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Money Diaries: The 20-something cube-dweller with an addiction to phone accessories

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This is another post in the Money Diaries series, which is based off New York Magazine’s Sex Diaries. We’ve collected stories from real people about their spending habits over seven days, anonymized them, and posted them here.

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Today’s post is by a 23-year-old married guy who works for an insurance company in San Francisco. Check out how small slips in budgeting and spending can add up before you know it.

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Day 1
7:30 a.m.: Wander around the house half-dazed, decide to eat breakfast at work rather than attempt to feed myself in present state. Grab a banana, pear, emergen-C, 2 Omega3/DHA gummies, and a packet of instant oatmeal. Make a PB&J, throw all these into my backpack, make sure my BART ticket from last week still has money on it ($14.50, CHINGY!) kiss my wife goodbye, and head out the door.
12:13 p.m.: Received an email from Amazon.com: I made $5.86! From the sale of a book, which cost me nothing except gas/time to get it. After shipping I make about $4. Now I just need this to happen another 40 times this month and I’m good. Sales are slowing, though. I’ve made $27.89 since end of January; usually it’s 2-3 times that much, so this is a slow month for sure.
12:30 p.m.: Spent the day thus far working (very little) and (mostly) working on my own personal business stuff from my office computer, such as looking for free things on FreeCycle, which I will pick up after work. I locked down a free microphone for the wifey, possibly some free books from the same person, which I’ll sell on Amazon, and a succulent plant that is half-dead in a very nice pot, which I can either let die and reuse the pot, or get it healthy if possible. Either way it will be sold at some point.
1 p.m.: Going over finances from the weekend. Here’s what it looks like since last Friday when I got paid: Payroll Direct Deposit – $769 + $214 I had leftover = $983; $40 from the ATM for Medical Marijuana; $250 transfer to the joint account my wife and I share for food/groceries/Amazon shipping expenses; $8 plastic stand for G1 smartphone (I’m addicted to phone accessories); $5.43 Frisbee; $51.11 new clothes at Crossroads (John Varvados dress shirt for $24.50?? YES PLZ!!); $32.61 Lizzy Pulitzer sweater at an outlet. (Normally I wouldn’t, but it was just so nice, and the original price was $160 yowzaz!); $33.33 on “personal items” (use your imagination). Balance starting the week is $562.89 in my account and $234.65 in the shared account.
1:30 p.m.: Wow, I spend too much on payday weekend every time. Sadly, that’s only what I spent from my account. Our joint account has about $120 on eating out/groceries ($36 on groceries) over the weekend as well. This is why I eat PB&J at work (as he bites his PB&J mournfully) AND I haven’t even paid ANY of my bills yet. I text my little brother in Arkansas to remind him he owes me $100 for a phone I bought him around Christmastime. A loan, not a gift.
5:30 p.m.: Realized my BART ticket was wrong, it only had $1.40 on it, so I put another $21.80 on it for the rest of the week.
6 p.m.: Get home and eat pizza my wife left me before her yoga class.
7:30 p.m.: My wife picked up the free books/microphone (no plant, sadface) ; she got a bunch of really nice ones. Instead of listing them on Amazon I sit around getting high, playing with my G1, and watching PBS and the news all night with the wifey and our roommates.

Day 2
7:30 a.m.:
I eat breakfast at home, as is my normal routine. The wifey hasn’t gone grocery shopping yet this week so it’s slim pickins. I pack a lunch consisting of just fruits (which we make sure are always plentiful) because I’m out of PB&J. This may necessitate a run to the Subway around lunchtime. Luckily there’s always free coffee at work.
10 a.m.: COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE! Check my bank account online. Some more items came through, some from last week even. I can’t stand having stuff I bought a week ago show up on my bank statement so much later. Reading through my news feeds I see an entry from CNewmark (creator of craigslist, has a great blog where he talks about politics and birdwatching) about Recovery.gov. Apparently keeping track of my own money isn’t going to cut it anymore, I need to keep track of Obama’s economic stimulus as well.
2:30 p.m.: As predicted, I buy a $6 Subway sammy on the shared/food account, and munch half of it at my desk. I’ll probably eat the rest at home later in a cloudy daze before we go to BSG night (Battle Star Galactica, we watch it with friends on their projector).

Day 3
9 a.m.:
Brought breakfast from home, I eat it at my desk while shopping for G1 accessories on eBay before I start my day. I spend $5.05 on screen protectors and $26.14 on a docking cradle. I’m still deciding if I want to use the cradle at work or at home…
12 p.m.: Looking at my WaMu Online statement, this is something I do several times a day. And for exactly this reason: I find a mysterious $4.99 charge from PayPal. Investigation reveals a pair of socks from eBay that I apparently forgot about. And I found out I accidentally had them shipped to my mom’s house in Arkansas…bummer dude.
7 p.m.: Finally getting around to putting some of my Amazon stock online. While I’m there I check my account balance. I made $33.75 for the first half of January. That’s half what I normally make. Also, the wifey reminded me I owe her $70 from a month ago for something or other. I transfer $100 into our joint account because it’s low and she’s probably going to go shopping sometime this week. We’ve spent quite a lot eating out already, I’m sure I’ll have to put another $75 at least in there before I get paid next week.

Day 4
11:32 a.m.:
Woke up late and rushed to get out of the house on time. Ate breakfast at my desk, didn’t pack a lunch so I might get food with a friend.
11:53 a.m.: Broke down and bought a car cradle/charger for my G1. $25.38 but it’s worth it because I’ll use it all the time. We might sell our TomTom since we never use it anymore, thanks to Google Maps on my G1.
4 p.m.: UH-ooooh, eBay at work is such a bad idea. Boredom equates to purchases I can somehow justify. I just bought an ergonomic MS4000 keyboard. I get pain in my wrists at work, so it really is an investment in myself. But with a $29.99 pricetag, and of course I had to donate a dollar at checkout to save blind kittens. $30.99 isn’t bad compared to what it retails for, but still…..
7 p.m.: We hit the jackpot! I got about 30 assorted glazed and plastic pots with even more drip saucers. A couple of rectangular plastic pots (like for an outdoor window) with dying flowers I intend to restore. And three full TJs bags of new-good condition books. After weeks of not pulling much of anything, this is a great boost to inventory. I spend a few hours potting up cuttings, taking more cuttings, watering/rearranging plants, and posting some books on Amazon. This weekend I’ll have to do a craigslist sale and thin out some of my plants, they’re getting far too populous.

Day 5
9 a.m.:
Dragging today, thank goodness it’s Friday at least. I eat breakfast at work, find nothing in my free inbox, check my WaMu online statement. Not bad, I still have about $400 left. I need to drop about $200 of that on a hospital bill I’ve been putting off way too long. And I just got a text from T-Mobile saying my account is past due. I’ll die if they kill my G1, so I probably need to shoot them some money today. I can do that online later.
8 p.m.: I basically spend all day Friday cutting jokes with my office mates/boss, reading Greader and talking to my friends/family back home on Gchat, downloading music on my G1, and generally kicked back at the office. I manage to spend absolutely no money, cheah! I do a lot of browsing for high-dollar items I plan to buy w/my stimulus check though. And due to way too much coffee at work and a complete lack of any company at the house, I end up taking a very nice nap and basically sleeping all night. Sleep is free, thank goodness.

Day 6
2:30 p.m.:
Valentine’s Day… Woo, I count my lucky stars. After an entire week of procrastination, I find the day upon us with no plans or reservations of any kind. My wife opts to watch movies she rented from the library (for free!) on the couch after we wake up at 1:30. We spend all day doing that because the weather is completely terrible. 7 p.m.: Just when I think I’ve gotten away with a money-free holiday, we decide to go out for dinner. This basically consists of driving around and looking at which places don’t have people at every table. We settle on a nice Vietnamese place. Unfortunately, we sit down to find the menu consists of three choices for each of a three-course meal, with no prices on anything. Here’s wear I start to sweat. Luckily there are prices on the drink menu. I order a $7 glass of wine, we decide that we both love the exact same things on the scant menu, and order identical meals. Long story short, we walk out of there for $88 including the tip.
9:30 p.m.: We skip the bar and billiards in favor of a cheaper night at home playing scrabble and watching dubbed Thai/Israeli movies from the library.

Day 7
11 a.m.:
The wifey and I spend the day cooped up inside due to rain.
7 p.m.: Dinner at Cafe Zoetrope in the Francis Ford Coppola building in San Francisco. We absolutely love this building, and it’s my wife and her cousin’s first time being there to eat. My sister’s boyfriend works there so I usually get hooked up on drinks, but he’s out of town so we are cautious and split a plate of the Puttanesca – look this one up, we had a fun time discussing its origins with the waiter. Another long dining story short: We get our drinks comped, dinner is still $67.28 (OUCH). At least this is the end of my purchases for the week.

In sum:
All in all, this is a terrible week for me financially. I failed to use the programs my phone offers to keep track of my budget. I spent way too much on accessories for my phone/office ($92.61) and eating out ($161.28). So yeah, I spend the next week broke and trying to keep my accounts from bouncing, which they both do and I pay fees on my next paycheck. Lame.

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55 Comments

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  1. *Blank Stare*

    I cannot critize this guy, I was just as bad in my twenties especially early twenties. However, his wife seem to be totally opposite

    My advice, have fun before you have children. LOL

    Get a gripe on your spending, it’s ok to spend as long as your priorities are in place.

    Try not to bouce checks and sink into cc debt. practice saying NO to yourself every now and then

  2. Yes, very bad here. You live like someone making $70K when in fact you make….$40K? What would you do if you had to pay for a major expense, or lost your job? If you ever had children with your wife, how could you afford it when you only have a few hundred bucks in your bank accounts? Do you ever want to take a nice vacation with your wife? Do you enjoy living in your crummy apartment? This sounds like too many american 20 somethings.

    There is good news here though!! You don’t seem to have any major credit card debt or the like which is great! You are supplementing your income with a small side job (selling stuff) so that’s good to see. You probably only need to make a few lifestyle changes and change your attitude toward money (from one that thinks money is there to buy stuff I want today, to an attitude that money should be saved and grown so in a few years, I can buy some REALLY good stuff or do some really cool things). You’re not in a deep financial hole (yet), at least it sounds like you aren’t.

  3. Totally unrelated but I wanted to get this out there. So it is tax season. last night I wast filling out my 1040 to get my return. Well I had the 1040EZ and the regular 1040 which is more work. While I’m filling out the EZ (I’m lazy) I notice that my refund is gonna be huge. Huge. Much bigger than I expected (it’s going to be over $3K wow!). Then I saw I paid a good amount interest on my student loans last year, and that is tax deductible. Well at first I was tempted just to fill out the EZ and don’t worry about the extra deduction because I was so excited about how much I’m gonna get back.

    But then I stopped.

    “wwaid?” I thought to myself. (What would an indian do?)

    An indian wouldn’t be in this position because he’s in India, and he doesn’t have to pay American taxes…

    ok kidding. But I decided to at least look into how much extra this deduction would get me.

    Turns out it’s an extra $200 on my return! That is definately worth the extra effort of going through the 1040 and getting it all down. So instead of 10 minutes, I spent about an hour on my tax return, and it gets me an extra $200. I’d say that’s a pretty good job! Remember, I was this close to just saying, “ah it can’t be that big a difference”

    Just wanted to say thank you Ramit, for making me stop to think what I was giving up by not looking for stuff like that. (incidentally I won’t be thanking you with any royalties of the extra $200).

  4. It’s a violation of FreeCycle rules to get stuff ONLY to sell it.

  5. This dude is totally abusing the system of trust that FreeCycle is built around. F him…I’m glad he’s struggling financially.

    Doing sketchy things is not part of a healthy financial lifestyle (look at the banks on Wall Street).

  6. Posters #4 and #5 bring up a good point. You are not supposed to sell items that you receive from FreeCycle.

  7. Medical marijuana, uh huh 😉

  8. Not as extravagant as other posts in this series. He is doing what the majority of folks do, but is at least conscious of the small issues he has. He needs to continue to look at increasing his rev (yes, including selling FC stuff. He’s not going to H3ll for it). I think they will be fine in the future. Good luck!

  9. WTF hommie? The karma police are gonna lock your ass up for flipping those Freecycle books. Plus, if you weren’t such a lazy POS you might be doing better financially. And your wife might appreciate you going to the store just once.

  10. Hey, I feel for the guy – his paycheck was less than $800 after taxes – for those wondering, that works out to around $21,000 a year to live on.

    I’m 23 and feel like this guy goes through a lot of the same issues that I do – he really tries to watch his bills day-today and eat food at or from home as much as he can, but that gets repetitive and boring. If I was giving him advice, I’d say stop browsing ebay at work – it’s far too easy to just make non-essential purchases out of boredom. Force yourself to spend your down time doing it – it’s generally not very fun, so hopefully you’ll cut back. Also, eating out once in a while is fine, it’s fun and a great stress relief! But on that income, an $88 dinner tab is a once a month kinda thing, not once a week. If you wanna go out w/ friends, eat at home then go out for coffee or a few drinks.

    Finally, AUTOMATE YOUR BILLS. Once your bills are automatically deducted, you know what you can spend on toys and going out and can start doing it without feeling (quite so) guilty.

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