The Money Diaries: The 20-something ex-pat taking on the expense of her own apartment

Ramit Sethi

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.


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Today’s post is by a 28-year-old woman who lives with her boyfriend in the Netherlands. She has $35k in student loans and has recently taken on the expense of her own apartment, where she’ll live during the week to eliminate a long train commute. What do you think — is this a smart move? (NOTE: her spending is in euros, unless specified.)

Day 1
2 p.m.: Payday! I get paid once a month. I immediately send my boyfriend 125 (since my health insurance is under his name) and funnel 166 to my savings account. I wire 400 to my US bank account (which is about $280 U.S. dollars. I won’t know exactly how much it is in euros until it clears) for student-loan repayments. I owe about $35k.
5 p.m: Ordinarily I do all the grocery shopping on Saturday, but tonight there’s nothing but potato chips for dinner. So I go out, get some bread and cheese for sandwiches. Spend a little extra on fruit and croissants for tomorrow’s breakfast. Total spent: 12.45
5:20 p.m.: Stop by the drugstore for some hand lotion, at my boyfriend’s request. I pick up a tube of Neutrogena and something funky called a “Hand mask.” Total spent was 8.05. I don’t mind buying things for him because he takes care of the mortgage and utilities—when he bought his condo, we weren’t living together, and now that we do, I take care of most of the groceries and day-to-day shopping needs.

Day 2
10:20 a.m.: Bus trip to town for a shopping trip. Cost 1.20, but I’ve put down 20 on the card (you scan it as you board the bus, and then again when you get off, and your fare is calculated by distance) earlier this week.
10:34 a.m.: In the Toko (where one gets “exotic” stuff like rice that comes in bags rather than in boxes) to pick up some lemongrass and noodles for the pho that I plan to make tomorrow night (8.5 per kilo). Also notice the chili peppers aren’t moldy for once, so I get a pack of Thai chilies and bird chilies (1.28 and 1.58, respectively). Pick up a bottle of “ginger wine.” just for kicks (7.95). Total spent: 12.90
10:45 a.m.: The WE (sort of like the Gap, but geared more towards “business casual” wear) has set up a temporary outlet store. I get a winter coat there—my own winter coat is hopelessly grimy and looks like I spent the better part of my life in a trash heap. Spent 29.95 on a nice heavy (and dark!) small men’s winter coat that comes to my hips.
11:02 a.m.: (according to the time stamp) Stop by the ATM to get an additional 60 in cash. I prefer shopping with cash, and also because the farmer’s market doesn’t take electronic payments.
11:10 a.m.: At the farmer’s market, spend 4.50 on a bunch of herbs and garlic.
11:23 a.m.: At the pet store. I hate the pet store. I always get something extra, because it’s so much fun to spoil my cats. In this case, my cats have worn out their cardboard scratch pad after a scant few weeks (my old one lasted a good several months, so I didn’t expect this one to wear out so quickly), so I want to replace it with a sisal one before they attack the sofas. I end up spending 12.15 on the scratch board, four individual cans of cat food (I tend to get lazy about preparing their dinners on the weekends), and two toy mice.
11:45 a.m.: At Xenos, where my boyfriend picks up more candles, a few glasses, some throw pillows. I don’t actually know how much he spent, because we keep our purchases separate. We also stop by the craft store to get some candle-making things—for him, again. I think he spent ~60, but again, we keep our financial lives separate.
12:29 p.m.: head back home. My bus card is down to 13.08.
12:50 p.m.: Get some stuff for the planned pho tomorrow. Also get some salami and stuff to pack my boyfriend’s lunch with Sunday night—the stores are not open on Sunday, so I’ve got to get everything today. Total spent 23.25.

Day 3
At home. No money spent, largely because there’s nowhere to spend it. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner consist mainly of simple, cheap stuff out of our pantry. Part II of cleaning done, and more laundry—line-drying limits us to a maximum of two loads per day, or 1 day of sheets. Today is sheet day. No, it’s not because we’re trendy-green, it’s because we don’t have a dryer.
5:35 p.m.: The gas lines of our stove is leaking. Shit. No pho. Double shit. How much is this going to cost us?

Day 4
9 a.m.: Can’t reach any repairmen, although it is possible that it’s listed under something less obvious in the phone book.
10:26 a.m.: To town, to catch the train to Maastricht. I have a 1 p.m. meeting with the realtor who has two apartments I want to look at. I’m looking for a place where I could stay closer to work during the week so that I don’t have to commute 4 hours by train every day. Another 1.20 gone.
10:32 a.m.: 20.20 for a round trip ticket to Maastricht.
10:34 a.m.: Withdraw 60 from the ATM. 40 of it is to become a “member” with the real estate company, so I’ll be able to look at apartments for a year, 20 is for groceries later.
12 p.m.: I haven’t had anything since breakfast this morning, so I spend 1.40 on a little snack.
1:15 p.m.: At the realtor’s, pay my 40, and go see the apartment. It’s nice enough for the price, but an immigration question prevents me from signing the papers right away (the apartment is just over the Belgian border, and I don’t want to have any problems with my residence status in the Netherlands).
2:01 p.m.: 4.70 for lunch—a wrap and a coffee drink from the train station.
4:45 p.m.: Call immigration, find out there won’t be a problem. I can move!
5:25 p.m.: 12.20 in the grocery store, for some milk, more sandwich supplies, and fruit for my boyfriend’s lunch boxes. Yes, I pack his lunch for him.

Day 5
11:04 a.m.: Spent the morning calling up people to see if I can reach someone to repair our gas line. No luck. Also called up the realtor—I can sign for the apartment today. I will be moving into the apartment on November 15. For the first two weeks on the job I will be staying in temporary housing. I figure I should get to know the place a bit first, since I will need to buy all of the accoutrements of living.
11:10 a.m.: Transferred 1300 from my savings account to my checking account. This, along with the 1000 portion that I’ve set aside from this month’s paycheck, will cover the apartment (security deposit, rent for 1/2 a month, plus the realtor’s commission), as well as costs for stuff that I’ll need (pots, pans, a bike, etc). Can we say “IKEA”?
12 p.m.: Lunch at home: PB & J, an apple, and a cup of soup.
12:45 p.m.: 11.96 at the Albert Heijn (supermarket). I’d originally gone to the Blokker to buy hangers, but they were out, so I stopped by the AH for some other things that we needed anyway (spinach, peanut butter, yogurt, Clementine oranges).
3 p.m.: Get an email from the realtor. The bill is 1291, which includes the security deposit, the first 1/2 month’s rent, and the commission. Grumble, but sign, scan, and send. I don’t really mind, though—the realtor did explain the costs, and the apartment will save me a 4-hour roundtrip daily commute.

Day 6
12-2 p.m.: In town again for some little things: total spent was 19.75 on pears, anti-slip mats to trap kitty litter when the cats finish their business, a basket for widowed and orphaned socks, and the regulation trash bags (where I live, if it’s not in the correct bag then it won’t get collected). A random purchase that I made was for two liters of juice—they were only 0.25, and we do drink some juice from time to time. Resend the email with the scanned lease agreement—forgot to attach the document yesterday.

Day 7
Planning how to set up my apartment. This is actually a really big deal because I don’t have a car, nor a license, so I can’t rent one. I figure about 500 for all of the stuff that I’ll need to get, 300 for the washing machine, and 150 for a bike. I did over-estimate some of the costs, so hopefully it won’t be too much more than that.
1 p.m.: 32.32 spent at the Blokker on towels and an alarm clock. Much to my annoyance they don’t carry any non-battery-operated clocks, so I also have to buy batteries.
1:20 p.m.: Spend 30.69 at the AH for a ton of kitty-chicken (I’ve been feeding my cats a mostly-raw diet for the past 2 years), a whole pre-marinated roaster, enough canned cat food for 2 weeks’ worth of dinners, and some flavored milk priced at 3-for-2, a favorite that won’t last long enough to go bad. I don’t dare get too much fresh food for my boyfriend, since odds are he’ll be too tired to make anything for himself before it goes bad.

1745 euros gained, 676.27 actively spent, 176 saved, but 1291 out of my savings (which is now depleted to 576) for a new life that will start next week.

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  1. yohami

    So much nonsense. If she makes 1700 a month, theres no way she is doing anything smart

  2. Kerry

    She should consider renting a room from a family. It would probably be cheaper, and furnished. If she’s really serious with her boyfriend and they will get married, having to downsize her purchases for her apartment will be a hassle.

  3. Porter

    I think she made a significant error on her math in the first bit… 400 Euros is $542, not $280.

  4. 452

    Love love love the money diaries. Glad to see them back, I always learn the most from other’s mistakes and from the comments posted!

  5. Smarter Spend

    A lot of mistakes in this one…

  6. h

    She can’t do math (EUR USD) and that’s very obvious in her decisions. No financial buffer (576 EUR!), lots of debts but getting a seperate apartment with all its costs and which has also to be furnished.

    But maybe it’s just a way to get rid of her BF…she doesn’t seem to contribute to the mortgage payments anyway.

    This is probably the most scary money diary I’ve read so far.

    But I’m really happy to see some stuff from Europe for once!

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  8. Jules

    Notes about my salary: It is actually closer to €2600/month, but I only bring home about €1700. Ain’t socialism wonderful? In all seriousness, though, having comprehensive medical and dental insurance coverage for €80/month is something I don’t mind losing 40% of my paycheck for. Part of my pay also goes towards a retirement plan (my position is technically a government job). I probably got the units mixed up, rather than the math–I check the exchange rates every time I send money to the US, and at the time I wrote this it was a little higher than it is now.

    I’ll be moving into cheaper digs in about 8 weeks, when my lease expires. I kind of had my back against the wall when I took the apartment: my job was starting the following week, and owing to a paperwork snafu, I’d only signed a contract (and therefore knew how much I was going to be paid, and how much I could afford on rent) the week before. The train tickets between the cities would have cost more than the apartment!

  9. Jules

    I should also add: aside from my student loans, I have no other debt. I’ve consolidated them at a fixed interest of 4.25%, and my payments are only $245/month. However, seeing that I really want to get this debt monkey off my back, I make extra payments every month.

  10. helen

    Per her update comment: I would build at least a 3-6 month emergency fund, ideally up to 12 months if you are essentially functioning as single by maintaining your own housing, before you worry about paying extra on the student loan. If you run into trouble, the student loan company is not going to say “well, you did pay this part early, so you can have it back.” If you are not in your home country, it seems like it would be important to have at least enough to move all your stuff back home if something went awry, and you got booted out. Always have an exit strategy, be it jobs, relationships, whatever. Liquidity is important, unless you have doting parents or your boyfriend will absolutely bail you out if needed (but never count on that last one).

    Is the workplace retirement plan transferrable if you move out of the country eventually? Are you still able to invest in traditional US structures like a Roth IRA despite being out of the country? How do you file taxes (which country or countries) – is your student loan interest deductible in any way?

    Now enquiring minds must know – did the gas line ever get fixed? The way it was mentioned 3 times and then just dropped may have been an editing thing, but it came off as a little flighty. Oh, dangerous gas leak! Oh, but I have to buy new towels. And an orphaned sock basket!

    How did you and the boyfriend take to you living away during the week? Do you feel like the move was totally worth it?

    Nice to see a non-US diary.

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  12. Ken Siew

    All the math aside, I’m more curious what you are going to do with the extra 4 hours a day? That’s 80 hours of time saved every month from the super long commute (I can never take 4 hours of commute every day!). Are you doing something on the side to earn more money? Or maybe it’s essential to keep yourself from going insane? Lots of room for creativity there.

    I haven’t looked at every number in the post, but it seems like you’re not breaking the bank every month. And you also manage to make extra payments to pay off your student loan. But I wouldn’t rush to pay off the loan if I don’t have much in my bank. A little bit more savings would give you a buffer in case something unexpected comes up (it’s always more often than I thought).

    Depending on your own confidence and skills, you probably don’t need up to 12 months of emergency fund. I’m assuming your bf won’t leave you starving if you run into trouble =)

    Good luck with everything!

  13. duddes02

    I’m confused as to why you say you pay 40% of your salary for the “socialist” benefit- however you pay your boyfriend 120 to be under his medical insurance. What am I missing? where exactly is the 40% going?

  14. Jules

    @ helen: I am working on my savings. I currently have €2000 in savings, and I’ll probably get a decent tax return as well (tax deadline is 1 Apr). The main reason for me being a little less concerned about the emergency fund, though, is that I’m more concerned with buying time: the service I use to pay my student loans has the option of advancing the payment due dates. It can take a long time to find a job (yes, the recession hit here, too) and job postings for positions similar to mine were rare in the best of times. If I were to lose my job, I want to be able to let my payments sit for 1 year without danger of defaulting. I do see your point, though: I’ll check my next due dates, and if they’re a year ahead (I should be almost there–it was 10 months last month), this time I’ll send the money to my savings account.

    And you’d have to ask him about the gas line. I couldn’t find anybody to come before I left. It wasn’t a bad gas leak–that particular burner had been giving us problems for a year, so we just dont use it, normally.

    My boyfriend is okay with it. He’d rather I stay, of course, since I did all of the groceries and made his lunches 🙂 But we spent the first six years of our relationship on opposite sides of the Atlantic, so 2 hours by train isn’t really much to complain about. I’m okay with it, too–I can paint and read and write stuff and get back into shape. If I had to commute 4 hours a day I’d be too brain-dead to do any of this.

    @ Ken: I’m brushing up my watercolor skillz (pun intended) with the hope of one day selling them. I’m learning Dutch. Getting back into shape. Re-learning the gazillion ways to make Ramen–I eat very cheaply during the week, hehe.

  15. duddes02

    Getting back into shape + Ramen seems counterproductive 🙂

    I do see that you seem to eat well (at least based on your recent purchases).

    Good luck!

  16. Jules

    @ dudde2:

    The Netherlands does not use a single-payer system (like the UK). Instead, individuals are required, by law, to buy health insurance. I’m assuming that part of the €900 I never see of my wages goes towards government subsidies for those too poor to buy their own plans. My current plan costs me €80/month. My boyfriend’s plan used to cost €120/month.

  17. duddes02

    @Jule-got it, that makes sense. Just curious-would the plan be cheaper for the two of you if you were married?

  18. Honey

    So you were unemployed and then got a job? That would explain why the sudden move, and why you used to be on your boyfriend’s health insurance. I liked the daily details but couldn’t really get any sense of how any of it fit into the context of your normal life.

  19. memei

    wow you guys take no prisoners. scary

  20. Migdalia

    Jules, I have a question, why are making trips for groceries almost every day? Is not easier to plan a bigger groceries purchase?

  21. Honey

    Migdalia, if she is living in the Netherlands, she probably doesn’t have a car and can’t buy more groceries at a time than she can carry. That’s my understanding of how it is done in most of Europe. There are also not as many grocery stores (as we understand them) in Europe, so you always have to make multiple stops because you get your bread one place, your cheese another, your meat yet another, etc.

  22. yohami

    Buying groceries each day is more of a cultural things than anything else. Nothing could stop you buying for the week or the month if you wanted to.

  23. Cas

    Re #21 Honey, your stereotypes are a little out of date The majority of Europe is the same as the US with huge supermarkets and most people doing a big weekly shop. It used to be the case that people shopped daily but that was 30 years ago! Also our toilets are now all indoors lol

  24. Honey

    @Cas, good to know. I have only been to 4 countries in Europe but I didn’t see anything like that. Though it was funny to see people at Versailles claim the toilet didn’t flush when they simply didn’t know how to flush it.

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  26. JT

    Love the money diaries!

    I don’t see any major problem with the day-to-day spending…she seems to have a good handle on managing her money and day-to-day spending vs saving vs paying down her debt.

    I would say that its hard to tell from her diary what her long-term goals are. I think a short-term apartment is fine to avoid a long commute, but what kind of future is she envisioning with the current boyfriend? Is she fine with this as a long-term arrangement, or does she want marriage and to start a family, in which case I’m not sure that her living away during the week makes much sense as a long-term solution. I guess these are sort of fundamental questions that the poster will need to figure out her own answers too in the near future. It does seem as though she is the one making all the changes to accommodate the boyfriends job / apartment / life, but that may be a wrong conclusion based on the limited info provided.

  27. eugene yee

    +4 hours to your life everyday? Win.

  28. FX

    While I agree that everyday financial activities are important in building one’s financial habits, I am also quite curious on her long term financial plans.

  29. DJ Wetzel

    I’ll be honest, I am a huge animal lover, I have a cat and a dog that I spoil regularly…..but spending a bunch of money on kittie chicken and canned cat food when you are eating Ramen? A raw food diet for you cat? I would rotate those guys down to the dry stuff and buy myself the chicken.

  30. Jeremy Ruiz

    Great stuff. I think this is a really helpful blog. I love The Netherlands. Recently shipped 3 car through Rotterdam using Auto Shipping Network. They did a great job. Look forward to reading from you again!

  31. Al

    She’s doing great. I get a kick out of all the losers trying to micro-manage every second of her day.

    Some people like to live life. They like to hit on woman or men. They like to do sports.

    Get a life losers

  32. Silvia

    wow.. very interesting to read.
    also, it inspired me to keep a diary with the daily expenses,probably something basic i should have thought of earlier, but i guess better late than ever.

    on the less pleasant side, i was more than slightly annoyed in reading the comments posted by honey, especially the one about the french inability to flush the toilet.come on!
    i’m european myself ( italian), i’ve been an expat in us, japan and now london ( still technically europe i know, but i swear the feeling is really different from the continent).

    i felt quite hurt from honey’s comments, as i saw myself very stupid/
    annoying/rude things done from american/english/japanesepeople,
    but i never assumed the unit representative of the whole (things ranging from the silly ones- as for me the pizza with chicken and pineapple -to very rude ones- as the absolute cockiness of english mother tongue people- most of them, i’m sorry to say,from US- in refusing to learn and use just few basic words of greetings in japan, with the excuse that english is the most spoken language in the world and japaneses should have learnt a better english!)
    however, i didn’t bring me to think that because of the people i met, all the people in US/england /japan are ignorant or have bad taste in food or are badly educated or cocky ( also because there are italians that are slimy, foxy, fraudsters, and i’m not, so i tasted the prejudice- and proud to say, defeated it with my behaviour- on my own skin.)

    hope i had misunderstood the tone of the comment, in this case i do apologize, but reading it i found it quite offensive and narrow- minded.
    as i said, hope to have misunderstood the tone, and in this case i deeply apologize with honey, ramit and the other readers for my -at this point silly and rude- rant.

  33. Honey

    Um, I said that the AMERICAN tourists didn’t know (and wouldn’t try) to flush the FRENCH toilets when they were at Versailles. I was appalled at how everyone just gave up, all the tourists ahead of me in line kept coming out and saying, “the toilet doesn’t flush,” and when I got in there I was able to flush it easily and couldn’t believe that no one even tried.

  34. gladys

    i do really i want to be rich and has just started saving some money i have. i am a student in the university but here in ghana you do not have to go through hell in shool if you are as young as i am with a middle family supporting you

  35. Jules

    @ DJ Wetzel: Hehe, actually the raw diet isn’t all that costly, and it only makes up 1/2 of their diet these days–it actually costs more to feed the Tweeb (our renal failure-kitty) per month than it does to feed the other two, combined.

  36. Cas

    @Honey – don’t worry I think most of us understood your original point, Anyway how could you be anything other than lovely with a name like “Honey” 😉

  37. Honey

    Haha, Cas, actually it’s sort of funny (except for how gross the toilet was by the time I got to it!).

  38. Порно онлайн

    Good post for himself learned many new things, thanks

  39. JM

    If at all possible, I would say to leave the money in your account instead of transferring every month to the US. 400 euros = $540 so even with interest you’ll still be ahead. Try and transfer every 6 months to pay off the debt if possible so the bank that you are wiring from doesn’t take a cut each time.

    There are probably even other options like PayPaling it to yourself (setting up accts for your Dutch bank and your American one on PayPal then transferring b/w).

    I would also be sure to know what’s going on with your taxes, rather than complaining about ‘socialism’:

    You might eligible for a bit of a refund though with residence status, even as a non-citizen, it won’t be as much as if you were a non-resident.

    Good luck on moving – just went through the process myself again. Not fun, can be expensive.

  40. Thijs

    I’m Dutch, now studying in the US for this Academic year.
    I think comments roundup a pretty thorough of Americans and their perspectives on the world. Some are filled with cliches, stereotypes, and some are well thought through.
    That being said, the 40% goes to social security, taxes, retirement. The Dutch health insurance is completely different than the American, even after the reform (NL is way more social, strict and “less-liberal”). What she didn’;t mention is that she might be getting money from the government to support her health insurance (although single, 2600 income might be too high socio-economical)
    commuting in NL is way different. everybody does it, and nobody likes it. Living in Belgium instead of NL will make a big difference in your expenditures. It might mean that your groceries will be cheaper (I have no clue, just a guess), housing is indeed way cheaper, but watch out with taxes. getting an accountant to figure that out will be a huge additional cost.

    Living together, marrying and such are topics and I am not going to discuss, except that views are different. The Netherlands is completely different, more liberal, and more independent.

    Overall, I think she’s quite doing a good job. I can refer her to using a small bank as Binck to do online investment. great quality of service and cheap.

    AH is one of the cheaper grocery stores, and walkable. I don’t see how doing daily vs. weekly shopping will save you money. everything is smaller in The Netherlands, and buy 10, pay 9 doesn’t exist.

    To some commenters: look at relative costs, not at absolute. You have obviously no clue what you are talking about. (expenses and earnings per country differ, saying that x is way too expensive, too much or whatever makes no sense, since we dont have the full picture) (you’d almost think I read the book)

  41. Bryan

    I wouldn’t build up a years worth of “disaster” savings like people are recommending. You live in a Northern European quasi-socialist country, I would just use other people’s money if I lost my job, through employment insurance schemes and welfare. Make sure you know you qualify in advance first.

    For people who object to this: It’s there because they voted for it, and she has it stolen from her paycheque now anyway.

  42. Jules

    @ Bryan: That’s why it cost my boyfriend almost €1000 to sponsor me, and why he had to find a year’s worth of pay stubs to demonstrate that he did, in fact, have a job, and did not rely on welfare (otherwise I would’ve had to find another sponsor)–because I don’t qualify for welfare here.

  43. Shelley

    @Thijs – shopping every day can be more expensive if you find yourself picking up more than you wanted just because you saw it that day. Jules was buying things that she said she needed (every day) versus making a list and shopping once. She also bought extra things just because she saw them.

    I am not saying that it is good or bad, but I know I would be picking up things that appealed to me in the moment in addition to the things that I needed.

  44. Richard |

    Interesting article to be honest. It’s always really fun to see someone elses system for dealing with finances even if its so different from your own. You can always learn at least one thing that will make a difference.