The Money Diaries: The young employee about to lose her job because of the economy

February 05th, 2009 - 38 Comments

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.

piggy-bank

Today’s post is by a 23-year old woman living in NYC who has had a steady, well-paid job for the past year. She recently found out her company is going under due to the bad economy, and at the time of this writing was looking for a new job.

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DAY 1

12:30 pm: At work, I pick up falafel for lunch, $4. I don’t cook a lot at home, so I tend to go out for lunch everyday. I’ve found that it doesn’t hurt my food budget too much—dinners are usually pasta, eggs, ramen or canned soup, so I actually spend very little on food overall.
6:15 pm: Bought 2 boxes of mac and cheese (Krasdale, on sale, 40 cents each) and a corkscrew at the grocery store near my house, $3.82 total. Also picked up a 75-cent candy bar. I’ll charge half the cost of the corkscrew to my roommate when we do our monthly receipt reconciliation.

DAY 2

9:30 am: Worked from home today, spent $1.25 on a bagel. I treat myself to a bagel every week or two from this great bagel place near my house.
1:45 pm: Got a phone call from a fellow college alum who is working at an organization I’m applying to. She accepted my request for an informational interview, and we’re set to meet on Friday! I’ve been trying to get in touch with her for weeks, so this is great news.
5:00 pm: Checked my bank account—biweekly paycheck was deposited, $1600.20.

DAY 3

12:30 pm: Took a walk through Bryant Park during lunch today, while it was snowing, and they were handing out free hot chocolate. Since I wasn’t all that hungry and the hot chocolate helped fill me up, I spent only $3.50 on lunch (half a sandwich).
6:00 pm: Stop at the grocery store and pick up $11 worth of groceries, which included food for 2 dinners and a box of cereal. While paying I use my debit card and get $30 cash back—I never pay ATM fees!
6:15 pm: Arrive home and find that I have received a $256.40 check in the mail for consultant translation work that I did. Nice!!
7:00 pm: After speaking to my Mom about my father’s Christmas present, I go onto amazon.com and buy him a $200 exercise bike. Because of the job loss I had originally planned on getting him something that was only going to cost $25, so this pretty much blows my gift budget out of the water. My mother and brother will pay me back two-thirds of the cost, though, which helps. I also spend $8 on Tales of Beedle the Bard, since I can’t resist and I can get free shipping on it. $209 total; that check I just received will really come in handy!
7:30 pm: I log into my ING account to make a transfer, since I got paid yesterday. I add my monthly $1,000 to my current 5-month savings account—only $1,400 more to go until I have a full 6 months worth of cash saved! Needless to say, this fund has kept me sane and free of panic since finding out that I’ll soon be unemployed. With this fund, and considering my expenses are low and can mostly be covered by unemployment, I’m not too scared.

DAY 4

4:00 pm: For lunch I brought a leftover burrito from last night’s dinner, but I end up peckish and run out to grab a $1 bag of M&Ms.

6:00 pm: Meet my friend for churros con chocolate (a Spanish dessert) and tapas at a restaurant near her office. This place was more expensive than we’re used to; I end up spending $18 and was not totally full. It was still worth spending time with my friend and bringing back memories of our time in Spain. Later, at home, I have a bowl of cereal to fill me up.

DAY 5

11:00 am: Doctor’s appointment this morning, $25 copay. I get my first ever flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine—both included in the copay. I’m getting all of this done now because in a month I won’t have health insurance, and I want to minimize my risks of getting sick.
12:00 pm: Pay $1.25 in library fines while checking books out from the library—I borrow 3 books on business, success, and surviving unemployment. I usually pay a few dollars per month in library fines because of how actively I use the library, but for the amount of reading/movie-watching I get in return, it’s well worth it.
12:30 pm: Pick up a salad for lunch, $5.91.
2:00 pm: At work, I send off a job application that I worked on last night. I’m happy with my cover letter, but it’s an ambitious position to apply for. We’ll see how it goes.
6:30 pm: I go home to my parents’ because my dad’s exercise bike has arrived. We order takeout for dinner, Mom’s treat—but she has me greet the delivery man, so I stick an extra $5 bill into the change I give her. My parents don’t have a lot of money but often insist on treating me and my brother, which makes me feel kind of guilty. On the other hand, I realize how lucky I am that they want to help us—and that if I run out of money before finding a new job in 2009, they’ll be there to take me in.

DAY 6

12:30 pm: I spend $7.32 on soup and a half sandwich at the overpriced Pax—it’s a lunch I frequently buy. I also stop at Duane Reade and spend $10.81 on an umbrella, which I’m in dire need of.
1:00 pm: I meet my fellow alum for our informational interview, and I make sure to keep it to 20 minutes, though she seems happy to offer her time. I also get a glimpse of the offices and the people who work there. All in all, it was very worthwhile.
5:00 pm: I meet one of my oldest friends after work and we browse the holiday windows along Fifth Avenue. I also help her shop for gifts in the Bryant Park holiday market. Despite the miserable weather, we enjoy spending the time together—meanwhile, I don’t spend a dime.

DAY 7

10:00 am: Woke up early (for a weekend) and did a volunteer project with NY Cares, reading to poor kids at a nearby church. I walk to the church and back rather than taking a bus.
1:30 pm: Back home, I treat myself to a box of Oreos and off-brand Ritz crackers, $4.32. I spend the rest of the day in bed, watching DVDs and doing nothing at all. Most days of my life I worry that I’m lazier than most people, and that I don’t accomplish enough, but this day makes me realize that I have not kicked back and allowed myself to do absolutely nothing for a long, long time. It’s a nice way to end the week.

In sum: $1,856.60 income, $311.93 spent, $1,000 saved, 1 job application submitted, 1 act of networking. Not as well as I should be doing, perhaps, but I’m satisfied with the results. The exercise bike really inflated my expenses and I’ll be recouping some of that cost later in the month. As for my job-hunt, I think that doing one really good job application while I’m still employed is reasonable at this point – since I do have money to tide me over, I’m determined to apply only to jobs I really want. If after a month or two I’m still unlucky, I’ll broaden my search.

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

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Do something good this February: I’m supporting Charity Water program. By donating $20, you can give someone clean drinking water for $20 — a great way to scale your philanthropy. If you donate, forward your receipt to ramit@ramitsethi.com. I’ll be giving out a Flip camera to one lucky winner.

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38 Comments

 

Comments

  1. “Not as well as I should be doing, perhaps, but I’m satisfied with the results”

    That’s my fav quote. lol.

    Seriously though sounds like a solid plan, and a great attitude. I hope everything goes well.

    -Nate

  2. To me it seems that she is doing pretty good with her finances. Sure there is a thing or two that she could have not bought (like the M&M’s :) – but these small and inexpensive things are what keep us happy!
    I’d say nice job!

  3. Seeing as you’re saving over half of your income, I’d say that you’re doing a great job! The only thing I would say is to watch your spending when eating out, but you have to have a little fun, right? Maybe you could take advantage of the constant discounts on Restaurant.com gift certificates–they usually run about $3 for a $25 gift certificate.

  4. I know you didn’t list all of your meals, but it sounds like your eating habits could use some work. Oreos, Ramen Noodles, and Ritz crackers are not something to live on. Why not snack on fresh fruits or vegetables?

    I think of eating healthy as an investment in my future the same as my retirement savings. It’s not worth it to save a buck and harm your body by eating low quality foods. What good is all the retirement savings if you aren’t living a long healthy life to enjoy it?

  5. I agree with Alan- it’s worth “splurging” on real food; man cannot live on boxed macaroni and cheese alone! (and I know because I used to!)

  6. It sounds like shes doing well considering the circumstances, but I would have liked to know a little more about her living situation and how she plans on taking care of that. She’s netting about $3200/month and living in NYC with one roommate. Unless she has some kind of unique arrangement, it seems that even with a 6 month emergency fund once her primary income goes away, this would become a serious issue quickly.

    Overall though, it was nice to read one of these where the person wasn’t a complete disaster

  7. I would like to know more about her background as well. Are these 7 consecutive days? It appears that she works at the office on Sunday through Friday.

  8. I’ll echo what has been said by Alan, it sounds like more of a diet issue than a financial issue.

    I’m not one to shove fruits and vegetables down people’s throats but you can easily get a salad or a sandwich or make some cornbread or something.

    Of course, I type this while on break at work eating a package of Austin cheese crackers. Oh well, at least I can get 12 packs of them for $1.88 at Walmart* so at least it’s cheap junkfood. ;)

    Sounds like otherwise this girl has her head screwed on right and has a plan for the future.

  9. You eat out at lunch (expensive) but eat as cheaply as possible (cheap but really unhealthy)… why not find a balance? I can buy a whole weeks worth of lunches for the price of one out. Go to the clearance rack at your grocery store and look for discounted bread. I haven’t paid more than 50 cents for a loaf in a long time. Put in it the freezer or fridge and it’ll last as long as you need it to. A package of turkey that lasts a week and a half is $3.50. That’s a generous time estimate – I make huge sandwhiches. A week’s worth of baby carrots is another couple bucks, plus a 12 pack of soda as a ‘treat’ (store brand!), and you’re looking at around $8 for an entire week’s worth of lunches, and then some. Plus, I find home made lunches more satisfying than anything I can buy, though I usually eat out ounce every other week or so, just because. This frees up money you can spend on dinner, even if it means upgrading the occasional ramen dinner to actual pasta!

  10. Money-wise, she sounds right on target. I am jealous to hear she has almost 6 months of emergency savings. Since discovering that Suze Oreman recommends 8 (close enough), I’ve been really feeling the guilt. And I don’t even have to worry about being laid off!

    Way to go girl!

  11. I just can’t see this being correct.

    How does she get around NYC? Even MetroCard rides are $2 now. Just breathing the air seems to cost $5 a day. I’m sorry, I just can’t see this being correct for someone living in even a small town, let alone one of the most expensive cities in the world.

  12. seems like she has no debt, so she is already ahead of the game.

    She can post her resume to a few sites,

    If she qualies for unemployment she may not need a full 6 months saved.

  13. No way, it truly is possible to live cheaply in NYC, particularly if you keep your big expenses under control (rent, and transportation- an unlimited monthly card is only $86 a month). When I graduated college I was making $26k and still managed to save money and go out every now and again. It can be done!

  14. She’s actually not saving more than half her income. She needs to amortize her rent/mortgage, and other living expenses not spent during this 7 day period, but is enjoying because she has spent it in the previous weeks, or will spend in the future weeks.

  15. Wow, this is really austere. Congrats if you are sticking to this, but I hope you can keep treating yourself once in a while to avoid getting depressed. I also add my voice to the chorus saying you should eat some healthier food… I worry about the meal of Oreos and Ritz crackers specifically. Make sure you are getting enough nutritional value in what you eat.

  16. Great job with being frugal, but she needs to consider the impact that her poor eating habits will have in the future. She is about to lose her health insurance and is proactively going to her doctor to “minimize [her] risks of getting sick”, yet she is living off cookies and candy. I don’t remember her mentioning anything about working out or staying active. If she is so worried about spending money on food, she should stop going out to eat for lunch everyday ($5, $3, here and there may not sound like much…but it adds up!) and buy healthier food at the grocery store to prepare at home. I am a young woman living in NYC as well….before I came here I could not even cook pasta, but the cost of eating out and my commitment to my health motivated me to learn how to cook. There is no better investment than an investment in your health. Please don’t be cheap when it comes to things you put into your body! Diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are epidemics in this country….don’t think you are immune to it all just because you are young, so please change your habits before it’s too late.

    Also, if she doesn’t already have one with her soon-to-be former employer, she should make sure her prospective employer offers 401(k) benefits. Start contributing ASAP!

  17. I don’t feel like this is a good example of her money. It says nothing about her rent, utility bills, etc. I realize she has a roommate, but her total spending HAS to equal out to more than that if you count in everything. It seems like the $300 she spent this week was mostly on junk (the present and SOME of the food is legitimate, but library fines? What a waste of money!). If I knew that I was losing my job I would be more careful about what I was spending my money on.

  18. Interesting read. Her food choices aren’t all that great though.

  19. I think ya’ll should chill about the food. Yes, eating healthier is great, and cooking is great, but there was salad, sandwiches, etc. in the mix, and given the amount she saves and spends on food, that’s hardly an area of concern.

    I really relate to this person a lot. I have three more weeks of work before I will be laid off, I have exactly 6 months of savings, know my parents would take me in in the worst cast scenario, and I LOVE churros.

    My advice: crank up the job search BIG time. Not sure how long it’s been since you wrote this, but you don’t want to wait at all. And I would advise not being too picky, as you suggest. In my own situation, I’m considering taking temporary or part time jobs, and even jobs I’m overqualified for that would pay me half my income, knowing that I wont sit around and get depressed, my savings wont be depleted (after all my hard work getting to that point), and I will still be able to continue my job search in the meantime. Even in a great economy, it can be difficult to find a job. Keep your cover letters focused and individually tailored, but don’t be afraid to apply to anything remotely interesting, just consider it temporary. Knowing you have something lined up, no matter if it’s not your dream job, will help you keep your head on straight. It will help you keep your options open later, and you wont make decisions out of desperation.

  20. i love churros and i live in nyc. ramit – set this up…..

  21. Her food choices are fine! She’s doing great. She has an emergency fund, she’s proactive about her job loss, she’s budget conscious, her M&Ms are fine.

    Well done!

  22. Ouch, it hurt me to read that food list, though I commend her on finding ways to keep her food costs low. It’s hard – crap is cheap, not organic health food. One way to eat healthy is to stock up on frozen veggies when they’re on sale, then mix a sizable portion of those veggies in with her ramen or mac and cheese. Some cheap but healthy grain options include brown rice and oatmeal – go to the bulk bins at a health food store to get them.

    Overall, I think she’s doing well, though she might consider lowering her job standards just a little bit due to the economy. She can always get a temporary, part-time “filler” job and keep looking for something better while she works there.

  23. For a 23 year old American woman her attitude and lifestyle look mature, especially living in the city. I do agree with other people who have commented that she should be more active in her job search. Also from the article it does not appear this lady is in a very busy job, maybe she should consider getting a second job. She is smart as she makes some money on the side with translating and also reads this blog!

  24. She’s preparing for an emergency landing, and at the same time, “treating” herself to all sorts of munchables. She’s going to get the poor-fat syndrome if she keeps up the treats, where poor people’s only affordable treasure is their junk food. The presents were weird; can’t dad buy his own bike? Other than that, she’s really lucky.

  25. You people could find something wrong with it raining $100 bills. “It’d be nice, but it’d cause inflation.”

  26. I’m with the above poster about cranking up the job search. I don’t suggest lowering your standards, I suggest applying as much as you can for three reasons:

    1. Sometimes you get surprised, that job you didn’t really think you wanted turns out to be pretty good.
    2. You can turn down a job offer after you get it. Get it first and then you can decide whether you want the job or not.
    3. A month or two into unemployment, people tend to start becoming lazier and less motivated, so I wouldn’t wait till then, do it now while your energy is highest.

    Also, do something fun and interesting in your time off. You volunteer, maybe crank that up, go on vacation or something. If you’re a generally effective person, then set some goals for fun and use those interesting things as things to talk about in interviews. Maybe take your 6 months of pay and go live in the country for maybe 8 months, commuting back for interviews or whatnot. Learn to be a woodsperson. Check out The 4-Hour Workweek for ideas.

    Overall, sounds like you’ve got your head screwed on straight enough. A great role model!

    I also love the library, may I recommend some books?
    Your Money or Your Life – best personal finance book I ever read, and it barely talks about budgeting. It’s more about your relationship to money, excellent book.
    What Color is Your Parachute? – Job hunting guide
    The 4-Hour Workweek – Great time/energy saving tips, goal-getting tips and makes you think about your path in life, even if you don’t want a 4 hour work week.
    http://www.stevepavlina.com – he’s written a lot of good down-to-earth stuff in his early years that may apply in your situation.

    BTW, a few dollars in library fines is cool, compared tot eh cost of buying those books yourself. As long as you’re applying them, why not! Think of it as an investment, not an expense.

  27. I gotta ♥ her bravery for admitting to such eating and spending habits. Personally she’s kicking @$$ compared to me – a 25-yr-old SoCal substitute teacher who lives on day-to-day absences for income >.< I agree with Carlin. Thanks, everyone!

  28. .. p.s. and yes, I am a recent credential program graduate = whoopdeedoodah. O.o

  29. She’s doing a great job where she is. I’ve seen firsthand how being young in the city can take its toll. Congrats to her.

  30. If you read the article properly you will see she says “I add my MONTHLY $1,000 to my current 5-month savings account”. So she’s not saving $1000 per month, not $1000 per fortnight. $1000 of her $3200 or so take home monthly pay is around 30%. I’m impressed, she is doing really well, I wish I could match those kind of monthly savings.

  31. She’s got a better head on her shoulders than I did at that age, so kudos for that.

    One beef with the story… why split the cost of a corkscrew with the roommate? I could understand splitting some groceries (milk, toilet paper, tooth paste, etc), but a corkscrew??? Who gets it when you two stop living together? Makes me wonder what other repeat-use items you all split, and what kinda trouble it’ll be when you move out trying to decide who owns what.

  32. She’s living a far healthier wealthier life than I ever had at that age. My diary would have left people begging me to seek counselling

  33. Does she even pay rent?

  34. I’m the author of this diary, and thought I’d pipe up. It’s funny that most of the comments are about my food, and of course you’re all right, lol. I don’t think I even mentioned how much ramen I eat. My eating habits are pretty bad, and I honestly don’t get much real exercise. Working on it…. Also working on the job search. Now that I’m officially unemployed, I’m more nervous about it than I was when I wrote the diary.

    To some of the other comments: 1) I do pay rent, and yes I live in NYC. I’ve lived here my whole life; maybe that helps in knowing how to keep expenses low? I pay $800 rent on a $1500 apartment in Brooklyn, and think I live very comfortably. It can be done! 2) Thanks for the kind words from many of you; I’m happy where I am financially. I do want to point out that I’m pretty damn conservative with my money, if you can’t tell. I hope this isn’t what people expect from everyone! I have a pretty mellow social life, as you could tell, but I realize that others are different.

    PS: To Mike: I know the corkscrew thing makes me look cheap! I included it because I wanted to reference the cost-sharing system my roommate came up with. We save the receipts for any household purchases (mostly food), and then each month we tally up the totals and split the difference. It struck me as a great system, and I thought I’d share it.

  35. [...] Another one of my favourite blogs: I Will Teach You to Be Rich (Not a Scam), with Ramit Sethi. Like Penelope Trunk, it’s pretty obvious that he’s making his living and his long-term career options off of his blog, but as a casual reader, that just means more posts, so I’ll take the constant plugs for his book and his paid services as they come. My favourite is the anonymous money diaries. Most recently: the young employee in NYC about to lose her job to the Great Recession. [...]

  36. imelda72,
    The corkscrew cost splitting didn’t make me think you were cheap, per se, but I am just curious as to what happens when one of you moves out. If you split the cost of everything, there’s the problem of joint ownership. Moving away from your roommate would almost be like getting a divorce from a spouse; there could be some disagreement as to who gets what in the future.

  37. [...] The Money Diaries: The young employee about to lose her job because of the economy [...]

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