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 software engineer in Mountain View, Calif. who is trying to sort out how much to save from her pretty-high-paying job at a tech company. While debt isn’t a major concern, she’s so far lived without a budget and as a result, random expenses can be anxiety-inducing.
In this week’s challenge, she decides to track where every penny goes to see whether she’s being as smart as she can be about where her funds are going—and whether those rideshares are worth it after all. Here’s how she managed.
Meet Our Saver:
Job title:Software Engineer
carLocation:Mountain View, Calif.
Monthly salary (after taxes):$3,100
Housing arrangements:I live in a townhouse with three other roommates
Estimated total monthly fixed expenses: $2500-$3000
Total debt:0~! I’m very proud of this, but I also understand that I’m very lucky and privileged to be able to have paid it off.
“My relationship to money is best described as anxiety-based but also aspirational.“
How to sum up me + money:
It’s anxiety-inducing (money, that is). I’m always very nervous about spending money, even though I’m now in a situation where I can splurge, if I so want.
During college, I worked part-time, my parents paid for half my education and I graduated in three years’ time. As a result, I’m lucky enough to be debt-free for the most part. I have less than $2,000 in credit card debt and my student loans are nonexistent now. In the time since, I’ve wired $300 every month to my parents to repay the $25K they put toward my education. It’s like an interest-free loan—and one I’m thankful for.
My yearly salary ($117K) also means I earn enough to cover my expenses and splurge on gifts for others when I want. One of the great perks for my job is that meals are covered during the work week. (And, right now, I get an allowance for meal deliveries home so I can order a lot of food in and then get reimbursed later as part of product research).
But, when you’re not worrying about whether you have enough money, you’re worrying about whether you’re spending the money you do have smartly. I’m constantly asking myself whether I really need something, whether I overspent at Target or if I’m being as smart as I can be with my retirement plan. (Help?)
My current spending habits:
Aside from spending a lot on food, I spend a lot of money on rideshares to get about town. In high school, my parents got me a car, which has since been paid off, but I rarely use it. (To be honest, it’s usually because I’m too tipsy or high to drive when I need it most and—uh—safety!) Even so, I still make car insurance payments (I’m on my parent’s plan to save some extra cash). I’d say rides and food is where I spend most of my money.
In terms of activities, a lot of my friends are also software engineers and they frequently go skiing, airsofting, bouldering, etcetera. These activities can be expensive because they involve purchasing memberships and buying/renting equipment. I often don’t join in because they don’t particularly interest me…BUT, I would also be lying if I said it wasn’t because of the cost. Again, is that the wisest way for me to spend my money? The last big spending category for me is gifts. I’m usually pretty generous with them since I’m just trying to do something nice for a loved one. One of my longer-term goals is to get better at treating myself!
How I got here…
How my family and upbringing impacted my relationship with money:
My parents both grew up in rather poor families, and even though I grew up in an upper-middle class family, it somehow felt like we had enough. Now, that I’m older, I understand my parents were trying to pay off their mortgage as fast as possible (they paid off a 30+ year mortgage in 10 years). There were also a lot of medical bills to cover since my younger brother was pretty ill.
When I think about it, my parents’ anti-debt stance has greatly impacted how I view money. A lot of my peers have significant credit card debt, but the idea of spending more money than I have in my bank account makes me very uncomfortable to me. My family rarely went on vacation or went out for dinner to ensure we didn’t overspend. I grew up wearing clothes that were either handed down or from the clearance section.
Why I’m trying to save…
My money goals:
Shortly after I began working full-time, I learned about the FIRE movement (financial independence/retire early). I’ve become pretty dead-set on the idea and would love to retire in my 30s. That’s why I’m saving a lot for early retirement. Though, to be exact, I don’t plan to retire 100 percent and would love to be an artist or a small business owner and keep myself busy. But, such a career move just seems too financially risky right now!
In terms of short-term savings goals, I’m saving for vacation and some digital devices. I’d love to have an iPad for learning digital art and a Nintendo Switch after Animal Crossing is released. Otherwise, I don’t really have a detailed savings plan except to stash away as much money as possible and then use it when I feel comfortable.
My budgeting tools (so far):
I don’t budget! But I use the app Buddyto log my expenses. Buddy has a budgeting feature, but I wanted to use the app for a few months just to log expenses and to understand my habits before I commit to setting a comprehensive “budget.” It’s a work in progress. Other than Buddy, I use mobile banking apps to transfer money between accounts and to pay my credit cards. Cash is nonexistent in my life as well. The first time I used an ATM was less than a year ago!
How I’m challenging myself this week:
I’d like to keep my expenses under $200. I’m not really trying to cutback on anything as opposed to being more mindful of my spending in general and see where I can save more for my goals.
Habits I hope to break this week:
I want to avoid taking rideshares and ordering food in. I order a lot of rides because, a) I hate driving and, b) I smoke weed rather frequently so I often need a ride if someone invites me to do something last-minute and I’m already high. I also order in food on the weekends a lot because I’m too lazy to cook (my company offers a lot of complimentary dining options during the week so I’m no longer in the habit of cooking). Still, all the fees and delivery costs really add up!
This week will also be interesting because as part our company’s market research, I can expense food deliveries for “testing.” So—technically-speaking, ordering in won’t hurt my bottom line this week but I’ll try and be mindful of it as if it could!
How much I *usually* spend: ~$250+
My *new* weekly budget: $200
Day One, Wednesday:
Considering that this was a Wednesday, I had an overall very productive day of shopping where I purchased a lot of things I had been meaning to buy for a while. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but usually I go into Target without a shopping list and end up wandering the aisles aimlessly. The end result is I end up forgetting to buy a lot of things I do need or I end up with a $100+ bill of random items. Since I went before work, I was scrapped for time. So, I *actually* made a list. And what do you know? It worked!
You might argue some of these aren’t essentials but here’s the breakdown ($29.96):
Olive oil—My house ran out and I volunteered to replace it.
Baking supplies—For some Valentine’s Day cookies I was planning on making later in the day
Aquaphor—My doctor previously recommended I use it on my eczema
Post-it flags + mason jar lids—Okay, not totally necessities, but I like using Post-it flags to markup books and I enjoy drinking smoothies in mason jars through straws, sue me.
Parchment paper—The one thing I slightly regret buying. I added it to my list because I didn’t think we had any at home, but when I went to put it away, there were two other rolls in the drawer. Womp, womp.
I also spent $7.18 on hair dye at a beauty supply store close to Target. I’ve been dying my hair for the past two years. The last time I was at Sally’s to buy supplies, the cashier up-sold me on a sample of this conditioning mask and it ended up making my hair so soft and fluffy. I’m planning on dying my hair again soon so I wanted to make sure my strands were protected. Similarly to Target, if I hadn’t gone before work, I probably would’ve spent some time wandering around. The lesson: Be on a time crunch and plan so you can maximize your time.
Day Two, Thursday:
Nada! I know, go me.
Day Three, Friday:
I succumbed to my ordering in tendencies and got Taco Bell late at night. Yes—it’s not that healthy, but I’m getting my food deliveries reimbursed through work so it felt like a waste of money to not order delivery. (And it was late, and Taco Bell was the only place open.) Because I’m getting the order reimbursed, I tipped more than I usually do.
I’ll note something I did *not* spend money on: A PAX Era vaping device and pod. The company, Eaze, was having a sale and I had been meaning to get one for a while. In the end I decided against it for the sake of my wallet—and because it’s more accessible and I’m not trying to get high all the time.
Day Four, Saturday:
When Saturday rolled around, I was initially excited to get Dohatsen (ramen) delivery. There were too many variables tempting me: It was free food (again, I’m being reimbursed), I thought it would be good and it was raining. Unfortunately, the food ended up not being that good, but I wasn’t too disappointed because now I’ve learned that I don’t like this ramen place as much as I thought I did. I’m coming to accept the fact that I’m pretty picky with ramen, I usually don’t like most ramen places, and yet somehow I trick myself into thinking I do.
To make up for it I got some dumpling supplies from Whole Foods. I was going to San Francisco for a dinner party hosted by a childhood friend who I had not seen in several years and we were going to make dumplings to commemorate Chinese New Year. Like during my last Whole Foods trip, I made a list and tried not to spend more time in the store than I absolutely needed to.
Here is where I’ll make note of where I did *not* spend money on!
More rides! I made the conscious decision to drive to San Francisco so I didn’t have to spend money on four different rides: one to the local train station, one to my friend’s apartment from the train station, another back to the SF train station, and one more from the local train station to home. Oh, and I didn’t have to spent money on two train tickets. (I have a Clipper card, but I think there’s only enough money on there for 1 ticket anyways).
SF isn’t that far but I’ve only driven there once before because I usually take the train to avoid having to find parking and, let’s remember: I hate driving. But—since I’m trying to save money this week, I realized driving was going to be a lot faster and cost-efficient, even if I had to pay for parking.
Because I knew I had to drive home, I stayed sober during the party, and when I got home, my FWB wanted to hang out so I drove to his apartment instead of taking a Lyft (I also picked up him and his friend who was visiting from NYC so I ended up saving them money as well). Then, I was also able to get home the next morning without ordering a car. One of my roommates was also in SF and I was able to give him a ride home too. I feel really good about driving because not only did I save time and money, I was also able to help out multiple friends.
Day Five, Sunday:
I ordered a steak burger and soda from a restaurant ($24.35) but I’ll thankfully be reimbursed for that. I slept in and didn’t want to spend time making lunch so I ordered a mini buffalo wrap ($6.47). I could’ve not ordered this since I wasn’t too hungry, but I was also with friends and didn’t want to feel hungry later for not eating anything while everyone else was. I Venmo’d my friend payment for this.
Day Six, Monday:
Another day, another Taco Bell delivery ($28.82—again, reimbursed here). Another reimbursed food delivery. This was ordered for dinner (I made lunch from some frozen meals earlier). I made sure to order extra food so I could have leftovers as snacks in the next couple days.
Day Seven, Tuesday:
I finally got a subscription to The New Yorker.Maybe this is just an aspirational purchase that I won’t make the most use out of, but I have been meaning to get a New Yorker subscription for a while. Mind you, this was half off for President’s Day and came with the free tote bag. Did their marketing ploy work? Why, yes it did.
How much I saved by end of week:
Total Spent: $58.77+ Total savings: $50
To be fair, I spent $106.98 on food delivery, but I’m getting that reimbursed so I’m not counting it here. If I wasn’t getting reimbursed for food, I probably wouldn’t have spent *nearly* as much on ordering takeout. I like to think I’d have gotten by with only half of what I spent this week.
Because I drove to my friend’s apartment instead of ordering a ride I saved about $50. I’m proud that I also didn’t buy random things during my trips to the store, so I probably saved a good chunk of money there. There were some tickets to shows I wanted to buy and ended up putting off, but I don’t really think of those as savings because I’ll end up buying those tickets at a later date.
I think being mindful of my spending was super helpful this week. Doing this challenge also forced me to analyze my bad shopping habits (not making a list, spending a lot of time wandering in shops aimlessly). But the biggest takeaway here, I think, was realizing how easily I could save money by driving myself places.
My Honda Civic is already paid off (I’ve had it since I was in high school) but I still make insurance payments on it. Thankfully, even that isn’t as costly as it could be, since I’m on my parents’ plan and I just wire them the funds each month.
Logging my expenses, especially for transportation, made me think to how much I rely on ridesharing apps to get around. I rarely drive and I live really close to work so that isn’t a big commute. In the end, I’m spending about as much money on these apps as I do on my car insurance, even more. And for the amount of driving I do, it almost doesn’t make sense for me to have a car.
But, the car is paid off, and as I learned this week, there are sometimes when it makes more sense for me to plan ahead and just drive. I save money, make the most out of what I already own and I get to even carpool and help friends. Moving forward, I’ll be monitoring the cost-benefit of having a car vs. not having one.
I guess a question I have for myself now is: What do I do with the money I saved? Should I stash it away with the rest of my retirement/travel/devices savings? Or, should I treat myself to something more immediate? #sendhelp
—As told to Theresa Avila