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The Money Diaries: The 20-something coupon-clipper

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Today 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.

clipping coupons

Today’s post is by a 26-year-old who works in television and is engaged to a guy without a job (and a wedding looming). Notice how her costs are extremely low and she’s very conscious about her spending…but is she missing the bigger picture? Let me know in the comments.

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Day 1
10 a.m.: It’s Monday and I just made it to work. My fiancé, T., has recently moved to my area and really needs a job. Unfortunately he just dropped out of school for two reasons: 1) We were four hours apart and 2) The profession he originally wanted to go into — culinary arts — would mean we wouldn’t see each other much.
1:01 p.m.: Drive home to heat up leftovers of pineapple marinated pork and au gratin potatoes. The really beautiful thing about being engaged to a culinary school dropout is that he can cook. T. and I fiddle with some electronic equipment so I can get a work task done.
7:13 p.m.: Get home from work. T. and I cuddle in bed for a while. He makes pork and mushroom dumplings and steams rice for dinner. The meal probably cost about 25 cents per serving. Not too bad for a couple on a budget.
10:47 p.m.: We start watching “Smart People,” starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Dennis Quaid. I fall asleep soon after the movie starts. I’m pretty sure T. played Halo 3 well into the night…Total daily spending: $0.

Day 2
9:51 a.m.: Get to work early and eat strawberry whipped yogurt from Aldi’s (49 cents) While I’m eating, I check my accounts online… 401k is in the tanker, but am I really surprised? (Right now my vested total is $3,200, which is much less than I contributed.) $779.23 in my checking account; $4,252.07 in my online savings with 3% interest; $452 in my Ameritrade account I opened only because it was part of Suze Orman’s Save Yourself plan, which offers $100 if you deposit $50 into the account for one year. Not a bad return.
10:30 a.m.: Peruse over daily newspaper and notice a few jobs T. might be interested in. Long story short, we met four months ago when we were both in a mutual friend’s wedding. Six weeks later we got engaged. My dad still doesn’t know about it because he hasn’t been answering his phone. T. was going to school in a city four hours away, but quit and moved in with me last month. He is now looking for work. I am terrified that he’s going to have a very difficult time, as he now has looming (huge) student loan payments and no degree. He really needs to find a job.
11:15 a.m.: Call a few moving companies. T. and I are moving to a condo less than a mile from where we live now. Rent is $700 for a 680-squre-foot one-bedroom, plus the third month is totally free. I’m quoted $260 for a two-hour move, and the movers provide wardrobe boxes. Not too bad. Another place I called charged $120 an hour, plus an hour charge alone for travel time!
12 p.m.: Check the county web site to find out requirements for getting a marriage license. T. and I want to get married at the courthouse to wed as soon as possible. Apparently it costs $93 for the license and $30 to have a deputy clerk perform a ceremony after a three-day waiting period. Much cheaper than an actual wedding! My mom still has no idea we are planning to elope.
1:47 p.m.: T. picks me up and we go for lunch at a nice steakhouse. We get calamari, prime rib, steak, and sodas for $24.60 including tip. How, you ask? I bought a $25 certificate at for $2. We saved about 50% and got a luxury meal. I confess, I do eat out with coupons. We are trying not to eat out as much, but if we do it at a discount it’s a little less of a blow.
2:15 p.m.: Talk to T. about getting married, and possible moving and wedding dates. This stuff really stresses me out, and I hate paperwork!
3 p.m.: When I return to work I discover my purchase of a 53-piece flatware set has arrived. I paid $19.99 for it.
4:24 p.m.: Check credit card statement. So far I’ve charged $139.76 worth of items including groceries, Body Shop toner and a facial mask, a prescription for acne medication, that flatware set, and a new 2009 Entertainment book. I’m trying to cut down on spending…However, I just charged $544 for my auto insurance six-month premium and my card is automatically billed for my cell phone plan. That should be about $80. Yikes! If I don’t charge anything until my next statement, the balance will still be at least $763. I’m really hoping visiting my parents for Thanksgiving won’t be too expensive. Luckily, I used credit card rewards points to purchase my flight and already paid for the rental car. Total daily spending: $24.60 (lunch at steakhouse).

Day 3
9:49 a.m.: Get to work. T. and I had a fight last night stemming from his getting friendly with my roommate, who I’m not on good terms with. Neither of us slept very well and I barely spoke to him. I’ve decided that I’m not going home for lunch to see him. Instead, I’ll run errands!
9:55 a.m.: Re-checked credit card statement… Forgot that T. and I ordered our wedding rings and my card’s been dinged for one of them already. It’s $39.99 off So much for keeping the bill under $800…
11:04 a.m.: Chat with coworkers about weddings. One woman says wedding planning is the most stressful thing you can ever do. Another agrees with me on a courthouse wedding. In fact, she wanted to do it over Christmas, but since her boyfriend’s family couldn’t come — nixed the idea. Apparently her sister was able to do a wedding with 425 guests for $4,500. That’s amazing!
12:30 p.m.: Get Body Shop facial products and my wedding ring in the mail. The band pretty closely matches my engagement ring and fits perfectly. All for under 40 bucks. Not too bad.
1:56 p.m.: At Target. A few weeks back I received coupons for up to $30 in gift cards if I 1) transfer or bring in a new prescription and have it filled and 2) join Target’s Pharmacy Rewards program (must have Target’s credit card). Did that and walked out with my $9 prescription (paid for with my Health Savings Account card), $30 gift card and a $2.68 hot dog and drink combo. Is it bad that I eat lunch at the Target snack shop?
2:10 p.m.: Text from T. He has a job interview as a cook  at a nursing home. Good news: full time, with benefits. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. It’s been a difficult and stressful month.
7:12 p.m.: Arrive home to roses on the nightstand and a leg of lamb in the oven. T. is trying to get back on my good side with a home cooked meal and flowers! Okay… It works. Total daily spending: $51.67 (wedding ring, prescription, hot dog and soda) T.’s spending: About $30 ($20 lamb, sack of potatoes, roses from grocery store).

Day 4
10:02 a.m.: Drive to work (late) while eating a hot dog and chugging a can of Aldi’s GT Cola.
11:37 a.m.: My 2009 Entertainment book has arrived! I can’t help but look at all the great coupons in there. I see at least five restaurants that we can definitely go to in the near future. The $20 investment is well worth it.
2:15 p.m.: Our photographer brings me two desserts from a shoot. (I work at a TV station.) I drive home quickly and eat banana creme brulee with T., then stick a berry crepe thing in the fridge.
4 p.m.: Stop to fill up my Toyota Matrix after a meeting across the street from my office. Gas is $1.95 a gallon, and my total is only $20.56!!!
10:21 p.m.: Just got home from the Media Battle of the Bands event. My coworker’s wife was singing in one of the bands. There was free sushi there so I definitely took advantage. T. had a couple drinks. Spent $20 on cover, $6 for parking, and T. spent about $15 on drinks. We don’t do this very often. Total spending: $81.56 (Entertainment book, gas, going out) Dinner was free, though.

Day 5
8:46 a.m.: Wake up and immediately check my bank account activity online. It’s payday so there is now close to $2,000 in my account.
9:30 a.m.: I feel guilty about spending so much money last night. Not to mention the fact that we went out for lunch the other day on top of that. I’m really hungry and I brought another dessert to eat from yesterday’s shoot but it’s terrible so I throw it out.
1:55 p.m.: T. found out that they hired someone else for the cook position before looking at his resume. The receptionist told him that the guy who got the job was unqualified and that T. should have gotten hired. I’m really disappointed to hear that, because that would have been a good solution for T. He loves talking to elderly people and making food, so I’m sad. His cooking really is amazing. This is very scary. We need to get married soon so T. can be put on my health insurance plan through work. That doesn’t sound romantic at all, but it’s what we have to do.
2:03 p.m.: Tears well up in my eyes, but I really don’t want to cry in the office. Thank God no one else is around.
2:05 p.m.: Still hungry, but will wait to eat until I get home later.
3:19 p.m.: Go home for lunch. Make a lamb leftover sandwich and chat with T. We agree to have a “no spending” weekend of more leftovers and job-hunting for him. Our plans include Target so he can apply for seasonal work.
4:45 p.m.: T. went over to a swanky bar & restaurant club and they’re interested in having him work in the sushi room. He has worked in a sushi place before, so let’s see what happens…Total daily spending: $0.

Day 6
8:35 p.m.: Have not left the house except to check the mail and find soda left in my car. I’ve had a craving for it all day. We had leftovers for lunch (I think we’re going to have that leg of lamb until we leave for Buffalo.)
9 p.m.: Break down and buy a night guard for my teeth and replacement toothbrush heads on T. says I grind my teeth really hard. That’s probably why I had a cavity a few months ago. So I realized that the cost of getting a bite plane far outweighs the disaster of having my tooth enamel ground away. Total daily spending: $32

Day 7
11:09 a.m.: Just returned home from CVS’ing while T. is sleeping. He needed more contact solution and I saw the online ad and had to go. With the Extra Care Bucks rewards program, it was FREE. I also got a few other free items: deodorant, soda, Q-Tips, and make-up. Most of the items were free after ECB’s. That means you pay for the items, and get the amount back in Extra Care bucks, which you can spend on on ANYTHING in the store at another time. It’s a great way to rack up free toiletries. My total was $55.78. However, I got $47.95 in ECB’s. That’s my best day yet doing this. I’m not nearly as good as some of the Super Moms, but I’m getting there! I also saw a coupon for a $25 CVS gift card with a transferred prescription. Perfect! (Since I just transferred my prescription to Target, I’ll transfer it back to CVS and get $25 more in free gift cards)
3:13 p.m.: T. and I spend a few hours fishing off an old bridge this fine Sunday afternoon. Spending time with him is priceless, and in this case, doesn’t cost a penny. It makes me think about how the simple things in life really are the most rewarding. Total daily spending: $55.78 (but got $47.95 back to spend).

In sum:
Total weekly spending: $245.61 – $60 in very unusual expenses (wedding ring, night guard) – about $75 in eating/drinking out. Because my fiancee does not have a job, we should not be spending money on that right now and I feel guilty. Most of the expenses were necessary though (gas, groceries, toiletries). However, out of the deal I got $30 in Target gift cards and close to $50 to use at CVS so I’m not doing as bad as I thought. This was a very valuable experience for me, as I got to see where I can cut back and be a smarter consumer.

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  1. Retirement savings, talks to SO about money, lots of work on the little details, all thats missing was the big meeting in the middle of the week about future plans. I’d say move along people nothing to see here.
    My one comment if any, do alot of reading about the restaurant business, its harsh. With a Cook for a hubby I wouldn’t be surprised if they go down this road once in the future. Just be prepared.

  2. I would say getting married to an unemployed, school drop out is a disaster waiting to happen, financially and personally. Not to mention the fact that they barely know each other. Sad story, makes me feel like crying….

  3. This 20 something’s fiancee sounds like a real winner. Dropout, no job… and engaged and eloping after 4 months!?! I hope things work out for them, but it doesn’t sound like the best plan…

  4. I’m going to echo that this sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. You met 4 months ago and he decided to drop out of school and give up on his studies? What was he planning on doing before then – never have a relationship because he’d be too busy? This just doesn’t sound very good. I hope everything works out for you two, though.

  5. “we met four months ago when we were both in a mutual friend’s wedding. Six weeks later we got engaged”

    blank stare

  6. I think they need to eat more vegetables.

  7. As someone who in my very early twenties rushed into marriage with an unemployed college drop out, and as someone who is now getting divorced from said unemployed college drop out, I would advise her to RUN FAR AWAY.

    Or, at the very least, slow down the pace of the relationship considerably and see how it pans out. There shouldn’t be a rush to spend the rest of your life with someone.

  8. Getting married and who you marry is such a personal decision that I don’t really want to judge based on this post alone. However I will say that you haven’t planned for (since it seems you got engaged really fast) so why not wait a year or two until fiance gets a job and gets settled, and you both have a chance to save some $$ for the wedding/honeymoon? You are already living together so I fail to see what the big rush is.

    I understand you want to eloupe but there are still expenses and I keep reading “Oh, I forgot I charged the rings, etc”. That is not the concious spending that Ramit always preaches.

    Even if you are elouping, I don’t believe that weddings (or marriages for that matter) are something you should impulsively rush into, and at least from the reader’s perspective that is exactly what you are doing.

    After all that: Can you **please, please, please** post the recipe for the pork & mushroom dumplings? They sound really good. I do have to agree that a guy who can cook is a massive turn-on 🙂

  9. I must admit that she is pretty savvy when it comes to the coupons and is lucky to be dating to someone that’s great at cooking. However, what is the rush to get married especially when you’ve only known each other for a few short months?

    Also, can he use his culinary skills to start a catering business or something similar? He needs a job or some way of bringing in income (i.e. side business) if he plans to provide for a family as a husband. Good luck!

  10. Sounds like another one of those New Yorkers who is too “clever” for her own good. For example, she proudly declares

    The meal probably cost about 25 cents per serving.

    Does she have a garden in her 400 sq ft New York City Studio ??

    Even if you cook, vegetables and other ingredients don’t magically appear on your table for free, unless you are stealing from your kitchen 😉