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 a former financial services employee who’s about to start a new job in Springfield, MO that comes with a $10K salary bump. With her roommate moving out and plenty more changes on the horizon, she’s realizing that her money habits needs to change—ASAP! Here’s how she’s scrimping and saving until her new job starts so she can finally afford to have fun.
Meet Our Saver:
Job title:Project Manager (beginning soon)
Location:Springfield, MO, USA
Monthly salary (after taxes):$2300
Housing arrangements:One roommate, split costs.
Estimated total monthly fixed expenses: $1170
Total debt: $12,000(Credit Cards: $3000; Student Loans: $9000)
My relationship to money is …
“…best described as doing the most with a small budget.”
My current spending habits:
I grew up not having much, and feeling self-conscious about it. When I’m tight on money, can’t afford to do something, or have to ask for help, it brings up a feeling of shame or embarrassment. Money is tied to a sense of success and capability for me.
How I got here…
How I’ve handled my finances in the past:
I took out more in student loans and credit cards than I would have if I had been given, or sought out, financial guidance. With student loans, I’ll admit I kind of didn’t do much research or know a lot about scholarships. I went directly to loans… In hindsight I wish I would have looked more into that. With credit cards, I kind of got into using them all at the same time and overestimated how much I would be able to pay back and underestimated the interest rate. I was 19 years-old when I took out my first credit card. I’m not mad about it, but I do think I should have probably waited until I had a better grasp of my finances and the long-term impact. I ran up the balances pretty quickly. When I finally did pay down my balance, it went back up again because I was making no money.
Why I’m trying to save…
The trouble with budgeting in the past has been:
I normally budget my expenses just by keeping track of my bank statements. I often pay bills early on in the month to get it out of the way. I haven’t been able to use Mint or other similar apps because my local bank is not featured in their services. I have made spreadsheets in the past as well.
My money goals don’t just focus on debt:
My short-term goal is to save for an upcoming weekend trip, Halloween festivities, a rent increase of $100, and a skiing vacation over the holiday season. My longer-term goals are paying off debt, saving for a week long Europe trip, and eventually upgrading to a newer car. These things are important to me because I’ve been on a tight budget for a while, and I’m about to get a pay increase, so I want to be responsible—but also get to have some fun that I’ve had to miss out on!
How I’m challenging myself this week:
If possible, I am trying to spend $50 or less for the entire week. I don’t have any bills that hit this week, so I think it’s doable. I am going to minimize driving as much as I can, avoid eating out, and do cheap meal prep at home.
What I hope to learn:
Even though I worked in the financial services industry, it was a pretty crummy job with a lot of volatility. It was commission-based and I learned that in order to make any money you have be in that position for many years. With this new job, my roommate moving out and a nice $10K salary bump, I hope to start off strong. I want to have a budget that works!
My money goals…
How much I *usually* spend: $200
My *new* weekly budget: $50
What I did to create my new budget:
- I reviewed my bank statements for the past three months to calculate what percentages of my money I was spending and on what categories
- Drafted a new monthly and weekly budget with a savings target that accounts for my increased salary
- Set a savings goal for a “fun fund” for the coming months. (For example, budgeting in an upcoming charity gala and ski trip).
- Calculated how much I’m to contribute to this fun fund each week
Here’s how my week actually panned out
Day One, Thursday:
Gas. It was a reasonable regular purchase. I did $20 as opposed to a fill-up to try and stick to my budget.
Day Two, Friday:
I ate lunch at home, and had dinner at my boyfriend’s house. No other purchases had to be made today, which meant I had to curb my urge to drive through Starbucks.
Day Three, Saturday:
My boyfriend bought groceries and we cooked at home, and hung around at the house today. We were feeling like homebodies, so I was happy with this. He bought the groceries
Day Four, Sunday:
We visited with family, watched football and made more home cooked meals, for another cold, snuggly day. It didn’t feel like I was actively trying to save money, so I felt relaxed. On the weekend a lot of times I go to his place and usually spend $30-$40.
Day Five, Monday:
I agreed to happy hour with a friend I hadn’t caught up with for a couple weeks. We got apps and a glass of wine, and I enjoyed hanging out with her—but I did regret going against my “no eating out” savings rule. I decided to go because I was thinking maybe I can get away with it for $10, but spent $20. Put it in perspective, I spent almost half my weekly budget in one sitting.
Spent: $20 + tip
Day Six, Tuesday:
Put another $10 in my car, which should last a few days. Did this amount to try and stay close to budget. Picked up a few grocery items to meal prep with things I already have for the rest of the week. I got good deals and felt good about this shopping trip! I have a lot of stuff already. I keep a lot in the pantry. I got ground beef, tomatoes and onion, bell pepper and some cheese. I already had seasoning, salsa. I made taco meat, burrito bowls.
Day Seven, Wednesday:
All meals came from home today, didn’t have any bills come out, and my car is good on gas for the moment. It always feels nice to not have to spend money.
How much I saved by end of week:
Total Spent: $57 + Total savings: $143
All in all, I went $7 over budget
This challenge came at a good time for me, as I am already in savings mode while I am about to transition to a new job, and also wanting to save for the holiday season. Having some structure in the form of this challenge really helped me stick close to my goal.
All in all, I went $7 over budget, but I still consider this week a win. Having a specific goal in mind made it much easier to save, and took me out of the potential “FOMO” mindset. I’m proud of my discipline, and the week went by smoother than I expected!
Doing this challenge also served as the final motivating factor for me to switch banks! I’d been with the same bank since high school. It’s a small, regional on with only a few branches that my mom has but it doesn’t serve my needs anymore.
In the past I would manually save by transferring funds from one account to the other. Now that I’m with a new bank account at a larger corporation, I can start using all those savings apps people rave about. Right now, I’m going to move $50 each week for my new “fun fund.” I will probably need about $500-600 for an upcoming ski trip with my boyfriend. If I save $50 for 10 weeks, I should meet my goal in time! I’m also setting aside $45 to pay my credit card and putting $150 toward my student loans.
Going in to the week of the Scrimp City Challenge, I was a little worried and stressed but I feel better now. I will admit that during this challenge I got a little bit bored because I mostly stayed home. All that meal prepping and eating the same things? I couldn’t help but just want to look at Halloween costumes and dream of the winter coats I could be buying.
But, then I’d remember: I have upcoming rent and other purchases to deal with before my new job and income kicks in. However, once I do have that income coming in, my discretionary budget is going to be double what I’ve been allocating so far. And I can’t wait for that! I’m budgeting about $150/month for groceries and other household expenses and leaving an additional $200/month for my discretionary spending.
I learned that I don’t think I can stick to a $50 budget long-term but I do need to be conscious of how I spend my money and how often I “splurge” or “treat myself.” Of course, I am still going to do all that … I need to be more intentional about it! It’s possible!
—As told to Theresa Avila