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The Money Diaries: The 25-year old restaurant worker on his way up

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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 25-year old married man who works at a restaurant but is looking for bigger and better opportunities elsewhere.


10:45 a.m: Work called, wondering where I am. Turns out I was scheduled for 10:30 and not 12 noon as I thought. I apologized and explained I must’ve misread the schedule and will be there ASAP.
10:46 a.m: Left for work and spent the drive wondering what the manager was going to do. Getting fired crossed my mind. My reserves have been used up maintaining my bills while training for this job and pulling only minimum wage. How was I going to cover rent a month from now?
11:15 a.m: Got to work 45 minutes late. The Manager gives me a written warning that says “future violations will result in termination” and makes me sign it. Wow.
2:45 p.m: My shift is over and I only made $40. My pockets feel painfully light.
4:11 p.m: I arrive home, check my email and see a bank alert that my account was overdrawn by $3.44. I can’t believe I forgot that automated credit card payment.
6:11 p.m: Mailed rent check to landlord. I always hate sending out so much money to one person at a time. I now have about $260 and I need $1350 to cover my budget for the coming month. I’ve got a job interview lined up for Tuesday; hopefully I can finally start making closer to what time is worth.
8:45 p.m: Had a short phone conversation with a friend about banks and their expensive overdraft charges. I recommended ING Direct’s Electric Orange checking account which earns interest on your balance and doesn’t have overdraft charges, although I was secretly hoping to earn the $25 referral credit…


4:10 p.m: Long day at work so far. Had an opportunity to leave or take one last table before I go. It’s kind of a waste of time to have only one table at a time, but I decided to take it anyway. Also asked my manager to schedule my next two weeks with as many shifts as possible. No school, so I need to make the most of my free time.
5:45pm: Driving home. That last table worked out favorably and I made $25 on it. Leaving work with $91 in my pocket. Not great, but not horrible. I notice the check oil light is flickering on my dash telling me I need to feed it some more lubricant. I can’t afford to spend the $400+ on the repair right now so I spend about $9 every two weeks on some cheap oil until I can. The power steering fluid is leaking as well, but that’s only $3 every other month. A pain, but still a minor expense.
7:45 p.m: Carpooled to a going-away party for a friend of mine. Saved money on gas, but bought a 6-pack of beer so I don’t seem like a mooch.


7:20 p.m: Today was excellently spent relaxing and recovering from a hectic week. Fortunately, the only financial decision today was regarding dinner. Decision: Go to Chipotle and share a salad with the better half ($14 for two salads), or go to Publix to purchase the ingredients and make our own. We considered the possibility of sharing one salad and only spending $7…
7:43 p.m: At Publix, our total comes to $12.84 for lean ground beef, a tomato, an avocado, cilantro, a lemon, an onion, garlic and sour cream. This will make enough to feed us three dinners.


9:00 a.m: Left for the Rapids Water Park with my wife, her 12-year-old sister and her 14-year-old cousin. Their tickets were covered by their parents with a little extra money for food. Our tickets were free with “2 for 1” coupons which I had from earlier this year. Total cost: $5 for parking and $5 to rent a locker, plus a few bucks for the gas to get there.
7:20 p.m: We used the rest of yesterday’s dinner to feed the four of us. Well worth it.


7:30 a.m: Getting up for a big job interview. The position is in my field and would be a huge jump in income for me. Additionally, it was referred through my university and allows me to earn an additional credit toward my degree each semester. Two birds with one stone!
12:30 p.m: Long interview day. Met with three separate individuals and did a programming test to see if I’m the real deal. My contact said his boss was very impressed with me, which he said is very hard to do. I personally feel that I nailed it, but I can only wait now.
1:40 p.m: On the drive home, I hear this very distinct knocking coming from my car. I pull over to inspect the hood and see that my engine has lost all of it’s oil and is bone dry. My engine has never run out of oil that quickly and normally my oil pressure light would turn on. I waited 30 minutes on the side of the road in the blistering 90 degree weather for the engine to cool. All I could think about was how much this will cost to fix.
1:43 p.m: While I’m standing over the car, I get a phone call from the company I just interviewed with. I’m being extended an offer for the position! I’ll need to go through the formalities, but I can start as soon as HR does a background check. Great. Now I just need to figure out how I can get there.
4:00 p.m: After a 30 mph crawl back to the apartment, I’m more than ready to call it a day. I’ll deal with the car tomorrow. I enjoy a reheated slice of pizza that was left over from lunch and unwind.


9:30 a.m: I’m pretty sure I wasn’t scheduled to work until noon, but I still called just to be sure. Even though I had the job offer, I didn’t want to count my chickens.
10:45 a.m: Reading notices that two of my bills are a month overdue. The first time I’ve ever been behind on my bills because of a lack of funds. Decided it would be best to pay them with my American Express for now. It will keep the accounts current and I’ll pay a little extra on it in the long run.
3:30 p.m: Uneventful day at work. It was slow, so cuts got made early. I made $38 since I got on at noon.
6:00 p.m: Wife helped me organize my clutter and discussed what to do with all of it. We’re going to stop by the management office tomorrow morning to see if we can have a yard sale next weekend. Get rid of unnecessary stuff AND make a few bucks? Why not.
8:00 p.m: We made ramen for dinner. Added some lettuce and a little tuna for some substance. We left the provided seasoning out and used some of our own. Didn’t turn out half bad!


10:00 a.m: After a lazy morning, my wife and I got up to get started organizing the rest of the stuff we moved into the apartment.
10:40 a.m: Management had no problems with us having a yard sale. We go around and post the news in the other buildings in the complex asking if others want to join in and sell their items.
1:10 p.m: We went to the AT&T store to change our cell phone plan but we were misled, as they no longer deal with AT&T. Wasted gas.
4:00 p.m: Back home, we go through about half of our apartment and have a tall stack of things to sell as a result.
7:00 p.m: A friend comes over and helps me change the rollers on our patio door. The parts cost $12.00 and we saved on the handyman cost.

In sum: Despite a large amount of life changes all happening at the same time, my wife and I focused our expenses and wrung out every last drop of cash we had at our disposal to make it through this last month.

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

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  1. No comments? Guess everyone is out shopping. 😉

    A couple thoughts:
    – Patio door: Shouldn’t the landlord do this for free? You live in an apartment; take advantage of the perks.
    – You didn’t mention your wife’s job (or lack of job) in the post, but I’d be curious to see how your financial interactions with her play out. Couples’ finances are always interesting to me.
    – It would be interesting to see a longer-term perspective. What do you plan to change when you get the new job? Why are you working at a restaurant instead of in your industry?

    Overall, it sounds like you are managing your money far better than most of the folks featured in these diaries.


  2. But what happened with the car?

    From what’s posted, it sounds like you’re living fairly frugally … especially in the area of food and entertainment. Good job.

    Like Erica, I also wondered why you were paying for repairs at an apartment, unless it was something that was damaged by improper use or similar type of negligence by you or your wife. If it was due to normal wear and tear, take your receipt to the apartment manager and see if you can get reimbursed. They should be glad to compensate you for the parts, especially when they got your labor for free.

    Excellent team work by you and your wife to clear your clutter and try to sell your unwanted stuff. This problem only becomes worse as you get older, so creating habits to keep it manageable is very worthwhile.

    I’d be worried about the car situation though. Ruining the engine to save the expense of the repairs is not a wise strategy. BTW, the check engine light is not an appropriate indicator for adding oil to your car. That would be like using cardiac arrest as an indicator that you need to schedule a doctor’s appointment for a checkup. I think it would be worth your while to find a way to pay for your car repairs, even if you have to borrow the money or use a credit card. Even if the repairs are expensive, it’s still got to be cheaper than having to replace your car because you ran it into the ground. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.

    You might want to think about setting up a system for paying your bills and scheduling regular car maintenance (especially oil changes). If you can get the content of your apartment under control, I have a feeling that the two of you can put a system together that will put you on top of your financial obligations. Believe me, it’s much easier to keep up with recurring expenses when you have a plan, rather than to just deal with your expenses as they come up.

    Congratulations on getting a new job. Hopefully that will provide the boost you need for your auto expenses and other bills.

  3. Awesome story.

    You sound like you manage money well.

  4. I wish you well. I can’t imagine trying to start out at this time. We’ve been married 24 years and it’s depressing to see our investments dwindle. Our house value has decreased to almost where we bought it 19 years ago. There is no market here to move, as much as we’d like to. We are thankful that we paid off our mortgage last March, we have no loans, and we have no credit cards. Our biggest expense is our health insurance.
    Now we’ll just have to work longer. sigh

  5. Awesome! Kinda reminds me what my days were like when I was living in NYC and going to school + work.
    A Dawn Journal

  6. This time’s episode of the money diaries was a little more inspiring than the others. All the best with the new job!

  7. I agree that you’re managing your situation reasonably well. Good luck with the new job!

  8. It sounds like this young man is being as resourceful as he can. Congratulations on getting the job he hoped for. He comes across as unselfish, responsible, and willing to do what it takes to makes ends meet under tough circumstances. I wish him much success in his new job.

  9. Awesome. Some day this fellow will be making six-figures and thinking about how good he has it while his peers making the same amount will be always needing more to just get by…

  10. He’s clearly doing very well, especially given he’s only 25-years old. But I do think he could cut costs further. In particular, cut out eating out. Even $7 for a salad isn’t a bargain compared to buying the ingredients and learning how to make a dressing. (Although I guess perhaps he’s had enough of kitchen work after a hard day at work).

    Don’t want to sound too down – he’s doing well. 8/10 for effort. 🙂