a better job. Here’s how she managed to live off less than 100€ (Euros) for a week in order to stay within her strict, savings-only, budget.
Meet Our Saver:
Job title:Currently I’m unemployed and freelance as a communications and social media manager, writer, and content creator.
Currently living off 5,000€ in savings I built up over the last few months before moving from Barcelona to Amsterdam.
Monthly rent mortgage: 600€
For the first month, I’m renting out a single bedroom in a house with multiple tenants. I’ll have to find new housing ASAP before the end of the month!
Current spending habits:
I’m a frugal person by nature. I don’t like to spend money on unnecessary things, so I’m constantly looking for ways to save extra funds. This means I’ve been able to have enough in two separate savings accounts. I keep my long-term savings in one account.
The other savings account consists of about 5,000€ I’ve saved up this year. I quit my lackluster job in December and worked a regular job at a showroom to save up ahead of my big move to Amsterdam. I’d heard through the grapevine in my industry that it’s a great city to get a job in marketing and communications. I don’t really like Paris and would rather not move to London, so Amsterdam seemed like the next best thing! I’ve never been but I’m hoping once there, it’ll be easier for me to find a job I truly care about.
Current budgeting system:
I am that type of person that never has cash. I have the feeling that every bit of cash I get from my account is “dead money” already. Meaning, I’ll spend it without even realizing. That’s why I like to keep track of my expenses through different banks apps.
When I pick up a new bank/card, the app software, and user interface is highly important for me because it just makes things clearer and easier. I love Bunq and N26, and Spanish Banco Sabadell.
Why I want to save:
My future: My goal is to attain some financial freedom where money helps me save time, stress less, and live a comfortable life where I don’t have to push self-care to the side.
Though, this doesn’t mean I’m aiming for a high-pay, high-stakes job. There are a lot of people who could easily earn 8,500K per month but they are completely empty on the inside and their stress levels are mad. That’s not financial freedom. For me, it is having the money that allows you to be free and enjoy the life you want on a smaller scale.
How I plan on doing it: I plan on generating different forms of revenue, including some passive income. I don’t want to feel money is a struggle and be dependent on only on a day job. So, my plan is to have a job and side hustle and second side hustle (like trading).
In the short-term: I plan on saving enough to cover my basics like housing, food, utilities, etc. along with some funds for a bit of self-care and enjoying my youth (like traveling, etc.) I’ll invest anything else that’s not crucial.
My savings goal challenge for *this* week:
My saving goal for this week is to make it through the week without having to transfer money from my Spanish bank account to the Dutch bank account. In general, wiring only small amounts of cash from one bank to the other on a set schedule helps me stick to my budget.
“Wiring only small amounts of cash from one bank to another on a set schedule helps me stick to my budget.”
This means,I have to live with the 93,50€ I have left since I last wired funds!! Wiring money can cost transaction fees and take days to process. I recently found out about an app that makes the transfer almost instant…but I’ll do my best to not give in and make the transfer once the week is over.
Action plan for saving big:
To get by on such a tight budget, I’ll rely on my usual savings tricks:
- Eating out only once
- Have coffee at home. If I want to work outside, I’ll go to the coffee place at the grocery store where I can get a cup of coffee for 1€. Or, I’ll go to the library (because it’s free!).
- Carry snacks and water with me during the day
- One day of not spending anything on the whole day
- If I meet with somebody afterwork to have a drink, pick up the cheapest one of the menu and go back home soon so I have dinner there.
- Grocery store: Plan meals for the whole week with flexible options (I eat everyday what my body feels like want to eat) so I take advantage of every ingredient and nothing goes bad. (I hate wasting food!)
I started my Scrimp City challenge on a Friday, which was kind of interesting. I knew I wanted to go out over the weekend to have some fun so I didn’t want to spend money on eating out. I had some coffee at the library—which, to my surprise, had free cookies. Although I have some funds technically saved to live off of for a few months, I desperately need a new job. I’ve been looking and looking for opportunities, but it’s hard!
Around midday, I gave in and bought a snack for 4€. It could have been worse, but I spent the majority of the day hungry while trying to focus.
One of my good friends recently moved here from Mexico to join me on this adventure of finding-out-what’s-possible-in-another-country. It’s been great to have some company lately since I moved here without any connections or friends. We’re both in similar situations and trying to save as much as we can.
“To save some cash, we poured the beer from the can into a McDonald’s cup before we went scouting for bars.”
Since things have been so difficult, we decided on Friday to go to this club party to just have some fun. The thing is, drinks at bars in Amsterdam are so expensive. To cope, we bought drinks from grocery store and saved about 10€.
I’m ashamed to admit this, though: To save some cash, we poured the beer from the can into a McDonald’s cup before we went scouting for bars. Oh, and we’d also managed to saveabout 5€ on our meal, thanks to a coupon we got via an app.
By the time we got to a bar, we were chit-chatting with the bartender. He gave us our third round on the house. I didn’t feel too bad about it. Also, let’s not forget it’s about 10€ for a small cup of alcohol at a club. A really, really small cup.
My friend invited me to join her at a vintage market but I resisted! I know myself and if I’m trying to save money, joining a friend on a shopping day is definitely not a good idea.
I make it a point to avoid going to stores even though in my mind, “I’ll just have a look…” That’s always a lie. I know I’ll end up buying something.I saved 5€ on the entry ticket, along with about 20€ in potential shopping and food costs.
“I’ll say it now: This was a bad idea.”
This day was a nightmare. I finally found a new place I can move into and tried to move all my stuff using only a one hour metro ticket. The 24 hours-long pass is 5€, while a 1-hour ticket is 3€.
I’ll say it now: This was a bad idea. I don’t have a lot of personal belongings, so I tried cramming my stuff on the train. By the time I got through with things, the one hour had passed and I ended up walking back to my apartment across town. It took me about 30-40 minutes to walk home. And I did it to save 2€. Ugh.
“It took me about 30-40 minutes to walk home. And I did it to save 2€…”
I went to pick up my bike, at my now-bare apartment and it was already lunchtime. I had to also clean out the fridge so I decided to eat whatever was left for lunch. I made a sad-looking sandwich consisting of a boiled egg, arugula and mayonnaise. I’m telling myself it was a good decision since I would have hated spending more and throwing away good food.
The day got worse:After my long move-in, I went grocery shopping. Or, I tried and failed! I was still waiting on my Dutch bank card, so I only had my card from Barcelona. After spending an hour in the supermarket, I found they couldn’t accept my card. I only had 3€ on hand, so Ihad some rice with fresh tomatoes for dinner. Saved money, but completely unintentional.
I saved about 3-5€ by making some coffee at home. This was a small victory, since the temptation is so strong these days for me to go to a cafe. It’s where I like to spent time with my laptop, look for new jobs, read about astrology, and plan my next moves. But spending 3€ everyday means 60€ at the end of the month! I can’t do that right now.
I discovered a new savings trick: Travel farther to cheaper grocery stores. In the neighborhood I live in, I’ve noticed everything is very expensive. I’m sure the Dutch who have good-paying jobs here are doing fine, but it’s hurting my wallet. I ended up spending6€ at a supermarket on something I’m sure would have been 11€.
“I discovered a new savings trick: Travel farther to cheaper grocery stores!”
The best part of the day, though? I got a job! Except, since I don’t have a BSN number (which is needed to work here), I found out I was going to pay a fine of 700€ for not having it on my first work day. I really, really wanted to not have to dip into my savings to cover this fee.
I spent the whole afternoon looking for another city where there was an appointment slot for me to fill out my paperwork and get it processed. I was ecstatic when I found an appointment slot for Friday. (I start work on Monday.) Bye bye 700€ fee!
I’m proud to say I was out all day and saved money by carrying snacks and water with me. I once again went to the public library to use my laptop.
And, I got a little crafty. Since I am new in this city and it’s summer, I know I will regret it if I don’t make the most of what this city offers on festival season. But I don’t quite have the funds to pay for a festival concert ticket. To still enjoy some shows, I sent an accreditation request to a local festival and I got a pass!
I easily saved 45€ by pitching myself as a photographer and content creator working on behalf of a friend’s digital magazine.
Total Money Saved:
If I count how much I saved by getting a BSN number elsewhere, then I saved 821,6€. Barring that, I saved 121,6€!
It is clear that money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does make it easier to achieve things. I’ve wasted so much time and energy trying to figure out the cheapest way to make a living in Amsterdam. A couple of weeks ago on Twitter I read, “We all have the same 24 hours as Beyoncé.” But, I’d like to point out that Bey can have a private jet take her from San Francisco to LA in an hour. Meanwhile, I’ve spent 2 of those hours crossing the whole Amsterdam by foot so I wouldn’t have to pay for the public transport.
It’s important to save money, but I try to keep things balanced. Maybe I don’t mind getting the cheapest beer on the menu or spending one evening at home. But, someday I’d rather pay 12€ for the day menu at the restaurant near the library instead of having to go to my place, cook and go back to the library again. That’s a waste of time. I’ve realized I don’t like skimping out on meals to save a dollar.
Now that I have a job, instead of going from 0 to 100, I will still be on survival mode for a time so I can recover the money I’ve spent the last month and my savings will remain #untouched.
Here everything is at least three times as expensive as it is in Spain. My lifestyle, my priorities, my tastes in beauty and fashion … that’s all kind of a luxury for me now. It’s not something I think about spending on at all. When it comes to shopping, all I can think is: second-hand stores are my new normal.
—As told to Theresa Avila