When I meet up with my friend Karen to discuss the logistics of hanging out together for a week, she pulls out her Samsung Galaxy to look at her calendar. “Look at my new phone!” she says, excitedly. I’m surprised. This seems unlike her.
Karen, you might remember, is the supersaver I profiled a few months back. She maxes out her 401(k), refuses to pay retail for clothing and doesn’t use credit cards. Ever. And here she is trying to figure out how to use her fancy pants Google Calendar.
Then she tells me her mom got it at Costco. On sale. In Delaware, which spared her sales tax. Ah, now it makes sense.
I, on the other hand, am a spender. My mantra is, “It’s on sale for a reason.” I shop at “Whole Paycheck.” And my credit score, I found out last week, is in the “average” range because I’m using more than 30% of my credit card limit every month.
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So when LearnVest suggested I hang out with Karen for a week and see if her supersaver ways would rub off on me, I was game. It helps that she lives two floors down from me in the same building. And I could use her guidance. This whole self-employment thing isn’t making me as much money as my former steady paycheck. Who would have thought?
Day 1: Sunday
On our first day together, Karen and I head out to Trader Joe’s to get groceries for the week. I’m lucky, because Karen likes to eat healthy, and I’m eager to see how someone who owns a juicer saves money on fresh food.
We pass by one of the ubiquitous NYC fruit stands, and Karen tells me she stops at there at the beginning of the week to get $7 worth of fruit, which will last her all week in the office. In fact, she brings all her food for a whole week of lunches to work on Monday and packs it in the fridge.
In Trader Joe’s, Karen starts in the produce section, where she snags three bags of carrots for her juicer. “This is a really good price for organic carrots. I know what everything costs everywhere. I have a really good memory,” she says. She points out that the plums are 59 cents each here, while outside at the cart they’re five for a dollar.
I’m starting to get the picture here; I couldn’t tell you how much a plum cost if it walked up and spoke to me.
While we wait in line, I grill her on how she spends money on alcohol. I’m going to the bar that night, and I can’t bring her with me because she’s got other plans. She tends to go for Manhattans as the best value. “Even though they’re expensive, they take a while to drink,” she instructs. “And don’t go thirsty, because you’ll chug. Then you’ll be broke and drunk.”
Karen’s total at the register comes out to $27.07 for a week’s worth of food. Mine is $42.42. “Damn, girl! How’d you do that?” she says. “Smoked salmon,” I lament.
But that night at the bar, I skip the tasty-looking frozen drink and rosé sangria for a $7, 17-ounce cider instead. I’m appreciating Karen’s advice, since I drink it much more slowly than I would have, and I’m getting more alcohol and less sugar. Mission accomplished.
Day 2: Monday
I have a dinner planned that night with a friend, so I send Sensei Supersaver Karen the menu of the restaurant my friend picked out, a casual Japanese place. We consult via Gchat. “Well, I probably wouldn’t eat there in general because there’s almost no nonmeat options,” she says. She’s a vegetarian, which also tends to save her money, though she does it for moral reasons. “In general, though, I would pick one of the lower-priced entrees with probably no sides/drinks/apps. Eating out only makes sense for me when I pick something novel that I can’t really make myself, so I tend to pick the weirdest thing on the menu.”
Using her advice, it comes down to the fried chicken. “Fried chicken is so good, and hard to do yourself, so I approve,” she says.
At the restaurant that night, I cheat by ordering beer, which Karen wouldn’t do. But it’s the cheapest beer on the menu at $5. The total bill, with two dinners, two beers and a very generous tip, comes out to $45, and I have leftovers. I’m feeling pretty good about this so far.
When I get home, my boyfriend calls. He wants to do a romantic date night on Wednesday, and proposes sushi. This would be my third dinner out in a row, when Karen hardly ever goes out to dinner … and I’m wondering when I’m going to eat all the food I bought with her on Monday.