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A Week on Cape Cod on a $33K Salary

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money journal, ice cream cone

We all have different priorities, circumstances and money personas and this all gets reflected in the way we earn, spend, invest and feel about money. We are truly one of a kind! To complicate matters more, we most often don’t feel like we can talk about money and because we keep this very important relationship close to the vest, we don’t get to learn from the successes and mistakes of those around us. This is why I’m so excited to share another real life money journal with you. Enter a super savvy spender who’s all about giving.

INDUSTRY: Social Media & Events Marketing
LOCATION: Cape Cod, MA
# ROOMMATES: My fiancé and I currently live with his elderly mother. We help her keep up the house and yard and this helps us save for our own house and wedding.
INCOME: $32,960
$ PAYCHECK: $422 / week after taxes
AGE: 27

MONTHLY EXPENSES
Rent: $0
Phone bill: $0 (company pays)
Cat food: $60
Donation to local NPR station: $10
Subscription boxes: $43 (One was an anniversary present for my fiancé, the other is a cheap way to re-up my stationery supply for various cards I need to send throughout the year)
Monthly Savings for Home/Wedding Fund: $1,083 ($250/week)

THURSDAY

My week starts on payday so I figured I’d start my journal there too. $250 of my paycheck goes to my house/wedding fund via direct-deposit to a savings account This leaves me with $172.08 (that 8 cents is very important! Haha) for my various expenses. I also have a credit card but, since I am new to credit in general, I only have a limit of $300. This is mostly for emergencies or inconvenient spending schedules.

I usually do my meal-prep and food shopping on Sundays, but since this weekend is going to be crazy, I look at the circular for my local grocery store during my lunch break. For those who don’t know, the “circular” is the name for the “food that is on sale” brochure that most stores have. I make a quick meal-plan and a shopping list based on the sales and plan to hit the store on the way home. I only spend $15.78 on enough food to make lunch and dinners for the three of us in the house for the next few days. I feel very proud of my savings skills especially since I try to stick to a mostly clean-eating menu (no prepared/processed foods which are often way cheaper than the fresh and raw stuff). The reason I can spend so little is because I utilize the pantry (and freezer), garden, and shopping sales effectively. For example, the previous week, chicken breasts were less than $2/lb so I still have some leftover in the freezer than I can thaw and use in meals this week. We have more zucchini and squash in the garden than any one human could ever hope to eat lol. We’ll also occasionally trade excess from the garden with other people in the community to get more variety. For example, we traded an acorn squash that I used to make quesadillas with the cheap tortillas that I had leftover from the last time we had tacos.

My friends daughter’s 2nd birthday is coming up next month, but there’s a sale on the gift I picked out for her (with free shipping). It’s an unplanned expense and I feel a little guilty making it because this weekend will be expensive, but I justify it because I’m saving money in the long run. $27.81.

TOTAL: $43.59

MY FEELINGS: Overall, I’m proud of myself for my relative savings but I try not to get too comfortable. Spending money is still spending money even if it’s for something on sale. I’ve saved a lot from the previous week in preparation for my upcoming big-spending weekend but I don’t want that extra money in my checking account to lull me into a false sense of security. I release my anxiety with some meal prep because cooking is my biggest de-stressor and have one more glass of wine than I should at home.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: Right off the bat I love a few things that are going on here. 1) She prioritizes paying herself first. As soon as her weekly paycheck comes in, she transfers $250 to her savings goals. YES! I would love to know that she’s getting a bit of interest for her savings as well as the breakdown of how much goes toward each goal. It’s really helpful and motivating to give every dollar in our savings account a job versus putting it all in one pot. 2) We can already tell she prioritizes giving back with her monthly contribution set up to NPR. She’s putting her money where her heart is and I’m sure that feels great! 3) She knows she has an expensive weekend coming up so she saved up for it in advance. She planned for it and it actually happened. HUGE! 4) I’m blown away by her grocery shopping prowess. I could learn a thing or two from her! One slight reframe I’d offer here is the wording she used around sending cards. She wrote that she has a subscription to the stationery box for notes she “needs” to send out. It’s much more powerful to think of things in terms of what we want. It’s all our choice! This is something important to get attuned to.

FRIDAY

My father’s birthday was Wednesday, but I’ve made reservations for his birthday dinner for tonight. Whenever possible, I try to take my Dad out to a really great meal instead of buying him a traditional gift. He values experiences over items and we love to eat together. This year, we’re taking him to this awesome new boutique restaurant that does nightly customized tasting menus, using almost entirely locally-sourced and grown ingredients. Unfortunately, it’s a bit pricey so I’ve been stressing since I made the reservation a month ago. I always spend more than I should on gifts, but they’re my Achilles’ heel.

I get a notification on my phone that my monthly donation to my local NPR station has gone through today. I love my banking app because it gives me effortless, real-time updates of exactly what’s happening with my account. A few hours later, I get a call from my fiancé, who has been sent home from work with food poisoning.

I stop by the pharmacy on the way home to pick him up some ridiculously over-priced medicine ($11.15 for a tiny bottle of the GENERIC version. Ugh.) and have a mini panic attack over whether I’ll be charged for his empty seat at dinner. Luckily, my mother is willing to fill in and we have a great time. The meal comes to $250.92; my mother springs for tip so she can take half-credit for the present I’ve already bought for my fiancés birthday since she forgot it was coming up. It’s a lucky break and saves me the embarrassment of having to split the check between two different cards. I don’t tell her how much of a life-saver it is because she’d try to give me money. I decide to use my credit card so I have money in my account for any upcoming expenses I may encounter. I’ll pay it off next payday.

I get home and sleep like I hadn’t done so for days.

TOTAL: $262.07

MY FEELINGS: Today was a stressful mess of (mostly) my own making. I know I should be better about spending within my means and I usually am but when it comes to gifts for my family, I have a really hard time reeling myself in. Luckily, my mother’s birthday will be much cheaper thanks to a special DIY project for a customized-for-her, hand-bound day planner. I know she’s been getting frustrated trying to find a pre-printed one that she likes.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: Isn’t she so generous? You can tell she loves showering friends and family with gifts they will truly enjoy and appreciate. I love how she takes full responsibility for the money stress around her father’s birthday dinner. That’s where the power is! Sounds like the thoughtful but less expensive gift for her mother won’t put her in the same predicament. The last minute pharmacy stop is such a great example of how unexpected spending can just pop up. While she didn’t have the time (or luxury) to price shop for his medicine, she was able to take care of him and find a replacement for dinner all in a few hours. Whew! Can’t you relate to those types of crazy days?

 

SATURDAY

Every Saturday morning, I canvas for a local politician and friend running in an upcoming primary race. He’s a great dude and an amazing candidate. I would do it for nothing but his campaign staff buys us lunch afterwards which is a plus.

When I get home, it’s all laundry and house/yard work. We’d had plans to meet up with friends of ours for sushi at one of our favorite summer places before they close for the season, but my fiancé’s stomach is still feeling queasy so we cancel and end up enjoying a night in. I pick myself up a good bottle of rosé, cook dinner, and do a little extra meal prep that I didn’t get to on Thursday night. We snuggle with the cats and catch up on our TV shows. $21.99.

TOTAL: $21.99

MY FEELINGS: I love my friends but I was so happy to cancel dinner. Between volunteering, work, my local civic activities and all my various committees and home-keeping activities, my schedule is insane and it was wonderful to just veg out at home. I probably could have bought a cheaper bottle of wine. I know I overcompensated since I was ”saving money” on dinner (even though my fiancé was going to be paying for that), but I don’t mind so much. We’re allowed to make irrational, dumb choices every once in a while.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: Isn’t it funny how often the cheaper option is actually the one that we’d rather? The more we can find those win-win scenarios, the better. Two interesting emotional things to note here. The first is how mentally, we can write off money as already spent. She felt she was saving money by staying in which had  her to spend more on the bottle of wine. That being said, she might want to plan for some nicer bottles in her happiness allocation! Even though she wasn’t thrilled with the expense, she didn’t beat herself up, enjoyed it and gave herself permission to make a mistake. This will make all the difference for her! Beating ourselves up doesn’t work! We’re on our own teams and we have to act that way.

 

SUNDAY

Sunday is my homebody day. My fiancé works and I stay at home to read, finish up the laundry and take care of other various odds and ends. Today I transform our bounty of garden tomatoes into homemade marinara sauce that we’ll be able to use throughout the Fall. We don’t have basil in the house and I really don’t want to go to the store so I make do with the thyme we have growing on the deck.

After the marinara is done, I make sure my lunches for the week are ready to go, make dinner and clean the kitchen. It’s so hot and miserable outside and the kitchen is sweltering so I enjoy a cold shower and another glass of the rosé from last night cold from the fridge. My fiancé and I enjoy a night in. He plays video games and I write up a few birthday cards for the week ahead.

TOTAL: $0

MY FEELINGS: I almost never spend money on Sundays so this wasn’t too unusual. When you live in an expensive area and don’t make a lot of money, you learn very quickly how to enjoy yourself without spending anything. I also don’t believe that I need to be entertained every second of every day. I suppose I have an advantage though since I enjoy cooking.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: WOW! Marinara for the fall fresh from the garden? Sign me up! You can tell she really values her health and fresh ingredients. She’s been able to honor this without spending much at all. It’s really an inspiration! Look at her go with the gifts again. She’s done some type of gift or activity around gifts almost every day so far.

 

MONDAY

I make myself coffee at home and pack my breakfast, lunch, and snack (which are all pre-made).

BREAKFAST IDEAS: Sometimes, when Greek yogurts are on sale for 10/$10 I’ll have yogurt for breakfast for a week and a half. I also like to do hard boiled eggs with a bit of Parmesan and stewed or raw tomatoes if it’s the day after pasta night. If you have some extra time in the morning, leftover veggies or cheese that aren’t in large enough quantities to use for lunch/dinner are great to use in an egg scramble or breakfast sandwich. I also do overnight oats (about 1/4 cup of oats, 1 tbsp of Chia seeds, 3/4 cup milk, and a handful or nuts/fruit mixed in a jar in the fridge overnight). In the colder months, I’ll make a batch of healthy muffins or veggie bread and have those in the morning instead of toast.

LUNCH IDEAS: I prefer hot lunches to cold ones so I often have leftovers. I also do homemade “instant Ramen” in mason jars. Salads are another great way to use up small quantities of veggies and fruits but I don’t typically do them because I have a hard time getting through the greens before they wilt in the fridge. I’ll also use veggie and meat scraps in kabobs. Soups are good too if you have a day to make them and you don’t mind eating something repetitive. This fall, I’m going to try to start making my own flatbread for mini pizza-type sandwiches.

SNACK IDEAS: I’ll do small quantities of goldfish crackers because I’m a pizza goldfish addict. I know… it’s not in line with our clean-eating standard.

DINNER IDEAS: Dinners are a world all their own. I’d honestly say that practice and necessity are the best help for eating well on a budget. In the meantime, if you have ingredients in the house and you’re not sure what to do with them, Google is a great way to find recipes to use almost anything.

Overall, I’ve found that meal-planning in advance helps me build on cooked ingredients, and create a varied menu that is easier, healthier and cheaper than if I tried to wing it every night. It also keeps me from ordering out as often.

I also crowd-source. I set up a Facebook group with a few friends called the “Lunchbox Club” dedicated to healthy, cheap, yummy lunch ideas. I know I’ve helped a lot of my friends this way and, in exchange, I’ve gotten a lot of awesome ideas from them.

TOTAL: $0

MY FEELINGS: This is an average day. There isn’t a huge sense of victory or anything. I wish I could take more pride in not-spending but it’s sort of routine and necessary most of the time.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: You can get the sense that she’s an incredibly savvy spender which makes a day of prepared coffee, meals and snacks no big deal. Regardless, I’d urge her to celebrate what an incredible jobs she’s doing! Even if she’s celebrating another area of her spending that tends to be more difficult, we want to make sure to celebrate the wins to cheer ourselves on and continue to be motivated. She truly deserves it!

 

TUESDAY

I have a big event for work this Saturday so I take Tuesday off instead this week and I’ve scheduled a couple job interviews for the day.

Thankfully, because I laid out my clothes the night before, I know that my last pair of nylons have a run. I leave a little extra early to stop and buy a new pair. I know nylons are a business necessity but I hate paying $6.49 for what are, essentially, really terrible pants.

After my first interview, I grab coffee. There’s no cost because it’s my “earned” freebie; I take full advantage of this by ordering a huge expensive thing and feel luxurious.

After my second interview, I am starving so I break down and stop at Wendy’s. I spend $8.12 for lunch which isn’t bad but I feel guilty for eating so unhealthy. I top-up my gas tank while I’m in an area because gas is cheaper than in my neighborhood. $18.16.

Later, I volunteer for the first night of a new mentor program. They serve dinner and I get to meet my potential mentees. It’s a great time and I meet so many inspiring women. I go home feeling grateful and inspired by their stories.

TOTAL: $32.77

MY FEELINGS: I chalk up my fast food indulgence as a necessary evil and remind myself that there are more important things to worry about than whether every meal I eat is healthy. $8 is a small price to pay to keep myself from feeling hungry and miserable. I do make a mental note to keep non-perishable snack food in the car. Always learning and improving.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: So much great stuff here! Love that she notices that she doesn’t love spending $8.12 on a less healthy meal so she comes up with strategies to avoid that in the future. It’s a money journey and this is how we learn! She really luxuriates and enjoys the free coffee and goes all out which turns that freebie into a true frugal joy. And of course, here we have another day where she’s giving back. There is no better way to switch to an abundant mindset than to give back via our time or money. It sounds like she has a truly meaningful evening giving back as a mentor and leaves inspired and grateful. I’m truly inspired by her generous spirit!

 

WEDNESDAY

It’s back to work again and I SO don’t want to be here. I enjoy my pre-packed meals and try to be productive even though it’s absurdly hot outside. I buy myself an ice cream cone after lunch for $4.23 and spend roughly 7x that on cat food on my way home.  My fiancé and I share cat food costs. Though, starting this upcoming month, I’m spending about half that through a subscription order on Amazon which, on top of being cheaper price than in the stores, saves me 5% for setting up the automatic payment.

Payday is tomorrow and I’ve got enough to get me through next week and pay off dinner so I put the credit card payment through.

TOTAL: $4.23

MY FEELINGS: I am really unhappy at work but I need the money until I can get a new job. I struggle not to spend just to make myself feel better. I failed at that today but I’m hoping I’ll do better tomorrow. I’m glad I’m able to keep to the ritual of clearing my credit card ASAP. I don’t like carrying a balance on it because outstanding debt makes me anxious.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: Spending to make ourselves happy is something most of us can probably relate to. Even though she says she “failed” because she bought an ice cream cone, I’d argue that she’s doing a tremendous job. She’s able to make the more expensive dinner work between her built up cash buffer from previous paychecks and her careful spending during the week. I’d recommend building a more concrete happiness allocation (or spending plan) which will help alleviate some of the anxiety and guilt around her spending. She would know what she needs to spend over the course of the week to stay within her goal. This is one of the reasons a happiness allocation (or budget) is extremely liberating!

 

BY THE NUMBERS

Monthly fixed expenses = $113 (not including wedding / home savings)
Monthly income (after tax) = $1,829
Monthly savings = $1083 ($250 per week towards wedding and home fund)
Monthly discretionary budget = Income – fixed – savings = $633
Weekly discretionary budget = $146
This week’s spending = $365

MY FEELINGS: One of the only regrets I have about this money journal is how little it shows about the kind of team-spending my fiancé and I have set-up. He works in the mental health non-profit field so he’s not exactly raking in the cash either. Even though we aren’t rich, it’s so helpful to have a partner to pick up the slack and attack monthly expenses with. Because we have a dual-spending schedule, he uses a portion of his paycheck every week for our date-night dinner on Saturdays which is a wonderful ritual.

My main financial wish is to have more freedom. We do a lot with what we have and we’re savvy because we have to be, but it would be nice to make small impulsive purchases without all of the planning. Moving forward, I will try harder to enjoy the freebies rather than using purchases to bring myself momentary joy. It isn’t difficult to do, but it does require some gentle reminding.

Overall though, I’m really proud that I can afford to take care of the people I love. I know to many, buying gifts and sending cards might seem like a frivolous luxury but, for me, it’s such an integral part of my relationships and how I define myself. When I can afford to give, I definitely feel a lot richer.

One Comment

  1. I LOVED this money journal!! I think the ways you really maximize your dollars is inspiring! You can really see the values-based spending, which I know I sometimes view as “boring” or “routine” but I’ve also learned that they lead to crushing some money goals!

    Keep it up & thanks for the meal ideas!!

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