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The Money Diaries: The 20-something semi-conscious 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 24-year old social worker who also works a second job. She’s a semi-conscious spender who’s struggling with the willpower to cut down on spending. But in strict financial terms, she might be doing ok.

I’m trying something different today by offering some advice and resources in the diary below. Let me know what you think.

* * *

Day 1
5:40 p.m.: Got the email requesting me to do Money Diaries! Sweet. Checked my Wachovia Account Statement and saw that my loan payment of $200 went through although I submitted it last week. While I enjoy the convenience of online payments, I loathe the turtle pace it often takes to see my true available balance. Bought a Caramel Frappacino at Starbucks with the debit card. I thought about it for at least a half hour in the car beforehand and flip flopped, but I rationalized it by telling myself that I ran this morning so I am allowed to treat myself. Brought lunch so that was an avoided expense. Total Spent today: $3.79

Day 2
4:45 p.m.:
After at least 4 days of visiting the Nike Running website and looking at some sweet new gear (training for a marathon) and ordered a Dri-fit shirt and shorts with the desirous zipper pocket in the back, totaling $61.99 including shipping. I have an Orange (ING Direct) Savings sub account specifically for clothes so I transferred the appropriate amount over. I haven’t been too spendy lately; the last time I bought clothes was over a month ago. I am proud of myself – clothes are my weakness. T-Mobile Bill came in today: $84.10. That is an automatic deduction, which after 4 months of having my AWESOMEDONTKNOWHOWIEVERLIVEDBEFOREIT Blackberry (suck it iPhone-users), I still am unable to get a handle on when the bill comes and is deducted from my account. Total Spent today: $146.09

Day 3
3:15 p.m.:
Bought breakfast this morning, but I basically had no choice – ate breakfast #1 at 5 a.m. and then after my track workout, I had to eat (obviously) and I had to be to work soon after I showered and left the locker room. So I got sausage egg and cheese and an Odwalla smoothie (new obsession), bringing the breakfast total to $8.45 on debit. In the back of my mind I know I should start leaving my debit card at home for the day thereby forcing myself to bring lunches, breakfasts and any other snacks I might need. Somehow I counteract this thought with “well what if there is an emergency?” Total spent: $8.45
[Ramit’s comment: What she is talking about is using barriers to prevent yourself from spending money]

Day 4
10:12 p.m.:
I managed not to spend any money today! I actually lost my wallet for about 2 hours (it was in a binder in my work car). Made pancakes at the boyfriend’s house for a late breakfast/brunch and was treated to what basically is a guaranteed weekly Saturday dinner by my bf. Upset after checking the mail and seeing I still haven’t received my paycheck from my second job. Total spent: $0
[Ramit’s comment: See the results of going cash-only for a couple weeks]

Day 5
2:40 p.m.:
Bad morning, failed attempt at a running workout due to knee pain which in turn made me have to spend 12 bucks on a Runner’s Knee strap at Sports Authority. Please note, I spent about 25 minutes perusing the store although I KNEW what I was going for, which is usually the more desired approach to shopping. Not seeing anything I liked more, and because I just spent $60 on running gear, I left with only the strap. Oh but look, Barnes and Noble is in the same strip so of course I had to run up in there and get a Dean Koontz book and another book I had been eyeing. I am very impulsive and have difficulty really restraining myself. I spent $23 on two books that I EASILY could have gotten on for half the price, but I like the instant gratification of having what I purchase. The positive of today is that I was able to refrain from buying food! Total spent: $36.57
[Ramit’s comment: I’m not opposed to spending money, but much of this unplanned spending could be mitigated by (1) using barriers and (2) PLANNING WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO SPEND BEFOREHAND AND USING WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY TO NOT GET INTO SITUATIONS THAT TEMPT YOU TO SPEND MORE]

Day 6
4:30 p.m.:
So I was in an extreme rush this morning and in an effort not to be late and for an excuse to get a frozen coffee from Panera, I stopped after my first appointment to get a sweet breakfast sandwich and aforementioned iced coffee $8.42. I also neglected to bring lunch so I took out a $20 at the bank and bought a meatball sub for $5.08. I did have some snacks that held me over for later. I didn’t feel guilty however. I find that the closer I get to receiving my paycheck, the less restrictive I am on myself about my spending. When I got home I saw that my paycheck came from my second job: $259.50. Whoop! Total spent: $13.50
[Ramit’s comment: It’s interesting that this Money Diaries participant is pretty perceptive about the causes of her overspending — for example, how she loosens her spending near payday, or how she is impatient and spends more to get something NOW! — but isn’t so clear on the solutions. In this case, she could plan lunches at the beginning of the week and save significantly.]

Day 7
6 p.m.:
Deposited my check today and felt fine about buying lunch at Whole Foods. I know it really will just make much more sense to buy lunch fixings at the grocery store, but I hate making it and putting everything in a bag. [Ramit’s comment: I know what you mean, from my original article on barriers and my mom’s Indian food.] Buying ready-made food is just so much more appealing, albeit expensive. I spent about 40 minutes in Best Buy today looking at laptops as well although I believe that I am very far from purchasing one. I am constantly reminding myself that it’s not a necessity at this point, being that I have a work laptop. I do have a sub account set up, and to date it has $25 in it. It may just end up being funds for a laptop that I want to buy for a friend for upcoming b-day present. Generous, I know, but she spilled milk on hers, has had a bad streak with electronics and has no money (but is learning from tips I’ve provided via I Will Teach…). Total spent: $10.96

In Sum
I spend way too much on food, and would do better buying – no, USING the food I have at home to make dinner and lunch. I realized that I don’t spend AS ridiculously as I once did, but the food thing is getting out of hand. $100 got automatically deducted from my Wachovia Checking to ING Direct as well as $25 towards the “clothing account.” In all reality I should be saving way more being that I have a company car and a second job. I need to write down my savings goals because they aren’t currently clear. I can appreciate however, my discretion and not going absolutely nuts and draining my checking account on a regular basis. This week: $125 saved, $219 spent, extra $259 earned. Not a bad 7-day stretch.

* * *

My comments:

  • If I were her and I knew that willpower was a problem for my spending, I would automate the hell out of my money and make sure it was aggressively going to sub-savings accounts to hide it from myself.
  • She seems to identify some of the reasons WHY she’s overspending, but that’s only part of it. There is a lot of emotion in this post (“I felt fine…I am constantly reminding myself…I spend way too much…”). Though most people cannot turn off all emotions like I have, I like to move towards a slightly cooler, systemic way of handling money, rather than a hot/emotional way of thinking about it.

    Also, guilt drives me nuts with money. We all know people who sigh and say, “I know, I know…I really should pack my lunch / contribute to my 401(k) / work out more…” and then do nothing. Just identifying what you “should” do. Guilt is one thing. Action is another.

  • She’s right that it’s not all bad. Process-wise, there’s a lot to work on. However, while I don’t know her income or debt, the spending numbers here are modest enough that they could probably be handled with some automation, a change in perspective, and perhaps some earning on the side. Easier said than done, of course.
  • This reminds me of a lot of my friends who spend extravagantly because there’s no overarching goal to save for. In other words, their savings account is really a “should” account — “I really should save for something… — until the next shiny item comes along and they buy it. Forget the 10 Year Savings Strategy. Sometimes, it can be something 3-4 months away. And we need these sub-savings accounts for specific items, not guilt-inducing “should” accounts that invariably get ignored.

All in all, pretty interesting to read.

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

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  1. Laptop for a friend?? There are many working married people out there who dont even buy laptops for each other 😉

  2. If your sweating the $3 cup of coffee here and there that might indicate that your way over committed on the big, fixed costs like rent, car payments, Crackberry payments, etc. Also, costs like the Crackberrry accrue everyday, not just the day the bill comes due on.

  3. Ramit, I liked the new format of this segment. I liked the notes, and she’s right, she’s not as bad as some of the money diariers, but she does need to control her spending more.

  4. This is an outstanding format!!!

    The poster seems to be doing a lot of impulse buying on the fly. On the surface this seems a bit self destructive, but she’s juggling a full time job, a part time job and a running schedule. In her life, time may be more valuable than money, as it seems she’s frequently transitioning from one substantial activity to another.

    As you said Ramit, there doesn’t seem to be any plan that she’s saving for, even though she’s making progress in the midst of all of the impulse spending.

    The biggest issue I see here is that she’s still smitten with the idea of buying this and that, she enjoys shopping, and seems to have a wide interest in many things. It’s as if she’s doing many of the right things MECHANICALLY, but her heart is still fixed on her vices and she spends inordinate time putting herself in places where she might fall off the wagon. The laptop for a friend is one such example.

    Your have to wonder if she shows such restraint in the weeks where she isn’t chronicling her spending.

    Really good post!

  5. She should take the books back, get the refund, and get them from the library. I would challenge her to look around at the books she currently has — how many has she read more than once? Her tax dollars are paying for the library so she might as well use it.

    Enjoyed the new format. And this one isn’t as heartbreaking as some of the others one. Getting those goals in writing and making changes with her finances to get her there, especially with a second job, should help her moving forward.

    The book thing just really bothers me. Foolish spending.

  6. I wonder if her problems wouldn’t be solved with the envelope system or more sub accounts. II do the ING sub account thing as an electronic envelope system myself and it works GREAT (for me anyway). She seems to have her clothes compulsion at least somewhat controlled with it, why not do one for Coffee, Eating out, etc?

  7. I can’t emphasize this enough: get your books at the library. It satisfies that need for immediacy and it’s completely free.

    Get familiar with your library’s website. That will show you if the book is checked in at your local branch, and if not, you can order it to be delivered there.

    I mean, sure, Dean Koontz books are cheap. So maybe it’s not a big deal. But that’s not the kind of book I want to own because I won’t read it again.

    I just got done watching the entire series of the new Battlestar Galactica, all of which I checked out from my library.

    • Thanks guys. I have gotten a LOT of feedback that this format is better, so I’m glad to hear you like it!

      Btw, I’m going to write a post about why the library is overrated soon. Even though I basically grew up in one.

  8. I’m interested to hear about why the library is overrated. I use Netflix for movies, but I have become obsessed with the Brooklyn Public Library’s hold system for books. I can get practically any book I want fairly quickly, and they hold it right by checkout so I’m in and out in minutes. I do absolutely love going to bookstores, so I’m not a total library convert, but for day to day reading, it’s actually easier for me than buying books. (but I am unusually close to the library and pass it on the way home)

  9. I find the new format really annoying. The commentary at the end I don’t mind and it might actually be useful to the featured person or to readers who can see themselves in the diary entries. But the running commentary throughout has got to go. This has been one of my favorite features since you began running it, because it’s so interesting to hear strangers talk about their financial lives *in their own voices* but including commentary on individual entries destroys that flow and makes it seem more like I’m reading a column by Ramit that quotes extensively from one source–in other words, just like a lot of the other content on this site. Please don’t make Money Diaries redundant, and confine the editorial comment to the end of the diary.

  10. It’s interesting to see how some people spend more throughout the work-week than on the weekends as she apparently does. I don’t know if this is average, but I guess a lot of people spend on lunches and coffees throughout the week.

    I tend to spend more on the weekends because I feel like I deserve to not make my own food on my days of rest haha.

    Anyway, interesting diary and I like the comments within, also.