In my most recent debt update, I re-committed to spending a fixed amount of money on discretionary items during the week, instead of trusting my self-disciplined use of a credit card. I got $100.00 out of the ATM last Saturday, and the experiment began.
See, I’m still not sure if $100.00 per week is reasonable. It seems like it should be, but I was born in 1975, and humans seem to learn pretty early on how much a dollar is worth, after which it’s difficult to re-learn a new value. Some small part of me still has trouble paying more than $5.00 for a shirt, for example. I’m pretty sure that I’ve gone through periods in the past using “only” $100.00 a week, without any trouble, and it was a nice round number.
How’d I Do?
The dangerous bit here is that the car is running low on gas, and I suspect I’ll have to fill up on the way home. The last time I filled up 11 days ago, it cost $22.65 (thanks for the info, Fuelly!), so I should plan on at least $25.00. That leaves about $10.00 until mid-day Saturday.
Did I Make Any Mistakes?
By Monday morning, I hadn’t spent any of the $100.00, and I was feeling cautiously optimistic. Of course, that also means I hadn’t done anything nice (anything nice that requires cash) for my wife over the weekend. I used to be in the habit at least of buying breakfast on Saturday or Sunday.
But on Monday, two big things happened, things that last week I would not have considered big. My teammates at work have a regular monthly lunch date, and we went to California Pizza Kitchen, which cost roughly $20.00 including a tip. But given that I still had pizza leftover for lunch the next day, it evened out to about $10.00 for two days, and that only happens once a month, anyway.
The other big thing is that I brought in some shirts for dry cleaning. I go through bouts of enjoying the feel of a starchy shirt, and here in Texas, you can’t wear long sleeves for at least six months of the year, so this won’t be a permanent problem. Fortunately, I took a chance on the Cleaner/Tailor that is the closest to our house, and because it’s a Mom & Pop (literally) business, they’re inexpensive and careful. They don’t lose buttons, they replace missing buttons. And the bill was twice as high this week because I brought in some slacks to get the frayed hems fixed, which cost $8.00 Some brief research online indicates that $10.00 is a normal price for that, and it’s certainly cheaper than buying new pants.
Sure, But What Did You Use Plastic For?
Ah, you know me too well. I’ve used my debit card for two things since I decided to go cash-only:
- Before I went to the bank to use the ATM, I went to Walgreen’s, ’cause I thought they had a Chase ATM, but they didn’t, and I ended up buying two pints of ice cream for $3.98
- On Wednesday night I needed to park downtown, and I didn’t trust the electronic meter very much, so I used another $3.00 on the debit card for that.
So if you remove that (rounding up) $7.00, I actually have $28.00 left, most of which will go toward gasoline later today.
All the Plastic, Dude
Okay, okay. I’ll check and see what got added to the problematic credit card since the experiment began on January 27th.
- $17.99 went toward Usenet access. This is one of those regular, automatic charges that people tend to forget about. I don’t use that for as many things as I used to, certainly not $18 / month worth, and I’m making myself a to-do to re-evaluate that.
- $30.00 to the DNC? I don’t recognize this, but it probably came from a commitment to make contributions until a particular law is passed. I’d still like to be able to do that, but as we can see, I can’t afford it. To-do #2.
- Huh. This thing is saying I used the credit card for $12.32 at Chik-Fil-A on Monday. Even if the transaction date is off by a day or two, this is still troubling because I don’t remember going to Chik-Fil-A. $12.32 looks like two people’s worth. Maybe my wife will remember this? Regardless, I’m wondering if maybe I just used the credit card accidentally out of habit. I’ll put it in a different place in my wallet, and the resulting confusion should remind me not to use it.
- I spent $2.99 on an episode of Leverage through iTunes (man, that’s a great show). Officially, this should come out of our joint account. I should create a spreadsheet to keep a tally of joint expenses that go on my credit card. It won’t add up to much, I don’t think, but just to be safe.
- I also spent $0.99 on the song “Swinging on a Star” (the one from the “Hudson Hawk” soundtrack, of course). Before I re-committed, I was spending a lot on music, especially movie soundtracks. On the list of areas where I need to exercise more restraint, music purchases is definitely in the top three.
- I made a regular, automatic $5.00 donation to the producer of some of my favorite podcasts. I don’t want to stop making this donation, because I want to think that someday I can also make a living that way. Maybe I should just switch it to my bank debit card? What do you think?
- And the pending payment from today: $40.00 for tolls. I don’t know what to do about this. I like the tollway, it makes my commute a good 15 minutes faster. How much more would I be spending on gas if I took surface roads? I don’t know.
What Does the Future Hold?
Clearly, I didn’t make it through the week spending only $100.00. Compared to previous months, I made huge strides forward, but I didn’t meet my goal. It probably seems worse, because the month rolled over in the middle of the first week and several automatic monthly payments were made, totaling about $93.00. Assuming there aren’t more of these at other times of the month, that’s $23.25 per week that I wasn’t accounting for. I think I can get rid of most everything except the tolls.
Is there anything else I forgot to look at, or consider changing?
|Credit Card Debt Totals|
Photo credit: Tony the Misfit.
Updated February 13, 2010 and originally published February 5, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.