How to get by on a $15-a-day budget

Stick to a daily budget by tracking your expenses

The Slice: I spent a week trying to stick to fixed daily budget. The mistakes I made gave me more control of my finances than ever before.

The Challenge: Cap spending at an ambitious $15 a day.

Difficulty Levelmedium level difficulty

$15 a day?! I must be crazy. Last week alone, my daily average spent was double that. But in the name of a good challenge, I decided I would at least try to stick to a daily budget. And although you’ll see that I may have not quite met my mark, I learned something much more valuable about my money habits.

Follow the money

Track all your expenses to keep yourself accountable for your purchases.
Track all your expenses to keep yourself accountable for your purchases.

I often joke that I don’t know where to even begin budgeting – partly because I may be slightly unwilling to begin. But already something that I’ve learned in the last two weeks is that it really starts with tracking your spending: I like the Refinery29 Money Diaries’ template. Not only is writing down what you’ve spent fun (seriously), but if you don’t remember what you did last week, the receipts will tell you. It’s like you are a detective solving the case of your own memory. (Andrea, private eye. *wink)

On the first day of the challenge, my high school friend was in town from Wisconsin, which meant dinner and money spent. A sushi burrito (my first one ever!) for each of us meant $30.22.  (Damn, already over budget). I filled my gas tank as well… I had to get home somehow. $34.25.

Unfortunately for me – but fortunately for my wallet – the sushi burrito induced intense nausea, and I didn’t eat for more than 24 hours. The only money I spent on Tuesday was on a balloon for my coworker’s office baby shower. $10.98. Success. Wednesday, I bought myself breakfast. $4.11.

Thursday was expensive. $18.62 in food. We were having a Thanksgiving potluck at work the next day, so I trekked to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients I needed and some additional groceries. $58.08. Friday, I only spent $3.93 on coffee.

$15 wasn’t the answer

Building positive money habits through challenges
A twenty for your thoughts?

Technically, I made it under budget three of the five days. However, I was way off the other two days, ruining the challenge overall. In fact, I spent $160.19 this week, which is only $1 less than the week before.

While $15 is certainly doable with discipline, your daily spending shouldn’t be based on an arbitrary number, but rather, it should be based on your income. An April 2015 Gallup poll showed the average American spent $91 a day. But how do you determine your own personal daily budget? I’ll show you, thanks to this tip from WellHeeledBlog.

Take your monthly net income (the money you take home after taxes). Subtract your rent/mortgage, car payment, savings accounts and any other consistent monthly expenses. Divide that number by 30.5. This gives you a much more realistic amount of money to play with. Mine is $34. Granted, if I want to make a bigger purchase than that at once, it’s going to have to come from a different day.  (We’re budgeting! Look at us go.)

The negative: Didn’t meet the challenge.
The positive: After two weeks, I know my average weekly spending is consistent. I can now work that into a monthly budget and make serious cutbacks on food-related spending where I most need it. I also know now that theoretically, I shouldn’t be spending more than $34 a day on discretionary spending and that if I truly need or want to, I have to plan for that.

Andrea Aldana is Your Daily Apple’s finance contributor. Her journey to financial autonomy is a bumpy one, but she’s starting to get it – she thinks.

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