99 Days at the 99¢ Store, WEEK SEVEN: I'm Halfway Done With This Project And Happier Than I've Ever Been

This week, for the first time on this project, I ran out of tampons -– not a product you want to cut corners on.
Publish date:
February 1, 2013
money, dollar stores

As a resident of Los Angeles and struggling artist, I’m gonna tell you guys the biggest thrill of my motherfucking life right now: SAG screeners. No, I am not making the fullest use of my Screen Actors Guild membership by booking acting job after acting job, but boy do SAG screeners have a way of helping you forget all that and focus on the positive: free movies.

In the midst of a long awards season, the actors take their turn giving the honors. Contenders want voters to see their movie, so the studios mail out DVDs, setup screenings, or give out codes to rent it off iTunes. And let me tell you, as someone underemployed and battling mild seasonal depression, fitting in all these movies before the January 25th voting deadline has provided a strong direction for my life over the past week that I have truly appreciated.

Sure, it’s a little sad on paper, but it’s mostly awesome because since I wrote for you last I’ve seen (in no particular order): "Argo," "Silver Linings Playbook," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "The Sessions" and "Zero Dark Thirty" (that one from Jesse’s roommate who gets Academy screeners).

That’s not to mention, I’m holding "Les Misérables" in my hot sweaty little hand and have a date with my girlfriends to watch it on Sunday. I also have three of the iTunes rentals left –- which I’ll yea or nay next week. The only other one is "Lincoln," which I saw in theatres the weekend before this experiment started.

Part of the beauty of award-nominated movies is that they’re usually pretty darn good. That’s not to say there weren’t a number of deserving independent films that didn’t get the nod, but it’s definitely a list that has been culled and is ready for consumption.

That’s not all I’ve got for exciting, though. Today I stand just over the cusp of the halfway point and I’m proud to say that this financial detox is coming along right on target. I even have the same cash in my wallet as I did when I started -– plus some newly acquired. (My dad has a slight $5 bill tick whenever we’re within range of an airport.)

Since I’m exactly 7 weeks in, I decided to do another discretionary spending analysis (NERD!) to see what my progress looks like in dollars and cents:

1. In these past 7 weeks, I’ve spent $1,052.46 in 47 transactions, which averages out to $151.35 a week.

2. The 7 weeks pre-experiment, I spent –- wait for it -– $3,606.47 on 135 separate purchases, aka a whooping $515.21 per week! Yes, I was rediscovering free time and all the restaurants in my area after nine months of 50+ hour weeks plus property managing on the side, but, no, I did not need to blow through most of my hiatus cushion in record fashion.

3. I’m currently at a 71% reduction in spending over my formerly exorbitant ways.

The mere act of watching something changes it, and that’s been true above and beyond the initial rules for this challenge. Even when shopping at the 99¢ Store, I’m now more mindful of what consists a good deal in terms of quality and quantity. Tracking the 99 days of this project –- and reconstructing the days before it -– brings not only a consciousness, but also a conscientiousness to the nuances of habit, want and necessity. It’s an awakening.

There’s another aspect, too, that can’t be denied: the value of making goals public. Before starting this series, the concept of wallpapering social media with weight loss or workout goals seemed patently absurd to me. I mean, maybe I’m just a private person, but why would you want to share that -– humiliation?

Um, you’ll have to pardon my former viewpoint because turns out I was totally wrong. Over the course of the last 7 weeks, I’ve droned on and on about a goal far weirder than running a 5K or losing 10 pounds, and friends and readers alike have shown a preponderance of support. And you know what? It’s helped. Even negative comments have had their way of providing motivation.

Excuse me while I pat myself on the back for a minute, but the coolest thing has been seeing the cycle of inspiration grow and continue beyond just support. One night in mid-December, I was on a long dog walk with my girlfriend, whom I’ve known since college. I was a few weeks into this project and Danielle was in the middle of negotiating a much-needed raise, so money was on our minds.

When we finished, I headed to the 99¢ Store in need of food. She went over with me, just to get dinner, but I wound up waiting for her at the checkout while the cashier scanned two full bags for $5.69. She’d gotten not only her meal and then some, but dog treats and household supplies, too. As we crossed the street, she said, “Well, that was eye-opening!”

A few weeks later, another of our girlfriends got so stressed out about work and money that moving back home and working at the local Wal-Mart became really attractive. Though there’s nothing wrong with moving home or working discount retail, it was pretty clear that her anxiety was driving this plan.

In the process of talking her off the ledge, Danielle made an example of my current situation: that I have almost no money –- to the point that I’m writing about my 99¢ Store purchases every week, that I’ve decided not to put energy towards survival jobs anymore, that I gave up security to properly pursue my passions, but –- and this is the important part –- that I’m the happiest she’s ever seen me.

I don’t know about you, but someone who’s been a best friend for almost 10 years saying you’re the happiest they’ve ever seen you is a pretty rave review in my book. Even the maintenance guy at my building has noticed, recently telling me that my “face looks more happy now.”

Danielle suggested to our friend that they each take a page from this and make 2013 a year in pursuit of dreams, no matter the sacrifice. I’ve also had readers leave comments about implementing their own dollar store plans to save money. All of which are fun, and even invigorating, byproducts of making a seemingly awkward monetary goal public.

OK, now if you’re thinking "God, what a self-congratulatory bitch!" then I might have something to make you feel better. This week, for the first time on this project, I ran out of tampons -– not a product you want to cut corners on. Normally, I’m even cool with paying a premium to get a pearly tip; though a lot of times I’ll go Target generic.

Tangentially, I’d like to put a point on the scoreboard for the 99¢ Store because, for the past 50 days, that’s been my almost-exclusive source of food, and I continue to menstruate. Also, I haven’t gotten sick, so kudos for stocking the food variety necessary to keep a person healthy and reproductively capable!

So as my tampon stock dwindled, I was forced to check out what the 99¢ Store had to offer. Turns out if you’re looking for pads or pantyliners, they have a plethora of options. They also have the most scant supply of tampons: one brand -– Femtex regular, super, and ultra extreme super tampons –- with only eight count per box. I picked one up just to get me through this cycle; though the unit price on Target generics could possibly beat 12.5¢.

Fortunately, they’re pretty standard tampons. I’m not a huge fan of cardboard applicators, but I toughed it out for the good of the experiment. The only unreasonably coarse thing about them is the wrapper –- which, if you’re gonna cheap out, is definitely the best part to do it on.

My discretionary total for this week was $99.61, only 1% of that on tampons. Nearly half was spent on a tank of gas –- my only non-99¢ Store purchase. And, as usual, a significant portion of my spending was on food, much of it I ate with eyes glued to movies on the TV screen. Free movies, good movies, and soon a movie with Eddie Redmayne –- which I think we’re all fast learning is the very best kind. Here’s to awards season and may the best (wo)man win!

Follow me every penny-pinching step of the way on Twitter @courtneykocak and Tumblr.