I Feel Like I Can’t Afford City Living Anymore—When Will I Know It’s Time To Leave?

I Feel Like I Can’t Afford City Living Anymore—When Will I Know It’s Time To Leave?

About this series: Welcome to Scrimp City—an anonymous, week-in-the-life chronicle that provides a look at women who are trying to be smarter about money, whether that means saving more, spending strategically, or just being more comfortable managing their hard-earned cash.

In each installment, we follow one woman’s progress toward a money goal or challenge they’ve set for themselves. We learn about their typical spending/saving habits and see if, after their self-imposed money challenge, they come away feeling just a *little* more financially-savvy.

Meet Our Saver

Quick Bio:

Job title:Customer Experience Representative


Location:Chicago, IL

Monthly salary (after taxes):$2,786

Monthly rent:$850

Housing arrangements:Three-bedroom apartment, shared with two roommates

Total monthly fixed expenses:~$450

Total debt:$3,200 credit card debt

How I got here and why I’m trying to save

How to sum up me + money:

I’ve never successfully stuck to a budget in my life. Whenever I read financial self-help books or whatever, I feel defeated because it’s like, I can be frugal AF and save and save and save, but when you’re underpaid there’s not much you can do. I do pretty decently considering I don’t have a college degree, but I’m also very aware that growing into managerial or senior positions will always be hard for me without one.

How I’ve handled my finances in the past:

I didn’t go to college, which I’ve been really self-conscious about for a long time and has made getting jobs difficult—but I’m also thankful that I don’t have any student loans to deal with. Most of my friends are really struggling with student debt, and are coughing up almost 50 percent of their paychecks to pay it off. Not to say I’m without my own financial responsibilities, though. My mother is a single mom and she’s still raising my younger brother, so I send her money every month to help her pay bills and buy groceries. I don’t have much in savings for that reason, although I do put aside a few hundred dollars whenever I can—which means I rarely buy things for myself, like new clothes or makeup.

My money goals:

I want to enable my mom to retire at a reasonable age. The thought of her working in her older age makes me really sad, especially because that’s exactly what my grandmother did. She worked into her 70s as a waitress and I don’t want that for her. Shorter term, I’d love to pay off my credit card debt before 2020 is over, and maybe take a trip somewhere international. I’ve never been out of the country before, except for a trip to Guatemala to visit relatives when I was little.

My go-to budgeting tools:

I use my banking app, but that’s really it.

How I’m challenging myself this week:

How much I *usually* spend: $250/week


My *new* weekly spending: $200/week

Day 1, Monday:

I completely spaced and forgot my laptop at home this morning, so as soon as I got to the office I had to run back home. But my boss isn’t in today anyway, so I took my sweet time getting back. I walked the 30 minutes and stopped to buy some mango from a woman selling it on the street (-$3). I love walking around Chicago when the weather is crisp, before it gets too cold.

When I got back to the office, I only had time to answer a few emails before it was time to go home for lunch. I walk home just about everyday, and today I ate some leftover quinoa salad that I made the night before. I go back to the office, check off everything on my to-do list by 4 p.m., and head out the door by 4:15. It was a quiet night of Netflix, hanging out with my boyfriend, and eating the pizza he brought over!

Spent: $3

Day 2, Tuesday:

One of my co-workers brought bagels into the office for breakfast this morning to celebrate his birthday. Lunch: Check! I haven’t gotten anywhere with my Christmas shopping this year, so during my break I popped into a bookstore a few blocks away. I decided to get gift cards to local bookstores for a bunch of my friends this year, to encourage everyone (myself included!) to shop local. I buy three gift cards (-$60), and cross a few friends off my list.

Spent: $60

Day 3, Wednesday:

Work went by so slowly today! I work for a beauty company, and spend the majority of my day chatting with customers and helping them select products or exchange their purchases. Today, no one’s really in the office since most of the senior employees are at this retreat in New York. My co-workers and I spend most of the afternoon chatting. I dip out early around 4:30 p.m.

After work I decided to meet up with my friend Kate and go for a run in the park near her apartment. We do this usually once or twice a month! Her and I are both stubborn and don’t want to spend money on the gym or workout classes, so this is a pretty good free alternative. I undo it though (the money-saving and the workout) by picking up some Chinese food and a pack of beer on the way home (-$38). I wanted to pay my boyfriend back for bringing over pizza the other night, especially because he said he had a rough day. And he’s not one to complain!

Spent: $38

Day 4, Thursday:

I talked to my mom on the phone this afternoon, she told me she’s having a hard time staying on top of some of her bills. I tell her that I’ll do my best to send more next month, which she insists isn’t necessary—but knows I’ll do anyway. Money is probably my biggest stressor right now. I know she’s not doing well financially, she cleans houses and does other odd jobs like babysitting and laundry. She works so hard, I don’t want her to have to do this forever.

My coworkers all decide to go for a long lunch since, again, no one is in the office, but I feel guilty after the conversation with my mom and go home to eat leftovers. I’ve been to free with my spending lately, when I should be sending more to her and my brother.

Spent: $0

Day 5, Friday:

I have a phone call today with a company that I’ve been chatting with back and forth over the last few weeks, about a potential role they’re interested in hiring me for. It pays about $20,000 more annually than my current gig, which would be really life-changing. I don’t have any prospects other than this, though, despite applying for other jobs nonstop. Not having a college degree usually turns employers off pretty immediately, but this company doesn’t seem bothered by it. The conversation goes well, they say they’ll be in touch early next week.

Spent: $0

Day 6, Saturday:

A few girlfriends and I decide to get some of our Christmas shopping done today, but first we meet for brunch. I ate some toast at home beforehand so I wouldn’t be tempted to go crazy and order something huge. I get a black coffee and some yogurt with granola and fruit (-$14). Then we head to this shopping center we like and I buy gifts for my mom, brother, two cousins, and a holiday dress for myself (-$97).

Spent: $111

Day 7, Sunday:

I spend the day at home with my boyfriend, cleaning my apartment and watching Netflix. In the afternoon we stop by his apartment, and take his dog for a long walk around the neighborhood. We stop and he buys me a hot chocolate. It’s a perfectly lazy Sunday afternoon, where I spend no money and try to just be present.

Spent: $0

How much I spent by end of week:

Total Spent: $212

Final thoughts:

Slightly over my goal, but it is holiday shopping season—so I’m not feeling too guilty. If anything, I’m glad that I ate lunch at home or for free the entire week and either walked or used public transport everyday. It was a cool exercise to be conscience of my spending. More so than I usually am, anyway.

—As told to Sara Tardiff