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The Money Diaries: The 23 year-old non-profit employee living in Washington DC

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Today is the first post in the Money Diaries series, which is based off New York Magazine’s Sex Diaries. Along with the help of Jeff Kuo, 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 23-year old woman who works at a non-profit.

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7:35am – Search through mostly empty kitchen for something to take with me to work for lunch. Finally found a can of ravioli that my sister had left when she visited. I remind myself to make a grocery shopping list for the 5th time.
8:35am – Riding the bus to work through Georgetown and I just can’t believe people have enough money to buy so much stuff. It half makes me half jealous half nauseous. In my head I start adding up all of the money I have been wasting on metro/bus since my bike got stolen. I really need to just suck it up and spend the money on a new bike.
9:30am – Check my account balance… $75.00. But at least I get paid on Friday. Last week my boss approved the 10% raise I asked for so maybe I can finally start saving some money.
2:00pm – Looking at my credit card balance: $ 600. I try to pay it off at the end of each month but this month I had to pay for medical school applications. I’ve already paid over $700 just in application fees. I really hate having a balance on my credit card…makes me feel claustrophobic. I guess that’s where my pay raise needs to go.
7:30pm – Meet up with a friend for dinner and end up spending $25 on dinner when I know I can’t afford it. It’s amazing how easily something like that can throw your budget right out the window.
9:00pm – Look on Craigslist for a while and realize that an affordable and clean apartment in DC is just not going to happen. In order to save more, I HAVE to pay less rent. I just hope that doesn’t mean having to deal with roaches…


7:35am – I promised my boyfriend I’d make him dinner tonight as a reward for 5 days off cigarettes. I need to have enough money to at least buy the ingredients.
8:50am– Get off the bus and realize that I left my breakfast and lunch back in my seat. Great. I buy a bagel.
9:15am– $18.18 in my checking account! I don’t know why I’m so surprised. I took $20 out of the ATM and put dinner on my card last night. 18.18 for the next two days is not so bad but I’m so sick of living paycheck to paycheck. I’ve read that some people make all their purchases in cash so they spend less. Should I think about doing that?
11:28am– Obsessing over my student loans a bit. I have 18,000.00 still to pay and I’m applying to medical school for next year. How am I ever going to get out of debt? I only make the minimum payment each month.
7:00pm – Visited a potential house that I may be renting with three friends beginning mid-September. The rent is affordable for DC. I can’t tell if I should compromise so I can save more and have more money to do fun things (like take a snowboarding trip this winter) or if I should look for a more comfortable place.


9:00am – I just got off the phone with my dad and he wants to buy me the new bike I’ve been needing. Ever since I graduated from college last year I just haven’t been interested in taking my parents money. I want to be and feel financially independent…but man is it enticing.
1:00pm – Found out today that I could have been walking to my capoeira (martial arts) class after work the same amount of time that I was taking the metro. I had a discussion with a friend about how to ask for a raise. Is it harder for women to ask male bosses vs female bosses for raises?
8:00pm – Went to Whole Foods to pick up a few things. When I got to the checkout my wallet was missing! Yikes. Had anxious thoughts about someone spending up to my limit on my credit card and draining my account. Luckily I had just left it at my office.


7:00am– Woke up feeling wonderful. Today is payday. I’m heading back home for the weekend for my sister’s wedding shower and I’m looking forward to seeing my family and free food. I still need to buy her a gift. I should have budgeted for a gift weeks ago, and now I feel like I can’t spend any money with the stupid $600 sitting on my credit card.
9:00am – Dropped a pair of shoes off at the cobbler to get the heels replaced. Now that I’m trying to save more its kind of fun to figure out how to make things last longer. For $20 I basically get my shoes back as good as new.
6:30pm – At the airport waiting to fly home. I buy a tiny glass of wine for $5 but it’s worth it since my flight gets delayed 40 minutes. At least I have a nice little buzz while I wait.


9:30am – Get my hair cut. I don’t spend much on beauty products or clothes but its worth $50 for a good hair cut. My stylist makes me feel like a million bucks.
12:00am – At home in Cleveland for my sisters wedding shower and bachelorette party. Although I’m happy for my sister I just can’t believe how much money my parents are spending on this wedding. They don’t manage their finances well and it drives me crazy. I want to tell them to be more responsible but it is a very strange dynamic to finally realize that your parents don’t have much personal finance skills.
7:00pm – Bachelorette party at a wine bar and then a pub. It’s amazing how much social pressure there is to pretend you have tons of money. Obviously we don’t let my sister pay but everyone just has to act like they can afford whatever it is. When girl asked for her own bill and bought her own drink, I noticed people judging her.

12:00pm – Head back to the airport in my sister’s car and I have to fill up the gas tank. I haven’t bought gas in over a year because I don’t have a car in DC. I think I’ll stick to my bike for a while. I have to admit though, sometimes I just miss driving.
5:00pm: Have a fight in the car with my sister about money. She’s still in college and has been pretty irresponsible with her money… I think it’s mostly because my parents don’t manage their money well and have not set good examples for her.
10:00pm: Finally home from the airport. My boyfriend picks me up. He drives me around so much without asking for anything. I really should start contributing to his gas payments.


9:00am: I’ve realized that I spend more money when I am feeling tired and moody.
7:00pm: Going to grocery shop for the week and keep track of how much I spend on food. This is my first try so I know that I will not be at the $40 goal I’m shooting for. End up $68.00. I feel a sense of accomplishment that I have actually started doing something I’ve been wanting to do for a while even if I didn’t do as well as I would have liked.
10:00pm: Pay my bills before bed. It makes it easier to sleep.
11:00pm: Sleep. Glad to be able to pay my rent, eat and have enough left over to have a little fun. Sweet money dreams.

In sum: Spent the week obsessing about student loans, grocery bills, and the social pressure to spend. I might have also convinced myself never to get a car. I might actually be a personal finance nerd after all.

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

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  1. Wow, I really sympathize with the writer of this, right down to the “I should give my boyfriend gas money” sentiment. I agree with not getting a car. I agree with splurging on hair – I got mine dyed Saturday and it was expensive, but totally worth it! The Whole Foods shopping stands out as it is NOT being the place to go if you’re on a budget, but I do the same thing because Whole Foods is literally a block away from where I live so I image the writer has some good reason for this. I agree with the social pressure to spend. I live in Boston and it feels like everyone makes a ton of money and has fabulous stuff. Whoever wrote this, thank you!

  2. Man, where do you get $50 haircuts?? I never walk out with less than $125. But it’s my one splurge & I only do it every 10 weeks or so.

    The thing that sparked me the most in this was “…it is a very strange dynamic to finally realize that your parents don’t have much personal finance skills.” I can totally relate to that. My mom declared bankruptcy when I was in my junior year of college. My dad has never had his own checking acct. Nobody educated me about the student loans I was taking out, and nobody gave me a credit card to help me start building credit history.

    I didn’t realize how little my parents knew until I took the initiative to educate myself, finally at the age of 26 when NO ONE would give me a credit card because my (very brief) history was negative. I realized all the rich kids I went to college with, their parents weren’t babying them by giving them a credit card & paying it off for them – they were helping them build a good credit history before sending them off into the world.

  3. I live in the NYC area, have a great job and still feel smothered by school loans and credit card debt. It seems like everyone gets to live this wonderful lifestyle while I struggle paycheck to paycheck. Seems like everyone is going out for dinner and drinks every night and then get to go home to their nice apartment downtown while I wonder how many years it will take to be debt free. My checking is always near 0 as well…I sympathize!

  4. I definitely sympathize with the writer especially since I’m in the DC Metro area and living check to check as well. I do think she’s just a tad bit delusional. She’s fighting with her sis and talking about her parents and their bad relationship with money. Funny enough, the apple don’t fall too far from the tree. I think and hope the diary helped her to realize where she can improve.

  5. i just cant believe what i have read: there are ppl like that in us? really? i live in frigin poland and i spend MORE that 25$ on dinner every day. this does not even cover lunch sometimes. im trying to fit into 100USD/a day and consider myself average… hahaa!!! made my day! maybe this is politically incorrect, but i just dont care. and, please, complain about gas prices 🙂 and rent 🙂 and prices in general 🙂

  6. not a cheerleader Link to this comment

    You seem to have two issues here
    a) spending money you should be saving
    b) not making enough to save since you need to subsist.

    I advise cutting back even more, such as getting rid of the martial arts class and maybe trying other exercise options that are free. Also look for a second job, perhaps. Then you can afford a $5 glass of wine when a few days before, you only had $18 in your bank acct.

    There is a lot of entitlement, poor money management, and the social pressure to spend like you’re a millionaire going around. The trick is to be honest to yourself and to them. Is their judgment all so hurtful when you really shouldn’t be spending that money? What kind of people are they to judge, anyhow, sleepless due to their own credit card bills and loans.. living beyond their means.

    Obviously, if I read this blog, I’m not saying you should live like a monk and not indulge yourself occasionally. It’d drive you insane, for one. What I am saying is that you seem to have a lot of financial stress, some of induced by observed society pressure, and a finance laden week. Be honest and true to yourself, be honest to your friends. Life may be less fun that way but you’ll be able to sleep at night.

  7. Wow, this is a really different post. Truthfully I skim read it but I really like the idea of the money diaries.

  8. Interesting to get a glimpse into someone’s money habits. Especially since I work at a non-profit as well.

    I know everyone has their splurges but after reading about how tight money is for this person my eyes glazed over after reading the words ‘Whole Foods’ and ’50 dollar haircut’. Not a grocery store one should frequent who has money woes. Also, 50 dollars is a pricey haircut for someone who is worried about buying groceries. C’mon now.

    I’m not sure what the income ceilings are but I also wonder if she could have qualified for fee-waivers for med school. Also, if the student loans are federals ones and you aren’t under it already, I would check out the ‘graduated payment’ plan. Payments are lower now and gradually increase since you will be making more money in the future. That might free up some money for you now. You also qualify for the student loan interest deduction if your MAGI is less than $65,000.

    Occasionaly I deal with similar conflicts over student loan payments, friends having more discretionary income, etc. I think that’s ‘normal’. It does sound like she’s trying, and at 23 she’s got time to figure it out. A budget is a good next step, so she can see where her money is going. Good luck!

  9. Working for an NPO she probably averages 40-55 hrs/wk. That leaves plenty of time to pick up a second job waiting tables a couple of nights per week. In DC she should easily clear $100/night waiting. Not only will she have more money in her pocket (which hopefully goes to paying down cc debt), she’ll have less free time to spend it.

  10. This sooo reminds me of my sister!

    She’s a student in Germany, so she gets “pocket money” from which she needs to pay rent, fees, and manage all her wining, dining and traveling across Europe.

    And she’s always “paycheck to paycheck”…

    Her main issue is she loves buying little gifts for people, and for herself… and enjoys the little “wines”, “coffees” and international calls a bit more than she can afford.
    But her rationalization is that that is what money is meant for… to spend on such stuff.

    After more than a few financial emergencies, she’s finally learning lately…(I hope!)
    : )

    Good idea for a series this…!