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Feb 19, 2019

How Much Do You Really Spend Each Month?

By Emily Winter

One writer kept a money journal. Here’s what she learned.

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As a thrifty comedian scraping together a meager living, I expected my spending journal to be skeletal. Since the start of 2019, I’ve kept track of every penny I’ve spent—from parking tickets to bar tabs to dog treats.

At the beginning of 2019, I pictured myself writing this article about how you really can live in New York City on a pittance if you know how to hustle.

Turns out, I was wrong. So wrong. Because the thing about the spending journal is that it can’t lie. It’s cold, hard numbers.

I’ve always thought I didn’t need a strict budget because I’m so naturally frugal, but this month taught me I need to set more boundaries. I was shocked to see that I spent $2,592.76 on items that weren’t rent or utilities.

So where did all that money go? Here’s what I learned:

1. My mistakes are expensive.

January was a fun and weird month for me because I did my first television appearance, a brief segment on The TODAY Show, and am planning my wedding for this July.

Because I didn’t think through these unusual events, I ended up driving my car to Midtown Manhattan on weekdays for rushed dress trials at different locations, which resulted in costly parking and parking tickets (I’m really a Renaissance girl of getting in car trouble), as well as buying clothes I didn’t need, couldn’t return, and didn’t end up wearing on TV.

It turns out I spent $323.60 of my total $2,592.76  (12.4 percent) on avoidable mistakes such as two $65 parking tickets, and a $68 hot pink tank top I still haven’t worn.

In a way, this doesn’t surprise me. I am a ditz. The little things are hard for me. But keeping a journal makes me realize that I’ve got to be better about planning ahead, especially with my car.

Because 12.4 percent? That’s embarrassing.

2. I’m a good friend (but maybe not to myself).

A lot of my expenditures were related to making my friends happy, which I’m proud of, but I think I’m doing it wrong.

Examples include going to a small-portioned, big-priced restaurant with a friend who was down in the dumps, treating another friend to $17 craft cocktails for his birthday (spending $20 on a cocktail can make even the best ingredients taste sour), going in on a gift card for a friend in need, showing a college student from my alma mater a few of my favorite New York City bars, and sharing a restaurant gift card with a fellow broke comedian, which meant I ended up paying $20 out of pocket.

Anyway, all these nice things added up to more than $215. I love taking friends out and buying them a drink or meal when I can, but I need to remind myself to offer only what I can afford.

3.  At least I don’t spend too much on food

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average monthly food spend (both eating in and out) was $644 per month in 2017. In January 2019, I spent only $522.29. Nice!

Ever since I started freelancing, I’ve been able to get groceries more consistently, and almost always cook at home. Sure, I get tired of roasted vegetables, grilled fake chicken, and Tofurky sandwiches, but it saves so much cash.

In January, I ate out just a handful of times, and only three times at a place with an actual waiter, and not at a grab-and-go joint. The fact that I’m able to make most of my meals at home, plus my vegetarian diet (I know it’s annoying, but it’s true) has saved me some money here, and motivates me to keep up this good spending habit.

4. Women should get beauty stipends.

The pressure to look pretty and put-together got to me this month. Typically, I dye my own hair in my bathtub (because my natural color is “sad hay”), don’t get haircuts until someone offers to do it in their basement for free, never get manicures, and buy new clothes only on my birthday.

But between the pressure to look good on TV and my impending wedding, I spent $455 on grooming and clothes, which was 17.5 percent of my expenditures minus rent and utilities.

But how mad at myself can I really be? I couldn’t go on television with ratty hair and unpainted nails and expect it to be good for my career. So I did what I had to do… and added a 15-minute back massage.

In conclusion, I think that as long as women are forced to live within the patriarchy, we should be given Beauty Stipends. #Emily2020.

What I learned from all of this

My biggest regrets fall in the car, fashion, and drinks categories. But if I can just stay in my lane, both figuratively and literally in my car, I truly believe I can get this monthly nonsense to under $2,000 per month, and use that extra money to pay down a No-APR-for-15-month credit card that will surely sneak up on me in 2020.

Wish me luck in February and beyond!

My January Spending Chart

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Written by

Emily Winter

Emily Winter is a writer and comedian in New York. She's written for TV Land, Glamour and Fusion TV.


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