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 week’s Scrimp City, we meet a senior analyst in Atlanta, Georgia who’s looking for ways to cut back on her spending over holiday weekends. Here’s how she kept up her social life during Labor Day weekend while spending less than $100. High-five, lady.
Job title: Senior analyst in strategy and corporate development
Monthly salary: $5,000
Monthly rent:$900 – I live with my boyfriend in a 1-bedroom and split the cost evenly between us.
My savings goals:
Generally speaking, I have a few different savings goals. I’d like to save: $15K for an emergency fund to be saved ASAP. (I’m currently a third of the way there). And $10-15K for a down-payment for a condo. (My goal is to reach it in two years). I’m also stashing some cash for a joint “rolling” travel savings account with my boyfriend. (We each put in $50 per paycheck and use this account whenever we plan our travels).
I’m first-generation in the United States and my relationship to money is a bit complicated. My parents are from Latin America and my dad, while he was a lawyer in Colombia, was the sole proprietor of the business. I didn’t grow up seeing a lot of financial freedom. In fact, as a first-generation student in the U.S., I learned from a pretty young age that you’re at a real disadvantage when it comes to understanding the educational and financial systems here. You’re navigating a lot on your own.
When it came time to decide on a college to attend, I opted to not attend the university offering me a full scholarship. I thought, naively, you might say, that the prestige of a better university would serve me better, even if I had to take out student loans. The end result was $60K in student loan debt ($45K of which is still left).
That big—costly—lesson has informed a lot of my major life decisions since. When it came time to decide on a graduate school, I didn’t want to make the same mistake as when I was a teenager. I went to a graduate school in a small town in Texas, far away from my hometown in Miami. When it came time to deciding on a job, I researched the cities with the best cost-of-living and settled on Atlanta, Georgia.
I recently refinanced my student loans and am earning a good salary. I regularly meal prep on Sundays and scrimp when I can during the week. Still, I’m finding that it’s been difficult for me to not overspend once the weekend arrives. That’s when I find myself ordering multiple plates and drinks while out with friends. It’s like when the clock hits 5 o’clock on Friday, I suddenly think I’m a millionaire, though I’m far from it.
I’m going to try to spend $100 or less during Labor Day weekend. Maybe it still sounds like a lot, but I most certainly spend upwards of $150 on a weekend out with friends. And it’s a three-day weekend? The temptation and potential for blowing my budget is even higher.
I plan on taking out $100 in cash and spending it that way instead of using my credit cards! I’m hoping it will force me to more easily track my spending. Once it’s out of my wallet, there’s no reserve for me to tap into.
How my week actually panned out
My savings trick on Labor Day was to hang out in the park with my boyfriend and my dog. We brought some sandwiches from home, fruit salads and a bottle of rosé. Normally, this is where I go overboard on the snacks, food, and drinks. Instead of having just one bottle, we would’ve gotten some prosciutto, an extra bottle of rosé, etc.
I focused, instead, on not having any leftovers. Budgeting for just enough food and drink means no money wasted! It was still enjoyable. And I realized I can still enjoy a lot of the same things—I just need to take it down a notch.
I work at my Crossfit gym in exchange for free membership! I save about $250 every month by working about six hours a week at my gym, which equals out to about $10 an hour. Not too shabby for a reasonable side-gig. My apartment complex has a gym but if I’m going to work outside it, I might as well not pay a dime.
I walked to local coffee shop and bought coffee grinds to make coffee at home. The bag was $15 and will last me three weeks. If I’d stuck to my $2.40 coffee-a-day habit for 3 weeks, I would have spent $50. Long-term savings: $35. I’ll keep that in mind next time I cross Starbucks. (I live above one, so the temptation is real.)
I brought my lunch to work, as usual. Each meal made at home costs me about $4 to make, so I save anywhere from $3 to $10 each day. I’ve been “meal prepping” for about three years now and it’s become a natural part of my routine. It’s my #1 money saving tip. Every Sunday, for instance, I write down everything I have left from the week before and then I think about what I’m going to prep. I’ll leave one night out for takeout. Then, it’s off to the grocery store with a list in hand. Don’t do it without the list—that’s a surefire way to overspend.
I forgot my meal-prepped lunch at work, so when lunchtime rolled around the fancy $14 salad option was just calling out to my heart. Instead, I settled for a cheap chicken wrap from the cafeteria in my building. The chicken wrap was yummy and filling—and didn’t come with the extra money guilt attached.
My strategy on Friday was to eat dinner at a local mom and pop shop. You usually get more bang for your buck at these spots. I spent $20 on my dinner, which consisted of an appetizer (all for myself, hehe) and a beef noodle soup that was enough for two meals. If you order something that you think is big enough for two meals, it’s always good to split it into a take-home box before you start eating. That way you won’t overeat and you’ll have yummy left overs. (#Lifehack).
I cooked my favorite at home: burgers! The ground meat, buns, cheese and toppings for 8 burgers totaled $30 (we bought grass-fed ground beef because #fancy). We could’ve easily spent $30 on a meal for 2 with burgers, fries, and drinks but it felt nice to do it at home.
We also pregamed at home before heading out to a local bar with friends. I guess my only suggestion here is to not pregame too hard, or you will probably end up spending more $$$. Having liquor in your system always has a way of making everyone feel much richer than they really are. As in, suddenly it’s “A round of shots for everyone—on me!” (No, let’s not do that.)
On Sunday I did my nails at home using a UV gel nail light machine I got off of Amazon for $20. I’ve been using it for five months so far, and it’s helped me save the $80 I would otherwise normally spend on my mani and pedi. They’re not as fabulous-looking as when I get them professionally done, but I’m not complaining.
Later, I chilled by my apartment complex pool with friends. It was “free” but—not really—since I pay a premium for my amenities in my rent. I realized I’ve been paying for it for the past two years…I just haven’t used it.
I also kicked it at the park for a few hours, again a “free” activity, but I think about it: When we pay for housing, aren’t we paying for “location”? I pay a premium rent in order to live walking distance from the park. This challenge really made me realize how small changes in my weekend plans can add up without putting a damper on my social life. Though, I have to admit – I’m gonna have to search a bit more to find equally fun and cheap places to hang out in the winter.
Total Money Saved: More than $100!
I spent a total of $79 over the long weekend. Normally I would have easily spent $150 – $200! I’m amazed at how small changes added up.
I’m pretty good at finding lasting ways of saving money in the longer term (meal prepping, making coffee at home, working at my gym, doing my own beauty stuff when I can), but it’s the weekends and eating out at restaurants for dinner that really put a dent in my money saving. Being on this challenge really motivated me to extend some of my weekday behaviors (eating breakfast and lunch at home or prepped food from my groceries) into the weekend.
Making such conscious decisions made me realize it doesn’t put a dent in my weekend plans as much as I thought it would. I was also consciously trying to find “free” things to do over the weekend. Except they’re not really “free.” I pay for them indirectly, and just don’t get my money’s worth.
I’m a transplant to Atlanta, and it’s not like I have the same access to my friends circle that I normally have. If I were to be strict with myself about going out, I’d see my friends like every 4 months. So, I can’t say I will cut back on my weekends out. But, in the future, I’m going to try being stricter about ordering meals and drinks, since I almost always have food leftovers.
“There are ways of saving money without it being a super daunting chore.”
Not to be too cliche, but this whole week showed me that there are ways of me saving money without it being a super daunting chore. Sometimes when you’re reading articles about how people save, the headline is something like, “I put $2000 toward my loan this month.” And then you read it and you they’re like, “…and I ate ramen for a month.” Well, that doesn’t make me want to save money. It always seems so far-fetched. Doing the Scrimp City challenge, though, was nice since I noticed how small changes can add up to make a difference in savings. I don’t have to sacrifice my social life or interests—and that’s a relief.