Girl On A Budget: Week One

A bright, funny, talented friend of mine–we’ll call her Pamela Penny-Pincher (PPP)–has seen a  lot of changes in her life over the past five years as a result of the economic downturn.  Since 2005 she built a web design hobby into a thriving business, gaining high-profile clients and saving enough to purchase a beautiful sunny apartment in Greenwich Village.  Five years later, the Recession had its way with PPP.  Her clients had to tighten their budgets and make cuts, which included her services; others had a change in management which also brought their own relationships, forcing her out.

In the end, the cuts were so extensive to her business that PPP was forced to close her business and–even more tragic–sell her apartment!

Since then, PPP has found a long-term temp position and is slowly but surely reviving her career.  While selling her lovely apartment was heart-breaking, PPP took it on the chin and moved on, to a sweet rental uptown.  It’s been a tough road for my friend, but she’s a resilient, optimistic gal and won’t take no for an answer.  Plus, who doesn’t like a come-back story???

“The Comeback Kid”….before her..um…comeback…

Now that Pam Pen-Pin is on the road to recovery, she’s put herself on a budget–$250 per week for groceries, shopping, cabs and entertainment.  It might sound easy but in a city that never sleeps, with all good things around us, it could be really tough to stick to that budget!

So much to do…makes it hard to stick to a budget!

This series–Girl On A Budget–will follow my friend Pamela Penny-Pincher as she chronicles the weekly struggle of setting and sticking to a budget.  Sure, sometimes she’ll cheat for a splurge–who doesn’t have a weak spot??- but more important, this is a great lesson to learn how to set priorities, plan ahead and make the right choices.

WEEK OF AUGUST 20

Like many people I’ve made many changes since the crash of 2008. I closed a business (one I ran for five years) and sold a beautiful apartment in Greenwich Village. Putting myself on a budget of $250.00 a week, after these changes, was the last thing on earth I expected, but here I am.  I’ve been on this budget for a little over a month already and even in the short amount of time, I’ve learned some important stuff:

First, get rid of bad costly habits. For me it was smoking at $36-$48/week. For you it could be buying a lipstick at Sephora once a week or a daily Starbucks habit. Whatever it is, think about cutting down or cutting it out. Buying cigarettes was expensive so it had to go. This probably sounds like a “my budget helped me quit smoking” thing but it’s not. I will eventually get to the quit part, for financial and health reasons, but for now I still bum cigarettes from time to time.

 Second, look at the necessities as ways to cut back. I managed to pay for a trip to the Hamptons by only eating Weight Watchers Smart Ones (thank you lost a pound!) for a month. I bought them in NJ for less than $2.00 a pop. Sure, I’d still save money if I bought them in NY (they’re $3.99 each here) but the NJ cost savings are so high they merit a $19 trip. This trip could easily be cut down to $4.00 if I took the PATH to Hoboken or Jersey City. The $19 option gives me shopping and a visit with my parents.

 I buy Smart Ones for lunch and dinner whenever I have a special occasion coming up and generally try to keep my grocery list small and inexpensive. This week I had five Smart Ones left over for lunch and I picked up cereal, cheese, egg whites, broccoli, English muffins and some chicken sausage. For dessert I’ve got pudding and fudgsicles. It ain’t pretty but this $48.00 menu will last me all week.

NEVER skip dessert!

 Third, just because you’re on a budget, doesn’t mean you have to sit home and watch PBS.  There are ways to get free or discounted tickets to shows, plays, movies, etc but you have to be smart and persistent. This week I was lucky. I scored two tickets to the Public Theatre’s production of Into the Woods in Central Park. It’s part of their annual Shakespeare in the Park festival that happens every Summer and tickets are free, free, free. All you have to do is enter their virtual ticket lottery, win and you’re in, http://shakespeareinthepark.org/tickets/virtual-ticketing. The show was great and starred Broadway veteran Donna Murphy, the original Baker and Amy Adams from The Fighter. I was so excited I splurged on a $19.00 round of drinks for me and my friend before the show.

Shakespeare in the Park-worth the splurge!

After the show things went a little down hill. I’d spent half my budget by Tuesday and I had a birthday party for a very good friend that night. Technically I couldn’t afford it, but I wanted to go. Special occasions like this aren’t every day so I decided to take the money out of a very small savings account I have. I’ll make a conscious effort to spend less in the coming months to put the $60 back and since I’m supposed to have longer hours at work in September, which I get paid overtime for, this is doable.

 The rest of the week was good and within budget. Thursday night I met some of my neighbors and they picked up the bill (YAY!) and Friday, because we did Happy Hour, I was able to go out for drinks AND dinner with a friend. I had six dollars and one day left to spend it after that so I went low-key. I used an old bus ticket and headed out to NJ to do next month’s shopping. I still had six dollars when I woke up on Sunday morning.

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