On My Own: Doing a Personal Finance 180

Chicken Broth
I’m standing in Trader Joe’s, contemplating a container of chicken broth. It’s $1.99. I put it back. After I’ve checked out, I tell my roommates, who are grocery shopping with me, that I’m going to run next door to Foods 4 Less. I’ve actually never shopped there before, but I suspect its chicken broth is cheaper—and I’m right, It’s only $1.68.

My cart used to be filled with expensive cookies and ready-made sandwiches. Now I’m hunting down the cheapest chicken broth in town. Things have changed.

This sudden thriftiness is undoubtedly borne from the fact that, for the past month, I’ve paid for absolutely everything by myself, including books, school supplies, household items, restaurant bills, and groceries. Basically all of the things that in the past I would’ve expected my parents to cover, no questions asked. But as I explained in my last column, they cut me off.

That was not by choice. They weren’t doing it to “teach me a lesson” or so I could “learn the value of a dollar.” Their financial situation changed dramatically, so by necessity, mine did too.

Some aspects of this money 180 are actually, weirdly, fun. I love looking up inexpensive yet healthy recipes (the Budget Bytes blog is my go-to), buying groceries with money that came directly from my hard work, and going home and whipping up a meal.

I’m an adult! I want to yell as I boil pasta or plop dried beans in the crock pot. This is so cool!

What’s not cool? The fact that I’m the only one of my friends who’s self-supporting. Even though they kind of care about how much they spend, they’re definitely not going out of their way to save 31 cents like I am. Plus, they want to do a lot of money-related activities. One recent weekend, for example, we decided to go to a pumpkin patch on Friday, dinner on Saturday, and a coffee-shop for studying on Sunday. Even if I bought the teensiest pumpkin at the patch, ordered a salad at the restaurant, and got drip coffee at the café, I’d still be out at least $20. Since I can only count on making $390 a month while I’m in school, that’s a big chunk of my income.

I know, I know, the obvious solution is to tell them my situation and propose inexpensive alternatives. Well, I have, and while they’ve gamely gone on a couple hikes with me and hit up some free-admission museums, they’d just rather go out to lunch. I can’t blame them; so would I.

The other hard part about suddenly scrimping: I can’t use retail therapy to feel better anymore. In the past, my knee-jerk response to a bad grade on a test or a fight with my friends or a nasty professor was to buy something—it didn’t have to be huge, but a new shirt from Forever 21 or some Urban Outfitters jeans never failed to perk me up. The rush of handing over my debit card or clicking “Purchase” swept away the emotions I’d rather not deal with. Which I guess happened a lot, because I just checked Mint and saw that I spent $251 on clothing in last November. Now, I can’t afford to shop to make myself feel better—not if I want to eat, anyway.

This is probably a really healthy development for me; I’ve started writing in a journal, going to (free!) yoga classes at my campus rec center, listening to music with happy vibes, calling my mom to vent, and talking things through with my friends.

Here’s my total expenditures and income for October:

Income: $340
Groceries: $232
Going Out: $30
Miscellaneous Expenses: $25

Loans: $3,500 subsidized, $7,500 unsubsidized. No private loans… yet!

 

This is the second column in a multi-part series.

Aja Frost is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who loves writing… and dessert. Follow her on Twitter @ajavuu.

Photo: Mike Mozart

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