J.L.*, 35, is a single mom living in the New York City area, where she rents an apartment. Her workload and income fluctuate, but she generally makes it work as a six figure freelancer each year. That said, income can vary wildly from month to month, depending on freelance assignments. Her fixed costs include rent, daycare, and health and car insurance. Not sticking to a budget stresses her out — she has a friend who teases her about the random nature of her spending — and she’d like to curb some of her impulse purchasing.
Yearly income: It fluctuates, but around $140,000
Monthly savings: $500
Fixed monthly payments:
- Rent: $2,500
- Daycare: $2,000
- Gym membership: $90
- Phone: $140
- Utilities: $90
- Spotify: $12
- Sirius: $11
- Car insurance: $78
- Health insurance: $785
- Le Tote clothing rental subscription: $80
- Life insurance premium: $104
9:00 am, $10 — Gas
It’s the tail-end of a three-day weekend, and I’m looking forward to spending the whole day with my daughter. We start by trying to fill up my car, but the gas station “ran out of gas,” which is something I’d never heard of, so they only filled my Hyundai Elantra ⅓ of the way full. In the New York City area, having a car is unusual, and I likely wouldn’t have this one if I hadn’t moved out of the city a few years ago and bought it with the bulk of the severance money I got from getting laid off from a job. There’s always a silver lining.
10:00am $27 — Zoo admission
Want to see families not having fun? Go to a zoo. My 3-year-old daughter and I enjoy walking around, but I’m fine just wandering and happy to go when we both get bored.
10:30 am, $12 — Stingray food
It’s $3 for a small cup of cut-up fish, and I buy four cups. For my daughter? Who am I kidding? It’s for me. Stingrays are magical! My parents would never have done this when I was a kid!
4:00pm, $180 — Alcohol
We’re driving home from the pool (free) and pass one of my favorite wine shops. I stop there, buying three bottles of rose, three boxes of white wine, a few bottles of Pinot Grigio, a bunch of spiked hard ciders and four 6-packs of Tab, my favorite soda. We do a lot of hanging out in our communal building backyard, and it’s so much easier to just have inexpensive drinks on hand for last-minute get-togethers instead of coordinating a wine run. I’m excited about future hangouts, but man, seeing the final bill caused me to second-guess just how much I like these people. Couldn’t we hang out with glasses of water?
5:00 pm, $28 — Trampoline park admission.
We hit up a trampoline park for an hour. My daughter loves it, and I consider one hour of hardcore jumping a workout that’s cheaper than a spin class.
5:30 pm, $40 — Arcade card
I was going to put $20 on a card so my daughter could play video games, but the machine had a promotional display that offered a $50 card for $40. I’m a sucker for advertising. I feel good — look, my daughter and I are bonding! I’m a fun mom! — but also feel like I’ve already spent a ton of money today.
7:00 pm, $8 — Ice cream
It was a long day, and we both deserved a sweet treat. No regrets.
Day Total: $305
9:00 am, $6 — Ferry ride
I’m working at a new company, and today’s my first day. The ferry is more expensive than the train, but the view and the ride put me in an awesome mood.
9:30 am, $40 + $10 tip — Hair appointment
I usually get my hair straightened, but haven’t had time to make an appointment in months, so I am getting a blowout. (I’m sort of addicted to blowouts.)
9:45 am, $45 — Entry fee, kid’s fun run
My friend texted me to say she signed her kid up for a fun run for toddlers. The proceeds go to a few local community organizations, the event is down the block, and I love the idea of my daughter and her little friends “running.” I’m psyched for the start of her athletic career, and I engage in a brief fantasy of being part of one of those “Olympic mom” montages in the future.
10:00 am, $6 — Bagel and coffee
We have lunch through work, but I picked up a bagel and coffee in the morning.
6:00 pm, $6 — Ferry home
I justify the expense by walking to the ferry instead of taking the subway. I’m exhausted! I pick up my daughter, play at the park, and have dinner at home. One of these “free” evenings is a good reminder to me that I don’t need to go over the top to have quality time with my kid.
Day Total: $113
8:30 am, $9 — Cash for daughter’s dinner
I put $9 cash in my daughter’s lunchbox. I have a babysitter tonight who will pick her up from her daycare, and I like giving them cash in case the babysitter wants to bring my daughter to a pizza place. Normally, I do $20 cash, but this is as much as I can find in my apartment.
9:00 am, $5 — Cold brew coffee
More than just the coffee, I love the feeling of community I get from coming to this coffee shop. I’ve been here almost every single day since I moved to the neighborhood. My friend Jen and I sit on the steps, we exchange gossip with Shannon, the cafe manager, and we see at least five friends we know.
9:30 am, $212 — Pajamas
Bare Necessities was having a sale, and lately, I’ve been trying to “elevate” my wardrobe in all areas, including what I wear to bed. I know this was a ton of money. I have a bunch of checks coming in from various freelance projects, but … yeah, this was a splurge. I feel weird about it, especially since I have a ton of projects I need to invoice for. I also buy this on my phone during my ferry ride and feel like it’s too much multitasking.
9:45 am, $785 — Health insurance
My monthly insurance is $785, which is ridiculous. Luckily, the new job provides health benefits, which means I no longer have to spend this absurd amount of money, which, trust me, I’m pretty psyched about. So this payment is bad/good. Glad I saw it posted to my account, but, coupled with the pajama spend, I’ve almost spent $1,000, and it’s not even lunch. Good thing lunch at the office is being paid for by our boss.
9:00 pm, $100 — Babysitter
I meet an old colleague at a book launch event, and we enjoy catching up and drinking free beers. Since babysitting is so expensive, it’s helpful to go to events that are free or cheap, so the night isn’t plane ticket-level expensive. Still, it’s a splurge. I pay my sitter $20 an hour, but I usually round up, since I know she expects $100 when I ask her to sit for an evening, and I appreciate that she’s taking the time out of her schedule to do it. I give her the full amount, but I notice that she pocketed the $9 for dinner, even though she said she fed my daughter leftovers from the fridge.
9:00 pm, $40 — Lyft
I ended up meeting another acquaintance at the party who lives close to me. We share a Lyft home, and I give her $40, which is about the total cost of the ride. Why did I do that? I could tell you a long story about how, a few years ago, I almost ruined her career with an article I worked on that portrayed her work in a not-great light, but the short answer is, I don’t know. I’m pissed at myself as soon as I get out of the car, and also annoyed at her. Why did she take my cash???
Day Total: $1,151
8:30 am, $6 — Egg and cheese sandwich
My daughter is super picky, and I realized I don’t have her go-to chicken nuggets (don’t judge) and sweet potato fries on hand. I pick up an overpriced sandwich from the corner cafe, which I know she will eat for lunch and snack. I also exchange my usual “hellos” with the cafe staff, which is a nice way to start the day.
9:00 am, $14 — Breakfast
I go back to the cafe for a sandwich for me and a coffee. I catch up with my friend Jen again, likely the only in-person interaction I’ll have on this work-from-home day. Jen works from home too, and I’ve found these meetings are great ways to segue into the day and ensure I don’t become a weirdo hermit.
3:00 pm, $100 — Housecleaning
I forgot I had a scheduled a cleaning via the Handy app, which isn’t ideal since I wanted to spend the entire day at home. I give the cleaning person $40 as a tip and leave the house, even though I’d been on a pretty good roll getting work done and hate feeling exiled. Still, clean apartment!
4:00 pm, $14 — Wine
I’m kicked out of my place until the cleaning lady is done, and the coffee shop doesn’t have a great ambiance. It’s 4 pm, so I do two glasses of happy hour pinot grigio.
6:00 pm, $6 — Ferry ticket
I’m back on the ferry to pick up dinner from Shake Shack. We have a playdate with my daughter’s friends and my friends, and we’ve gotten into a Thursday night picnic routine. I will cross state lines for Shake Shack. The good (?) thing is that I order through the app, so I can run to get it and come back on the same ferry ticket. It’s a bargain, right?
6:30 pm $20 — Burger, fries, milkshake.
The actual bill comes to $100, but I get reimbursed via Venmo by everyone at the party. Yum!
7:00 pm, $40 — Dress from Etsy
I buy a purple toddler Rapunzel dress once I realize we have a birthday party the next week. It’s an expensive gift for a kid — my target is $15 — but this is a close friend, and these are dresses that my daughter wears every day, and I think this other little girl will look so cute in it! I love toddler birthday parties, and love watching my daughter’s friendships blossom.
7:14 pm, $143 — Phone bill
Oof. This is a lot. I don’t even understand some of the charges. $15 for long distance? Since when did long distance become a thing? I may try to call and complain, but hahaha, let’s be honest, I’m a mom to a 3-year-old who’s juggling a ton of work and trying to have a social life. Charge me what you want! Still, yikes!
7:15 pm, $27 — WikkiStix
They’re “the” it toy for the toddler set. I throw ‘em in the Amazon cart. Inwardly, I’m sort of panicking because this has been an expensive week. What I’ve noticed is that it’s always a bit of a spiral — I’ll start to “special occasion” spend, then it quickly becomes spending just because I think I deserve it. This purchase makes me feel eh.
Day Total: $370
8:30 am, $0 — Coffee
My friend Jen brings me coffee, so I don’t have to pay. I decided to keep my daughter out of daycare since this was a pretty light work week and I’ve just wrapped up some larger assignments. It doesn’t save me money; I still have to pony up her monthly fee, but I’m excited to spend the day with her (and hopefully will remember that I don’t have to spend a ton of money for us to have fun!).
9:30 am, $10 — Ferry tickets
We’re going to downtown Brooklyn, which is two ferries. The New York City ferry, at $2.75, is a total bargain!
11:30 am, $24 — Shake Shack
We’re back! We have a picnic in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and it’s glorious. My daughter makes some little friends, I read part of a book, and we have a really happy day.
12:00 pm, $6 — Iced coffee
Gotta caffeinate before we head to the park. Do I need this? No. This is one of my “pure habit” spends that I know I could give up and save money. But, deep down, I am worried I don’t have the willpower to do so.
12:30 pm, $20 — Carousel tickets
It’s $20 for 12 tickets, and I assume that means six rides, but when we get in line, I realize my daughter is free. We ride the carousel seven times, and it’s a lot of fun. Plus, it’s good value!
2:30 pm, $4 — Water and cookies
It’s hot out!
5:00 pm, $10 — Ferry
We head to the playground where my daughter catches up with all her little friends from daycare. One of our friends is heading to pizza, and another is doing a barbeque in the backyard, but we are both tired. We head home, where my daughter conks out on the couch.
6:00 pm, $32 — Pizza and salad
I don’t feel like cooking, but also realize that it was a more expensive day than I had initially anticipated.
8:00 pm, $20 — Frozen yogurt
I checked my mail, which had a flyer for the frozen yogurt place. They have an app, they deliver, and the 20% off coupon code expires tonight. What would you do? By the time it comes, though, my initial excitement for yogurt has passed and I’m feeling full. I end up putting our two deluxe cups in the freezer for later.
8:30 pm, $60 — HelloFresh
This will arrive on Sunday, and I truly enjoy the HelloFresh process. My daughter helps me prepare the meals, there’s leftovers for dinner the next night or lunch the next day, and it feels easier than grocery shopping. This is a spend I am not embarrassed about. Hooray! I make a resolution to myself: I will make dinner more days than not next week.
8:30 pm, $104 — Life insurance premium
I did some work for a life insurance startup and now am a huge nerd about life insurance policies and why they’re important, especially if you have a kid. This is the type of auto-payment that makes me think, okay, so deep down, I must be somehow responsible with money. Right?
9:00 pm, $56 — Books on Amazon
I finally have some time and space to read, and download a bunch of books from Amazon. I never feel guilty about book spends. This is a good purchase.
Day Total: $346
12:00 pm, $14 — Deli
We’re heading to the pool — I joined the pool in the suburbs where I lifeguarded as a kid — and are going to have a picnic. While we’re there, I get a text from my friend, asking where we were this morning. WE FORGOT THE FUN RUN. I feel awful. $45 is a lot of money, and $45 for an event we skipped without realizing it makes me so angry at myself. Luckily, my daughter doesn’t know what happened, but I’m annoyed.
2:00 pm, $20 —Swim cap and goggles
At the pool, I realize I don’t have any swimming stuff if I want to seriously swim laps, so I buy some just in case.
5:00 pm, $25 — Gas
It turns out, $10 of gas doesn’t get you far. We’re heading to my dad and his wife’s house, about 50 miles away.
Day Total: $59
I didn’t spend anything today! We spent most of the day at my dad’s house, where he treated us to lunch. Later, my friend texts because she bought rhubarb and is curious how to make a pie (this is what fun looks like when you become a parent). My dad’s wife gives us pie intel, and arms me with cornstarch, crystallized ginger, apples, and a boxed pie mix, just in case.
When we get home, we make the pie. Dinner is a HelloFresh meal. I get my daughter’s daycare lunch ready for tomorrow. I was hoping I could do a Target run, but pie making took about 3 hours longer than expected. But, I feel like I can make a slice of leftover pizza work for her lunch. Phew. I’m really glad to see I can spend a day without spending, and we’ve got to add more of those into our routine. It’s a plan.
Day Total: $0
Total Weekly Spend: $2,344
*Name has been changed