Twenty-Five Dollars a Day: Part One

My husband and I are trying to see if we can spend less than twenty-five dollars a day, every day, for the foreseeable future. (Minus fixed expenses: rent, car insurance, life insurance, car loan payments, utilities, phone bills, and subscriptions. Although subscriptions are a debatable expense, obviously I’m using my Microsoft Office one right this moment, but I don’t really need a subscription to AcornTV, just so I can binge watch Doc Martin and Midsomer Murders.)

This means that everything else including groceries, gas, pet supplies, household items, toiletries, hobby supplies, clothing, gardening supplies, and any other item that might come up (husband’s morning coffees), need to somehow come out of $175 a week.

Twenty-five dollars a day seemed like a good amount, not small enough that we’d be driving ourselves insane trying to figure out how we were going to eat by Wednesday dinner (paycheque comes in Thursdays at midnight, so our budget week starts Thursday and ends Wednesday), but not large enough that we are able to stay inside it without noticing. It needed to be an amount that required a little ingenuity to stay under.

We did a few preparatory things. I remember reading an article that said the best thing anyone could do to help their budget, was to split rent payments. If you always paid all your rent in one pay period, and none of it in the other, the money in that half was going to be spent regardless. So by setting aside half the rent in the pay period it wasn’t due, then only half of it would be due in the other one, and it would always feel like you had more money during that pay.

We were doing the same thing, paying all our pills in the first half of the month and often running out, then using the second half of the month’s money to spend wherever. It felt like free money, because we had no bills to pay. We made a few phone calls to change billing dates, and presto, only the rent, internet, and one car payment come out of the first paycheque, and everything else comes out in the second. It is still only a sixty-forty split, but it’s a huge improvement.

The other thing I did was make changes we could to fixed expenses. We tried to discount anything we could, checking car insurance rates with the agency, making sure we had the cheapest internet provider, and the cheapest mobile phone provider (we decided mobile phones were a want, not a need, and switched to a VOIP service, and boom, our cellphone bills went from thirteen-hundred a year to seventy-five for the first year and ten a month thereafter). It wasn’t directly related to our daily spending limit, but definitely would help the amount we would be able to save in the long run. We calculated that at the end of every month, if we’d done everything right, we’d have close to a $600 surplus.

We started Christmas Day of last year. For the first few pay periods, we were really strict the first week, but indulge ourselves the second one. But since then, we have figured out a few things.

The first was that all the money was being spent on the weekend. No surprise there. So we ended up splitting it: one-hundred dollars for Thursday to Sunday, and seventy-five for Monday to Wednesday. Eating and driving during the second half of the week, is nice too.

We also learned very quickly what we were willing to sacrifice, and what we were not. I, for instance, am absolutely not willing to go without a haircut every eight weeks. (I’m post-chemo, I have healthy hair for the first time in my life, its growing out beautifully, I love my hair dresser, and yes it is true that regular cuts every six to eight weeks are what keeps your hair healthy, your hair dresser is not just trying to make money.) I’ve read the spending fast articles where people give up everything from public transit to haircuts and pay off insane amounts of student loans in incredibly short amounts of time. But. (Sorry. Still not happening.)

We were also not willing to sacrifice health and nutrition. No living on starches because they are cheap. The hubby has an insanely physical job, I’m recovering and re-building my strength and stamina. (I’ve been relying on a super nutritious diet in order to lose a lot of the weight I gained during treatment, because I’m limited in the amount of activity I can do, and having lost twenty-five pounds over the past six to seven months, I have no desire to reverse that trend.) But after discovering that brussels sprouts, which we love, are the same amount per pound as pork, we swapped those for giant cabbages! And now we buy whatever cuts of meat are on sale and learn how to cook them.

If an unexpected expense came up, it was really easy to just say to ourselves that the budget was blown, so who the hell cares, we’ll spend what we want and try again next week. So we just decided that certain things were important enough to come out of our surplus. (Haircuts. Car repairs, because they are heckin’ expensive. The guinea pigs’ new cage tray. Paint for the bedroom. And so on.) We wouldn’t stress about fitting those in. But we’d stick to the budget for other things.

I think the thing we most often ask, say or tell each other is: Can we buy it tomorrow? Can it wait till tomorrow? Or. We can pick it up tomorrow. After all, spending the same amount of money you’d normally spend on something, but over a longer amount of time, is still spending less.

It’s now four months later. Obviously we haven’t quite learned all our lessons because we just counted up how much we went overbudget last week, and now we’re going to try to figure out how to make sixty-five dollars last for the next six days. And we still have never had a month where six-hundred dollars went into savings, although that might soon change. But half-a-grand in car repairs were paid up front, the credit card is paid off, money is going into savings, and we’ve only ended up in overdraft once. (Timing issues, mostly.) And spending habits are definitely changing.

Let’s see what the next four months holds.

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