I love hearing how people spend their money. Unfortunately, people lie — they share purchases that are socially acceptable (“organic fruit”), but not the purchases they really make.
So we created The Money Diaries (based off New York Magazine’s Sex Diaries), where we’ve collected stories from real people about their spending habits over seven days and anonymized them. To be featured anonymously in a future Money Diary, click here.
In this week’s post, an out-of-work Web developer is starting over from scratch financially at age 30. Given her financial and professional situation, what advice would you give her?
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8:00 a.m.: The latest hurricane has left us without power for the past 36 hours. No microwave. No hot leftovers. I convince myself going out for breakfast would be a waste of money and make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
9:00 a.m.: At the library—which has electricity—I spend time writing cover letters and sending out résumés. I also work on my personal project, concluding there’s no possible way I can earn enough money from it before I run out of money in 3.5 months, and I don’t have friends or family to tap for startup funding.
A 30-year-old Web developer living in CA, I’ve been out of work for 4 months, resting and figuring out the next stage of my life. Now almost broke, I’m starting to look seriously for a new job while traveling on the East Coast. Over the previous 2 years, I had paid off all debts (except student loans), saved $17,000 in cash and put $5,000 in an IRA.
Unfortunately, 7 months ago, I had an accident without health insurance and built up $13,000 in medical bills. A month later, I discovered my dog had cancer, and I spent $11,000 for multiple surgeries and chemotherapy. 2 months later, I had become so miserable at my job that I quit. My bills exceeded my liquid assets.
Deciding my IRA was the most important thing, I put $5,000 into that, only to discover the bank posted it for 2011 instead of 2010, causing me to lose $5k from my retirement anyway. I kept $5,000 in cash for myself and paid my bills with $7,000 in cash and $8,500 in credit card debt. I have $8,500 in unpaid bills and am keeping my eye out for when they send me to collections.
My boyfriend owes me money, so he is paying most of my living expenses, while my student loans and credit card payments are coming out of my $5,000 in cash reserves. I was actually ahead on my student loan payments before, so I don’t owe anything for 10 months.
1:00 p.m.: Returning to my friend’s place from the library, I give in to a $5 slice of pizza that turns into a $10 dinner, plus $5 tip—leaving anything less than a $5 tip is almost an insult. I put the $15 on the joint spending account I share with my boyfriend.
6:30 p.m.: The friends I am staying with decide to go out for pizza, and they nearly pay for my fried dough without my noticing! I argued, but they insisted on paying. I hate when people pay for me. I was raised in a poor household, and to me, paying for myself shows I am self reliant. Even though I chose to quit my job, and even though I’ll survive 7 months without income, I’m still self conscious about my economic image.
8:00 p.m.: Back at the library with my friend, I continue looking for jobs. I’m happy I can ignore jobs that don’t interest me. I decide to apply for a part-time job teaching Web development. Hopefully the salary is better than my worst-case estimate.
8:30 a.m.: The owner of a cat sanctuary returns my call about my mother and grandmother adopting a cat.
10:00 a.m.: I’m at the library. It’s the end of the month, and I have to do my finances. I’m a bit scared to see where I am at. What if my projections were wrong? What if I look at my checking account and find it’s overdrawn? These are ridiculous fears, considering my projections for the past 4 months have been accurate.
I handle my finances once a month, paying then any bills not on autopay. I use Quicken because it tracks future expenses and provides a graphical projection of a given account. These projections help assure me I’m safe for the next 6 months and that it’s OK for me to relax. Several years ago, I was so poor I had only $15 a week for groceries. Even after two years of economic comfort, I still have anxiety.
I share my savings account with my grandmother, so she can draw on it in emergencies (which, unfortunately, she has had a lot of lately). I feel awful that I only have the minimum $300 in there, instead of the $5,000 I promised her. I still haven’t told her about my medical bills, because I don’t want her to know I’m barely keeping my head above water.
My checking account now has $5,684.27. How did I get more money? When I left work 4 months ago, I only had $5,000. Sometimes I think money just magically appears. Even at my poorest, I always seemed to be able to scrape up money. The old me would have spent days figuring out the discrepancy, but to reduce stress, I’m going to let it go.
The interest on the $5,778.28 balance on my primary credit card this month was $62.66. I have been meaning to transfer the balance to a new credit card with a 0% promotional rate, but I don’t want a fifth credit card. My indecision is costing me money.
It turns out I messed up my projections for our primary joint account, so we’ll be overdrawn by $55 by the end of the month. I will contribute $200 for this month to cover the shortfall. I texted my boyfriend a reminder that he needs to put $2,650 into our joint account for the next month’s expenses.
2:45 p.m.: I finally finished doing my finances!
4:30 p.m.: The good news is the electricity turned on a few minutes ago. The bad news is my friend who picked me up at the library might lose her job.
8:45 a.m.: I wake up to crying and run downstairs to find my friend in tears and her mother comforting her. She was fired. Her earned overtime, two weeks of pay, vacation, and severance compensation come to over $4,000—two months of living expenses. I advise her to use that time to rest and build her portfolio.
10:30 a.m.: My friend and I hunt for jobs. I find an incredibly awesome prospect and draft a cover letter.
11:00 a.m.: I decide to create a portfolio website for my friend to help her be more competitive while job hunting and to improve her salary prospects. This 2-3 week project means dramatically less time for me to work on my own job applications and projects. I try to talk myself out of it, but can’t. I can’t stop giving to others, even at the sacrifice of myself.
11:30 p.m.: I was so excited about going to the cat sanctuary tomorrow that I couldn’t stop thinking about the cats. I am going to buy for my parents all supplies the cats will need.
I shopped on Amazon until 2:30 in the morning! It was a lot of fun. I like “window shopping” on Amazon, building wish lists, putting items in my cart…and then not buying anything! I have no problem walking away from my full shopping cart and coming back to it weeks or months later. I get the satisfaction of shopping without spending money. Win win in my book.
9:00 a.m.: I reviewed my selected cat supplies on Amazon. The total is now $147 without shipping. Not bad.
11:00 a.m.: The owner of the cat sanctuary and I decide on two male cats that would be perfect for my grandmother. Next step: get the OK from my parents.
11:45 a.m.: My friend decided to cancel a job interview for a position that’s totally beneath her. Thank goodness!
6:30 p.m.: I finished off the last of my leftovers. Between the two sets of leftovers, I spent around $28 for 5 meals. $5.60 a meal isn’t as much of a deal as I thought it would be.
9:30 p.m.: My boyfriend returned hungry from his visit in New York, so I gave him the other half of my sandwich. At $7.22 for two meals, it comes to $3.61 per meal.
9:00 a.m.: The four of us go out for breakfast on main street. My boyfriend insists we pay for everyone. The total comes to $28.24, which we put on our joint account.
10:45 a.m.: I called my grandmother to talk about the cats. She said they sounded great and that she’d love to adopt them!
11:00 a.m.: I called the owner of the cat sanctuary with the good news. She tells me the typical donation requirement is $125 per cat, but since we are taking two cats and neither needed medical care, that I can donate whatever I want. I want to be generous, so I had planned to give $100 more than their asking donation, which would come to $350.
My boyfriend said he would be happy to pitch in on this as a gift, so I should put all the expenses on our joint account. I declined. This was my idea and my responsibility, so I should pay for it.
12:30 p.m.: We arrived in Providence, RI and had sushi for lunch. After tip and taxes, the total came to $34.08.
2:30 p.m.: We stopped by my old favorite pet store on our way to the dog park. I walked in knowing I wanted to buy something, and left having spent $112.84 from our joint account.
1:45 p.m.: Headed to New Hampshire to visit my parents.
7:00 p.m.: Went out to dinner with my parents and my boyfriend, who elected to pay the whole $69.98 from our joint account. I’m a bit nervous; after breakfast ($17.85) and getting gas ($44.50), we only had $100 left, and I’m not sure we have enough money to cover it.
8:30 p.m.: Bought my parents the cat supplies on Amazon. The total had grown to $180, and feeling anxious, I chipped the purchase down to $155 and put it on my personal credit card.
10:00 p.m.: Received an email from my roommate saying our landlords received a lien notice on their house! Ugh. I am so embarrassed. I should have found out exactly why I wasn’t receiving the garbage bills, instead of just waiting around.
7:30 a.m.: Sent an email to my landlord profusely apologizing for the lien. I am embarrassed beyond words.
9:30 a.m.: Stopped off at Subway for two sandwiches and water, for $12.54.
10:30 a.m.: We arrived at my friend’s house again. Her boyfriend tells us she’s at her new job! I am astonished and disappointed. Taking the wrong job because she’s anxious about money could seriously jeopardize her long-term career. She was given two months of expenses and yet couldn’t wait a week to polish up her portfolio.
11:00 a.m.: My boyfriend wants to cook lunch for all of us and the dog. $35.50 for groceries and $39.90 for gas, on the joint account.
7:00 p.m.: My friend finally comes home from her job. Fortunately, it’s a contract position, which gives me hope that she will find a good job for herself. We talk a lot about her anxiety and I coach her on how to be more confident in herself. Then my friend and I head to Staples. Fortunately, I resist buying anything.
Total expenses: $1714.62
Total income: $0
$222.43 on food, despite my desire to reduce food expenses; from my joint checking account
$222.54 for other expenses; on the joint account
$519.65 added to my overburdened personal credit card
$750 for the cats, replacing a lost dog license, putting money in our joint account, and my credit card
In reading back, I realize just how anxious I really am over money. Regardless of the fact that I am trying to preserve my current cash supply, I still appear to have residual issues. Expenses add up. However, despite that, things always manage to work out, and because of that, I feel it is OK for me to not stress about my finances.
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What do you think?
Given her financial and professional situation, what advice would you give the author of today’s Money Diary?
PS — Be nice. Through years of writing this blog, I am hardened against bitter commenters who foam at the mouth, flailing around for something to get offended by. Money Diaries authors are not. Feel free to offer honest feedback, but let’s keep it polite.