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The "$50/week" challenge

Updated on September 12, 2015

Premise

I have a lot of credit card debt, which I've incurred from being unable to cover my living expenses based on my meagre $1500 a month student stipend. That said, I am fortunate enough that I can live in a nice apartment in the heart of a big city, and I take a couple of trips every year. I have a gym membership and buy clothes - even if I usually wait until they're heavily discounted.

While I'm generally money-conscious, I've had a lot of expenses lately, so my goal is to challenge myself to still live a healthy, active and socially active lifestyle on $50 a week for a month. This is after I pay for my recurring monthly bills, which include rent, electricity, cell phone, and home internet. Now, just to add to the challenge, my month includes social gettogethers, friends staying over for a weekend, a wedding, and a hiking trip.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to contribute more ideas for living on a budget!

  • Cook meals for the week
  • Drink lots of water. This sounds silly, but always having a glass of water or tea in front of me reduces my snack cravings.
  • Delay giving in to the craving for an hour. This one seems odd, but after a meal I usually crave a sweet snack. What I've been doing now is not give in to that craving right away, but instead do some other activity and drink some unsweetened ice tea. If in an hour I still want a snack, I have it, but more often than not the craving goes away

What to cook?

Rice is important.

I find rice to be a pretty healthy food option, and pretty cheap as well. So I made a base batch of rice that I can then modify and alter as I feel like during the week. I also really like veggies, so my base rice includes:

  • 4 cups of brown rice, 2 cups of chicken broth (I had it in the freezer from boiling chicken previously), 6 cups of water, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp dried thyme, 1 tsp chopped up chives, half a big red onion, 2 carrots, 3 pieces of celery

Yields about 12 portions of 1 cup of cooked rice. As soon as it's cooled off, I put 1 cup of cooked rice into tupperware and ziploc bags so it's easy to use when I need it. Ideas:

  • Fried rice, with 1/2 cup frozen green peas and some type of protein (e.g. chicken, egg) and soy sauce
  • Roux mixed with mushrooms and onions, add sour cream if you have it; maybe chicken
  • Mix with canned tomato sauce and canned beans; sausage if you have any, and add paprika and cayenne pepper to give it a bit of spice.

Lunch & Dinners:

  • Rice in some combination
  • 1-2 slices of bread with cream cheese spread or sprayed with a bit of olive oil, 1 slice of prosciutto, 1 hard boiled egg, 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, 3 small mozzarella balls, a few olives, 1/4 tsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste (most lunches in week 1 have been some variation of this)
  • 1-2 slices of savory french toast: cheap and delicious when you crave something fried and quick. All you need is an egg, some slices of bread, and milk. Add spices based on personal preference, salt and pepper alone is also just fine.
  • Salmon patties (photo above). I made a combo of the baked salmon balls and the salmon patties. And obviously made my own concoction. Here's what you need: 2 cups of cooked rice (obviously; stretches it out), 1 can of salmon (liquid and everything), 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 1 cheese cream triangle, olive oil and spices (salt, pepper, thyme, garlic powder). Mix everything together, form patties, stick in the oven until brown. Serve with mix of mayo+yogurt+herbs. These are pretty delicious, I'm not gonna lie.

Breakfast & Snacks:

I don't usually have breakfast, and when I do it's not a whole lot, so I'll lump this together with the "snacks" category.

  • Smoothies are my favorite. 1/2 cup frozen blueberries (all my smoothies include this), 1/2 cup other frozen fruit, 1 cup cold green tea or water, 2 ice cubes, 1/2 banana
  • Half an apple. Especially for that hunger right before a workout when you can't have a full meal but need to give the stomach something to do.
  • A slice of bread, with butter and honey/preserves/jam. Also doubles as dinner when you feel so inclined.
  • Granola with milk and raisins.
  • Cream of wheat - I use milk, add 1 tsp sugar, frozen cherries and jam; but you can also use milk, vanilla and cocoa powder. It satisfies the sweet tooth, is filling (so you don't need to eat a lot of it), and is cheap.
  • Store brand snack bars purchased at a discount from places like Walgreens, CVS, etc.
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt, mixed with preserves and frozen fruit

  • Cut down on coffee and replace with green tea to get that caffeine fix. It's cheaper than buying coffee every week. Perhaps needless to say this, but also: don't buy coffee to go, always brew your own.
  • Alcoholic beverages & water. When I go out for drinks with friends, I always ask for a glass of water with my beer/wine, which the waiters usually keep filling up. This helps me enjoy my drinks, stay hydrated, avoid next day hangovers and lower my spending, since they don't charge for water. This strategy won't get you drunk - but then again, that's not the point of drinking (for some of us).

  • Hand wash clothes. Obviously this is not feasible for all washing, but things like gym clothes that I've only worn once I can easily hand wash, since there are no stains or anything on them. Saves me $1.25 a load.
  • Hang-dry clothes

  • If traveling and staying in hotels, I usually take the unopened complimentary soaps, shower gels, and body lotions. It lets me stretch out my day to day budget just a little bit further.
  • Coupons. I am not a huge fan of going crazy over coupons, but they can save a bit of money if you're smart about them. I'm signed up for rewards programs at the different pharmacies in my city, and with CVS for example you can get money rewards for buying certain items. Just look for the weekly sales where you can earn "extrabucks." Plus, if you buy certain brands, their websites or coupons.com might have some printable coupons that you can print out. Saved me $3.00 on L'Oreal products in week 1.
  • Gift Cards. See my semi-passive income hub for more details, but in short: I redeem the points I get from PerkTV for CVS gift cards, which helps me keep my cash expenses in check.

  • Take out $50 cash from the bank every week. I carry the $50 with me (for spending), plus a card, for emergencies. I avoid using the card like the plague. So far this has worked well, and made me much more conscious of what I'm buying (e.g. groceries) and when and how long it'll last. When I do have to use money from my card, I set aside the amount I spent from my cash, and put it back in the bank.
  • When tempted to buy something... I stop and ask myself: do I really need it, or can I do without it for now? Usually, I can do without it.
  • Stay busy. This seems like it would have no place on this list, but honestly, staying busy - working (and really immersing myself in work), meeting friends, going to the gym, going hiking, or whatever else - keeps you staying away from snacking or from boredom shopping.
  • Use Snagshout if you have to purchase things from Amazon. You can get up to 75-100% discount on products in exchange for leaving a review, so it's well worth looking into!

  • Walk instead of taking public transit. When possible, obviously. It takes longer but if the weather is nice, I listen to podcasts and it ends up being a really enjoyable experience.
  • Instead of a gym membership... I have a gym membership for a specific type of sport that I'm not willing to give up. However, variety is nice. Running is free and gets your heart going. However, if you're like me and find that very boring, in summer a lot of cities have free outdoor yoga classes, or you could just exercise at home with some youtube videos (though, let's face it, working out at home is as hard as moving a mountain more often than not). I've also recently learned that various gyms have free "guest passes" for members, so I'm taking a bunch of classes for free with one of my friends who has such a membership.

Savings

Description
$ saved week 1
$ saved week 2
$ saved week 3
$ saved week 4
Hang drying clothes
1.50
 
 
 
Walking
3.60
 
7.20
 
Hand washing clothes
1.25
 
 
 
Coupons & Gift Cards
7.82
25.74
9.13
10.75
 
 
 
 
 
TOTAL
14.17
25.74
16.33
10.75

Spending

Description
$ spent week 1
$ spent week 2
$ spent week 3
$ spent week 4
Milk
1.09
2.09
 
 
Eggs (Dozen)
2.49
 
 
4.29
Bread (Sliced)
2.49
2.49
 
2.49
Tomatoes
2.49
 
 
2.49
Unsalted butter quarters
 
 
 
3.19
Prosciutto
 
 
 
4.99
Mozarella
 
 
 
3.49
Avocado
 
 
 
1.39
Baby spinach
 
 
 
1.99
Granola
 
2.99
 
 
Chicken Drumsticks
 
3.32
 
 
Socializing expenses (snacks, drinks, etc.)
15.79
20.95
31.95
 
Public transit
9.00
9.00
9.00
9.00
Personal care items
10.95
6.00
 
 
TOTAL
44.42
46.84
40.95
33.32

What I've learned

Thanks for following, my friends. Well, it's the end of the challenge, and I think I want to share some things I've learned in these last 4 weeks:

  • Living on $50 a week is not easy.
  • It's more realistic to have a grocery budget of about $25/week ($100/month) for one person. Living on the bare minimum when it comes to nutrition is neither healthy nor feasible in the long term.
  • Having a predominantly rice-based diet is pretty hard, as is staying away from candy and other high calorie choices. It's totally cool to give in to the craving and have a slice of bread with butter and jam or honey. Raisins are also pretty good for those sweet cravings.
  • Social activities are a huge money suck, but there aren't a lot of alternatives. Don't be fooled by "free" events - you still end up having to buy snacks and drinks, and you end up spending a good amount of money either way. If you want to have and keep friends, you just need to budget for them.
  • Restrictive dieting may not be giving you all the vitamins you need, so vitamin supplements may be a good addition.
  • You lose weight if you watch your diet for financial reasons.
  • For better or worse, not having a packed fridge discourages snacking.
  • There's only so much saving you can do. Anyone who's serious about digging themselves out of a financial hole will need to allocate a good amount of time and energy to finding (additional) income sources.

Comments

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    • yxtop profile imageAUTHOR

      The Fru Gal 

      3 years ago

      Audrey - I really appreciate the comment! It's interesting, once you really start paying attention to saving money, there's really no end to it. There are always more things that can be done :)

      Patricia - Thank you! I've definitely learned a lot and have become more mindful of my expenses. It's amazing how many ways there are to save, some more extreme than others. Going forward I don't think I'll stay on this super tight budget, but anything above it will feel like splurging :)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Hoping for you that this works out in the long term. It shows you have learned to operate within tight parameters and will be of value to you all of your life.

      Angels are on the way to you this evening ps

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      3 years ago from California

      Really a great set of ideas! Good luck in grad school--passing this hub along

    • yxtop profile imageAUTHOR

      The Fru Gal 

      3 years ago

      Thanks for the advice and encouragement guys! :)

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 

      3 years ago

      Some great advice. Voted up!

      I know it's politically incorrect in this day and time but finding a rich boyfriend who is not a cheapskate can be a cool thing too. The only real problem with that is making sure he does not want to monopolize your time since getting the degree is key.

      An alternative to the rich boyfriend is available to some. There are people who just want someone to go to the opera with them, for instance. How you find these people I have no idea. Also, you have to like opera!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      3 years ago from the short journey

      Good for you for addressing the problem with healthy alternatives. There are savvy businesses making loads of money giving people like you the practical advice you are sharing here. Keep it up and win! :)

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