I Gave Myself a $75 Budget for the Week

I Gave Myself a $75 Budget for the Week
Is a $75 weekly budget in Los Angeles difficult? Certainly. But not impossible.
Recently, one of our writers gave herself a $100 budget for the week and succeeded in living a fairly well-rounded existence without breaking the bank. Because I love a good social experiment (read: torture), I decided to try cutting back even further—what would living in Los Angeles for a week on only a $75 budget look like?  

I didn't have much faith I could pull it off, but I also love a good challenge. Here's what happened.

SUNDAY

Morning: Also known as the end of the weekend. I use the morning to run some errands to prepare for my budgeting experiment. First stop? Gas station. I drive to work four days a week, and my tank's dangerously close to empty so I allot $15 of my budget to filling up for the week. (And yes, I drive out of my way to hit the cheap station.) Fingers crossed 15 bucks will keep me going until next weekend. Fortunately, my neighborhood's walkable and my commute isn't bad—about 25 minutes—which in LA is something like a miracle.

Next, I hit an ATM to withdraw my remaining $60. The way I see it, this week's only going to work if I give myself a real allowance. Debit and credit cards? You got no business here. 

Afternoon: I walk to the new Sprouts (best grocery store ever—like Whole Foods on sale) that opened three blocks from my house and buy some essentials for the week. My basket looks like this: rotisserie chicken, spinach, two sweet potatoes, chicken broth, kombucha, two onions, can of tomatoes, four lemons, two avocados, four apples, a tub of Greek Yogurt, baby carrots, asparagus, and a container of Sprouts brand hummus. With a sigh, I make myself put back the kombucha. Grand total: $39.72. Great.

Evening: Have you heard about these trendy Sunday night cook-offs all the health food bloggers are raving about? Well, I actually try one, making my all-time favorite lentil soup with the broth, tomatoes, some red lentils (had 'em in the cupboard), onion, and a lemon. I roast the asparagus. Then I make salads for the week, switching between spinach and kale (leftover from last week and a little wilted but whatever), rotisserie chicken and tuna (had on hand). For some, I toss some of the roasted asparagus on top. For others, I'll pack some avocado. I feel so savvy. Eat some soup for dinner, then shamelessly, Gilmore Girls until bed. 

Total Spent: $54.72 

Remaining: $20.28

MONDAY

Morning: I'll just say: thank God for our cowork space. Because Stumptown Roasters uses our conference rooms for occasional meetings, they pay us back with an unlimited supply of free coffee. There's free tea, too. This is a huge asset to keeping me on track. Coffee is a must. For breakfast, I break into my little Tupperware of yogurt, into which I've dumped some chopped almonds and frozen raspberries (I'd completely forgotten they were in there!), plus a drizzle of honey. Not bad.

Afternoon: First salad of the week. My coworker says "That looks good!" and I'm riding high.  

Evening: Friends start texting about rough days and the need for happy hour. Feeling proud of my $0 spent today, I tell them I'll meet up later in the week and head home instead. I take a long walk around the neighborhood, then head back to heat up leftover lentil soup for dinner. Still my favorite. I spend the night catching up on some freelance writing and several issues of the New Yorker. 

Total Spent: $0

Remaining: $20.28

TUESDAY

Morning: Yogurt for breakfast. Several cups of freebie coffee, too. One of those days. 

Afternoon: I decide to eat a salad for dinner and bring my soup with me instead. It's not as exciting anymore. By 2PM, I'm starving again so my coworker and I walk to GROW, a decidedly classy, yet overpriced grocery store around the corner from the office. I buy a Pink Lady apple for $1.72. It tastes expensive.

Evening: As I'm commuting home, my best friend texts me about dinner. I grudgingly confess that I'm working on a budgeting experiment. Like a real class act, she invites me over to her place for "snacks" (which turns out to be wine and a hearty cheese and charcuterie plate, plus grapes and edamame—the dinner of champions). Her house is even on my route home so I don't have to worry about the extra gas. Win-win. 

Total Spent: $1.72

Remaining: $18.56

WEDNESDAY

Morning: Yogurt. Again. I consider this lack of diversity a personal tragedy and whine about it during our editorial meeting. Suffice to say, I'm not very good at meal repetition, which probably explains why I spend way too much money eating out.  

Afternoon: I eat another salad for lunch while scrolling Food52's Instagram feed just to torture myself. Right around the point where I spot a towering pile of pasta carbonara, all excitement about this challenge wears off. And no, eating my afternoon snack of baby carrots and hummus does not solve the ache for rich, buttery restaurant-quality carbohydrates.

Evening: I decide to switch things up by scavenging for a meal instead of eating another bowl of soup. Thanks to a bag of jasmine rice, the leftover rotisserie chicken, and some kimchi and miso paste (don't ask me how these got in my fridge, I impulse buy when I'm not budgeting), I assemble a pretty nice bowl of...stuff and top it with a homemade miso sauce. Then, I put in a phone call to The Boy, who's out of town somewhat indefinitely. We decide to make cocktails in our respective apartments and have a drink together over the phone. The fact that I have negroni fixings in my cupboard is another one of life's mysteries, but I'm forever grateful. 

Total Spent: $0

Remaining: $18.56

THURSDAY

Morning: Here's a fact about me: I have a raging sweet tooth. Raging. And at this point, it's been days since I've cracked into a bag of kettle corn, a dark chocolate bar, or a container of those amazing Trader Joes old-fashioned graham crackers. In an attempt to abate it, I swap out my yogurt for some oatmeal with lots of maple syrup (note to self: rolled oats, always a good thing to have on hand) and promptly follow that up with an 11AM apple. And yet? Still desperately craving sugar.

Afternoon: I cave. GROW, you win again. I return from a lunchtime walk with a bag of bulk bin dried mango. I did, however, manage to put back a $5 kombucha. Total: $3.72. 

Evening: The best thing happens. Lauren wants to have a touch base meeting about editorial and suggests we do it over happy hour, her treat. We head to a neighborhood place and order a flatbread pizza to share, plus artichokes and grilled bread with goat cheese and a glass of wine apiece. Is this heaven? 

Total Spent: $3.72

Remaining: $14.84

FRIDAY

Morning: Yogurt. Again. Stumptown coffee. Again. I switch it up around 10:30 and make myself a complimentary green tea. It does not taste like victory.

Afternoon: I take the remaining rice, chicken, and spinach in for a sad, sad desk lunch (hint: microwaving raw spinach doesn't work out well). An afternoon snack of baby carrots and hummus tides me over. 

Evening/Night: Genius moment: I invite three friends over for negronis, thereby finishing off my mysterious bottle of Campari (holiday party gift?). Fair trade. They bring the snacks, potluck style. Someone brings a bottle of wine as well, and we spend the night in my backyard talking about work horrors and Tinder dates.

Total Spent: $0

Remaining: $14.84

SATURDAY

Morning: This is the day my whole budget has been waiting for. And I've got $14.84 left to treat myself to a fun weekend. I take a sunny, 1.4 mile walk to meet my friend at the chic new café in our neighborhood and order an almost $5 almond milk cappuccino. Almost. It actually costs $4.75, plus my $1 tip. The walk back gives me ample time to catch up on phone calls with everyone from The Boy to my mom to my hard-of-hearing grandma (lots of yelling into the phone while walking).

Afternoon: Lunch at home plus a nap. It's becoming increasingly clear that if I make it with this budget, it's because I'm logging lots of hours alone.

Evening: I've stayed away from my neighborhood wine bar all week because it's decidedly not in my budget. But it's also my Cheers, i.e. where I'm guaranteed to find some of my friends on certain nights, and it's the last day on my budget so...I decide to go for it. Fortunately, a friend is tending bar. I order a discounted (it's still happy hour—6:58PM!) glass of wine for $8, and later, she comps me a second round. I tip her $4. In total, I'm out $12.  Friends start pouring in, and I bump into people I haven't seen in weeks. Worth it.

Night: Thankfully, my friend Wendy's asked me to be her plus one to a show (she works in the music industry), which means a free outing. In exchange, I drive. She buys me a thank you drink at the venue. I spend the rest of the night nursing club sodas and listening to a handful of mediocre indie bands. (Sorry, Wendy.)

Total Spent: $16.75

Remaining: -$2.91. I'm over-budget thanks to the Saturday night wine, which forced me to resort to using my debit card. Can't win every time. 


Total Spent: $77.91

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Make a weekly grocery list and stick to it. Even in Los Angeles, where groceries are notoriously expensive, if you skirt the center aisles (think: produce, meat, etc on the outside, all the expensive organic cookies on the inside) you'll be alright. And no, I didn't buy all organic. 
  • Eating the same thing every day can make you heartsore. Treating yourself occasionally, even if it's to a handful of dried mango, is a game-changer.
  • When you're single and living alone, it's hard being stuck at home with only your cat for company. Think of ways to get out without spending money, even if it means drinking a club soda at a bar with friends. They'll still like your company.
  • Keeping a stocked cupboard is a lifesaver for times of low funds. I don't know what I would have done without that kimchi. 
  • Negronis at an L.A. bar? $15. Negronis at home with friends? Less. A lot less.
How do you make your budget stretch? Tell us in the comments below!