Welcome to Scrimp City—an anonymous, week-in-the-life diary that provides a real-world look at the savings trials, tribulations, and habits of women across a range of pay scales and industries. Each installment dives into where they save and where they splurge as they navigate their careers, plan for the future, and make sure there’s still enough left over for snacks.
This week, we take a look inside the life of a 28-year-old woman who’s relying on her thrifty ways to get her through the days leading up to her friend’s surprise marriage proposal.
Meet Our Saver:
Job: Management Analyst
Location: Pasadena, California
Monthly salary: $4,500
Monthly rent/mortgage: $700 for a 1 bedroom and bath in a 2B/2B
Current spending habits: I’m a thrifty person by nature, I think. But I became more so after I was laid off from my last job working as a coordinator for an in-home care program. I spent several months looking for suitable work and I developed a lot of tricks along the way to save money whenever I could. I’ve recently started working again as a management analyst for the city of Pasadena and I’m in a place, financially, where I don’t have to look at a spreadsheet of expenses the way I once used to. Still, old habits die hard and I’m grateful for that.
Two weeks ago, my good friend’s boyfriend contacted me about helping him plan a surprise marriage proposal after a group hike in the Channel Islands. I knew once I agreed to help that I’d be spending more money than usual, so I set out to make sure I could cut back expenses as much as I could throughout the week.
After my last job, my student loan repayment plan was put on hold and I’d like to pay off the loans with the highest interest first. I tend to budget on a weekly basis. So, my financial goals usually shift, depending on what commitments I have going on. With my friend’s surprise wedding proposal, I’m anticipating some unexpected costs I otherwise would avoid.
In the past, I’ve tried budgeting my expenses and monitoring them on the app Mint but eventually I found myself spending too much time on it and making things more complicated than they needed to be. I resorted then to using a simple spreadsheet on my laptop where I’d lay out my allotted budget and note where my expenses were going. That was super helpful when I was unemployed, but now with a steady paycheck I’ve gone back to just making sure I’m as frugal as possible on a daily basis. I told myself that for this week I wouldn’t spend money on anything unless I could justify the purchase and that I’d avoid eating out.
I made coffee at home to avoid purchasing my usual Starbucks drink and I brought food from home, so I could start off the week without eating out for lunch. I wanted to save where I could because I needed to buy decorations for the weekend. As part of the proposal on Saturday, we were going to have a small area reserved as this restaurant (that’s really more like a bar, but they offer some bites) and I wanted to make the place look nice.
I headed to the 99 cent store after work to get some balloons, a banner, confetti, and a small centerpiece for the table. I knew that going to the 99 cent store was going to be the most cost effective in money and time. Since I’m a frequent shopper there, I knew what they had. All in all, I spent $15 for decorations for two parties and I saved gas and time by shopping for them together. Win!
I doubled down on my commitment to avoid spending any money on coffee or lunches out while at work. I ate a meal I’d cooked as part of my week-long meal prep and I opted for a smaller bag of cat food to help further decrease my week’s costs.
I also wanted to give my friend and her boyfriend a special gift that wouldn’t cost me a whole lot. I knew that people sometimes create Snapchat filters and it turns out, you can get a really inexpensive one for about $7 that’s limited to one location. I tweaked the text and colors on some of the pre-made filters they have available for weddings and settled on one, I made a filter that read, “He put a ring on it” (she’s a big Beyonce fan). It’s a cute gift and you would never know it’s so cheap.
I made coffee at home again and after the purchases I made the past few days, I reviewed my bank statement during lunch to see if I would be able to splurge on getting my nails done. I ended up spending $45 for a gel manicure and pedicure. To help offset the cost, I skipped my usual eyebrow waxing. That helped me save $20.
“I skipped on getting my eyebrows done. I fought the urge to buy new clothes for my weekend vacation. My old savings habits kicked in and I came in under budget. Yay, me!”
I normally love creamer in my coffee because it saves me time in the morning (there’s nothing easier than just pouring some in a cup of coffee and heading out). I resisted the urge to buy a whole new bottle of my favorite French vanilla coffee creamer and instead I relied on regular milk and sugar. I probably saved all of $5, but I felt good about it.
Since I didn’t get my eyebrows waxed, I decided the best way to tame my wildabeast look was with some eyebrow pencil. Luckily, I had a 20 percent off coupon from Ulta I got in the mail recently. I bought a basic eyebrow pencil from NYX Cosmetics and, with the coupon, I basically saved like just the tax. I always save my coupons in the glove compartment of my car so that whenever I need them, I can just grab and go.
I also was proud of myself for turning down a dinner date with a friend. When I was unemployed, I had a system where I would make a shake at home or I’d eat something light before heading to dinner with friends. If I was going to grab a drink, I’d also have a cocktail at home beforehand. Doing that always helped me to save while still being able to have something in my hand while socializing. Now that I’m salaried, I don’t need to order two appetizers (another one of my dinner-saving tricks) but I figured it was still safer for me to postpone the dinner date with my friend to another time.
I started off the day on a good note by making my morning coffee at home once again, but I wasn’t very successful in sticking to my usual budget during the remainder of the day. I’d volunteered to drive the group of us in my hybrid Honda Civic to Ventura, so that we could take the ferry to Channel Islands. The thing is, I have two cats and the car is usually filled with their cat hair and I felt a little self-conscious about asking friends to ride along like that. So, even though I never, ever pay for a car wash in California (it rains, eventually), I decided I had to get the car professionally cleaned. Still, Pasadena can be pricey so I felt lucky when I found a place in the next town over where I could get the car washed for $20. I asked everyone to meet at my place so I could avoid extra mileage in having to pick everyone up.
Once we arrived at the hotel, my friend and her boyfriend had food and snacks waiting for us, which helped me to avoid having to buy dinner. I offered to help pay for the one hotel room we shared among us, but my friend’s boyfriend insisted he pay. Since we ended up getting to the hotel so late in the evening, we ordered a pizza which helped me pocket the money I’d budgeted for dinner.
I planned ahead of time and had packed some sandwiches I’d prepped and packaged the night before to avoid extra food purchases. Still, I was a little hungry that morning because even though we had a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we left early so we could get a head start on our trip with the ferry (a $120 cost for two round-trip tickets for my boyfriend and me) and the hike. The plan was for us to hike some trails as a group of friends (the excuse being it was a reunion for us all) and on the final hike, we’d take turns taking photos as couples. That’s when he’d pop the question.
Things started going a little off-course when she became suspicious of how we were taking our time and delaying the final hike. She didn’t know, of course, that we were waiting for the right lighting and hour.
The final surprise came when we went to a restaurant and my friend found her whole family and more friends waiting. I bought two $14 drinks and some fries instead of a full dinner since I’d munched on snacks once we got back to the hotel. It turned out to be a good move, since I ended up paying $11 for the Lyft back to the hotel.
I’d already missed out on the complimentary breakfast the day before at the hotel, so I made sure to wake up early.
All in all, I ended up spending $25 on gas, which is around what I usually spend during a week. I was a little surprised that none of the people who were carpooling with me offered to pitch in for gas, but I felt it was rude to ask because 1) they didn’t offer and, 2) I knew their financial situation is different than mine. One is a stay-at-home mom and the other is a new graduate student.
Once I was done dropping off my boyfriend, I went straight to my little cousin’s birthday party at a bowling alley. My family covered the bowling ticket.
Total Money Saved:
All things considered, I spent less than $300, which is about $100 less than what I thought I would spend for the week. I believe this week went well considering the proposal. So let’s just say I saved $100! I skipped on getting my eyebrows done. I fought the urge to buy new clothes for my weekend vacation. My old savings habits kicked in and I came in under budget. Yay, me!
Going forward, I’ll continue to question every item before I decide to purchase it and I will continue to utilize coupons, on top of my habit of purchasing items on sale. And, hopefully I’ll budget even better.
Looking back over the week, I guess I could have done my own nails to save even more, but I’m OK with that. The way I see it is, my nails last a little longer when I splurge than if I went to a cheaper nail salon and I needed to get them redone more often. If I need to save more in the future, I can always get my nails done with a French tip. When they grow out, it’s harder to detect.
This challenge has taught me how to save by thinking ahead. Reviewing my bank account early on in the week was helpful with determining my budget. The Scrimp City challenge also made me realize that I have a tendency of purchasing unnecessary items when I have an event to attend to. Writing everything down and being able to reflect my spending for the week was an eye opener.