The Money Diaries: The 25-year-old single mom who writes bad checks

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.


Today’s entry is by a 25-year-old single mother. This woman’s spending is definitely troubling — she spends 8% of her take-home pay on self-described “bad habits,” including cigarettes and writing bad checks. But be careful: It’s easy to say, “Why don’t people just SPEND LESS??!” without understanding the full context of why they do what they do.

* * *

Day 1
6:45 a.m.: I call my bank to make sure that nothing unexpected has been withdrawn from my checking account. I breathe a sigh of relief. The balance is right where I left it: $2.24. I rouse my three-year-old, special needs daughter from sleep and take her to the bus stop.
8:26 a.m.: Am displeased to find I fell back asleep after taking my daughter down to catch her bus — I’m supposed to be at work at 9:00! I contemplate calling a cab, but know I can’t afford it, period. I get ready and run to the bus stop.
8:43 a.m.: Arrive at bus stop. I see the college kids waiting. I envy them, but there’s no time for expanding my mind when it’s imperative that I expand my bank account.
10 a.m.: Slam my hands on my keyboard when I realize I have forgotten my lunch.
12:15 p.m.: Spend $5.18 for a hefty serving of garlic chicken and rice on top of shredded cabbage. Yummy!
12:45 p.m.: Go to the convenience store and get a Coke and a pack of cigarettes ($0.85 for the Coke, $6.35 for the cheapest pack of cigarettes). Feeling guilty about spending money on cigarettes and Coke, I make a vow to quit both by payday. Unfortunately, this is about the thirtieth time I’ve made this vow.
6 p.m.: Get home and make the kiddo chicken nuggets and canned vegetables. Use the last of the milk, and hope that she’ll be okay drinking water for the following two nights.

Day 2
12 p.m.: Use the loose change in my purse to buy a Coke ($0.85). Sit outside my office on a gorgeous Honolulu afternoon to drink my soda and eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’m broke, but at least I’m broke in paradise.
12:30 p.m.: Call MOHELA and beg for another deferment on my student loans. They comply.
7 p.m.: Begin to panic at the fact that I only have one cigarette left. Go into the living room and beg mom to loan me a pack until I get paid on Thursday. She reluctantly agrees.

Day 3
9 a.m.: Use one of the dollars to buy a Coke ($0.85).
12:15 p.m.: Use another bill to buy a Coke ($0.85).
5:07 p.m.: Grumble at the high price of food in Hawaii ($6.99 for a gallon of milk!). Write a bad check to cover the cost of food ($109.97). Wish I could go back to Missouri, where everything is cheaper. Also realize if I didn’t live with Mom, I’d starve.
7:45 p.m.: Beg Mom for another pack of smokes.

Day 4
8:15 a.m.: PAYDAY! Thank God! It’s the first of the month, and it’s the “big” pay day because I also get my daughter’s social security and my childcare assistance. In total, I receive $1,381 on the first of each month.
8:45 a.m.: Get to the office and use the internet to pay bills and buy my daughter’s birthday presents from Amazon. Birthday presents: $71.50 Phone bill: $82.50 Student loan: $60 (this loan I couldn’t defer because I am delinquent in payments). Miss K: $25 (Post-dated check to a friend for babysitting for me last week). Old Navy online: $28.52 (two shirts for kiddo, three shirts for me).
12 p.m.: Go to used bookstore by my office and buy four books to read over the next two weeks ($21.43).
5:15 p.m.: Pay my daughter’s sitter $325 for partial month payment (total/month = $650).
5:30 p.m.: I shove my way through the clogged aisles of Wal-Mart to buy two jumbo packs of diapers and one value pack of baby wipes. At the checkout stand, daughter has screaming meltdown complete with hair pulling and punches to my face. Total for Wal-Mart: $37.53.
6:45 p.m.: Realize I forgot to buy smokes at Wal-Mart while waiting for the bus. Take one look at my screaming, crying child and decide to suck it up and buy them at the corner store were the cheapest brand is $8.96! Also buy monthly bus pass ($50).
7:30 p.m.: Pay Mom $350 for what remains of my portion of this month’s rent (total/month = $600). Am glad I contributed some of last pay period’s earnings to the rent.
8:30 p.m.: Count what remains of payday: $212.83, after subtracting the money to cover my bad check for groceries. Feel pretty proud until I realize that I have to buy the kid’s Halloween costume! Damn!
9:15 p.m.: Go down to corner store and buy six pack of Coke ($4.96).

Day 5
12 p.m.: Take off work early to take kiddo to her neurology appointment. The half day off comes out of my pay because I have used all my vacation days for taking time off for various doctors’ appointments and illnesses.
1 p.m.: Am not pleased to learn that I did not pay for the last visit’s co-pay. Must shell out $28 to cover today’s visit and the visit we had six months ago.
2 p.m.: Frustrated that I have to take off work and pay co-pays only to hear doctors tell me they have no idea what’s causing my daughter’s delays.
3 p.m.: Stop for Jamba Juice ($4.37).
5:30 p.m.: Mom reminds me that I owe her two packs of cigarettes. Walk to Wal-Mart for three packs of cigarettes for me, one for Mom ($31.75).
8:15 p.m.: Bored. To entertain myself, I spend an hour texting my ex-boyfriend who moved to Louisiana a few months ago. I splurge for unlimited text messaging because it’s a fairly cheap form of entertainment. Wish I had the money to go visit friends on the mainland, especially this friend.

Day 6
11 a.m.: It’s the last day of my daughter’s swimming lessons! They were worth the $96.
12 p.m.: Take kiddo to McDonald’s to celebrate her swimming achievements ($9.60 for her meal and mine). Wonder if it’s sad that I consider McDonald’s a luxury. Decide yes, that is very sad.
1:45 p.m.: Mom watches kiddo while I pick up her Halloween costume. She’s going to be a ladybug ($34.97).
10 p.m.: Talk Mom into babysitting my daughter while she sleeps so I can go out. Go to my favorite bar and talk some guys into buying me drinks. Even talk one guy into buying me a hot dog from the vendor outside the bar. Sweet.
1:15 a.m.: Buy cigarettes from the bar ($7) because I smoked the ones I brought.
2:30 a.m.: Take a cab home ($10.80). Worth the money to stay safe.

Day 7
12 p.m.: Make my weekly calls to mainland friends (free minutes on the weekends!). Get irritated when a friend grumbles about her financial situation because she’s better off than I am. Try to remember that her problems seem just as big to her as mine do to me, but it doesn’t help.
7:15 p.m.: Congratulate myself on not spending any money today!
9 p.m.: Run down to the corner store for a six pack of Coke and a candy bar ($5.87).
10 p.m.: Feel bummed because I won’t have any money to spend on myself on my upcoming birthday. Hope kindly relatives send me cash in the mail this week!

In Sum
Money spent on bills: $845.50
Money spent on kiddo: $183.00
Money spent on food: $130.03
Money spent on bad habits: $67.38
Money spent on transportation: $60.80
Money spent on me: $35.95
Money left over: $61.08 (this is what I must survive on until next pay day, eleven days away… think I can make it?).

* * *

How would you try to help this person? Note from 10 years of doing this and learning about people’s money behaviors: “Helping” usually starts with (1) them wanting help, (2) you listening and understanding before rushing in with “solutions,” and (3) some way of sustaining the behavioral change.

So what would you do?

[Update]: Please read comment #8 before you leave a comment.

* * *

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  1. Douglas

    I would take quitting smoking seriously. Maybe have the mom join in on the quitting. (If i quit and someone in the house was still smoking it would not help at all). I would also quit drinking Coke, which is costing.

  2. traineeinvestor

    The combination of heavy smoking + coke + a special needs child may indicate a high stress environment. Addressing the stress would be a starting point. Developing some healthy habits may help – she lives in Hawaii so a walk on the beach, swimming etc probably only cost transport (if any) and sunblock.

    The fact that she has taken the time to write this in a public forum without any sign of self pity indicates a desire to do something about her situation.

    Net cash flow = income – expenses and other outgoings

    The only obvious areas for cutting back is the smoking – she seems to be going through a pack a day which is a lot. I appreciate that quitting is not easy but even reducing consumption to one pack every second day will make a $30+ pw difference. Perhaps the writer and her mother could support each other in trying to either cut down or kick the habit? I suspect that quitting while living with a smoker would not be easy.

    The coke is relatively inexpensive but a few dollars a month saved by only buying in the supermarket would help,

    She purchased second hand books. Would a library be cheaper?

    Query: any room to supplement her income through part time work etc? Dog walking may be a good one as she could take the daughter with her in a stroller.

    She purchased second hand books – what about selling them after she has read them?

  3. mjd

    Two things I noticed right away – bought books when library books are free, and bought a Halloween costume. For a 3-year-old a simple home made costume would have been fine.

    But she’s so close to the edge regardless, I hope she’s thinking of ways to increase her earning potential.

  4. Neats

    I am so frightened for this woman. If something were to go awry with her or her daughters health or her job she would be in dire straights.

    Also, what I find disturbing is her reliance on others. She relies on the goodwill of others to help her get through and provide her with ‘enjoyment’ – talking guys into giving her drinks and buying her hotdogs.

    This was a very stressful story – I really feel her stress – what a terrible way to live. But the great thing is is that she can make her life stress free if she so desires and start feeling good about being responsible.

    A couple of great things were that she had put a little money away for rent and she had a spend free day – she should be proud of that.

    I think that the most important thing for this woman to focus on is planning.
    * Work out where you are spending money…make a list of all costs and emergencies which have financially needed your attention over the last 3 months
    * Write a budget to manage all of those costs
    * Plan out how many packs of cigarettes you need per week/fortnight/month and budget to put that money away.
    * Plan when the drs appts are and build the loss of income into her budget (as she has run out of sick leave).
    * Menu plan – and build your weekly shop around the menu (which includes lunches
    * Budget for entertainment – and that includes buying your own drinks, food and cab fare. She may only be able to do it once a month but it would be worth saving for just to keep her self-esteem and not have to ‘beg’
    * look at different ways to treat your child – It is cheaper to make a sandwich and eat it in the park where there is a playground rather than McDonalds and they enjoy it so much more. At that age there is so many more great free activities that you can do.
    * Every now and then buy your mom a small gift of appreciation – you are very lucky to have family around to help you out when needed.
    * Dont spend before you plan – that way you are simply working out what damage has been done already and then you are constantly playing catchup.
    * Ask mom to babysit while you do your shopping – not always possible but it helps you keep on track with your spending and stick to your shopping list.

    I hope that helps…

  5. celina

    Your kid needs milk. If you’re out of milk and feeding your child canned vegetables, you don’t buy coke or cigarettes.

    I’ve been addicted to both, but it’s VERY possible to quit one… just choose one to quit (coke might be easier). Just cut down – if you have one a day, cut to one every other day. If you smoke half a pack a day, just try to cut down. Going cold turkey NEVER works. Give yourself doable goals. It absolutely can be done.

  6. Shawanda

    Smoking seems like the biggest unnecessary drain on her finances. I’m not sure if she’s already doing this, but she may want to check with her local Department of Human Services or Department of Health Services to see if there’s an agency or program that could provide guidance in this area. They may be able to refer her to another governmental agency or not-for-profit that’ll be able to provide her with financial assistance. But I have to add, none of this will be of any help if she doesn’t take the initiative to change her circumstances.

    It might also be helpful to focus on the positive. From what I’ve heard and as she mentioned, Honolulu is beautiful. It also doesn’t necessarily have to be sad that she considers McDonald’s a luxury. At least her and her daughter aren’t at a real risk of starvation. Many people are.

  7. celina

    To chime on mjd’s comments about the library and Halloween costume, a 3-year-old doesn’t need a $70+ birthday present. Most children that young don’t have any concept of how much has been spent on them – anything wrapped up pretty (even a homemade gift) will be a delight.

  8. Ramit Sethi

    You guys are talking tactics. I’m going to challenge you think more deeply about this and suggest that it’s not simply tactics she needs. It’s not like she’s never realized she’s wasting money on cigarettes. In fact, she herself called it a “bad habit,” and much of the other stuff is quite obvious.

    But the answer is not simply a list of tactics she “needs” to do. To cause behavioral change, ask yourself:

    What is going on in her life?

    What brought her to this point?

    What are her barriers?

    Why hasn’t she changed until now? I guarantee it’s not from a lack of ideas about things she “should” be doing.

  9. celina

    Very fair point, Ramit.

    The number one thing I notice about her post is her idea about “treats” or “gifts” or what she considers to be luxuries.

    Something I’ve learned from this blog is that luxuries do not necessarily have to be things that we spend money on. Spending does not equal luxury.

    That’s more or less what I meant about the expensive birthday present for a child too young to understand the connection between “spending” and “luxury.”

    The swimming lessons struck me as something that was a mindful, well-considered expense. It improves her daughter’s quality of life and contributes to her future, and didn’t cost that much more than the birthday present.

    I was also struck by Day 7, in which she “congratulates” herself on not spending, then runs out and spends on coke and candy.

    Again, getting trapped in the spending = reward cycle, I think, is dangerous.

  10. Channing

    If she’s extremely lucky, the state of Hawaii has some job training programs for low-income people that also provide childcare (if her mother can’t) and a living stipend (to cover the cost of lost hours at work). A lot of these programs aren’t worth the bus fare — how to tie a tie, how to shake a hand, etc. — but some of them build real job skills, like CNA certification, that can lead to better and better-paying job opportunities.

    While she definitely seems aware of her needs and her options, states and cities often do a bad job of letting the public know that these programs are available, even to the people who are already on public assistance. Good intentions filtered through bureaucracy. So I think it’s possible there are programs like this available to her that she’d qualify for, but that she doesn’t know about. An afternoon on the phone or on the internet could turn up some doable options. College isn’t the only way to increase your job prospects, as her student loans can attest.

    But if she was able to get a better job — not just that paid better, but that offered health care coverage or childcare, and that had hours that would allow her to go back to school and get a degree — she’d be in a very different place.

    I’m less concerned about her smoking than I am that she’s not making use of a food pantry or foodstamps to keep milk in her fridge, but maybe she makes exactly too much to qualify, or maybe she’s used up her lifetime limits.

    She could also start selling weed. Not kidding. It’s a recession-proof industry, and it sounds like she’s ready to think outside the box.

  11. Jingaling

    845.50 for bills in 1 week seems pretty damn high to me. I have a family of 6 and our weekly bills are slightly above that level.

  12. 2dogcasa

    She sounds stuck, I’d wager she feels stuck, too.

    She wants to go to school like the college kids, but can’t figure out a way to get there. That sounds frustrating.

    She also sounds isolated. She misses mainland friends and her ex, and the geographical distance just compound that feeling. I bet she feels lonely.

    Her mom is a smoker, too, and it sounds like her mom misses those cigs her daughter bummed from her. I’m reaching here, but maybe, just maybe, the diarist is following her mother’s modeled behavior. I like to give folks the benefit of the doubt. I think they are both doing the best they can with what the know and who they are.

    It’s not like she’s got the cash for it, but I bet a few sessions with a shrink addressing the feelings of being trapped, anxiety about money, providing for her daughter’s future, and her daughter’s health concerns might help her. It doesn’t sound like she’s in control of much in her life; I bet if she could gain control over just one area (any area – getting up on time) – she’d feel better.

    That’s what works for me, anyway.

  13. Bonnie

    There are a few things going on here. First and foremost, she’s under a lot of very real stress. She’s taking care of a young child who needs a lot of care, which is the biggest issue. Second, she’s battling addiction to coke and and cigarettes.

    Also, I think her math is wrong, or I’m not digging her breakdown- her ‘money spent on kiddo” category is only $183, but she mentions a babysitter payment of $325 earlier?

    Anyway. First, she probably needs to look at her priorities. Figure out where she wants to be in her life- her and the kiddo. Once she’s got those sorted- she needs to see what changes she can do, what changes she can research, and so on. Make a plan of action, implement some of these tactics the other commenters mention. Maybe childcare first, then income (or a twofer there- childcare co-op, a job that has childcare, etc), then after that- tackle the addictions. The addictions are symptoms of problems.

  14. Holly

    Why don’t you buy cartons of cigarettes, or boxes of Coke at the supermarket? Instead of just telling yourself you’re going to magically quit them “one of these days,” I think it would be more useful to plan for this behavior. I don’t blame you for not wanting to quit while you’re so stressed out anyway, and convenience stores are generally more expensive. You’ll quit them when you’re ready – you’re obviously not ready.

  15. MC

    You know, reading this post hurt 🙁

    It reminds me of why my (single) mom was making less than 1K a month, and supporting three young kids.

    I’m going to say that the focus on her “bad habits” are misplaced. It is less than a 100$ at this point; sure, compared to her salary it is a lot, but it isn’t going to make her current situation easier if she suddenly has that extra 100$. That’s only illusory joy.

    I’m going to say she hasn’t changed because she either doesn’t see alternatives, or if she does she isn’t convinced by them.

  16. Cass

    What came through for me is that it sounds like she has a lack of a support system. When you’re stressed and stuck, all the ‘tactics’ in the world are just hopeless words coming from people who don’t understand her particular situation. She knows they mean well, but words are empty when you already know what you -should- be doing. In most cases it just adds to the stress instead of solving it.

    She needs a support system that will go through it with her. Maybe find a stop smoking support group (like AA, do they have those?), baby steps. People, friends, who will listen without feeling the need to give advice, maybe even offer to have her and her daughter over once in a while for a dinner, do a babysitting exchange.

    Her finances are just a symptom of her being alone (she mentioned being far away from people she would rather be with). So hopefully if she can find a support group of some kind for something, anything, that will help a little bit. Even if it’s just talking to other people in a setting where she won’t feel judged.

  17. Gumnos

    It seems that having some stark reminder of the obvious costs for her addictions might help overcome the barriers. Perhaps keep money in something associated with her kid — an old lunchbox, in a former can of veggies, a picture of her daughter, or transcribed words from her daughter about being hungry — something that will remind her every time she reaches to buy smokes & cokes that it comes directly at the cost of her daughter’s well-being.

    As for luxuries, they should be reserved for after your financial house is in order.

    @jingaling — cost of living in HI is pretty astronomical — highest in the nation per the last stats I read. Friends there report that there are two faces to the islands: the party-face for the tourists, supported by the hagrid poor.

  18. Susan Su

    Ramit is absolutely right; fixing this person’s smoking, her Coke-drinking, or even her insufficient income are all tactics.

    But, without an overarching strategy guiding those tactics, change won’t be long-lasting.

    Her small child has unique medical needs, but amazingly this isn’t the biggest or most out-of-control expense in her life. Instead, her most painful expenses come from her lack of planning, and her reactions to what is happening TO her.

    She doesn’t feel like – or act like – an agent in her own life. As a result, things ‘happen to’ her; but she does not play an active role in making them happen.

    (Note: I’m not saying that she doesn’t control the hand that takes out her wallet to pay for cigarettes; on the contrary she absolutely does, on a tactical level. However, as she makes those knee-jerk and ‘bad habit’ purchases, she simultaneously yields control to something outside of herself–addiction to smoking, being late for the bus, randomly having or not having enough cash in her checking account to cover groceries.)

    In psychological terms, this woman has high external locus of control and low self-efficacy. She is stressed, possibly depressed, and does not believe that her actions (earning more, saving more, exercising control over spending) have the power to REALLY change her situation.

    She has told herself all the things she SHOULD do, but because she locates her fate outside of herself, she has a very hard time actually doing any of these ‘obvious’ things.

    As for the right prescription to improve her situation – it’s much harder work than simply crossing tactics (quit smoking, get a higher-paying job, stop buying Coke) off the list.

    Ramit – based on your studies in psychology, do you think people can shift their locus of control to be more internal, and if so, how?

  19. suv

    one thing i can see that i could relate to is when she says ‘Wonder if it’s sad that I consider McDonald’s a luxury. Decide yes’

    replace mc.ds with whtever it is that you know is out of ure reach currently but all ur relatives peers friends or society at large are already visiting without second thought and you feel like you deserve it NOW.

    i think many ppl today refuse to accept that there are many things tht are ‘out of reach for me’. it sounds like a kick in the gut sort of a statement. we refuse to equal small once in a month big (relatively speaking) splurges as something that de-railed us from our lifes goals.

    i remember hearing my folks telling me this time and again when i was a kid. theyd tell me then and there flat. ‘that place is too expensive for us.’ ‘we cant afford it.’ which equalled ‘work hard on ure own time and do better kid’

    i cant imagine them ever planning a luxury vacation or hitting the too expensive restraunts etc. they decided that having a family meant maximising what u have, squirrelling away whenever you can and doing it thru the years (sounds boring but i owe my current stature in life to them).

  20. Matt E.

    Ramit and others are right in pointing out that tactics aren’t what is needed here. Sure buying cartons instead of individual packs might save money, but the poor finances are a symptom not the problem. Susan Su is definitely onto something with regard to the “locus of control.” The things I noticed right away are that most of this person’s friends aren’t nearby. A night out is scamming drinks and food, vacation is used up on doctors’ appointments, and (with the statement about the college students) she is obviously not satisfied with where her life is. While it can’t all be bad I would bet dollars to doughnuts that she is feeling depressed and that life isn’t exactly how she dreamed it would be.

    Now for a bit of advice, do realize that just because they look happy doesn’t mean they’re living some charmed existence. The very first thing this person is going to have to do is look somewhere (which is not smokes and cokes, birthday presents, or clothes) deep inside and figure out where the happiness has gone. Yes the child sounds like a handful, but her mother obviously loves her. Yes paying student loans, bills, and doctor’s suck. She just has to find that thing/person/group that makes everything seem not so bad. Until she finds that thing, life will continue to happen and things will continue to deteriorate.

    The thing/person/group is something like a neighborhood councils for the crazy neighbor that measures individual blades of grass, the office supply order for the secretary that needs to feel integrated into the office, or commenting on personal finance blogs to complete strangers who obviously do have it worse than me. It is that feeling of control/connectedness that bleeds over into the other aspects of life and makes things more bearable.

    Maybe this is way off or so far out there that no one knows what I mean but it is the best I can do with conveying my thoughts on the matter for now.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Now we’re headed in the right direction.

      Do you guys think it’s interesting that she completed a Money Diary for iwillteachyoutoberich? Not just proactively applied, but actually completed it for an entire week.

      What could that tell us?

  21. MB

    The writer puts much of her focus on blaming herself for her weakness for cigarettes and coke, and makes it only too easy for us in the peanut gallery to zero in on those expenses. But at the end of the day, it’s only $60.

    The problem isn’t that she spends $60 on something she enjoys; the problem is that she doesn’t earn enough to have $60 to spare. Her spending habits are not nearly the problem that her low income is.

    She doesn’t speak much as to what type of work she currently does, or what her job prospects are, but her focus needs to be on ways to make more money. Having a child makes it difficult to take any sort of second job, and requires that any additional working hours pay well enough to cover the cost of childcare and the opportunity cost of not being with your child.

    Not knowing anything about her particular skill set or location, I can only make a recommendation of a side job that worked well for me. I’ve found that working as a banquet server in a hotel can be a low-time commitment/high-pay job. Major hotels will typically pay $25-40/hour and are happy to have employees work just a couple shifts a month at the largest events. Depending on where she lives in HI, Saturday night shifts might be able give her a significant boost to her income.

  22. Eric

    The things that have always worked best for me are just sitting down and making a plan. I’m big on setting goals, in this case it would be baby steps, and then trying to meet those goals.

    Her attitude needs needs to shift from “I should” to “lets do this”. Start with something small (drink half as many cokes per week) and focus on that for a week. Next week keep that up as well as adding one more goal to the plan (smoke half as much maybe) and just keep going.

    Simply sitting down and brainstorming some ideas with her mother may serve as motivational and maybe both of them could work towards some common goals.

  23. Credit Card Chaser

    @ Celina

    “Something I’ve learned from this blog is that luxuries do not necessarily have to be things that we spend money on. Spending does not equal luxury.”

    Just have to say that you make a great point above. If she could reframe in her head the idea of different rewards she can give herself so that they are things that are free rather than costly (and unhealthy) then that would be huge progress. Of course, easier said than done 🙂

  24. M.F.

    I think she needs to lower her expenses and raise her income. Not easy I know. She could try some of the little stuff such as getting books from the library, buying a twelve pack of soda vs individual cans, but I would also look at big stuff such as childcare expenses, cheaper living quarters and getting a roommate. She should look into food stamps and WIC, but I would also consider moving if the cost of HI is really high. I think her number one goal has to be raising her income. What was her degree in and what is standing in her way of getting a job in that field? Does she need to intern, go to local college for some certification or to pick up technical skills? I think this is more important then picking up an extra shift at some min wage job. If she is getting the skills or experience to get a good paying job then there is light at the end of the tunnel. If she needs to go back to school then do it as cheaply as possible. Look at community colleges or other low cost options and apply for scholarships. I also recommend she start an emergency fund; maybe start by transferring $20 a week. This will get her in the habit of savings and give her piece of mind. She’s living on the edge of the cliff and she needs to slowly back away from it.

  25. Hans

    What would help her a lot is to find somebody to share expenses with. If she had a boyfriend/husband, she could save a lot of money. It will be very hard to find somebody who loves her and also wants to take care of the kid, but it would help her enormously. Going out to bars scamming drinks off strangers is not the way to find someone to start a long-term relationship with. If she actively started looking for someone (on the internet, maybe), she just might find him.

    This is not the right motivation to find a mate, but if she finds somebody she loves, she will be a lot less stressed and that in itself should make her much happier. And as a healthy side-benefit, she will live a life that is a lot more comfortable financially.

  26. Lindsay

    This lady has got her shit together. She’s holding it together better than I think most people could in such a situation. I think it’s excellent that she has tracked her spending for a week. It can really help a lot to be made aware of the impact of certain things you spend on and that helps identify what you’re comfortable changing. I’m not even going to address the nicotine and caffeine. I smoke and drink coffee, and if I’m under stress that is the LAST thing I want to think about giving up.

    The lady is in a rut, she knows it, and she wants to change it. Stepping back and looking at exactly what that rut is, that’s step #1 and she’s done it. I would say the next step is — I know this sounds cheesy — to visualize where she wants to be in one-five years. Be specific: I want to go to X school for X degree, I want to live in X town, I want to have X dollars leftover every month for savings. Then walk it back from there: What are the requirements for X school, how could I meet them? What are the housing and living costs in X town, what are the available jobs and childcare services, how much would it cost me to move there? And then you walk those ideas back to get into the nitty gritty details.

    Of course her budget needs overhauling: She needs tactics for how to spend less. But I think it’s easier when you have a goal, when you’ve sliced up a big goal into little pieces and you feel like you’re getting somewhere every day, every week or every month.

  27. kck

    You’ve got a checking account and the internet — why not get yourself set up on I can relate to that “never quite sure how much money is in checking or where the rest went” feeling. Mint can track what you spend automatically, and that’s the first step to knowing what you need to change. You sound surprised by how much things cost sometimes, or at least surprised by how that adds up. If you can find a way to spend mindfully & within a budget, it doesn’t matter what you choose to spend money on. I think more information might help.

  28. 2dogcasa

    @Hans – Really? She should find a man to share expenses with? She’s already splitting her rent with her mother. I don’t think this writer’s biggest problem is that she’s without a boyfriend.

    @Lindsay – Great points in your first paragraph.

    @Ramit – Maybe the fact that the writer is committed enough to apply, complete, and submit a money diary says she is in R&D mode. I like to spend some time in R&D, probably more time than others would, before I feel sure enough about my plan to move forward.

    I remain concerned for her mental health. I think she could really benefit from some help reframing her circumstances. I doubt she needs to hear that she should increase her income and reduce her expenses, or that buying her vices in bulk would save her cash. If she’s reading this web-site, she’s part of the group of budding money nerds that has already figured that out or is in the process of internalizing that advice. She needs something more than personal finance platitudes (even if those platitudes are well-intentioned and fantastic financial advice).

    I wonder how she feels now that she’s completed her diary. I’d love to hear her reflections on what keeping the diary showed her.

  29. sherif

    I think she is in a rat’s race. She knows everything about money and how to get out of it, Proof: she reads this blog.
    She just can’t get herself out of it. What she needs is to look for a higher paying job: Heck, a month worth of salary + social insurance + + = 1300$ only? she gotta look for a higher paying job. Her barriers are her daughter and her bad habits and her job. I don’t think her bad habits are costing her as much as it seems, but if she got a higher paying job, she would get more motivated into quitting her bad habits because they seem to be her way out which would be unfair to take it from her right now. She gotta feel good first.

  30. Noah Clark


    Your best point is the last one. She DID something, now she has to leverage that action. I’m actually kinda surprised she reads IWTYTBR.

    The interesting thing about impulse buys is that you don’t have to know WHAT you’ll spend the money on, you just need to know that you’ll spend the money. For example, as long as she is budgeting $70 month for “bad habits” it isn’t a big deal. I budget about $200 a month for ‘impulse buys’ because I know that’s about what I spend on stuff that doesn’t fit in anywhere else and I’m not planning to buy. Maybe it’s a new rifle scope, maybe it’s some new clothes, whatever…it just always finds its way into the month.

    However, once she has the budget down then she needs to ask her self is do I REALLY want to spend $70 on bad habits or would it be better spent on the Kiddo getting ’em private lessons in art or computers or karate or whatever.

    What is the next action to take? I would try putting away an extra $10-20 a month away.

  31. Larry

    Excellent post Susan. I think she is reacting to life rather than planing. She has shown she can track her spending. I now think she need to be proactive rather than reactive. This is easier said than done, but right now she is a rudderless ship, drifting with the tides. I think she could come up with a plan, based upon her diary, which could save her money. First step is to figure out some goals. Kind of hard to hit targets when you don’t know where they are. I think this is why David Ramsey is successful. He lays out goals and encourages people to achieve each goal, prior to moving on. The “baby step” approach coupled with automating finances ala Ramit (she is obviously computer literate) might be a way to jump start the tactical side.

  32. Lindsay

    I also suggest that she read the Get Rich Slowly Blog, because lately they’ve been posting about the “tenets” and it’s a great compliment to this blog, sometimes with a lot more basic strategies and ABCs.

  33. Rachael

    I don’t know without asking her, but based on the income figures she gave, I think she makes too much money to qualify for public assistance such as Food Stamps.

    She already gets SSI for her daughter and child care expenses. Being in the system myself, what this says to me is that she already has a case open, has a case worker, and has everything the system can give her. Her family size is too small to qualify for much extra help anyway (again, this is based on my own experiences).

    I hope she is getting some great ideas from all the comments here. She’s obviously resourceful, tough, and smart.

  34. fredflintstone

    Don’t mean to be flippant but those babies have daddies. Are they chipping in?

  35. Another Money Diaries post! « elle & ish – shopping, decor, fashion, makeup and figuring out how to pay for it all

    […] The Money Diaries: The 25-year-old single mom who writes bad checks 12 p.m.: Take kiddo to McDonald’s to celebrate her swimming achievements ($9.60 for her meal and mine). Wonder if it’s sad that I consider McDonald’s a luxury. Decide yes, that is very sad. […]

  36. Ken Fees

    Recognition of the problem is half the battle. Responding here shows initiative. She’s in a tough spot, and her perspective is probably the only thing she’s capable of changing immediately. As others have mentioned, she might want to figure out how to take charge of her life and situation, and effect her own changes. I think she wants to feel some hope, but doesn’t know where to look for it, hence the trip to the bar. Her problem really isn’t monetary, it’s attitudinal.
    All said, I congratulate her for hanging on, trying to do something, and knowing or at least suspecting, that things could be better.

  37. Ken H.

    I think this young lady is doing a great job with the tools she has to work with and should be commended for seeking out advice to advance her cause. Good job!

    Now, to the nuts and bolts. Her words struck me throughout this post — “frustrated”, “sad”, “bummed”. She spoke how her mother “reluctantly agrees” to spot her a pack of smokes. She is already stressed and frustrated — I KNOW she feels that reluctance from people at every turn. From her mother, to the guys buying her drinks at the bar, those feelings hit her daily and demolish her self-esteem.

    On top of that, like most of us, between work and home she is locked into a given set of examples to draw from in an attempt to improve her life.

    My first advice to her is the same advice I give to anyone in this same situation — find discipline in yourself to give yourself the initial boost in self-esteem. There are certain things that cost nothing but always helped me when I was down about my situation — go to bed at the same time every night, make tomorrow’s lunch at the same time, wake-up at the time every morning. ALWAYS be punctual for all appointments! These things are free and go a long way to feeling better about ourself. In fact, if being early to work would be noticed by a supervisor, “invest” in showing up early and starting the coffee for everyone else.

    This will BEGIN to put some feelings of control back within her. My next suggestion would be to seek out mentor. Someone who was once in her position and fought their way out. Even if this mentor is though the Internet, they can help immensely. I would also have her seek out some support groups/forums online, more situational-based, not about smoking, etc.

    So far my suggestions have cost her nothing — FREE! But I would guarantee she would begin to feel a sense of control over her life. Right now she is someone that life happens to her and she does her best to react to it. A very stressful spot to be. We have ALL been there and can ALL relate in one way or another. THAT is something else she needs to realize — do not feel isolated, like she is the only one with these trials and tribulations.

    I truly commend her for doing as well as she has with a special needs child. I have witnessed two-parent families with these children and you can tell it simply beats them up — psychologically, emotionally, physically. So I imagine a single mother is ready for some “escape” time on a weekly basis. I KNOW, while she doesn’t mention it, she feels bad while she is at the bar thinking she is a bad mother because she simply needed some “Mom” time. Just be careful — a bar is a tough place to feel good about yourself, especially if one thing leads to another… I think the PRIMARY thing she needs to focus on is self-esteem.

    Quick financial suggestions would be to cut back on the cigarettes ( forget about quitting for now ). Try a half pack or just keep the 4 or 5 you enjoy the most. I would shop around for a baby sitter in an effort to save. Unless Mom is a negative influence in your life or a serious downer, stay with her for a while — $600/month isn’t bad but always keep your eyes open for the opportunity to lessen that expense — maybe with another single mother or two. Then you could share expenses, alternate night “off”, etc.

    Try and find a way to save one months worth of expenses so you are paying this months bills with last months money. That will give you a feeling of control. Try to supplement your income on a regular basis or sell some stuff on Craigslist/eBay. Does not matter how long it takes to save the money.

    Quit envying the college students — go see a Financial Aid Officer at the local university. Go back to school and improve your lot in life. You have proven you can survive some tough times. You are now seeking the answers. Do not stop now! And do not stop asking questions. The collective wisdom of the masses can help:

    1). Self-Discipline
    2). Mentor(s)
    3). Financial Repair

  38. Bobby

    As others have said to one degree or another, she needs emotional counseling, preferably from someone who has experience in substance abuse. The financial counseling comes later.

  39. Ali

    From my point of view, her biggest cause of stress is that something is wrong with her daughter and no one knows what it is. She has spent all of her vacation leave at doctor’s appointments and still has no answers. I think that must make her feel powerless and frustrated.

    How can you plan for your future when you don’t know what your daughter will need to be successful?

    I agree that she sounds like she is feeling isolated and without control in her life. I think one of the major sources is the frustration of going to doctor after doctor without answers. She will probably have to keep going and keep losing pay.

    Once she knows what is wrong, she can plan for it. She can plan for whatever special help her daughter may need. Until then, she is living on uncertainty and nervous energy. A few smokes and cola are helping her deal with the stress.

    I would suggest that she seek out someone to help her with the medical profession. Not sure how it works in Hawaii, but just to find some sort of health care advocate. Or connect to a support group online – go to a public library for access. There are lots of parents online that would relate to her situation and might be able to give her some advice and assistance. Sometimes the parent has to do the medical research herself.

    I think she is reaching out. She sounds smart and very self-aware. Having more control over her finances might help her feel better about other parts of her life.

  40. More Money Monday roundup: Bad checks & online brokers |

    […] habits of real people over the period of seven days. What are your thoughts on the single mom with bad habits and bad checks? [I Will Teach You to Be […]

  41. Katarina

    Dear diary-writer, I think you are very brave to admit your story publicly. Having a child with health problems is very stressful, I’m not sure I understand how serious the situation is for you but you talk of multiple visits to the doctors and not getting any answers. I don’t have kids so I can’t really understand what it is like for you, but my older brother had health problems from being prematurely born and my parents were worried out of their minds. From my family’s experience I think its nothing strange at all that your finances are a bit messy and that you’re smoking to calm down. I think it’s great that you reached out to this blog so you can get support. I feel like I’m way out of line to give you any advice because I feel you should be talking to other parents that are in your situation or a professional. Maybe there are supportgroups online? Remind yourself that you are actually going to work and taking care of your daughter and functioning in many key areas of your life, don’t be hard on yourself. I hope things work out for you, take care!

  42. KellyA

    I agree, it’s really easy for those of us who don’t live the diarist’s life to point out what she should do better. I am very impressed she is identifying the emotions and triggers behind spending, i.e. Saw college students and felt held back, bought cigs and Coke.

    So I would recommend transitioning from completing the Money Diaries to keeping a real diary. I imagine it’s cathartic to see in writing how and why you spend a paycheck as you do. After awhile you can see and feel what behaviors or circumstances bother you the most.

    At this point I think the diarist feels stuck. Stuck on the island, stuck dealing with doctors who don’t understand her kid’s delays, stuck with unpaid time off work because there’s not enough vacation time.

    I feel the frustration in the diary and nothing is going to be magically unstuck overnight. Start with one area be it selling clothes or books that are unused or taking drastic cuts to the grocery budget.

    Next, tie each action of control to the larger goal. Using some of the tactics here and write down “Today I bought my daughter powdered milk to make the $6/gallon stuff stretch further. I’m going to stay under my grocery budget this month and next and use the savings to avoid bouncing checks! Pretty soon I will start transferring $10 a week to a savings account so I can save enough money to take night classes!”

    Finally, build a support system. Not guys who buy you hot dogs or friends that complain about their own problems without caring for yours. Look for a support group regarding your child’s delays or a Mom group. There are online forums as well. It’s possible, as the money situation improves, you’ll find a family therapist who can help even more.

  43. Moneymonk

    Bottomline, she is stuck in a rut. I will suggest a side job or side hustle to bring her income up. Of course, I do not have all her details for as what skills she has. But I will start with finding something that can bring her income up and perhaps adjust her bills to automatically be paid on the first of the month.

  44. Patricia

    I think she needs mentoring – someone to help her get over the rut she’s in because she reads this blog and took the time to do her finances for a whole week.

    Another idea is an accountability partner – someone she can talk to when she wants to overdraw on her bank account, to give into her vices as with cokes and smoking. That person could help her by sounding her ideas and encouraging her to take action.

  45. Mike P

    I wholeheartedly support joining a moms group. There are bound to be other moms who may also have been single moms and can help with emotional support/ mentoring. Also scheduling some alone time (not at work) but maybe a half hour a night or every other night to reflect and take stock, with the TV off. Go out on front porch, find a quiet area of the house. It may be weak but its what I find gets me through the tough moments.

  46. Raina

    I have been in financial situations where I have moved from crisis to crisis and I have been pretty lucky to be able to depend on my family for emotional support even though I have always found a way to land on my feet, financially.

    She definitely has the addiction problem going, because she runs away from the situation, and then feels guilty when her short-term coping method wears off, and then beats herself up, getting back on the addiction treadmill. This cycle will make it hard for her to feel empowered, because what’s freeing her (cigarettes) is the same thing that’s causing her bank (and freedom) account to shrink. I don’t know what her situation with her mom is, but she needs to see if she can maybe stay with her mom for 2 months while she gets her daughter’s medical situation figured out. Once her daughter is receiving the right medication and treatment, living on her own may seem more manageable. If she can stay with her mom for 2 months, at least she can have some sense of security about her living situation and put more money toward getting a second opinion from a different doctor and once that’s figured out, she can breathe a little easier. She can maybe help her mom around the house and run errands since her mother will no doubt be watching over the granddaughter during this 2-month period. Her mother might accept a portion of the rent that she is currently paying to maintain a place of her own, and she can put aside the portion that she isn’t spending on rent into a high interest savings account. During the two months, perhaps she can see if she can negotiate a pay raise if her performance at work has been good, or maybe flexible start time in the morning if she works through lunch, or leaves later on in the day. Also, if she is receiving state assisted medical care, she can look into taking some kind of smoking cessation pill that could help her curb the need to smoke during times of stress.

    She needs to put the little shocks that life gives her into perspective and learn not to be so reactionary. Even a simple book (like a pocket book on Buddhism borrowed from the library or picked up from some sidewalk vendor at the beach) could help her not to be so reactive and can teach her to bring her mind back to problem-solving her situation instead of giving energy to envying others.

    Finally, pay off the debts she owes to her babysitting friends and maybe put aside $20/week for fun time for herself.

    She could ask a friend what her top strengths are and learn to cultivate those, which might mitigate the need for a degree. She really needs a break and a shot of self-esteem. I think she feels like her life is out of control and that more money might save her, but I think the solution lies in getting herself emotionally shored up, first.

  47. Raina

    Ooops! Sorry! I missed that part where she said she lived with her mom. Kinda makes my post not as applicable.

  48. Sarah

    I think folks are on the right track: I bet she doesn’t feel like she’s in charge. I think this is partly about personality and partly about experience, and so I think one key might be to cultivate the experience of having control over her finances (and life). Maybe saving up to some number with some zeros in it by slashing expenses for a few weeks would do it, or finding some stream of additional income, however tiny. Even setting a goal would be good if she feels like she can work towards it!

  49. Jim Philips

    The first thing I would tell her to do is to PLAN her food consumption for the entire period between paychecks. Buy enough simple and nourishing food to get her and her kid through the entire month without gaps where she has to improvise. An no soft drinks! They aren’t food. They’re expensive and terrible for you. Even if you’re eating rice and beans for weeks, it’s better than splurging on fast food.

  50. Christina Andrews

    Many Single mothers who have gone from a dual income household to a single or no income household find it very difficult to manage thier household spending. I too have been there and know from first hand having been left with 4 children to look after.
    Its easy to spend on yourself and the children to try and feel better about yourself, your situation and to try and make the children happy.
    But this is not the answer. Yes developing a budget will definately help and is important, but until you can actually deal with your emotions and state of mind as a single parent than you will continue to spend above and beyond your means as a form of escapeing where you are at – to feel good. Please check out “The 7 steps to being Single, Strong & Successful” audios and grab some Free great tips while your there.

  51. AnitaNomad

    One more comment on her smoking (I’m about to tie it to a larger idea, I promise.): Call Hawaii’s Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW. It’s a free service paid for by funds from a settlement with the tobacco industry. I think every state has a Quitline. I have friends who work for the Quitline in my state (Colorado), and they’re *wonderful!* They’re real, caring human beings who’ll give solid advice and resources to help real people make lasting behavior changes (and lots of folks also like that they’ll send you free nicotine patches). Most important, though, is that the Quitline offers support, complete with hooking you up to other community resources. This lady needs more support from her community, and as other commenters have said, it’s difficult to find out what all is available.

    I know that my state also has great organizations to help financially struggling single parents with childcare and job training, and others that help parents of special needs kids, providing childcare, advice, and again, support. Might she find such services in her area?

    I don’t see this person making any ridiculous decisions with her money. I just see a stressed-out mom in a spiral of playing catchup to make ends meet. I hope community support services can help her free some of her time and energy so that she can earn more and finally get ahead financially.

  52. Joe Doakes

    As a single mom, she should ensure that she doesn’t have any more children unless life circumstances improve greatly.

    If she’s not going to quit the cigs or soda anytime soon, she might as well buy in bulk in the meantime to save $$.

  53. Paul

    To SingleMom25: First, realize that you don’t need to change. You can continue to live the way you are now, possibly for the rest of your life. There is nothing you “should” do, and your habits are only bad because you say they are. You’re not out of control like you feel you are. After reading your notes, you decided each time to spend the money. That’s OK. If you want to continue to live on the financial edge, that is perfectly fine. Many other people choose to live like that. Not having money is only bad because you’ve decided that it is.

    Now, if you want to achieve a little breathing room financially, that’s OK too. Here are a few things that may help.

    1) Realize that your willpower is limited, and start at the level you are on now. Pick a small, seemingly unimportant goal that you know you can accomplish. Pick something easy and do it for two weeks. One suggestion is to pack a lunch the night before going to work. You’ve already done a fantastic job tracking your spending for 7 days, so something like this shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

    2) After you’ve successfully completed your first goal (packing lunch or whatever) give yourself a reward. Whether you have to spend money for this is up to you. The reward could be a picnic at the beach with your daughter, renting a movie, or almost anything you will really enjoy that you don’t do often.

    3) Over several days, spend a few minutes with no distractions (TV, radio, etc) to think about what you would be like if you were the person you wanted to be, but in the same circumstances you are now. You’d still be at the same job and pay level, living with your mother and daughter. Write down your thoughts. Think about what you’ve written, and change it as necessary until you decide who you really want to be. Especially focus on how you would feel. Would you still feel out of control? Or would you be confident, knowing that you can handle life no matter what the circumstances. You’ve already handled the situation you’re in for several years. How would your relationships to people and money be different?

    4) Decide whether to remain as you are now, or to become the person you would like to be. There is always some effort required to change. If you don’t want to expend the effort, then remain as you are now. I think you’d like to change but are either afraid of succeeding, or haven’t realized that you are strong enough to succeed. Since you’ve done the 7 day tracking already, I know that you can do it. You were brave enough to post on this site looking for help, so I know you are brave enough to change if you choose to.

    5) If you choose to change, pick one small difference between what you are being now, and what you have chosen to be. Maybe you choose to be on time for the bus every day without feeling rushed. Now decide what you need to do for this to happen. Get up earlier? Lay out clothes the night before? If it’s too big a step all at once, pick part of it and CHOOSE to do that. Continue to choose to do it every day until you’ve done it successfully for 21 days straight. Give yourself a reward for BEING what you wanted to be! Review your written notes from step 3 and celebrate your success.

    6) Pick the next small difference between what you are being now, and what you have chosen to be. This could be slightly more difficult, or even something easier. Do was is necessary to BE this for 21 days.

    7) Continue on closing the gap between what you are being now, and what you choose to be. Accept that there will be setbacks, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Every so often, review your writings from step 3 and decide if you need to change anything.

    MikeP in post 49 has good advice. If you decide you want to change, his advice could be helpful. Spend time sitting quietly, and recognize the wonderful things in your life, like a mother and daughter who love you, time to go to the bars, and disposable diapers. If you choose to join one, a support group could be helpful, even one that is only via the internet.

    But mainly, realize that you are OK as you are now, and are only changing because you’ve choose to.

  54. Kissyboots

    I just wanted to say thanks for posting this. I’m 30, raising two kids on my own after their dad split. I always feel like people in my situation are invisible to people who do the kind of work you do, and the fact that you posted this instead of writing people like us off was really heartening. Really cool, Ramit. 🙂

  55. rackgen

    Ramit, she is committed to what she does. Best way is to use subtle pushes to motivate herself to do things which would benefit her over short as well as long term.

    Cigarettes are indeed a problem but from a personal finance side it is not the highest priority. Payments are. So rather than request her to buy cartons instead of individual packs.

    Payments – can’t the student loans be renegotiated? [sorry not in USA so don’t know] That is one of the things which will pile up in long run – should be attacked first.

    Bills – Your scripts are a winner here. Should be able to help her in renegotating with service providers.

    She also needs to be entertained [who doesn’t!] and her posts suggest she realizes that.. May be move to mainland and try reducing the living costs??

  56. Terri

    I agree, keeping a real diary for escape – and setting goals to work for are key. It seems she is drifiting and needs direction. The minutiae will come, but setting some goals, then backing into the steps needed to get there will help her battle the real problem – feeling powerless. She needs something that SHE decides is a worthy goal to empower her efforts and focus. Cokes, cigarettes, bars, what she is searching for is comfort, and I agree with Susan, she’s looking externally. Perhaps taking her daughter on walks “in Paradise” could be a solace.

    @Ramit, what has her reaction been to the feedback? I would really be interested in a follow-up post to see how she’s doing! Hang in there diarist…

  57. Kevin

    In psychology, there is usually a consistent duality between victimhood and self efficacy. Those who feel they are victims of life don’t feel responsible for their own circumstances. However, they are at least consistent, in that they also feel powerless to change their fate. They feel that life just “happens” to them. They are left to react to whatever external influences direct their lives. Interestingly, this writer seems to contradict this model. While I get the impression she feels powerless to improve her station in life, I don’t get the “victim” vibe from her.

    This woman needs assistance, and not from a bunch of anonymous Internet finance geeks. She’s clearly dealing with multiple issues, not the least of which is the toll her heavily-dependent lifestyle must be taking on her self-confidence. This woman could not exist without the generosity of others. She has subsidized housing and daycare from her mother, she has subsidized health care for her daughter via Social Security, and she even has no shame in taking advantage of strangers to their faces, scamming free drinks and writing bad checks to grocery stores. I feel for her, but I cannot help her. She has to want to help herself.

    Her money problems are obvious. We’re all being extra-polite here, but we can all clearly see that her spending is out of control. In just one week of spending, I counted over $250 in unnecessary “luxury” spending. She divided the categories differently, but under my budget, all of the following would be considered discretionary, “luxury” spending:

    $33.38 on junk food (Coke, fast food, candy)
    $54.06 on carcinogens (cigarettes)
    $167.22 on extravagant splurges
    Shirts from Old Navy (are there no thrift stores in Hawaii?)
    Books (No libraries in Hawaii either?)
    Birthday presents ($70?? For a toddler???)
    Halloween costume (Again – for a toddler?? Take a white pillowcase and make her a ghost!)

    That’s $250 in luxury spending in one week! That’s the same amount I allow myself for a MONTH, and our household income is six figures! With such outrageously wasteful spending habits, she must surely know where her money problems lie. Thus, pointing them out won’t help her. Perhaps a little negative reinforcement will effect a short term change, but long term change has to come from within herself. Not only does she have to WANT to change and improve her life, she has to BELIEVE that she can. I’d love to tell her she can, but to be honest, I don’t know this woman. Any encouragement I provided would ring pretty hollow, as we’ve never met.

    Her money problems can be fixed by cutting back the crazy wasteful spending, getting another job, chasing the father for child support, or a few other things. But that alone won’t improve her life and bring her true happiness. She needs a clear vision of what she wants her life to look like, and she needs to sincerely BELIEVE that it’s possible for her. No white knight is going to ride in and fix everything for her. The rest of the world has their own problems to deal with. It’s up to her. Nobody wants her life to improve more than she does. She needs to find the courage to take the reins of her own destiny and change her future. Mark Twain wrote, “If you don’t change your direction, you’ll get where you’re going.” And this woman’s headed in the direction of obesity, a mouth full of rotten teeth, a chest full of cancer, and a daughter raised in a culture of dependency and charity, destined to continue the cycle herself.

    Since no one else has had the courage to do so yet, I’ll risk the inevitable scorn and shine the light on the elephant in the room. Is it possible that the child’s developmental difficulties are related to the writer’s heavy smoking habit? Second hand smoke in the household is linked to numerous respiratory illnesses in children, such as asthma and stunted lung capacity, but if this writer were smoking during the pregnancy, that’s unconscionable in my opinion. The link between smoking during pregnancy and brain abnormalities in the child is clear and widely known. I would certainly (although admittedly naively) hope that this woman’s pack-a-day habit began after her child’s birth, although the cynic in me cannot be convinced so easily.

    Of all the money dairies, this one evoked the most empathy from me. I really hope this woman is able to improve her life. I hope she’s able to draw some knowledge and encouragement from the comments here. I know it’s not part of the format of this series, but I’d love to read a follow-up of this woman in 1 year’s time, to see how she’s doing.

  58. Miss Moneypenny

    I think its worth noting some of the things that this woman does right. Based on whatever salary she is making, she clearly couldn’t afford to live on her own, so she is living with her mother, while paying reduced rent. She has a sitter taking care of her daughter full time, and though things get very ( very ) sketchy before her paycheck comes in, she manages to cover all of her bills. She has two vices- Coke and smoking. While many people may be tempted to blame her and tell her to quit, lets all stop and think for a minute about what our own vices are. Mine are shopping and expensive cheese. Its kind of ridiculous to assume that anyone can eliminate all of their guilty pleasures- its just not feasible.

    What she should focus on is how she can ( at least in the short term) reduce the cost of her vices. If she knows she goes through x amount of cigarette packs a month, then buy them in cases- thus saving herself the panicked runs to the corner store for expensive cigarettes. Likewise with the Coke. It will simplify her life and save her a few dollars.

  59. Paula McConnell

    Ramit and others,

    I was this young woman, a long time ago. She needs help, not just tactics and strategy, but good counseling and mentoring to deal with the social-emotional side of money. She clearly has the ability and self-knowledge to move beyond this and I applaud her participating in the money diaries, but is there support for her for the long term? Does she understand that by breaking free from the emotional bondage of her relationship with money, this will change the entire structure of her life?

    To the 25 year-old singe mother,

    My dear, I do understand and I know where you are headed. At 45 my financial resume includes 2 bankruptcies, 3 car repossessions, losing custody of my children (now adults), and 4 marriages. I am also educated and socially polished. How are these relationship matters related to money? Because I was making similar choices at your age that you are making now – and they snowballed. It took ten years for me to dig myself out of the financial/social/emotional nightmare but I did it, and quite ironically, have become the role-model of financial prudence. (Thank you, Ramit!) Like I did, you have the trifecta of financial disaster in your life: stress or emotional “misalignment”, lack of financial literacy and a possibility of long-term medical involvement. I encourage you to seek help and stabilize yourself first, and learn how money works. Good luck to you.

    Paula Mc

  60. DivaLion

    Before I comment on the post itself, I wanted to say that I was really impressed by the responses here– specifically, by the high level of compassion everyone has shown. Even the more tough-love responders are not being unkind. I’ve been in similar straits to this woman, and I know one of the hardest things about talking about it is the overwhelming fear that people will be judgmental or contemptuous, that you’ll be labeled stupid or a loser. It’s just remarkable to see that, on the contrary, everyone here is being very understanding and helpful.

    Ramit, what it says to me that she completed a Money Diary is that a) she’s ready to face up to the hard truths of her life, and assess honestly where she is, which is the necessary step before taking action to change; and b) she probably feels like she can’t see the forest for the trees any longer. Even though she probably knows there are things she shouldn’t spend money on, she doesn’t have a big-picture view, and this is a way to throw it out to people who aren’t biased by their relationship to her, and say, “OK guys, tell me what you see. Tell me what I’m missing.” Outside perspective can be really helpful in getting that aerial view that eludes you when you’re in the thick of the situation.

    One thing that really struck me about the diarist’s story is that she doesn’t seem to have articulated what her values are. Indications of them nudge up through the narrative– she obviously values caring for her kid, and providing nice things for her kid; she values time and indulgences for herself to provide stress relief; she actually values being responsible, even with money, even though it doesn’t look like it.

    But these don’t seem to be very conscious, and they aren’t followed through as conscious choices would be; she’s constantly putting out fires with little buckets of water (and don’t I sympathize) without taking time to think through a fire prevention plan.

    For instance, her child’s health and well-being seem to be a very central value for her. So following that path out to her choices, it means that quitting smoking would be a logical part of living that value; it’s healthier for the child and it also preserves *her* health and ability to care for her child. Quitting smoking as an abstract “I should do this because it’s bad and expensive”– of course that’s not going to work for her! It’s too vague to compete with her sense that she needs to do something that feels stress-relieving for herself.

    And following through her (entirely justified) desire to do nice things for herself, she needs to ask herself what it is about the things she does now (smoking, going to bars, etc) that feel stress-relieving, and compare them to the ways in which they’re hurting her. When she knows what she’s getting out of them, very specifically, she has tools to find other things that give her the same benefits without as many of the drawbacks.

    I really get some of her behaviors. Spending six bucks on a takeout lunch *is* a ludicrously small amount to begrudge yourself when you’re hungry. Spending twenty bucks on used books is not a huge indulgence and it still feels thrifty. The conflict comes between the fact that these little things add up so quickly (and fritter away money especially when you don’t have a big-picture game plan for your resources), and the fact that there’s a HUGE internal resistance to telling yourself you can’t afford them. Saying no to those things feels like condemning yourself to living like a poor person, and that feels awfully depressing especially when life in many ways is already depressing.

    You could fairly say that she IS a poor person, but that doesn’t change the fact that living in a way that makes her feel like one is incredibly hard on the self-esteem. Our culture treats poverty as a shameful, disgusting thing. It’s completely understandable that people do whatever little things they need to do in order to escape feeling poor for a little while.

    This is where I feel like the big picture comes in again. Lots of people live very ascetic lives, barely scraping by, without shame and with satisfaction, because they chose to sacrifice financial abundance for a (to them) higher cause. If you’re going to school, if you’re an artist, if your religious path esteems a life of simplicity and poverty, if you’re a hardcore political activist– you get the idea. In those cases, not having a lot of money and being endlessly creative and resourceful about getting what you need is a badge of honor. It’s part of the path, part of the work. But if you feel forced to do it because you feel like you don’t have a choice, and you don’t have that higher cause foremost in your mind, the very same circumstances feel like a punishment.

    I think she needs to think about what each piece of her spending symbolizes for her. There’s no law that says she has to spend $70 on her kid’s gifts, so why that amount? Why those things? What need do they *actually* fulfill– I mean the internal need, not the “I want my kid to have birthday presents” need?

    I would also suggest that the diarist doesn’t seem to place a high value on herself. She makes choices that she knows are bad for her health, she doesn’t seem very clear on what she wants or needs out of life, and she puts herself in disempowering situations. My first question to her would be “What makes it hard for you to believe you’re worth more than that?” I find that people often accept situations because they genuinely don’t know there are other options. For example, it’s absurd that she should have to use vacation time to take her daughter to the doctor. An employer who isn’t willing to make accommodations– that she can adjust her hours on a given day, for example, and work later to make up for it– is a piss-poor (if sadly common) employer. There ARE places to work that allow flex time and are friendly to the needs of single mothers. (I work at one.) But when you’re that beaten-down by life and struggling that much just to get by, it’s hard to imagine any better options within your reach, let alone believe you’re worthy of them.

    Diarist, if you see this, please know that I think you’re an incredibly strong and resilient woman who has everything she needs to make positive change. It’s a process. It’s often slow and frustrating– believe me, I know. But it sure seems like a lot of total strangers are rooting for you and would love to know how your story plays out. I believe in you and I wish you all the creativity and determination and stamina you need to get your life where you want it to go.

  61. Elliot

    One of this woman’s biggest obstacles is her mother, and yet in the same token its probably one of her bigger asssets. Her mother is affecting her psychologically because she is her parachute, her safety net. When she needs smokes, she goes to mom. When she needs a small loan she turns to mom. Her mom has been a crutch, which has been preventing her from changing her habits.

    At the same time I see her mom being an effective resource in time and resource management in helping watch after the clients child, and her grand daughter. If this woman can get her focus together to work a day job, and evenings a few times a week that will leave weekends and other evenings to spend with her daughters. Alternative is making more money per hour. Right now the client has long term goals, but no short term ones that will lead her to where she wants to go. Thats why she cant start making the changes she needs to get ahead. Her mom also seems to be helping her keep actual housing and living costs down. She needs to work with her mom as partners, not as a crutch.

    Changes she should focus on, yes smoking, but maybe not focusing her cutting back but just buying her cigs at a grocery store = cheaper, same with her coke. if she really wants to get ahead she needs to kick one or the other, however I think those are heavy addiction/coping issues that need more in depth involvement.

    I think for the woman to focus on her daughter’s well being should be a strong reason not to buy impulsively. She clearly wants to spend on her daughter, but cant really afford it. If she cuts our her bad habits she needs to replace them with good ones. Reward herself/ her daughter with those wins and that may help this become a long term plan.

  62. KS

    My oldest child has a developmental disability (Autism). He is six now, and making good progress – but I clearly recall the time when he was three and undiagnosed. It is such hard work, physically and emotionally. You spend your whole life in survival mode – using whatever bad habits it takes just to get to the end of another day. Spending money to make things easier seems like a good strategy – and for a while it is.

    But the problem is you cannot stay in survival mode for ever, because in the long run you won’t survive. The way out is to take advantage of all the help that is available – not just medical and government services but also you will find charities, associations and support groups out there to help parents in your situation. It may be harder to access this support without a diagnosis, but do persist. Somewhere among all these helpers you will be able to access some advice and training on the practicalities of parenting special needs children. Not all the strategies will work for your child – special needs kids are not all identical – but some will, and you *will* see a difference in behaviour. When you can get through a day, a week, a year (yes!!) without a meltdown (and you parents of typical children truly do not know what a special needs meltdown is) then none of this will be quite so hard.

    Meanwhile, it will also help to find some control over your own life. Have a look at all your circumstances – where you live, where you work, and yes, what you eat, drink and smoke – and figure out what changes are possible that would make a real difference to your life. We did this three years ago, and ended up moving house and changing to lower stress, more flexible jobs. These things reduced financial and lifestyle pressure enormously for us.Your circumstances are different from mine and what I changed in my life won’t necessarily apply to yours – but do the assessment and see what you can come up with.

    Best of luck, and remember that you have already achieved plenty, providing for your daughter and getting her into the medical/support system. Well done for surviving this far!

  63. Kim - self improvement and motivation

    Wow, this is a very enlightening article. This post made me think about my own habits. I don’t smoke and money daily on things, but I have definitely found things I need to be more conscious of.

    More to the point, I feel bad for this woman. I hope she gets the help she needs. Getting over bad spending habits is tough.

  64. Minority Fortune

    I really applaud the anonymous diary writer because she’s definitely not alone. Americans on average only save 6% of their income, so she’s not alone in bad spending habits. Tobacco and Coca Cola rake in billions in annual profits, so this lady is far from being their only consumer.

    It seems many have already discussed the lady’s reaction to life instead of being proactive. However, she’s made her first step in tracking her spending habits over a one week period. So, it seems she’s ready. Hawaii has a stark income contrast between the rich and the poor. Her social circle probably mimics her own life conditions, so she needs to join a professional networking circle for motivation.

    Furthermore, I see lots of potential. I’m very impressed that she made the investment to get her daughter swimming lessons. Just because her daughter may have a disability doesn’t mean she can’t go on in life to make large accomplishments. For all we know she could be the next Michael Phelps. She now will have an outlet to express herself. It’s very good. Now, the mother has to find an outlet of her own. For now, she’s resorted to Cokes, cigs, and other fluff purchases in an attempt to band-aid the situation. She needs a constructive way to vent. A counselor could help her get things in perspective.

    The mother must also take the time to invest in herself. Like previous posters noted, she must determine what her passions are in life and strive towards success. Once she has a goal, she can move forward to achieve it. She seems a little lost, but she’s only 25. It seems to us that it would do her good to step outside of her life and get herself around as many motivated individuals as possible to help ground her.

  65. Matt

    Desires (quit smoking, drinking) without discipline is just wishful thinking, an escape tactic used to avoid confronting the situation. That’s blunt, I know. I did quit smoking (easier than soft drinks for me). I made a mental note to quit on say, November 1. 2 months later and I’m still smoking, I look back and think, “wow, could’ve been 2 months, could’ve had an extra $350 ($6/pack x 2 months). Reverse psychology tactic. Splurge on a constructive “treat” – $11 a month at the gym, for example – That’s what I did. I look better, I feel better about myself. I’ve made rather herculean efforts to confrtont my $46k of debt, and that effort pretty much started when I started the gym. Start somewhere that enables to you build momentum. That’s where the REAL snowball method of paying debt/financial freedom begins.

  66. alibahbah

    I see a lot of the same behavior in the region I live in,upper east Tennessee,Southwest Virginia. People don’t seem to really pay much attention to 1-5 years from now,they for “thank god its Friday,oh crap its Monday”

    The stress of daily life trying to provide for a small child can be enough to drive anyone to smoke a pack of cigs,or drink a coke or two.

    And wheres the freakin dead beat dad of this child! She has a ton of alternatives, she just needs some sort of mentoring or support,being a single parent cant be easy, my heart goes out to her.

  67. alibahbah

    To Minority Fortune: I see your point with the whole social contrast concept,thats the same in any state or any city,but please save the political contrat to the house and senate. People will watch and learn from others as they grow up, her problem is a generational problem,not being taught at an early age along with million of other 20-30 year olds that there’s no free lunch,period!

  68. Becky

    Regarding getting a support system – before she’s even ready to reach out to a local mom’s group, there are online mother support sites – Mom Junction, Mom Cafe, Moms Like Me – she has a computer and she is used to being online and this may help her. Moms can be VERY territorial and her self-esteem may stop her from approaching someone in real life, but on the computer, everyone’s equal.

  69. KellyA

    Just a comment on online support groups… aside from joining the boot camp here on IWTYTBR, I have been posting for 18 months on a message board for women in debt. One of the forums I participate in lets women set a goal for how many days they’re going to go without spending money. My average goal is 15 days, not including bills. We chat constantly about everything that helps or hinders our goals. The group is very diverse and at least one of our members, who I have met personally, has a son with autism. It’s not a judgmental place and there are people from every walk of life and financial situation, from the mother of four who can’t pay her electric bill to the single woman working for the federal government who takes exotic travel vacations twice a year. But we support each other in those goals.
    I believe the diarist needs to find a group that will support her goals, whatever they may be. For the first six months or so that group is where I would turn with questions, ideas, for support. As time went on I felt more secure in giving advice if I was asked. I’ve paid 75% of my debt and most months have 10-15 days where I don’t spend a penny. That kind of self control and discipline is learned and practiced behavior and it takes a lot of support to get there. I have also met about 20 other women who post on the boards, some who live in my area and ones from New York, DC, Missouri, Texas, all over really. So even if the diarist joins an online community, if the bonds are strong and trust is established, it may foster friendships in real life as well.

    • Ramit Sethi

      So awesome. These are some of the best comments in recent history.

  70. Jason

    So much of the diarist’s life seems to be spent living through/for others. What I am most unclear about is who she is and what she hopes for in her life. I am certain I could make some things up based upon the meager information provided by the diary. At the same time, these things would be little more than my hopes for her.

    As a therapist I find journals to be meaty sources of information both for what they contain and what they lack. In this particular diary there is a specific orientation to the past and the present moment. She connects with friends on the mainland, but mentions none in her immediate surroundings; she discusses “bad habits” which are momentary satisfactions of present needs without consideration of their long-term affects; she shows a great deal of love and respect for her daughter but mentions little positive information about herself.

    Being a person who dwelt in the world from paycheck to paycheck in the past, I have a small inkling of the frustration of not being able to see beyond the present moment. Looking back at that time, I don’t know how I made it some weeks. The diarist is lucky to some extent to have a mother who she can rely on for some basic needs: shelter, freedom, etc. On the other hand, she pays for her safety in ways beyond rent, food, etc.

    Thus, my questions for her would begin with where is the future in your diary? What place does the future occupy in your thinking from moment to moment? Human beings are unique in their capacity to hope, to develop an imagined future that is attainable. I see possibilities for hopes to develop, but little motivation to make them happen. Certainly, we can count the diary as a large and beautiful first step towards self-recognition and realization. Yet, awareness is not action. While the diarist leans in one direction, she never actually takes a first step.

    Now, we can blame society for some of the ills that have darkened her door; we can focus on the struggles apparent in the mother-daughter relationship. However, neither of these foci provide a tangible hope for the diarist. Aside from our unique capacity for hope, human beings possess both strengths and weaknesses which color our interpretations of the world. The diarist possesses these as well. Sure, she has bad habits. However, she is obviously caring and loving of her daughter; she has some sales skills if she can get men to buy her drinks and a hot dog; and, she is able to appreciate the beauty of her surroundings. How can she begin to parlay these obvious strengths into hopes which constructively impact her life?

    She might not be able to quit smoking for herself, but could she do it if it was framed as the hope of providing a healthy example for her daughter? There is no mention of what kind of job she holds, but could her social skills propel her in a different direction which provides a bit more breathing room between paychecks? There is a lot to play with in this person’s life and a lot that can provide the kind of attainable hopes if she were able to apply some of the self-reflection evident in the diary to other moments of her life.

  71. Lisa

    I stopped reading about half way through the comments, sorry if I repeat.

    I would say first off, she knows she has a problem and wants help. That is the biggest thing (or else why did she complete the week spending track?).

    I know this is an acronym, but I think it helps, she needs SMART goals. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

    First, she needs to figure out her goal. I would say the main focus is earning more money. Yes, she “wastes” money on cigs, coke, eating her lunch out, cabs, buying books when she can go to the library, etc. but even if she quit her bad habits, and frugaled herself to the max she will only get a few hundred extra a month. Maybe that is enough to break her cycle, she can judge best.

    However, for the amount of effort it would take to change the basket of poor spending choices, I say focus effort on earning more.

    Ok so lets do a what if, and I can’t truly judge the what is best for her as I don’t have enough information. And I agree, the biggest thing cheezy as it is is saying you can or you can’t. If you tell yourself you can, you will find a way.

    Goal – earn more money.

    Specific: Get a new job paying $X hour more than I do now, or $XX,xxx a year. Alternately, figure out how to get a raise at current job or how to add a part time job (work from home, babysit for others on the side in the evening, banquet server, etc.) I say food stamps if she qualifies are good but temporary as the final goal is not to need them.

    Measurable: figure out requirements for this job. Assess current skills and determine what is needed to get the new job. A job counselor may be able to help.

    As a side note, not being late to work and finding something that may help your work place do better could put you on the path to more $ there. Or at least broaden your resume with better skills.

    Realistic: Find a job or career prospect that is near by, that she enjoys doing.

    Attainable: Make sure to break your goal into a lot of small steps you can manage. Make sure the small steps are specific, measurable etc.

    For example, if I want to loose 100 lbs I don’t say I’m loosing 100 lbs, I say I’m going to loose 10 lbs over 2 months. Then I reassess and go for the next 10 lbs, rinse and repeat. Stairs are climbable because there are a lot of small steps on the way up.

    Maybe this would work.

    Step 1 talk to a career counselor. Step 2 take advantage of the services offered. Step 3 work on skills, get classes or certifications, etc. Step 4 re-write resume. Step 5 apply for new jobs. Step 6 call back new jobs, write thank you cards, etc.

    Timely: I think to a certain extent this is the most important. Set a realistic time frame by which you will do your goals. Each step or smaller goal needs a date. If I can go to the gym every day, or whenever I don’t go. This is why paying for classes is so much more effective for me than doing training for myself at home at my own pace, I put it off. Maybe mom can help watch her granddaughter?

    Anyway, set a day to go do step 1, then a day to do the follow on step, etc. If life gets in the way, re-assess and set a new date. Don’t let a failure say you are no good, have no skills or are worthless, it just means you need to get back on track.

    Everyone can improve, if you are reading this, S you can improve, you know you have potential go out there and unleash it. Show us all what a wonderful, amazing, award winning person you are and how lucky we are to have you working for us.

  72. Alison

    This is a really awesome thread of posts – great advice and show of support. I hope she’s reading all of this – especially the posts saying how courageous she is.

    Fact is, all of us have things we want to change, financially and otherwise. We may be starting from different places, but is the person who feels trapped in a $100K/year job with a big mortgage and high bills really that much different? That person has the same problem: how to go from where he is to somewhere better. How to decide what that better place actually is and figure out how to get there. This is part of the human experience – we’re all facing this.

    That said, I’m a huge believer in momentum. Few people can make a major change overnight, but most can do little things here and there, which together will add up to a big change. Little things also give you confidence to tackle bigger things. They show you that you are capable of accomplishing, of changing.

    I agree that so much of this lady’s situation is tied to her thoughts about herself and her life. (As it is for all of us). So the key to changing her behavior is for her to slowly change these thought habits. That doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen when one becomes aware that this change is both desirable and possible. When a person realizes that they want to change.

    So how to do this? There are as many ways to change your thinking as there are thinkers. I love reading inspirational stories, seeing inspirational films. Doesn’t have to be high brow – XMen and Catwoman do very nicely for me. I also enjoy many of the conventional self-helpers – Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, Wayne Dwyer, etc. – and The Secret. I take what I can use from each, and discard the rest. Accomplishing little tasks like baking pumpkin bread or weeding the yard reminds me that I can accomplish things, and energizes me for the bigger projects. Yoga is great to silence the mind and focus on the body. Beauty – in any form, all around us – elevates me and makes me happy. And reading the posts on this thread just blows my mind that so many people are thinking about these things and reaching out to help this lady.

    So my recommendation for this lady is first, to understand that she’s not alone. Second, to realize that she has to give herself a mental makeover. Third, to accept that this makeover can be slow & gradual, and that’s absolutely OK. In fact that’s the best way, because then the new habits she develops will really stick. Then fourth – that’s the fun part – that’s the tactics. Those are little changes here and there that will eventually add up to a big change.

  73. Ken H.

    I am wondering if the young lady ( author ) is reading all of these comments, yet still does not know where to start? _I_ think it would be wonderful to have her join this conversation so we could get further EXACT details, we could help her with some real issues and possibly justify why we spend time reading blogs. Spouting suggestions into the ether makes some people feel good but I think really helping someone and her child would be great!

  74. Eric

    I am currently experiencing a similar financial situation (granted, no child, but I am considering temporarily moving back to my mother’s in order to improve my situation + I have the same weakness for (diet) coke and smoking 🙂 ).
    What I have come to realize is that both “weaknesses”, in addition to bringing affordable comfort (affordable at least when considered on any particular day’s basis), somehow also have come to participate to the vision which I have of myself: I tend to see myself as someone who would be unhappy if I were to stop drinking at least one coke per day, and much even more so if I were to imagine never smoking again.
    This, of course, is basically not true, but it took me this strange realisation to understand that I needed to separate these two elements from my perception of my true identity: liking something does not imply that you would not be yourself without it.
    This again prompted me to try and change my consumption pattern: last week I went from smoking a pack a day to smoking only occasionally (three times in 8 days until now, with a commitment not to criticize myself whenever I smoke). I started with the more expensive habit and if it works well I will attempt to do the same with the coke soon. One step at a time.
    I don’t know if this comment can be of any help to the writer but at least I hope that it will be helpful for myself and strengthen my own motivation 🙂

  75. vijay

    Two/Three ways I would deal with the young lady’s problem.

    Long term solution: increase your earning power. My way would be to learn something that will get me a better job. This is the long term solution and a good investment of time/money in yourself.

    Short term relief: Try to cut 5 to 10% of expenses. You pick. This will reduce your stress , so you can focus on long term thoughts.

    Third way/Lucky one: Someone is willing to invest in you for 6 to 12 months, so you could learn and change to a better paying job.

    The most important thing is , not what to do, but that firm decision, THAT I’M GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS AND CONTINUE THE EFFORTS. If you try this for 18 months, I’m sure you can do it.

  76. Starcher

    Less last-minute shopping and more planning. Skip the bought books and buy a correspondence course for college credits. Move out of Hawaii, or at least back away from mom, because a lot of this spending is done in front of her, to make her happy maybe? Also stop hoping for money in the mail from relatives to get rid of pain.

  77. Another Single Mom with autistic child

    I am a single mother of an autistic child, and even though I don’t smoke, I have bad habits as well. I will try to put down a few of my ideas:

    1) contact your school system and see about her IEP. Also ask if they can do any free evaluations. Where I live in VA, I got EVERYTHING free for my son due to my low income (at the time, when he was 3-5 years old).

    2) All states have some type of child care assistance, and if your income is that low, you should qualify for assistance. For my son when he was in that 3-5yo age range I was able to get assistance from my county government and only paid $75 a week for childcare so I could go to work. (you typically have to work full time or go to school full time in order to benefit).

    3) PAY YOURSELF FIRST. Even if it’s $20/week, save something so if another emergency pops up you have a bit of cash to at least begin to solve the problem.

    4) look into local housing programs in your area as well (i.e. section 8, subsidized housing, etc) start here- there should be some low-income apartments you can afford on your salary, even if it is just a studio apartment. If you are saving money on childcare (say the state helps you and you only pay 300/mo vs. the 600 you are paying now), then you can apply those funds to get your own place. This is a HUGE self-esteem booster as well…since you are “holding your own”. Yes you get some help, but you do pay your fair share.

    5) think about store-brand cola instead of coke…buy it by the case when it is on sale at the grocery store 😉

    6) ENFORCE OR START A CHILD SUPPORT ORDER. This one is a biggie. If you do not have a current case, start one. If you have a case, make an appointment with your local district court to file a “Order to show cause”. This means they will bring you and the “father” in front of the judge and unless he pays x dollars to you in y months he will go to jail (this is called a purge). In my case, my ex- was ordered to pay me 5 grand in 6 months ($833.33 a month) or else go to jail. He paid this amount…and now he has let the arrears touch close to 10k now so I’m filing again. But back to you, this way you get some kind of money. Even $100 a month extra from him>>>>0. Swallow your pride or fear of his retaliation and GO FILE. You are letting him off too easy. File a visitation order too, you need time to yourself too. Trust, the court will visit his home to make sure it is decent enough for your child to be there…and make him take parenting classes if he hasn’t been there at all. If you don’t know who the father is, I’m sorry 🙁 If you have an idea, file the case with their name and they will test him to be sure….

    7) join single mom boards and start chatting. They will offer you more ideas 🙂

    Hope this helps!

  78. Kevin@OutOfYourRut

    First of all–WOW! This woman is most definately lost in the weeds of life. Her entire existence is rooted in getting through the moment and she’s under enormous stress. The cigarettes and nights out aren’t the real problem, they’re the coping devices she’s using to get by.

    In keeping with Ramit’s comments at comment #8, I don’t think there’s any salvation for her just in managing her money more efficiently. She has too little coming in, and with a very yound child in tow, the expenses are overwhelming her. I have kids and know what it’s like when they’re babies and toddlers, and they need everything, and you need to be twins but you’re not, and you’re just plain exhausted all the time. Right now, she’s in a fog and she can’t see out of it. Tactics are close to a waste of time.

    Without knowing what talents she has, my thought is that she needs to step out of her circumstances in order to fix them. We all have talents in some direction, and what she probably needs to do is to focus on what it is that might improve her income, and probably dramatically. A work from home arrangement alone might take out a few of her problems at once, but that’s just one idea.

    It would help if she could focus her down time on self improvement instead of on entertainment. The entertainment isn’t helping her situation, and she should take advantage of the babysitting while it’s available, and use it mostly for constructive purposes. Her use of her time is a bigger issue than her handing of money, in my opinion.

    One issue I see here that could blow up at any time is that she’s relying on the help of others, renting from her mother and using her for babysitting, and begging off entertainment from strangers. These aren’t long term solutions, and helpers can run out of money and enthusiam if she doesn’t show progress in improving her lot.

    She might consider a whole new career (hence the need to use free time for self-improvement) and can definately benefit from a mentor or coach. In fact, I’d call that a critical need at this point. She needs someone who can direct her in a positive way. It doesn’t appear that she has that ability. Already at age 25 she’s displaying bitterness as evidenced by her attitude toward the college kids. Someone has to take her around that.

    From looking at her routine and her reaction to what’s going on around her, she’s probably depressed. She needs a fresh, positive direction.

    It would help her to determine what it is she’s good at, or at least has a passion for, then to get a coach or mentor to help her get there, and to work closely with that person.

    In the process, she might need to leave some bills upaid, and some obligations unattended, but all of that may be part of the price she has to pay to get from where she is to where she wants to be. You never get there without paying some sort of price.

    I’m not offering many specifics here, but of course, I don’t know this woman personally. She’s in something close to Hell right now, and may have to take some chances to find a better life. Better money management will become more important once she has money to manage. In the meantime, she needs desperately to stop coping and start focusing on long term improvement, otherwise what she’s living now will become her destiny. Or something much worse.

  79. Duddes02

    Woah, it does make me double think my litlte habits like buying a 20 ounce cherry coke for $2.00 at the drugstore (NYC prices blow). It’s interesting to see her total..I’ve never really added up every coke or candy bar.

    My only advice is that I understand how much cheaper it is to live with mom, but I’m reading between the lines and I’m wondering if there is a dysfunctional relationship between them. Mom “reminding” her that she owes her a pack is kinda sad to me.

  80. Kevin@OutOfYourRut

    Another Single Mom (82)–In regard to enforcing child support, her daughter is receiving Social Security, so there’s a very good chance that her daddy is deceased. I think we have to assume as much, which could also be a contributing factor to her emotional state.

  81. Cat

    I have an autistic child, and I remember those melt downs, and the frustration of finding good child care and doctors. Now may not be the time for big changes. Now might just be the time for big plans.

    Your child is three. In just two years, she will be in kindergarten, and your life will change significantly. Your childcare bill will be halved, and, as someone else posted, many public schools will aid you with helping your daughter progress. By then, you will probably also be a lot closer to a diagnosis and treatment plan for your daughter.

    Make some concrete goals for two years from now. When my son went to school, I began taking online classes, heading towards a teaching degree–not my “dream job,” but a practical one with more stability and potential than the job I have now, and quite a few grants and programs to help me pay for the degree. I have begun volunteering for a couple hours a week at the school (not only good for my kid, but also will be good for my resume). I’m still dirt poor, and insanely busy, but I am so much less depressed now that I can see an end to this part of my life: in June of 2011, a new life will start for us.

    Perhaps 2011 could be the year when you take the big step towards changing your life: go back to school, switch careers, work on a promotion at your current job, or do something else concrete to improve your earnings with the extra time and/or money you will have once your daughter is in school. For now, decide what that goal is, and research how you can acheive it. There may be things you can do even now to progress that won’t cost much money or time.

  82. Abster

    Wow. Of all the Money Diaries I’ve read, this person is the one who’s going to stay in my mind the longest.

    While I’ve never “been her” myself, I know others who have and are and will be. It’s a bad place to be in life. It could be worse, but it’s still bad.

    Let’s look first at the positives in her life:

    * She’s employed.
    * She has housing
    * She loves her daughter and wants the best for her
    * She KNOWS that she has problems and needs to change

    The problems in her life:

    * Addictions
    * Co-dependence
    * Passivity
    * Lack of control
    * Economic situations beyond her control (cost of living in HI, etc…)
    * Economic situations within her control (spending habits, wages, etc…)
    * Daughter’s condition

    As I see it, she is definitely aware of her problems, enough so that she completed a very honest Money Diary. However, at the same time, she is living only in the moment. She’s only looking at how much money is in her pocket at any given moment. She’s not planning even a few hours ahead.

    The stress of her situation is, I’m sure, overwhelming, but at some point, she needs to take a bird’s eye view of her life and start setting goals and making changes.

    She did not get into this situation overnight and she’s not going to get out of it overnight. Even if she hit the lottery, she’d probably be one of those people who piss away the money within a year or two and she’d be right back where she is now.

    When you’re in such a tough position, it can be very hard and depressing to take the long view of your life. It’s so much easier to just worry about what’s right in front of you at any given moment. But, she’ll never get out that way!

    She really needs a friend, a mentor, a sponsor to guide her through this difficult phase in her life. She obviously WANTS to change and KNOWS that she’s doing it wrong. But all her energy is being consumed by merely surviving each day. She doesn’t have any energy left over to change.

    She’ll need to commit to improving her life and then start taking babysteps toward doing that.

    I absolutely agree that the cigarettes and soda and impulse purchases have to go, but there’s no way she’ll successfully dump them all overnight! Start cutting back on cigarettes and soda and buying them at cheaper prices. Start planning ahead for purchases. Start asking herself what is more important – a new costume or her child’s future?

    This woman has a very hard road ahead of her. The good news is that the road is there! She just needs to start walking the path. She will probably have to ask directions along the way, but as long as she commits to the journey and just keeps putting one foot in front of the other, I really believe she can do it.

  83. winston smith

    I really want to feel sorry for this woman, but I cannot. Let me get this straight – there’s money to spend anywhere from $7 – $10 per pack of cigarettes, but a $9.60 meal at McDonalds is a luxury?

    Spare me. If I’m doing the math correctly, a pack a day is around $8. In a month, that’s around $250. Damn shame her kid has to eat canned vegetables.

  84. Ken H.

    One final comment – every once in a while, call the babysitter and tell her you have to work an hour overtime. Then use that bus pass, get on the bus and get to the grassiest, most beautiful spot you can find ( jeez, you’re in Hawaii! ). Sit in the grass, open a cold Coke and light a cigarette! You have it better than a lot of people but lack direction. Take a few minutes every now and then to remind yourself of that fact. If it makes you smile — great! If it makes you cry — that’s fine too! Whatever it does, it needs to be just you and your thoughts and nothing else. It will get better but it will require hard work and effort — you have already proved you can do it. Now, DO IT!

  85. Jenn

    Being a single mom with a special needs child makes everything much more difficult – finding a good job that allows for so many appointments, finding childcare you can trust to care for your child, getting any free time, all become nearly impossible. It can be made better if you have good help, like a mom who is willing to do childcare for her grandchild and help a little financially. But I am not so sure what’s going on with this woman’s mom – is she helping? is she only watching the child when she’s asleep? Does she need that much rent money given her daughter’s income?

    I wonder (pure speculation) if there’s not an extra frustration here of having a seriously difficult child situation made worse by being in the presence of a parent who you’d expect to help a lot but who isn’t willing to help much at all. It seems like helping to the point of putting them barely above starving is not much. This wouldn’t just add stress, but also make it seem futile to take action to find support that would help her improve her lot. If mom’s support is half-assed, who else is going to step up? This is a really hard situation and someone needs to be thinking long-term. The diarist may not have the time/resources to do that, but might this mom?

    I can also imagine that this situation makes it seem like, at the least, she should get her cig/Coke/bar treats as compensation for getting through a tough situation without a lot of help.

    The post read to me like someone who feels depressed at her circumstances, but also resigned to them. I hope someone in this family will get into longterm thinking instead of impulse by impulse. If the kid is truly special needs then this is going to be a lifetime that needs to be planned for.

    Best of luck and much sympathy. I hope you find the extra help you need.

  86. Alicia Gonzales

    If I were her, I would sit down and figure out how much money she receives per month based on assistance and her job, and when the payments are made to her. Then I would create a table, and put each expense on the left side, and the due date on the right. Then I would see how much I need and when, and where I have short falls. Information is key to reducing stress about money.

    Then I would see where I spend on non-necessities, like vices (soda and cigarettes, and impulse spending on books and clothes). Am I doing emotional spending, e.g., splurging to try to feel better knowing that I am going to get bad or frustrating news about my daughter? Am I allowing myself to smoke because it’s something just for me, and I need that comfort?

    Once I saw how my emotions influence my spending, I would work on finding other ways to find emotional satisfaction, and put in place barriers to emotional spending. I would enlist friends and family to support me in my efforts to curb emotional spending.

    Fear of having a large medical bill to care for my daugther would eat me up inside. I’d try to put money aside to alieviate my fears. I would put it into an account without ATM or internet access, so that it was hard for me to touch if I felt anxious and wanted to do emotional spending.

    I would also worry about whether my child would be cared for properly, if something happened to me or my mom. She might also need to buy cheap term insurance for herself and her mom, so that if anything happened to her or her mom, her daughter would have money to hire folks to help her.

  87. Not My Mother

    First I want to say to the woman who wrote the diary that you’re doing brilliant just doing that. It clearly means that you are looking to change things for you and are honest about where you are. I wonder how many people responding would have been so honest about filling it in when they know the first responses will be “quit smoking” or “don’t buy single packets of cigarettes”. Well, DUH. Really? That’s like when people tell ME that all I need to do to deal with my obesity is stop eating the chocolate and do more exercise. You think? Well sheesh.

    You’re not a dumb person. People forget that. They just see quick fixes of things you’re doing that they’re not, they don’t realise WHY. You’re under a lot of stress. You have a special needs daughter, you’re juggling caring for her with a job, and your financial circumstances are stressful. And you live with your mother. Of course you’re stressed, and when people are stressed they use their coping mechanisms. For you they are diet coke and cigarettes (mine’s too much chocolate and wine). The one thing you can’t do when stressed is give up smoking. That’s too hard, you need to be in a really good place to deal with that.

    I think what you need more than anything is to feel like you’re not alone. All your friends are on the mainland, and you miss them. I also wonder how supportive your mum is really. Sure she’s taken you in and you say you’d starve if you didn’t live with her. But does she even subconsciously make you feel like you’re a burden? The fact that she makes you pay back the cigarettes makes me feel she does (or maybe she is simply struggling as well). Either way, I think YOU feel like living with her means you’ve failed or you are a drain. This doesn’t help.

    Is there anyone you can talk to nearby? Could social services put you in contact with people in similar situations with your daughter, or support groups? I think having someone to talk to who understands your frustrations could do you wonders. I can tell you want to turn things around but your frustrations are getting you down, and you can’t do anything when you’re down.

    But you are brilliant, and doing a wonderful job with your daughter that so many people couldn’t do. You CAN do this. I wish you all the best and anything I can do please let me know.

  88. Sabrina Bremmer

    Some links for understanding banking and money:

    7 Page article in The Times on Goldman Sachs

    Article in Rolling Stone on Goldman Sachs

    The great American bank robbery:

    How banks gained control of America:

    How to fix bad commercial banks that take in money from depositors. Simple. People power. The Dutch brought an arrogant bank to its knees in twelve days:

  89. move4ward

    The first thing I notice is her salary. Even in this economy, she should be able to find a better paying job.

    I was in a similiar paying job and was struggling also. I was making less than $12/hr and got laid off about 2 years ago. I took the first job that I could find. It paid a little over $12/hr.

    I signed up for this program at church that helped low income people increase net worth by 20% and income by 20%. It really helped me get comfortable with interviewing by doing practice interviews with other students and mentors. They picked apart my interview and gave me pointers on what to fix. They had me rewrite half the resume and throw out the fluff. After a few weeks, I was golden.

    After 3-4 real interviews and 4 months, I got a contract-to-perm job that was offering $37.5k/yr. I got a raise for over 50%! It was the best thing to happen to me. There were at least 20 other people in my class that increased their salary from 20-50%. It’s amazing what a new resume and better interview skills can do.

    She should visit other churches with a similar program. Big churches may have more resources than small ones. Do a search online for career/job classes with churches or charities. These programs will usually be free or very cheap.

  90. Cátia Vánessa

    Ram it!

  91. Katydid

    The only short-term solution I see for this young mom is to set up a “virtual conservatorship” for herself, since she has no impulse control and will spend whatever is in her pocket, even when her child has no milk. This prevents her from making use of all the “money-saving tips” that might help someone else. I’m not sure of all details, but it seems that direct deposit of her paycheck and her daughter’s disability check into an account that would then automatically pay her bills and set aside the rest of her money in a hard-to-access account, such as through ING, would control the day-to-day spending. Maybe the money could be doled out to her on a weekly or semi-weekly basis. Of course, since she is willing to write bad checks when she “needs” to, she would have to dispose of all checks in her possession and use only a debit card in cooperation with a bank that would not allow card purchases over the amount in her account. This all sounds pretty draconian, but I see it as a short-term fix because I think once this problem is under control she will be able to focus on other issues, like developing a social network and increasing her income.

  92. MrsCasanova

    where did she get a coke for 85 cents!!?? I have never seen a coke for less than $1.75!

  93. D.J.

    I gave up after reading about the first day. She has to put the needs of her children before her habits. Spending nearly 10 dollars on cigarettes and Coke before buying milk is ridiculous.

  94. Stefania

    Maybe she is spending too much in babysitting.
    How many hours for $650?
    And why her mom ask her to pay $600 monthly for the rent?
    She does’t know she has money problems?
    Her mom has a work?
    How can her mom should afford to pay the rent if she lived alone?
    We have to try to see what this woman isn’t able to see, because she is too near to the focus.
    She blames herself for her bad habits, but her problems are the behaviour she thinks OK.

  95. Soma

    Paul (Comment 57) I just printed out your tips… And nearly cried in the process… Such a kind, accepting, loving response to someone that CLEARLY needs some understanding, not judging.

  96. Tina

    @KenH Great suggestions.

    SingleMom25, first Congratulations for completing the Money Diary. You are motivated to change and motivation is key to start the journey. The second key is action. How do you act?
    As a single mom of 3 (I had 2 by 20), I’d like to offer you a few tips. I’ve been single the past 5 years and went from homeless to building my first home and from a GED to earning my Master’s.

    Focus on creating the life you want to live, doing what you most enjoy, surround by people you admire and respect on this single parent journey. How can you do that? Why is this important? Before you can focus on how you’re spending money, you must focus on why you’re spending it on fulfilling temporary needs. Cigarettes and Coke are vices that you’re using because they make you “feel” good for a moment. That satisfy a need, for the moment. You’re spending money and feeling guilty…why? Money is a tool that needs to be spent. Yes you do need more and you need to maximize it yet before we do, how can you spend it in ways that won’t make you feel guilty?
    Write down what is limiting you from living the life you want to live.

    Affirmations. Self talk can either build up or tear down and destroy. Referring to yourself as broke is tearing down your confidence from within. Yes, your confidence is from within. When you walk into a room and it’s dark, what do you do so that you can see? Well, by moving from self sabotaging talk to positive self talk will increase your confidence. The next time you’re thinking you’re broke, begin to think instead of ways that can generate you income. Instead begin seeing your future. Create a vision board and begin to speak who you are becoming. Here are a few to get you started: “I am secure in the knowledge that I’m on the path to financial responsibility. I believe in myself, and I know I can do anything I set my mind to. Fear is just False Evidence Appearing Real. I am learning how to take control of my finances.” Just by reading Ramit’s blog you are. I read it and I am too.

    MONEY: I concentrated first on the mindset because as a single mom, I know how important it is to focus on results. My first recommendation is to continue recording what comes in and what goes out and set up a budget. If your vice is Cigarettes and Coke, then set up a budget for them both. Of course I could say give them up, yet you know they’re effecting your health. Focus on preparing a small dinner for you and your daughter and take the leftovers for lunch. Seek out ways to create crafts and costumes. One year, my daughters’ were grapes and all I bought were balloons and safety pins that I pinned on a sweatsuit top. I understand the daycare bill. Find out if you can negotiate the fee that you pay by $10-20 less a week. If not, as it goes down each year, save a portion. Since you’re setting up arrangements to pay your student loans, I understand that at some point you must have attempted college. Find out how you can start back. Then start free classes online to develop your skills. Also, consider if it would be better to go to school FT and work PT in the long range. You may qualify for more resources. (IWTYTBR readers, I’m not advocating welfare, this young lady needs help now. Please understand this – I’ve been there done that.) Research and apply for every resource you qualify for to assist you. I would also recommend ditching the ATM card.
    Resources: Single parenting is a status NOT an identity. At this time, at this point in your life, you happen to be parenting alone. Seek out single mom support groups online and on the Island, at the college, hospitals, etc. so that you can meet others in your current situation. There are many non-profit organizations, agencies and people that desire to help single moms.

    I thought for over a week what I could say to encourage you. I have so much more that I wish I could say. Please, do not be discouraged – keep pressing forward into your excellence in the journey as a single mom. When the children are small, usually between the ages of two and five being a single mom will feel the toughest. This is often because children at younger ages require more attention. Remember that you are not alone and that there are many successful single moms. The first step is to believe you can and then act on making the change. Becoming financially free first starts with the mindset, then developing the conscious spending habits and seeing the tangible benefits. Please read all the advice on these posts and most importantly start a savings fund. This single mom of 3 believes you can become financially free.

  97. JohnnyD

    Has anyone used this site for insurance?

  98. Mommy Reporter

    My advice to her: Go to church…

  99. Sarah

    She has a special needs kid who apparently has less than adequate nutrition at times while her dear mom always has a pack (or two or three) of cigarettes and a supply of Coke. I do not feel sorry for this woman. I do, however, feel very sorry for the “kiddo”.

  100. Kevin@OutOfYourRut

    Mommy Reporter (103)–I completely agree (about going to church). But if she goes she needs to open up and ask for help. They may be able to provide direct help in the form of money or some other assistance, but more important, they can hook her up with counselors and maybe even business types who help her along.

    She’s lost in her circumstances, and it’s easy enough to see why. But she needs to get help from others. A large church may be an excellent place to start. It’ll help give her some core direction, which she seems equally in need of.

    Yeah, she can get what she can from public assistance, but she needs some TLC too, and a good church can do that too.

  101. vfwh

    I must say I’m amazed at how many people looking at a woman making $1350 a month and spending $600 on rent and $650 on child care will talk endlessly about how fixing her problems starts by stopping smoking and drinking coke…

    This single mother of a special needs kid lives with her MOTHER, and she shells out all of her salary in child care and rent?

    It seems to me that’s a clue there as to the psychological situation she’s facing. Her first order of business is to fix this crazy relationship she has with her mother. If you add to this the fact that her idea of a nice night out is to go chat up guys to get them to buy her drinks and a hot dog, which seems to be the only activity for which her mother (the kids’ grandmother) accepts taking care of the kid (when he’s asleep), you have another slice of the picture.

    Stopping smoking indeed…

    Finding social services that will help deal with these blocking (get free counseling and so on) psychological barriers, with the objective to get off her psychological dependency to her abusive mother, would be a start as far as I can see.

  102. Katydid

    vfwh has missed that mom gets a second paycheck in the middle of the month. Her actual monthly take home pay must be $500-$600 more than the $1350 recorded in her one-week diary. And why assume that grandma is free to provide childcare? She is out working fulltime just like mom, earning the rest of the rent and her own living expenses. Searching out sources of public assistance isn’t a solution — that’s already been done, as we know by the fact that mom gets a disability check for kiddo AND a childcare supplement. The responsibility for solving the financial crisis has to fall back where we started — with mom. She can do it, but not without accepting that $300-$400 a month spent on Coke and cigs IS a huge part of the problem. She needs to do this now, because raising a special needs child doesn’t get easier or cheaper as the child gets older.

  103. JimE

    I see this girl as a horrible attention whore who didn’t complete this money diary to help herself but who did it to talk about herself. Everything here is about her, and she’s sorry, but then its still about her. I’m pretty sure she’ll read this and get excited by all the comments and not do a damn thing about them. Really seems like some 16yo diva who doesn’t realize that she’s actually an adult in the real world. Sorry to be so negative but she needs so much maturation that I don’t even know where to begin.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Dude JimE…chill.

  104. vfwh

    Actually, I kinda like JimE’s comment. More down to earth and human than the moralism disguized as sound financial advice in many other posts that confuse wishful thinking (gosh darn, this girl should just quit smoking already!) with dealing with actual situations. Although I’m not sure he’s right (I feel that detailing the expenses over to weeks goes a little beyond what a pure attention-seeker would do), JimE at least tries to really understand her motives in a human way.

    thanks for pointing that out, I indeed missed the dual payday (I live in France, where paychecks are monthly).
    Yet, we’re still talking almost 3/4 of her income on childcare and rent, for a person who lives with her mother at age 25.

    re: couselling: I don’t really know how social services work in the U.S., but somehow I doubt that the kinds of social services accessible by this person would be geared to identify and respond to such psychological issues as I talk about. What it seems to me is that she applied for some extra money to take care of her kid and some welfare. I don’t see how good psychological counselling would have come in the picture.

    re: mother: sure, mother has her own issues for sure. So what? I still think (maybe ’cause I’m French or something) that shelling out 3/4 of your income in rent and childcare when you live with your mother is a symptom of something wrong. We don’t know enough obviously, every situation is different. I’m just suggesting an avenue of investigation there. Given all the particulars that we know, it’s fair to assume that this person’s family history is not her strongest backbone and that she might benefit from trying to break this cycle (I didn’t hear of a grandfather being in the picture, did you? I’m sure you catch my drift).

    re: smoking: where do you get the $300-400? I make it $100…

    As to your conclusion: what is it in what I said that makes you believe that I don’t think that the responsibility starts with herself? Who else would it rely on? What is more of a personal responsibility than having to deal with your psychological issues? You lost me there.

  105. Katydid

    In response to vfwh, I come up with $300 to $400 a month by assuming (perhaps wrongly) that the writer smokes one pack a day and drinks two cokes. Cost of pack of cigs in Hawaii runs between $8-10, depending on where she purchases them, and she seems to drink at least two cokes a day at about .85 each. That all adds up to at least $10 a day, 30 days a month. My assumptions may be wrong, and that would of course change the total, but her addiction to cigarettes is evident, and it is just as likely that I am underestimating the amount she smokes. All that being said, the charge of “moralizing” is not really relevant to solving this woman’s problems. My point is that a strong push by her to place exterior controls on her spending (See Comment 96) would go a long way toward a SHORT-TERM financial solution and would give her a much-needed sense of accomplishment and control over her own life that she doesn’t seem to have now. That would free up a lot of emotional energy to deal with the underlying problems. It would also, incidentally, allow her to improve her child’s nutrition (oops, there I go, “moralizing” again) and maybe give her a little extra cash for her own entertainment, also something she badly needs. No matter what her psychological needs, the financial problem has to be fixed first.

    I don’t know anything about Hawaii’s system of social services, but I do know something about California’s. It is possible that kiddo is eligible for medical, counseling, and other services, but mom would have to pay for counseling, even if it were just a small amount. I also know very little about France’s system of services, but it has been my impression that France, along with other European nations, is way ahead of the US in considering adequate housing and medical care for all citizens a right. You may be expecting more from the State of Hawaii than it actually delivers.

  106. mcara

    Make small changes. Switch from coke to diet coke for health reasons. Cutting down your sugar intake would be good. I found once I did that I lost weight; and since I don’t really like the taste of diet soda, I bought it less and less until I don’t do it at all. Keep powdered milk on hand. Take one pack of cigs and hide them for emergency use.

    You need to work the system concerning your child. And I MEAN WORK THE SYSTEM TILL IT SCREAMS!!!

    Shouldn’t your child be covered by Medicare/Medicaid? What about food stamps? Get in touch with whatever gov. dept handles her disability and get involved with them. Get a caseworker assigned. Whatever you do, don’t treat any of these people like gods. Get a plan in place to help with your child. Check out group support. In that way you’ll be in touch with people who understand what you’re life is like. Also, check your work. Some have programs in place to help employees with problems, both big and small.

    Hope this helps

  107. Oopsie_daisical

    #s 57 and 77 are very on target. This woman is stressed out. One cannot stop addictions when ultra-stressed. Addictions in that situation are coping mechanisms, no matter how disfunctional.

    There is so much chaos in this woman’s financial life, I would not be surprised if there is also CHAOS = Cannot Have Anyone Over Syndrome in her home. One website that has helped me a lot with home disorganization (and somewhat with financial disorganization as well) is

    The basic ideas there are: You are not behind, and babysteps. If I were in this woman’s shoes, I would start with a babystep of making sure I wasn’t paying all those “last minute extras” for the cigarettes and Coke. I would budget them into my financial schedule, and buy them at the cheapest rate store that I knew of. I would also promise myself to quit at some point down the road. Just not today/this week/this month. (And I’m a former smoker, so I know that whole “I’ll quit tomorrow so why buy an entire carton today” mindset.)

    In the flylady system, the first babystep is “shining one’s kitchen sink” and keeping it clean/polished for one entire month. It’s amazing how this one habit then spreads to keeping the counters clean, and various other habits. But the big point is that one can only add one habit a month. And, it takes pretty much a full month to establish a habit.

    Priorities are the other key thing I would suggest here. I find I can focus on just one life priority at a time. I would guess that getting a diagnosis for her daughter might be this woman’s key life priority right now. The basic question being: What do I need to accomplish in order to improve my life long-term? And keep my focus there. Do something every day/week to accomplish that life goal.

    And yes, go find a good support group.

    Best wishes! You can do it!

  108. julieann rose

    She needs to txt that guy in Louisiana ask him if he can put her up for awhile take the 1300 dollars buy a ticket back to the mainland where milk is 2.50 its kind of like poor people in ca. sure paradise is nice but she could find work still get the 1300 and survive here in the states.

    Plus the whole friends with benefits stress release. Sorry everyone Ive been their she is brave and a tough mother she deserves her vices as long as she does not neglect her daughter. I live in ky and a lot of people survive just fine here and buy homes for a salary 1000 to 1200 a month.

  109. Diane

    Dear Single Mom,

    #1 IMMEDIATELY: Do not write another bad check. A young acquaintance of mine did that and ended up in jail. She had commited a felony in her state. It is very difficult to get a decent job with that label following you for the rest of your life.

    #2 Feed your child well with whole foods. If you can’t afford it, there is a federal program called WIC (women, infants & children) which will provide you with food. From what I understand this is separate from food stamps and lasts until the child is 5. Please check this out. Please check out FISH (For Immediate Sympathetic Help), a program run out of local churches. Volunteers will provide you with a bag of food and are given a small amount of money to buy fresh food and will also drive you to the doctors, for example.Also,check out local food banks.

    #3 You possibly may be able to get free vaccinations and some health care for your child through Dept of Human Services. Talk to people there – ask questions – get help.

    #4 Some states have a cooperative extension program where people in debt can be counseled by volunteers. Many of these people have accounting or financial backgrounds in their jobs. Also, credit unions have free counseling.

    #5 Do you have any friends with kids whom you could switch baby sitting with, perhaps in the evening so you could go back to school or get technical training so you could get a better job?

    #6 You need help, but you also need to set a higher standard for yourself. You don’t need to scam grocery stores or men to get meager rewards. You are stronger than you think…you have survived so far, and you need to believe that you can get control over some aspects of your life, if not everything all at once.

    You have written a diary of what you do throughout the day. Now write a PLAN of what you plan to do that will be beneficial to yourself and your child. Include regular bedtimes (for both of you!), regular mealtimes (perhaps cooking could be shared with your mom), regular exercise to relieve stress and depression for you. You seem to be bouncing all over the place in your diary. Maybe fewer cokes and cigarettes will actually allow you to calm down a bit. Don’t feed the stress!

    You need to look for VALUE in what you spend your (limited) money on. Every time you make a decision to buy something you take yourself ( and by default) your child in a direction towards or away from poverty. The amount you spend on her Halloween costume and on her birthday gift was way too high. I would limit myself to ONE treat a day under $2 for yourself – coke OR cigarettes-Or books or a shirt- Pick one small thing, enjoy it and move on. Then allow yourself one treat a week at under $10 – a shirt, a drink out, whatever. Your child is still so young that a cookie or a push on the swing would be enough of a treat to her.

    Get help, get your $hit together, and work as if your life and your child’s life depends on it. Because, Single Mom, it does…

    You need to discipline yourself, as well as schedule you and your child’s life.

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  112. Jonathon

    Wait…does this “25-year-old single” mom not receive any compensation for this post (ad revenue, etc.)? …If not, why not?