Sunday, October 28, 2007

Livin' the American Dream...on only ten bucks a day.

Listening To: The Moneymaker by Rilo Kiley

"Living on ten bucks a day shouldn't be impossible," I thought to myself, as I stared at my budget plan for the next two months. I had just spent the last three hours lying awake in bed, my mind flitting from one stress point to the next. All money stress points, of course. I had a huge medical bill that was soon due. Then my mind wandered to my car, which is in the process of dying a slow, excruciating death. Student loans are being called up, my savings are becoming almost non-existent, etc. etc. To put it succinctly, I’m one unforeseen emergency away from financial disaster.

“Something has to give,” I found myself thinking as I rolled over to the other side of the bed, trying in vain to ward off the worry. Then that little voice - it sounds kind of like Suze Orman - popped into my head. “Like what?! You’re gonna win the lottery? The credit bureaus will suddenly decide to cut you a break because you’re such a great gal?! This crap is never going to change unless you do something about it now...or else you’re going to be 35 and still living in someone else’s basement.”

And that, my friends, is how epiphanies are made.

So I threw the covers back, jumped out of bed, and revved up my laptop. Pulling up all of the financial documents that I usually pretend don't exist, I took a long, hard, practical assessment of my status. You know what G.I. Joe said about how knowing is half the battle? 'Tis true. I maybe would have preferred the discovery of a secret stash of ten G's in some bank account I had forgotten about over the cold truth that my financial status at present is just as bleak as I had suspected, but can't come up with a solution unless you know the full scope of the problem.

I’m a psych girl, so I’m rather fond of experiments. I also don’t seem to learn anything unless I - to quote a friend - Keep It Extreme, so I’ve set myself on a budget of ten dollars a day for at least a month. Keepin’ It Extreme would usually dictate that I do it for six months, but that sounds more like crazy-talk than a viable plan. Most studies say that it takes around 21 days to form a habit. That's what this will be about: Reforming old bank-breaking habits into new ones that will lead to financial stability. Forcing myself to explore my relationship to money and what role that plays in terms of my priorities probably won't hurt, either. The psychologist in me is also curious as to whether living on ten greenbacks a day is even feasible. Half of the world lives on just $2 a day. Is it possible to provide for my basic needs on more than three times that? And if it isn't, what will that say about my definition of basic needs...and in the larger perspective, about the culture I live in?

We can talk more about our society's culture of consumption and psychology of materialism at a later date (for instance, when I'm feeling particularly deprived and am looking for something to bitch-slap out of blame). For now, let me take you through the ground rules I've set for myself:

1. The budget is for living expenses such as gas, food, toiletries, entertainment, etc. Bills like rent are not included.

2. It's a roll-over plan. For instance, if I do not spend ten dollars one day, the next day I will have twenty dollars to spend, and so on. However, if I go over my budget, I have to subtract from the next days’ balance to keep myself out of the hole and in the clear.

3. All expenses must be recorded and accounted for. For instance, cash and coin count. There will be no “Oh, I found five dollars in quarters on the sidewalk somewhere, so this venti Starbucks doesn’t count!!” (I have a very high awareness of how I operate when under duress or restrictions).

So why blog about it? It will keep me accountable. Also, it's no secret that my peer group in particular seems to have a significant problem with debt...we've even been coined "Generation Broke" by the media. It always makes me feel better to read about someone who's worse off than me, so maybe I can provide that feel-good vibe for someone else. Some might be interested in a little social and financial experiment such as trying to live on a meager amount every day. I'm not necessarily doing this to bring awareness to America's materialism or out-of-control consumption, however...I've heard of consumption movements and, while worthy, they just sound like a drag. The main motivation is to prove to myself that I can do it (I can do it!!), and to shape my relationship with money into one that is responsible, beneficial, and respectful to both myself and those I have financial relationships with.

Plus, blogs are great for bitching, and I'm sure that after about three days of not being able to afford my beloved white chocolate mochas from Starbucks, this girl is gonna wanna bitch.


Aaron said...

Ten Dolla!!

Jeremy said...

It's doable, baby. Make a spreadsheet. And a pie chart. I like pie charts. And pie. Man, I want some pie right now.

Anonymous said...

guys dig poor chicks???

i dig a chick that can stay on a budget. or even knows what one is.

by the way isn't suze orman gay?


Erica said...

This is fantastic - love the idea, looking forward to the experiment. I'm spreading your gospel:

Good luck!

dan said...

Fact: Most Americans (55%) owe nothing to credit card companies.

I read a great article the other day debunking the myth of Americans being in too much debt... simply put, we spend less (as a percentage) of our income on discretionary things... and that the real pinch is because housing and related utility costs have increased 300% since 1972.

I'm trying to find it to send it your way.

Ang said...

I don't know what your debt situation is exactly, but I went through a debt consolidation program and it saved my friggin' financial life. I got my debt paid off in 4 years instead of 40, and it didn't affect my credit rating more seriously than canceling the couple of store credit cards I added to the program instead of keeping those revolving accounts open.

Plus, it was convenient making one payment a month for multiple creditors and letting the Credit Network folks worry about the separate payments.

Granted, those 4 years were pretty tight but at the end of it I was able to buy a condo without a co-signer, and without the debt the payments come easy.

Man, I sound like a commercial.

Jen said...

The first thing that rolled through my mind is all the weight I could lose if I did it with you. I know, I'm vain.

$teve said...

I dig poor chicks...because they're easier on my pocketbook...and usually put out. God bless poor chicks!!!

Amber said...

Oh, god, Jeremy...this past week at work was all about graphing, analyzing data through spreadsheets, etc. I don't wanna do that stuff in my spare time. But I do love pie, too...and cake. And cupcakes!

I'm trying, Anonymous. And yes, Suze is gay. Not sure why that matters here, though...

Aw, thanks, Erica!!

Dan, I will look forward to reading that one.

Actually, Ang, I'm planning on doing that as well. Will you send me an e-mail and recommend the company you did that with? I would really appreciate it - there are so many out there that seem kind of shady, and I would rather have word-of-mouth recommendations than some skeezy website banner.

Ha, Jen! Yeah, let's see if that ends up being a bonus, or if just I die from malnutrition instead...

$teve, I think you're confusing poor chicks with the two-dollar hookers that hang out on the river bank downtown.