Welcome to “Scrimp City“—an anonymous, week-in-the-life chronicle that provides a real-world look at women who are trying to save money—across a range of pay scales and industries. Each installment dives into one woman’s progress toward one overarching savings goal, and breaks down where she saves and splurges while navigating a career, planning for the future, and still making sure there’s something leftover for snacks.
In this week’s Scrimp City, we meet a marketing manager in Buffalo, New York who found herself living paycheck to paycheck without savings. While money brings up a host of feelings in all of us, for this woman, who has generalized anxiety, managing her money has always been an emotional roller coaster. In this week’s challenge, she sets out to find if a little financial planning helps ease her anxiety. Here’s how she managed.
Meet Our Saver:
Job title:Marketing Strategist
Monthly salary (after taxes):$3,000
Housing:Living with one roommate
Monthly fixed expenses: ~$250 (not counting insurance)
Total debt: $29K($27K in student loans + credit card)
My relationship to money is …
“…best described as tumultuous.”
How to sum up me + money:
It’s like a bad romantic relationship. One day things are going great and we’re on track (usually the week I get paid). Then, one bad, impulsive decision leads to another, and we’re right back where we started. I’m comforted knowing I have it when I need it (or want it), but I don’t plan for our future whatsoever.
More than anything, money has brought up a feeling of anxiety, embarrassment, and uncertainty for me. With my spending habits and lack of understanding about where my money is going and budgeting overall, I never knew when I’d find myself without. Now that I’m 30, the last thing I want to do is borrow from my parents—something I did many times in my 20s.
How I got here…
How I’ve handled my finances in the past:
My parents never really taught my sister and me about the importance of finances, budgeting, and being cognizant of our spending. I can’t say it’s their fault entirely, they always wanted to make sure we had everything we needed to be happy. But once I became old enough to get smart about money, I kept my “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and kept using money to have fun and give in to my anxieties by spending more on convenience (ordering delivery, splurging to make sure I have all the things I need, etc.).
I remember my father once gave me a credit card at 18. It was meant for help me in case of a “rainy day.” Except, my “rainy day” meant I swiped it on weekends when my friends wanted booze and pizza. (I should mention my dad allowed my best friend and me to move in to the apartment above my grandparents for a mere $50 a month.)
So, yea…That’s where it all went downhill, I’d say. I hate to admit this, but every since then my parents have paid off this credit card, only for me to rack up the charges again.
Why I’m trying to save…
My money goals …
You start to get really introspective when you venture into your 30s. Overall, society has generally conditioned us to believe that you should be settling down at my age; have your future lined up. At least a little better than I have it now. And with all of life’s other anxieties being thrown at me, money doesn’t have to be one anymore. I know I can control where my money goes and plan for a better tomorrow.
In the short-term, my boyfriend and I are planning to take the next step and move in. We’d both like to move in to an apartment a little nicer than the ones we live in now. With that said, I’d like to save up at least $1,500 by February 1 (our tentative move-in date) to help with the first month’s rent and security deposit.
My budgeting tools (so far):
I typically just check in to my mobile banking app every day to see where I’m at and make a mental estimate of how much I can spend on what until I get paid next. I plan to use receipts and my daily bank statements to log my expenses.
How I’m challenging myself this week:
I’m first going to open up a saving’s account (something I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time – but procrastinated to no end) and put in $200 which I cannot touch for the entirety of this pay period. It’s my goal to keep this up from paycheck to paycheck so I can reach my goal for February.
In addition, I noticed that it’s not incredibly uncommon for me to spend upwards of $725 the weeks I get paid. So I’m hoping to keep it around $300. (I figured out that I have about $400 each week for “extra” things). Plus saving an extra $100/week will start to give me a some good financial direction. And habits that I can feasibly hold onto.
How much I *usually* spend: ~$725
My *new* weekly budget: $300 + $100 for savings
What I did to create my new budget:
I took my last three month’s bank statements and compared the weeks where I splurged, got coffee, eating out every day and going out with friends. Averaging out those “typical” weeks with other “flexible” expenses like gas, other transportation, etc. helped me come up with new numbers.
Day One, Thursday:
Today I was running low on money, as I’ve grown used to the 2-5 days before my bi-weekly paycheck. I decided to take up my mother on an invitation to eat a free dinner (free being the key word) at her house (which ended up being the best decision I could have made – homemade jambalaya crafted by my aunt and several of my favorite appetizers.)
I got Tim Hortons coffee and yogurt for breakfast (-$5.85) and I felt a little bad about this because it’s go-to just about every morning. I’m quite aware that this builds up over time. I also had a salad from Subway (- $8.31) and I wished I had grocery shopped ahead of time. My grab-and-go kind of lunches add up. And this is on the cheaper side of what they can add up to!
I had drinks (-$25) at the local hole-in-the-wall bar. While I knew I didn’t need to spend money here, I justified it by all the money I had saved eating with my mom and aunts.
Day Two, Friday:
Finally payday! A fresh start! On Friday I opened up the first savings account I can remember having in quite some time. I put in $200 and instantly felt some relief. On this day, my boyfriend and I agreed to lay low because we’re both aiming to save some dough. For the evening, my boyfriend, the avid movie-goer, had earned us some free movie passes so the Friday was already shaping up to be a cost-effective one.
Tim Hortons lunch – soup and a coffee. (-$8.50). This time it was for lunch. I felt okay with this purchase as I skipped spending for breakfast to grab fruit and coffee at work. Walgreen’s – a couple essentials I didn’t have at my house (-$18.11). I needed a couple household items at Walgreens. Walking in here gave me anxiety. It’s not uncommon for me to drop around $100 here on makeup, food, drinks, random electronics, you name it. They get me every time. I took way longer than expected in here because of it, but grabbed my makeup removers and household items and made it out feeling okay. Post-movie dinner (-$35).
While it wasn’t the most frugal dinner I’d ever eaten, this really isn’t bad for us dining out – on the weekend, no less. I decided it was a nice end to a long week and we turned in afterward.
Spent: $63.61 = $172.77
Day Three, Saturday:
It ended up to be a beautiful fall day in Lewiston, NY (just outside of Buffalo) and enjoyed a brisk mile-long walk with my boyfriend’s family for an Alzheimer’s walk. Afterward we were again treated to a lovely free lunch in town by his parents (try as we might, they never accept our money!), so the morning and afternoon started out well enough. However, after many friends decided to congregate in Buffalo for Oktoberfest festivities and merriment, my frugal Saturday plans went a bit awry.
Food and drink at a couple bars (-$70). I knew I didn’t have to insist on getting expensive craft beers and IPAs, but I like to enjoy what I’m drinking. In addition, spending time with friends on a sunny fall day in Buffalo is priceless. I had plans for the week starting Sunday so this daily total for Saturday didn’t bother me too much!
Day Four, Sunday:
I woke up with a bit of a hangover thanks to the previous day’s festivities. But I had plans for the day (that didn’t involve watching the Buffalo Bills lose for once). I decided to forgo Sunday Funday plans to watch the game, and my urge to order takeout and set out to the grocery store that afternoon. I’ll blame it on my headache and displeasure with being there, but it took me a little longer than I’d have liked since I didn’t have a solid plan of action or budget. I did, however, know that I wanted to cover my breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and most dinners for the week.
Groceries for the week (-$130). I was a little disappointed as I thought I would have saved a little more money when I was looking for deals in the store, but overall I knew this would cover most of the rest of my week so I wasn’t too upset.
Day Five, Monday:
Monday I woke up thrilled for a day with a full fridge. I already knew my meals for the day. I made my coffee to take to work; packed up Greek yogurt, fruit, and granola for breakfast; had an apple and Powerade for an afternoon snack (Powerades are a staple purchase for me, I’ll buy two almost every day. I saved a ton of money buying a 6-pack at the grocery store instead probably around $12+); a microwaved Nourish Bowl for lunch. When I got home on Monday, I roasted a ton of broccoli and seasoned chicken breast tenders to eat for dinners the rest of the week. For my dinner this day, I ate this and a pre-portioned Minute white and red quinoa cup. It was delicious, quick and easy, and I felt great about the whole meal.
Day Six, Tuesday:
Tuesday I woke up fresh and at ease with all my meals prepared for the day (all this planning had honestly decreased my anxiety). I made my coffee and set out for work (early, mind you! I forgot to mention I’m almost always late for everything) with the same lunch and breakfast I had the day before. All this planning for my future was motivation enough to get myself back to the gym (a foot injury had kept me away for a few months). After the gym, I ate some more broccoli, quinoa, and a heap of hummus for dinner.
Day Seven, Wednesday:
Wednesday I woke up a little later than I wanted. Nonetheless I was ready with my coffee, breakfast, snacks, and lunch (I’m a creature of habit, so I don’t mind eating things I love and that make me comfortable again and again). I had a bit of an afternoon slump and opted to buy myself a Tim Hortons coffee since I had admittedly been missing it. That evening, I heated up another Nourish Bowl with some chicken and my boyfriend came over to Netflix and (really) chill.
Afternoon coffee (-$1.47) I felt very okay with it. I also had some cheap wine for date night. (-$8.50) and didn’t feel too guilty about the purchase.
How much I saved by end of week:
Total Spent: $312.77+ Total savings: $412.77*
(Not counting the $200 I placed in my savings account!)
It might sound simple, but I know I’ve been avoiding actually facing my finances head-on for …years. I’d spend money as an “anxiety relief” and a “fun fund” if you will. But in reality, all that was doing was causing me mass amounts of more uncertainty and anxiety about money. When I’m not paying attention to my money, it seems limitless. Until you check your statement.
When I approached the situation methodically, I realized I should be getting by just fine, not struggling like I have been. I’m very habitual and I think I’m going to be able to keep meal prepping from now on. I didn’t do it the week following the challenge, but I plan on alternating weeks.
I also opened a savings account—which I did not touch. Putting aside $200 each pay period will allow me to reach my savings goal for February when I plan to get a new apartment and it made me feel like I was finally moving in the right direction.
Knowing how much I can really spend made me feel way less guilty about invites to events, dinners, and drinks. When I know the numbers, it’s easy to say “next time,” to an invite I can’t afford.
Now, if you’d asked me whether I thought planning alleviates my anxiety, I would have said, ‘Yes, it does.’ It just takes work. Going forward, hopefully I can arrange for all my bills to be paid on the same day. Anyone know an app for that?
—As told to Theresa Avila