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The Sixty Dollar Weekend.

September 8, 2009

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen various personal finance bloggers whom I read talk about various financial “challenges” that they put upon themselves as an exercise in saving money. Some of them do “no-spend months” or no-spend weeks, or days or whatever, all in the name of stretching their dollar as far as it can go. I thought it was a great idea, but in the Land of Commerce (also known as New York City) not spending money is almost like not breathing.

But I thought it would be an interesting for Erik and myself to undertake a variation on this “no-spend” challenge. What I proposed to Erik, and which he accepted, was the $40 Weekend, in which we would each contribute exactly $20 to our Friday night thru Sunday night weekends together ($20 for each 24 hours). It would not be something we could sustain each weekend – we would be pretty miserable living in NYC if we could only spend $40 a weekend because that would prevent us from ever having a night out, but it would definitely stretch our creative thinking.

This weekend was our first weekend in the experiment. Since it was a three-day-weekend, I decided we should up the amount to $60, thus $20 for 3 days. The rules were that we had to use the $60 for anything that BOTH of us experienced, whether it be the cost of an activity or food. The only things it would not include were gas money, transportation (Erik and I both have our own subway cards) or any purchase that would come from another part of our individual budgets, such as if I need to buy shampoo or hand soap.

Here’s how it went:

Erik and I didn’t end up meeting up until Saturday, as I had a girl’s night with my friend Amanda and Erik went to a baseball game with his sister and her husband up in Westchester. Saturday morning’s breakfast was on our own, so we were good there. When Erik arrived, we hung out at my apartment for a little while before setting out to get some lunch, since I didn’t really have much on hand for the two of us to eat (Mistake #1). We decided we’d go to McDonald’s and order off the Dollar Menu (or as I like to call it in New York City, the Dollar and Fifty Cent Menu, since nothing in New York City is a dollar. Water isn’t a dollar. They would probably charge a $1.75 plus tax on air if it wasn’t, like, impossible). I actually chose a Mighty Kids meal with chicken nuggets, and Erik got a cheeseburger, small fry and a small drink, but they accidentally gave him a medium fry. Erik: 1 McDonalds: 0. The total cost: $10.19.

Afterward, Erik and I meander across 72nd Street, through Central Park, and out the other side where we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to check out their exhibit on Afghanistan historical art and artifacts and to see Michaelangelo’s first painting. Since I’m a Bank of America card holder, my membership is always free. And since the Met is “pay what you wish” (with a recommended price tag of $20 – yikes!), Erik paid $5. The Afghanistan exhibit actually demonstrated what a cosmopolitan area ancient Afghanistan actually was, because it was the center point of the Silk Road, which was a major trading route. Objects found were either from or inspired by artwork found in Greece (the Greeks conquered the area thanks to Alexander the Great), Egypt, Iran, China and India. Michaelangelo’s painting was very interesting (showed a picture of fish-like demons attacking a saint), and was actually quite small in size, which was a little ironic considering the massive size and scope of his sculptures.

When we finished with the museum, we relaxed on the steps of the Met with a Diet Coke, which cost $2, before heading back across the park. I had the beginnings of a meal for dinner, so we stopped by Food Emporium to pick up a few additional items. I had salad and grape tomatoes from my lunches that week, plus challah rolls from Trader Joe’s that we purchased a couple of weeks ago and were still in my fridge. We added a deli chicken, an avocado, two muffins for Sunday breakfast, and a Kashi frozen pizza for Sunday dinner. The total cost: $21.09. The rest of the evening involved having dinner and watching Ratatouille, which was hilarious and adorable and everyone needs to watch it.

Total cost for Saturday: $38.28.

As you can see, Saturday was pretty expensive, but most of the money came from our grocery shopping, which actually covered several meals in the end. Breakfast on Sunday was the muffins we bought the night before (a mocha-flavored chocolate chip muffin that I didn’t really like and a traditional blueberry muffin) and some string cheese that I already had for added protein. We didn’t want to spend too much money on activities, so Erik brought down our bikes and we went for a ride along the Hudson River on the greenway trail that runs next to the Henry Hudson Parkway (basically, it runs along the west side of Manhattan island, for those not from around here). It was beautiful and not at all hot out, but there were a lot of people so it was certainly crowded at points. On our way back, we came across some neighborhood girls who were selling cookies and lemonade, and feeling sorry for them but also appreciating entrepreneurship, I bought a glass of lemonade for $1, which was grossly overpriced for what I got, but, hey, you gotta make a profit somehow.

When we got back, we showered and instead of going out to eat, we decided to make the Kashi pizza thinking it might fill us up for awhile (it was 3pm at this point). We also had more salad, since I had quite a bit left. It was tasty and free! Then we went down to the New Amsterdam Village, which is a mock Dutch village created in celebration of the discovery of Manhattan island by the Dutch in 1609. The set-up was kind of ridiculous and very tiny, but we did see a man carving wooden shoes and ate the most delicious Dutch mini pancakes ever, called poffertjes, which came with butter and powdered sugar. Erik and I split an order for $5. Since the village was smaller than we expected, we had a ton of time to kill until church (we attend the evening service of my church). We walked a couple blocks to Battery Park, where we saw not one, not two, not three, but FOUR Statue of Liberties standing around for people to get their picture taken with them. The funny thing is it was probably all men dressed up as Lady Liberty. We also snagged a diet Pepsi, bringing us down another $2.

We took the subway up to Union Square, then meandered around at Barnes and Noble, wandered around the streets of Union Square and people-watched at the park, killing what seemed like never-ending time until church started. After church was over, we took the subway back up to my place, where we made a small meal out of left-over deli chicken from Saturday night, green beans and frozen Amy’s Organic Macaroni and Cheese (yum!).

Sunday’s total cost: $8

We had driven up to Erik’s place on Sunday night, and we were planning a lazy hazy day at his place. We woke up late and had a simple breakfast of cereal before commencing a morning of reading and Internet-surfing. Perfect for a day off. Erik lives at an apartment complex with a pool, which we had oddly enough not taken advantage of all summer, so we slipped on our swimsuits and went out to the pool for awhile.

While we were there, we had a conundrum as far as what to do for dinner. We didn’t have much money left, so we debated whether or not we should go to the grocery store and buy food to go with what little food Erik had at home, or go out and eat for one meal and then eat our dinners on our own (I had food at home, and Erik had enough for himself). We were indecisive for awhile, but once a screaming child entered the pool, we decided enough was enough and left. Our journey ended at the mall, where I figured we could find something cheap, but alas, we could not. With tax, anything we purchased would have sent us over our limit, and while I felt ridiculously guilty about going over our alloted $60, Erik reminded me that we had still spent the weekend doing our best and that we were still buying our lunch in the spirit of staying in budget.

When we got the register, I realized that I had misremembered the amount of money we had, and we only had $12 left, instead of the $15 I thought we had, but that’s because I 1) didn’t look and 2) forgot that we had purchased the soda from Battery Park. Erik pitched in $5 and we ended our attempt at a $60 weekend with a mere $1.53 in change.

Monday’s Total Cost: $16.28 (and then some – we ended up going out for dinner.)

Overall math:
Lunch at McDonald’s – $10.19
Metropolitan Museum of Art – $5
Diet Coke at Museum – $2
Chicken, avocado, muffins and pizza at Food Emporium – $21.09
Lemonade stand – $1
Poffertjes at New Amsterdam Village – $5
Diet Pepsi at Battery Park – $2
Chinese food at the mall – $16.28

Weekend Total: $62.56. With about $1.50 left in change for a total of around $64 (I had a bit of change in my change purse at the beginning of the weekend that I didn’t take out).

Here’s what we learned:

Lesson #1: We need to write everything down.
If you notice, we budgeted for $60. At the end of the weekend, I was short money, so Erik gave me $5. Which meant we actually had a total of $65. And yet, when you calculate our totals, we only spent $64. Or did we? We’re missing a $1 in our calculations, either through mistake or forgetfulness. Missing one measly dollar probably doesn’t seem like much, but if you go through each week losing $1, that’s $52 in a year. Imagine what you could buy with all the money you don’t even realize you don’t have anymore! Even though we were on a cash-only system, we still lost track of our expenses, either because we had change that was unaccounted for or purchases that didn’t come with receipts (like museum entrances and diet sodas at street carts). Our goal for next time: write down each individual purchase and what we spent on it, whether or not it came with a receipt, just to make sure we are keep track of all our dimes and nickels.

Lesson #2: I eat when I’m bored.
When I was growing up, I never thought I did this. I mean, sure, sometimes I did when I was in school and would want to eat a snack in the afternoon when I came home from school, but I rarely eat snacks at work these days and I don’t graze at home either. But I do eat when I’m out. When Erik and I were in Union Square on Sunday night, it dawned on me that if it wasn’t for the fact that I wasn’t supposed to spend any money, I would definitely have killed time by killing my waistline. I would have found a Tasti D-Lite or had a Starbucks frappuccino while I waited. Or I would have bought a magazine. I would have found some way to spend money, and it probably would have involved EATING. Moral of the story: STOP DOING THAT.

Lesson #3: It’s easy to spend money when you want to have fun. But it’s also possible to have fun without spending any money.
Even though Erik and I went over our budget, one thing we both realized through this weekend was how much we actually enjoyed the weekend even though we didn’t spend gobs and gobs of money, which we most certainly would have if it had been any other weekend. Erik and I routinely go out for more than half our meals in a weekend. At least one breakfast, usually both lunches, and then at least one dinner. That’s four meals our of six! And that’s not counting snacks, either. We’re also used to going to the movies or renting movies or going shopping as our activities, which usually ends in someone spending a lot of money (or both of us spending a lot of money). The total amount of money we spent on actually doing an activity: $5 for a museum entrance. Spending time in Central Park: FREE. Visiting a historical village: FREE. Walking around Battery Park and enjoying the view of the Statue of Liberty: FREE. Biking along the Hudson River: FREE. I mean, there’s probably a lot of FREE things you can do in your hometown too if you just thought about it. And also consult your local newspaper or tourism guide. I don’t know what we’d do without Time Out New York, and the Internet in general.

Lesson #4: Buy food ahead of time.
Erik and I probably would have saved money, and time, if we had purchased enough groceries during our weekly grocery run instead of trying to piece-meal something together. I didn’t really think about it, and Erik didn’t really think about it either. If we had bought in bulk a little more, such as buying frozen chicken or pasta (which can be used for more than one meal) we wouldn’t have had to spend our precious weekend money on so much food and we could have used our other budget areas for that.

Lesson #5: We eat less when we don’t eat out (or when we split stuff).
If you notice, most of the stuff we purchased was food. In general, we spend most of our money on food. When Erik and I were discussing the weekend earlier, he made a point that when we go out, we tend to go ALL OUT. Meaning that we won’t just get entrees, but we’ll get an appetizer and a dessert, too, which brings our budget WAY UP. This weekend, most of our meals were at home. We were able to portion size better because we were prepared our own portions instead of being served egregious amounts of fat-ladened yet yummy food. When we did eat out, we split what we ate in order to save money. One thing we’ll definitely keep doing, I think, is eating at home more often and also splitting more items when we go out when we know very well we don’t need a whole [ENTER UNNECESSARY CALORIE-FILLED GOODIE HERE].

Erik is out of town this weekend for a wedding, so we won’t be doing our $40 Weekend experiment this weekend. But we definitely have learned a lot from this experience and I look forward to sharing our progress in the future. Sorry for such a long-winded blog post, but hopefully you have learned from experience and mistakes!

12 Comments
  1. September 8, 2009 9:59 AM

    Good Idea. I might try this out in my household. WE live in Kansas City so it’s not as expensive but you still have to be creative. Especially with a 3 year old and a 9 year old.

    All in all good for both of you for attempting to make the change in the first place.

  2. September 8, 2009 10:00 AM

    $60 in NYC is mighty impressive. It’ll be interesting to see how much money you save over the course of a month or 2 if you keep this up.

  3. Mel permalink
    September 8, 2009 10:34 AM

    Does this mean you have given up on giving up soda this month?

    I really like this idea!!

    • September 8, 2009 10:37 AM

      Yes, unfortunately it has. I filled up my cup at McDonald’s and took a sip before I even realized what I’d done. Erik said, “I thought you gave up soda this month” and I was all, “Crap!” But I have a few more months to try to give up soda for a month (my 1,001 Days Challenge goes until next September).

      • Mel permalink
        September 8, 2009 1:42 PM

        well, you tried. and Erik is right… you have other months! The most frustrating thing with giving up diet soda is, unless you want to pay more, it means giving up drinking at fast food places! I had to pay extra at subway recently to get a bottled water instead of a fountain soda. ugh!

        • Mel permalink
          September 8, 2009 1:43 PM

          oops, Erik may have been right, but I didn’t read the above right and realized it wasn’t he who said that you have other months. Gotta work on my reading comprehension!

          • September 8, 2009 1:46 PM

            Well Erik agreed with me so you were close! LOL. A lot of places should have a water option on their fountain soda machines. But you might want to look before you order in case they don’t, then you can go somewhere else. My dad often does that, and he’ll add a little bit of lemonade or raspberry iced tea for “flavor” – and for us, it means less carbs, but still makes it a bit tastier.

            • Mel permalink
              September 8, 2009 1:52 PM

              oooh I like your dad’s idea! They did have a water option and a “lite lemonade” option. However, I don’t like to be charged for water if it’s not bottled… (weird) and I wasn’t sure on the carbs for the lemonade. I’m determined to do this though! And I don’t really miss soda as much as the convenience of soda. I still have coffee!

              • September 8, 2009 2:14 PM

                Buy your items separate – just burger and then a side a fries, without the soda, and then ask for a cup for water. They’ll probably give you a little cup, and they *might* charge you like 10 cents or something, but it’ll be a lot less than paying for a soda you’re not using.😀

  4. September 8, 2009 6:15 PM

    Every time I go into the Met, I want to instantly fall asleep.
    …I have no idea why. But it’s better than NyQuil.

  5. September 8, 2009 6:52 PM

    when I visit the MET, I pay only $1, Since I got often, for short periods of time, overtime I end up giving the suggested donation anyway (plus, I’ve already paid $20 at least 3 times in the past, so I feel like they owe me!). $60 for one weekend, two people in NYC is impressive. Maybe we should try that.. I’m pretty confident it would never work though!

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