Jen*, 32, is writer and editor in New York City who constantly feels like she’s got the world upon her shoulders. She makes about $90,000 a year between her salary at her fulltime job and her freelance writing gigs on the side, and she’s good about investing in her future. Last year she maxed out both her IRA and 401(k) (a combined total of $23,500 for retirement), but she often skips buying things she wants because she feels bad splurging on new shoes when others need financial help.
She spends a lot on charitable donations and helping family members, many of whom are in various states of distress. She, like her parents before her, became everyone’s go-to person when they need help because she can handle it … and she won’t say no. She worries that helping so much will leave her without a cushion for herself, so her goal going forward is to match whatever she gives to others in her own emergency fund.
While Jen wishes her income were higher (she’s job hunting), her expenses are relatively low: She’s living in her grandfather’s old home in a ritzy Brooklyn neighborhood, paying just $700 in rent that goes towards maintenance of the property. She’s also a bit of a homebody, so she doesn’t spend much on traveling or outside entertainment.
Planning her upcoming wedding has been tough for Jen, because she feels like a lot of what she’s expected to splurge on is silly and self-indulgent. She also feels guilty asking anyone else to contribute for what might normally be their share of the festivities (read: her bridesmaids).
- Yearly income: It fluctuates, but around $90,000
- Monthly savings: Varies, but usually around $700 (divided between emergency fund, 401K contributions, and Roth IRA)
- Rent: $700
- Utilities: $100
- Cable/Internet: $150
- Car insurance: $166
11:00 am, $1,300 — Helping family members who lost belongings in a fire
My cousin is a single mom of two sons, and they lost nearly everything they owned in an apartment fire. I’m very close with her older son, who suffered from smoke inhalation in the fire, but thankfully no one else was hurt. I’m still devastated for them because they’d been struggling for a while despite working really hard. I had extra money that I planned on putting towards the principal of the car my fiance and I are financing, but instead, I gave it to her to help her family.
I’m one of the only members of my very large extended family who has my finances together, and I feel like I should help those who don’t, especially since I don’t have kids and my monthly bills are low. My rent is only $700 because I live in my grandfather’s old home, which he left in a trust to my father, then to me.
12:30 pm, $85 — Clothes for cousin’s family
I ordered a bunch of clothes for my cousin and her sons to kickstart replacing what they lost. Every little bit helps, and I had a coupon code for the guys’ stuff, so I got a lot of bang for my buck. It helps that her sons wear the same size, so they can share a lot of what I purchased. I also bagged up some of my own clothes for my cousin. Now, time to furiously hoard as many freelance assignments as I can so I can hopefully help a bit more.
1:30 pm, $24.78 — Groceries
There’s a sale on Lean Cuisines and I hate cooking for just me, so microwaveable meals it is. My fiance is always on some weird diet and does his own shopping for it because I can’t keep track of what he can and can’t eat in a given week. Is he cutting carbs? Sugar? Who knows.
5:30 pm, $50 — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital donation
A friend was fundraising on Facebook for his birthday and the St. Jude’s commercials make me cry. I’m an ugly crier, so I figured this was the least I could do to make myself feel better. Plus, it’s tax deductible.
7:00 pm, $42 — Seamless
I know I just went grocery shopping a few hours ago, but I’m really craving some bolognese and I’m too tired from freelance writing all day to make it from scratch. I’ve earned this, and I justify it further with the knowledge that one order of this will be my dinner for at least two days because I fill up quickly.
I also always tip at least 30 percent no matter what, because I know there are a lot of cheapskates out there, so I try to compensate for them as well. I have a lot of friends who work in restaurants. It’s grueling, and they put up with a lot.
Day total: $1,501.78
5:20 am, $80 — Metrocard
I’m never happy about this. I live in an MTA-underserved neighborhood in South Brooklyn and my trains are constantly delayed, and often don’t even run on weekends. I have a relatively minor cardiovascular issue (poor circulation and low blood pressure), and as a result I’ve actually fainted on overcrowded trains twice (being hospitalized once) and had to alter my work hours to go into the office earlier so I can ride the train with my fiance in case of another emergency situation.
11:00 am, $49 — Dress
My fiance and I are getting married in a little less than a year, but we may have a secret courthouse wedding just for us beforehand in case one of us leave our job and needs the insurance benefits. A dress I’d been eyeing for months was on sale for 1/4 of the original price, and I couldn’t not order it in my downtime at work. It has polka dots!
12:45 pm, $2.38 — Resume printing
Speaking of work: I’m a writer for a major New York media outlet. I’m actively looking to change jobs after not receiving a raise or promotion in four years despite having more skills and experience than my job title reflects. I know I’m being paid at least $10K below market value. There’s a reason I freelance so much on the side. A girl’s gotta eat!
I have a third interview today with a new company and printed some resume copies at a FedEx on my lunch break.
1:30 pm, $1 — Doritos
Since I didn’t actually eat on my lunch break, here we are. I try to avoid the vending machine, knowing I can buy a giant bag at an actual store for cheaper and that I should just be eating something healthier anyway.
They key word here is “try.”
4:30 pm, $675 — Medical bill
I went to an ear, nose and throat specialist a year ago who accepted my insurance. Surprise! Ten months later, they sent me a bill for $675. I called my insurance company, and the person on the phone rambled about not meeting my deductible, even though this one single bill exceeds my $500 deductible by $175. I pay it, but I’m furious. I channel the anger into furiously cleaning my kitchen and bathroom, then writing two freelance stories in an effort to recoup the expense.
7:15 pm, $300 — Car payment towards principal
My fiance and I are currently financing a car and I throw any extra money I make at the principal for that. I handle most of the household bills because I make more money and when we moved in together, my fiance had student loans to pay off. He’s done with that, but the arrangement for bills hasn’t changed; we plan on opening a joint checking account for our bills soon.
Day total: $1,107.38
5:30 am, $20 — Metrocard
I left my other Metrocard in my other pants. I hate everything.
11:00 am, $100 — Friend’s GoFundMe
My close friend, Ryan*, lost his father last year. Now his mother is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, an illness that took the life of a friend’s mom two years ago. I set up a GoFundMe along with another one of our friends, to raise money for his mom’s care. Ryan is one of the most upstanding people I’ve ever met. It’s the least I can do. I admire his strength.
1:30 pm, $11 — Lunch
I was hungry. And it was delicious. I regret nothing.
6:30 pm, $96 — Escape room
My best friend is in town from Hong Kong, and every time he’s here we do an escape room together with a group of friends. I treated him and my fiance and paid for myself as well. It’s fun and I wish we could hang longer, but I have my job interview tomorrow.
9:00 pm, $170 — Bridesmaid dress
I didn’t want a bridal party for my wedding at all. However, my mom promised my aunt and her daughters (my cousins) — behind my back — that I’d include them as my wedding bridesmaids. As someone who’s been a bridesmaid eight times, I know how expensive and time consuming it can be. I didn’t want to burden them with the expenses and obligations. I’m livid, but in the interest of keeping the peace, I agree to include them in my wedding against my better judgment. I also add one of my fiance’s cousins, with whom we’re close, to even out the bridal party.
I also agree to pay for one of my cousin’s dress since I know she can barely afford her mortgage and is constantly “borrowing” from everyone else in our family. I consider eloping with just my fiance, my courthouse dress, and nothing (and nobody) else.
Day total: $397
12:00 am, $77 — Automated Bideawee, Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, and Ronald McDonald House donations
My grandfather, a World War II veteran who fought in Normandy and adored animals and children, passed away about six months ago at 97 years old, and I’m still not quite over it. After he died, I pledged monthly donations to Bideawee, which is a pet welfare organization, Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, and the Ronald McDonald House, which helps sick children, in his honor. I send each $25 a month; I added $2 to the Ronald McDonald House donation to cover fees so all of the proceeds go directly to the kids in need. I’m happy to help, but it also makes me really miss my grandpa.
7:30 am, $50 — Child’s Play donation
A friend is fundraising for this for his birthday. The charity, Child’s Play, began within the video gaming community to provide toys and games to children in hospitals. As an avid lover of the Street Fighter franchise, I approve.
12:00 pm, $56 — Cupcakes
It’s my favorite co-worker’s birthday, and she deserves to be celebrated. I’m pretty sure my boss should be expensing this, but I’m the only person in the office who remembers anyone else’s birthdays, so it’s almost always my problem.
Day total: $183
12:07 pm, $1 — Banana
I’m hungry. It’s healthy!
3:00 pm, $1,250 — Wedding DJ
I paid half of our wedding DJ fee; the rest is due the day before the wedding. My fiance and I have an entire spreadsheet of songs, so the guy won’t have to do much work in terms of song choice, because we know exactly what we want.
4:15 pm, $50 — Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
I just learned that a good friend of mine has been diagnosed with lymphoma. One of my best friends beat the disease about a decade ago. I splash cold water on my face in the ladies’ room to stop myself from crying at my desk. “Cancer” is a terrifying word to hear about someone you love, and I can’t even imagine what it must be like to go through it, especially when you have a young son like my pal does. Fortunately, the type of lymphoma with which he’s been diagnosed is treatable and has a high success and survival rate.
I called his wife to ask if they need any help, and she said no (thankfully he can still work and his insurance is taking care of most of their bills), but that they’d eventually fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I kickstart the fundraising in his honor now. It’s the least I can do.
6:00 pm, $66 — AdoptaPlatoon
They sent me two Christmas stockings and two Christmas cards to fill out and send back with a donation. My brother just finished his service in the Air Force, my two favorite uncles served in the Navy and Army. The troops hold a special place in my heart, and I wish I could send more cash, but uh, have you seen my spending this week?
Day total: $1,367.00
7:07 am, $8.96 — French toast and bacon
I’ve had a tough week and it’s a slow news day at the office, so I have a little time to indulge in something other than my usual oatmeal packets today.
3:00 pm, $50 — National Coalition for the Homeless
My birthday is coming up and I started a Facebook fundraiser for the National Coalition for the Homeless because I have too much stuff in my house and too little space for it. I’d rather the funds that anyone might spend on a gift for me go towards people who need it instead. I support this cause specifically because they focus not just on food and shelter for the homeless, but also job training to get those who need help back on their feet. I’m trying to raise a total of $200 for the cause in honor of my gracing this planet, but seeing as most of my friends and family are broke, I have to kickstart the fundraising a bit myself. I don’t mind.
9:30 pm, $100 — My own birthday dinner
A colleague put together a joint birthday dinner for me and the coworker for whom I bought cupcakes. She invited a bunch of girls from the office and told us it was $35 per person for salads and pizza, not including drinks. My friends and I usually cover the birthday person, but I guess not this time. What’s more, she invited my boss, so I can’t even really relax.
I quietly put down $100 for me and my fellow birthday girl while she’s in the restroom and head out annoyed — while reminding myself to be grateful that anyone cared enough to celebrate me at all.
10:00 pm, $56.70 — Uber home from birthday dinner
I was tired, and I was nervous if I took the subway home, I’d fall asleep and miss my stop. I live pretty far from the city, so it’s not cheap.
11:15 pm, $150 — Money for my cousin
My cousin, whose bridesmaid dress for my wedding I’d just covered, texted me freaking out that she may not be able to make her mortgage payment this month and still needs groceries. I use my bank’s app to send her $150 and beg her to use the LinkedIn account I made for her, as well as the resume I drafted for her, to please start trying to find full-time work.
Day total: $365.66
12:40 pm, $93.98 — Wedding dress
David’s Bridal had a sale on a wedding dress I’d been eyeing forever. I don’t want to break the bank on my wedding dress because I’m only going to wear it once. My mom, my best friend, and my fiance’s cousin/my bridesmaid meet me at a New Jersey location close to where my parents live. I try on the wedding dress I’d had my eye on — a simple V-neck sheath covered in sequins — and wow, do I look good. I buy it immediately.
1:28 pm, $0 — Another wedding dress
My mom, the well-intentioned meddler that she is, agrees that I look fantastic in the dress that I chose, but wants me in a gown and a veil. Because my dad is footing the bill for the wedding, I’m willing to concede: I’ll wear a dress my mom and I both like for the ceremony and photos, and the dress I just bought myself for less than $100 will be my reception dress. I still refuse to wear a veil.
She picks out a wedding gown that weighs about 97 pounds and doesn’t suit my personality at all. We find another that weighs about 95 pounds that I like better. She pays.
2:30 pm, $120 — Lunch at a local Italian joint
I treat the group to lunch to thank them for helping me pick out my wedding dresses. I reiterate that I would have been cool with just the one I picked out, and my mom tells me to shut up and eat. Fair enough.
Day total: $213.98
Total weekly spend: $5,135.80
*Name has been changed