My Last Hundred Bucks: Things That Seemed Totally Within My Means, But Actually Weren’t

I feel like I’ve been doing really well, monetarily, this past week. I feel like I have been living a very frugal life. And yet: My bank account is empty. It boggles. It blows. It shocks and awes. Because: Tiny purchases (a $3 ice cream cone, a $1 cup of coffee) add up to large amounts of money. This is a fact which my mind does not enjoy and refuses to process.

I can no longer give myself any agency when it comes to cash. None. Not tallying up daily totals in my head. I do fake math. I have a drink and throw the math and any concern for the math out the window. Give me all things, I’ll deal with it later, I don’t care.

One thing about reading over this list: Each of these purchases would have been so much more, if I had a card. Every time an iced coffee, add a baked good or a bagel. Any time a drink, double it, because I would have wanted to treat my friends. Or triple it, because let’s have another round, on me. I brought flowers to dinner, but I wanted to bring wine and flowers. I brought cookies to the park, but I wanted to bring sparkling lemonade and nicer cookies. I would have bought all the beer instead of just throwing in for it. A few months ago, this last hundred bucks would have easily been my last two-or-three hundred bucks. So, um, good for me, I suppose, for succesfully curbing my spending so that I’m just spending all the money I do have, instead of all the money I don’t.

$3: Iced Coffee (I know I’m supposed to make my own, and I think about it all the time, but it doesn’t fit my current lifestyle) (my current lifestyle is running out the door, always)
$12: After-work whiskey sodas (two) (necessary) (mean it) (actually it was three because a friend bought me another drink) (it is really uncomfortable for me not to be buying other people’s drinks, by the way. That’s my preferred method: Treating other people to nice things.)
$7: Coffee and falafel (“dinner”)

$6: Coffee, bananas, granola bar (“breakfast and lunch”)
$3: Italian soda and tip (I met a friend at a bar and didn’t order a beer. Financially-responsible highlight of week.)
$6: Beer and a tip (Except an hour later I did buy a beer, which I forget every time I pat myself on the back for not ordering one)
$7: Fruitcup (uneaten) and bottle of water (“dinner”)

$9: Flowers to bring to dinner party (Freesia! long-lasting, nice-smelling, paired with a bottle of fizzy water, an acceptable if modest thing to bring)

$8: Cheese and tomato sandwich and iced coffee
$20: Shot and a beer and a vegan sausage and a tip (Okay, the $12 vegan sausage was a stretch. I didn’t need to do that.)
$7: Beer run contribution
$10: French fries, beer, and a tip (A mild success. Was going to order twice as much food and craft beer, but slowed my roll.)
$3:  Ice cream bar on walk home (I had no control over this decision. It was destiny.)

$3: Iced coffee
$4: Cookies to share with friends in the park (Shameful contribution. Other friends brought: two kinds of charcuterie, three kinds of fancy cheese, two bottles of rose, artisinal honey, homemade turkey sandwiches, the prettiest loaf of bread I’ve ever seen)

$1: Coffee

Tuesday, Wednesday, and all the rest of the days until I get a check
(The most/only effective way I’ve found to control my spending is having zero dollars to spend. I anticipate success.)



38 Comments / Post A Comment

Sarah H. (#408)

It seems like you’re just running in a hamster wheel, but you are doing better, a lot better.

It’s really hard to transition from supplementing with credit to spending only what you actually have; as you’re noticing, it requires shifting a lot of thought patterns, not just spending habits. I’m in the midst of doing the same thing, and have had a few times in the past couple of months where I’ve just broken down in frustrated tears, because how could I have so little money? How could I have deluded myself so long into thinking I could afford a lifestyle that I really can’t, but dammit, why can’t I have it back? But I’m slowly learning, making little adjustments, keeping a closer eye on my bank account; it’s getting easier, but it’s still a bumpy path.

Keep up the good work!

Genghis Khat (#584)

Logan, it seems like an area where you could really improve is to try to buy most of your food at the grocery store and bring it with you. You will still be able to have fruit and cookies and granola bars and vegan sausages, but you should be buying them in more cost effective ways.

I know whereof I speak. I barely let myself eat food that’s not from inside my house right now because I’m super poor, but it is so necessary.

undinespragg (#867)

@Genghis Khat Seconding this. It seems like what Logan is confronting bit by bit is the fact that changing her spending habits isn’t a matter of tweaks–it’s going to require some substantial lifestyle changes. And, not to sound like an evangelist or anything (okay, I’m totally evangelizing), learning to plan, shop, and cook for yourself in a methodical way is one of the best ways to get a budget under control. That requires taking time on the weekends to shop and cook for the week, as well as the self-control to say, “Can’t go out for dinner with y’all–I’ve got food at home.” Both tough to do when you’re not used to it, but really rewarding in the long run. There are a lot of tricks to making it work: prepping snacks that are easy to grab on the way out the door, freezing meals for when you’re exhausted and lazy, keeping a well-stocked pantry. Because even if you’re buying just a few $2 or $3 snacks a day, that’s always going to add up. There’s just no math or budgeting plan that can change that.

wearitcounts (#772)

logan you should totally not feel ashamed of your cookies!!! your friends would never want you to contribute beyond your comfortable means, and they would of course want to share with you what they brought with theirs!

agreed about the groceries–but it’s good to hear you reasoning out why you think the way you do. that’s the first step to retraining your behaviors.

moreteawesley (#545)

Seriously, girl, make food at home! It seems like that’s pretty much the fastest way to cut your spending, since so much of it is on food. Of course there will still be times when you’ll want to go out to eat or have drinks or whatever, but things like coffee and sandwiches for lunch are sooo much cheaper to make yourself.

Ahhh this just made me want to go buy fancy cookies & cheese! I do pretty well at keeping a stocked pantry/fridge but sometimes I just want someone else to do the work.

Hey, you spent $100 in six days — that’s pretty good. Now the trick is to have more than $100 in your bank account (in my experience, this part is the hardest).

dotcommie (#662)

@stuffisthings yeah! i want to pat logan on the back for stretching out a hundo over six days. that is substantial progress! and of course, the grocery advice is good and cooking is way fun, but part of changing your ways means allowing yourself to feel good about your progress along the way.

@dotcommie I’d go beyond “progress,” because that implies she has further to go as far as reducing spending — for a young, employed New Yorker to spend only $100/week on food, drink, and incidentals is pretty remarkable. What she probably needs to work on now is more carefully parceling out her earnings, which I’m assuming are coming in the form of moderately large but unevenly spaced checks. I know I had a hell of a time at this when I was freelancing, and was constantly broke even though on paper I was earning plenty.

Titania (#489)

@stuffisthings She definitely has a lot further to go in terms of reducing spending. I don’t want to get into value judgement here, but Logan eats like a crazed anorexic. She’s clearly trying to budget by not eating very much food, rather than focusing on getting the most value for her food dollars by making the time to cook. I freelance too, and my decisions often come down to, “What do I have more of in this moment–time or money?” and the answer is almost always time. Is it fun and exciting to make five day’s worth of steel-cut oatmeal for about $1.00 on Sunday night and eat it throughout the week? No. Is it better for me in every single way? Yup. I know I’m something of an anomaly among young freelance writers in that I don’t drink coffee and drink very little alcohol because I hate wasting money on it, but sorry, it’s true–three whiskey sodas are never “needed,” and if they are, that’s a much bigger problem.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Titania My thoughts exactly… there’s no way that’s all she ate in the past week! Not enough food, IMO. I eat 7-8x a day… (snacks included)

dotcommie (#662)

@Titania that’s a good point on budgeting by eating little vs. budgeting by expanding food value. i’m hoping she supplemented this stuff with food she already had…if not, i would be worried! banana + granola bar is def not “breakfast and lunch.”

i’m also bad about eating breakfast before leaving home, but i rarely buy it in coffee shops. i stock up on yogurt, granola bars, hard boiled eggs, and toast and bring it with me to work.

@stuffisthings figuring out how to spend moderately large, unevenly spaced checks is actually the worst! I’m in this position right now. It’s like, you never know how much you have to spend for how long.

cherrispryte (#19)

@Titania “crazed anorexic” … really?

@Titania If you don’t want to get into value judgments, you probably should just go ahead and not do that. None of us knows what Logan was eating that she didn’t pay for during the exact period of these last hundred dollars.

ThatJenn (#916)

I also went broke buying nice things for others. I’ve dug myself out of the credit card debt hole and make more money now and it is SO HARD not to do the same thing all over again. :(

Logan! Every time I go to comment on one of your financial articles, I always stop myself. Because putting yourself out there like this is truly brave and I get mad when people take you to task for things, because you’re trying! So I hope you don’t think we are all a bunch of busybodies, although we probably are.

All that to say – I agree with the above commenters that buying your food ahead of time at the grocery store is the way to go! Just do one big shop for the week on a weekend and stick to your list. Then allow yourself 1-2 days a week of getting something affordable for dinner or lunch. I am working on doing the same thing now. I actually have an awesome food stock here at work – dried fruits, wheat crackers, peanut butter, veggies and fruits in the fridge, and lots of frozen lunches for when I forget mine.

Also, I’m kind of interested in why you always feel the need to treat your friends? I’m not saying it’s not a nice gesture, but I don’t know. . .I guess this isn’t the dynamic in my group of friends. I mean, do you feel indebted to them? Are your friends millionaires and treat everyone all the time and you feel the need to keep up? It’s just that I would never expect my friends, especially a semi-broke friend, to buy a round of drinks for me! So don’t feel so bad!

jfruh (#161)

@Koko Goldstein I don’t know if this applies to Logan at all, but I often like to treat people if I feel that divvying up the bill is going to be a production. Few things fils me with anxiety than everybody peering at the bill, trying to figure out how much they owe, disputes about tipping and tax, how are we still $10 short, I need to get change, can I pay with my card somehow, etc. Offering to pay is a grand gesture that short-circuits what for me is an agonizing experience.

dotcommie (#662)

@Koko Goldstein this is one of my pitfalls…like I expected this to be a frugal weekend because I didn’t go to any bars, but I ended up bringing $40 worth of shit to a BBQ (split with my boyfriend) because it felt “cheap” of me to just bring some beer. so we brought wine, squash, asparagus, potato salad, and burgers. and really, isn’t the point of BBQs that we all share? there was no need for me to bring all that stuff, and in fact we didn’t eat all of it. i just like feeling..generous, i guess.

AnnieNilsson (#406)

@jfruh Yeah I’m the same exact way, the agonizing math of the final bill just about kills me dead, so it seems easier to just declare, “oh, this one’s on me!”
I used to think that it would all even out and other friends would make that gesture once in a while, but I’ve learned that few people in my group feel the way I do. In fact some people almost relish the split-bill math, taking out their calculators and figuring their portion to the penny. Which is always how we end up short as a table, but I digress…

mishaps (#65)

@Koko Goldstein yeah, with my friends, there is always a dynamic at work on who is paying – who’s working a long-term freelance job, who just lost a job, who’s having a shitty day, who makes more money than God. I would, myself, feel grateful but also awkward to always have someone else treating – as generous as it is, it is also a little bit of a power play, I think? Unless your friends are also always treating you!

@mishaps Yeah – not that I don’t buy drinks for my friends, but I never feel guilty about not doing it, I guess! Also I don’t live in NYC so a round of drinks is like, $15, so it’s also not that much of a budget breaker when I do it. :) I guess, though, that most of my friends are gainfully employed so we don’t feel like it’s a power play, which is good.

mishaps (#65)

Another voice for cooking at home. It is SUCH an easy habit to fall out of – I recently have! – but it’s so worth getting back into it, not just in terms of your wallet, but in terms of a sense of grownup self-sufficiency, healthy eating, and not spending lots of money on food you turn out not to like after all. (Even failed at-home meals + ordering in pizza is still pretty cheap!) I have a friend whose rule of thumb is “two meals from home a day” – maybe you could start with one homemade meal a day and see how that works for you.

Also, home-made cookies beat artisinal cheese like 10X over. Just saying.

elizabeast (#629)

@mishaps Seconded! It’s super easy to get out of the habit of cooking, but sometimes you just have to force yourself into it for the sake of your wallet.

@mishaps or even one homemade meal every other day!

i hate cooking. my go to homemade meal is scrambled eggs with processed cheese and ketchup. ooh if you like, fry up some onion bits first and throw in some minced garlic YUM. the startup cost of this would be pretty minimal.

mishaps (#65)

@redheaded&crazy Yes, totally, small steps!

BTW, one of my favorite light dinners is the Cascadian Farms garden vegetable medley with a lightly-fried egg served on top. Five minutes, total.

Also great, pasta with parmesan cheese, pepper, and an egg lightly fried in oil, maybe with some garlic, maybe not.

Perhaps you are sensing a theme.

Marissa (#467)

@mishaps Agreed strongly on all points except your last. Team Fancy Cheese!

@mishaps Adding my voice to this chorus! I think the steps Logan has taken are great, but now it’s time to add some more. They can still be small steps! “Buying groceries” doesn’t have to mean major changes. You can start with one meal per day–and to make it even easier, let’s take cooking out of the equation for now and just focus on the ready-to-eat foods. Like, instead of buying a single piece of fruit and granola bar in the morning, buy a bunch of fruit and a box of granola bars at a supermarket. The price difference is crazy, and it’s the same damn stuff.

Of course, buying fresh fruits and vegetables for just one person can be tricky, but that’s an issue for another day.

(And in response to your other posts: once a person does start to venture into cooking, I cannot urge them enough to buy tons of BEANS and EGGS. I eat so many beans and eggs.)

@OneTooManySpoons I did want to emphasize, though, that besides the advice that I’m offering, I think you did an amazing job this week, Logan!!! I know we’re all shouting suggestions at you, but you’ve made such a difference so far, even if it still feels like you have no money. (Well, ok, you DO have no money, but you aren’t putting yourself further into debt, WHICH IS A HUGE THING.)

VintageGirl29 (#723)

I don’t think your spending sounds THAT excessive. I mean, maybe cut out a few of those drinks. But seriously, you live in NYC and it’s expensive. Maybe you need to get a better paying job? Also, just STOP feeling so GUILTY! I feel like that’s at the root of all this overspending anyway. Don’t let the world shame you – and don’t shame yourself- for wanting a drink and an iced-coffee every now and then.

You did awesome this week, Logan. Really.

Okay so I’m totally on board with the whole ‘buy groceries and cook for yourself train’ but I’m going to throw in one additional tip. Since you are not currently in the habit of cooking meals/freezing them and prepping snacks it would be a huge change for you to make (and one that it sounds like you have little interest in making). For that reason I’m going to suggest that you go to Trader Joe’s (ideally) or whatever your preferred grocery store is and stock up on affordable pre-packaged foods. I go to Trader Joe’s once a week and for about $50 I’m able to feed myself for a week on pre-made salads, soups, frozen dumplings, pastas, and delicious cheeses. If you approach your grocery shopping this way it will be both EASY and CHEAP and suit your ‘I’m running out the door lifestyle.’

mishaps (#65)

@CasualElegance Yes, this! It’s also easy to go from TJ’s pre-made meals to making your own meals from some of their pre-prepped items and sauces – tonight’s dinner plan is Trader Joe’s frozen stir-fry vegetable mix, fake chicken strips, and Soyaki sauce, combined in a pan and served over brown rice I made a week ago and froze (but you can buy that at TJ’s too).

Crank (#394)

Jenn@twitter, Logan: people will love you even if you don’t buy them things. The pleasure of your company will make them happier than a whiskey soda.

sestaaak (#1,221)

@Crank I think you’re so right.

Logan: “It is really uncomfortable for me not to be buying other people’s drinks, by the way. That’s my preferred method: Treating other people to nice things.”

This is SO at the heart of it all, I think! WHY is it uncomfortable! WHY is it not ok to go dutch? WHY do you have this urge to buy everyone’s popsicles or drinks or a coffee press? Why is it on you to create this feeling that people get when drinks are “on the house”? Does it make you more fun to be around? What do you think it says to everyone about you when you don’t treat everyone? Does it make you feel poor? Do you love feeling generous? Do you feel guilty that you don’t share more of other things like time or attention? Do you want it to be clear that you are “pulling your weight” financially amongst your friends, and that means buying rounds of things? Is it a display of outward confidence so no one will worry about your financial situation? Could it be all of these things? None of these things?

Of all the things you have to share with your friends – wit, humor, adventures, kindness, a shoulder to cry on, fun ideas, etc – why is it displays of generosity via money that you feel like you need to share and be magnanimous about, when it’s money that you have the least of?

Just wondering as I identify pretty strongly with your struggle to stay on top of your money, and this theme of wanting to buy things for other people keeps coming up again and again in your posts, lady! I love my friends. It never really occurs to me to love them so much I want to buy their snack for them. Everyone shows love differently but I wonder if really unraveling that for yourself that might be insightful to you.

ThatJenn (#916)

@sestaaak, Crank: I can’t speak for Logan, but I’m kind of afraid that my generosity was the main reason people liked me, because clearly (to my sad brain that does not respond to logic) there is nothing else to enjoy about my company. Plus, for those I know inexplicably like me anyway, I do feel guilty that I don’t spend more time with them. But that’s the lack of serotonin talking, and it’s pretty extreme in my case, as my desire to buy people’s love with things extends even to my own parents, who very clearly already love me. :)

Megano! (#124)

I think you should also feel good that these things were all food! And food is necessary to live.

You’re doing so good this week! I really think that focusing on spending just cash (even if you spend ALL THE CASH) is a great first step for you. And I also want to re-iterate: you don’t have to buy things for people all the time. That seems like a big pattern for you and if you can figure out how to get over being uncomfortable with not doing that you’ll save SO MUCH money. I mean, your friends know you’re broke, right (or do you not tell them you write here?!), so I imagine that it’s uncomfortable for them to have you keep buying drinks when you get together. Or, I guess, maybe if they’re all broke they’re just happy someone else is getting broke-er? Anyway, if your friends can afford artisanal honey or whatevs, let them. I think the cookies are more than fine. And I would be delighted if someone brought me flowers and some fizzy water for a dinner party!

Comments are closed!