Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Live the Wage Challenge, day 5

DAY 5 (Tuesday):
Total spent: $0
Total remaining: $31.48

Tuesday was the first day in my Live the Wage challenge when I deliberately refrained from spending money. Up until then, I'd just been spending normally, loading up with groceries on Day 1 and even indulging in a Starbucks Frappuccino on Day 3. However, after the monthly cable and Internet bill ate up most of the cash left in my budget on Day 4, I started to wonder if there was actually a chance I could run out of money before the week was out, and I became a bit leery of buying anything I didn't have an immediate need for. Such as, for example, a bottle of B vitamins at the Rite Aid.

I came across a recommendation for B-complex vitamins on a health forum while searching for information about headaches related to shifting hormone levels. A follow-up Google search turned up several sources indicating that B2 and B6, in particular, had shown good results in preventing migraines. I wondered if they might also help with my acne, which also seems to flare up at "that time of the month," and sure enough, a second Google search turned up several sources suggesting that they might help with this problem too (though results on this score seemed to be more mixed; some patients found it actually made their acne worse). That was enough evidence to convince me they were worth trying, and under normal circumstances, I'd simply have dropped by the Rite Aid, checked the prices on the racks, picked up the cheapest one, and given it a try. But this week, knowing my budget was down to $31.48, I got as far as identifying the cheapest bottle on the rack—and then hesitated. Sure, it was only five dollars, but did I really need to spend that five dollars now? I was almost through with this cycle anyway; wouldn't it make just as much sense to wait until next month to give the B vitamins a try, and not spend money on something I didn't actually need right away?

Even at the time, I realized I was probably being unreasonable. After all, there were only three days to go in the challenge, the bills for the month were all paid, and we weren't expecting to make any more shopping trips after our big grocery stock-up last weekend. It was highly unlikely that this $5 expense would actually break my budget. But, well, wouldn't it make just as much sense to wait, just to be on the safe side? Or at least to wait until the last day of the challenge, when I could be pretty well certain I wasn't going to go over budget? Even if these pills did help with my symptoms—and of course, I had no guarantee that they would—would it really make a difference if I waited a couple days more before trying them?

I think it was that last "if" that finally made me put the bottle back on the shelf. If I'd been suffering from a headache right that minute and I had no ibuprofen in the house, then I wouldn't have hesitated to spend the money for immediate relief. But the B-vitamin remedy was mostly a shot in the dark, something I thought might help in the long term. That's something I wouldn't hesitate to spend $5 on when I have plenty of discretionary income, but when I'm on a strict budget, it becomes a splurge item, something I can indulge in if I have the money left at the end of the week.

So I guess I can say I did learn at least one thing from the Live the Wage challenge: it only takes a few days on a really limited budget to adjust your ideas of what separates a necessity from a luxury. I guess for Americans earning minimum wage, this is the kind of line you have to draw on a regular basis. (Fortunately, most people in this category are teenagers, so the small amount they earn probably isn't their sole source of support. But for the adult workers struggling to make ends meet on minimum wage, it's easy to see how a $5 bottle of vitamins could become an expense you have to think twice about.)
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