"A Writer in Austin, Texas Goes on a 30-day Money Challenge" is a month-long experimental series in which I, Sheena Sharma - editor here at On The Dot - actually track what I'm spending every day, for the very first time in my life.
A little about me: I'm a 28-year-old media professional living in a 1-bedroom apartment in South Austin. Interests include yoga, hanging with my dog, and shopping mostly for clothes and shoes and jewelry. I am hoping by challenging myself to chronicle my spending habits for 30 days straight, I will figure out where I can cut down on spending, and learn to budget in some way, so I can save for purchases for my future. This is Part 1.
I suck at spending, managing and saving money: This past Sunday, I attended an event that facilitates conversations between women about money. (Because, you know, we gals don't talk about money with our girlfriends). It was really cool and inspirational, but it made me realize I literally have no clue about what my financial future looks like.
Well, I don't know if it's just a girl thing or what, but I am SO bad with managing and budgeting my money. I constantly complain about how the public education system failed me. (Like, why was there no course in highschool called “Budgeting 101” or “Introduction to Finance" that taught me real-life skills I'd actually need one day, like how to live a financially comfortable life? Why do I know more about the Pythagorean Theorem than I do about where my money is going and why?)
At least I can take solace in the fact that I’m not the only one who’s money-dumb. In a very aptly titled article called “Americans are Clueless When it Comes to Personal Finance,” a study of 1,000 Americans older than 30 revealed that less than half of them “could confidently explain what a 401(k) is.” (Yep, you can also lump me into that group of people).
Only one-third of 1,000 Americans surveyed over the age of 30 say their currently salaries and budget allow them to make a "proper financial plan."
Why I'm writing this: Of 1,000 older-than-30 Americans surveyed, only one-third said their current salary and budget "enabled them to make a proper financial plan." (How many of you all out there are saying, "Same, dude! Same."? Because SAME.)
Someday, I want to own a house. (ideally, a ranch out on hundreds of acres of land so my dog can run around). But how can I do that if I don't have a financial plan?
It didn’t take long for me to realize I had to teach myself the art of budgeting as an adult. So, what do I hope to achieve by tracking every dollar I've spent for 30 days and sharing SUPER personal details about my bank account with you? It's so you, female-reader-who-possibly/probably-also-has-credit-card-debt, can learn with me along my journey of trying not to spend less money on crap I don't need so that I can save up for the stuff I do want and need.
My 30-day Money Challenge: Considering I literally live paycheck to paycheck and have roughly $8,000 of credit card bills to pay off, I want to challenge myself to see where my money is going, so I can start to pay some of this debt off and start to save more.
I’ve got to track every single dollar I spend and try not to live beyond my means for an entire month.
Yes. This will definitely be difficult and eye-opening. I officially began my money diary this week. Let's see how I spent the first half of this week:
8 AM: My dog Malcolm and I go hiking at a trail nearby. It's not only my dog who loves hiking; I also love hiking. Hiking is a free activity that I do frequently, and it always makes me feel good.
9 AM: I practice 45 minutes of yoga. I also happen to love yoga, which is also free and amazing. The fact that I can get my exercise in sans gym membership by hiking and using free yoga videos on YouTube is awesome and cheap. (Woo!)
11:15 AM: I grab a coffee before heading over to my work meeting at the office. Nothing fuels me like my delicious Starbucks iced coffee affigato (which is just fancy talk for "with a shot of espresso.")
3 PM: On the way home from my work meeting, I refill my empty gas tank. Luckily, I drive a 2014 Honda Civic, which is a pretty cost-effective lil' guy. (Shoutout to my Honda peeps).
6 PM: I end up eating dinner at home. One of my favorite evening meals is "brinner," AKA breakfast for dinner, for which I whip up some store-bought scrambled eggs with veggies, accompanied by avocado toast. Delicious, healthy and filling!
Starbucks coffee: $3
Refill Gas tank: $22
*Saving win: if you recall one of my former posts about trying to curtail my spending habits, I’ve cut down my once-daily Starbucks to an every-other-day occurrence. This small-but-significant move helps me save up to $50 a month.*
8 AM: I wake up, walk the dog and eat some cereal. I head to a local cafe to start my work day.
2 PM: I return home for lunch: some leftover Indian food I'd ordered two nights prior. Indian food is great because it's usually cheap, and it's really, really filling food. I always try to order Indian or Chinese over something like sushi because there will always be food leftover for a second, even third, meal.
5 PM: Tuesday was the day I designated for shopping for apartment stuff. I recently moved from a studio in North Austin to a 1-bedroom in South Austin, so I needed some new furniture and decorations. I went to Home Goods and got some pretty sweet deals! Check 'em out!!!
7 PM: After shopping for home stuff, I dropped my dog off to the groomer's for his monthly haircut appointment, and ended the day with some light grocery shopping. Walmart is cheap but has a lot of stuff, so that's why I shop there.
Desk chair, Home Goods: $80
Dog painting (which happens to look just like my dog), Home Goods: $30
Dog grooming, PetSmart: $70
Grocery shopping, Walmart: $30
*Saving fail: Shopping for apartment stuff is expensive as hell! I try to stick to a daily budget of no more than $25-$50. I obviously didn’t stick to this on Tuesday, so I made a mental note to be more frugal for the rest of the week to compensate. Maybe I’ll hold off until next month to buy more home décor.*
If you can tell, I happened to realize that I spent a lot on Tuesday, so I tried my best to make today (Wednesday) a low-key spending day.
9 AM: I woke up and made myself a peanut-butter-banana smoothie. After some light stretching, I made my way to Starbucks for another work-from-the-coffee-shop day. I order my standard caramel iced coffee and dive deep into some editing.
12 PM: I start to get hungry. I didn't pack lunch, but I did stock up on snacks before coming. I refuel with some pistachios and a granola bar.
3 PM: I go home and walk the dog. Snacking on some veggies and hummus, I continue to work from home.
7 PM: I go on a dinner date to a Thai restaurant, which ends up being a meal I don't pay for. Afterwards, I buy some dessert for the two of us at Austin's best cookie shop (IMO), Tiff's Treats!
Starbucks coffee: $3
Tiff's Treats, $9
*Saving win: I'm trying to empty my kitchen cupboards as much as possible before I go out and buy new food just because I feel like it. Nutrient and calorie-dense meal replacement bars are a cheap, quick alternative for a girl working on the go. Healthy packaged snacks like nuts and seeds also help me get over that mid-day slump quickly and cheaply.*
It's only been three days of chronicling my spending habits, but I'm already beginning to see some patterns. How do you guys think your daily spending habits compare to mine? Let me know by commenting or sharing this article!
I'm looking forward to update y'all next week. I already know I've got an eventful weekend coming up, which means I'll probably be spending frivolously. (Uh oh).