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
Job title:Fundraiser for a non-profit
Monthly salary:$4,500 (BUT I have health insurance and childcare taken out of my paycheck before it reaches my bank account, so I end up with $2,300/month.)
Monthly rent:$0. My husband pays our mortgage.
Housing arrangements:Husband and I split costs. He pays the mortgage and I pay utilities, cell phones, health insurance, and childcare.
Total monthly fixed expenses:~$1,500
Total debt:$2,000 remaining on a car loan, $18,000 in school debt
How I got here and why I’m trying to save
How to sum up me + money:
I grew up with parents who were always working. Their parents were factory workers so while hard work was taught and expected, money and how to manage it and budget was never taught to me. If you wanted something, you saved up and bought it. I never had an allowance so I started babysitting to earn money when I was about 12 and officially got a part-time job when I was 16. The idea of saving money just to save it was foreign to me until I graduated from college and began to see why it was (and is) important to have that rainy day fund. It has not been easy and I can still get pulled into the you have money and want something, so go buy it mentality. Throughout the years, it’s been hard to not overspend and keep an eye on what upcoming expenses can be added to the budget. Money is probably the biggest stressor in my life still.
How I’ve handled my finances in the past:
Having never learned to budget or manage my transactions, when I was in my 20s I would look at my account, see how much money I had, spend what I wanted, and then realize that I had not accounted for that car payment or school loan being taken out so my account would be overdrawn and I would get hit with overdraft fees. It spiraled into a hole that left me anxious, depressed, and feeling stuck. I managed to get a better job and was finally able to cover my monthly costs, but barely. After about a decade of living paycheck-to-paycheck, I was making enough and taught myself how to make a budget and STICK to it. It’s not always easy when something unexpected happens (sick kid, car repairs, etc.) but having something in place and seeing the savings growing removes a lot of the stress and uncertainty.
My money goals:
Married with two kids and owning a home changes your priorities. I put 10 percent of every paycheck into my retirement fund. I make payments into my children’s college fund and I have $700 moved into a savings account each month (sometimes I have to dip into that and sometimes I don’t). My short term goal is to have $15,000 (~10 months of fixed expenses) sitting in that savings account for anything that may pop up—medical bills, house repairs, etc.
My go-to budgeting tools:
I use Mint (sometimes) and my mobile banking app.
How I’m challenging myself this week:
I want to spend less than $200 over the week. That includes the long overdue hair appointment that I’ve cancelledeating out or additional coffee stops and no extra travel that could eat up gas money. To incentivize myself, if I can keep it to under $200, I will put the remaining amount into my savings.
How much I *usually* save: $300-400/week
My *new* weekly savings: $200/week
Day 1, Monday:
Monday morning hustle! School starts this week for my oldest and I’ve been sending voicemails and emails back-and-forth with the school to get some of my questions answered. I can feel the stress rising as we get closer to the first day back. But, I did manage to relax and make coffee at home in the morning.I was starving and somehow left my breakfast on the counter. I was not happy to kick off this week having to buy something unnecessary already, but I had to eat so I grabbed a breakfast sandwich (-$2.91). After work I attended a Rotary meeting (-$3). Not always thrilled with having to spend these dollars, but they are a part of the meeting which I find to be valuable for my work life.
Day 2, Tuesday:
My youngest was sick and couldn’t sleep overnight, so I had to take her and my son (who doesn’t start school until tomorrow) to the doctor, which is over an hour away. This meant a doctor visit co-pay (-$20) and a fill-up on gas (-$33), which I had not planned for. Our normal pharmacy had a computer error and it took me six hours and having to travel to two different pharmacies in order to get the needed meds for my daughter. I was an emotional wreck by the time I got the prescription, so much so, that they pharmacy tech covered the cost of the co-pay for me. That saved me $45 from my weekly budget.
Day 3, Wednesday:
I packed my lunch and had a full gas tank, so it was a good savings day! It was the first day of school for my oldest so I made sure that we had dinner prepped for that night and I made myself a lunch when I packed his. I was relieved at the end of the day when I realized that I had not spent any money!
Day 4, Thursday:
I had packed my lunch and breakfast and was prepared to continue the $0 spending… but a coworker had a meltdown after her vacation to Florida was postponed because of Hurricane Dorian and she needed to get lunch (-$11.96).Peer pressure! I should have just eaten the lunch that Ionly positive is that we went to a place with a rewards program so with this purchase, I got a $10 gift card.
Day 5, Friday:
I knew this was going to be a high spending day because of the hair appointment!I’d cancelled this appointment twice due to illness and meetings, so I needed to finally go for a little bit of self-care. I ended up getting my hair cut and dyed, plus shampoo and tip ($-115.47).Typically, I would buy a coffee or lunch before or after the appointment, but because I was really watching my spending I made sure that I packed my lunch, some snacks, and extra water so I didn’t need to. The urge was there but I didn’t need to buy those things.
Day 6, Saturday:
We went apple picking and got some groceries today, but my husband covered those costs. It was a beautiful weekend and I was glad to be outside and enjoy the start of harvest season!
Day 7, Sunday:
It was a lazy day at home, so I meal-prepped for the week and pre-packed snacks for my lunch and my son’s. I am hoping to continue this so that I can stop buying extra coffees and lunches throughout the week!
How much I saved by end of week:
Total Spent: $186.34 + Total savings: $13.66
I was happy to come in under budget, especially with the unexpected visit to the doctor’s office. The prescription co-pay would have put me over my goal of spending only $200. I have more utility bills coming up next week that will result in more than $200 being spent in a week, but this whole exercise made me want to put a more complete, monthly budget together and map out all of my expenses, when expected bills will be due, and set a goal of saving a few hundred a month by cutting out unneeded costs like eating out and getting those extra coffees. I feel like having to write down how much I have spent every day will help me to not spend and start saving more instead.
—As told to Sara Tardiff