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The Money Diaries: The 20-something with two jobs who’s still living paycheck-to-paycheck

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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.

This week’s post is by a 20-something working two jobs but still living paycheck-to-paycheck. Only a few days after being paid, and she’s already almost broke again.

* * *

Day 1

8:00 a.m.: I woke up this morning to my daily balance text message from Bank of America letting me know that my account is $5.31 overdrawn. I can’t really do anything about it, so I basically just have to shrug it off until my direct deposit goes through from my part-time job (Thursday) and my full-time job (Friday). Getting paid bi-weekly is such a pain. I’m okay at budgeting myself out sometimes, but I had a vacation a few weeks ago that I haven’t yet recovered from. So, here we are, on the Tuesday of a pay week, and I’m broke as a joke.
9:00 a.m.: I get a coffee and a donut at Dunkin’ Donuts on my way into the office ($3.47) and a French roll at the bakery nearby a few blocks later when I realize I’m not in the mood for a donut ($1.35).
10:00 a.m.:At work, I do some online window-shopping through all the discount sites I subscribe to (Ideeli, Rue La La, Gilt, etc.) but delete all the e-mails. I know I’ll get new ones on Tuesday after my paychecks come in, and that I’ll probably do some shopping then. I also research some trips to St. Bart’s that my boyfriend and I talked about taking next fall. $2,500 per person seems reasonable to save up over the next year, although I have student loans and credit card debt piling up that I never think about savings plans for, ever. I’ve actually been spending the money in my ING Savings account that I transferred over. That’s supposed to be my vacation savings but it’s disappearing.

Day 2

11:00 a.m.: My boyfriend and I just resigned the lease on our apartment. We decided that we were going to celebrate by going to Ikea and buying some furniture for the place. I still owe him $300 for rent that I borrowed for my trip last month, but he says I can just pay him all back when I get paid this week. We get a Zipcar for the day and drive the 45 minutes to Ikea, where we spend about $150.
4:00 p.m.: When we get back to Boston, we’re too tired to go to the grocery store, so we spend about $70 on overpriced provisions at CVS across the street. The amount I owe him is climbing but it’s all stuff we need, we rationalize, so I just go with it.

Day 3

5:00 p.m.: I got a $100 paycheck from my part-time job today, and I immediately feel relieved and want to spend something. I bring home $25 worth of Panera for me and my boyfriend on my way home from work (we barely even eat half of it like I knew we would), loan $50 to my best friend for Red Sox tickets I really wanted her to have, and think briefly about shopping (just one shirt!) but I manage to control myself. Not much I can do with my remaining $20 anyway.

Day 4

8:00 a.m.: Pay Day! I feel rich when Bank of America texts me this morning with my new balance ($1,300), but I watch it disappear so quickly over the course of the day that I feel guilty and stressed. I pay back the total I owe Jon ($560 – ouch), pay a part of the $3,800 bill I owe to the vet for my dog from over a year ago ($150) and $110 to my only non-closed credit card.
3:30 p.m.: I decide it’s time to spend money on something for me, so I go downtown and find a salon and get a haircut. I expect to pay about $50 plus tip, but the total comes to $90 because the owner did it, which I didn’t ask for or expect at all. I’m too embarrassed to say anything to the girl at the register, so I fork over my debit card and start feeling anxiety knowing how much cash I blew through today. I get myself a burrito at Boloco for dinner and go home for the night.

Day 5

9:00 a.m.: Today I’m going shopping with my best friend for her wedding dress. I debated with myself for hours last night whether I should take the train to meet her, or get a Zipcar and drive. The car would have cost at least $50, and the train was $20, but I didn’t want to get up that early to take the train. Jon convinces me to save my money and take the train, which I do but I’m not the happiest about it.
12:00 p.m.: Luckily her parents buy us coffee in the morning and lunch after the fitting so I cut some spending there.
5:30 p.m.: When I get home, Jon and I get another Zipcar and go to Target for a few other household things we need. We also grab some groceries while we’re out and spend a total of $150 that I split with him. I keep rationalizing that we deserve to have our apartment the way we want it, but I still feel stressed.

Day 6

12:00 p.m.: Today I’m working a double waiting tables at my part-time job, because I picked up an extra shift at the last minute thanks mostly to this damn haircut. We make okay money, which makes me feel a little better, and I only spend about $10 on food since I just ate at the restaurant all day. I’m exhausted, but if I’m at work for 12 hours, I can’t possibly spend any money, and that’s a good thing.

Day 7

9:00 a.m.: I work from home all day today, so there’s not much of a chance of shopping. I get myself a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning, but I have bagels at home. I get cat litter at CVS, but I have a $2 coupon so it’s only $5.99.
12:00 p.m.: Lunch time. I walk over and get a burrito and a smoothie ($10) and stop at CVS again for some soda. I notice my favorite mascara is on sale, so I pick one up ($5) even though I have enough makeup in my bathroom to last me forever.

In Sum:
Total spent: $1150.81
Total deposited: $1300.00

Lots of shopping, lots of stress and guilt over how much I shopped. All week long I neglected to return the phone calls from the Department of Higher Education who keep calling about the loan payments I’m late on. I got paid three days ago, and I’m almost broke again. I spend 60 hours a week working, yet somehow am still living paycheck to paycheck and am ignoring my debts. I need to get it together!

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  1. It’s very engaging to read a diary of someone else’s spending habits. Please more of this.

  2. Thank you for sharing all of this. My questions/suggestions:

    Can you cook?

    What’s up with all the zipcars?

  3. This girl uses the word “deserve” way too often to rationalize her addiction.

    Since Jon had the money to loan, I would assume that he is a little more responsible with one. Jon, if you’re reading this, run!

    • I agree. Her relationship with money reminds me of my relationship with food.

      I mean, you make $100 and your first thought is that you should buy something?

      I guess the concept of “long-term” escapes her.

    • I agree Ryan. I hope he isn’t thinking about marrying this girl. She’ll drag him to financial ruin…

  4. I remember those days in my 20’s when I rationalized and anguished like this. I did not max out credit cards or pay my student loans late, but I made stupid decisions and had feelings of entitlement that still shame me. I think it’s incredibly brave of people to be this brutally honest about their spending decisions and mistakes; I wouldn’t go back to my 20’s again for all the tea in China.

    Jon may or may not be more responsible; it’s just as likely that he makes more money and/or comes from a family of more means. Graduating from college without debt makes a tremendous difference, for example. In my experience it is infinitely easier to be frugal when you have more than when you have less–I don’t know why, but I’ve experienced it in my own life over and over.

    • I actually wondered if Jon made more money (they seem to share expenses 50/50 yet he seems to have a lot more) and if the author got sucked into trying to emulate his lifestyle even though it’s out of her means.

  5. You know, it’s funny. I sold my car because I didn’t need it and didn’t feel like incurring the expense (I live in the densest part of San Francisco). I told myself that I would either get a zipcar or rent a car *anytime* I needed something, without holding back.

    As it turns out, I have rented a zipcar for personal use *once*. Funny thing is that I haven’t ever actually *needed* to go to Target or any other big-box store in that time. However, when I had a car, I used to go frequently. In fact, you can buy whatever you need online – and/or – you don’t really need to go to those stores and buy all of the things they have to offer. I guarantee they are making you buy more than you actually need.

    Now I use the money I save on shopping at those stores and on my car for long-distance travel – for fun.

    I think this person should seriously consider whether they need to do those Ikea/Target runs and make Zipcars a much more infrequent splurge.

    • I sold my car last year and it has done wonders for my budget for the very reason you state: if there’s a limit to how much you can carry home in your bag or on your bike rack, you will buy a lot less!

      It seems a lot of this spending is for lack of planning, which often trips me up too. I try to keep a running list of the items I need at Target (or wherever) so that when it’s time for my monthly ~$30 Zipcar rental, I can do it all at once. Renting a Zipcar twice a week? You might as well own a car.

      Best of luck to the person profiled!

  6. I find the way this couple handles common finances perplexing, but whatever works for them (although I don’t know if it actually works for them…)

    What baffles me is the massive and obvious waste – buy food that you can’t eat, buy cosmetics that you won’t use, buy something and decide minutes later to throw it away to buy something else – come on! I get that these impulse purchases are about making her feel better, more deserving, more worthy, but there has to be a cheaper outlet for that…

    Finally there’s a lot of denial about her earnings and her spendings. On the day she’s not hungry she “only” spends $10 on dinner, on the day she has no oppurtunity for shopping she “only” buys $26 worth of random stuff, she plans a vacation for “only” $2500, even though she’s in debt! Hopefully keeping a money diary will be a useful exercise to snap out of it and realize that she is living beyond her means.

    • I like your comment on making purchases to feel better. There may be an underlying issue of unhappiness that needs to be addressed? Is this an outlet for depression or perhaps problems with Jon?

    • I actually doubt these impluse purchases make her feel better. If they did, they might be worth the money, but I get the idea that the “feeling better” disappears about 5 seconds after the purchase.

    • I want to point out that while to me, $10 for dinner seems expensive because I was raised on home-cooked meals since we couldn’t afford to eat out much at all, a fast bit of research tells me ZipCars are only available around major cities. I’m not sure where this woman lives, but if it’s anything like New York City, $10 for dinner is cheap.

      That said, I agree with her feelings on purchases that are, quite bluntly, not needed to survive. You don’t deserve anything other than what you earn, and it seems like she feels she “deserves” too much. Conscious spending would certainly help turn that into truly deserving what she buys herself because her monetary obligations would be taken care of.

      Jon also seems to be a positive force in her financial life – he convinced he to choose the cheaper transport option even though it was slightly inconvenient. I think she was also considering his income when she was thinking about the price of that trip – she mentioned he had talked to her about wanting to go, that they’d been planning it together.

      I don’t think she’s too bad, really, she just needs to separate her wants from her needs.

  7. I agree with Eric. This is wicked awesome, keep them coming

  8. Is this person even real? All this post did was make me angry at the author for being such an idiot.

    • Patterns of bad behavior are unfortunately easy to get into and hard to break out of. Someone above mentioned having a similar relationship with food, which I can relate to.

      I get your anger, and my first reaction is the same, but give the person a little credit for recognizing the issue and actively tracking themselves to facilitate change.

    • It’s easy to criticize others, isn’t it?

  9. Thank you both to Ramit and the author for doing this money diary. I’m sure it’s difficult to have all the ways you should be more frugal pointed out, but I’m sure it’s also eye-opening.

    To the author: for your benefit, please talk to the student loans representatives as you can make deals with them decrease your monthly payments (this would increase overall cost) or get them deferred if you talk to them early on. If you wait, they’ll start garnishing your wages and you can’t get the amounts changed at that point.

    Ramit, please do the money diaries more frequently again. They’re always interesting, and something everyone can relate to in some way or another.

  10. This person has the amount of self discipline necessary to show up to work for 60 hrs a week but that self discipline seems to fall apart in those “instant gratification” scenarios.

    They realize the amount of pain and anxiety they’re putting themselves through by spending all this money but those emotions are forgotten the minute they want something or an entitled feeling comes up.