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 week’s challenge, one college student tries cutting her food and drink budget by half while still maintaining a vibrant social life. Here’s how she managed.
Meet Our Saver:
Job: Full-time student and retail associate
Location:Boone, North Carolina
Monthly rent: $750
Current spending habits:
I’ve always been pretty horrible with saving money. I’ll admit money is always “burning a hole in my pocket.” I am about to graduate college, so I don’t even have a whole lot of money to save. With only a month ’til graduation, I am hoping to become financially literate and up my overall financial savviness as I approach post-grad life. I guess you can say my overall savings goal is simply to start saving and budgeting in a responsible way.
In the short-term, however, I’d like to save enough funds to pay back my partner’s parents. We’re taking a vacation trip together at the end of the year and they bought an all-inclusive flight and hotel package that covered my portion. It’d be a great feeling to know I can actually pay them back the more than $1,300 they paid to cover me.
Current budgeting system:
It’s not great. My current budgeting consists of haphazard estimates and half-scrawled weekly and monthly summaries of my income and spending. For this upcoming week, I’d love to download and use a budgeting app like Mint, but I’ve heard it takes a lot of time to set up initially.
So, my plan is review my expenses for the last few weeks and write down any all purchases I make throughout the week. I’m hoping that will help make me more conscious of where my money is going (though I have an idea).
My savings goal challenge:
So I crunched the numbers from the last three weeks and it turns out I spent a little more than $600 on alcoholic drinks, groceries, and going out to restaurants with my boyfriend and friends. On average, I spent about $65 a week on drinks alone, and about $130 on food over the previous three weeks.
I’ve always been a big foodie and eating a good meal with my boyfriend, friends, and family is so important to me. Even when we don’t eat out, I still love trying out new recipes and seeing what I can come up with in the kitchen.
For this week’s challenge, I would like to spend half as much on drinks and cut my food budget by at least a third so I spent no more than $90 on food. Overall, I would like to spend no more than $120 this week on food and drinks. That would save me about $80 in a single week.
If I was able to stick to a similar budget for the rest of the year, I would wind up saving around $320 a month and about $1,600 total! That would be more than enough to cover my plane ticket to the Dominican Republic in December and leave me with plenty of pocket money to spare.
Action plan for saving big:
I love food and cooking and I spend a majority of my disposable income on food and drinks. So, to save big, I plan on not going to eat out during the week. I will meal prep batches of food so I always have it on hand. When possible, I’ll buy what I can in bulk. Oh, and I’ll cut back my alcohol consumption. I think these steps in conjunction with a cash-only budget will help me save big.
In addition to this, I’ll research my utilities providers and see if I can save money by switching to different companies, though I won’t be including that in my overall savings budget for this week.
I went through my pantry and fridge on Monday morning and made a mental list of all the different foods I have to work with. My boyfriend and I receive a half-share of food from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box from an organic farm. That means I get most of my veggies for the week on Saturday mornings. The CSA box runs for four months, and it only cost me $90 since my partner and I split it.
However, I get about $40 worth of produce each week so it’s an incredible opportunity to score amazing veggies for cheap, all while supporting local farmers. I was out of town over the weekend, so I had all of my produce when I got back on Monday morning. Instead of going to the grocery store first, I decided to meal prep almost all of my produce.
“After my class, I realized that some of my friends were having a going away party that night that I had totally forgotten about.”
After my class, I realized that some of my friends were having a going away party that night that I had totally forgotten about. Instead of meal prepping on Monday night, I decided to wait until the next day to batch cook. Thankfully, this event had a potluck dinner beforehand. I grabbed some leftover pasta salad I’d made in a large batch and brought it to the event. I didn’t want to spend on buying alcohol, so I saw I had some leftover tequila in my pantry from the week before. It was enough to whip up a little cocktail to bring as well.
Typically, this is the part where I would have cooked for the potluck or gotten some food and wine from the grocery store. But, I was feeling rushed. Just making the conscious decision to bring some of my leftover meal prep food from the previous week and some liquor from my pantry meant I avoided spending money on Monday. I was so surprised it was enough to keep me full, go out with friends, and have fun.
After my success on Monday, I was feeling excited and even more stoked for the Scrimp City challenge. I followed through on my plan to meal prep for the week. On Tuesday evening, I spent about four hours chopping, roasting, and sauteing food for the rest of the week. Again, I love cooking, so the time flew by and I had fun. I was actually amazed at how much food I had at the end of it.
Since I’d looked through my fridge and pantry to see what ingredients I could work with, I actually avoided needing to go to the grocery store. So I had another day of no-spend on Tuesday. This was shocking to me, since I’m so used to spending even just a little bit. I oftentimes find myself going to the grocery store a few times a week, just imagining what I have on hand and buying some things I think I would like to use later in the week.I then end up making meals on the fly, but they don’t always use the ingredients I bought earlier in the week. This can result in food and money waste!
I end up making meals on the fly, but they don’t always use the ingredients I bought earlier in the week.
I was so excited for all my meals the rest of the week, used all my produce, did not spend money for a second day in a row. If things continued like this, that’s already $60 I could pocket in savings since the first half of the week makes up my grocery shopping days.
I enjoyed a delicious breakfast from my meal prep the day before and I felt like I was on some sort of weird money-saving high on Wednesday morning. I went and bought a ginger beer from a local beer shop, so I spent $4.79. I was planning on using the ginger beer as a mixer for drinks later in the week. Instead of buying different alcohols, I felt like I was rationing out my already-existing pantry liquor to save money.
I’m close with my boyfriend’s family, and they had just returned from a vacation out West. I was invited to visit them for dinner and drinks that night, which was a 90-minute drive to his family’s house down the mountain. We went out to a restaurant instead of eating in and his family was kind enough to pay for me at dinner, so I wound up saving about $35.
Overall, I was so pleased with the day. Not only was I able to have a great time with family, but I was able to save money too. I suppose the lesson of the story is, generosity is always a nice surprise.
“I could not resist the temptation of a burger special at our favorite restaurant while I was a bit hungover.”
Since I ate dinner out the night before, I had more meal prep food left over than I thought I would on Thursday morning. I had to pay my water bill and wound up spending $31.50 for my utilities. I was feeling a little slow from the previous night, so I decided to go out to lunch with my boyfriend. I had plenty of food meal prepped to eat, but I just could not resist the temptation of a burger special at our favorite restaurant while I was a bit hungover.
I also decided to front the bill, since his family had been so generous the night before. I wound up spending about $35 on food and drinks for us. I felt a little bad about it, but realized I had saved a lot of money during the week and had some more money to spare. Then, I was invited to another potluck.
Obviously, me and my friends love food. A pal is heading on a study abroad program for the next six months, so she decided to throw another little potluck together. I was feeling so full and tired after lunch, I decided to just buy some alcohol for the party instead of whipping up something like I had on Monday.
I spent $22.60 on some champagne and cider. I wound up having a great time at the potluck that night, but felt guilty for spending about $20 on alcohol that I had not previously accounted for. All in all, on Thursday I spent about $90 total.
I usually work on weekends, but was not scheduled so I decided to take another daycation. I’m originally from a large city about two hours from my current home, but I like to go back and spend time my family from time to time. My family was out of town on this particular Friday, but we still decided to go down and have some fun. I live in a small mountain town so there’s not a whole lot going on. It’s nice to escape and ball out every now and again.
On Friday afternoon, my partner and I headed down the mountain once again. I had a rough day on Friday and I have come to realize I’ll spend more money when I’m upset. It’s an unfortunate coping mechanism, but one that results in eating delicious food. My partner and I went to this nice sushi spot downtown and had an amazing meal. I was feeling optimistic about how this would factor into my budget for the week. He paid for the two appetizers we got and I decided to buy the four cocktails and two sushi rolls we got.
“I had a rough day on Friday and I have come to realize I’ll spend more money when I’m upset.”
When I got the check I was floored. I was not expecting it to be $68.20. I instantly felt my stomach drop. All I could think was “No! The challenge!” I realized I’d totally blown my savings plan when, with tip, wound up spending about $80. It was delicious and a very memorable experience, but I never spend that sort of money at a single spot.
I’m thankful that my partner paid for a portion of the bill, which was a bit hard. I definitely have the tendency to pay more for my loved ones. I realized I can save money by just asking for some sort of reciprocation every once in a whole. So, savings trick: Boundaries!
I woke up feeling a bit disheartened about my spending the previous night, but was determined to be more responsible with my budget the next day. We made breakfast, coffee, and lunch at home so we did not have to go out and spend more money. It turned out that we had forgotten some things of ours at his parents house from earlier in the week, so we decided to stop by and grab the items before we made our way back home. We left from the city to go to his parents house about an hour north, and I threw in about $10 worth of gas for the trek.
When we got there, they surprised us with some great homemade drinks and a dinner for us. So wow, yet again, generosity pays. It was really interesting to me, because I was starting to notice a pattern—me and all of the people I surround myself with love eating good and drinking well. We love to share it with each other and it binds us while we nourish ourselves and spent quality time together. I’m realizing I might have to find some other ways to cut back, since I don’t mind spending more money from time to time on my friends or family. Food and drinks are important to me and my kin.
“Food and drinks are important to me and my kin.”
I was finally home after a week of unexpected daycations, and I felt very reflective about the money I spent during the week. Since I had so many meals out this week, I still had food leftover from my meal prep. I went out and bought $10 worth of mixers for the alcohol I had leftover for this upcoming week (I was so surprised that I still had this same liquor left.)
Buying mixers and more hard liquor really seems to be a money saving strategy I need to utilize more often. After a few errands, I decided to go to a yoga class with a friend. We went to the $5 flow card instead of a regular class, and wound up saving about $10. Afterward, I made good on my leftover meal prep to whip up something new with some new ingredients from our produce box.
Total Money Saved:Overall, I saved about $70 this week. I usually spent about$200 but was able to keep it to $130. I wish I could have saved more, but progress comes in small doses, right?
Breaking bad habits is hard. I know I should be saving more and I feel like I got off to a strong start at the beginning of the Scrimp City challenge. But, I blew it (sort of) midweek when I splurged on those cocktails. I’m optimistic, though, about the progress I’ve made. There were a lot more opportunities during the week when I resisted buying more alcohol and potluck food for time with friends. For instance, having a list of ingredients in mind before I go grocery shopping that takes into account what I already have is an easy way to save.
I was most surprised that I could still concoct some great drinks to keep my social life going by using what I already had in my pantry. Once you buy some alcohol in bulk (to save), it’s just a matter of buying smaller, cheaper ingredients like ginger beer or lemons, to mix with different teas and any herbs you might have on hand.
I love trying new drinks and I think going forward, if I stick to one particular drink and just have some mixers to work with, I can spruce up otherwise boring homemade drinks throughout the week. This is an easy way to cut back and save.
—As told to Theresa Avila