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The Money Diaries: The 20-something emotional spender

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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.


Today’s post is by a 25-year-old woman who feels guilty about spending money she doesn’t have.

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Day 1
10 a.m.: Pay day! Go online to check my payments and see how much I got paid. Another small pay check. I consider working more hours despite knowing school is too demanding to do so.
2 p.m.: Decided to buy Starbucks for everyone at work. Spend $13 against my better judgment. Half of me is happy to do something nice, half of me is ashamed of spending the money.
7 p.m.: Spending the weekend alone, boyfriend is out of town. Decide to buy some groceries, not because we need them but because I know I’ll be lonely. I walk to the grocery store so that I cannot buy more than I can carry home. Despite this spending limit, the bill still reached $55.

Day 2
10 a.m.: Wake up alone, feel like going shopping. Decide instead to do some yard work, my wallet cannot handle any shopping.
5 p.m.: Came home for supper on my break from work to save money. The $20 bill I thought I had in my wallet is gone, I must have spent it but can’t even remember where.

Day 3
9:30 a.m.: Just spent $30.54 on postage stamps. I needed to buy 10 stamps to mail a few letters, ended up being caught up in all the cool designs and bought more than I needed. I probably won’t even use the ones I bought because I like them too much.

Day 4
1:30 p.m.: Wrote a check today for a race entry fee, had to check my account online to make sure I had the $45 in my account. I also made a note to myself not to use the account until the check clears. Feel guilty that at 25 I don’t even have a $50 cushion in my checking account.
9 p.m.: Go for supper with my little sister. The bill is $25 and I am prepared to pay for it but I’m secretly happy when she grabs the check and insists on paying.

Day 5
12 p.m.: See a sweater I must have, convince myself it’s practically free because it’s on sale. Another $69.29 on the credit card.
12:30 p.m.: Get home from buying said sweater to a credit card statement. It seems that since I acquired a significant amount of credit cards I can’t keep them straight, missed the payment on one last month. Could have sworn I paid it. Went online immediately and paid as much as possible on the card: $125.00.

Day 6
11:30 a.m.: Decide I need to go out to eat again. Spend $13 on the meal and feel guilty two fold, unhealthy and expensive.
4 p.m.: Get a phone call that the underwear I ordered is in at my favorite local store. I go down to pick them up, not only did they get in the 4 pairs I ordered, but also a regular shipment, I pick out one more pair. The total is $108.85; I just spent $108.85 on 5 pairs of underwear! On the credit card of course.
7 p.m.: Despite having an unlimited pass for a local yoga studio I go to a class at a different location because I prefer the longer class. Drop in fee is $13, he gives me a deal, only $11. Drop in gets expensive over time but I convince myself I deserve it and I’m doing something good for myself. After 2.5 hours on the mat I know I made the right choice.

Day 7
10 a.m.: Decide to stay home all day to limit my spending, not much I can do from home, but first thing in the morning I resist the urge to buy something online. I go read instead.
11 a.m.: Get an e-mail to renew my JPG magazine subscription. Enter my credit card number for another $35.
10 p.m.: Am pleased with myself because I manage to go the rest of the day without spending a dime despite going shopping with my little sister.

In Sum:
Amount of money spent that I actually had: $0, number of things I bought that I actually needed: none. Number of nights spent worrying about money 6/7.

* * *

Read more about guilt and our money.

To be featured anonymously in a future Money Diary, click here.

Journalists/reporters: If you’re interested in working together on another Money Diaries for your publication, let me know.

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  1. She’s a few years older than me but pretty much describes a few girls I know. I’m just wondering, what is her level of debt?

  2. WTF, $100 on 5 pairs of underwear? Save something for the honeymoon, girl. Literally, put it in the bank and save it.

  3. Maybe start by picking one actionable thing you can do to save. Could you possibly change your membership from the gym you don’t like to the one you do? Or drop the subscription all together so you’re not paying drop in fees on top of the monthly studio fee?

    You can do this! Good luck!

  4. I wonder what she does for living. This can’t possible continue for her, she doesn’t mention any savings, future goals. Maybe she should read Ramit’s post one by one.

    By the way, how can I be selected for this money diary? It seems cool to be the host.

  5. She should try the freeze-your-credit-cards-in-a-block-of-ice strategy to slow down spending money she doesn’t have.

    Also, get Ramit’s book and pay attention to the budgeting section. It’s very simple and realistic.

  6. I sympathize. That girl was me, right after I graduated from college. Had my first “real” salaried job and was making more money than I thought possible. Spending it too, and then some. It took a long time (including the addition of graduate school debt) to wake up and smell the creditors. And it took a few more years (and a lot of discipline) to clean up my act and move in the right direction. I sincerely hope our friend in the Money Diary wakes up sooner than I did. Thanks for the post, Ramit!

  7. Sigh. This reminds me of me… except I’m basically have been mooching off my parents. Starting August, though, I’ll have a “real” income (though really really low) so for the past few months, I’ve been very slowly working towards reining in my crazy spending habits.

    Shopping girl, I just wanted to offer a few notes (in the off chance you take the time to read the comments):
    1. I know the $55 on groceries seems like a huge amount, but honestly, I don’t think this is where you should be concerned. No, groceries aren’t necessary, but they are still food and thus somewhat useful.
    2. 69.29 for a sweater? Okay, even on sale, that’s a big much. You can usually get a really nice sweater for $40 (even not on sale) so if you NEED to shop, you might want to start going to lower price range stores. Yes, the sweaters there might not be as nice, but this way you get to get cute new stuff without breaking the bank. Same with the underwear… even the lace stuff at VS is maybe maximum 3 for 18 or something.
    3. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing things you love like the drop in yoga class and magazine subscription. Though if you do like to alternate between the two studios, I’d buy punchcards at both instead of unlimited (this is of course dependent on how often you go).

    I think overall, just based on me being in a somewhat similar situation, a couple things would be really helpful for you… Sit down and write down your priorities in terms of spending. At the top should be all the necessary things–ie rent, bills, food, etc. If you love buying stuff, put that on your list too–but write yourself a limit to how much you can afford to spend per month. If you crave quantity, go for cheaper stuff (and thus end up with a bunch of items for under your limit). If you crave quality, stick to buying 1-2 really really nice items monthly, especially items that you can wear all the time.

    As you mentioned, you bought most of your stuff with credit cards–with no funds to back it up. Obviously you realize this is not ideal, but I don’t think you’re directly thinking about the fact that the “practically free” sweater that you got on sale will balloon in price if you can’t pay your credit card in full every month. Good luck with your saving, fellow shopping lover! 🙂

  8. $100 on 5 pairs of underwear….Really…! with no money in checking account….

  9. Like Caroline (#7), this isn’t that much different than how I was right after college. I would run up my card doing the same sorts of things Emotional Spender does, but then I’d pay the card off, only to run it back up again. No savings, just a cycle of debt and repayment for five years.

    Then, I got married, and my husband and I got serious about paying off everything, including our cars. We did it in less than a year, but we were highly motivated. Now we have an EF fund and we’re saving for the house we’re building and a vacation. I don’t like my job, but while I’m working on my escape plan, I know we can pay our bills on one salary, so I don’t feel imprisoned. It’s liberating to have choices and some security.

    My advice would be to write down everything you owe. This was eye-opening for me. I was scared to do it for months, but once I did, the motivation kicked in. Next, buy a book like Ramit’s or whichever method you relate to, and follow their plan.

    Also, I’ve paid $20 for a pair of underwear, and I’ll do it again. Who knows, maybe I’m a closet French girl. 🙂 BUT, you won’t feel guilty about indulging yourself if you take the time to get your finances on track and you budget for those splurges.

  10. I would spend $200 on 5 pairs of underwear if I could afford it:
    Or if I was this girl, I would do it anyway.