Brother, can you spare a dime?

How about 10,000 dimes? OK, it’s not quite that dire, but last week I calculated my 2009 federal income tax return and discovered that not only would I not be getting the usual refund, but I actually owed. A lot.

My “WTF?”  investigation revealed that when I started my new job in September 2008 and filled out the W-4, I followed the withholding instructions, which suggest you take two withholding allowances– one for yourself, and one for … yourself, again.

This, as it turns out, is unwise. In 2008 it wasn’t a big deal because I only had four months at that rate, but in 2009 it turned out to be a big deal indeed: A thousand dollars’ worth of a big deal. This made me a little sick to my stomach, especially when I realized that tax returns are due in two months. So I did what any normal person would do: I turned off my computer and pretended it didn’t happen.

That didn’t work, of course; I spent much of the night and the next day fretting about how to conjure up a grand without raiding my emergency fund or Roth account. Then I decided that the sudden appearance of a $1,o00 tax bill would probably qualify as an emergency. So just in case, that’s there.

But in the interim, I thought, “What if I just didn’t spend money on anything?” Essentials would have to be covered, of course, and bills, but beyond that: How much could I save in two months if it were really important? That coffee I get every weekday morning on my way to work, for example, totals up to $77 a month. What if I didn’t spend that? What if I didn’t eat all those lunches and dinners out, didn’t download music, didn’t hit the bars on weekends?

I’m about to find out. For the next four weeks, I’m paring it all down — partly out of necessity, but mostly out of curiosity.  This should be interesting: In a worst-case scenario,  I can see myself going so gung-ho at first that I end up in some sort of social deprivation tank, then snapping and ending up unconscious somewhere after gorging on KFC and Blizzards.

But in the interim, I’ve got some meals to plan, some DVDs to watch*, some gym time to plot out and some books to read. This should be fun — in an awful, awful way.

* It turns out our DVD player is broken. Rude!

WHAT SAM WORE: 02-14-10
The shirt: Cotton crewneck T-shirt from Old Navy.
The shorts: Cotton cargos by Abercrombie & Fitch, from Buffalo Exchange.
The shoes: Sneakers by Asics, from Sports Authority.

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