99 Days at the 99¢ Store: It's Finally Over, And This Is What I've Learned

I've learned that tracking expenses in an Excel spreadsheet makes my OCD flare, making lemonade out of lemons that are about to expire is not for the weary, and my life is not a laboratory experiment that I want to exact rules on.
Publish date:
May 7, 2013
money, dollar stores

Oh boy, has it been a long 99 days! It’s been 15 weeks, more than 3 months, what feels like an eternity of frugality and stringent rules and, although I saved a shit ton of money, I would be hard-pressed to do it again.

My prediction at the outset of this 99¢ Store challenge was that I would emerge 99 days later with high-octane pep in my step, a huge smile, and a padded bank account: the very image of easy breezy if you ever saw it. But – and this was my other prediction – life happened.

Life is nonchalant and impassive. It doesn’t really care what your feelings are or how many balls you’re juggling or if this is a convenient time for you. Life just happens. And during this particular 99-day period, life decided it was my turn to be the whipping boy.

When I started the experiment, I was a few months into hiatus as an assistant to the writers on a TV show. It didn’t look like the show was going to get renewed, but I was allowing myself leniency in looking for a new gig until after the holidays. Shortly after I returned from Christmas, however, I learned that the show was picked up at the 11th hour, but, alas, I was not. Ouch.

Double-ouch, considering last season I did two separate jobs at the lower pay rate and was under the impression I was doing a damn good job at both. But nevertheless, there’s nothing you can do about this type of rejection except brush your shoulders off and move on to the next thing.

Ugh, right. So about the job search. It turned out to be pretty hard – hard enough that I haven’t gotten ONE. SINGLE. INTERVIEW. Granted, it hasn’t been the best time to look AND these aren’t usually the type of job opportunities that are posted online. Connections, timing, and luck are crucial – and those aspects have been less than ideal, especially in the luck department.

So even though I was feeling pretty depressed about my income, security, and ability to get a job, I still had to finish this challenge. Except that the challenge exacerbated my helplessness – its rules limited my means of escapism and made me even more claustrophobic.

I wish I could report that, “The experiment was freeing! And who needs money anyway? Fuck society! Going out to eat is for chumps!” But, unfortunately, that wasn’t my experience. Instead I was reminded that tracking expenses (or anything, for that matter) in an Excel spreadsheet makes my OCD flare, making lemonade out of lemons that are about to expire is not for the weary, and my life is not a laboratory experiment that I want to exact rules on.

As a writer, I want to live first, THEN write about the experience or feeling or fantasy. But I don’t write to manipulate my life and I don’t write because I see myself as a data point. So in the future there won’t be long challenges or rules – though I’ll keep the self-reflection. That was a valuable lesson to learn.

There were other lessons, too. They say it takes 100 days to make a habit. While I don’t want to perpetuate everything from the experiment, some aspects are here to stay.

Things I’m going to continue after post-99 days:

• Restrict Diet Mountain Dew/7-Eleven trips.

• Continue to buy groceries – from 99¢ Store and supermarket – and try to eat at home.

• Keep eating out, booze, and weed purchases to a reasonable minimum.

• Make my own address labels.

• Dish soap, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, and et cetera are great items to get at the 99¢ Store and cut some money off the Target run.

Things I can’t wait to splurge on:

• A trip with my boo!

• Face wipes!

• A new pair of jeans!

• Getting my hair did!

• A writing sesh at a coffee shop! (DOUCHE! NERD!)

Things I learned:

• Busting up my prudish financial hymen and getting comfortable talking about money was a really good thing. I learned you don’t have to have a pristine financial situation to talk about it – in fact, that’s all the more reason.

• Vices: Unless they are crazy out-of-hand, they serve their purpose. For me, they’re a reprieve from perfectionism and anxiety.

• Survival is not as expensive as it once seemed to be.

I loved getting to know some of you readers in the comments. Thank you so much for following along. Hope to be back on xoJane soon…but next time I’ll ditch the experiment.

Happy Trails for now, 99¢ Store, but I’m sure we’ll meet again – next time with a healthier, less dependent dynamic.

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