We Tracked Our Spending For A Week And You Should Too

The LD staff decided it was high time we all made health a priority. Enter Wellness Wednesdays, a series of weekly health challenges by LD writers (and editors!) where we commit to seven days of healthy habits and share the results with our readers. This week’s challenge: tracking our spending.

This Week’s Participants: Kelly & Lauren

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We have been friends since college. During that time, we had roughly the same spending habits. We went to the same restaurants, stores, movies and, of course, we shared the same caffeine addiction. This challenge will be an interesting look at how our spending has changed since college. Lauren is doing a year of service in Richmond, Virginia (think City Year but through the Episcopal church) while Kelly has a full-time job, apartment, and husband in the greater DC area.

Lauren: I chose to do this challenge because I know I’ve been overspending. I’m currently living on a monthly stipend and I (luckily) don’t have to pay for rent or groceries, but I like eating out and buying makeup (it’s a mild obsession). This month I’ve been better at spending within my means but I’ve definitely blown through more of my savings than I’m comfortable with. Hopefully this challenge will be a reality check. I’ve tentatively allotted myself $40 in cash and I’m going to try not to use either of my cards. This is the month that I want to start using cash more so that I’m more aware of where my money goes because I’m usually shocked by the end of the month when my checking account tells me I have no money.

Kelly: This challenge will be good for me because I’m not very money wise. In my defense, I recently got a well-paying full-time job and now I have more money than I’ve ever had. In addition, I’m in the process of converging my husband’s funds with mine via a joint bank account and it’s a lot of money going a lot of places. I’m hoping this challenge will shed some light on where my spending habits can be reined in, as more money saved can go towards paying off the remainder of my student loans, saving for a house, and paying for the extremely high rent and expenses that DC living brings.

Day 1

Lauren: Today I spent a total of $18.48. On the way home from work I went through the McDonald’s drive-thru and got a large McChicken meal (it was a rough day) which cost $5.35; I devoured it while stuck in abnormal traffic on I-64 (a 20 minute drive turned into a 60 minute drive). Later that night (9 p.m.), I got carry out from one of my favorite restaurants, Kuba Kuba, as a post-workout reward. My Huevos California and a Coke cost $13.13 including a tip.

Kelly: Today I spent $1.53. I stopped for a Coke on the way to work this morning as I have a caffeine dependency and I was preparing for a rough week. I brought breakfast from home, packed a lunch and ate dinner at home. All in all, $1.53 in a day is looking pretty good. I’m thinking that this is a rarity, however, I know that usually my debit card gets more of a workout.

Day 2

Lauren: I’ve already noticed a trend. I spend more when I go to the gym. I definitely like to bribe and reward myself for working out; it gives me some motivation and my favorite way to do that is by buying my favorite foods. My reward today was a Chipotle burrito and since I was feeling particularly extravagant, I also got chips and guac. My Chipotle cost $11.95.

Kelly: I spent $4.33 for a Coke and one of the pancake breakfasts because I was starving and also on my way to work. I’m now noticing just how dangerous it is for McDonald’s to be so close to my house. Technically, I ate out for lunch, but I didn’t pay for it. Again, I ate at home for dinner. So far, in two days, my only expense has been at McDonald’s, which is a little disheartening.

Day 3

Lauren: The only money I spent today was for my gym membership. The $30 was automatically withdrawn from my bank account… yay. The $30 always feels expensive to me but spending the money  motivates me to exercise and make it worth it.

Kelly: Today was my biggest “spending” day so far. I went to Target on my lunch hour and spent $25.66 on DayQuil, NyQuil, throat lozenges, sore throat spray and crackers. Can you tell I have a cold? This isn’t a typical expenses for me, as I don’t really get sick that often. However, it was not my first trip to Target during my lunch hour…for better spending practice, I think it’s best to avoid shopping at Target when I just have time to kill. It makes for a longer bill.

Day 4

Lauren: I actually left for work early today (7:10 a.m.) so I rewarded myself with a Coke from McDonald’s… (Surprising, I know.) So $1.36 for a large Coke, plus I went back through the drive-thru on my way home for another large Coke and medium fries. In total, I spent $4.94 today. It was all random one dollar bills I had lying around, and it was oddly satisfying. Using cash pays off, it makes it easier to justify my McDonald’s runs.

Kelly: $1.53 for a Coke at McDonald’s. This one was necessary as I’m pretty sick and had to drag myself to work today. I didn’t pack my lunch, meaning I had to go downstairs to the overpriced café. $11.50 for a soda, BLT, chips and a pack of gum. The cafe has a rule, no credit card charges if the total is less than $5. So of course, I have to buy multiple things to get over $5 because I never have cash. Lesson to be learned: carrying cash could equal less spending. Total spent: $13.03.

Day 5

Lauren: I drove to Alexandria this evening so I stopped at Chick-Fil-A for dinner. It was about $7 (I lost the receipt and didn’t write it down anywhere, oops.) I also went out for drinks with some friends. I spent about $20 in cash at the bars plus $31 on my credit card. I also had an Uber ride that cost $8.55. I spent $66.55… Well, that was unexpected.

Kelly: I took a sick day from work because this cold is really kicking my butt. I went to Chick-Fil-A and bought breakfast for me and my husband ($13.05). Again, another day where my only spending is fast-food-related. This is not a healthy sign. Perhaps an alternative is to cook meals at home that I like as much or better than Chick-Fil-A.

Day 6

Lauren: My only cost today was lunch with a friend at my favorite Thai restaurant. I’m so sad that I’ve moved away from it so I had to go at least once, even though it’s not cheap. With tip, my lunch cost $20, which is less heart-attack inducing than yesterday.

Kelly: My highest spending day to date. The Internet and TV bill was due, totaling $110 and I went ahead and paid the power bill in advance, which was another $30. I also bought breakfast/lunch again ($17.70 at Chick-Fil-A for me and my husband a fair trade since he bought dinner the night before). On the bright side, I took the time to actually look at the itemized costs on my TV bill and figured out a way to cut my Internet bill by $30! It is very unlikely that I would have taken the time to look at my bill in depth without this challenge.

Day 7

Lauren: A friend and I hiked a mountain today so of course we needed pre- and post-hike Sheetz. I bought almost the same thing both times (app sampler with mac and cheese wedges, duh) but for the post hike Sheetz I got a breakfast sandwich plus various drinks. In total, both Sheetz trips cost $20.35. Did I need all that food? No, I could have definitely cut out the cookie and the breakfast sandwich but the nostalgia from my summer Sheetz runs kicked in and I felt like I had to have it all.

Kelly: Today is the last day and I rounded out the week with no expenses. The only reason for the no-spending is because I spent the day sick in bed. I also noticed that my spending habits are slightly altered now that my husband and I share expenses, as he buys me my caffeine fix when I’m feeling sick. The spending trade-off makes it easier on the debit card, but it’s also making me realize that I know that I didn’t buy dinner last night, so I think that it’s no big deal for me to buy myself lunch out.

In Conclusion

Lauren: I’ve already realized that I spend way too much money, I have $277.05 a month and try to save $50 but I’ve also blown through a huge chunk of my other savings. My finances are a mess right now and the light at the end of the tunnel is a salaried job, hopefully. I’ve taken money for granted my whole life, I’ve been working, at least a little, since I was 13. I celebrated my birthday over the weekend so I spent way more than normal, which I knew would happen. Overall, I enjoyed this challenge; I need to track my spending more. Most of my transactions happened in cash and I’ve been tucking away a lot of the change, which is a habit I restarted this month. February is a weird month for this challenge because I end up doing a lot of pre-birthday celebrating and spending significantly more but February only has 28 days and I must say my bank account is very happy about that. Unfortunately, I really enjoy eating out a lot especially since I have a tiny kitchen that makes me claustrophobic. It’s also a social activity for me, my go to hang out suggestion is lunch or dinner. It was really interesting to track each individual transaction. Since I had to write it down and that it would be published on the internet I was more conscious of my spending habits. Something I did notice is if I cut back on my restaurant expenses it’ll help when I have to start paying rent in August and I really don’t want to have to ask my parents for the money… Even though my reason is decent. This challenge did make me realize that McDonald’s Cokes are 20 cents cheaper in Richmond, and I’ve gloated accordingly.

Kelly: While this challenge forced me to actually take the time to compile my daily expenses, this week just happened to fall in a week immediately following a huge spending week. Just before this challenge started, I bought birthday presents for three family members, did a massive grocery store trip to stock up for two weeks, paid my rent, and paid for my husband’s Valentine’s Day gift. My spending habits were also thrown off from a week of traveling for work. I think this challenge would be more successful for me if this fell on a normal week in a normal month. This challenge did present me with another challenge — can I keep my spending this low for another week or month? I’m tempted to avoid McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A for a month to see just how much I can money I’ll save — $50? That $50 a month could make a dent in my student loans over time. This challenge also showed me that my husband and I eat out way too much. I’m going to try meal-prepping this week in an effort to save us the unnecessary breakfast/lunch out and actually crack open the cookbook I bought last year. In retrospect, I should have done what Lauren did and taken out cash to limit my card use. It is much too easy for me to take out my debit card and swipe it, especially when I know that I have the funds to afford whatever I’m buying. Next week, I’ll try to establish a cap. I’ll take out $100 in cash which I can use on expenses throughout the week.

While time has passed, we no longer live next to each other, and we led very different lives, Lauren and I still spend much of our time at a McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-A drive-thru. This challenge has shown that neither of us have changed in the amount that we spend at a fast food restaurant, unless it’s even more than in college. However, I now get to enjoy trading off meal costs with a partner (which may or may not cause me to spend more money at a later date) and I have to account for boring expenses like Internet, TV and gas. Like I said earlier, this was a weird week for me because I was out sick and I’d spent a significant amount the week before, but even then, there were spending habits that Lauren had that I never have — for example, I rarely go to bars as I’m married, exhausted after working 50 hour weeks/commuting and I honestly never got into the drinking culture. Because of this, I also rarely take Ubers — in fact, the last time I took an Uber was because I was having car trouble in summer 2016.

Kelly has usually been the impulse purchaser in our friendship. My talent is sticking to my list and making sure I don’t spend on things I don’t need. I’m pretty sure the only place it’s guaranteed I’ll spend more money are bookstores. It’s interesting to see how our finances have changed. I don’t pay rent or bills, beyond a gym membership and my Ipsy subscription (but does that really count?) This challenge was good for comparing two very different financial situations. I live on stipends which means that I’m very conscious every time I swipe my debit card and I don’t share expenses with anyone because I’m single.

 

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Lauren Gustafson

Lauren Gustafson

Lauren is a Virginia native and graduate of the University of Mary Washington where she majored in English. She reads passionately, bakes occasionally, and loves rugby. Lauren has spent multiple summers supervising children at overnight camps and she is a pro at dealing with awkward and inappropriate questions. Her goals in life include: being a crazy book lady, living on her own, and traveling any chance she gets.
Lauren Gustafson