Browse Category: Personal Finance

July Money Challenge: A Retrospective

The view of the river from the rooftop bar in Vicksburg.

I’m going to be honest: Posts about the July Money Challenge were cut short because I got busy with school stuff really quickly. Still, I’m a procrastinator, not a quitter, so I’m going to get it done!

Saturday, July 22

$4.06 – Groceries. I honestly don’t remember what this was – it must not have been more than one or two items.

$12.00 – Two beers at a rooftop bar in Vicksburg, where we sat and looked out at the river.

Sunday, July 23

$20.84 – Brunch in Jackson

$31.30 – Groceries, an actual weekly stock-up.

Monday, July 24

No Spending!

Tuesday, July 25

$3.26  – Coffee

Wednesday, July 26

$2.18 – Coffee

$28.63 – Groceries

Thursday, July 27

$33.50 – a bunch of letterpress cards on Etsy.

Friday, July 28

No Spending!

Saturday, July 29

$3.78 – Baskets for my kids to put their pencils in, from Dollar General. I think I cleared out their stock.

$15.33 – New school shoes – Keds-esque navy shoes. Are they cool? Not really. Are they comfortable enough for me to stand in all day and match with my school uniform? Yes.

Sunday, July 30

$63.71 – Groceries, including food for a potluck I hosted with my roommates.


I feel like the commitment I made to share my spending publicly was a big factor in my spending decisions for the month – every time I reached for my card, I had to ask myself if this was something I wanted people to know that I spent money on. It’s this self-imposed peer pressure/public accountability factor that probably made me spend less than I would have otherwise.

The amount of time I spent out of town in July made a difference in how much I spent – it removed me from my regular routines (making dinner at home every night) and I ended up spending a bit more. I don’t regret it – it was great to be able to travel to Michigan for my cousin’s wedding, and I liked working in Kickoff at Delta State. I see that kind of spending as a part of life – I keep my expenses when I’m in Jackson low enough so that it’s not a big deal to spend some money to go out with friends when I’m out of town.

I think I also spent more money than average on gas, because I drove to New Orleans, and summer fellowship I had at RePublic required me to commute further than my teaching job during the school year. That isn’t a huge difference, but I noticed that I filled up my gas tank more than I normally do.

Something that I’ve been considering lately is trying to adjust my thinking about budgeting to be a little more…chill. In college, I really had a mindset of trying to pinch pennies, and that’s what I needed to do at the time – I made very little money, so it made a difference to buy store brand coffee even though it didn’t taste as good. Right now though, I feel like I have the big factors taken care of – I have very low rent, because I live with roommates in Mississippi, and it also helps that we split utility bills. I cook at home most of the time, I don’t drive a lot and I have a car that isn’t expensive to insure. I don’t go shopping for clothes as a hobby – I’ve basically just bought my school uniform clothes, a sweatshirt from the thrift store, and some new underwear this year. I feel like if I optimize those bigger factors, I don’t really need to worry about buying flavored seltzer instead of only drinking tap water, or going out for coffee twice in one week. It’s kind of an 80/20 principal. I’ve done my best to optimize the 20% of money decisions that make 80% of the impact, so that hopefully, I can be less worried about the other 80% of decisions and focus my mental energy on other things.

The goal of this project was not to reach some sort of budgeting nirvana, but instead to use my resources wisely and act like an adult. I feel like I did that pretty effectively.

July Money Challenge: Week Three

The nachos were great.

My spending this week is a little different than normal, because I’ve spent most of the week traveling. I went to Michigan for my cousin’s wedding, and when I got back to Mississippi, I went to Delta State University to volunteer at Teach For America’s Kick-Off.

Saturday, July 15

No spending!

Sunday, July 16

$6.89 – Chipotle burrito bowl

$4.23 – Latte at the airport

$45.00 – Parking at the New Orleans airport. This is about $13.00 more than it normally would be, because the less expensive parking lots were full when I flew out.

Monday, July 17

$5.98 – Nachos

Tuesday, July 18

$14.69 – Going out with friends

Wednesday, July 19

$9.00 – Going out with friends

Thursday, July 20

$14.00 – Paid a friend back for gas money

Friday, July 21

No spending!

July Money Challenge: Week Two

Saturday, July 8

$2.50 – a succulent at the Farmers market.

$23.02 – groceries

$6.63 – getting photos printed

Sunday, July 9

$6.27 – two coffees

$16.19 – a broom and a dustpan and something else at Target

$36.00 – drinks (no, they were not all for me)

$14.97 – at the craft store

Monday, July 10

$18.04 – groceries

Tuesday, July 11

$20.00 – doctor’s co-pay

Wednesday, July 12

$4.52 – a latte

$14.30 – groceries

Thursday, July 13

$2.50 – coffee

Friday, July 14

$23.00 – gas

$5.45 – breakfast

July Money Challenge: Week One

Saturday, July 1
$1.oo – a basil plant at the farmer’s market.

 Sunday, July 2

$90.28 – a week’s worth of groceries and a bunch of other stuff – new headphones, a spatula, dish towels, a cast iron skillet and a saucepan. $41.41 of the total was non-food.

$2.99 – the This American Life app in the Google Play store. I bought the same app years ago on my iPhone, but now I have an Android. 

$12.31 – a shower curtain and shower curtain rings, since my roommates moved out.

Monday, July 3

No spending!

Tuesday, July 4

$6.31 – Coffee for myself and a friend.

$14.97 – Alcohol

Wednesday, July 5

No spending! 

Thursday, July 6

$7.50 – Lunch

$22.64 – Gas

$6.30 – Gelato

Friday, July 7

No spending!

July Money Challenge


This July, I’m embarking upon a monthly money challenge – I’m going to share all my spending, on my blog, for the entire month.

Why am I doing this? I’m a personal finance nerd – I don’t blog about it on here much, but I’m always reading about how other people spend money, save money, and think about money. I also had a pretty spendy June – in part, because I went to Michigan, and in part because of irregular expenses that came up close together.

I want to do a reset – not resetting to some kind of obsessively frugal lifestyle, but spending less and making sure I’m only spending money on things that matter to me. Since it’s summer break, I have more mental energy to expend on setting myself up with good habits, which I’ll hopefully carry into the school year.

Every week of the month, I’ll write about how much I’ve spent, and what I’ve spent money on. I won’t include my rent or my utility bills in this – this is about examining the money I spend on coffee, groceries, library fines and clothes, not about the money I spend to keep the lights on and keep a roof over my head.

Total transparency – let’s see what happens!

The Cost of a Surprise Trip Home

I went home this weekend, unexpectedly. I had a family member pass away last weekend, and the memorial service was to be held this weekend, in Metro Detroit. I debated a bit, about coming – I was concerned that it was just too much, that I would be too stressed for the next week, that it would throw everything off.

My mom convinced me that I needed to be there for my family, so I went home. I left on Friday morning, using a personal day at school, and came back to Jackson today.

Airfare: I started looking up flights while I was still on the phone with my mom, discussing the potential of me going home. Flights out of the Jackson airport were nearly $700, so I looked into options out of other airports in the region – New Orleans, Atlanta, Birmingham – in hopes of finding some cheaper flight to Detroit. It worked out that my best bet would be New Orleans, where I used one of the vouchers I received in January to get a ticket, where I only had to pay for the “taxes and fees” portion of the price. It was $84.52.

Gas: I realized how low I was on gas somewhere in Louisiana, and then I was running late and I was anxious about running out of gas and missing my flight. I made it to the airport without filling up, then filled up my gas tank as soon as I could, when I arrived in New Orleans on Sunday. $27.91 along with the anxiety about running out.

Parking: I hate paying for parking, in any circumstances. It always feels like I’m spending a ton of money, and I’m not getting a thing or an experience that is worth anything to me. The experience I’m getting is not having my car towed, and while I would hate to have my car towed, it isn’t an experience that I pay for gladly.  It cost $41.31 to park at a parking lot near the New Orleans airport for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Food: I planned on packing food to bring to the airport with me, to save money on buying food in the airport. Somehow, in everything that was happening on Friday morning, that was forgotten, and while I ate breakfast, I didn’t eat lunch, leaving me ravenous when my mom picked me up at the Detroit airport. I stopped to buy a coffee drink on the way to the airport, $2.83, then spent $2.75 for an iced coffee at DTW before I got on the plane today. Let’s count the sushi that I bought at Trader Joe’s and ate on the way home as trip food as well, $3.49.

Total cost: $162.81. Less than I expected, and worth it, given the circumstances. Even while I was adding the numbers up, I expected it to be around $300. I’m not sure why I have such a bad sense of estimating that – I thought that I had spent almost twice as much as I did.

I write about this kind of thing because I’m endlessly curious about our attitudes, ideas, and feelings about money – there’s nothing else that makes people quite so uncomfortable and secretive than talking about how much things cost, and our own financial situations. I hope to shed a little bit of light on things by writing posts like this one.

The cost of going home for Thanksgiving

The drive from Mississippi to Michigan was grueling. It was dark before we reached Cincinnati, and we didn’t get to my hometown until 10:30.

$22.25 – Gas in Belzoni, MS, the Catfish Capital of the World

$15.oo – Gas, somewhere between Memphis and Nashville

$5.90 – Taco Bell, somewhere just north of Nashville

$22.97 – Gas in Findlay, OH

Total: $66.12

The drive from Michigan to Mississippi was much better, in part due to the difference in time zones – we were traveling from EST to CST, which saved us an hour, and we started an hour earlier. This resulted in a much better, less tiring, less stressful drive for me – it was still light out when we hit the Mississippi state line. I got home around 9, and collapsed into my bed.

$1.96 – Coffee at a Pilot in Kentucky

$8.41 – Lunch at an Arby’s in Kentucky, after we passed the most backed up freeway I’ve ever seen in my life. It was backed up for at least two miles, on the other side.

$5.40 – M&Ms at a Pilot in mid-Tennessee

$10.00 – Gas at a Pilot in Mid-Tennessee

$21.81 – Gas, somewhere in the Delta

$1.00 – M&Ms, somewhere in the Delta

Total: $48.58

There and back, I spent $114, far cheaper than a plane ticket, especially a plane ticket from Jackson. Still, the level of exhaustion that I was feeling on the drive toward Michigan was terrible, and I spent two full days of my break just driving. Additionally, this isn’t counting wear and tear on my car. I can’t tell, yet, what I’ll do next time.