Living on a budget might be customary for most well-adjusted adults, but not me. What’s in my checking account? Were it not for my daily bank-balance text message, your guess would be as good as mine. Even that was instituted only after I overdrew my account one too many times. You could say I live on the edge.
I’ve always meant to be better, to make a grocery list and stick to it, to decline that last-minute dinner invite, to take a nap instead of hitting the mall. But, without fail, the $7 kombucha catches my eye at Kroger, the dinner is at Postino and I love Postino, and Zara is having a sale, so …
Recently, though, I decided I would do better. I’d be better. Over the course of one week, I would spend as little as possible—$200 max.
To prepare, I did what anyone in my situation would: I spent a third of my paycheck at the Galleria.
Day 1: Sunday
A new morning dawned to wash away the sins of a spendthrift Saturday, and it began with a spin class I’d already paid for. This was easy! Then came a trip to Dunkin’, where my coffee and glazed doughnut cost a grand total of $1 thanks to my “FREE-quent Coffee Drinker” punch card. See, spending money all week long really does pay off! Back home I realized I was out of essentials—energy drinks (are you sensing a theme here?) and bottled water. As I didn’t yet trust myself at the grocery store, I walked to the gas station next door to load up for the week ahead, for the price of $8. Grand total: $9
Day 2: Monday
I broke when a coworker suggested lunch at Local Foods. All the good intentions in the world didn’t stand a chance against the prospect of a harvest salad and a cup of green chile soup on the first day of a cold front. $18 later, I felt nourished and only slightly ashamed. After work I couldn’t put off grocery shopping any longer—I’d now run out of toilet paper. I stuck mainly to the outer edges of Kroger, where the produce lives, forgoing the pricier and unhealthier processed goods in the central aisles, and reaped the benefits of my Kroger Card. The week’s food: $90. Grand total: $117
Day 3: Tuesday
It was Election Day, so I, a ball of nerves, allowed myself some wiggle room, joining some coworkers at Pi Pizza for a monster slice and side salad ($12) and frenzied talk of politics. That evening it was on to Axelrad’s midterms watch party. I allowed myself two stiff drinks ($20) and, shortly after, called it a night. Grand total: $149
Day 4: Wednesday
This proved a banner day for my primary budgeting strategy: taking advantage of free things. After bringing my breakfast and lunch to work from home, I hit a well-timed event that evening at the Post Oak Hotel, where I scored free valet parking and, most important, food and drinks. I managed to turn the “light bites” into a full meal thanks to one understanding server who both started and ended with me each time she brought out a fresh tray of flatbread or mini lamb chops. Embarrassing but effective. Grand total: Still $149
Day 5: Thursday
High off the feat of spending nothing the previous day, I was handed another victory when our dining editor brought an entire box of kolaches to the office, taking care of lunch. Free hors d’oeuvres at a fashion show covered dinner that night, but, unfortunately, Tout Suite was right next door. Thanks to an alluring strawberry Bellini and box of macarons (the last of the seasonal s’mores flavor, okay, and the bakery employee had no idea when they’d make them again), I left $27 poorer. Grand total: $176
Day 6: Friday
The end of an arduous week brought a much-deserved $6 coffee-and-kolache breakfast. Beat, I stayed in for wine, frozen pizza, and movies with a friend, which proved the best choice for me both emotionally and financially. Grand total: $182
Day 7: Saturday
Admittedly, I did not finish strong. Another post-workout Dunkin’ trip ($3) followed by a gas run ($25) was all fine and well. Then, anticipating a day of cleaning my apartment, I went to Trader Joe’s for champagne and orange juice, but the folks behind that place are nothing if not marketing geniuses. I left, $50 later, with mimosa ingredients plus several bottles of wine, chips, salsa, pasta salad, and a cedar-and-balsam-scented candle. Those checkout items will get you every time. Grand total: $260
Yes, I failed, but at least I tried. There were small victories, like doing my own nails and actually eating all the veggies in my fridge before they expired for possibly the first time ever. Still, any attempt at real, stick-to-your-guns budgeting essentially went out the window at the first prospect of a good time, a nice drink, or a well-placed candle at Trader Joe’s. Chalk it up to FOMO. Someday I’ll do better ... or maybe I’ll just marry rich.