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A week in Bushwick on a $50K salary

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money journal, beach day

We all have different priorities, circumstances and money personas and this all gets reflected in the way we earn, spend, invest and feel about money. We are truly one of a kind! To complicate matters more, we most often don’t feel like we can talk about money and because we keep this very important relationship close to the vest, we don’t get to learn from the successes and mistakes of those around us. This is why I’m so excited to share another real life money journal with you. Enter a savvy editor who’s had it with overpriced takeout.

INDUSTRY: Associate Editor for Social Media Platform
LOCATION: Bushwick, Brooklyn
# ROOMMATES: 3 roommates (4 bedroom apartment)
INCOME: $50,000 with potential bonus of $5,000
$ PAYCHECK: $1241.00 every two weeks after taxes and PPO insurance (about $150 per paycheck). PPO insurance was important to me for a number of reasons. First, health insurance is one of my favorite things about having full-time work. When I started my new job, I struggled to keep my skin clear and I desperately wanted to see a dermatologist. The HMO program had a huge deductible I’d have to meet annually, and I didn’t want to budget for expensive copays. Five months later and my skin was clear, making this costly PPO insurance seem less necessary. But I still wouldn’t change my decision to pay extra for the better coverage!
AGE: 25

MONTHLY EXPENSES
Rent: $925 (split equally between roommates)
Utilities: $55
Subway pass: $114
-– Gym membership: $105
-– Phone bill: $0 (company pays)
Student loan: $200-350 ($22,000 in student loans). During my first two years out of school, I wasn’t paying rent so I was able to make large student loan payments and pay ahead. Now, I don’t technically owe a bill until 2017. When money feels tight one month, I give myself permission to pay less than the $350 I plan to pay every month. I started this habit when I moved to NYC and I’m not proud of it. My goal is to change this habit come September, but that means I need to make some big changes elsewhere.

SATURDAY

I do my best to meal prep over the weekends for at least part of the week. I recently discovered a new farmers market in the neighborhood on Saturdays so I decided to give it a try.

  • Fresh veggies $15
  • Meat from local butcher $15
  • Granola, pasta noodles, and other kitchen staples $10
  • Very necessary breakfast pastry from a local coffee shop $3

I’m guilty of spending a lot of money out, especially on food and drinks. This day was exceptionally bad. My boyfriend and I met up with a high school friend and his girlfriend for drinks in DUMBO and then lunch at Alma in Cobble Hill. I had just killed a mouse in my apartment earlier that day and decided I definitely deserved a couple of drinks. I had one beer followed by a margarita ($12 but so worth it) and fish tacos. We all threw in our credit cards and split it evenly. Whether we’re out with friends or it’s just the two of us, my boyfriend and I prefer to split the bill. We don’t mind asking one another for a cover if needed and we rely on Venmo to pay each other back. We both make roughly the same amount of income and have similar living expenses, so there’s no pressure to treat each other for more than just special occasions. I really like this system since I like being accountable for my own spending. I never want to feel like I owe someone and prefer not share expenses if I don’t have to. Lunch and drinks, $40.

After a late lunch, we moved on to mini-golf with friends. Pier 20 in Manhattan charges $6 for an 18-hole course, which I think is a great deal! We worked up an appetite and we ventured to Shake Shack afterward. Because Pier 20 only takes cash, I paid for my boyfriend’s game while he covered my meal, which worked out to be almost even. Golf and Shake Shack, $14.

TOTAL: $97 (ouch!)

MY FEELINGS: This is way more money than I need to be spending in a day. One of my biggest goals is to get my student loans paid of by the time I’m 30. Since moving to Brooklyn from California seven months ago, putting money towards my loans has been incredibly challenging. This doesn’t help but I enjoy this kind of social activity. I don’t know how to say no, especially when I don’t want to say no.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: We’re only into day one but we already know so much about this fab woman. I appreciate her honesty when she admits that she doesn’t want to say no to fun activities even though she’s having a hard time putting money towards her loans. I get it! We want her to be having fun and meeting her goals. More on this soon! Already we are clued in to one of her biggest goals, paying off her $22,000 in student loan debt within the next five years. Awesome! Since she is up to date on payments through 2017, any payments she makes now are going directly towards principal. This is an incredible opportunity to make some big headway. The next step is to find out how long it will take her to pay off her loans given what she’s putting towards her loans now. Will she pay them off in time? How does the range in payments change how much she’s going to be paying in interest, in total? This is something I do with each of my clients with student loans or other debt and we also do this in the Tackle Your Debt Course.

She also mentions health insurance options which can be incredibly confusing. A post on this is coming soon!

SUNDAY

I felt bad for how much money I spent the day before, so I made it my goal to spend zero cash all day. Luckily, it was a ridiculously hot day in NYC, so it took no convincing to get friends to join me at the beach. A trip to Rockaway would normally be $2.75 for the subway, but didn’t cost me anything since I keep a monthly unlimited pass.

Shoutout to my boyfriend for wanting to be cheap, too! I normally get sucked into dinner and drinks when we go to the beach, but we chose to head home before dinner.

TOTAL: $0

MY FEELINGS: This needed to happen. I feel better about not spending money today and for avoiding temptation to spend more money on food at the beach. Now that I know that I can go with friends and have a great time without dropping lots of cash, I want to use this as inspiration to do this more often.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: Sounds like a blast! Her free beach day with friends is a frugal joy. Frugal joys are free or inexpensive things that make you really happy and they help us increase the joy and happiness in our life without increasing the cost. That being said, she didn’t spend anything  because she was feeling guilty about her spending the day before. It’s easy to get into a cycle of feast or famine. We spend too much one day so the next day we restrict and don’t let ourselves spend a cent. Then, we rebel against ourselves and the restriction and the big spending day happens again. As you can see (and maybe have experienced), the cycle goes on and on. How do we break the cycle? It’s really all about mindset. Restriction doesn’t work.

MONDAY

I try to buy fresh fruits and veggies, but I don’t have room for too much. I’m grateful for the fruit stand outside my Midtown office. Like most mornings, I spend 40 cents on a banana.

Thanks to meal prepping, I eat lunch in the office, but I forgot to pack an extra snack to tide me over on the train ride home. I break down and stop by Chipotle for chips, only $1.50.

I’m going to the Dominican Republic with friends in two weeks so I’m treating myself to some new bikinis. There’s a great online sale and I get two bottoms for $25 total, including shipping.

TOTAL: $26.90

MY FEELINGS: I don’t normally buy clothing because I find little gratification in spending money on new clothes (I prefer thrift stores like Buffalo Exchange and Beacon’s Closet if I need to grow my wardrobe), but the sale combined with the excitement for this vacation means that I’m feeling a lot less guilty about these purchases.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: It’s really great that she’s relishing in the excitement of her upcoming trip. Studies show that we sometimes get even more joy from anticipating an event or trip than we get from experience itself. Knowing this, we can really max out the joy that these expenses offer us! She also mentions that she doesn’t normally buy new clothing. Often, we truly believe that our spending is one way BUT we also have these one-off irregular expense items that come. Because they are irregular, we compartmentalize them and write them off as immaterial. $25 is not a large expense but I would urge her to look and see how often these one-off expenses happen each month. Even if no one-time expense is the same, we want to build in room for these in our happiness allocations (what I call budgets) so they don’t mess up our plans!

TUESDAY

Per usual, I get my morning banana. Forty cents well spent.

Meal prep food is getting boring, but I try my best to push through. I told myself that if I eat lunch in the office, I’ll treat myself to Vanessa’s dumplings on the way home. Their chicken and basil dumplings are amazing (I once had three meals in three days at Vanessa’s) and the price is too good to pass up. $5.

TOTAL: $5.40

MY FEELINGS: I never regret Vanessa’s, so I feel like today was a success. Happy about this Tuesday!

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: Rewards work so well! I use them all the time with myself and clients. If there is something you are looking to get yourself to do, set up a reward. It might feel or sound silly but it really works. The other thing I want to touch on here is getting bored with meal prep options. This is a very easy trap to fall into because it’s easy to make the same staples over and over but that can get really monotonous. So monotonous in fact that we might leave the groceries in the fridge and grab takeout. If this sounds like you, it’s worth taking a couple minutes to search around for some meal inspiration. What can you add in that will spice it up a bit? I follow and love Samantha Lynch, SkinnyTasteKale with a Side of Fries and Kale Me Maybe.

WEDNESDAY

My meal prepped food is officially gross (don’t eat steak four days in a row) and I make myself go get lunch. I get an overpriced salad at the deli for $8.

By Wednesday, I’m ready to see my boyfriend and we usually end up somewhere in the city. He invited me to a free movie screening at his work, so I head there straight from the office at 5 p.m.

By the time the movie ends, we’re both starving. I choose to join him for dinner out, but bargain by not ordering an alcoholic drink to save money. Fish tacos plus tip sets me back $19.

TOTAL: $27

MY FEELINGS: This is where I normally get into trouble with my budget. If I stick to my meal prep schedule, Wednesdays should be for cooking. But at this point in the week I’m anxious for the weekend. I’m not super happy at work. I need a role that’s more creative, and right now, this job is all about hitting quotas and making cold calls. I have all the respect in the world for sales people and I’m grateful for the experience, but I’m really hoping to work in a space where my creative energy is needed and rewarded. This kind of work is draining and leaves me feeling very unfulfilled. Because my days at work aren’t good, I constantly feel the need to “reward” myself for the smallest things, like getting through a five-day week or not leaving the office for lunch. At jobs where I’ve been happy, this hasn’t been as much of an issue, but I think spending on food I don’t need will always be a habit I try to control. For now, I’m sending applications and resumes, going on “networking dates” (these are the best) and reaching out to people who I feel can help me make a move. I’ve always said that my least favorite job is unemployment (I don’t do well with downtime), so until I find something new or the day-to-day becomes unbearable, I’ll stay put.

In the meantime, I live for after-hours activities and weekday time with friends. While I’ve always enjoyed dinner and drinks with good company, I’m pretty confident that this is the stem of my overspending habit, and until I get a job with a company that makes me happy, I’m afraid this will continue.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: This is the good stuff! She has big money goals that she’s excited about achieving but knows her dining out and social schedule is to blame for her coming up short. She also realizes that her evenings with friends are compensating for her unhappiness in her day job. Can you relate to this? I sure can. When I was working in investment banking, I spent every cent I made “treating” myself to make up for the difficult lifestyle. She’s looking to make a move in her career but understands that in the meantime, this is going to be something that happens. I love that she isn’t too hard on herself here which would most likely cause her to spend even more. Along that vein, she might want to think about some easy snacks and lunches she can bring to work that aren’t necessarily the most cost effective option but more satisfying and more reasonably priced than the takeout options she gets while at work. Finding something like a healthy frozen option, prepared foods or snacks to keep at her desk might be a win-win kind of compromise.

THURSDAY

Remember how I didn’t meal prep last night? I’m starting to pay for it. Luckily, I have breakfast for the day, but I don’t have a lunch to pack and I’m seeing a comedy show in Manhattan after work.

I indulge in not-so-great ramen from the deli and vow never to eat it again. $8, wasted.

Between work and the show, I run to Chipotle for dinner. The usual burrito and chip order sets me back $10. I get two drinks at the show, each $5.50 plus $1 tip for each drink for $13 total.

TOTAL: $31

MY FEELINGS: This is the most disappointing day for food buying. I made such terrible, unhealthy, dissatisfying choices. Work was especially tough today, and sometimes meals are the best parts of my whole day. The comedy show was time well spent and the beer was worth it.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: Sounds like $18 of the $31 (over half) she spent today was non-meaningful “wasted” spending. I see a fun reward possibility here. With some more enjoyable and easy / prepared meal options which would be more realistic for her than cooking from groceries mid-week, she may be able to enjoy her evening social activities while allocating that money to something more meaningful!

FRIDAY

I love Fridays! I take an early morning call from home, so I give myself permission to waltz into the office at 10 a.m. I usually treat myself to a pastry and tea from my favorite coffee shop, but I remember that I’m about to buy too much food again today. I settle for a Starbucks iced tea for $2.50.

For lunch, I get a salad from another overpriced deli (I’m seeing a trend here) and enjoy from the office. Why is it so easy to spend $8 on food you don’t even really like? But alas, a working girl needs to eat.

I’m exhausted from a tough work week and a heavy social agenda, so I choose to stay in for the night. Normally, I can easily put $30 towards a bar tab on a weekend night, so I settle for takeout sushi and reruns of The Hills on Hulu. Best $13.50 spent.

TOTAL: $24

MY FEELINGS: I spend so much money on food I barely like and I have so little to show for it! Sure, the sushi was great, but I need to make some serious changes. I’ve decided to start taking out cash for spending for the entire weekend. Other tricks to try are limiting myself to one or two drinks when out for the night or giving myself a limit on meals out during the week. I’d love to see more of this money go to student loans or travel, something more worthwhile, but it’s tough when you’re still new to the city! For now, I want to put at least $350 towards loans each month and set aside another $100 for travel opportunities. But even just thinking about those numbers makes me wonder how I can accomplish these goals without totally depriving myself!

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: I love her ideas for letting go of the spending on dining out that she doesn’t enjoy. It’s great to look at these as experiments and test them out. Do those guidelines work for her? If not, she can always adjust. Sounds like travel is important to her so I love that she puts money aside each month for it. At $100 / month she can spend $1,200 per year on travel without dipping into savings. I love breaking down bigger expenses into monthly or even weekly contributions. She could also set up an auto transfer of $46 per paycheck to her travel fund. Online savings accounts are a great way to get your savings out of sight and out of mind while also earning some interest!

BY THE NUMBERS

Monthly fixed expenses = $1,199 (not including student loan payments)
Monthly income (after tax) = $2,689
Monthly savings = $450 ($350 on student loans and $100 on travel)
Monthly discretionary budget = Income – fixed – savings = $1,040
Weekly discretionary budget = $240
This week’s spending = $211

MY FEELINGS: I’m surprised to see that I’m under budget! I work hard to pay off my credit card in full each month, which usually isn’t an issue, but I see that I could be saving way more by buying less food throughout the week. I’m eager to start thinking about a travel fund and how I can spend that throughout the year and use this as a happiness goal and something to look forward to. I definitely have habits I want to change, but I think I’m doing alright so far. Time to start thinking about how I can spend more effectively throughout the week on stuff that makes me happy and put away some money for long term goals.

ASHLEY’S THOUGHTS: As far as the numbers go, she is right on track. She actually had $29 to spare this week! 🙂 She can put that towards a more expensive week in the future or toward one of her goals. While the numbers are right on target, we know she wants to shift her happiness allocation so that some of the spending on takeout during the week gets allocated to more meaningful things but I have no doubt that she will figure that out! Moving to a new city, especially one with such a high cost of living is a big transition and it will take time to figure it out! As far as other goals, if she hasn’t already, she will also want to start building a rainy day to protect herself in case of an emergency or the unexpected as well as start contributing some money toward retirement savings!

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