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The Money Diaries: The 20-something ex-pat taking on the expense of her own apartment

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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.

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Today’s post is by a 28-year-old woman who lives with her boyfriend in the Netherlands. She has $35k in student loans and has recently taken on the expense of her own apartment, where she’ll live during the week to eliminate a long train commute. What do you think — is this a smart move? (NOTE: her spending is in euros, unless specified.)

Day 1
2 p.m.: Payday! I get paid once a month. I immediately send my boyfriend 125 (since my health insurance is under his name) and funnel 166 to my savings account. I wire 400 to my US bank account (which is about $280 U.S. dollars. I won’t know exactly how much it is in euros until it clears) for student-loan repayments. I owe about $35k.
5 p.m: Ordinarily I do all the grocery shopping on Saturday, but tonight there’s nothing but potato chips for dinner. So I go out, get some bread and cheese for sandwiches. Spend a little extra on fruit and croissants for tomorrow’s breakfast. Total spent: 12.45
5:20 p.m.: Stop by the drugstore for some hand lotion, at my boyfriend’s request. I pick up a tube of Neutrogena and something funky called a “Hand mask.” Total spent was 8.05. I don’t mind buying things for him because he takes care of the mortgage and utilities—when he bought his condo, we weren’t living together, and now that we do, I take care of most of the groceries and day-to-day shopping needs.

Day 2
10:20 a.m.: Bus trip to town for a shopping trip. Cost 1.20, but I’ve put down 20 on the card (you scan it as you board the bus, and then again when you get off, and your fare is calculated by distance) earlier this week.
10:34 a.m.: In the Toko (where one gets “exotic” stuff like rice that comes in bags rather than in boxes) to pick up some lemongrass and noodles for the pho that I plan to make tomorrow night (8.5 per kilo). Also notice the chili peppers aren’t moldy for once, so I get a pack of Thai chilies and bird chilies (1.28 and 1.58, respectively). Pick up a bottle of “ginger wine.” just for kicks (7.95). Total spent: 12.90
10:45 a.m.: The WE (sort of like the Gap, but geared more towards “business casual” wear) has set up a temporary outlet store. I get a winter coat there—my own winter coat is hopelessly grimy and looks like I spent the better part of my life in a trash heap. Spent 29.95 on a nice heavy (and dark!) small men’s winter coat that comes to my hips.
11:02 a.m.: (according to the time stamp) Stop by the ATM to get an additional 60 in cash. I prefer shopping with cash, and also because the farmer’s market doesn’t take electronic payments.
11:10 a.m.: At the farmer’s market, spend 4.50 on a bunch of herbs and garlic.
11:23 a.m.: At the pet store. I hate the pet store. I always get something extra, because it’s so much fun to spoil my cats. In this case, my cats have worn out their cardboard scratch pad after a scant few weeks (my old one lasted a good several months, so I didn’t expect this one to wear out so quickly), so I want to replace it with a sisal one before they attack the sofas. I end up spending 12.15 on the scratch board, four individual cans of cat food (I tend to get lazy about preparing their dinners on the weekends), and two toy mice.
11:45 a.m.: At Xenos, where my boyfriend picks up more candles, a few glasses, some throw pillows. I don’t actually know how much he spent, because we keep our purchases separate. We also stop by the craft store to get some candle-making things—for him, again. I think he spent ~60, but again, we keep our financial lives separate.
12:29 p.m.: head back home. My bus card is down to 13.08.
12:50 p.m.: Get some stuff for the planned pho tomorrow. Also get some salami and stuff to pack my boyfriend’s lunch with Sunday night—the stores are not open on Sunday, so I’ve got to get everything today. Total spent 23.25.

Day 3
At home. No money spent, largely because there’s nowhere to spend it. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner consist mainly of simple, cheap stuff out of our pantry. Part II of cleaning done, and more laundry—line-drying limits us to a maximum of two loads per day, or 1 day of sheets. Today is sheet day. No, it’s not because we’re trendy-green, it’s because we don’t have a dryer.
5:35 p.m.: The gas lines of our stove is leaking. Shit. No pho. Double shit. How much is this going to cost us?

Day 4
9 a.m.: Can’t reach any repairmen, although it is possible that it’s listed under something less obvious in the phone book.
10:26 a.m.: To town, to catch the train to Maastricht. I have a 1 p.m. meeting with the realtor who has two apartments I want to look at. I’m looking for a place where I could stay closer to work during the week so that I don’t have to commute 4 hours by train every day. Another 1.20 gone.
10:32 a.m.: 20.20 for a round trip ticket to Maastricht.
10:34 a.m.: Withdraw 60 from the ATM. 40 of it is to become a “member” with the real estate company, so I’ll be able to look at apartments for a year, 20 is for groceries later.
12 p.m.: I haven’t had anything since breakfast this morning, so I spend 1.40 on a little snack.
1:15 p.m.: At the realtor’s, pay my 40, and go see the apartment. It’s nice enough for the price, but an immigration question prevents me from signing the papers right away (the apartment is just over the Belgian border, and I don’t want to have any problems with my residence status in the Netherlands).
2:01 p.m.: 4.70 for lunch—a wrap and a coffee drink from the train station.
4:45 p.m.: Call immigration, find out there won’t be a problem. I can move!
5:25 p.m.: 12.20 in the grocery store, for some milk, more sandwich supplies, and fruit for my boyfriend’s lunch boxes. Yes, I pack his lunch for him.

Day 5
11:04 a.m.: Spent the morning calling up people to see if I can reach someone to repair our gas line. No luck. Also called up the realtor—I can sign for the apartment today. I will be moving into the apartment on November 15. For the first two weeks on the job I will be staying in temporary housing. I figure I should get to know the place a bit first, since I will need to buy all of the accoutrements of living.
11:10 a.m.: Transferred 1300 from my savings account to my checking account. This, along with the 1000 portion that I’ve set aside from this month’s paycheck, will cover the apartment (security deposit, rent for 1/2 a month, plus the realtor’s commission), as well as costs for stuff that I’ll need (pots, pans, a bike, etc). Can we say “IKEA”?
12 p.m.: Lunch at home: PB & J, an apple, and a cup of soup.
12:45 p.m.: 11.96 at the Albert Heijn (supermarket). I’d originally gone to the Blokker to buy hangers, but they were out, so I stopped by the AH for some other things that we needed anyway (spinach, peanut butter, yogurt, Clementine oranges).
3 p.m.: Get an email from the realtor. The bill is 1291, which includes the security deposit, the first 1/2 month’s rent, and the commission. Grumble, but sign, scan, and send. I don’t really mind, though—the realtor did explain the costs, and the apartment will save me a 4-hour roundtrip daily commute.

Day 6
12-2 p.m.: In town again for some little things: total spent was 19.75 on pears, anti-slip mats to trap kitty litter when the cats finish their business, a basket for widowed and orphaned socks, and the regulation trash bags (where I live, if it’s not in the correct bag then it won’t get collected). A random purchase that I made was for two liters of juice—they were only 0.25, and we do drink some juice from time to time. Resend the email with the scanned lease agreement—forgot to attach the document yesterday.

Day 7
Planning how to set up my apartment. This is actually a really big deal because I don’t have a car, nor a license, so I can’t rent one. I figure about 500 for all of the stuff that I’ll need to get, 300 for the washing machine, and 150 for a bike. I did over-estimate some of the costs, so hopefully it won’t be too much more than that.
1 p.m.: 32.32 spent at the Blokker on towels and an alarm clock. Much to my annoyance they don’t carry any non-battery-operated clocks, so I also have to buy batteries.
1:20 p.m.: Spend 30.69 at the AH for a ton of kitty-chicken (I’ve been feeding my cats a mostly-raw diet for the past 2 years), a whole pre-marinated roaster, enough canned cat food for 2 weeks’ worth of dinners, and some flavored milk priced at 3-for-2, a favorite that won’t last long enough to go bad. I don’t dare get too much fresh food for my boyfriend, since odds are he’ll be too tired to make anything for himself before it goes bad.

IN SUM
1745 euros gained, 676.27 actively spent, 176 saved, but 1291 out of my savings (which is now depleted to 576) for a new life that will start next week.

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44 Comments

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  1. So much nonsense. If she makes 1700 a month, theres no way she is doing anything smart

  2. She should consider renting a room from a family. It would probably be cheaper, and furnished. If she’s really serious with her boyfriend and they will get married, having to downsize her purchases for her apartment will be a hassle.

  3. I think she made a significant error on her math in the first bit… 400 Euros is $542, not $280.

  4. Love love love the money diaries. Glad to see them back, I always learn the most from other’s mistakes and from the comments posted!

  5. A lot of mistakes in this one…

  6. She can’t do math (EUR USD) and that’s very obvious in her decisions. No financial buffer (576 EUR!), lots of debts but getting a seperate apartment with all its costs and which has also to be furnished.

    But maybe it’s just a way to get rid of her BF…she doesn’t seem to contribute to the mortgage payments anyway.

    This is probably the most scary money diary I’ve read so far.

    But I’m really happy to see some stuff from Europe for once!

  7. […] The Money Diaries: The 20-something ex-pat taking on the expense … […]

  8. Notes about my salary: It is actually closer to €2600/month, but I only bring home about €1700. Ain’t socialism wonderful? In all seriousness, though, having comprehensive medical and dental insurance coverage for €80/month is something I don’t mind losing 40% of my paycheck for. Part of my pay also goes towards a retirement plan (my position is technically a government job). I probably got the units mixed up, rather than the math–I check the exchange rates every time I send money to the US, and at the time I wrote this it was a little higher than it is now.

    I’ll be moving into cheaper digs in about 8 weeks, when my lease expires. I kind of had my back against the wall when I took the apartment: my job was starting the following week, and owing to a paperwork snafu, I’d only signed a contract (and therefore knew how much I was going to be paid, and how much I could afford on rent) the week before. The train tickets between the cities would have cost more than the apartment!

  9. I should also add: aside from my student loans, I have no other debt. I’ve consolidated them at a fixed interest of 4.25%, and my payments are only $245/month. However, seeing that I really want to get this debt monkey off my back, I make extra payments every month.

  10. Per her update comment: I would build at least a 3-6 month emergency fund, ideally up to 12 months if you are essentially functioning as single by maintaining your own housing, before you worry about paying extra on the student loan. If you run into trouble, the student loan company is not going to say “well, you did pay this part early, so you can have it back.” If you are not in your home country, it seems like it would be important to have at least enough to move all your stuff back home if something went awry, and you got booted out. Always have an exit strategy, be it jobs, relationships, whatever. Liquidity is important, unless you have doting parents or your boyfriend will absolutely bail you out if needed (but never count on that last one).

    Is the workplace retirement plan transferrable if you move out of the country eventually? Are you still able to invest in traditional US structures like a Roth IRA despite being out of the country? How do you file taxes (which country or countries) – is your student loan interest deductible in any way?

    Now enquiring minds must know – did the gas line ever get fixed? The way it was mentioned 3 times and then just dropped may have been an editing thing, but it came off as a little flighty. Oh, dangerous gas leak! Oh, but I have to buy new towels. And an orphaned sock basket!

    How did you and the boyfriend take to you living away during the week? Do you feel like the move was totally worth it?

    Nice to see a non-US diary.

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