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 edition, we meet one creative who’s never crafted a financial budget because of her fear of being “bad with money.” This week, she tries confronting her negative emotions around money once and for all so she can *finally* track her spending. Here’s how she tried being more mindful about her money habits.
Meet Our Saver:
Job title:Marketing writer and coordinator
Location:Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Monthly salary:$3,700, after tax
Monthly rent: $700
Current spending habits:
I am an…ostrich. I like to bury my head in the sand when it comes to dealing with financial matters! I am not proud of it, but finance has always brought up intense feelings of anxiety in me. I’m not strong with numbers, and even as I state that, I realize that’s no excuse. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that just thinking about numbers and money can easily make me feel panicked.
“Finance has always brought up intense feelings of anxiety in me.”
I’m not wealthy enough to be able to disregard money matters altogether. But, I grew up thinking that, (bear with me), if you’re a creative at heart, then you weren’t destined to be good with money. The people who are good with “numbers?” Those people have some kind of gift—that the rest of us lack. For many years, I just couldn’t fathom that creative and money-savvy qualities could exist together in a single person.
Budget? What budget??
I don’t use any savings apps! I’m not opposed to trying some, though. For this week’s challenge, I’ll keep a written record in my diary. The truth is I don’t “budget” my expenses like other frugal savers and scrimpers. Hell, I don’t even like looking at my bank account, much less drafting a rigid expense plan. I’m not generally very cognizant of my spending and I’ll just let the desire for a purchase overcome any sense of prudence.
It’s what I’m trying to change, though. I’m hoping that by forcing myself to note down every expense, I’ll ease into being more mindful about my spending habits, where I can readjust, and save for the future. And, hopefully, by doing this, the whole concept of “budgeting” won’t make me…look into the far-off distance.
How I’m challenging myself this week:
I want to chip away at those negative emotions around money I’ve let fester for so long. My strategy is simple: I want to question my individual expenses and be assertive in my decision-making process. This doesn’t entail being mean or harsh with myself regarding every expenditure.
Rather, I want to combat the somewhat lax and emotion-based justification I usually rely on to excuse myself. That is, even though I know better, I’ll often tell myself an otherwise totally unnecessary purchase was okay because I “deserve it.”
“I go to different emotional extremes with money.”
It’s basically like I go to different emotional extremes with money. I’ll be overly harsh on myself or I’ll let some questionable things slide without the scrutiny they deserve.
What I hope to learn:
My big strategy here boils down to making that first (slightly frightening) step toward a bigger goal: Being gentle enough with myself so I can learn how to be better with money. I’m hoping I can start approaching money matters more calmly and with sound evidence at hand. With age 30 looming, I feel much more motivated to improve my relationship with money overall.
In terms of numbers (yikes!), my savings goals are:
I’d like to save $8,000 in six months because I’ve essentially never set a big savings goal before. I think it’s achievable with my current income—but it is going to mean sacrifices. But more than anything, it means I can’t hide from my money like I usually do.
I’ve managed to save a lot in the past few years but it took mental maneuvering to get it done. In short, I have a $10,000 savings account in Australia as my backup emergency plan should anything go awry. But—it’s worked so well I sometimes forget I even have it! I guess it’s part of my “out of sight, out of mind,” mentality. Which, as I’ve explained, can either be a really good thing, or a really bad thing.
I will try to change my mindset by:
My method for scrutinizing every purchase was to ask the following three questions:
- A) Do you really NEED this?
- B) Is there an alternative option to purchasing this?
- C) What’s the consequence for going without this?
Finally, I work remotely, so I did also make sure to be mindful of when I was using data on my phone. This is one area where I usually end up with some surcharges at the end of the month so I wanted to make an effort at using Wi-Fi more often.
Here’s how my week actually panned out
I made my coffee at home, brought my own lunch to work and resisted the temptation to purchase a second cup of coffee during the day. I’d say I’m off to a good start.
Savings for today: $21.50
I kept up my no-buy coffee rule for a second day and packed my lunch once again. I resisted the urge to dine out for the evening and used the gym in my apartment instead of paying for a workout class.
Savings for today: $36.50
Finally gave in on my no-coffee rule. But—big progress. I didn’t feel guilty. It was a treat, rather than a habit.
I’m not a big fashion kind of person so shopping for clothes isn’t what usually drains my budget. But a date night to the movies? Or buying (yet another) book at the local bookstore? #Guilty. My partner and I Netflix’d it in and I told myself to hold off on purchasing a new book. (There’s always the library?)
Savings for today: $39
Saying “no” to brunch with friends on the weekend is hard. My solution consisted of ordering just a nice coffee and skipping the breakfast portion. I kept up the cook-at-home vibe for the remainder of the day. Normally I wouldn’t blink at dining out (it’s the weekend after all!).
Savings for today: $65
By now my no-coffee rule was already broken twice, so I figured I shouldn’t do it again. I made my own at home and walked to work instead of taking the bus. It was a measly savings of $2.50, but I’m sure if I keep at it, it will add up. I mostly work from home but if I don’t, I am only a 10-minute walk from the office.
It’s partially because I work from home and that I’m never in a rush that I kill time at coffee shops. It’s probably also why John, the barista, and I are so well-acquainted. No commute=more time in coffee shops. I’ll have to force myself to get to the office more, perhaps.
Savings for today: $10.50
Nothing new here. Kept up with my no spending on coffee and lunch.
Savings for today: $17.50
Drip coffee once more! Turns out it’s not too hard a habit to break. My biggest savings so far is something I didn’t even try to cut back on. My data plan! I looked at my phone bill and its currently $50 less in charges than it usually is around this time. I have one week left before my bill is due so if I keep at this, I should be able to save at least that much.
How much I saved by end of week:
I saved $248.50!
My first thoughts are that I’m a ridiculously privileged and stereotypical inner-city millennial (with a creative job, no less). BUT—I also learned that savings are incredibly easy to come by, and I do not need to be anxiety-ridden.
I am a huge coffee lover (of course, #millennial) and so I was a reluctant drip coffee drinker. I missed my morning, frothy cappuccino from the Italian cafe downstairs. I also saved by just recognizing what my behavior wouldnormally be and then course-corrected to avoid temptation. For example, I’m not likely to attend a book fair and not buy a book, but I made sure I didn’t, which saved me an estimated $20.
I also chose a Netflix movie date over going to the cinema (what I would usually do), which saved me about $15. I still saw friends socially for weekend brunch, but I ate at home (no avocado toast for this millennial) and just got a coffee (another revelation: I enjoyed it more given it wasn’t a daily presence throughout my working week).
The most surprising revelation was how easily I normally give up on finding free Wi-Fi option. It’s just so ridiculously simple. Ask the damn cafe manager for the Wi-Fi password, and don’t resort to using data. I’m notoriously bad at this and often, if the password isn’t easily displayed, I’ll demur from asking. I spend a lot of time in cafes both in my social life but also for work meetings and to write. I resort to using data far too often!
This entire exercise has really opened my eyes to the fact it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, it’s about making mindful choices. Incremental savings can be incredible, and it’s all the more doable and encouraging when you make note of your progress.
I know if I had been much more hardline, I could have saved even more. But, I still did not expect the total amount to be as significant as it was. If I repeat this process week after week, I feel more confident I can reach my eventual goal of $8,000.
“It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, it’s about making mindful choices.”
More importantly, though, I feel more empowered to tackle my finances. I feel like my lack of confidence and past mistakes in finance and math doesn’t have to translate into reckless or ignorant spending in my personal life. In away, I feel like it’s an extension of how I approach food. I would never “diet” but I try to be mindful about eating so that I’m always making conscious choices. Being on autopilot when it comes to food—or money, is no good.
Throughout the week, I’ve also approached the process (I’m a financial newb) with kindness and self-compassion. I’ve struggled with this for so long and it’s part of the reason I think I’ve always been an ostrich with finance. I’ve continuously placed myself in the “it’s too hard” mindset.
Jotting down my incremental progress made it harder for me to resort to feeling intense guilt over a single purchase. If I can objectively look at data and see that I’ve been keeping to a strict budget all week, then there’s no reason I should guilt myself over a morning cappuccino on a Friday!
I didn’t feel intense emotion about it in either direction about such a decision. It wasn’t, “I deserve this” or,”You shouldn’t be doing this!” That, again, to me, is mindful spending.
It’s just about who is control. Yes, I’m in control.