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The Money Diaries: The spoiled 20-something used to living beyond his means

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Here’s 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.

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Note from the author: I graduated from college about a year ago and was lucky enough to land the job of my dreams. I moved into my parent’s house so I could get out of credit card debt and start saving for a house of my own.

I have a penchant for the good life, but after a year of living it up, I found myself with $12,000 in credit card debt! In addition to that, I just got myself into some legal trouble and need to come up with about $6,000 for my lawyer.

I make $1200 every two weeks after taxes and 401(k) contributions. The only real bills I have are my phone and student loan payments ($150) and paying down debt ($600), after which I end up with about $450 per paycheck.

For the past year, I’ve been going out about 5 nights a week , and I don’t know if I’ve ever not gone over that $450 per paycheck. I realize I need a serious lifestyle change. I may die of boredom, but at least I’ll be closer to getting out of debt. Let’s see if I can do it.

DAY 1:
2:20pm: I heard that I’d be featured in The Money Diaries while at work. I’m excited but nervous because it’s Friday night. I start brainstorming drastic ways to pay off my debt and actually considered cashing out my 401(k). I started it 10 months ago and have about $7,000 already in it. I know cashing out is probably the stupidest thing I could ever do. I need to suck it up and change how I spend my money.
6:30pm: I’m excited to get off of work and meet a group of friends at one of my favorite restaurants downtown. After all, it is Friday and I worked a hellish week.
7:14pm: Fuck. I can’t afford that restaurant. I shouldn’t eat out at all. I have an obscene amount of food at home. I call my friends and tell them to go without me. That may be dick (to arrange it and then ditch), but I know from experience that they’ll have fun anyway and it’s not like they are going to pay my bills for me! I call other friends and decide to meet up at their house. I’ll bring some leftover Belvedere from last weekend so I don’t have to buy tonight!

DAY 2:
1:00pm: I’m hung over and hungry. My friends and I decide to go somewhere to eat. I insist on cheap. This brings us to Taco Bell. I spend $3.50 and don’t even eat everything I order. I love this place!
2:00pm: I forgot to mention- I smoke. I spend $7 on a pack of cigarettes and lottery tickets. Both are my guilty pleasure.
8:00pm: I’m invited to go out to eat but I decline and decide to try to choke down some of my step dad’s cooking… If I die, at least I’ll know it was in effort to make a good financial decision.
9:00pm: I decide to hang out at a friend’s house instead of going to the bar with other friends. This whole financial responsibility thing is getting old… But at least I’m sticking to it. On my way, I see some really cheap gas and decide to fill up even though I don’t need it, $16.

DAY 3:
3:00pm: It’s Sunday = football. Instead of going to the bars with friends, I decide to go to work and get some stuff done. I stop at Starbucks- $3.50. I’m getting antsy – I need to go out sometime soon! At least tomorrow starts off a busy workweek.

DAY 4:
8:30am: I need cigarettes. I’m too late to work to care about the fact I’m spending money. Without these, my day would not be too great. I spend $4.

DAY 5:
12:30pm: I need cigarettes again. This time, the gas station has one of those buy 2, get 1 free offers. Even though I still pay sin tax for the 3rd pack, it’s still cheaper than buying 3 individual packs. I also throw in a Powerball and state lotto ticket. I spend $13. I probably won’t need to buy cigarettes for another 4 days, thank God. Even though I’m doing surprising well at not spending money, I was reminded today that I have a trip to Chicago this weekend and a family wedding in LA to attend the weekend after. How can I stick to a minimal budget when I’m jet setting across the country every weekend?
2:35pm: I figured it out! Since my whole family is going to the wedding, I’m going to save myself $50 by not buying a present in my name and piggybacking on my mom’s gift. I don’t know how I feel about this because now that I have a “big kid job,” I feel responsible for my own gift. I’ll think about it for a minute.
7:50pm: $13 on gas. I’m not normally a serial tank filler but gas has been at it’s cheapest, and from what I’ve read, prices are supposed to drastically rise. I thought I’d take advantage one last time.

DAY 6:
12:00pm: Ok, I broke down today. I couldn’t resist going to lunch with coworkers. Pizza buffet costs $9. I don’t feel so horrible because I consider this my first poor financial decision of the week.

DAY 7:
8:00pm: Haven’t spent any money… Yet. But I did cancel my Chicago trip so I could save money. It doesn’t seem like the end of the world, either. I get paid tomorrow and I know I would have spent at least $300 over the weekend.
8:30pm: I’m still at work and need to eat. I won’t feel so guilty buying dinner considering I just canceled my trip.
1:00am: I’m stupid. I decided to go out to eat and drink with buddies. I spent $40. I’m shocked at how one bad financial decision can ruin a week of serious efforts. I regret this because I realize that it is moments like this that get me in financial trouble.

In sum:
I only spent $114 this week! That’s amazing. I’m also kicking myself… Almost HALF of the money I spent this week could have been saved! Still, thanks to this, I have an extra $200 that I can throw at my debt. It feels great. Just seeing my frustrations written out has helped me realize how debt is affecting my life. I look forward to continuing this on my own. Let’s hope I can keep it up!

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

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71 Comments

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  1. You are an idiot.

  2. You know, that sucks, that this dude is going to see his post up here and the very first comment is going to be the completely unhelpful “You are an idiot.” It’s not true. This is a guy who has made some bad decisions, sure – but I don’t see idiocy here. I see a concerted effort to move in the right direction. That’s smart. He’s also starting out – a lot of what he wrote has the tone of experimentation to it. That’s great – you can see him get excited about his triumphs and disappointed about his setbacks. How are people – particularly those who didn’t have the benefit of a strong financial education from their parents – supposed to learn better, if not through a process of buckling down, recognizing the problems they have, and trying to fix them?

    Smart guys don’t leave mean-spirited, unhelpful comments.

    To this anonymous author: go you, man. You may find it easier to stick to your resolve by creating an incentive night or something – a compromise with the old ways of doing things, that you do intentionally. For example, instead of saying, “I’m not going out and partying with friends anymore,” say, “Friday is my party night, as long as I’m good the rest of the week.” That way it becomes something special, a reward, and part of the plan – you don’t even have to feel guilty. Making that decision ahead of time, consciously, is a better habit than total deprivation anyway.

    (Naturally, take that as you need – I understand you have some pressing debt and legal obligations.)

    Other than that, though, congratulations on your first week of relative financial sobriety – I wish you all the luck in the world. :) And bully for you for not taking the easy way out and cashing the 401k – you’ll be glad you decided to change habits instead!

  3. This is the first time I have seen these diaries. Good notion. I think i may try this.

  4. I agree. Smart Guy, if you’re so smart, add some value by suggesting what the writer might do. Also, have the balls to use your real name.

    But, like many critics, it’s easier to call others idiots than to do anything productive, isn’t it?

  5. Great idea but in reality it sounds like he’s trying to go “cold turkey” which is unsustainable. He’ll be back at his old ways in a few weeks…trust me.

  6. I think it’s great that you recognize the need for a drastic lifestyle change.

    With your income and your low financial obligations, you can seriously get rid of that debt in no time.

    You were able to put an extra $200 toward debt, which is awesome. Keep trying to increase that, but be careful that you don’t feel too deprived, otherwise you could rebel and go further into debt.

    It won’t be an overnight change, but if you stay focused on getting out of debt and changing your spending habits, you will be able to do it.

  7. I hope he can keep up the motivation until he gets his cards are paid off. $200 more a pay period would make a serious dent in that debt.

    My word of advice- quit smoking! Almost a pack a day? Seriously, you are going to get lung cancer. You would save almost $1,000/year to put towards your debt. Buy some quit assist product and every time you get a craving- check your credit card balance for inspiration to stay off the cancer sticks.

  8. Do not cash out your 401K. If you have the discipline to not spend it, then maybe stop your contributions for 6-months and use it to get yourself out of debt (accumulating interest). Unless you have an employer match. Then at least contribute enough to get the match.

    I think you would benefit from an automated savings plan, too. $100 per paycheck into a savings account that isn’t linked to your debit account.

    Also, from your writing you seem a bit…manic. Right now you are digging deep to pay off everything that you can. That’s fine at a practical level but it seems like just another extreme behaviour probably similar to what got you deeply in debt in the first place. The impulse to cash out your 401K fits that pattern of extreme behaviour. I think it would be worthwhile to figure out *WHY* you spend money the way you do. Be completely honest with yourself. And closely examine/evaluate the tradeoffs you’re making. Ultimately, money is only the symptom.

  9. The rest of these comments are awesome.

  10. While this guy may have made some choices that he’s not so proud of, it’s good that he’s trying to make steps to fixing up his finances! I’ve found that writing down my own goals and posting them up somewhere, then crossing them off the list once I reach them, has helped quite a bit. That way, the goals become more measurable and achievable. (He can start with “getting out of $12k of debt”, or something like that.)

    Keep it up!

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