Living on a limited budget: A self-experiment

Budgeting your money during college is key to making sure you don't spend too much. Knowing what you are spending and how much will help keep you up to date with your accounts and may also help you save. (Kandace Griffin | The Collegian)

I spend money like it’s my job. Most of the time, I buy food or small items because $10 here and there doesn’t seem like much – but it adds up quickly.

I recently learned that the average annual salary of a typical Indonesian is $2,903.70, giving them $7.96 to spend each day. Americans, on average, are able to spend $115.68 per day. This information combined with a not-so-happy phone call from parents about my spending ($157 in a week) inspired me to cut back by trying the experimental budget of $5 a day.

This seemed like a big challenge because this past summer, I had two jobs and could comfortably afford to spend without budgeting. Now that I’m not working I see how setting limits leads to success.

I live on campus and have a meal plan of 15 meals a week. I generally buy a Dr. Pepper throughout the day, or run to Walgreens for a new nail polish color just because I’m bored. There’s not much I would need to buy, but this experiment opened my eyes to how carelessly I spend and even forced me to learn a few cash-saving tricks.


Instead of grabbing a $5 coffee at Radina’s, I decided to save my daily allowance just incase I needed it later in the day. The first sacrifice of many. I used the Keurig in my room and I’m not sure if it was the vanilla creamer or the fact that I had already saved money, but my coffee tasted even more amazing than usual.

I would like to lie to you and say that day one was easy, but at least turning down Radina’s was a decision I do not regret.


I skipped Orange Leaf with friends this evening and it gave me a small satisfaction. I realized that I wasn’t really even in the mood for ice cream. Normally, I would tag along and spend about $3.50 just so I could hang out with friends, but saying no and setting a limit for myself felt good.

My friends seemed slightly bummed, but I knew I made the right choice. I hadn’t spent my money all day, so I actually could have afforded to go, but I recognized that it was an unnecessary expense. I was proud of myself for not spending any money for two whole days.


I caved. After a long evening of studying, my stomach reminded me that I’d missed dinner. With no self-control reminded, I drove to McDonald’s at midnight and spent $8.36. It was hard to feel the shame while cramming fries in my face, but the next day I was disappointed in myself. I felt like I had failed.

Then, I came to the realization that since I had done so well the past two days, it wasn’t too awful that I’d gone $3.36 over my limit. It’s okay to splurge every once in a while, but I didn’t want to make a habit of it.


No spending for me today, not after last night’s incident … except laundry. Spending only $2 to wash and dry a full load wasn’t too bad.

I also studied at home instead of grabbing Buffalo Wild Wings with friends. My love for fried pickles is strong, but my willpower was stronger. I got a lot of homework done and I realized that maybe staying in, and keeping myself from buying junk I don’t need, can help me with school too.


Once again, I skipped coffee just in case I wanted or needed something later. Around lunch I was thirsty, but instead of grabbing a Dr. Pepper I was so desperately craving I decided to grab my water bottle as a healthier and much cheaper alternative.

As I spent the evening cleaning and organizing my room for Family Day, I realized I wouldn’t need to spend any money.

Saturday and Sunday:

Luckily it was Family Day, so my parents drove up for lunch (they paid) and talked me into coming home until Sunday evening. I didn’t have to drive, so I saved on gas, and I ate at home or with my family, so I didn’t have to buy any food either. Mom even took me shopping and bought me a new top.

Normally, I spend money on magazines at Walmart on Saturdays, and spend around $15 on a meal Sunday evening because the Derby Dining Center is closed. This was a great way to end my week of budgeting, because I saved during the two days I imagined I would have the hardest time.


This week, I learned that having a budget helps force me to analyze what I really need. While $5 a day doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s a fortune to many people around the world. I need to be thankful for what I have and find ways to make it stretch. There are countless coupons and discounts for college students, and so many free activities offered around the community.

Plus, budgeting could help in getting schoolwork and important tasks out of the way, instead of wasting money on distractions you can’t afford. No matter what you’re able to spend, I highly suggest creating (at least) a weekly budget. You’ll find stress melt away when you spend smart, and you’ll likely be able to stretch your funds much farther.

Bradie Armstrong is a freshman in mass communications.