99 Days at the 99¢ Store: Day 1

Think Morgan Spurlock on ramen and rough toilet paper.
Publish date:
November 26, 2012

You may be reading this from a cracked iPad at the bottom of a stampede pile-up, but I won’t be participating in Black Friday this year.

I’ll be too busy tightening my belt, not because of mismanaged Tofurky portions, but because today marks the beginning of a marathon financial detox. For the next 99 days, my shopping will be limited to the 99¢ Store except when absolutely necessary -– think Morgan Spurlock on ramen and rough toilet paper. I'll decide what constitutes absolute necessity by strictly following these three rules:

  1. Anything that can be must be purchased from the 99¢ Store.
  2. If a needed item is not available at the 99¢ Store, I will either (a) determine a creative economical solution, or (b) go without.
  3. I will log and defend every cent I spend.

Obviously, my fixed expenses -- the usual: cell phone, student loan, Internet, etc. -- will stay fixed. I don't have health insurance or anything frivolous like that anyway. Each week, I'll recap my spending, circumstances, successes, failures, hot tips, and goals moving forward.

Before anyone calls Jane a sadist, it’s not her fault. This isn’t one of the things that she couldn’t get anyone to write about this week; I actually approached the gang with this piece of masochism. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!?!!! Well, I'm a 29 year-old ex-Catholic and I really miss Lent. Also, I was spanked as a child. But, perhaps most importantly, because I’m broke.

You see, after a long season of notetaking, fridge stocking, coffee hustling and pride swallowing as the Writers’ Assistant on a primetime show, I went on hiatus in September. But apparently I’m not as good at cream and sugar as I thought, because (Spoiler Alert!) the show’s not coming back. So while I scramble to retool my employment outlook, my credit card’s been working overtime. It’s hard to make more than you spend when nothing’s coming in, which is why this experiment bites into the tiny slice of the pie that we 99%-ers have any control over: discretionary income.

Right now the biggest chunk of my discretionary income probably goes toward food. I don’t usually keep any in the house, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the prospect thoroughly freaks me out. My meals oft times come from 7-Eleven, yet somehow I’m afraid the 99¢ Store will make me fat. I don’t know how much of a downgrade it could possibly be, but we have weeks and weeks to find out.

My other big discretionary category is "general vices.: I have been steadily sucking Diet Mountain Dew from the teat of a 20 oz. plastic bottle for coming up on 15 years. Right now, I have a partial bottle in my fridge, the last of my supply, and I have never seen DMD at the 99¢ Store. This may be the most difficult adjustment for me.

And then there’s weed, simultaneously the best and worst accessory to unemployment -- but, again, the 99¢ Store doesn’t carry it. Yeah, it’s a budget cleanse, but the implications bleed over into other (somewhat toxic) veins of my life, as well.

I live across the street from a 99¢ Store. Whenever I shop there, I’m fascinated by the wide-ranging selection (except when they’re out of rice pudding, in which case I’m not amused). I’ve always thought a person could almost do it –- live off these bargains alone -– thus “99 Days at the 99¢ Store” was born and has been a bizarre passion project ever since. I know it’s a little out there, but I think I’m in good company. Everything I know about xoJane involves one form of self-torture or another.

Though I’ve been fondly toying around with this concept for months, in the week since landing the assignment, my daydreams have become unexpectedly superficial: plastic surgery, laser teeth whitening, photofacial, chocolate-colored dye job, a new bedspread –- and on and on. I’ve become preoccupied, which is weird because, even though I live in L.A., I normally wear the same jeans for a week without so much as a second thought.

For the most part, I managed to stifle these urges, save for a teeth whitening Groupon and inordinate amounts of staring at myself in the mirror. Despite the cold feet, I’m excited for the challenge. I’m willing to sacrifice my newfound vanities (eyebrow tinting!) and longstanding vices (too many to mention!) to see what a streak of steadfast frugality can do for my bottomline.

But that’s not a promise of weeks of silent tuna eating. I'm going to live my life, and I suspect 99 days –- more than three months, the length of a season -– is long enough for shit to get real. Decisions will have to be made, and ultimately that’s what this supposed to be: an exploration of cost, priority, value, and what really matters.