The Doomsday Budget



So. I sold my first novel for a nice piece of change.

And while it’s not pay-off-your-student-loans-in-one-fell-swoop money, it’s still a welcome addition to my day job as a freelance writer.

Thing is, the freelance hustle ain’t what is used to be.

Michael, one of my dear readers, hit me up and asked me to write a post for his column, The Recession Diaries, which runs on

He wanted my thoughts on coping with the recession. At first, I didn’t want to do it. I’m blessed. Really blessed. How dare I whine and moan about how I’m still broke?

Then I realized. I am still broke.

A decent book deal means nothing if you’ve been blowing through money like water all your life.

I’d like to blame TH. And though he’s made it clear that he’s not to be part of this here blogging-on-the-Internets, there’s no way I can explain how I ended up in this financial quagmire without calling him out.

When we met, we were single, money-spending twenty-somethings out of an all-Black episode of Sex and The City. (I don’t know what world Carrie lived in. But there were NO Black people in it. And then? They throw in Blair Underwood and he’s wooing Miranda. Really? Miranda. Not Carrie? Come on. GTFOH.)

I digress.

It was all about dining out, blowing money on drinks, shopping. If we had money we spent it.

As real life progressed, we didn’t change our spending habits. Marriage, kids, house. We still spent spent spent like there was no tomorrow. Neither of us have ever practiced sacrifice.

If TG says she wants to start scrapbooking, off to the art store we go, dropping fifty bucks on supplies. She showed an interest in sewing, we immediately bought her a sewing machine and signed her up for private, one-on-one instruction.

Our biggest downfall is probably going out to eat. It’s our raison d’etre. Nothing better than a Sunday morning lounging over eggs and coffee at Toast or Bluestone Coffee in Montclair. Or dipping into the Cheesecake Factory after a trip to the mall.

We lived in a Thai restaurant called Tuptim’s when I was knocked up. And that place ain’t cheap.

Starbucks? Yup. Every day. Both of us. Sometimes twice.

The only thing we didn’t do was run up credit card bills. At first, because we couldn’t get a credit card anyway. But even after we did clean things up a bit, that’s one trap we haven’t fallen into. We (generally) only spend money we have.

But still. We both knew we needed to get it together. When the recession hit, it became doubly clear.

Thing is, I always thought, well when I sell my book deal and get lots of money, all will be fine!


I did get the book deal with a decent amount of money. But if I don’t reign in my spending and come up with a real budget, we’ll be in serious trouble.

Sure, I’m making more money now. But I’ve also got more expenses. Duh.

The book deal woke me up. I saw how the money on paper would not stretch far if we didn’t budget. And budget hard. (For details on how my deal is structured and why the advance is not necessarily a mega-windfall, check out the column I wrote over at TheRoot).

I’m scared of budgets.  A budget means I can’t buy a new pair of Converses just ’cause I feel like it. Or a new wallet. A cup of coffee. Or whatever. I’m used to buying what I want, when I want. As long as I can physically put my hands on the cash and I am relatively sure my phone won’t get cut off, I’m buying it.

But that has to change. Savings accounts and college funds need to be bulked up. And I need to prepare for Doomsday. What happens if more magazines go under? What if I can’t go back to teaching because schools are in hiring freezes? What if I can’t even get a regular day job?

We had a family meeting and enacted the Doomsday Budget.

Without boring you with all the minute details, TH and I each took out 150.00 in cash on April 1. We get nothing else til May 1.

We’re brown-bagging our lunches and I cook at home every night. Everything is budgeted to the teeth.

That’s 150.00 for all discretionary purchases: Starbucks, Omar’s, magazines, books, clothing…everything. Ugh.

Having cash in my wallet makes me treat it so differently. Swiping a debit card feels like magic. Handing over a five dollar bill feels real.

It’s changed the way I operate.  I think twice before I walk out of the house. Bottled water? Better not forget it. Ain’t buying it for two dollars because I’m thirsty and I forgot my water at home. I keep graham crackers in the car for Tog so I don’t have to buy her stuff if we’re out on errands and I run out of snacks.

I miss hiring a sitter and going to dinner and a movie with TH. But do you all realize how expensive that is? At least 60 for a sitter. 20 for a movie. 45-55 for dinner. Um. No. If it’s not a holiday, that’s not happening.

We went to a movie recently. First show of the day. Only six bucks. And we each used our own money to pay. Which was hilarious. I almost backed out of the date cause I just wasn’t sure I wanted to spend a precious six dollars. I tried to bat my eyelashes and get dude to pay my way. Seeing as how we were on a date and all. He said no. Chivalry is dead.

At Starbucks, we looked longingly at the tray of goodies at the Starbucks counter. 3.95 for an apple turnover? Sigh. We walked away.

I held firm at the concessions counter. 5 dollar popcorn? I don’t think so! I had a granola bar in my bag from home.

“Not getting any popcorn?” TH asks.

“Nah, I’m good.” I said.

“Are you sure” he said, narrowing his eyes.

He was making it clear. If I wasn’t chipping in, no popcorn for me.

The Doomsday budget will not be good for my marriage. ‘Cause I was about to pop him. And dude was really not trying to share his dumb old stale popcorn! Hmph.

(When the movie started, I had to throw my hand in there and take some popcorn and dare him to stop me. He didn’t. But after the movie was over, he told me I ate fifty cents worth. And he wants his money.)

Anyway, I’m noticing how much money I spend without even realizing it. Example: my mom came over to visit. I ended up showing her some pictures I had just taken of Tog. She loved them and asked me to upload them to the local pharmacy. I did and then I offered to pick them up for her. D’oh! That was six dollars! I never realized how often I pick up tabs and other random items that cost me money.

It only took me a week to get the hang of it.

Now, I’ve got it done to a science.

I’m officially…cheap.

Met my good friend Vicky for breakfast–and ate before I got there. Just coffee for me, thanks!

Got a hankering for a soy chai latte–and just dunked a tea bag in some boiling hot soy milk and added honey. Voila! A bootleg latte for free.

I’ve actually gone entire days without spending a penny. Sweet!

Budgeting means planning. Planning means acting like a grownup. I’m damn near 40 and I’m just coming to terms with this.

This is what adulthood is, feet issues and budgets. Ugh.

Dear readers, please tell me. How much do you spend on non-essentials in a month? I mean things that are not budgeted. Your just-for-me stuff. Could you cut that number in half? Do you use cash or debit cards mostly? Can you feel the difference? Are you fiscally responsible? Super spendy? Or somewhere in between?

I’d love to hear from you…

P.S. It’s May 24th. I’ve got less than a week before I get to re-up. Anybody want to guess how much money I’ve got left?

18 Responses to “The Doomsday Budget”

  1. Katura Says:

    I guess you have $45 left.

    Cheesecake Factor is my downfall. I eat there at least twice a month. And I go out for lunch, dinner, drinks about twice a week with friends. (We’re a bit Sex In the City-like too.) I pay with a credit card because I never carry any real cash. But I ALWAYS pay off the entire balance at the end of the month. And I get cash back, so I actually come out better using the card. I do clip coupons for groceries, and shop the clearance rack at the mall and at Daffy’s, my favorite store. I figure I spend about $200 a month on crap I don’t need. But I refuse to work every day just to pay the mortgage and the insanely high PSEG bill, so I’m okay with how I spend.

  2. alexandra Says:

    the new money pit is gardening. it’s springtime in paris and i’ve got windowboxes. 3 euros each for geranium plants, 1 for petunias, 5 for daisies and on and on. soil, pots, blah blah. i justify this because it gives me HUGE joy–huge– to open the windows and smell petunias and see the little ivy branches poking up their necks. but damn if i don’t spend 50 euros a pop every time i want to add something to the ledge.

  3. Aliya S. King Says:

    @katura: paying off your CC every month?! good girl!
    @alexandra: petunias on your ledge? I’d go broke for that.

  4. Robyn Says:

    I love this Aliya. Lots of head nodding in agreement while reading. Laughed out loud on the Sex and the City Blair Underwood part — sooo true. Miranda? (LOL)
    Tuptim’s ain’t cheap — just now getting a hand around that addiction. (What do they put in those spring rolls?!?)

    I do budgets for a living. It’s getting easier, as a result, to implement one in my personal life.

  5. Robyn Says:

    Oh, and to answer the question (duh), I use to spend close to $400 a month on non-essentials. Getting that down to about $200 now.

  6. la negrita Says:

    Given my income, I spend an INSANE amount of money on things I don’t need–the bulk of it on Starbucks and fast food. I calculated it one day and the sum hurt my feelings. :( Some days, I don’t even care to have Starbucks but I go out of habit. Honestly, though, I’m not ready to scale back and am prepared to suffer whatever consequences may come. As bad as it is (and as much as I know better) the little $3 dollars here and there are my temporary comfort. It’s a control issue and hey, at least I’m aware of the problem.

    When I was in high school I worked p/t during the summers and saved EVERY check. That money helped support me during my NYC internship junior year. I need to go back to being that girl before it’s too late!

  7. paul cantor Says:

    Congrats on the book deal! That’s amazing.

    I never really had a crazy issue with budgeting myself. It’s nothin’ but a jew thing haha. No but seriously, I was raised by a dad who didn’t leave the heat on at night because he felt there was no purpose in paying for something like that while you were asleep. Wtf? It’s stuck with me. I just try not to live outside my means.

  8. Cathy Says:

    I am having issues with money too, as everyone is right now.

    We are trying to buy our 1st house, since this is the buyers market & the “Obama” tax credit is available. I am an Accountant, so I am good at budgeting, but not hubby :(

    Any suggestions to get him involved in this truely needed budget crunch???

  9. Aliya S. King Says:

    @cathy: Let’s just say I took things very slowly, trying to get him onto the doomsday budget. At one point, I wrote down ALL our bills and showed him the money coming in. That seemed to shake him up a bit. Shook us both up, actually.

  10. Aliya S. King Says:

    Oh, by the way. When I wrote this post, I had 80.00 left. Whoo-hoo!

    But you know, today it’s all beautiful and sunny. There was outdoor cafe sandwich-eating. And ice-cream cones.

    I paid cash. And I enjoyed my meal.

    And now I’m down to 65.00…

  11. Luvvie Says:

    You might as well call me Spendy Gonzalez, because whatever I want, I get myself. Between my shoe habit and my recent habit of taking cabs (who quit me SO often because I never have cash), I’ve been a spending FOOL! I use to manage my finances and I’ve been getting so many text alerts from them hollering at me for going over my monthly budget (which created for me. It is FANTAWESOME). Anyway, I need to go sat down. The rule I made to put 20% of each paycheck into my ING savings account has not been followed since February.

    I need to go sat down somewhere.

  12. Luvvie Says:

    So that was all to say that I may need to do the “take cash out” thing and don’t use anything else.

  13. Gwen Says:

    I’m so glad I read this. As a single woman with no children and a good job I’m real willy-nilly with my spending. I know I need to stop this and now I have some ideas. Thanks Aliya-you always were a smart cookie. Glad I’m still learning some things from you, even at 30 something!

  14. DeAnne Says:

    I swear that no matter how much I feel like I’m “unique” I can always find a slew of people going through the same thing, sometimes they’re a step ahead of me, sometimes it’s me a step ahead of them but none the less we are all in the same place: I am trying to become officially cheap.

    I can cut out the luxuries like new shoes and cute old-navy t-shirts but it’s the morning coffee or quick lunch take-outs that get me, not to mention the great deal on laundry detergent (without the coupon because I left the caddy at home) while I still have detergent. My pitfall is spending money on necessity items when I don’t really need them. I learned that I shop when I’m stressed and if I can’t buy something fun something essential will do just fine. Here I am, Sunday afternoon about to balance my checkbook and be surprised about how much money I do not have. So to answer your question, I do not know how much I spend on non-essential “essentials” but I know that I’m going to figure it out.

    Thank you for reminding me that while touch at first this too will become second nature; but I have to admit that I’m heading into a notoriously bad time for me, both of my daughters are having birthday’s and it’s about time to start my garden . . . this is going to be tough.

    Congratulations on the book deal!

  15. tmpringl Says:

    Wow. This is eye-opening for me. I guess it’s a Midwest thing (deep in the heart of….Ohio), but we don’t spend money. Since my husband and I have been married, we’ve always lived by the Doomsday budget. Always.

    I used to spend money all crazy too, but then one day I peered over my husband (then boyfriend’s) shoulder while he was paying some bill online. I peeped his checking account balance. Dude had like $8,000 in the bank!!! I was like, “You don’t even make that much! How’d you get eight grand?” He just said simply, “I don’t spend money like you.” It was like a lightbulb went on in my head.

    Now we don’t spend money on babysitters (that’s what Grandma and PopPop are for). I don’t drink Starbucks (put enough cream and sugar in the office coffee and I’ll survive). We don’t go out to the movies but instead do Netflix (I’ve got The Soloist in my queue right now and as soon as it comes out on DVD…oh, say August, I’ll be right there!). We don’t make that much but we usually have about $800 a month left over after bills and other necessities like food. Yes, that’s after the mortgage payment.

    So yes, Aliya, it will hurt to get your spending under control, but when you start seeing commas with double digit numbers in front of it in your checking account, it feels sooo good! Ooooh, wee. lol

    Loved, loved, loved this post. Now it’s time to head over to TheRoot…

  16. jovi Says:

    I am the type of chick that if I see, and I want it, I buy it. But most of the time its on a CLEARANCE or 50% off rack. Growing up we did not have much so I still act like, at times, that I dont have much even though my IT job pays well.

    lol @paul cantor – when my friends come over my house they keep their coat on cause its stays cold in my house during the winter. I even post my electric bill on the fridge so they can see why its so darn cold.

    The TG and the TOG get what ever they want. I have a soft heart for them. They each have a large wardrobe and I still buy for them. I guess since I did not have I want them to have. BUT when they grow out of it after wearing it only once I get soooo frustrated and mad at myself for wasting money.

    I need to try getting cash out and only spending what I have. That debit card makes it feel like FREE money.

  17. la negrita Says:


    You’re my shero.

  18. serenakim Says:

    We’ve been living on a very austere budget since 2006. But ever since my daughter started going to daycare, which is an added 800/month in expenses, we’ve tightened the belt tighter than I ever thought it could go.

    We basically have zero spending money for anything besides food, rent, and bills. We eat every meal at home. We never buy clothes, unless it’s vintage. Except for our daughter, she can look cute. We’ve even turned off our Netflix subscription!

    I found a cheap way to do Mother’s Day. Instead of an expensive champagne brunch, we’ll do a pancake party at the house with choose your own toppings. You can feed an army with an inexpensive homemade pancake batter, and I think eating from the same batter brings us together as a people.

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