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:Junior VFX Artist
Location: Reston (D.C. Metro Area), Virginia
Monthly salary (after taxes): $3,316 (I got a raise in the spring, but I started contributing more to my 401k, so my monthly income almost stayed the same. I occasionally do freelance, which can add a few more hundred dollars each month.)
Monthly rent: $1,050 (It’s actually $2,100, but split with my partner)
Housing arrangements: A one-bedroom shared with my partner
Total monthly fixed expenses:Roughly $1,500
Total debt:$9,357 (Car loan: $8,707; Credit card: $650)
How I got here and why I’m trying to save
How to sum up me + money:
I was in high school when the recession happened and my dad is a realtor, so it hit my family very hard. I remember being 16 and wanting a car so bad, but the money just wasn’t there. It was something that, at the time, I did not understand. My dad did everything he could to get me an old Jetta.
After I started graduate school, I also landed my first animation job and started making a livable wage. I had just started to feel like a real adult when I got laid off. I think a combination of these things has made me feel very defensive with my money. Job security seems like a myth to me at this point in my career so I try to save and prep in case something happens.
How I’ve handled my finances in the past:
Staying out of debt was my family’s mantra as my sister and I went through college. I wanted to apply to the big, out-of-state universities, but I knew I couldn’t pay for them. Getting a student loan was never an option that crossed my mind, because I knew it could send me into a black hole of debt. I used my entire inheritance (roughly $20,000) to pay for my undergraduate degree at the university I attended in my home state of Tennessee. I also received a few scholarships and worked on campus. I worked as a graduate assistant to get my master’s degree paid for.
I know if I want something pricey that I have to find a way to make it more affordable. Moving from East Tennessee to the D.C. metro area was a rough transition when it came to looking for housing. Our previous cost of living was very low, and now we live in an area with one of the highest in the U.S. We recently just moved to a new apartment that I initially thought would be way out of our budget. We toured the place just for fun because the rooms looked cool online. They ended up giving us two months free, so we are able to discount our rent each month making it well within our budget. The apartment also has a lot of perks that helps us save money. The gym is right below us so we canceled our previous gym membership, and we’re also within walking distance to a lot of the places we like to go, so less driving! One of the best perks is a big coffee machine where I can fill up my travel mug every morning for free.
My money goals:
My goal when I first bought my car was to pay it off within 2 years. I’m currently a bit behind on that goal, so I would love to catch back up as much as possible. Also, building up my savings is always a strong goal for me, just in case something happens to my job.
A possible career change could also be on the horizon for my partner and I, so saving money could really ease the possibility of a pay cut or lack of income between jobs. We’ve always had a dream of investing in property in Tennessee, so hopefully we can get to a point where we feel stable enough to do so in the next few years.
My go-to budgeting tools:
I use my bank’s mobile app a lot, especially since it is only located in East Tennessee and I currently live 6 hours away from there.I wish I was someone who enjoyed writing everything down and putting it into a spreadsheet, but I mainly try to allocate my money as soon as the paycheck hits my account. At least $250 goes into my savings every paycheck, and I pay what I can on my car (I try to do at least $450 a month).
How I’m challenging myself this week:
My goal for this week is to cut down on my expenses. I’d really like to have money left over for when I get my next paycheck. I’ve been spending a lot of money on material items here lately, and I want to break the habit of “spur of the moment” shopping. My goal is to spend under $150 this week.
Strategy for saving big this week:
Packing my lunch everyday for work is one way to really cut back on my expenses. I used to be good at bringing it, but I’ve fallen off the wagon lately. I’m also really trying to shift my purchases from material items to more experiences. I love online shopping, so it may be time to unsubscribe from a few stores. Rather than buying a new pair of shoes, I can save up and put that money towards a trip. My sister and I are going to Salem for Halloween, so it’ll be worth the scrimp to save some money for that.Travel can also add up in the D.C. metro area. I’m going to try to avoid racking up expenses from Uber/Lyft and take the metro more often.
How much I *usually* spend: ~$250/week
My *new* weekly spending: Less than $150/week
Day 1, Sunday:
Sunday is my chill and prep day. I woke up a little late since my partner and I had gone out to a brewery last night in the city to meet up with some friends. For breakfast, I toasted some waffles that we had from our last grocery trip and drank some pour-over coffee with lavender. After walking the dogs and doing some recipe planning, we headed to Trader Joe’s. Our new place is right next to a Whole Foods, but I know I can get some good deals at TJ’s to help me with my budget this week (-$57; it was $114 total, but split with my partner). When we get home, I make us some egg sandwiches to finish up the carton and lounge for a bit before I head downstairs to the gym. It’s located right below our apartment so no excuses! I jumped on the Peloton bike, which I have been very surprised at how much I love the workouts. I’m a mountain biker and I enjoy biking outside, so I figured I would get bored sitting on a stationary bike, but it has been my jam lately.
After taking the dogs for another walk, I started prepping dinner which is chicken thighs and wild rice with carrots and mushrooms. I throw it all in the instant pot while I play some video games. I ended up making enough to feed a family of 12 so we have plenty for lunch tomorrow.
Day 2, Monday:
I woke up early enough to bike to the metro, so it was a good start to the day! One of the biggest culture shocks when I moved here was the traffic. Starting my day with a nice bike ride and then a quiet metro ride is way better than sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. The cost is almost the same amount as the tolls I go through to get to work, but I’m not using gas to get there. This is a win-win for my wallet and the environment. I add money to my metro card to last me for a bit (-$20).
I packed a Cliff Bar for breakfast and some Copper Cow pour-over Vietnamese coffee, which is amazing. Lunch consisted of the chicken and rice leftovers, but I got so busy working on an animation that I didn’t eat until 3 p.m. I snacked on some chocolate covered almonds and some candy that I keep in my office to get me through. My candy jar has been a hit in the office, so I get quite a few visitors throughout the day. I stayed late to work on some 3D software skills and then headed home. Dinner was peach and brie grilled cheese with bacon butter. I’ve been making a lot of Half Baked Harvest’s recipes and they all knock it out of the park. The grilled cheese was delicious but a little heavy, so my partner and I ended up needing a nap. I’m determined to ride the bike in my gym everyday, so I pull myself out of bed at 10:30 to squeeze that ride in. I also whipped up some fajita style peppers and rice for lunch tomorrow.
Day 3, Tuesday:
Waking up late puts me in a bit of a frenzy. Luckily I already had a Cliff Bar in my bag and I ran out the door to get to work. I decided to drive since it might be a little faster than going to the metro, but traffic says otherwise and I also have to pay for the toll road (-$3). When I get to work, my friends and I all purchase museum tickets for tomorrow (-$18) since it will be Museum Day. We get the day off to go explore museums in the city! We decided on a place called Artechouse, which is a cool gallery that combines art and technology.
My co-workers and I met up at the end of the day at a biergarten down the road for my friend’s (almost) last day. Their last day is actually Friday, but Tuesday worked better for everyone. I realized that I’m already $100 dollars into my budget for the week, so I decide not to buy any beer or food. Luckily, my coworkers are awesome and they share their cheesy fries. When I headed home, I was close to a backroad that leads to my place, so no toll road! I felt a little uneasy after eating a mountain of cheesy fries, so I grabbed a smoothie (-$4) from our apartment’s new market. My thought process is that the fruit and veggies in the smoothie will counter the greasy fries (makes sense, right?). I make myself do a HITT workout on the bike as well before heading to bed.
Day 4, Wednesday:
Today is Museum Day! I still have money on my metro card, so I hop on that to meet up with my friends downtown. I completely forgot to eat breakfast before I left, but I think I can make it until I get back home. I grabbed a water from a food truck (-$1) and then headed into Artechouse. It was one of the coolest places I’ve been to in the city. It is one of the few museums that isn’t free, but it’s worth the price. Luckily my friends are also on a budget, so we all decided not to eat in the city and just head home to enjoy our day off.
I hurried back home (because I was very hungry by then) and popped some waffles into the oven. I also grabbed a latte from my apartment’s coffee machine (score, free coffee!). I munch those down and enjoy hanging with my dogs for the day. Today is when they make a dog park in our town center, so my partner and I walk the dogs over there to go play. One of my dogs “accidentally” wiped his drool across a corgi’s face; luckily, the owner laughed it off, but I still apologized. I felt like that meant it was time to go, so we walked home and made some taco soup for dinner with enough for lunch tomorrow.
Day 5, Thursday:
I drove to work today again, because I remembered I have to come home during lunch for an apartment inspection. I took the toll road to get there (-$3), but I grabbed some coffee downstairs at the coffee machine before I left. When I get to work, I power through some film edits with my awesome producer before running back to my apartment. I refilled my coffee before coming back and eating some taco soup.
We had another fun event at work where we played company jeopardy to win tickets to see Cirque du Solei. My team got second, so no prizes unfortunately. We then had a going away ice cream party for those who were leaving that week. I gave a little speech about how I’m going to miss having those people around, especially since one of them is a best friend of mine. I held back tears but I know he’s moving on to better things! I ended up staying late to finish editing since all these events got me sidetracked. I also took this time to update a few things on my personal website. It is just another way for me to always be ready no matter what happens, so I’ll always have my portfolio up to date and ready to be sent out. Took the toll road home (-$3), which made me think that I really need to do better about taking non-toll routes
Dinner tonight was quesadillas! I’m pretty worn out, so I wanted to do something quick and easy. I did a 20 minute bike ride at the gym and some free weights before heading to bed.
Day 6, Friday:
Today was my friend’s last day, so I took him out to lunch. But that also meant I had to drive to work (-$6 round-trip) so I could give him a ride. I grabbed my usual banana and chocolate chip Cliff Bar, but I forgot to grab coffee (queue internal screaming). I got on social media for a while at my desk. Non-stop sales pop up on my feed! I’m doing well so far this week on not buying material items. I can do this!
We took my friend out to a poke place and some people in our department joined us. I surprised my friend by inviting someone who used to work with us and that we still hangout with. Luckily, work covered our bill, so I grab a Kona coffee with my meal to make up for my lack of morning caffeine. We all got an email saying we can leave two hours early today to get a head start on the weekend, but I was on a deadline today. I hurried back to the office to meet up with my producer and we edited away on our film to try to get out early. We started exporting our film which said it would take an hour, but we were still able to get out almost an hour early.
My partner had a margherita pizza waiting for me when I get home. We ate and then head to REI so he could return some shoes. I walked around the store, but am so close to hitting my goal for the week that I feel good about not spending money here.
Day 7, Saturday:
It’s the final day of this challenge and I’m so close to hitting my goal, I can taste it! I made some oatmeal for breakfast and took the dogs for a walk. Since I didn’t get to bike to the metro as much as I planned this past week, I went for a long mountain bike ride on a trail not too far from my apartment. It got way hotter than what I was expecting, so I headed to the pool as soon as I got back. A friend of mine is in town from LA, so we made plans to meet up later. I won a gift card from work a while back for Chipotle, so my partner and I walked to the town center to eat there. There was enough on the card to cover mine (guac and all) and most of his.
Today was been such a nice day and I was still under my goal, so my friend and I decided to meet up for drinks. I was really craving a nice, cold sangria. We split an appetizer so our bill came out to be $18 each. After drinks, we hung out with the dogs at my place to catch up some more.
How much I saved by end of week:
Total Spent: $113 + Total savings: ~$167
All I can say is wow, I did not think it would be this hard! It was really an eye-opener as to where my money is really going. I thought I had typically been doing well week-to-week, but when I had a budget in place, I really had to think and strategize how I would spend my money for the week. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is how valuable not making splurge purchases is. There was something I wanted to buy at the beginning of the week, but now that the challenge is over, and I’ve had time to think about the purchase, I don’t think I want it anymore. Also, my travel expenses really add up. I want to keep trying to get that expense down by either taking backroads or strictly taking the metro.
I’m incredibly proud that I was able to stay within my budget. By Tuesday, I was very worried since I had spent almost $100 by then. I’m glad I spent a third of my budget on groceries, because it kept me from eating out for lunch and constantly going to the market for snacks. Also, I think going out for a happy hour just to be there is very doable now. I don’t feel obligated to spend money on food or drinks, but rather just enjoy being with friends.
—As told to Sara Tardiff