The Money Diaries: The 20-something programmer who barters for personal training

Ramit Sethi

Today, check out how a pro manages his money, using automation, negotiation, sub-accounts, and conscious spending.

This 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 27-year-old university employee who freelances on the side. In his entry, he writes about learning negotiation skills when he gets himself a lower rate for his Internet service.

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Day 1

6:00 a.m.: Wake up, make oatmeal and have an orange for breakfast. Get ready for work.
6:30 a.m.: It’s been above freezing for a few days, which means most of the ice has melted, so I bike to work, avoiding the $2.25 I otherwise spend to take the bus each way.
12:00 p.m.: Lunch out with coworkers. We always go to the same place on Mondays because a decent meal (sandwich and soup) is about $7 with tip, and Monday is double stamp day. Get 6 stamps and it’s worth $10! This is the one time I usually go out for lunch.
1:00 p.m.: Get cable bill via email – Internet charges have gone up because I’ve been with them for a year and a promo ended! I’ll be calling them tonight.
4:15 p.m.: Bike home.
5:00 p.m.: Work out with a personal trainer who lives in my building. I’m doing a website for her in exchange for two trainings a week. We had our first real meeting on the site yesterday, and I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to get several months of training in exchange for what she wants to accomplish.
6:30 p.m.: Cook dinner and call cable company. Get a $10 credit from a mischarge. Cancel HD service since I use Boxee on my AppleTV for almost all TV watching now, which saves $8 a month. I can’t get on another promo for Internet service for 6 months, so I make a note on the calendar to call back in August, and decide to take a look at DSL.
8:00 p.m.: Noticed a couple antennas for the new city-wide wireless just went up near my apartment, so I call to find out if I can get service here. If I pay for a year’s service up front, it’d be half the cost of what I’m looking at paying for cable, and I could get online with my laptop anywhere in the city. I don’t have enough to cover a year’s service in my checking account tonight (it’d be $288, and I have $180) but I get paid Wednesday, so I’ll call back then. This gives me time to do some research too.
8:15 p.m.: Feeling tired already, but commit to 60 minutes of work: itemizing time so far on my trainer’s site, and updating a site for my sister’s upcoming wedding.

Day 2

5:30 a.m.: Wake up, make breakfast, get ready for the day. Check bank accounts on Mint to see if my tax refund has been deposited yet; it hasn’t. Watch The Daily Show on Hulu while I eat.
6:15 a.m.: Today’s forecast says it’ll be raining and snowing all day, so I decide to take the bus. $2.25 from my pass. When I recharge the card online I get $1 for every $10 I spend, which saves a little money compared to paying cash each time. I pack up food for the day – lunch and a couple things for snacking.
4:00 p.m.: Take the bus home. Stop at the grocery store and pick up a few things for work snacks and breakfast.
6:00 p.m.: Make dinner, get phone calls from a couple friends. One is at a bar nearby, so I tell him to come over on his way home, rather than meeting him out. I have beer here if he wants one.

Day 3

6:15 a.m.: Wake up late, after having a dream that only half of my paycheck was deposited in to my bank account. I check my balance and there’s no deposit at all. I decide I should call the bank when they open. My oatmeal explodes all over the microwave while I’m worrying. I call work and let them know I’ll be a little late. I hope it isn’t going to be one of those days…
7:05 a.m.: Bank is open, but I check the website first – there’s my check! That’s another $1200 in checking, and a quick glance at my scheduled bills shows only $250 in payments (for my student loan and my electric bill) before my next check. Direct deposit is split between local checking account, which I use to pay most bills and for general spending, and ING account for savings. $1200 goes in to checking, whatever’s left goes to ING. This check, about $608 went to ING. On the 1st of the month automated transfers will move the money around to several sub-accounts.
7:15 a.m.: Bike to work. No bus today!
12:00 p.m.: Shop for desks and chairs online. I need new ones, as what I have now is uncomfortable and unstable. Find stuff I like, but it’d be about $800 for the desk and chair. Time to start another ING sub-account.
12:30p.m.: Spend a few minutes going through Mint and cleaning up mislabeled transactions, while getting a good idea of how my finances are looking.
4:45p.m.: Trainer canceled, so I go to the gym early. When I get back I notice I’m running low on protein powder, so I order some from Amazon and notice the Subscribe and Save option – I set it up to deliver every 3 months, and they knock 15% off the price!
6:00 p.m.: Dinner at home. A friend comes over, we chat and watch a few TV shows on Boxee.

Day 4

5:30 a.m.: Wake up, cook breakfast, and put together a lunch from leftovers and make a salad. Put together two snacks as well. Hop on my bike and head to work.
8:30 a.m.: Get a call from the Minneapolis wifi provider. Set up an install on Sunday. $400 for the modem and 1 year of service, plus 30-day refund if it doesn’t work well in my apartment. Better than the $780 ($65 a month) I’d be looking at paying for cable.
9:15 a.m.: Post on Twitter about my plan to switch from Comcast, and minutes later a Comcast rep contacts me through Twitter, telling me to email them to see about a promo. I send a quick email.
12:30 p.m.: Lunch at my desk.
4:30 p.m.: Get home by bike. I get an email from Comcast asking for my account information. I send it off, and a little while later I get a phone call from a Comcast rep asking about my situation. I explain it, and she offers to put me on a 6 month promo for $19.99 instead of $42.99 for Internet service. The Internet speed will be faster than what I’d get on wireless, and the cost will end up being just a few dollars more after the modem rental and required basic cable — $34 a month. I ask if the plan can be extended longer than 6 months, but she says it can’t. I guess I’ll have to go through the process again in 6 months, but it’s worth 5 minutes of email and Twitter and 10 minutes on the phone to save $200 over 6 months.
6:30 p.m.: Make dinner, then some friends come pick me up (I don’t own a car) and we drive to a movie theater to see Coraline – the first movie I’ve seen in a theater since The Dark Knight came out about 8 months ago.
9:00 p.m.: Get home, have a snack since I didn’t get anything at the movie, answer a couple emails for freelance work, and watch a show on Boxee.

Day 5

5:30 a.m.: Make breakfast, a snack, and lunch for today. I check Mint and see that my federal tax refund has come through, that’s $665! I log in to ING and transfer it to my emergency fund right away. It’s very cold out this morning, and I might go straight to a friend’s after work, so I decide to take the bus.
12:00 p.m.: Lunch at my desk. My two main pairs shoes are coming apart at the soles, so I look online for some replacements. Work is fairly casual dress, I can’t keep wearing hiking boots once the snow has melted. I find two pairs, one dress and one casual, that I like at DSW, and after getting coupon codes from I place an order – 2 pairs for $73, with free shipping. Not too shabby.
4:00 p.m.: Stop by bank and deposit two checks – one from my grandparents for my birthday and one to cover my brother’s share of our hotel room when we go to my sister’s wedding next month — $235 deposited.
5:00 p.m.: Take light rail to the mall for $2.25 and meet a friend who works nearby. We get some sushi for dinner ($10 for me) and she helps me out with finding a shirt and tie for the wedding. Clothes are expensive, but it’s my sister’s wedding and I want to have something nice. $200 for shirt, shoes, tie, and cuff-links. I also find a sweater I like on sale for $20, and a pair of pants for $25. So I spent $255 at the mall, but I’m very happy with what I got and I think everything will be well used. These are the first shirts of any kind I’ve bought in about 6 months.
8:00 p.m.: My friend drops me off at another friend’s place. He and I usually meet up to watch a couple TV shows together Fridays and to catch up with each other. His fiancee shows up a little later as well.
12:00 a.m.: Take the light rail back in to the city for $1.75 and walk 10 blocks home.

Day 6

12:00 p.m.: A friend recommends a book and sends a link to Amazon. Using Jon Udell’s bookmarklet, I check if my library has it – they do, so I request it. It should be available in a few weeks.
8:00 p.m.: A friend comes over to watch a movie. I spent the rest of the day cleaning and doing some programming.

Day 7

7:00 p.m.: Some friends come over to watch a movie in the small theater room in my apartment building. I had reserved it to watch a movie with a friend and her 3-year-old daughter, but they had to cancel. It’s free to get the room, but I figured I might as well still use it. One of my friends brought dinner over for all of us, which we watched before the movie.

In Sum: About $400 spent, most of it on clothes for my sister’s wedding. No credit card debt acquired, over $1000 put in to savings thanks to my tax refund, and negotiated a better rate on my Internet service, saving me $200 over the next 6 months, plus the confidence to negotiate in the future.

* * *

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  1. cc

    ING Sub-accounts, freelance work, negotiating internet service skills….sounds like Ramit has a star pupil…although his entire paycheck did go into his checking account…

  2. Jenn

    I like this guy. He’s being extremely frugal but it sounds like he has a goal for his emergency fund. Also, he doesn’t fret over every little expense, and doesn’t let frugality destroy his social life. Actually, my favorite things about this story are bartering for training, going to the gym even when the trainer canceled, and committing to 60 minutes of work even when he was tired. Just shows what kind of guy he is. I wish I was that disciplined.

  3. The Personal Finance Playbook

    Love the bartering. It makes a lot of sense. Both parties are willing to forego the exchange of cash in order to get a service they need anything. I think this is pretty common amongst personal trainers in general. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ramit Sethi

    By god I love this person. Just wait until we create an army of people like this, negotiating with companies, automating their financial infrastructures, and consciously spending. We will be unstoppable. I shall call us “IWillTeachYouToBeRichItes.”

  5. Daya

    I am so impressed that someone on the Money Diaries finally has their stuff together and isn’t in a financial mess. He uses Mint, is aware of his spending, and even saves! I also love the “I have beer here” 🙂

  6. Moneymonk

    “A friend recommends a book and sends a link to Amazon. Using Jon Udell’s bookmarklet, I check if my library has it – they do, so I request it. It should be available in a few weeks”


  7. Ellen

    I love this guy! I’ve also bartered for personal training. The trainer I worked with owned his own huge gym, so my roommate and I would clean all of the equipment, bathrooms, and kitchen once a week in exchange for 3 days a week of personal training. I also started to post ads on craigslist for him while I was working out there. I think my roommate and I got the sweet end of the deal in that equation 😉

    I agree with the above commenter that this person doesn’t let frugality destroy his social life. That’s one thing I’m also trying hard to do – figure out ways to still have fun with my friends without needing to go out every Friday and Saturday night. Lots of cards, Rock Band, and movies at home!

  8. Justin

    I live in Minneapolis, and after reading halfway through I started to wonder if he does too (based on the bus fare) and he does! I looked up the wireless service and will be looking to negotiate a better rate for myself too!

    I also love the library bookmarklet! Thanks!

  9. CentsInTheCity

    Finally! Someone who manages his money…it’s more fun to watch someone spend who can do so responsibly. Makes me want to use Twitter to see if I can finally get Time Warner to give me more cable boxes. I got them to lower my bill, but I want free cable boxes.

  10. Money Diaries Post « Life and Finance

    […] Diaries Post By lifeandfinance There is currently an excellent money diaries post up at iwillteachyoutoberich. The guy is brilliant – he’s able to have fun and be frugal […]

  11. Nora

    I have learned so much from visiting your site. I really liked this guys’ daily info. about how he is saving money! I need to get on that bandwagon. I currently walk or bike and chose to save for going to lectures over bar with friends, so I don’t feel as if I am a huge money spender, but then again I also am unemployed right now and have a desire to get work to save and keep looking for work where I can live in Madagascar. I also work for free online for an organization that doesn’t pay me a dime to manage their NGO stuff online, which I think has been stressing me out. This site has inspired me- shall definitely start reading it more frequently.

  12. JaM

    To all the smart readers of this blog – Do you think there is a distinct difference in how people with a professional degree in the sciences (math, engineering, etc) approach money and things they spend on compared to people who have an educational degree in say the social sciences, music or art. I know this Ramit dude has done some kind of psychology degree, but he hangs around the s/w types too much that I guess he has become like an IT person. I’ll be curious to know!

  13. judy

    Nope. I’m in IT and most of the fellow IT / science people I know are far more prone to luxurious expenses they can’t afford like ipods, iphones, mac books or other laptops, beefy home servers, projectors, console games etc etc.

  14. Eric S. Mueller

    This guy is impressive! Talk about taking charge of your life. Most Money Diaries to this point showcase people bouncing from one emergency to the next, but this guy plans ahead. He enjoys life and gets what he wants, but his money also isn’t sucked dry by poor planning and unseen events.

  15. Maureen

    This is the first time that someone so together has written. It’s really refreshing how he doesn’t fret over expenses and is quick at making decisions.

    Bartering, saving and no debt acquired is the way to go! I hope I can mirror this behaviour as it will do wonders for my life.

    There’s not a hint of worry in anything he says. Nice work!

  16. Tyler

    You know I really expected that, despite the OP’s togetherness, there would be a throng of people chastising him/her for….something. Is it a good thing that the community keeps its mouth shut when given good content? Maybe everyone is intimidated…

  17. Jess

    I don’t conform to JaM’s analysis at all. I am middleaged, with no further education qualifications( I chose to buy and keep a horse instead of continuing to study) and spent my working life in dead-end office jobs being over worked and underpaid.

    Despite this, I own my own house (paid off the mortgage about 5 years ago) and after redundancy (very generous terms) decided to work part time in order to indulge my love for the countryside and dogs. I live very simply (horse died aged 30) but can also ski every year, go to dance class, concerts etc. In my opinion I am already very rich ( with good health, great friends and beautiful countryside right outside my house) so I am unable to explain why I find this website so fascinating. I enjoy reading the money diaries particuarly.

  18. Entrepreneur Life

    I just found this blog and I am so impressed, I will be visiting daily from now on.

  19. Aaron Brown

    Sweet! This just inspired me to call Comcast and renegotiate my internet down to $29.99 from $54.99. If I would have waited for your new book maybe I could have gotten down to $19.99.

  20. Mkg

    is he single 😉
    hehe ….i think he is the man of my dreams.