During a “positive attributes” exercise at a staff retreat this summer, a coworker wrote about me, “Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic–well, two out of three ain’t bad!” And I jokingly took offense, because I always did pretty well in math, thank you very much. Still, there’s some truth to the stereotype that writers aren’t great with numbers–even when those numbers are monetary. Sometimes, a creative challenge can lead a writer to financial focus.
I’ve tested my self discipline before by taking a month off from eating out. I often default to “let’s do lunch!” when I need to get together with a friend or work contact. And I love eating out, but I also value cooking for myself and thoughtfully determining what I’ll consume that day or week. Taking a month away from restaurants saved money, I’m sure, but it also helped me focus on larger issues, like my morning time management or disregarding my advance planning and eating out with colleagues even when I brought lunch to work.
This week, I’ve challenged myself in another way. My roommate and I bought our Christmas tree on Sunday, with me putting it on my debit card and Holly repaying me in cash. The $20 bill she handed me served as inspiration: I decided to see if I could make it through the work week using only that bill.
Mind you, I did allow an exception, as rent was due yesterday. But otherwise, I’ve paid for everything with that $20. When I needed milk Monday, I avoided satisfying other cravings (steak and a bottle of Cabernet) because they weren’t within my week’s budget. I’ve also been mindful of how often I stop at the coffee shop, because I only had so much cash in my wallet.
This was an easy week for an experiment, I’ll admit. Rent was the only bill due, and I had a half-tank of gas to start the week. But my little game has been useful even as I rationed what I already had, carefully contemplating my route from appointment to appointment and determining if I would have enough gas to make it through Friday.
Now I’m facing down tomorrow with about $7 left. I’ll spend more Saturday before we have friends over for dinner, and I’ll probably need to fill my gas tank. But I’m considering a $20 work week allowance. Even if I get a serious caffeine craving, that’s 10 cups of coffee (before tip) at my local coffee shop!
The week’s totals:
Monday, $1 on pita chips at lunch
$7 on an onion, three potatoes and milk
Wednesday, $2.76 on a small coffee plus a refill
Thursday, $0.93 on a petite scone and $1.93 on a small coffee