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The budgeting game

It is a game I play lately, to see how cheap I can live without hating how I live. Now that I’m freelancing full time, I am far more watchful of my income than I was for the past year and a half when I worked Not Quite Plush, But Reasonably Padded Corporate Job. My budget behavior far more resembles the four years before that when I worked Low-Paying, Uninsured, Small Company Job with Spunk and Freedom. I was not paid much, but I was happy to simply have a job. I also had $7000 in gallbladder surgery debt, a $2200 transmission bill, and about $1200 of dental work to pay off, all of which I was not happy to have. Back then, I actually went back to a store to get a $1.20 refund on something I’d bought because I desperately needed every penny of that dollar and twenty cents.

The nice thing about Not Quite Plush, But Reasonably Padded Corporate Job was that I did not have to watch my money that closely. I paid all my bills and at the end of the month I actually had money left over! To put in savings! Amazing! Suddenly a lot of stress and anxiety faded out of my life, and I realized the nice part about having money is that you don’t have to worry about not having money. Eventually I decided to leave Not Quite Plush, But Reasonably Padded Corporate Job, so now I’m back to watching my income and expenses very, very, closely.

Last month, I recorded every single purchase and every pay check in one budget program and took a good look at where the money is going. My realizations:

  • Wow! Cats are really freakin’ expensive, especially when they both have fleas and are due for their annual exams during the same month.
  • Most of my excessive spending is on food. Shocking, I know, that the former morbidly obese woman who likes to cope with her chronic headache with sugar would be racking up the grocery bill. It appears to stem from two issues:
    • In my effort to be social and stay in contact with friends and work buddies, I go out to lunch about once a week, spending more than I would eating at home. I’ll also buy a coffee if I’m using free wi-fi and Barnes & Noble or Panera. This starts to add up.
    • If I’m not feeling well (which is quite often), or I’m tired from working all day, I rationalize getting a Subway sandwich or the pricey sushi at Kroger. I really like rewarding myself with food, but that’s not great for the budget or my weight.
  • I thought my gas expenses would be cheaper now that I’m not commuting to the office every day. However, I’ve been going to visit friends in Louisville, running a race in Lexington, and other such traveling, so my gas expenses are about the same as they’ve always been.
  • On the positive side, I under-spend in the clothing and leisure categories. I’ll probably have to buy new clothes in winter, but I’ve made do with what I have for summer and fall. As for leisure, I’ve been using the Internet, the library, and Netflix streaming for most of my entertainment, keeping costs low.
  • Other good news is that the total electric bill for the shared 3-bedroom apartment is lower than the average total for my old 1-bedroom apartment. I know! I don’t know what’s going on either, except that the new place doesn’t have as many walls exposed to the exterior, plus we’re well shaded. So my electric bill is now less than half what it used to be after I split it with my roommate.
  • And of course, I’m saving $300 a month on rent compared to my old place. I’m making up for it by paying bank cash for my health insurance each month though. Oh well! *cough* It sucks to be a sicko.

So, I’m going to try to stop spending so much money on food. However, I think it would be really rude to use free wi-fi without buying a coffee, so I’m not going to stop that. However, I can try to get my friends to eat at cheaper restaurants. Otherwise, I think I live pretty thriftily.

Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away
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29 Comments

Bionic Librarian • September 10, 2009 at 11:34 am

While I suspect you have thought of this, but why don’t you have people over instead of eating out? Do a potluck at your place or meet in a park for a picnic…

Other option is to see if bringing and using own mug saves you money at coffee shop. My local ind place only stamps the coffee card if I bring own travel mug or use ceramic. Then every 8th coffee is free!

As for emotional eating – I hear you sister. I just keep telling myself it won’t actually fix the situation…

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Suzanne • September 10, 2009 at 12:01 pm

At least your major expenses are under your control. If things got tight you could cancel a road trip or cut back on races. You have the power to decide. Its not like its December and we are talking about heat.

I think it sounds like you are doing well. Good for you.

P.S. Don’t ever be frugal with the sushi. Some places aren’t worth saving a few pennies.

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Diane, Fit to the Finish • September 10, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I hate doing a budget, but like you, I really can see where the money goes when you really keep track of it.

We have a family of nine, so food is our biggest budget buster too!

It sounds like you are very wise with your money!

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Jack Sh*t, Gettin' Fit • September 10, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Freelancing is a tough way to go. You never know whether to eat cat food or caviar. Anyway, good luck with it. It’s been my experience that there’s nothing better than working for yourself. Even if you don’t get rich, you’ll never have to worry about getting laid off.

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Lauren • September 10, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I find that’s one of the challenges of the freelancing lifestyle – if you actually want to get out of the house and see actual people, it tends to cost money. I spent a lot less on things like clothes and gas, but a lot more on things like coffees and sandwiches.

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Lauren • September 10, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Sorry, that should be SPEND, not spent. Still livin’ the dream, still spending too much on lattes.

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cloudy • September 10, 2009 at 2:04 pm

It is much easier for me to control my eating when “at the office”. I have a very hard time being at home and not indulging in whatever I can find. How are you handling what you consume while being at home?

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Sarah • September 10, 2009 at 2:08 pm

I’ve been thinking about returning two (bargain) books to Barnes and Noble to get my twelve dollars back, but I was worried that I would come across like a total crazy person. I’m glad to hear that other people are like this … and for the record, $1.20 IS a lot of money!

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PastaQueen • September 10, 2009 at 2:14 pm

@cloudy – I’ve been doing fine, surprisingly enough. My office is in its own room and I keep the door closed, so getting something from the kitchen is a conscious effort.

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Quix • September 10, 2009 at 3:12 pm

I think your budget looks very sane. Sometimes getting out of the house is worth that few bucks for a coffee or meal. Maybe just cut back to ordering a small cup of regular coffee or some iced tea instead of the fancy stuff? And I have saved hundreds of dollars over the last 2 years by only ordering water at restaurants with meals. Maybe just try to cut out the “I don’t feel like cooking” eating out?

Consider taking those trips AND going to work, you’d probably be spending more on gas. And you probably won’t be taking road trips every month (though you have the freedom to do so – lucky!).

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Tiffany S. • September 10, 2009 at 4:58 pm

You seem to be on top of it, and I agree that the really success comes in staying within your budget without depressing yourself.

My husband has a weird threshold for things that feel too indulgent when for me they’re just a nice thing but not over-the-top. We’re fighting right now about moving our old fridge to the garage when we get the new fridge. I think we need two fridges (I grew up with 3!), and I can tell he thinks we might as well have a Hummer in the garage.

So tiny splurges are a necessity – even if those splurges don’t cost anything. Your soul needs a splurge.

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Kat • September 10, 2009 at 5:05 pm

HI PQ,

I am self employed too in the staffing and recruiting arena and needless to say the last year has been much slower than usual. I have been meeting friends for walks instead of coffee, lunch or drinks of late. More often than not, my friends say yes to the suggestion of a walk. It is cool, I am saving money and getting my daily exercise in. Sorry to hear you are still having your headaches That is a big bummer.

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kazari • September 10, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Here’s a thought:

I put eating out with friends in my entertainment category, not with groceries. I mean, it’s something you’re doing to socialise, not cos your hungry.

Just a thought : )

It sounds like you have your budget well under control!

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cari • September 10, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Just a thought…but maybe you can find wi fi at your local library, and then you can switch of between that Panera, Starbucks, and save a bit of cash.

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kat • September 10, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Yay money! It’s so weird that when you get older, that’s all that life is about really. Remember when you were a kid and you liked money and you knew about it but your world didn’t revolve around it? Your every thought wasn’t dedicated to how to get more or how to spend less?

Yeah, I remember those days.

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Dilliah • September 11, 2009 at 2:47 am

Are you using different appliances than the ones you had at your old place? Newer ones generally use much less electricity. We got a new refrigerator and washer/dryer set in the same year, and were shocked at how much our electric bill dropped. A few years later when we got a new air conditioner, it went even lower.

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Nancy • September 11, 2009 at 9:10 am

I know this isn’t on today’s topic, but I’m curious about whether your headache has left! Maybe you just aren’t mentioning it, but I do hope it’s better.

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Jean • September 11, 2009 at 9:48 am

What about buying an Entertainment book and using the coupons to meet your friends for lunch? Most of the coupons are B1G1 so you could eat for half price – unless you can get your working friend to foot the entire bill… :-) Or if you’re on the Internet, you could scope out coupons for your favorite restaurants. I totally get your need for socialization, and unfortunately socializing w/friends always seems to revolve around food. I paid $11 for a glass of wine (+ tip) the other night – AGH! Next time I’ll get a Coke… I also identify w/the emotional eating, and sometimes wanting something quick & easy. I’m sure I would be shocked to see how much of my $$ goes to food each month – good for you in keeping track & trying to do something about it (I still have one of those ‘cushy’ corporate jobs…).

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psychsarah • September 11, 2009 at 10:11 am

It’s interesting to me how often the two themes of blogs I tend to read (health/fitness/weight loss and personal finance) overlap. Seems like a lot of people are trying to get/stay out of debt and get/stay healthy too-me included. Sounds like your budget is pretty reasonable, just like your health efforts! Hope your headaches stay away!!

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Healthy Diet Weight Loss • September 11, 2009 at 10:33 am

I think thinking about our budget and really writing down what we spend where is something many of us should do, but don’t. That’s how we end up overspending and getting into debt. I love that you are being so honest! You seem to be on the right track.

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Daisy • September 11, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Recording every purchase in a budget can be pretty confronting. I came to the realisation I spend a lot of money at the pharmacy. I love perfumes, eyeshadows and lipsticks (among other things). So I have to make a choice; stop spending so much on beauty products or stop recording my purchases, lol!

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Rachel • September 11, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Hopping over via Jolene at Healthy Discoveries.

Liking the site!

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Denise • September 12, 2009 at 10:40 am

I read your book while on vacation this summer and now I’m catching up on your blog. I live in Canada and can’t imagine being in debt for a surgery. I had my gall bladder removed about 6 years ago and it did not cost me one red cent. Contrary to popular belief I did not have to sit on a waiting list for months to get my surgery either. I hope the US gets some form of health care reform soon. I think it’s criminal that corporations profit from peoples’ sickness and misfortune.

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RG • September 12, 2009 at 2:03 pm

That’s funny, I’ve been learning how to do the reverse – spend more money on food so I eat better. Having variety in vegetables and fruits makes me more likely to eat them. Spending more money on easy-to-eat items (picked up sf hazelnut coffee syrup from starbucks yesterday) like soups and greek yogurt and fish.

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PastaQueen • September 12, 2009 at 3:35 pm

@Nancy – Ha! No, the headache is still here and it probably always will.

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Sandy Miller • September 13, 2009 at 12:52 am

I have been working as a stay at home mom for quite some time now. The temptation to overspend on food and overeat is much more pronounced when I don’t sleep as much as I need to; I think this is the key!

When I’m rested, I become absorbed in my work until the kids come home from school and my hubbie comes home from work. I don’t really have time to eat like I used to!

Lately I’ve been chomping down on a lot more fruits and vegetables and it helps me stay energized throughout the day.

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dsf • September 13, 2009 at 1:50 pm

If you’re looking for a cost-effective place to eat, try Yatz http://www.yatscajuncreole.com/ One can get dinner and a drink for around $6.

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couchSpud • September 13, 2009 at 9:22 pm

I fall prey to the “being social” expenses too. I guess I figure that as long as I buy most of my clothes on sale it’s okay. It’s hard, because budgets are so relative, don’t you think?

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coraspartan • September 16, 2009 at 8:53 am

I’m being laid off at the end of this month, so we are really trying to find ways to cut every extra expense out of our budget. For the time being (at least until I find something new or get my business up and running) we are going to defer my student loan payments and stop contributing to my son’s college savings fund. We are canceling our cable and home phone and have begun unplugging things like our extra fridge, our backyard fountain and doing little things like shutting the computer off every night.

On the grocery front, I have to stop buying so much! Our pantry is jam packed. I went shopping last night and realized I had nowhere to put the groceries I just bought. I play the Grocery Game though so I try to buy things when they’re on sale. I’m not sure how that’s going to play out when I’m laid off.

I can already see how I too will spend more money on socializing (i.e. lunch with a friend) so that I don’t go crazy sitting around the house alone all day, but hopefully we can squeeze by. Only time will tell.

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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