How-Tuesday: How to Live On $50 a Week
We all know that the cost of living can vary greatly from day to day. One week might leave you sitting pretty, while the next may leave you $200 in debt. But what if we told you it is possible to live on just $50 a week?
Of course, we’re not talking about that week that includes rent, utilities, loan payments, shopping sprees, the biggest birthday party of the century, or unexpected trips to the doctor.
But in terms of groceries, necessary toiletries, and entertainment – for a single adult in our area – it's doable. We’ll warn you: It’s not extravagant, and it won't be simple. But it's all about the savings, right?
So, whether you need to drastically cut your spending for a few weeks to help save money for an upcoming vacation, or just this week, simply to see if you can, here are a few tips for getting by on $50 a week.
Plan in Advance
Take inventory. What do you use on a daily, or almost daily basis in the kitchen and bathroom (milk, bread, toilet paper, hand soap)? Do you have enough to last the next seven days? If not, write down what you absolutely need to grab while you're running errands for the upcoming week.
Creat a Weekly Menu:
Plan out your meals for the week. All of them. Yes, it sounds tedious, but consider that you might be making three meals out of one recipe, or eating from the same box of cereal for breakfast for the entire week. If you know that, for the sake of time, you'll absolutely, positively have to grab one fast food meal on Wednesday night, schedule that in there, too. When living on a super tight budget, prepare to eat the same staples multiple times - some favorite affordable staples include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pasta, and cereal.
Have a Cash Budget:
Before you go shopping, leave your credit and debit cards at home (after you've withdrawn your $50 allowance in cash, of course.) You should be buying the majority of what you need for the week during this initial trip, but try to spend the absolute minimum. Jot down what you'll be purchasing before you go, with an estimate of the price. Then, stick to the list. Having a pre-determined amount will keep you from tossing that extra nonsense into your cart. Keep track of your spending as you go on your mobile phone's calculator - or bring an actual calculator with you!
Map Out Where to Go:
Have a membership card at the grocery or a rewards card at a pharmacy? Compare what it'll cost to get your items there as opposed to the discount grocery store, the dollar store, or the local market. You might have to go from one store to another as certain items will be way cheaper elsewhere, but also consider proximity if you'll be driving, so you don't waste those "savings" on gas.
It's well worth the extra hour or two one night a week to search for coupons before you do your shopping. Your local Sunday paper won't wipe out your budget and might just pay for itself in coupons - be sure to have a look through it before purchasing a copy - some weeks are better than others!
All*You magazine is full to the brim of coupons, discounts, and rebates for all sorts of items - from cake mix to face wash. Sites like Coupons.com, CouponMom, and The Krazy Coupon Lady always have tons of coupons to print off, too.
Keep in mind: Many stores are now price matching, so if you see an ad for a grocery item at one store but shop at another, you might be able to show that ad at your preferred retailer and get the item for the same, discounted price.
If you want to spend thrifty and make a difference for a bigger cause at the same time, check out Save1.com, a family-owned website that provides coupons and deals from over 5,000 of the most popular online retailers. What's awesome about this is, once you use a coupon from Save1, the store from where you've made your purchase will give a small portion of the proceeds to the organization, and that money then goes toward providing meals for children in need! Therefore, you're actually stretching those dollars even further, for a great cause.
Take Advantage of Free Stuff
Free snacks in the break room? Free pizza on campus or tastings at the grocery? Stumble across some samples at a health fair or some kind of expo? Awesome. $0 spent. More left in your budget!
Follow your school, your favorite retailers, and your most-frequented local shops and eateries on their social media pages – as well as your city and neighborhood’s local community groups and organizations. They’ll often use these outlets to post updates about free samples, giveaways, discounts, and more.
Be on the lookout for flyers and local publications around town that might mention events where there will be free goodies - and prepare to dine well for free!
Save on fuel costs. If you're able to walk or ride your bike to work or class, do it. Also, look into public transportation options. In Fort Wayne, for example, campusLink will not only get students where they need to go for free, but they sometimes give away free stuff, too.
Be Okay with Staying In
This one can be tough, especially once the weekend hits. But if you're really wanting to stick to a $50 a week budget, you'll have to learn to say "no" to going out.
Instead of splurging on a movie and dinner date, utilize your DVD player or Netflix account and use a little bit of that money you set aside earlier in the week to make a special meal.
If your friends ask you to go out and you just can't refuse, limit yourself to a set amount to spend (again, leave the cards at home and take cash.) You’ll have to learn to be okay with heading home early, or stick to water, even if the party continues on late into the night.
Don't Let Anything Go to Waste
One of the biggest and most avoidable reasons we overspend in any given week (especially in terms of food) is because we waste so much of it! Being too lazy to wrap up leftovers, forgetting about the overpriced strawberries two days too long, tossing out the shampoo when there are still easily two washes left in the bottle... it's like watching your dollars go to the dump.
Avoid this by keeping things visible and squeezing every little bit out. If you never look in the drawers at the bottom of your refrigerator, then don't put items that go bad quickly into them. If you make a recipe that yields 8 servings but hate eating the same thing two days in a row, freeze the rest for later. Turn shampoo and lotion bottles upside down to get every last drop. Don't waste anything!
We’re not going to sugar-coat it. If you’re not used to it, living on $50 will be really, really rough at first. You might not be able to enjoy your favorite foods as often or continue to indulge in the same comforts or continue the same social life you're used to. There might even be unexpected, expensive emergencies that come up mid-week that totally ruin the money-saving work you've done.
But keep in mind, shooting for $50 a week is a huge deal, a great goal. And it is within reason. Even if you can manage it every now and then, your savings account will thank you!
Whether you simply need to save up for a new pair of shoes, or you're just a few hundred dollars away from finally getting that new car, challenge yourself to living on a lower budget to get there... and prepare to be – even just a little bit – richer!