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The Money Diaries: The 20-something who doesn’t make enough to cover her shopping habit

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Today is the second 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 from a 25-year old woman who’s struggling between paying her bills and the irresistible urge to spend.

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9am: At work… Stressing because this check has to pay both my rent AND car payment, as I was completely irresponsible with my money in July. Plus my best friend is getting married and I’m trying to foot the bill for a bridal shower. Ouch. I will not spend any money. I will not spend any money. I will not spend any money.
10am: I have Gmail chat with my other best friend. She’s incredibly financially responsible. She’s telling me about her Excel spreadsheet that she uses to track her budget. She makes me a mock-up copy and talks about how watching every cent go in and out makes it like a game – how much can I save this month? I’m developing this odd excitement and new-found resolve to get my finances in order. I’m going to fix this. I’m sick to death of being broke all the time and having no idea where my money went.
1pm: I spent money. Some coworkers asked me if I’d like to join them for lunch. Why, of course I would! I spent $10.60 at the Mexican place. I was too lazy to make lunch last night, so I figure I was going to spend some money anyway. I still feel guilty.
3pm: I check my bank account online. My paycheck (due tomorrow) has already come through. $1,268.22 total. This has to cover my rent ($975), my car payment ($300) and my cable bill that’s due this weekend (about $60). This isn’t enough. I have to ask my mom for money. SHIT.
6pm: I went Bridal Shower shopping. I had $25 cash in my pocket from hawking my old crap on Craigslist, and had to stay under that amount. I go to K-mart to get a few things for a craft project. I get to the register and they ring up more expensive than the display said. I can’t believe I’m standing in K-mart haggling over $6 with a cashier who barely speaks English. He gives after some persuasion and I’m off to a craft store with $6 remaining. I end up spending $8.48 and running my debit card after I told myself I wasn’t going to. I have no self control. So I reward myself with a $2.10 cheeseburger from In-n-Out on the way home. After all I can’t spend money once I’m home, right?
8:30pm: Wrong! $6.99 is shelled out to buy print-from-home Bridal Shower Bingo cards. I need to go to bed.


11am: I get an email from Amazon. One of my books sold! I’m dorkily excited as this is the first time I’ve tried this. The upside is that I just made about $32. The downside is that because it’s my first time selling, they have to wait 14 days to deposit the funds. Damn. Plus I have to figure out how I’m going to get the money to ship the thing.
2pm: I just got off the phone with my mom. She’s agreed to LEND me $150 which will pay my cable bill and put gas in my car. This can work. I’ll pay her back in September. She’s not happy, but sometimes I have to shut up and listen to a lecture to see any money, and I RARELY ask.
5pm: I’m supposed to go out with friends tonight….I’ve already informed them of my little “situation” so we’ll be pre-drinking and then I’ll most likely con some sucker at the bar to buy me drinks once we’re out. I can avoid a cab (who has $7?) by sleeping on a friend’s couch. I have a feeling this can end up in financial disaster for me, so I’ve already decided not to take my debit card out with me, so that I can’t cave and start swiping it without abandon. Wish me luck!


11 am: Last night was a success in that I didn’t spend a penny. It sucked not having money for a cab home, and I was in a very unpleasant mood at the end of the night. It’s a really shitty feeling to not be able to sport $7 for a cab. Lucky for me a friend picked me up. I find out my mom deposited $200. I’m so SICK of being in this rut! It feels like it’s never going to end, and I’m constantly going to be fighting to keep my head above water. I’m pretty sure I went to college to avoid be some broke-ass loser.
3pm: A girlfriend picks me up and we were supposed to go to a BBQ, but it ends up being a wash. We’re both starving and go to the market and get sushi and soup. I spend $13.60, which I told myself I wasn’t going to do, but I’m hungry and cranky.
9pm: I also paid for the cab home and chalk the $10 up to being a lot better than a DUI.


3pm: So I actually MADE a little money today! I sold a few old things from my school days to a current student. $180! She made out because I just saved her over $250 and I made out because that’s $180 I didn’t have this morning. I owe my credit card company $123 for going over my limit. It’s due by the 12th, but I don’t get paid until the 15th and they were NOT budging on that, despite my charming persuasion. At least this way I can bring it current and try to get a lower interest rate.
7pm: I’m staring into my desolate refrigerator and feeling a little depressed. I have a little leftover pasta (boooooring) and not much else. Usually my trusty freezer holds all kinds of forgotten treasures and even that is failing me now. I may have to allot $40 from my sale money today for a Trader Joe’s trip. My smarter option would be Ralph’s with it’s plethora of cheap and easy food, but I tend to shy away from over-processed crap. But sometimes broke and desperate means eating as cheap as possible. I bake cookies instead.


1:30am: I’m currently going through a serious conscience battle with the cash from yesterday. There’s a little angel and a devil on my shoulders screaming obscenities at each other. I can go wild and buy a few more things for both the Bridal Shower and Bachelorette party (can we spell “new dress”?!) but I’ve vowed to not continue to screw with my credit cards. I need (and I do mean, NEED) to do the responsible thing and pay them. It’s just so hard to part with $125 and get “nothing” in return! But that’s what got me in this little debt to begin with. I need to view this as being blessed that I have this money and can now pay my cards without completely bankrupting my next paycheck. It’s a good thing that angel is a witty little bitch!
6pm: I put some expensive drinkware on my Macy’s credit card for the Bridal Shower. I fully intend to pull a fast one and return it next week. I know that’s sneaky and dishonest, but I don’t really have a slew of other options. I don’t want my best friend drinking from plastic red party cups at her Bridal Shower! So I’m taking a chance and hoping nothing gets broken. I’ll wash and return it and no one will be the wiser!


1pm: I have a voicemail from a guy trying to buy more CL stuff. I haven’t spoken to him yet, but if he buys this stuff and the woman I’m meeting with tonight buys that, that’s an additional $45. I’d be setting the money aside to pay for a spa day that’s planned for right before the wedding. Fingers crossed!
7pm: One of the buyers flaked, but I did walk away with $25. I’m setting it aside. I also went grocery shopping and ended up spending around $33. It’ll get me through at least next week. I’m gone all weekend, and that means I’ll be fed elsewhere!


2pm: I’m thinking about my next paycheck (already!) and it’s giving me stress. I have to set aside my rent money so I don’t have a repeat of this month, and pay for SO much wedding related activities/appointments. I’m getting my hair done, going with the bride for pedicures, AND going to Vegas. Man. Plus I have to pay bills AND a $212 car insurance installment. I’m so ready for this wedding to be over.
5pm: I just realized that in the whirlwind that has been this week, I haven’t touched the budget my friend made me. I feel terribly guilty and can’t even explain why, as the only person I’m letting down is myself. I still have resolve and hopefully I’ll have some time this weekend while I’m visiting my mom.

In sum: $1530 made, $1410 spent… over $100 of that being just food, one loan from my mom, 7 days of making-my-face-break-out stress, $0 in Credit Card debt paid off, and one dishonest department store scam. Whew.

* * *

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

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  1. So if it’s anything like the sex diaries – nobody is going to want to read about budgets and penny pinching and responsible investing, they are going to want to read about SEX… I mean, spending money.

    So as entertained as I am, I think the format will lend itself to stories of budgets blown and desperate measures and mistake-prone folks. Um, the trashy celebrity disaster stories of the financial world, if you will. And it will be entertaining because it will make us feel better about ourselves. Stop me if I’m wrong.

  2. Make us feel better about ourselves? Poor budgeting skills is not an uncommon problem. If anything, these money diaries are helping to shed light on just how bad many of us are with our money.

    I enjoy reading these. They’re a real eye-opener.

  3. This is incredibly depressing. It’s like watching a drug addict do his/her thing: “I spend money today”

  4. Totally depressing – but at the same time oddly uplifting. Admitting you have a problem is the first step isn’t it??

  5. Fairly obvious she has absolutely no self control. Hate to be that guy, but when you’re writing “I know I shouldn’t have done that” “I shouldn’t go to Trader Joe’s” etc…

    Beans and rice.

    Rice and beans.

    You’ll feel better with money in the bank.

    Then again, the first step is always the hardest…

  6. I can’t believe this story….

  7. I sympathize with the bridal stuff. I was just recently in a wedding and while I had the money to pay for everything, it wasn’t cheap. Luckily, its a very good friend!

  8. This is the downside of having a cultural norm that tells us that talking about money is rude and lowbrow. This woman is in a situation where she can’t afford to pay her bills, but she still feels obligated to go to Las Vegas and pay for a bunch of expensive stuff for a friend’s wedding rather than simply tell her best friend (!) that she’s broke. If she’s really your friend, she’d certainly understand. But our culture says that it’s uncouth to talk about money, so we pretend that activities like this, no matter how ridiculous, are within our means.

    I would encourage this woman to tell her friend that she can’t afford Vegas or an expensive wedding gift right now. Please try to get over any shame you may feel about being broke. It’s more important to pull yourself out of this temporary financial mess, especially given that the economy is unstable right now, than it is to keep up the facade that everything is okay. Be honest with your loved ones; they’ll understand.

  9. Francis Valencheck Link to this comment

    I track my expenses on a spreadsheet everyday and track how close I am to my bi-monthly spending budget. It really helps and I hope you try it too. I also track my cash flow for the next 3-4 paychecks and it’s helped me keep my spending in check.

    Another comment too – Your fixed expenses are too high and you should work on reducing them. Should you try to get a cheaper vehicle? A $300 car payment on a $2600/month salary seems really steep. Also, why not get a roommate to reduce that rent payment?

    I totally feel your pain but it’s good you admit you have to do something about it.

  10. This is exactly how I treat my money. In fact, instead of attending two of my good friend’s weddings in august I blew money on keeping up appearences at expensive restaurants and parties. It’s a horrible state of affairs.