Austerity Project, Day One

On this first day of November, in the Year of Our Lord 2010, it’s time for me to begin.

After a lifetime of free spending, I’m changing my ways. I’ve never had expensive tastes, and in the past two years, I’ve downsized my lifestyle and focused on simple living.

Now, I have to get really serious. In June, I turned 62, and in August, I received my first Social Security payment, direct-deposited into my checking account. For a variety of reasons, it looks like I’ll never have a middle-class job again. So it’s me and Social Security, and whatever part-time or seasonal work I can find. The rent is covered, and a few other items that I still think of as “necessities.” (Food comes to mind.) But there’s no budget line for “discretionary spending.” There’s no financial margin for error or excess.

Therefore, I will begin today, Nov. 1, 2010, to keep a record of everything I buy, everything I spend, down to the dollar. Hopefully down to the penny. I call it my Austerity Project. I should have done this a long time ago.

I have one of those old-fashioned elementary-school composition books, bright red color, made in India, I forget how much I paid  for it. (See, that’s my problem. I never pay attention to how much I pay for the things I think I need. I need it, so I buy it.)

In this bright-red composition book, I will record every expenditure, every day. On this, the first day of the Austerity Project, I did one load of laundry at the laundromat ($3.25). While waiting for the clothes to dry, I had the off-season special from the Pizza place next door ($4.23, including tax, for two slices and a large Coke). I invested in an eight-pack of budget paper towels, which were on sale at Food Lion ($5.08). I bought a gallon of Turkey Hill iced tea and two bananas at Super Fresh ($3.65).

Total damage for Day One: $16.21.

Today was the last day of the 2010 election campaign, and tomorrow, Election Day, will be a long day volunteering at the polls. So I knew these first two days of the project were going to be hard on the budget. Tomorrow, I’ll probably grab a quick lunch at McDonald’s or someplace. The polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., so that probably means a couple shots of caffein during the day. Maybe a doughnut. Hey, Election Day is a special day for me. I’ll even go to a  party after the polls close.  Whether it’s a funeral or a celebration, I’ll buy at least one Coke at the cash bar.

Wednesday, the day after, will be hangover day, nothing to do but drive around and take down the campaign signs. No more excuses about hamburgers at McDonald’s or Cokes at 7-Eleven.

I never thought it would come to this. But then, I never was much of a realist.

I never thought a newspaper or a Coke would be a luxury I couldn’t afford. I can still enjoy those luxuries, but now, I must have discipline to drink the Coke at home, and read the newspaper at the library.

I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

— John Hayden

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