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The Money Diaries: The unemployed web developer who struggles with her desire to give generously as she’s running out of money

Ramit Sethi

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?

* * * * *

Day 1

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.

Day 2  

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.

Day 3  

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.

Day 4

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.

Day 5

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.

Day 6  

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.

Day 7

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.

In Sum

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.

* * * * *

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.

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  1. avatar

    God, this is just sad.

    $11K to prolong the life of a dog. Quitting a job when you’re in financial straits just because you don’t like it. Leaving a $5 tip on a $10 meal. “I’m happy I can ignore jobs that don’t interest me”. Checking your finances monthly. Letting your family ignorantly draw on finances you don’t have. Not taking advantage of 0% rates because you “don’t want another card”. Mixing your finances with someone as fiscally incapable as you. Spending your time building your friend’s portfolio instead of your own. $500+ for cats? Picking up the tab with money you don’t have? $35 lunches.

    Here’s a thought. Stop eating out. Stop paying for other people. Stop sharing your bank account with a SO. Let people know you’re struggling. Spend your time trying to get employment and take what you can get.

  2. avatar

    I see a lot of invisible scripts at play here. Well, one is not invisible, but explicitly stated: “paying for myself shows I am self reliant.” But the author takes it further than that, with the notion that she should pay for other people, and she should pay for anything that is her idea. I would ask, first, is this a personal thing (I just feel too bad letting others pay for me) or is it an image thing (what will people think of me if I let them pay for me)? If it’s a personal thing, then it may be a matter of realizing that being anxious about money all the time is probably causing more long-term stress than momentary guilt over letting yourself be treated by someone. If it’s an image thing — Are you friends actually going to judge you? How do you know? Is it possible they are already judging you for your money management abilities, and that they would actually think more highly of you for asking for help?

    Another invisible script is that going out to eat is an important part of spending time with people. This is tough because if everyone in the group has this expectation, then it may not be possible to break this habit without saying out loud that you can’t afford to go out. And that’s another thing I’m seeing here, that this person really doesn’t want anyone to know that she’s struggling financially, which goes back to the larger issue of feeling guilty for accepting help from others.

    What’s interesting is that she is so generous with others, whether with money or with her time. I wonder if she’s thought about why she does that. For example, if you say, “They are my friends/family; I just feel right knowing I’m helping to take care of them,” then why prevent your friends and family from having that same feeling of taking care of you? Why make all these relationships one-sided, where instead of a mutual give-and-take, people take from you and give nothing in return? That doesn’t make you look like a strong, self-reliant person; that just makes you look like a doormat who’s being used. Perhaps that is harsh, but if you are so concerned with how other people perceive you, maybe it would help to know how they are already perceiving you now, and whether that’s the image you really want.

    Best of luck to you — hopefully others have some helpful advice as well.

  3. avatar

    Don’t get a pet when you have no money. Pets are expensive, and lets face it, for many people once they bond with a pet they are going to spend money on it where they deem necessary. If her grandmother needs to dip into her savings for regular life expenses and emergencies, then she will surely dip in when the cats get sick. And they will get sick eventually. When you don’t have enough money to take care of the cats, they are either going to end up at a shelter, euthanized, or suffering. The humans suffer, too, for putting their pets down. Its a bad, bad, bad idea to get a pet when you’re broke–not only will your wallet suffer, but you will suffer emotionally when your backed into a corner and can’t afford to care for your pets.

  4. avatar

    Reading this just made me sad.

    The worst part was her summary at the end. She is still upbeat after having laid that catastrophe out in front of her – oblivious even.

    I am stressed out for her, and hope she sees the light and starts making better decisions.

  5. avatar

    Your behavior, decisions, and goal doesn’t add up. Your goal is to find a *good* job, get out of debt and be financially self sufficient, yet you mentioned job search 3 days out of 7. Your week sounds like a vacation.

    “Window shopping” means not buying anything, not buying them a few days later. You traveled and donated in addition to what’s already a donation. Your spending is as if you have income.

    You’re anxious and stressed and it sounds like your wallet’s paying for it. Maybe you should consider contracting like your friend did, it will build your own portfolio and resume and only take up the time you’d spend eating out and window shopping, leaving you plenty of time to look for a good, stable job.

  6. avatar
    Casey Camilleri

    You do realize if you kept at this pace you would be spending close to $7,000 a month! I don’t even bring home that amount every month and I make a very decent salary. If I spent money like you I’d be in debt within months. Time to start giving yourself a daily budget.

  7. avatar

    Jessica’s comments above about invisible scripts are right on – it seems like there’s a combination of real generosity coupled with huge concerns about being self-reliant. Self-reliance is cool, but this person is actually really, really entangled with the boyfriend, who’s paying her living expenses because he owes her money (apparently quite a bit), which means she must have given him a loan back when she was working/saving. Now she feels that somehow money will turn up, but she has that feeling because she built up a cushion of savings while she was working, and also built up this large debt owed to her by the boyfriend. So it’s not a stable, indefinite situation: eventually there will not be any more money, and she’ll need to be regularly employed.

    So, advice:

    1. Get regular employment, even if it’s a contract position or not quite what you hoped to be doing, because having money coming in the door buys breathing room.

    2. Get on the same page with your boyfriend about what your monthly budget is for dining out, and agree in advance whether you’ll pay for the whole group (like he did with the family breakfast) or just yourselves.

    3. You don’t have to complain or give anyone the full details of your finances, but allow your close friends to know that you’re trying to save some cash and need to limit your dining out. I don’t think they’ll judge you harshly, especially since you’ll sound like a sensible person trying to think ahead, rather than an irresponsible person hoping/wishing/imagining that money will just continue to show up in your spending account.

    4. You don’t have to stress about finances, but you do have to take action to get onto a sustainable, stable income/expense budget. Money coming in > or = money going out: treat it like the laws of thermodynamics – you might be able to deviate from it in the short term, but ultimately you can’t win at that game.

  8. avatar

    There’s nothing wrong with giving to help others, even when you’re struggling, but that doesn’t give you a free pass to turn a blind eye to very real problems in your financial world.
    This is a small snippet of your financial world, and there are people here writing honest comments that I think you should internalize and not be defensive about. You may also benefit from someone looking at your overall financial health and getting honest feedback about. Not because they’re necessarily going to give you the keys to how to fix everything, but rather, because they would have a more sober judgment on your true health, and give you some tips that you should consider on getting your ship righted.

    One thing I will say, generosity is a good thing. But don’t let it be your achilles heel. You need to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, and you can be generous in other ways besides 750 for cats.

  9. avatar

    You’re a web developer in CA – how do you not have several web companies and 10x recruiters falling all over themselves to hire you? Seriously its impossible to find talented developers these days.

  10. avatar

    $1,700 for a week’s worth of expenses? I think that’s close to my monthly expenses, and I live in an expensive part of Southern California and have all the costs you do – rent, gas, food, student loans. I also don’t understand not taking up a job because it’s beneath you – take the job, then use it to leverage yourself into the next good one. Why would you give up a chance to get a positive cash flow?

  11. avatar

    This is the best comment so far. Right on.

  12. avatar

    I have to agree with Jessica, these are action steps that you need to handle right now. And please, just STOP with the over tipping and gifting. You do not have the money to do that and if you truly want to be there for your grandmother, stop spending money that you don’t have because she will continue to use your money and eventually you won’t have any. You are overspending and it’s making ME anxious.

  13. avatar

    How can a web developer in CA be out of work for 4 months? We are in the middle of a tech bubble!!

  14. avatar

    I know! I’m totally baffled by this. She could probably easily pick up some freelance projects for at least $125/hr. I think there are other “invisible scripts” that are keeping her from getting a job.

  15. avatar

    There’s a LOT going on here, as others have mentioned, and it would be impossible for the author to fix everything all at once, so I think she needs to prioritize based on the things that are important to her.

    But if I were here, I would:
    1. Go into spending lockdown mode until I had found a job. As a good short-term goal to reduce spending, plan out a week’s worth of meals and buy groceries for them, and then see if you can go the whole week only eating out, say, once or twice (rather than everyday, which she seems to be doing now).

    2. Make finding a job my new job: That means 40 hours a week, minimum, on searching, applying, networking, developing your portfolio, going on informational interviews. The author sounds like she’s glad she can afford to be choosy and wait for a job that she’ll like, but this isn’t really true. She’s in pretty dire financial straits and needs a solid income source. As others have said, she’s a web dev in CA, and she shouldn’t have any problem finding a job that will be “good enough” for at least a year or two while she gets back on her feet.

    3. Over-generosity: The author needs to do some soul-searching and figure out why she feels the need to spend and give generously when she clearly doesn’t have the resources to do. Especially when it doesn’t really sound like any of them are asking/begging the author for the money in the first place, which is the weird part. This invisible script of giving generously probably stems from growing up poor, but it’s worth exploring. Sit down with your parents, grandmother, boyfriend and friend (separately) and explain your situation to them, and I bet they won’t be bothered if you say you need to take a step back and focus on your financial house first.

    Once these three things have been accomplished, *then* she can start cleaning up her money situation, paying down debt, and getting on a sane spending plan. I don’t think she’s in any position to solve her financial problems without a) a job and b) taking a step back to analyze how her spending patterns relate to her emotions and insecurities.

  16. avatar
    Jess H.

    The script of “I should get an awesome job, not just some random way to pay the bills” is great, but the actions don’t match. This person needs Dream Job, stat.

  17. avatar

    Why is she spending so much time at the library? This is the only thing I don’t understand. Unless she’s trying to get a job at the library it seems like a waste of time. Maybe she doesn’t have internet at home? Searching for jobs online and emailing countless resumes isn’t all that productive anyway. She should be doing gigs on craigslist for her web development, she should join elance and oDesk and pick up freelance web development jobs, instead of eating out, she should be working as a waitress part time at one of these places to see how people really tip. And the biggest thing is that she wastes too much money on pets. As an animal lover, I understand and I’ve done it but there comes a time when it has to stop. It’s so expensive. Also, stop gifting – your family will still love you.

  18. avatar

    I had a glimmer of hope for her when reading about window shopping on Amazon – not a bad idea to set some goals for things you may want to purchase once employed…..but then she actually buys cat supplies for someone else????sheesh!

  19. avatar

    Power was out, so she wouldn’t have been able to use her computer at home once the battery ran out, plus no power for her router.

    Maybe being at the library also helps her focus? Sounds like she was her most productive when she was there.

  20. avatar

    1. Negotiate down your medical bill. She is unemployed and broke, this should be no problem. Most hospitals offer a payment plan or waive a certain portion of it if you qualify for assistance. I was shortly unemployed last year and was able to get a $3000 ER bill down to $500 simply by asking for help and sending in my last paystub and some other forms to qualify for help. This took a couple hours of my time to knock $2500 off a medical bill. She most likely qualifies for something if she sucked in her pride and just asked for help.

    2. Quit “helping” people. “Helping” is in quotes because it doesn’t seem like they really need help. Why can’t her parents buy their own cat supplies? Why spend all that time on her friend’s job hunt if her friend seems perfectly capable of finding a job on her own (and she did just that).

    3. Learn to focus on herself and not others. She seems oddly focused on her friend’s employment instead of her own. Who cares if her friend took a job that’s “beneath” her. People do what they need to do to sustain themselves whether it’s taking a bartending job or admin job. You can always quit when a better job comes along. At least her friend’s job is in her field. Besides, it’s easier to get a new job while currently employed. Maybe she should be following her friend’s lead. Only one week of unemployment is rather impressive.

  21. avatar
    Unemployed but spending as if earning six figures salary - Blog - Not Another Get Rich Quick Scheme

    […] read todays post on Ramin Sethis Money diaries and I had to comment on it. It's about 30 years old web designer who has been unemployed for 4 […]

  22. avatar

    Oh my. Four months unemployed and still spending like she earns six figures. When you are unemployed you need to stop spending immediately. If it’s not bear essential for living or something that helps you get a job you don’t spend that money. If your friends and family doesn’t understand that then you need to distance yourself from them for a while and get your act together. No job is beneath you and there’s plenty of freelance web designer jobs out there to keep you a float until you find something better.

  23. avatar

    “Time to start giving yourself a daily budget.”
    “a daily budget”

  24. avatar
    Her Every Cent Counts

    This is a sad post. This woman sounds like a good friend of mine who is only in a better financial situation because she found herself a fiancee who is a well-paid engineer. First of all, the whole pets thing is something I don’t get as I never grew up or had pets. I understand they are expensive, especially when they get sick, which happens. Don’t have pets until you can afford them. If you are so desperate to be around animals work with them, don’t own them. As everyone else noted, it is unfortunate that she feels so responsible to pay for everyone all the time when she is in debt and unemployed. She needs to get rid of her boyfriend who is a mooch, get a job, and start digging herself out of debt. I appreciate her optimism at the end that finances always work out, but the reality is sometimes they don’t, and she’s just digging herself in deeper and deeper. I’m not saying my finances are perfect, but I have a job to support a few mistakes here and there. Sorry, but she needs help. She sounds like a remarkably intelligent woman otherwise, so I’m confident she can lead a successful life doing something she loves and earn a living doing it, but needs to get a job pronto.

  25. avatar

    I have realized that following my every whim is not the path to financial freedom or peace. Having a plan and following it is. Sure, on a given day I’d love to get a pedicure, eat in restaurants, buy toys for my dog, etc. But if I follow every whim I’m going to be stressed and broke — not worth it. Instead you should prioritize based on your values. If treating friends to a meal is really important, then plan to do it once a month, and decide in advance how much you’ll budget for that. Better yet, make a plan to take your friends out to celebrate when you get your new job!

    Take care of yourself first. Then you can practice true generosity with friends, family and animals around you. This ‘irresponsible’ version of generosity isn’t helping, it’s dragging down the people around you.

    I used to do finances every month, but that gave me no ability to course correct. So then I started doing finances every week. Now I track my finances every day! For me that’s the right frequency to reduce anxiety.

    The sooner you start working, the better you’ll feel. Do some web projects, maybe even get a gig as a dog walker — that way you can earn some money and spend time with animals.

    Wishing you lots of prosperity as you get back on your feet.

  26. avatar

    Wait, wait. She maintains a residence in California while she travels the East Coast with $8000 on credit card and another I presume $8000 unpaid (unless I misunderstood). How what why do you travel with that on your mind?

    I notice a lot of putting of job searching for either shopping, eating out or doing favours for freinds. I question her desire for a job, she seems happy juggling her bills and letting her boyfriend pay. Maybe she feels entitled because she paid for him in the past.

    As well as worrying about a job that is “beneath her” ruining her long term career prospects.I know you don’t want to jump from job to job, but a short term job while you search for something better can be easily explained.

    I wonder if there isn’t some underlying depression going on. The injury and then dog issues, which cumulated with quitting her job in a fit of unhappiness.

  27. avatar

    The invisible script that jumped out at me was “I can’t stop giving to others, even at the sacrifice of myself”. Here, she’s specifically referring to helping her friend find a job instead of helping herself. To me, this seems like she’s avoiding getting a job for some reason. Fear of success? Depression, as someone above mentioned? Lack of confidence? I don’t know. Ramit talks about how people get caught up with researching about doing activity X (job search, finances, weight loss) rather than getting in there and doing it, and I feel like her “selflessness” about helping her friend instead of herself and spending time at the library “looking” is how she goes through the motions of the job search without actually getting anywhere, and she can say “At least I’m trying.” Financially giving to others even though she can’t afford it and believing that despite the facts, things will work out for her financially is unrealistic — her actions do nothing to support these dreams. I”m also not sure why she’s traveling on the East Coast without a form of income? If Diary Writer was my best friend, I would tell her that she has to put herself as #1. That means no tipping outrageous amounts because it might seem rude otherwise, buying other people pet supplies, concentrating on someone else’s career while her own falls by the wayside — and NOT feeling guilty doing so. Friends, family and SOs will love you even if you don’t spend more than what you have on or for them. Once she is back on her feet, she can then determine what she can afford to spend on others.

  28. avatar

    I understand wanting the perfect job, but sometimes you have to take a not so perfect job. Remember that a long gap in employment is also detrimental to your career the make you apear lazy. Go do something, temp work or freelance even if it isn’t perfect. Look for jobs related to your career but slightly outside your areas of expertise. This will help expand your career option in the future. Also, when you are busy, the desire and time to spend money goes down. Its also easier to get a job when you have a job (or someone told me once).

    I realize this is a small window into your life, but you need to be thinking about skills to add to your resume. I understand you are working on a personal project, but adding new skills and staying up to date on your field is important. In addition to sending out resumes blindly, contact people you know about jobs. A large majority of jobs are filled by referrals. Especially contact people you dont know quite as well for new job leads, not just your close friends. You may be surprised at the responses.

    I understand the desire to pay for your friends, but why not have them over for dinner. There are many great dinners that can be created inexpensively and easily that still have a festive touch. Follow the night with board games or some other inexpensive form of entertainment. Look back to when you were just out of college if you need ideas. : )

    Also I would balance my budget, at the very least, every week. I have found it gives me much greater control. You probably avoid this because your budget makes you anxious but the anxiety will be much less if you feel in control.

  29. avatar
    Tara M.

    Her predicament makes me nervous because I work in her field and am almost the same age…it’s not hard to envision myself in her shoes.
    But my overwhelming advice for her is that she NEEDS to tell her family that she is out of work. By ignoring her problems and pretending that everything is fine, she is really just digging her financial grave at an even faster rate. There is nothing shameful in being unemployed, millions of people have gone through the process. To that end, however, she should definitely NOT be paying for other people’s pet adoptions, lunch bills, and whatever else she is paying for. Others have said it: she needs to take care of herself first…and acquiring pets when you are in such dire straits is a BAD, BAD idea. I would tell her to calm down; there’s no need to adopt a pet RIGHT NOW…there’s not going to be any shortage of homeless animals any time soon (trust me). I think that is part of her “nothing is wrong, everything is fine!” facade, but she will only burn through her cash like an inferno devouring dry wood.

  30. avatar

    Exactly. This is where I’m getting stuck. Doesn’t make sense – EXCEPT the whole part about “advising” her friend to not take a job that’s “below” her. It’s possible that nothing is good enough for this woman.

  31. avatar

    This sounds far worse than overspending one’s means…the details sound an awful lot like bipolar disorder.

    – Agonizing over $5 per meal or $3 per meal, but spending $750 on pet stuff in a single week
    – Being overly generous with tips and the extra $100 for the cats
    – Overall spending like a rich person while taking time off from work for “resting” rather than looking for new jobs

  32. avatar

    This diarist has a lot of explicit “scripts”, like “paying for myself shows self-reliance” or “I can’t stop being generous”, or the really confusing one, “money just keeps showing up”.
    I worry about the scripts playing out that she is not even able to articulate, like:
    “Being confident in myself means following my feelings, no matter how impractical. Making decisions for practical reasons shows weakness/lack of self esteem” This one seems to be leading her down a very hard road and may wind up damaging her relationship to her friend.
    “I need to have everyone depending on me, whether I really have anything to give or not”. Instead of providing the money she promised to her grandmother, she is creating more obligations/expenses by giving her pets. She takes it upon herself to act as her friend’s job search mentor, even though she has not been successful and apparently the friend did not request/did not wait for the help.
    “Financial details are stressful and confusing.” Mystery money in the checking account is great. What happens when there is a mystery debit?
    “My projections are accurate and reliable. When reality does not match them, I can ignore that fact.” She mentions several financial surprises in the course of a week, yet seems to believe that her confidence is well-placed.
    Repetitive cycles of prosperity/poverty are very common with limiting scripts. One typical script is a drive to escape childhood poverty, leading to a skilled career and high income, but without the life skills to turn it onto long-term wealth. She mentions at least one previous cycle of extreme poverty in her past. It appears to me that she is on the downward curve of her prosperity cycle and is heading for a crisis before things improve. Hopefully working with Ramit will help her break the cycle and stabilize her financial life.

  33. avatar

    I can honestly say after reading this thread that I would rather throw battery acid on my face than ever sit down to lunch with anyone commenting in this thread.

    “A gap in your employment may make you seem lazy?” I view a gap in an employment history as a discussion starter. I have several gaps in my employment history by choice, and let me tell you, it never affected me. Anytime I was asked about a gap, it spawned a wonderful conversation between myself and the interview.

    Listen. Let me tell you the truth. You’re all nuts. All insane. Go out, learn to talk. Buy nice clothes. Look the part. Be as good looking as you can be. And LEARN TO TALK.

    I’m not looking to attack anyone, even though it seems like it, but there isn’t only ONE way. Actually, one of the probably stupidest things I’ve ever done got me the best job I ever had.

  34. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    I like your style

  35. avatar

    Short and sweet advice for you.

    1) Stop worrying about finances for the time being – as you’ve said, there is money in the bank
    2) Invest the time you’ve spent on cats into finding your new dream job, and direct all your efforts in this direction. As you say you don’t need a job immediately so make sure that the next job you get is absolutely fantastic. Either that or line up some quality freelance work so at least you can show what you’ve done over this time at an interview and how you’ve used/improved your skills.

  36. avatar

    I agree it can be a discussion starter, but you have to have done something worth discussing for it to work that way.

    I’ve been a hiring manager several times and have a friend in the same field who took 2 years off from work. He had all kinds of grand plans, but in reality did nothing. Once his savings ran out, he started getting desperate and kept asking me to help him find a job. Finally I had to tell him that I wouldn’t hire him, and couldn’t really recommend him, since this 2-year gap just made him look lazy. We had a lot of honest discussions about that – his point was that wasn’t fair, that he should be able to just do what he wants, but my point was that I wanted to hire someone who does interesting things with their time, whether that’s a job, a hobby, an experiment, whatever. I don’t care what it is, but he had a 2-year gap of literally just sitting in his apartment (at 40, by the way). I asked him, what are you going to tell me as your employer that will make me think you are remotely motivated to help my company grow? What in your life has shown that in the past?

    If I have another candidate with a similar history, but who spent the 2 years trying something out (like a new business, or a new career, or traveled the world…anything that showed effort, coordination, planning, and motivation), I would find that infinitely more interesting and would be interested in that conversation. Then the gap doesn’t matter that much to me as a hiring manager. Sounds to me that you used the time to do things you enjoy, and were able to talk about them in an interesting way.

    As for our diarist, one thing that popped out at me immediately was why she wasn’t trying to get little short-term consulting gigs or using her spare time to work on the project she mentioned at the beginning. Even if it takes her a year to find work, she’s still doing something. Then when she does get that interview for the dream job, she’s got something to start a conversation with.

  37. avatar
    Anonymous for this

    Perhaps this person is spending money on others to compensate for feeling awful about being out of work. And maybe she’s only able to look for work 3 out of 7 days because she’s depressed, or angry, or anxious. If so, I can assure you that those feelings are difficult to hide from a prospective employer. It may be why she can’t find a job in southern California, even though she has a skill set that is in demand.

    As someone who has had to start over from scratch (literally, with nothing, or with co-signed debts) 3 times, I know how hard it is to accept that bad things have happened. Maybe she needs professional help to get over her negative feelings so she can move on. But until she finds a way to face her new reality, I don’t think she’ll be able to make a budget, stick to a budget, seriously approach finding a job 40 hours per week, or appear upbeat and positive in an interview.

    But that’s just my opinion….

    I wish this person strength and guidance to come to terms with her world as it really is, so she can stop living in the alternate reality that is playing in her mind. It’s hard. It’s work. But it can be done.

  38. avatar
    Barbara Saunders

    Can agree in a tough love way about everything except the dog. For me the life of my dog is absolutely the first measure of my honor. WAY before creditors.

  39. avatar
    John @ Married (with Debt)

    Much like Ramit hates it when people ask him for the “ONE KILLER TIP THAT WILL MAKE ME RICH,” I hate being asked for personal finance advice from people who truly don’t want it.

    It is obvious that this person has too much going on in their personal life such as low self esteem and a poor image of self worth. Telling them to “make a budget” is meaningless to them. They need to work on whatever issues make them feel obligated to not only refuse generosity from others, but to feel compelled to pay for everything for everyone. This view of money is different than mine.

    Sometimes we need to feel real pain before we can change. Wait until all the money is dried up and you can’t feed the cats or yourself. Forced change is ok.

  40. avatar
    Anonymous Coward

    Honestly, Ramit, there is no amount of money this person can make because there’s something wrong with her that she is determined to be a martyr and destroy herself. I’ve seen it many times. In poker we called these people the fish. Even her vet is exploiting her. $11K to torture a dying dog? Really? Even her grandmother (!) is hitting her up to drain her savings account. If I knew a fix for these people, I would tell her to get it, but it’s the old story about how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb. The lightbulb has to want to change. She wants to throw away her life on users and losers, and I guess we have to leave her to it. You can’t help the helpless.

    If I had to tell her something, I would strongly urge her to get a psychiatric evaluation. In my personal observations, I have not seen any martyrs get fixed, but a couple of posters upstream point out that it could be bipolar disorder or depression, in which case I have occasionally witnessed people experience remission by taking prescribed medications. So, yeah, my advice to her is to find and confer with a well-regarded, deeply honest psychiatrist. But considering how well she chose her vet, she might even screw that up.

  41. avatar

    Injuries sustained that helped with piling up that medical bill? Hard emotional time with the dog. Quitting work in a fit. This all sounds like someone that desperately needs someone else to take over, and care for her for a while. Her personality probably wouldn’t allow it, though it is what she most greatly and secretly desires.

    The sad truth is when you hit these emotional black holes, you have to pull yourself out. The rest of the finances is just background noise here. Get thee to a doctor and speak about the hardships, the ups and downs. Consider exercise daily, medication, and therapy. From there, things will lighten and eventually you will see your way clear again.

    It can and will get better.

  42. avatar

    I don’t understand how she’s unemployed after four months. Web developers are probably one of the most sought after employees today. I was just hiring people for an ‘entry level’ position at $40-$50k — it took us 4 months to find a single qualified candidate.

  43. avatar

    This is a tough call because it seems like you have competing value systems during a time of scarcity. This way of living may have been manageable during a time of abundance. I am not interested in telling you about the things that may not have the same value to me, i.e. pets. As Ramit has reminded us, these kinds of things are difficult to manage psychologically.

    At the end of the day, I think you know longer have the luxury of being selective with work options. Find a job, take the job, and keep applying for dream jobs.

    Also, in terms of interest, what you will most likely make in your IRA vs the interest on your debt would encourage me to have you reconsider your focus. Pay off your debt first.

  44. avatar
    Cori J.

    HUGE red flags on the backstory:

    1) You didn’t have health insurance and had an accident that has all but bankrupted you. And yet you don’t mention if you have health insurance or not. Do you? If not, you have learned nothing or you’re hoping that next time the accident kills you.

    2a) You had an accident that landed you in the hospital and depleted your savings and you DIDN’T TELL YOUR FAMILY? You’re a nutjob. How would you feel if they did that to you, and when you asked them why they didn’t tell you they reply that they didn’t want to be a burden on you because they knew you’d insist on helping pay their medical bills?

    2) You had a pet and you didn’t have health insurance for it. Now, there are arguments for and against this, but since you’re clearly the type of person who would give a kidney’s worth of cash to keep your dog alive, I think the insurance would have been worth it. Are you swearing to high heaven that your grandmother should have health insurance for the cats? If not, you’ve learned nothing or you’re hoping that the cats die quickly.

    Moral of the story: You’re obviously living your life in constant stress because you’re staking your financial future on the hope that things will work out while you have your head in the sand. News flash: they won’t.

    Red flags on her spending:

    1) First things first: Boyfriend owe you money? You need to call your credit card company TODAY and negotiate down your rate. Use Ramit’s tactic of threatening to transfer your balance to another card with a zero introductory offer. I promise you, they’ll take the bait. Then, sit down with your boyfriend, total up the amount of money he owes you, and agree to a repayment schedule. Finally, link your boyfriend’s account (NOT your joint account) to your credit card, and have funds automatically draw from his account each month until he’s paid back the money he’s owed you. DO NOT have him “pay you back” by paying for meals or putting shit on your joint account.

    Speaking of which, your joint account should be for buying couches, not brunches.

    2) You have an immense sense of pride that is killing you. At what point are you going to admit to yourself and others that you’re underwater and desperately in need of help and support? When is the reality going to outweigh the pain of embarrassment? You need therapy. If you don’t get this handled your situation is only going to get worse.

    3) You are not the champion of the universe. It is not your job to rescue everyone. In addition to your personal pride, you clearly have some kind of savior complex combined with total arrogance and snobbery. How dare you judge your friend for her totally reasonable choice to take a job (that YOU think is beneath her) so that she’s not as desperate and crazy and in denial about money as you? Gee, makes you wonder why she made that decision.

    4) I won’t speak to everyone else bitching about why you’re unemployed. I was unemployed too for a long time in this industry. The problem is that you’re projecting is that you are too good for jobs that are available to you, and looking for the job that will be magic and perfect where you can work happily ever after. With that attitude, no one is going to want to hire you.

    Listen, you obviously aren’t going to end up at Starbucks. You could get clients on Sortfolio. You could network at events and tell people you’re on the market for freelance work. You could apply for more jobs, but something about what you’re sending out isn’t working (or you’re averaging one job application a week, which is laughable).

    5) Your friends and family are taking advantage of you because you never say no. If you are afraid of feeling guilty if you stop helping them, that’s your problem. If they make you guilty if you stop helping them, they don’t care about you and that’s not your problem.

    Finally: you hate the idea that you are still that person from years ago who struggles with money, so you live as if you aren’t. But you are. Once you admit that, and accept help (from friends, from your family, from your boyfriend, from a licensed therapist) you’ll actually be able to live your life. Right now, you’re digging yourself deeper into a hole just to get away from your own shadow. Face your fears, and you’ll start breathing again.

  45. avatar

    I completely sympathise, knowing full well that spending a lot of money is often a fallback, especially when boredom strikes in. Sometimes it helps me to flip the script, and think about things differently, breaking out of the rut. I have two pieces of advice, and only two:

    1. First of all, no matter what anyone says, TIME IS MONEY. You can waste time, i.e. waste money, or you can use it wisely. Next to your daily dollar expenses, you might want to actually look at your daily time commited to various activities. You are a web developer, and you spend time designing portfolios for your friends. You can work on your long term project more efficiently if you actually map out some short term projects and try to pick up some clients that will pay you. Ramit’s guide for finding your target market looks like a great place to start there. Helping unemployed friends, while nice, doesn’t do much for your income stream. Helping artists clearing 4 or more zeroes on some of their artwork or contractors who are looking to expand but already have a good base improve their web presence and implement online stores, etc, could be a GREAT way to do it.

    2. CHARITY STARTS AT HOME: Would you rather give $100 you can barely afford to your grandmother today, or spend two hours eating breakfast and paying for the bill, or would you rather take that 10+ hours you’ve been devoting to your noble deed of helping others to improving your financial outlook, so that, when you land your job or you land your first client, you can give $200 and have it be no sweat? I bet that if you lay low for a couple weeks and fake sick while you make your next move, and avoid your usual haunts, you will look back years from now and not think about how you missed a couple breakfasts or didn’t get your grandma a cat in May of 2012, but about how that was the two weeks you broke your rut and that was when you actually were able to legitimately help your grandma get by with your full $5,000 in savings.

    Conclusion: In the end I think it’s easy to stick to old habits but sometimes it helps to ask what you’d really like to accomplish. Nobody is going to be able to tell you what you should value except for you. But if you value being a provider for your loved ones as opposed to placing value on giving less than you want and barely scraping by, then you can focus on the former and ditch the latter by looking at the big picture, managing your time, and segmenting your goals. When you accomplish each goal you can just think about how much closer you’re getting to doing everything you’ve ever wanted to do but couldn’t for your family.

  46. avatar
    Ginger @ Girls Just Wanna Have Funds

    “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.”

    I think we’re all reading this wide eyed and flabbergasted that someone can graze through a financial crisis in such a careless manner. But I can’t help but be saddened by how oblivious she seems to be as it’ll have dire consequences for her financial timeline over the next few weeks and months. Her desire to “keep up” is coming at a great cost, one she will soon regret.

    Bill’s comment above comment sums up my thoughts nicely. Sadly, she sounds as though she is in denial and working hard to keep up appearances. And I think to an extent, she believes much of it herself in an effort to avoid the harsh realities of her situation.

    As a therapist myself I realize how hard it is to keep it together in front of an employer when struggling with mental health issues (sounds depressed and anxious) but it’s important to recognize this early on- ie, the consequences of such careless actions. The clock is surely ticking and she is only removing time from the clock by allowing her anxiety to drive her decisions.

    She should cut all extraneous ties, tell her family about her situation and only spend money on absolute necessities. This is what we call safe mode-there are no tips or picking up the tab or expenses on pets. She may not have a job now but she should make finding a job her primary job.

    Sadly, I don’t think she is “ready” for a job, nor is she ready to face the harsh realities of her situation. The sooner she gets honest with herself about how this anxiety seems to be driving her decisions, the sooner she can get over this hump and find a job.

  47. avatar

    While I understand that this is a financial blog, the financial problems the author is currently experiencing are manifestations of deeper issues. Many previous commenters have already touched on them and even discussed them at some length.

    The “scripts” are arising from pathologies that she needs to sort out with a psychotherapist. Other commenters suggested “soul-searching,” which is the right idea, except going about that process solo is usually quite difficult and ultimately fruitless.

    Unless she sorts out the underlying reasons why she can’t stop giving and can’t accept help from others, she will continue these patterns of behavior even after budgeting carefully, finding a new job, and relieving herself of her consumer debt. None of it matters unless she introspectively investigates why she has to act this way, then takes the further step of making a true effort to rid herself of the habits that hamstring her.

    To the author: if you are reading this, begin by researching codependency, and ask yourself whether you are exhibiting signs of it– it sure sounds that way in the OP, though it’s tough to tell who the counterparty would be in the codependency relationship.

  48. avatar

    Keeping a money diary may be the best thing this woman has done for her finances all year! She sounds like she may have gotten so anxious about money that she can’t face the reality of her expenses. So, hey – good first step!

    I disagree with everyone who says she shouldn’t be generous until she’s buckled down and gotten any old job. That might be what she needs to do, but it depends on what she wants from money. Does she value security a lot, or can she be happy in such an insecure position? Is giving to her family giving her joy? What about eating out? What specific things about her income and expenses are freaking her out?

    Even when struggling, picking one or two areas where it’s okay to spend can help a person feel good enough about themselves to make and follow a good financial plan. But – she has to be willing to pay attention and decide what is and isn’t important for her, money-wise.

  49. avatar

    I don’t understand commenters who suggest to “get rid of the boyfriend.” That is ludicrous, especially when it seems he is keeping her afloat right now – a sign that he’s not a total mooch. This is a relationship, not a sterile boss-employee interaction. Instead, the pair should spend an evening or two brainstorming:

    a) ways to have fun and develop their relationship together without spending money,
    b) meals that they want to make at home and enjoy together
    c) ways that he can support her in finding a new job, and

    d) their actual financial situation – this probably means figuring out all of their fixed expenses (non-negotiables: rent, utilities, credit card minimum payments, etc.) and splitting it – this is the minimum that each person needs to contribute per month. In my relationship, this amount is about $1100 each (but that includes some variable expenses that we choose to prioritize, like car insurance, gas, pet food, etc. It would likely be lower for a true set of fixed expenses). Then figure out the variable expenses – things you *don’t actually need*. Car, gas, cell phone, internet, etc. Prioritize the things you do want on your budget and the things you don’t. Decide together. Split everything down the middle. Add up your fixed expenses and variable expenses and that is how much you must contribute every month, whether it’s from freelancing, waitressing, or your dream job.

    I suspect that at least in the short term, paying for family members’ expenses or gifts will have to be cut. Those fall into what I would call “spending money,” which comes AFTER fixed and variable monthly expenses have been taken care of. They are clearly important to you, so I don’t recommend cutting them forever – just knowing where they fall on the scale of priorities.

    Putting aside a few evenings to talk about these things with your boyfriend over dinner with a pen and paper handy will help you both understand what your priorities are – that’s the more important thing to know about each other. It’s not that you can *never* stop for Subway – that’s thinking at the micro-level. It’s just that if you choose to stop for Subway, you are prioritizing that over something else. Maybe the pets? Maybe gifts? Maybe your cell phone. Either way, you and your boyfriend have to have each other’s backs on this. (BTW, this is all assuming you live together … which I think you do).

    But don’t ditch the boyfriend. That doesn’t even make sense. You’re not some cold, calculating robot that ditches someone over a small financial hiccup – if that was the case, he could do the same to you! People, relationships are about working together to solve problems. To the writer, I hope you can do just that 🙂

  50. avatar

    Just keep working and stop the web development BS. If she’s going to be in business she should do something people will actually pay money for. Something people need and want. And please stop being a pushover.

  51. avatar

    Love this post.

  52. avatar

    How did this gal save up 15k in the first place ?

    To answer the email from Ramit… how to give generously when you are broke…. You can be generous of spirit. You can give compliments for a job well done. ( this does not mean it is okay to stiff your server.) You can give of your time to a charity or an individual in need. You can volunteer at the library. You can help an elderly neighbor or single mom with some yard work. Being generous is not just about money. There are those who can write large checks and be very stingy in their heart. 😉
    I have read some great “think outside the box” stories about ways to give. My favorite is a gal that put a big bin in the front of the grocery store asking for bottles of soap, shampoo etc. She would watch the store prices and coupons.. When you could get shampoo for free or very cheap, she would hand out the coupons to shoppers. The shoppers would simply buy a bottle and then drop it in the bin on the way out. Very easy for the shoppers to do.
    Please think about the above. Did she spend any of her own money? Did she weaken her own financial situation in any way ? No. Yet, she provided much needed supplies to shelters and food pantries.( For those on food stamps, shampoo, deoderant, toilet paper etc can be tought to purchase as food stamps can only be used for food. for this reason they are very popular supplies and food pantries. )

  53. avatar

    Really, the spending is mostly because you’re feeling posh. You can lean on your boyfriend — if not for him, you’d have been homeless awhile ago. It’s amazing how much family loves you when you’re paying for them, but how little they care when it’s your turn.

    As for the income, by far the most important thing, just go on elance and odesk and make a couple grand a month. I can do it writing penny-per-word articles, so as a web designer you can kick a lot of ass. Plus, every project you apply to can be something you’d be happy to put your name on — leading to MORE work. Hoorah?

    I’m sorry about your dog, but do you love the dog more than yourself? Remember that you’re gonna lose life forms you love, no matter how much money you spend. Why prolong another being’s suffering for your own benefit?

    As far as not spending money on silliness like $5 meals (more than half of mine are $2 or less), that one’s easy. Just don’t take any cash or plastic when you go out. Then you CAN’T spend. “Don’t take your cards to town, girl. Leave your cards at home, babe.”

    And I need to heed my own advice and get to work. Good luck!

  54. avatar

    I know it is an antiquated notion, and not always true, but people, please, don’t quit your job unless you have a new job OR at least an interim job that will float you a bit and give you health insurance, or pay the COBRA. As for the overspending, well, feeling the need to overpay and overtip and pay for others expenses as if it is your responsibility may be one for a therapist to figure out.

  55. avatar
    Tony C

    I think she should focus on getting a source of income, it doesn’t matter whether that source is W-2 or from self employment.

    She needs to get her self straight financially. She could do more volunteer activities in place of cash donations. She should not continually eat out when she can pack lunch and get small cooler bag to carry it in. Frugality doesn’t equal cheap.

    She needs to figure out why she has this need to give even though it is running her into the red. If she is giving to create or get acceptance she needs to address to root cause so she can reach balance.

  56. avatar

    Joint account with boyfriend, why?

  57. avatar

    The dog’s own family would cull it. That’s Nature’s way of dealing with the circle of life. The cat can fend for itself. Get your priorities right. If you must tip when broke, tip just enough to cover their tax. The waiter has a job… you don’t.

    When you’re drowning, you need to save yourself before you can save someone else. Philanthropy and other stuff is fine when you can afford it. But this mindless need to come across as “nice” can be problematic.

  58. avatar
    Hungry Hippo

    Agree with Bill 100%. And this: “I want to be generous, so I had planned to give $100 more than their asking donation, which would come to $350.”

    Why? She wants to be generous, but WHY? So the lady at the cat shelter will think she really loves cats? So she can feel good about herself? She’s unemployed, but wants to give $100 above what’s being asked? WHY?! (Not trying to “yell,” I’m just mind-boggled.)

  59. avatar
    Hungry Hippo

    Great point. I volunteer with a charity that I’m very happy to contribute to–and since what I’m volunteering is what I do for a living (writing/editing), I include this on my CV.

  60. avatar

    She needs to take care of herself first, and resist demands on her money from others. Nix the eating out with friends – that will put her in the hole even worse. It’s depressing to be left out of dining opportunities with friends, but maybe throw a potluck dinner at your apartment instead, and have them all over. I understand about wanting to take care of your pets, but at this point you might need to surrender them to a friend or relative willing to look after them until you get back on your feet. If you have no one willing to help you until you get back on your feet, ask yourself why are you the caregiver always, and never asking for care in return? It is a 2 way street.

    She should read “Women and Money” by Suze Orman, and “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud. That’s a good start.

  61. avatar

    +1s to Jessica, Lindsay and Andrew

    Here’s my recommendation, by far the hippie-dippiest one on this thread: go on a retreat. (A free one — they exist.)

    Or you don’t have to go on a retreat. But find some real quiet to figure out what’s actually important and what lasts. Then experiment with going without the rest. (Pro tip: that self-righteous feeling of not having ‘insulted’ a waitress? Not important. Definitely temporary.)

    We make the biggest mistakes and make the worst choices when we feel frantic, desperate and overwhelmed — which is what shopping on Amazon until 2AM and traveling do, even if you won’t admit it now.

    So take a break, be alone for a while and go back to basics. You’ll be the best version of yourself for your friends, family and future employer if you do.

  62. avatar

    Almost all of the comments mention reducing spending. The major issue here is not the author’s spending but her lack of income. Most of the expenses that commenters are mentioning are relatively small (except for the pets) and it sounds like she has marketable skills that have allowed her to more than pay for her expenses in the past. $1714.62/week in expenses may be high, but there are many web developers who make more than this.

    My advice:
    It sounds like you have skills are in demand. Follow Ramit’s advice on finding a (dream) job: instead of just sending out resumes to companies who have posted jobs.

  63. avatar

    She is delusional. Not a reality based philosophy about money.
    She needs help and quickly.

  64. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    You sound really judgmental, Kathleen

  65. avatar
    Grace Morris

    I’ve decided to go a little off topic here with “money advice”. Clearly everyone’s given a lot of good advice to budget. Here’s my professional development advice. An unemployed web developer?? really?? I work in the Internet Marketing business, this is a huge industry and sometimes has A LOT of turnover, but there’s always a big need for help whether it’s a programmer, an SEO Analyst, PPC analyst, Social Media consultant, a copywriter, the list goes on. If you’re a web developer, I imagine you really only need to learn a few more specific technical tasks to get these kinds of jobs. And they pay well! you don’t start at 30K, you could probably start at least 45K/year and if you’re any good; then even more than that.

    The bottom line is you don’t even need to go back to school, do some research online. find out what kinds of jobs and related jobs are available. There’s plenty of great free tools and advice online. Do you know SEO? I suggest learning it and learning it now. find a mentor. and know who Danny Sullivan and Matt Cutts are.

  66. avatar

    Dear Unemployed Web Developer – first a virtual hug!

    I understand what you’re going through. Such significant and dramatic changes can really throw your life out of whack. A lot of times when things like that happen, our automatic coping mechanisms kick in. That’s a good thing because they keep us going. Unfortunately – sometimes those coping mechanisms are ones that we learned in childhood.

    Before things started going wrong, it sounded as though you were doing fine and being very successful! So, if I were to make a guess, I’d guess that how you’re handling things now is how you kept yourself feeling safe in troubled times during childhood. And I don’t mean to say you had a bad childhood – but that’s where we first learn how to cope the best way we could. Unfortunately what worked for us when we were children can work against us as adults.

    And as I said, I’m only guessing that your childhood coping mechanisms have kicked in. Only you can tell if that’s happening or not.

    So – based on my guess – my suggestion is that you try very hard to remember what made you so successful in CA. Just because you’re going through bad times now – that does not mean you are a failure! If you were successful once, you can be successful again!

    And . . . it really is okay for you to be successful . . . even when people around you are not . . . even when people around you are having trouble. And try as hard as you can . . . you can’t fix nor can you live their lives for them. If you really want to help them – then be a good role model! Show them how it’s done!

    And, if it’s too much for you to do it on your own – find a mentor – get an accountability partner – find people, find groups who will positively support and encourage you as you remember how to be successful!

    Take it step by step (success is not an all or nothing proposition) and success will happen for you – again!

    Best and warmest wishes for the future!

  67. avatar

    I guess everyone see this posting in a different light. This is what I see.

    I think, this is deeper than just financial issue. She likes to take care other others and others comes first. If she takes care of herseslf that would enable her to take care of others. If she does not position herself better she is not only going to hurt herself and get in deeper trouble but she will aqlso hurt others that she loves and takes care of and those that depend on her (i.e her grandmother). She says things works out. There will be time that things will not just work out.

    Does she believe in “take care of the #1 first”? It does not appear that she does. If so, it is hard to change but she has to do it. Take care of yourself, financialy and otherwise, make a step by step plan for how to change your behavior and stick to it. Keep reminding yourself that you can take care of others only if you take care of yourself since you preferr to take care of others. Start with all Ramit’s suggestions, automate, find a dream job, freelance etc. This will take time but at the end it will be worth it.
    Good luck

  68. avatar

    Your generosity is a strength when it’s focused correctly.
    Reframe it like this –
    You owe the world big time if you have a talent for web design. You owe the world to show them what you can do. Be incredibly generous to the world by sharing your talent and get paid.
    The value in generousity you show returns to you in money. Money is you showing how generous you can be. Generosity is value and value is money. How generous do you want to be? How many people who need your talent are you willing to help in return for money?
    You’re wasting your greatest strength by not focusing it on people who need your talent… And please… Get Paid in Return!!!

  69. avatar

    First of all I have to say that you can’t afford pay for dinner/breakfast/ or lunch for others when you are barely making it. I was unemployed for some months and I know how it feels not to be without a job/positive workplace to be in. I was lucky to have a family and girlfriend who supported me unconditionaly.
    These are my tips:

    1) Don’t forget that you are worth searching for your dream job! You have something special to give to the world and you have to keep at it.
    2) Stop with the eating out and paying for people!
    3) Target the top companies you want to work for and send them a letter of introduction, resume and eventually a follow up call.
    4) Freelance! Advertise your services!
    5) Keep at it and remember that no job at the end can define who you are!
    6) Giving to others is great but you can’t over extend yourself. If you give of your time and do for others you have an opportunity to forget about your own problems.
    Good Luck

  70. avatar
    Chris C.

    $1715 is just about $100 shy of my income for a month so I can’t imagine spending that in a week. Actually, I can, and a glorious week it would be!

    It sounds to me like the first step is to have a serious conversation with the boyfriend about your shared financial situation because it is a shared situation. Taking time off to find something you love makes sense, I walked away from a job in web development that I hated and found something I loved six months later. I also took a 63% pay cut to do it. And I didn’t spent $1700/week on the in between. I think a lot of people agree here that the point of an emergency account is not to live like you’ve always lived when you living on emergency funds. You live like its an emergency. Cut everything. I moved in with my parents. Unlike the comments above me, I did keep my dog but I don’t think this is a time for giving extravagant gifts and paying for dinner. Emergency rations because having 7 months to find a job could very well not be long enough.

    Sidenote: We just hired an incredibly talented professional at our company. He has been looking for work for 3 years and all we had to offer him was a part-time as-needed position. You can not possibly know that you will find what you’re looking for in seven months.

  71. avatar

    I was unemployed twice in one year. Went through a divorce, blah blah blah. My main focus was the four walls, 1 housing, 2 transportation, 3 food, 4 Insurance. I was able to cover these basics and then I devoted myself to the job search. Little splurges are OK. But a dog is a dog, not a child. Now that my situation is stable again, I am looking at what kind of side business I can start. Now this young lady has been doing some things that may be useful as a side business or to build her portfolio. She has skills, she needs to market them and get back in the game. with freelancing as a place to start.

  72. avatar

    Go on a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat. They’re free and they will kick your ass with issues you need to resolve. If the invisible script/theme that keeps coming up is ‘self reliance’, then this is being self reliant with your emotional health, and from there, you can access whether you need/want psychiatric help. The journey to change starts within the self. Before you throw money at the health industry, I seriously recommend meditation.

    You KNOW you shouldn’t be spending the way you do. Somewhere deep down, your subconscious knows. But until you address the blockages, you will get nowhere fast.

    You’ve got a marketable skill. Finding a job should not really be that tough when you reframe your mind.

    You could always sell all your crap and move to Bali, living cheaply in SE Asia and MAKE YOUR OWN job. That’s what I did after all the meditating. 😉

  73. avatar

    Huge, really huge, ego: “I hate when someone else pays for me”, but “I pay for others ’cause I can’t stop giving” and “I coach my friend so she could gain confidence”… Really?

    Whoever you think you want to be, or are, it’s OK, but truth is, this story shows a person who has NO idea of where she’s going, totally immature, arrogant, and basically wasting here time and money.

    Honestly, don’t fool yourself, if you don’t want/like to work you don’t need to hide behind “I’m sending resumes and working in my projects” (which projects?), if you don’t want to get control over your money, no need to say “I like to give to others”… Be true to yourself ’cause that’s the only thing that matters: you’re not giving to others at all, you just like to shop even if the product is not for you.

    Advice: stop building webs in your head, and
    1. Look for someone who wants to support you, marry him
    2. Tell him to take care completely of the money and to give you a part for spending freely,
    3. Stop reading this kind of sites and use your time in a better way, for instance: since you spend so much time in the library, read a good novel or learn a craft, get a hobby…
    4. Try desperately to be humble!! Only then you’ll learn to really help others and actually you won’t even feel the need to say it!!

    Wish you a happy life 😀

  74. avatar

    Ditto on those who said that this is a case of coping mechanisms and issues of self-worth. I have had to work through the very same issues of worthiness stemming from childhood, feeling like I need to take care of others, unable to accept help from others, feeling like I need to hide any pressing needs that I currently have. Money management skills go down as stress level and denial go up, all contributing to a pretty hard reality check that is definitely in the mail.

    I don’t know what would be the fastest way to help this woman. Therapy helped me, but that took several years. It would probably be well worth $100 (considering how much she’s willing to throw away on cats) to sit down with a reputable and trustworthy coach or mentor (if she doesn’t have access to a qualified friend who is willing to do this for free) to go over the whole thing she’s written here and help her put her situation in perspective, with an action plan (i.e. workable budget and reasonable decision-making process for future expenditures) and a point of focus (finding a job). That action plan would at least hopefully staunch the bleeding for now. And it would be helpful to have some kind of self-care protocol, too. Her situation would be stressful for almost anyone.

  75. avatar

    It was actually upsetting to read this because it could have been me five years ago. To make a really long story somewhat short, I also grew up poor, got an education and a highly paid career, then totally crashed and burned in the face of my late husband’s severe mental illness.

    My collapse was both physical and mental- my doctor advised me to quit my job and leave my husband if I wanted to survive. I left the job, but didn’t feel I could do the same to my husband. For a long time, I was depressed and in severe denial about our changed financial state. I did a lot of the same types of things as the diarist. To this day, I don’t really know why, except that I was terrified of facing reality and what it might mean.

    After my husband’s death, it took me a while to get it together enough to go out and get a job, but it was the best thing I could have done. It didn’t pay well, and was way “beneath me,” but getting out and doing something useful every day snapped me out of my depression, and even though my income was still far too low, I could start dealing with the by then enormous financial problems. Five years later, I’m finally getting a handle on things, but it really had to start with getting back to work.

    I would counsel the diarist to consider that she may indeed be suffering from depression- therapy and medication may be helpful- but getting back to work in some capacity might do more than anything else to get her back on the path to reality.

  76. avatar

    Great reply. I agree- A real-life support network will help so much. Start with your boyfriend and family. Let them know you are struggling to keep afloat and to kickstart your next phase of life. With someone whom you trust to hold you to your promises, set discrete goals with hard deadlines.

    Please realize that this spending, which seems emotional and anxiety-inducing, is not sustainable. You certainly cannot rely on “things working out.” Again, have your friends and family help you- that is what they are there for! Godspeed.

  77. avatar

    Looks like someone has no idea what is really going on. Stop spending money you don’t have and find a way to save more. I mean it seems that your days are spent doing errand and spending $$ while at the same time you have unpaid bills. Your money could be going elsewhere than pet food, fastfood, and gas.

  78. avatar

    Due to some morbid fascination, I read through most of the comments here, and I feel overwhelmed by the thick, putrid stench of fear. How can you possibly make a good decision out of fear and what ifs? My advice is surrender your attempt to control the situation. It’s obviously not working. It’s just creating more knots of anxiety that you’ll probably never escape from (many of which will probably be the result of reading these comments, if you’re masochistic enough to read them). Ask yourself why you nuked your life in the first place. Was it just so you could go back to a slightly better version of it?

  79. avatar

    I want to thank Ramit and the diarist for sharing this. It warms my heart to know that there are people like this. Sure, her current financial situation leaves a lot to be desired, but maybe we’re missing the point: she’s not fundamentally miserable. She just has different values and hit a rough patch.

    Keep in mind that this lady was able to build a career and set aside a decent amount of money, so she is by no means gullable. No doubt she can do it again, probably better this time around. Kudos for not caving and rushing to get a job she knows she won’t love.

    Like she said: “things always manage to work out”. She seems to be a genuinely caring person. Chances are she’s surrounded by people of likewise mentality. Even if she runs completely out of money, she’ll still have a social safety net.

    Richness in life is not measured solely by how much money you have in the bank. In fact, she may well be the richest person featured on this page.

    Ma’am, uncertainty makes life interesting. You know you have it in you to get back on your feet. Take a deep breath and just be yourself. You’ll be fine. Just get out there and put your best foot forward.

  80. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    Like she doesn’t already know this. Why do you think she hasn’t already taken your advice?

  81. avatar

    No health insurance, 11,000 for the dog and quitting because you dont like your job. Right there are the real issues.

    I wonder if the writer was fired instead.

    But ultimately these finacial issues have zero to do with being unemployeed. Get a job with health insurance that would be a big step kn keeping this from happening again.

    Next let a dog pass away with dignity. Why the surgeries when dogs only live 12 years or so anway?

    There were finacial issues before the job loss. A new job may stop the bleeding but it wont solve the other issues here.

  82. avatar

    This diary entry saddens me quite a lot.

    Some people are such givers, and so generous by nature, just like this diarist. For whatever reason they are that way, it remains that they are so readily give, even at the expense of themselves.

    It is great to give and to share, but only if you have the capacity to give and share. If you do not have the capacity to give, then what is it that you are giving, really? I understand that filial piety might have kicked in and you feel somewhat responsible for your grandmother’s financial well being, however giving her unlimited access to your account is far from a long-term sustainable arrangement, especially since you are not working right now.

    At some point, you need to come up with solutions that are financially more viable both for you and your family in the long run. There are things that have to temporarily stop while you generate no income and these things can resume again once you are back to earning what appeared to be a relatively high income you used to earn. Do the members of your family know that you are without a job at the moment? Or did you not tell them about it?

    I would think that your parents would prefer to have a financially responsible kid. One of the ways of being financially responsible is by not spending beyond your means and being able to prioritise your spending. If you know that your grandmother needs cash for whatever emergency she has been having, is it not prudent for you to make sure that the cash is there rather than spending it on brunches etc?

  83. avatar

    First, I do like the notion that generosity begets generosity and so I do advise her to continue to find ways to be generous. I have a question? Are financial gifts the only meaningful measure of generosity? As long as that is the story that you follow then being unable to be financial generous will make you feel poor and one thing I see here is that the author will do anything to avoid feeling poor again. The operative word in that sentence is feeling. Can you rewrite what it means to be generous so that you don’t feel poor even though the options to give large amounts of money are limited.

    Second question, was your family poor for 2 or more generations? If that is true, then that really affects the scripts that direct acceptable behavior and what it means to fit in. If her status as a person who escaped that history is jeopardized by telling her family that she is no longer in the same financial position and status (someone who escaped) then she’ll do anything to preserve that illusion and the script that “I am self sufficient because I can pay for myself” is secondary. The underlying script is that as long as I can pay for myself I am not really poor again.

    Corollary to that is that it is part of the culture of poverty, (and yes, there is a culture of poverty) is that if you have it you share it. If she admits that she doesn’t have it to share then she is telling those she really wants to believe that she made it out that she hasn’t yet. That may be more than she has been willing to face. Yet. If she faces the facts, she has to redefine what it means to have made it. And if she can redefine that, she stands a better chance of making out of a life of poverty.

    I would recommend that she finds help, in a coach, who understands the scripts that go with generational poverty and who can help her address them, rewrite them, and who can support her as she deals with the fallout from close associates who are still in that culture.

    The one question that no-one has asked here is what was making her miserable at her last job? So miserable that she quit with little other plan?

    I understand what it feels like to be in a job where I was so miserable I wanted to just never show up again. The thing of it was that I had reached a point in my life where I knew that I was part of the dynamic of why I was miserable and that where ever I went, that part of the dynamic that I was creating would follow me. I stuck it out there till things came to a head and saw what I was doing. At that point I could stay or go but I knew that I could address that challenge whenever it came up again no matter where I was.

    So what was making her miserable? That question needs to be answered with brutal honesty or she will find she is miserable in some other job some other place. The answer can’t simply be my boss was a bitch or an asshole (even if they were) because that is seldom the whole story. It can’t be a story that simply makes you feel justified in leaving (even if you were). She has to find the crux of the matter or she will repeat that scene again and again until she does. I believe that we can find ways to be miserable in the best situations and to be happy in the worst. That kind of feeling is generated internally by the meanings we put on the things that are happening around and to us. It isn’t intrinsic to the job, even if it wasn’t the best job for her.

    So, in closing:

    1) how has the culture of poverty affected how you feel about being seen as poor and how you feel about the standards that measure what it means to be poor? That needs to be examined so it doesn’t continue to control your life.

    2) why were you miserable at your last job? What did you do to contribute to that misery? What do you need to do to feel happy? (ideally, it shouldn’t depend on having and spending money. If that were a requirement, there would be no happy poor people and every rich person would be a paragon of joy and those are demonstrably false.) Are pleasure and happiness the same thing? I posit that they are not.

    And to return to my answer to her question: yes, be generous but expand your definition of generosity. There are some excellent suggestions in the comments above.

  84. avatar
    Roy Patterson

    After reading this, I think this person doesn’t really want a job. If she is really a Web Developer, there are lot of jobs out there. Go to any big social website, look at the jobs. They always need Web Developers. Another question I might ask. Can she really do the Web Developers job?

  85. avatar

    I am not going to re-hash all the scripts and issues that are apparent or implied by the diarist’s post. I will speak to three major areas.

    1. Your first priority is yourself not family not friends not pets.
    Take the time to find out what your needs and wants are. Then look at your actions in relation to your stated objectives. If an action is moving you forward then fine if not then stop the action. e.g. “gifting”

    2. Sort out the total owed by the boyfriend and set up a repayment plan.
    You cannot know how much has been paid back if you don’t know what is owed to you. Stop the joint account for reimbursement of the debt. It is too hard to track. Use Ramit’s formula for organizing your money to keep track of your money. Set budgets and alerts for spending categories. Check weekly not monthly.

    3. Decide if you want to get a “real” job or freelance to earn some income. Try Ramit’s earn 1000 per week ideas to see if you could figure something out.

    A book that has helped me to make better judgements is the 10-10-10 solution by Suzy Welch.
    Suzy encourages you to extrapolate your decision/behavior 10 weeks, 10 months, and 10 years into the future to help you to visualize the impact of your decisions today.

    So for example. Ten weeks later this lady would have spent about quarter of her money and she would still be anxious and may not be employed because she is not actively searching for a job. her relationships would still be the same because she could still be unable to let others know what’s up.

    Ten months later she could be………. Ten years later…………..

    So I hope that this lady is able to use something from the comments to help her to get back on track.

  86. avatar

    This is a blog about making money after all, so I guess most commentators would talk budgets and low self esteem. The diarist seems like a nice girl who has hit hard times. She’s helping her friends and family members out, loves animals and gives to charity, loaned her boyfriend money and he is a nice guy, nice enough to be paying it back now she needs it, as he can. Nice girls may not get the corner office, but her self esteem seems quite high to me. It might be logical to tell a family member I can’t help you (when she can), not to give extra to charity than is asked, to look for a new boyfriend with lots of money.

    Me, logic aside, I like this girl, she sound like she’d make a great friend. Why should she work somewhere she hates. Something else will come up. She is looking for a happy life, filled with love. She is right here on this blog, like me, looking for a solution to her financial difficulties. Probably the only thing she really needs is tips on how to get interim freelance web development jobs. Being a nice modest girl, she probably finds it hard to sing her own praises and strategise to get those first all-important jobs who will give you feedback. I totally sympathise with that. Financial straights suck, she needs to make money somehow – I’m sure she knows that. But there are worse things than debt, like being so selfish you can’t help someone you love who is worse off.

  87. avatar

    Is there a followup to this?

  88. avatar
    shawn miles

    oh man I couldn’t get past day two. I’m like WTF? Really shopping on Amazon, Cat s what planet do you live on that you can keep spending and not worry about how you’re going to pay your bills if you don’t find a job. Wait what if you find a job and for some reason don’t do the math right and don’t get paid for the first month? I love the unrealistic 1st world problems people have. The next part I lost my mind over. she paid to save a dog and didn’t pay buy medical insurance. I love dogs, don’t get me wrong. When it comes down to human health over canine health it’s a no brainer.

    The credit cards? why still keep racking up credit card debit if you aren’t sure you can pay it off? What if you get a job paying less? What if you never get a job again? What if you decide to go into business for yourself? Why put yourself through all that stress? Wh borrow tomorrows cash for todays living?

    I really believe that when unemployed it’s time to cut down to the bare minim and tighten the belt. No more eating out, no more buying kitties for grannie, no more shopping on Amazon. If anything it’s time to figure out how to up-cycle and sell it Etsy. Do what it takes to create income not continue bleeding the bank account. The part about the bank account having extra money is precious. Well why does it have extra money? What didn’t get paid? Will it come back to bite you in the end? I bet it does?

    Her false sense of happiness is going to be tragic in the end.

    I suggest she sits down and figures out a few things:
    numero uno – Make a List
    1. where can she cut corners
    2. a budget for living
    3. tell granny no kitties
    4. call all of her creditors and explain she is unemployed and see if she can defer anything or just make interest payments at least until she’s working and then start making principle payments again.
    5. close all credit cards, except one, to keep her credit in some what of a good standing.
    6. start saving for tax season because if she is collecting unemployment and she messed with that IRA she is gonna have a hefty tax bill.
    7. look around for freelance work to start bringing in income until she goes back to work or builds up her own business. invest in herself
    8. upcycle her stuff for a fee on local boards (craigs list ect.)

    I think keeping up with the Jones needs to be tossed out the door and PollyAnna needs to be grounded in reality before she’s living under the bridge with homeless Sam.

  89. avatar

    Yes – there’s definitely a good and kind of gap. Doing something interesting/educational/SOMETHING during gaps, definitely. Doing nothing whereby your answer to the HM is: “I redecorated a relative’s house cause it was ugly and did absolutely nothing to improve myself.” (nearly an exact quote is problematic). I suspect that people see more of the latter than the former.

    I took a long employment gap myself, traveled a lot, had informational interviews and freelanced. I still landed a job after that.

  90. avatar

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