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 of Scrimp City, we meet an young account specialist who is trying to curb her habit of dropping $300 on shoes. Here’s how she managed living on a $100 weekly budget, all while practicing “cart abandonment.”
Meet Our Saver:
Job title:Account specialist
Monthly salary: $1,191(after taxes)
+ Quarterly bonus that averages around ~$2,000
Housing arrangements:Split apartment costs with boyfriend
Total monthly fixed expenses: ~$980
Total debt: ~$8,800
($5,800 for a car loan + credit card debt)
My relationship to money is …
“…best described as volatile and high-touch. I often find my goals shift day to day, making my savings goals a moving target.”
How to sum up me + money:
When I think of money, I think of two things: Happiness (when I have it) and anxiety/stress (when I see the numbers dwindle in my bank account). Since leaving my last job and getting a pay bump, the negative feelings have become more manageable. But, I am now realizing that makingmore money is not an overnight solution to debt! It’s definitely allowed me to pay down my debt, but I don’t feel any more ‘in control’ of my finances than I did when I was making 15k less at my old job.
My current spending habits:
I would definitely say I have a shopping addiction. When I finally got my first job, I got into a really bad habit of telling myself, ‘I don’t wanna buy a cheap pair of slacks or a skirt or a blazer, I wanna buy a nice pair that will last!’ I kind of gave myself an excuse to spend extra money on something because ‘It’s a staple! It’s a quality piece of clothing!’ But then…well that kind of transferred from one staple to literally everything I bought.
“Why did I spend $12 on a bagel? It makes no sense. Yet, here we are.”
I also gravitate toward locally-owned farm-to-table type of locations to eat. I’m a fan of the local farmer’s market. Earlier in the month. I think I dropped $80 on flowers and vegetables at the farmer’s market. Were they awesome? Yes! But…I literally could have gone to Trader Joe’s and gotten them for $10 and I don’t know why I didn’t do that. Supporting local farmers costs money, doesn’t it? Okay, so—yes—they obviously mark it up because it’s in the city, in a densely populated area, in a really trendy neighborhood.
That’s how they get you, though. The other day, I spent $12 on a f*cking bagel. Why did I spend $12 on a bagel? It makes no sense. Yet here we are.
How I got here…
How I’ve handled my finances in the past:
To be honest, my money habits fall into two categories: impulse purchases (a.k.a. retail therapy) and planning/saving for big purchases (vacations, new luggage, Christmas gifts, etc). Since these methods are almost polar opposites, I find it difficult to keep myself honest and accountable.
I’ve known for a while I have a bit of a shopping problem, but my true wake-up call came earlier this year. You see, there are waves in which I feel in control and waves where I throw all common sense away and drop $300 on shoes. (Now, in my defense, I’ll say it wasn’t on a singlepair of shoes more like a few plus express shipping).
Still —I didn’t need them. Not to mention…these aren’t exactly shoes I can wear on my commute. Can we agree that ‘practical fashion’ is a misnomer? Anyway, I wound up actually having to ask my boyfriend to spot me for groceries because I spent all my money on those goddamn shoes. Ever since, I’ve been a little less likely to give in to my impulse shopping just like that.
Why I’m trying to save…
My money goals:
My short-term goal (possibly long-term goal) is paying down my debt. I would like to have less than $1,000 in debt by spring of 2019. I know it’s a rather aggressive goal, but I believe with stricter weekly budget, combined with some projected bonuses through Q4 and Q1, I will be able to achieve it. Long term, I would like to start saving for a house. My boyfriend and I are looking to buy a property by the time we are 27, meaning we need to start saving ASAP.
“I’d like to build up my sad excuse for a savings account.”
Additionally, I’d like to build up my sad excuse for a savings account—currently I have $300 in my savings. The ideal is to work toward $45k in my savings (or at least one year’s salary).
My budgeting tools (so far):
I tried to use Mint to manage my finances at the beginning of 2018, however I found that the functionality wasn’t up to par with my expectations. Instead I’ve reverted to the tried-and-true method of mapping everything out via a spreadsheet. I have separate tabs for each credit card, with a list of transactions and current debt, as well as a master sheet that maps out my monthly recurring expenses. My financial goals are also broken down by week.
I discovered that having a weekly recap of what I am looking to achieve helps keep myself honest, as opposed to a monthly breakdown.
How I’m challenging myself this week:
This week I wanted to try something a bit different. I’m hoping to spend no more than $100 this week. It will definitely be a stretch, as I’ve allowed myself to be pretty lax recently on my daily spending. My key goals are avoiding spending money on coffees and lunches during the week, and keep the eating out to a minimum (which will definitely be the hardest goal). Thankfully, the meal-delivery company I work for gives employees a weekly $80 budget for food. So, I only really have to buy lunches like three days out of the week.
My strategy is moving all of my paycheck (sans the $100 I plan on using for the week) into my savings account. In the end, I know that some of this money will go towards recurring monthly expenses. But, I believe that by making it difficult to access the funds, I won’t be as tempted to spend it. Additionally I am locking my credit cards in my lock box to prevent any impulse purchases. Out of sight, out of mind.
Finally, I use my credit card for all of my utility bills, and those are automatically deducted. This means I won’t run into the issue of bills being deducted from my checking account.
How much I *usually* spend: ~$350-400
My *new* weekly budget: $100
What I did to create my new budget:
I actually created or concocted my own little plan to tackle my debt, going forward. We have quarterly bonuses when we hit our numbers and I’m committing to using these solely for debt repayment. I actually got my bonus this week and put it all toward my credit cards. I didn’t take any of it and spend it on frivolous purchases. Go me!
My next bonus is gonna be right after the holidays and usually it’s around $2,000. This quarter it was actually $3,500, so it was a lot more than I was expecting because I did so well. Two of my store cards are paid off now, and my bank card is halfway paid off. I put another $500 on another, too. I’m really, really proud of myself for starting off this strong.
Limiting myself to $100 a week might seem harsh right now, but I’m giving myself one week out of the month to spend up to $200. This will help me in case things feel crazy or maybe I just need new socks, underwear, or may be it’s my anniversary or a birthday.
How my week *actually* panned out:
Day One, Monday:
The very first day of the challenge, I had a concert to attend. I bought tickets months ago and it was at the United Center, which is literally all the way across the city from where I live. I was really excited about this concert, it was one of my favorite bands and I told myself I was really bummed because I was like, ‘I can’t buy myself beer, I can’t go out to dinner, I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’
I should say that before going to an Eagles concert, we stopped by the Glossier Pop-Up currently in the West Loop of Chicago. It was beautiful and they did a fantastic job of getting me to buy something (the Zit Stick). I feel like this was definitely an impulse purchase, but I am weak in the knees for skincare. I’ve heard amazing things on Instagram about their Zit Stick, and needed to try it for myself. I probably shouldn’t have purchased this , but I told myself I’d make adjustments later to balance things out!
In the end, it wound up working out because my boyfriend never paid me back for the tickets so he spotted for a drink and dinner. It was good timing but honestly I don’t know what I would have done if that wasn’t the case. I had a serious fear of missing out, especially when it came to having a beer and enjoying the concert.
Day Two, Tuesday:
I bought a breakfast sandwich and two coffees. This was in payment for my BF driving me to the office. The day after a concert always leaves me tired. I guess my ‘no coffee out of home’ rule didn’t make it very far during this journey. Gah. Thankfully I had my lunch allowance to help me stay on track.
Day Three, Wednesday:
For lunch I had a chicken chili bowl with avocado (I was so mad at myself because I forgot my lunch!). Downtown meal options are pricey as hell. It was delish— but I’m seriously hurting from how much that cost me. Luckily I grabbed a bag of Goldfish from our office kitchen to add some more carbs which should keep me from getting hangry later this afternoon.
Day Four, Thursday:
No $$$ spent. Not sure how I pulled this off TBH. Made coffee at home this morning, brought a can of soup for lunch, and had a bowl of tuna salad and kettle chips for dinner. Maybe that’s why.
Day Five, Friday:
I’m on a roll here. On Fridays, our company provides the team free breakfast. We usually have a rotation of local restaurants. This week, we had fresh bagels and fruit parfaits. What a dream. The breakfast usually comes in around 10 am, so it usually counts as a breakfast/lunch for me. After work, I headed home to binge TV and chow down on some leftovers from earlier this week.
Day Six, Saturday:
Rolled around in bed until around 11 am before the BF and I decided we were going to spend the day watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and ordering delivery. No regrets.
Day Seven, Sunday:
First week ever that I was able to stick to a grocery budget. (Snaps for me). Mostly kept to 5 ingredient recipes and canned soups/chilis for work lunches. The rest of the day was spent cleaning and organizing my apartment with the BF.
How much I saved by end of week:
Total Spent: $97 + Total savings: $302
To be candid, taking notes of all my purchases kept me so much more honest and in tune with my spending habits. The practice of physically writing my plan down, and noting my purchases in my notes app was, mentally, just a totally different experience. There was a level of accountability that I found in myself that I didn’t have prior.
I also practiced “Cart Abandonment” almost daily and was honestly shocked at how good I felt at the end of the week. It’s almost like online window shopping. For me, when I go home, my way to relax and unwind is to get a glass of wine, put on a TV show, and just mess around on my computer. Read some articles and online shop. That’s what I love to do. This week, instead of clicking “purchase,” I just put things in my cart but didn’t proceed to checkout. It was great! I don’t even know how to describe it. I feel like the endorphins were moving. I was buying it, but I wasn’t buying it. I avoided so many impulse purchases by just saying, “If I really want it by next week, I can buy it for myself.” By week’s end, I couldn’t even remember half the shit I put in my cart.
Going forward, I’m just gonna start writing everything down in my notes. Maybe I won’t track it as avidly, but if I could just write it down or text my boyfriend and be like, “I spend eight dollars on food today,” I think that makes it so much more real. It’s like suddenly I’m almost embarrassed about my purchases, so I’m less likely to spend!
—As told to Theresa Avila