Samantha Jones

Sam's Notebook

Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com.


Confessions of a penny pincher

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

I am an avid budgeter. Gideon canít take me anywhere, especially Samís Club, without being reminded to keep the receipt or else. Or else what? Iíve never had to go through with the threat, so Iím really not sure.

It wasnít always this way. There was a time when we couldnít afford to shop at Samís Club or buy anything in bulk besides dry beans and rice. For years, Gideon worked at a hotel while studying for his masterís degree and I worked overtime to cover his tuition and books. We were overworked, overtired and over eating bean soup five nights a week.

In the early years, we almost never ate in a restaurant. Our most expensive takeout order couldnít have been more than $30. If I really liked a meal, Gideon would learn how to make it at home to save money.

We avoided upgrading our phones and other electronic devices until they broke. Gideon wore clothes so full of holes it started to look intentional, like he had just joined a grunge band named after a Lord of the Rings character. I suggest Hot Smaug.

Anyway, if it wasnít broken enough, we didnít bother to fix or replace it.

Then Gideon started teaching and our household income practically doubled. We had stars in our eyes. Steak dinners and new electronics danced through my dreams. After driving the same vehicle for nearly 10 years, I bought a new car. Signing the paperwork felt illegal. I kept looking over my shoulder on the drive home, expecting to get pulled over by the budget police.

ďDo you know how to live below your means?Ē the officer would ask.

ďYes, officer,Ē Iíd say shamefully. ďIíll take the car back.Ē

Somehow I made it home without being apprehended.

The next year was a flurry of saving every penny I came across ó yes, including change I found on the street. I instituted a strict budget so we could put together enough money for a down payment on a home. Gideon, the most practical and compliant husband you could ask for, agreed every time the budget was amended.

ďYou canít get anything from McDonaldís this week,Ē Iíd text him.

ďOkay! Love you!Ē heíd text back.

Some of you will read that and think I am a very controlling person, and you sure are right! Gideon knew from the moment we got together that I had certain financial goals. Being my partner meant valuing those goals, which quickly became shared goals. We talked about nearly every dollar we spent, whether it was $200 at Walmart or $5 on Amazon.

Through many changes ó a new job, car and house ó we never stopped talking about finances.

Today, I keep three major budget spreadsheets dedicated to an annual budget, a monthly budget and the rise and fall of our savings. My day starts with a cup of coffee, our updated online banking information and the monthly spreadsheet.

I savor those quiet mornings when I can itemize receipts and listen to the birds chirp outside, probably cheering me on for tracking our spending even when itís much more than I would like. A lot of people donít keep up with their budget because itís scary to realize how much useless stuff youíre spending money on.

Hereís the secret to keeping sane on a budget: Realize that everyone is going to spend money on junk they donít need. No one is immune to this. When you track your spending, itís easier to prioritize your favorite useless stuff over the useless stuff you could live without. Thereís no need to be ashamed of buying a few lattes or a new video game. Donít skimp on the good junk!

So what are the things I spend too much money on? Itís an easy answer: Oscarís Cafe. I could eat there every day of the week, but once a week is good to my belly and budget. When you eat at home most days, thereís plenty of money for one day at your favorite restaurant.

Even the most passionate penny pincher knows you have to treat yourself every now and then. Now, please excuse me while I plan my lunch at Oscarís six days from now. Itís going to be a good waste of money!