As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!
     

Smithee’s First Week With Only $100

This article was written by in Debt Reduction. 10 comments.


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?

Ben Frankling StatueSo, now it’s Friday, how much do I have left? $35 and some change. (And it’s the change part that might be the worst of all. I hate carrying coins.)

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
Legacy Debt $964.71
Newer Debt $4,736.66

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.

Email Email Print Print
avatar
Points: ♦1,358
Rank: Quarter
About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar RJ Weiss

Interesting. I think going back to cash has some benefits. I’m actually trying to go back to cash for the month of February with grocery budget.

It’s amazing the little things you notice once you go back to cash like Chik-Fil-A purchase.

Keep us updated. I’m interesting to see how this experiment works out.

Reply to this comment

avatar Erica Douglass

“I don’t want to stop making this donation, because I want to think that someday I can also make a living that way.”

I think: Why haven’t you already started? (Or maybe you have, in which case…why not link it? ;)

Podcasts+transcriptions in a certain area that provide benefit for people is a great way to do a monthly subscription website. It’s very straightforward to set up a podcast and only somewhat complicated to do a subscription site. Get ‘r done!

Oh, by the way, since I do tend to beat up on you in the comments…I have a post on Get Rich Slowly next Weds. where I talk about how I blew over $50,000 on discretionary items, and then I justify it. So feel free to come nag at me. ;)

-Erica

P.S. I only beat up on people I like and want to see succeed!

Reply to this comment

avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

Flexo managed to convince me that it’d be smarter to stay anonymous, otherwise I’d be self-promoting plenty on here. (I have, on occasion, linked to places where you could find some of my work, but it’s always been indirect.)

I got an account with Kickstarter.com, so I’m going to keep throwing ideas out there and see which ones stick. I already tried one that only a few people seemed interested in.

Reply to this comment

avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

Addendum:

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for lunch today, then a co-worker offered to buy mine if I walked to a restaurant and brought her back something. Win!

Reply to this comment

avatar Terry

I go for the $3.99 (half-price) shirts at thrift stores.

Reply to this comment

avatar Terry

Wow, I gotta read Erica’s post. THIS ought to be good.

For transparency,m I will note that I live on less than $250 per week, and I would be amazed to have $100 per week of discretionary spending.

With $50K, I think I’d just sock it away somewhere.

Reply to this comment

avatar H Lee D

My husband and I started something similar in December. We get $250 for the week for all non-bills and anything that pops up under $50. (So, for example, my doc’s copay of $35 was paid out of the weekly cash. His procedure of $168 was not. $20 oil change – yes; $400 other car crappiness – no.) We still log all purchases in a spreadsheet with two columns: one for cash purchases, one for bills and credit card purchases. This ensures we’re within the monthly budget in high-expense months (i.e. January had an out-of-state family wedding, a professional conference, $400 routine maintenance on my car, car insurance renewal … but we didn’t spend more than we made).

We take money out on Sunday, the day we go grocery shopping and typically when we both need to fill our cars. This way, if we’re good spenders during the week, we don’t need to worry about saving money through the weekend — we can go out and splurge. If not, we have cards and board games and movies at home.

We also decided that on weeks when we have a lot left over at the end of Saturday, we could roll it into the next week (which is what we’ve been doing) or go to a restaurant that we like to eat at and buy a gift card large enough to cover us for a dinner. This way, when we’re having a bad week, we can still go out for dinner on Saturday if we want.

All of our bill-paying is still being done the way that it was before — either I’m paying it online or it’s auto-charged to our credit card.

We keep $20-40 on us and the rest is in an inconspicuous but easy-to access place so that when we need more, we can take more (and we’re not carrying over $100 around all week).

We’ve saved just over the equivalent of one paycheck since Dec. 1 doing this.

Reply to this comment

avatar Eric

just keep working harder buddy! i seriously can’t wait until the day i see no debt next to your name haha

Reply to this comment

avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

Thanks, Eric. I appreciate the support.

Reply to this comment

avatar Eric

No problem! It always help to have some reassurance. :)

Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment

Connect with Facebook

Note: Use your name or a unique handle, not the name of a website or business. No deep links or business URLs are allowed. Spam, including promotional linking to a company website, will be deleted. By submitting your comment you are agreeing to these terms and conditions.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Previous post:

Next post: