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 29-year-old graphic designer exhausted from trying to hold down his full-time job, grow his part-time freelance work, pursue his artistic goals and help raise a three-year-old. He’s debt-free but saving nothing, and his stress about money is through the roof. What’s the first change this guy should make?
* * *
12:45 a.m.: Good morning! It’s past midnight. That must mean I’m wrapping up another long night of freelance work. Three hours x $70 an hour = $210. Minus about 25% for taxes, so that’s about $157 net. My wife’s been bugging me to review the weekly budget she emailed me several days ago, but I’m still too afraid to look at it. And tired. I can’t stand to recalculate how many weeks or months until we’re in debt. I’m honestly not sure how we still have cash in the bank. She took a couple years off to raise our son and now she’s having a tough time finding work again. I’m trying not to be bitter that I’m burning the midnight oil doing freelance on top of my day job while she goes to bed early because she’s too tired to put in a little time each night looking for work or doing freelance. What am I supposed to do? Part of me says I need to crack down, cut up the credit cards, watch each penny like a hawk. That won’t work, of course. Part of me says fuck it. I buy a song on iTunes that I’ve been playing on Grooveshark nonstop. There goes another buck. Time for bed.
7:00 a.m.: My son is up. Which means I’m up. My wife is slow to get up in the morning. I gotta start the kid’s breakfast and feed the dog and pack my lunch and shower and get ready for work. I know I should pack a big, tasty lunch the night before. But I’m tired and have to get to work. So I throw in a can of sardines (which I do like) and some carrots and a soda in my lunch bag. I make eggs for my family, but I have to put mine in Tupperware and eat it at the office. I’m running late.
10:30 a.m.: Morning break. I walk to 7-11 with my cube mate. The maple frosted, cream-filled long johns are calling my name, but I resist. Save myself $1.35.
1:30 p.m.: Who am I kidding? One can of sardines isn’t going to make me feel better. Plus, I need to get out of the office for lunch or I’ll go crazy. My office is full of idiots. And at $20/hour, I’m underpaid. It’s depressing when I think about it. Off to McDonalds. $4 and change for a McDouble, two small fries and a large Coke (to keep me awake through the afternoon). I know it’s bad for me, but it’s cheap and easy and delicious and the only restaurant close to my office.
9:15 p.m.: My wife went to yoga this evening, so I watched the kiddo. Finally ate my sardines. Had a beer to relax. Now it’s time for freelance. I make another $100.
10:30 a.m.: So much for resisting that long john. I just wish I could get back to the office before it’s all gone. $1.35.
3:30 p.m.: Thank god for my smartphone. I can keep an eye on my freelance email while I’m at the office. One client drops a couple rush projects in my lap. Altogether, probably $500 worth of work. That’s great, I need the money. But I don’t know if I have the time. Oops. Time for another boring meeting.
10:00 p.m.: I’ve started outsourcing some of my freelance to a friend of mine. He’s good, but still learning, so it still takes a chunk of my time to explain, review and polish his work. I give him half of the work and pay him $150 (which he’s glad to get). And I do the rest myself. I wanted to start working earlier this evening, but it’s hard to put my son to bed and go straight to work. I need some time for myself. Which isn’t spent painting – what I really want to do. Mostly it’s spent on Facebook and Twitter. Ugh.
11:30 a.m.: My insurance agent calls with estimates for private health insurance. I want to go full-time freelance, but with my wife out of work and no savings, I don’t think we can afford the transition. Right now I’m spending $8,000 a year to insure all of us through my work. And the coverage isn’t that great. Seems like highway robbery to me. Private insurance should be cheaper.
12:00 p.m.: I use my lunch break to take a nap in my car. Kind of helps.
5:00 p.m.: I get home to find my wife bought a new welcome mat. This is supposed to help our feng shui and improve our financial situation. All I know for sure is that we’re out another $45. What would really help? Her getting a job.
9:30 p.m.: More freelance. Mostly admin and paperwork. Necessary but not billable time. I manage to squeeze in an hour to update my blog for my painting website. I haven’t sold anything yet. I just started six months ago. It’s hard to find time to market my paintings – or paint – on top of all my work. I feel like everything is backwards.
9:30 a.m.: I use my break at work to visit my son during his gymnastics lesson (down the street). He usually has a good time, and I love that he has these enrichment activities, but $15 for 45 minutes seems pretty steep. I mean, it’s a group class and it’s not like he’s getting one-on-one instruction from an Olympic gymnast. He does love the trampoline, though.
11:30 a.m.: I was supposed to have a meeting with my boss about a big promotion I’ve been pushing for for six months, but he’s still dragging his feet and putting up excuses for why the timing isn’t right and what about this and that even though he still says I’m good for the job. I’ve been counting on the raise for months to help cover our expenses (we’re about $1,300 in the red each month), but still nothing. Now he’s suggesting the raise that goes with it might not be as big as I may have thought. Why do I bother?
2:00 p.m.: Back to McDonalds. Another $4 and change for more junk food. This time I actually brought a lunch, but I needed the comfort food. (God, is McDonald’s really comfort food?) I’m embarrassed about eating McDonalds again so I put the charge on my business credit card (for my painting), which my wife doesn’t have access to.
10:30 p.m.: It’s Friday night. Do you know where your graphic designer is? He’s still working. The freelance never ends and never is enough. Another $105.
8:45 a.m.: Saturday morning. I don’t have to rush off to the office, so I can enjoy a nice breakfast with my family. Then it’s off to do more freelance work. I have a full day of work. My wife collects the week’s receipts so she can update the budget. We track every expenditure. There’s some 75 different categories of expenses. The ship might be sinking, but we’ll know exactly where the holes are. (Everywhere!)
12:00 p.m.: Lunch. I’ve made $140 so far and spent another hour looking at someone else’s painting blog and daydreaming I had more time to paint. When was the last time I actually painted? Now I’m behind at work.
12:30 p.m.: My wife tells me one of my freelance checks arrived ($1,200) and my direct deposit check from work cleared ($1,200 – biweekly). Then she tells me she paid the mortgage ($1,100), HOA ($200), car insurance ($95), nanny ($400 for a few afternoons a week while my wife looks for work) and gym membership ($127). She also says we’re going to be overbudget (again) for groceries. We’re halfway through the month and we’ve already spent $600 on food. If past months are any guide, we’ll definitely spend another $600 on groceries (that doesn’t count eating out) before the month’s over. The budget is always depressing.
1:00 p.m.: I break down and look at the spreadsheet my wife sent over. We’ve budget $30 each month for personal expenses. I’ve averaged $24 so far this year. She averages $70. Last month she spent $204 in this category. As far as I can tell, this is mostly her eating out regularly because she’s depressed about being stuck at home all the time.
4:00 p.m.: My wife is asking when I’ll be done with work. I’m pissed off. How am I supposed to pay for all of this shit when she’s constantly asking me to stop working early or to take a long lunch break or skip an evening? I’ve made another $170 (so $310 for the day), but I’ll need to finish tonight after everyone goes to bed.
10:00 a.m.: Sunday is my wife’s day off. I spend the day with my son and she goes to yoga then can do what she wants in the afternoon. I wish I had a day off.
3:30 p.m.: I take my son to the gym. For $3.50, he can play in the gym nursery – a great deal! – and I can work out for an hour. Afterwards, I take him swimming at the gym pool. Lots of fun.
4:45 p.m.: We stop by Sam’s Club on the way home to pick up a few items. They don’t have much organic food (we shop at Whole Foods almost exclusively…when we’re not eating at McDonald’s, I guess). Another $44 at Sam’s. I also stop at the liquor store for a $22 handle of Jim Beam. Helps the medicine go down.
7:00 a.m.: It’s Monday and I’m somewhat rested. I decided against doing freelance last night and just went to bed. I’ll pay for that tonight, but for now I’m rested. Time to start the work week over again.
8:45 p.m.: My wife tells me we should be contributing to our IRAs. I tell her I don’t know how that’s possible since we’re losing money every month. She says it’ll work out and that I’m supposed to get another freelance check this week. So we have cash in the bank. What about keeping some set aside for freelance taxes? I can’t talk about it. I have work to do. Two hours I have to get done before tomorrow. That’s $140.
Freelance income: $1,215
Day job income: $600
Expenditures (bills/family): About $2300 (but that includes some monthly expenses)
Expenditures (personal): About $35
Endless work. With all my freelance, I’ve almost doubled my income over the past year, but I’ve also increased my hours 50%. Thinking about money still gets me upset, and I don’t know how to deal with it with my wife. I’ve been just hoping that she’d get a job and things would get better with the thought that it’s easier to make more than save more. But I’m not sure how long we can keep going before we’re screwed.
* * *
To be featured anonymously in a future Money Diary, click here.
Do you know your actual earning potential?
Get started with the Earning Potential quiz. Get a custom report based on your unique strengths, and discover how to start making extra money — in as little as an hour.
Takes 3 min