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 frontend web developer who recently made the move to Denver, CO after living for years in New York City. After some health scares led to racking up credit card debt, she decided the best way to slash her budget was by finding affordable housing—in another city. Fast forward a few months and she’s averaging $600 in monthly savings from rent alone. Here’s how she’s managing to finally make ends meet.
Meet Our Saver:
Job title:Frontend Web Developer, since August 2017
Monthly salary (after taxes):$3,200
Monthly rent:$750 for a studio
Housing arrangements:Living alone
Total monthly fixed expenses:$1800
Total debt:5K in credit card debt
My relationship to money is …
“…a mix of fear, anxiety, limitations, and trying to move to a place of confidence, security and comfort.”
How to sum up me and money:
I’ve usually been pretty good at sticking to a budget, but in the past I’ve had a number of relatively low-paying jobs. I was grateful to have had a steady paycheck with benefits, but it always seemed that other friends my age who graduated with me had higher incomes. I felt that was somehow out of my reach or just not for me. I didn’t feel confident about negotiating my salary, and on some level I felt like it was gross or greedy to be asking for more.
I finally came to terms with the fact that I needed to address my attitude toward money, take certain risks, and to advocate for myself more forcefully in the workplace. In recent years, I’ve been trying to overcome this self-imposed limitation. Admittedly, though, there’s a part of me that’s just not comfortable with the idea of asking for more money and spending more money.
My current spending habits:
Since I’ve worked some low-wage jobs in the past, I sometimes get this feeling of not having money, which is definitely associated with fear about the future, and a sense of my hands being tied. It has also gotten me stuck in short-term thinking rather than planning more for the future. Wanting more and going for a higher-paying job feels greedy and weird to me, in a society with such wealth inequality. However, I know need to continue to advocate for myself financially and am trying to be comfortable with that.
How I got here…
How I’ve handled my finances in the past:
About a year and a half ago, I made a career move that was really positive for me. It led to a much larger paycheck and I honestly thought it would make my life much easier. (You can only scrimp by for so long before you realize you actually just need to earn more to afford a decent lifestyle!)
Unfortunately this wasn’t the cure-all I’d hoped it would be! Not only did I move out into my own (more expensive) studio apartment, but some medical expenses set me back financially. The savings I hadn’t spent on the move were quickly gone, and my spending got a bit out of control.
“I’m trying to set up a more sustainable lifestyle, not do a weird money diet I’ll forget about later.”
Not only was I spending on medications and doctors’ visits, but I was also in pain most of the time, which just made everything else harder. My main focus during this time was just keeping my job, so I put all my energy into that, cutting myself a bit of slack with my spending. Soon enough, I found myself not only paying more for physical therapy, but there were days when I was paying more for the convenience factor. You know how when you’re not feeling 100 percent your best? Yeah, those are not the days you’re going to get me to carefully plan out my meals and budget. Ordering from Seamless or paying extra for convenience wasn’t just temptation, it made my life a little easier.
In the end, I decided to move away from New York City, the place I’d called home long enough to be feel comfortable complaining about. Thankfully, the company I work for has offices in other cities and it’s not uncommon for some employees to work remotely. I’d been eyeing Colorado for some time due to a long-distance relationship that had been brewing. Once I did the math and listed the pros and cons, I realized it made a lot of financial sense.
Thanks to living in a city with a lower cost of living, as well as working from home, I’m able to pay off debt instead of plunging deeper into it. That in and of itself has me feel less anxious about money and the future. I feel like I’m able to think about my future goals like, who knows, call me wild, but maybe home ownership??
Why I’m trying to save…
My money goals:
My short-term goal is to pay off my credit card and then to build up my savings to have a six-month emergency fund. It’s important to me because I’d like to have more freedom and less anxiety about the future, such as worrying about losing my job or having a family emergency. Once these goals are achieved, I’d like to contribute more towards my retirement savings. Saving for a major purchase such as a home has never even crossed my mind until recently—it seemed so laughably out of reach. However, now that I have a higher income and a plan for saving, I’m percolating on goals such as this one.
My budgeting tools (so far):
I generally just keep an eye on my credit card bill and use the graph tool that American Express offers. I put everything on that card so I can accurately report what I’m spending. Every month, I look at my charges and evaluate which ones were necessary and which were not. For the unnecessary ones, I think about how I feel looking at that purchase. Some of them, such as a great dinner with friends, feel worth it to me.
Others, such as an overpriced lunch buffet or a cheap item at TJ Maxx make me feel kind of gross and make me wish I had the money back. I sit with this feeling a bit and make a point to remember it next time I have the impulse to spend money in that way again. Some months I make a specific effort to avoid buying something (e.g. no new clothes this month).
How I’m challenging myself this week:
I’m hoping to see if I can keep all spending to $200 despite the fact that I would like to go out to eat on Friday and Sunday. I’m not trying to be too thrifty this week though; i just want to set a baseline for what a comfortable and not restrictive week could be. I plan to eat at home this week unless it’s a planned meal out. I don’t want to buy anything I don’t need at the moment, such as clothes.
How much I *usually* spend: ~$400
My *new* weekly budget: ~$200
What I did to create my new budget:
When I moved from New York City to Denver, I was able to effectively pocket $600 a month in rent expenses. Since my salary is (thankfully) the same as it was, I’ve committed to chucking the difference in rent to aggressively pay off my credit card. I was about $15K in debt and have about $5K left. To keep temptation at bay, I make the payment as soon as I can so I don’t allow myself to ponder what else I could do with the money. My hope is once I pay off my debt, I can finally start up my rainy day fund of six month’s worth of expenses. And after that? Well then I can start really thinking about home ownership.
“I’ve committed to chucking the difference in rent to aggressively pay off my credit card. I was about $15K in debt and have about ~$5K left.”
To help me get there even faster, I’m trying to keep my overall monthly expenses down around $1K-$1,200K a month so I’m budgeting about $200 a week for flexible things like food and other miscellaneous items.
I spent $50 while shopping for groceries at Trader Joe’s and I feel like was a pretty solid purchase. I felt good about it all and thought, ‘This will get me through the week.’ Until, of course, I realized I was still missing some items when I got home. To make do, I went to the food co-op near my place and spent $43. Which, yes, I want to support a co-op but, no, I don’t want to be a member.
The result? I spent almost at much as I did at good ol’ TJ’s while only getting some random items like mayo and mustard. Oh, and did you know they charge you extra if you’re not a member? I don’t think me shopping here is a good savings strategy.
When I left New York for Denver I decided I wasn’t going to pay an excessive amount of fees to ship a handful of items that I didn’t really care about. So…let’s just say my apartment right now is pretty bare. I’ve been telling myself I will make it all feel a little more like home soon enough so I don’t feel bad about spending $42 on a pretty print to decorate the space. Have to start somewhere, right? Working from home definitely has its perks but sometimes you just need a breath of fresh air. I went to a local cafe and got a coffee and kombucha but don’t want to make this a regular habit. The point of working at home is also to save some moolah instead of subsidizing costs at the corner cafe.
Yesss—not a dime spent! I realize now how easily I spent money without thinking while I was in NYC. A coffee and bagel here, a a lunch with a coworker, a meal with friends, etc. But I guess it’s a lot easier to stick to a no-spend day when your day doesn’t require you spent money to be social with coworkers.
Spent: $0 BABY!
I’m back at the food co-op—so sue me. Maybe I ~should~ become a member? But then I think I have to work there at least one day a week. That’s no bueno for me right now. I guess this is what unsexy grocery lists save us from: a second trip to the overpriced food co-op we swore off earlier in the week. TJ’s, why must you be so cheap but so far?
I had a sushi date night with my boyfriend and we went halfsies on dinner and drinks. Now that I’m logging things I spent almost as much as I did on (one) of my grocery store trips so I realize it was a pricey meal. But—it was delicious. And I have zero regrets. One of the things I’m trying to do here in Denver is find that sweet spot for spending money so I’m living within my means without feeling like I’m living like a monk. I’ve gone far too many years scrimping to feel bad about this one!
I went out for coffee again today to a cafe to meet with friends. I normally wouldn’t go there alone since I’m trying to leave those $6 coffee drinks in NYC, but I’m okay with spending a little more if the experience is worth it. Linking up with good company over good coffee? That can justify the price tag.
Had a food fail night to wrap up the week. Went to a creole restaurant and sadly, the food was subpar. There’s always something that stings especially so when you spend on food that’s sub-par. But, the bright side is I got to try a new restaurant.
How much I saved by end of week:
Total Spent: $222.71+ Total savings: $178.29
I did go over budget, but only because I bought a print for my bare walls which I am not too upset about. I find that working from home, I make far fewer purchases per day so that makes saving a lot easier without much effort. I used to buy multiple things per day in NYC. I’m proud, too, to see I was able to stick to my budget without being super restrictive.
In my mind I was sort of like, I’m trying to set up a more sustainable lifestyle, not do a weird money diet I’ll forget about later. Instead, I’m more interested in: ‘What is a reasonable lifestyle I can live where I’m not overspending and I’m going to be able to make some financial goals?’ as opposed to a bare bones situation where I’m only eating rice and beans. Because I’ve been there. But moving here? That’s so I don’t experience that again.
—As told to Theresa Avila