The Money Diaries: The 29-year-old business student who’s juggling over 10 credit cards

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.

Day 1

11:38 a.m.: Wake up late. It’s nice to not have any work or school…yet. I just finished my summer internship the previous week, but my second year of business school starts in just 6 days. Yikes!
12:30 p.m.: Ate lunch at home and save some money. It’s a nice perk of living at home with the parents before I move back East.
1:00 p.m.: The Dow goes down 419 points. Lots of stocks are looking very cheap, it’s time like these I wish I had some cash still. Even though there’s a lot of uncertainty now, I’m confident in the fundamentals of the companies I invest in so this is a great opportunity to pick up some stocks on the cheap. I have about $75,000 in student loans which I plan on paying back once I graduate. The rates are so low now so I consider it a smart financial move to take on loans while I keep my savings invested in the market.
3:41 p.m.: Purchase roundtrip tickets back home for a wedding for $366.80 using Hipmunk, which is a pretty neat airfare comparison site. Even though the wedding means I’ll be returning home to the Bay Area only 9 days after I start school, I couldn’t imagine not attending. At least my Citi credit card has a promotion for 5% cash back on air travel. I have 10+ credit cards, but primarily use 3 depending on the cash back rewards (one for general purchases, one for eating out, and one for gas). I pay off my balances each month and watch them all like a hawk. (It’s kinda fun). I primarily use a credit union for my banking needs since it offers really great terms, but I keep most of my savings in my trading account.
4:00 p.m.: I consider getting my car professionally cleaned since a friend’s dog got carsick and threw up in the backseat of my car over the weekend. I reason that it’s not that bad so I clean it myself.
9:05 p.m.: Running a little late for a second date with a girl I just met. I originally wanted to take her out to dinner, but she’d already eaten so we go to some fancy bar on Sand Hill Road. A glass of wine for her and a martini for me (I was in a James Bond mood) set me back $40 ($30 + $10 tip). I’m not really a bar guy so I’m not really sure how much to tip, but I figure $10 is more than enough. If only they made $6 bills, that would have been ideal.
11:16 p.m.: After the date, I head over to Lucky to pick up some Jelly Bellies for $9.39. I have plans with a “friend” the next day and she mentioned her favorite flavor so I got her a bag of Green Apple. Dating can really add up.
11:26 p.m.: Even though I usually try to empty my tank before I leave the area for extended periods of time, I fill up my tank for $46.70. Good thing my American Express card gives me 3% cash back on gas.

Day 2

10:46 am: Wake up to a text that my “friend” is too sick to meet up and she reschedules to the next day. Sigh.
11:57 a.m.: Call Dell about an email I had received about getting a $75 Gift Card for purchasing an extended warranty on my laptop. Even though I received the offer after I had already purchased the warranty, I’m a longtime IWTYTBR reader and was just trying to channel my inner Ramit to see if I could swing the gift card. It turns out you have to spend $200 to qualify and I only spent $180. That’s enough to deter me from pursuing it further.
4:30 p.m.: Saw a deal on for $65 off $100 ($20 off $50 when using AMEX, $20 off $50 for checking in on foursquare, and $25 off $100 Coupon) and I head over to Sports Authority to buy a tennis racket since I’m trying to take up tennis. At the store, I look up prices and ratings using the Amazon mobile app and end up getting a $140 racket for $84.48 after tax. Score!  My foursquare check-in gives me an additional $25 in cash cards which I plan to use in conjunction with another coupon I brought. I browse for more items and end up losing the cash cards. I look around everywhere for them, but they’re nowhere to be found. I share my plight with the manager and he rummages through a pile of coupons. He doesn’t find the cash cards, but gives me a $15 off $50 Coupon. Even though it’s a nice consolation, I still lament the loss of the cash cards. I use the $15 off Coupon to get 2 pairs of insoles ($20 each) and a 3-Pack of socks for $43.28.
6:00 p.m.: Go to Fry’s and return 2 HP Wifi I mice bought online for $32.45 in credit. I liked the idea of not having to plug a receiver into my laptop so much that I got two. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the feel of the mice in my hands so I had to return them. It’s just one of the perils of online shopping.
8:25 p.m.: I get a mouse I’m familiar with on Amazon for $18.79.
9:00 p.m.: My parents have left for Reno already, but my Mom has prepared food to sustain me over the weekend. It’s a quiet evening as I stay in and watch Hulu and Netflix and eat leftovers. Is that lame for a Friday night?

Day 3

11:50 a.m.: Wake up and go to my local credit union to deposit the last paycheck from my internship. I look at the earnings summary and regret withholding so much since I only worked for 2 months and don’t anticipate paying much in taxes this year. That would have been a nice chunk of change to add to my trading account.
12:00 p.m.: Go to Chase to open an account for a $150 bonus. I know Ramit would probably advise against these money making schemes, but it would probably only take me about 30 minutes of hassle since I automate the process and would just close the account after I get the $150. I leave when it turns out it requires direct deposit for which I have none.
2:20 p.m.: I get the bright idea to try indoor skydiving. After confirming with bar girl that she can make it, I make reservations for 2 for $133.85.
3:05 p.m.: My friend texts me that she’s in the area and can help me shop for sunglasses which we’ve been meaning to do. I’m fashion-challenged so when it comes to stylish clothes and accessories, I have female friends pick those out for me. Even though the items they pick are usually not on sale, the value of their tasteful opinions is worth paying full price for the confidence it gives me. I end up getting Ray-Bans for $172.12. I buy her a snack at a fancy French bakery for $17.40 to thank her for her help.
6:30 p.m.: Jelly Belly girl is sick still and cancels on me again so I get a much-needed haircut instead. $15 including $3 tip.
7:15 p.m.: Another low-key night of Netflix at home.

Day 4

11:33 a.m.: Bar girl calls and says she has to work later that night and won’t make it to indoor skydiving. We’ll meet up for dinner instead at a tapas place I mentioned to her earlier. I call the indoor skydiving place and put it on hold for an additional $20 charge.
12:30 p.m.: Eat lunch at home.
4:50 p.m.: Go to Walgreens and buy a gallon of water for $1.89 for an early evening basketball session. I usually buy 5-6 Arizona Iced Teas, but this will save me money and from consuming empty calories.
8:00 p.m.: Dinner with bar girl comes out to $90 ($18.01 tip). We have a nice time, but the wine clouds my mind and I probably tipped more than I intended. I use my Chase Ink card which gets 3% cash back on dining out.

Day 5

10:20 a.m.: It’s my last day before I leave for school so I made some goodbye plans with friends. The first stop is Jamba Juice since I won’t have much chance to go when I’m in school. Nice, my friend pays for my Powersized Strawberries Wild with Immunity Boost. I am a Jamba Juice monster, and it only lasts 10 minutes.
10:35 a.m.: In-N-Out is another West Coast favorite that I will miss, and I pay $7.14 for myself and him to return the favor.
11:30 a.m.: We head over to a ramen place and meet with another friend. It’s cash only, and I’m the only one with cash (how convenient) so I have to pay for everyone ($44). Since I’m already full from In-N-Out, I get most of it to-go.
12:40 p.m.: Rush over to watch Conan the Barbarian. Since I paid for lunch, my friend pays for my ticket. Even though his lunch was probably twice the price of my movie ticket, what’s a few bucks between friends?  Conan is not very good.
3:50 pm: Return clothes I had bought online to Macy’s ($165.57) and Bloomingdale’s ($298.77). I purposely buy more when I shop online to make sure I get the right size (and qualify for free shipping).
7:25 pm: Rush over to a goodbye dinner with friends, $15. Show off my new sunglasses even though it’s indoors and nighttime.
11:45 pm: I guess I don’t want to leave California, and I miss my flight. I get it rescheduled to another airport which means I’ll have to rent a car to get to my final destination. Then I scramble to reschedule picking up my apartment keys and my appointment with movers at my new place. I make a makeshift pillow out of luggage to sleep on as I wait for my newly rescheduled flight.

Day 6

4:00 a.m.: Check baggage ($60). It’s cheaper than shipping cross-country.
4:45 p.m.: Get an overpriced panini at the airport, $8.12. Then I rent a car even though they quote me $200. It seems there’s some NASCAR event that week that’s driven up all the prices.
8:40 p.m.: I get 3 value items ($3.87) at Arby’s. Then I maximize the use of the rental car by going to Walmart to pick up apartment supplies, $163.09, which I’ll split with my roommate. Then another $36.59 on fruit and snacks at the grocery store.

Day 7

10:35 a.m.: When I return my rental car ($194.88), I find out they charged me for all the extra services (loss-damage, etc.). I wonder if that’s standard policy when you don’t return the car to the same location. I’ll have to look into that.
1:15 p.m.: I’ll sign up for the school dining card later to get a 13% discount on the cafeteria. For now, $3.99 for soup.
6:00 p.m.: Pay movers $185. It only takes 1 hour, but the minimum is 2. Tip $15 anyway since they were students and could probably use the money. I’m splitting the costs with 3 other people anyway.
08:00 p.m.: Splurge on dinner with new roommate at the best Indian restaurant in town, $24. Yum.

In Sum

Total spent: $1,816.43
Total deposited: $3,032.94
Total returns: $496.79
Meals at home: 7
Meals out: 8
Dates: 2
Cancelled Dates: 2
Indoor skydiving: 0

Lots going on since I was meeting up with people before I left, dating and preparing to move back to school. I used to try to adhere to $10 of discretionary spending (including eating out), but now I’m comfortable with spending based on value derived from the good or service. My only regrets are not taking advantage of the market declines more and missing my flight since all that scrambling cost me a bit of money. Oh, and leaving California, the greatest place on Earth.

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  1. K.

    Tipping at bars (from a cocktail waitress):
    I give $2 each drink the first round, then $1 per drink the following rounds. More if your bartender/server went above and beyond.

  2. Casey

    I’m with K and typically tip $2/drink. Sometimes a little more and sometimes a little less (will typically do $1/drink if just ordering beer).

    This person’s spending habits are kind of surprising but i can see some of my learning experiences of my early 20’s in here too. Especially as it relates to using money and spending to gain favor with women. Still, spending that kind of money on clothes and sunglasses (I make six figures and still typically get cheap sunglasses at target) seems excessive. For every dollar you spend you’re choosing to not have that money to pay down your student loans or have to invest.

    Wow, typing all that makes me feel very old. Now get off my lawn.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Damn Casey. Can you tell us some stories about how the dinosaurs were back in your day??

  3. Jim M.

    Sorry to be harsh, but this diary entry is useless. What are the person’s goals?

    We can be all judgmental about what the person is spending in certain areas, but without a sense of where they want to go this diary entry is useless.

    Accountability, testing & feedback only work when you’re going TOWARDS something.

  4. Ka

    @Jim M. – Single, 29 year old Male’s goals are always to get laid. 🙂

  5. Terry

    Sounds like he spends freely and doens’t really have a budget for big ticket items, that’s got to be nice. I’m always confused about the total spent/deposited since each diary calculates it on diff time frames. Is that based on a month’s worth or the whole summer (2 months)?

    • eve

      could be 2 weeks pay, given his confidence in spending


    $2/drink seems a bit on the shy side. I usually tip $5 on the first drink and then move to the $2 after that. If I intend to nurse that first drink the $5 seems to keep aggressive wait staff at bay and allow me some peace.

    • Ramit Sethi

      How much are these drinks you’re buying? I’m genuinely curious since even my Manhattan friends don’t tip $5 on a drink.

    • Patricia

      I think you are tipping way to much. A dollar a drink, is plenty.

  7. Ben D

    He seems to have alot of time on his hands, but seems to be worried about little wins. 3% cashback? if he uses certain cards? 10+ credit cards? Watches them like a hawk and it’s fun? I use to be a miser over expenses like that and be all over deals, but after automating my expenses and savings I can put more time on things that matter in life like family life, earning more, working out, etc.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Along these lines, a good question to ask is:

      “If I continue doing what I’m doing, where will I be in 10 years? Will I be happy in that situation?”

      Most people, when confronted with this, will employ some handwavy logic that goes like this: “But I won’t be the same in 10 years…I’ll be different.” (Examples: I’ll work out more, I’ll focus more, I’ll spend more time on my finances/family.)

      So the next logical question is:

      “What decisions will make you different? Can you put those into practice today?”

      The results can be sobering.

  8. Acorn

    @Ben D — Agreed. I was shocked that with all that spending, there still existed those efficient little pecuniary tics (you replaced 5-6 teas with a gallon of water… for the money?). Still, I like the near gamification of your spending habits, which only encourages one to keep paying attention.

    I’m not as much of a consumerist, but the article gave me some needed perspective.

  9. Andrea

    I think this is one of the most interested Money Diaries because the writer has reached a confidence level knowing that he can spend his discretionary money freely. Dining out when he wants and being able to go for opportunities like indoor skydiving if he wants is a great way to enjoy himself since he’s taken the time to think about where his savings are, rates on his student loans, and business school.

    It’d be great to hear what his plans are to hustle post-business school too

  10. SteveR

    My guess is that this guy is going to be a wage slave the rest of his life. The way to financial peace and independence is to live far below your means – living on perhaps 50% of your income. Take the hard road early and life becomes easy.

    • Lexi

      If you look at the income versus the spending, it was only a little over 50% spent. The thing was he was living with parents during the summer while he was working, so he probably had no rent or utilities, which is why he spent more.

      I think it’s funny that the girl he was with picked out such expensive sunglasses for him. I know both of my sisters (ages 21 and 24) would have directed him to the nearest $1 store.

  11. Brandon Adams

    This reminds me of my college student spending habits, too, save for trying to time the stock market.

    I had blind faith that I’d get a totally bomb job fresh out of school and have all debt cleared in a year or two, so I thought it only prudent to spend my low-interest student loan money to maximize happiness in the present.

  12. Olivia

    Good tip, Ramit.

    Along these lines, a good question to ask is:

    “If I continue doing what I’m doing, where will I be in 10 years? Will I be happy in that situation?”

    Most people, when confronted with this, will employ some handwavy logic that goes like this: “But I won’t be the same in 10 years…I’ll be different.” (Examples: I’ll work out more, I’ll focus more, I’ll spend more time on my finances/family.)

    So the next logical question is:

    “What decisions will make you different? Can you put those into practice today?”

    The results can be sobering.

  13. Whitney

    Wow. Chicks are expensive. And friends are expensive too.

    I know how people can save money, Ramit: stop having a life. Done and done.

    • alanbuzz

      yes friends and chicks expensive. Anything you do takes money

  14. Rosie

    Let’s not overlook a big key to this guy’s current financial abilities – THANKS MOM AND DAD for the free food and lodging!
    Those were the days…

  15. Kathryn C

    Did I get booted from your list? I used to receive but not anymore?? I miss my Ramit emails!!

  16. Laura @MotherWouldKnow

    Love the recounting of meals out vs. in home. And eating off the parents – great tip. (Even if the parents get it, they don’t mind as long as you don’t invite over all your friends to eat them out of house and home, trust me.)

  17. natalie @ Mango

    Wow– the inner workings of a 29 year old male’s mind are… well, pretty much as I’d expect them to be! Ironically, here at Mango Money we were just discussing doing a post on how much dating really costs you, and after reading this, I’m even more excited about it! In the comments below some people were wondering what this guy’s goals are. Well, I think his goals are pretty straightforward: go on dates and have fun before he starts his semester at business school. I would be interested to know, though, how he plans to pay off these credit card bills. $40 on drinks for a casual night out seems a bit excessive– especially since it seems he only bought two drinks? What in the world are they putting in those? This guy might at least want to pick up a side job, or a side hustle while he’s in school to help fund his lifestyle. If you’re interested, we have a great post on some side hustle ideas here at Mango. Check it out– and good luck to you, anonymous writer!

  18. Brandy

    My one big takeaway from this – ordering multiple sizes online and then returning the ones that don’t fit to the store, so that not only do I end up with the right size, but I also end up spending enough to not have to pay shipping? BRILLIANT. Why have I never thought of this? I feel sort of dumb now. Thanks, anonymous dude!

    • Carmen

      I can tell you that this would NOT work with me. I rue clothes shopping and have tried this before, but I’ve ended up donating nice but unwearable clothes with the tags still on because I just never made it to the store and the return window expired.

      I’d rather go to the store once or twice a year and stock up on clothes I know look good and fit well on me.

  19. Jeff

    Ya, worrying about 5% cash back on gas vs. spending $200 on a rental car when you could ask a friend for a ride seems a bit incongruent…

  20. Rosalie

    Wow.. this guy seems to have too much time on his hands! Agree with Ben D about automating your money.. worrying about 3% cashback and then buying water?? Plus we need to remember the eating / lodging at your parent’s house..

  21. Sarah

    I’m not totally sure what to take from this. This guy is clearly not in his usual element, as it is the summer time. During the year, I wonder what his finances (and income) are like. I’d guess that he’s not making any money during the year as he’s busy at school. If that’s the case, then he’s not really spending within his means. But since we don’t really know what his situation is the rest of the year, it’s really hard to make any comment.

    The only advice I’d give him is to spend less time worrying about the little wins (card rewards and coupons) and to try to be more conscious about where the bulk of his money is going in the first place. It’s nice that he’s maximizing his rewards from his credit cards, but it also seems like it makes him blase about overspending in the first place.

  22. alanbuzz

    Total deposited: $3,032.94

    WOW interns get paid nowadays!

  23. MIOG

    I got a little dizzy when I read he’s $75K in debt. But he seems so nonchalant about it, could it be mom&dad are loaded? Regardless, either he’s clueless how debt can really bite you in the ass, or he’s got a silver spoon cushion.

    But what really upset me is that the first two dates should be coffee or pizza, not $40 drinks or $200 skydiving events. You don’t need to be “old and wise” to know this simple dating rule. If the girl really likes you, she’ll be OK with it. Seems this kid has a lot of learning to do, not only in personal finance department.

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  25. Ally

    Almost 30 years old and his Mommy still makes his meals to tide him over for the weekend! Yet he can spend almost $200 on a second date AND he already has $75,000 in debt??? Hope Mommy and Daddy are prepared to let him move back home when he files for bankruptcy in a year!

  26. Kate

    1. I pray to God that $75,000 isn’t made up of private student loans. Student loans are nearly impossible to wipe out, even after a bankruptcy, but federal student loans give you far more options, including the possibility of having the balance forgiven if you work in the public sector for 10 years. Private student loans are Satan’s candy; you eat them when you’re in school, and then you’re boned for the next 20 years of your life (because their interest rates and fee structures make them VERY difficult to pay off.) When you read stories about doctors who can’t pay back their student loans, or sociology majors with insane student loan debt, it almost always comes back to private student loans.

    2. I don’t know what happened, but suddenly all the sunglasses in the world are either $2 pieces of crap selling for $10, or decent $50 models, selling for $150+. (I.e., Macy’s doesn’t sell sunglasses anymore, they just have a Sungla$$ Hut franchise inside the store.) I found some good options at the Gap for $20 a piece.

    • eve

      I appreciate the point about private vs fereal student loans. Good to know!

  27. Sara

    I think this guy is in complete denial! 1) He’s not going to want to live at home forever (I dont know any other 29-year olds who do) and having mortgage/rent, utilities, furnishing and upkeeping a place is not cheap.. 2) $75,000 is a HUGE amount of student loans! Loans are always way harder to pay back than most people think. Plus, I think if he doesn’t have savings habits already inacted, it’s going to be hard to budget and save once he does graduate. He seems more like the instant gratification type! I think he is going to have a harsh reality ahead of him!

  28. Franklin

    Jesus! This fool needs to simplify. Focus man! And learn how to take care of yourself.

  29. Moo

    I feel strange here. See, I’m also 29, and I feel bad because I still have $11k of my original $15k student loan. This guy lives in a whole different world from me. $100+ sunglasses? $90 dinners? $44 for a meal where he doesn’t even eat? $200 to rent a car to reach a plane? $2 for WATER??? MOOOOO???

    Dude, I’m staying in Indiana. Water is <$1 here. And the rest of that stuff isn't even necessary. I'm going to come out of this recession a far wealthier… kid.

    As far as credit cards go, they're fine. Don't use 'em, and your utilization will be great. I only have four, though.