What happens when someone who’s “good at money” tracks their spending the old school way? With a pen and paper and not using an automated system like Mint?
Inspired by the Man Repeller and Refinery29 money diaries, as a fun experiment I manually tracked everything I bought this past weekend. Although I’m conscious about my overall spending in certain categories, I never review purchases on a line-by-line basis. So what did I learn? Spoiler alert: I didn’t like everything I saw.
A note on the activities: This weekend was more happening than the usual. I mean, I saw my friends TWICE in one weekend. Even though we live in the same city, we live in different neighborhoods that are juuuuust far enough so that we only get together about once a month, if that.
Oh, and for a better idea of my overall financial situation, check out this post on my expenses and savings rate.
Here we go!
I count Friday as the weekend starting at 5:45 pm, so all spending after that is fair game. If you’re wondering what I spent earlier in the day, I spent $0 on coffee at work, don’t eat breakfast on weekdays (I know, I’m terrible), and brought lunch from home.
After work I meet my friends at El Cortez, a tiki bar. I buy a $9 rum punch drink, which disappointingly doesn’t come in a kitschy tiki cup (like it did in the picture menu), $12 for a cheeseburger and fries, and then $4 for a third of the nachos we share. $36.47
For a hot second I consider taking a cab, since there isn’t a direct route to get home, but I decide to take the subway. I bought my monthly subway pass earlier this month, so I’m not going to count this expense.
When I wake up there’s no food in the house 🙁 For breakfast I drink the usual homemade coffee and then buy a bagel with cream cheese for $2.
My fiancé and I decide to hit up the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Rei Kawakubo fashion exhibit. Before we leave, I fill up a bottle with water to put in my bag because I hate buying bottled water when I’m out. I know we both get thirsty when we’re walking around the city, so I like preparing ahead of time to avoid unnecessary spending when I can.
Uh oh. We’re on the train around lunchtime and fiancé has made it clear he needs to eat. Our eating habits couldn’t be more opposite: he eats like a dumpster truck eats trash bags; I’m one of those annoying people who has the stomach the size of a pea. If I were alone I’d wait until I’m home from the museum to eat lunch, even if it’s way past lunchtime. But I compromise, because that’s what relationships are all about.
Once we’re off the subway we go to Sweet Green, one of those “healthy” fast food places. I’m not hungry at all, but I order the $8 kale caesar salad because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu. Fiancé devours his food, but I’m not finished until I eat every piece of chicken that comes in my salad. Meat is expensive and it kills me to waste food. I drink from my water bottle and then make sure to refill it from the free water machine before I leave.
The Metropolitan is “pay as you wish”, but it feels wrong to actually roll up to the counter and say, “I’d like to pay nothing, please,” so we each pay $5 per ticket.
We’re on the train home and I decide to make a pitstop in downtown Brooklyn to browse for some wedding stuff and also pick up some groceries from Trader Joe’s. I’ll meet fiancé at home later.
I’m in Sephora to find a lipstick for my wedding. I try a bunch on, but nothing’s a slam dunk so I don’t buy anything.
I walk through every single aisle at Michael’s, the craft store. I see some brush pens I’m interested in since I want to get better at hand lettering, but at 7.99 per pack, I’m like, I must go home and do my research on the best pens before I can pull the trigger. Again, I leave without buying anything.
Next stop: Trader Joe’s. My fiancé and I plan to make rotisserie chicken sandwiches for work lunches this week so I buy a few supplies for that, plus a few snack items: tortilla wraps, a bunch of bananas, a bag of San Marzano tomatoes, an avocado, a mango, kiwis, 2 bags of pasta, a tin of caramel chocolate wedges (fiancé loves these). $13.68
We wake up, drink homemade coffee, and fiancé has this brilliant idea to make pancakes with some blackberries we have in the fridge.
No matter how many times I try, gyms don’t work for me. I’m happier when I can work out for free. Fiancé and I run a couple miles in the park.
We originally plan on getting lunch at Smorgasburg, this trendy outdoor food market in the park, but after fiancé hears I’m writing this post, he decides we shouldn’t go!!! Food at Smorgasburg is fun to try once, but you end up paying a lot for small portions. It’s not exactly spend I’d say is “worth it” after the first time.
Fiancé used up the last egg to make the pancakes so we stop by the grocery store to get more. I wait outside while he buys the eggs, so I browse all the outdoor plants the store has for sale. When my fiancé comes out I show him a cute hanging plant I like. He has this idea for a DIY project: buy a hook and the plant to hang in the window of our work room. “But wait,” he says. “Isn’t buying this plant going to skew your post?” I tell him we need to spend the way we normally do because we need to keep it real. I mean, we already changed course by deciding against Smorgasburg earlier in the day! He goes back to buy the plant. $13.50
For lunch I make myself a peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich, just like when I was in college.
My friend texts me that there’s some Cartier pop-up event that’s open to the public. Says there’s a “champagne vending machine.” I fire back a text: “I’ll see you there.”
When I arrive at the event, the first thing I do is ask the vending machine attendant for two bottles of Cartier champagne. At the bar they’re also offering two drinks so I order one of each to try. We snag a booth to sit down at and hostesses are walking around with plenty of hors d’oeuvres. My friends and I are getting fed pretty well. I wonder if my appetite is ruined for dinner. In total, I got 2 mini bottles of champagne, 2 drinks, and hors d’oeuvres for FREE FREEE FREEEE.
When I come home, fiancé has done his own grocery shopping*. He does most of the grocery shopping and makes almost all of our meals because I’m really bad at cooking. He bought 1 rotisserie chicken, a bunch of baby bananas, 3 avocados, kosher salt, honey, a loaf of bread, and a loaf of fresh baked bread. Wait, WHAT?! So now we have a total of FOUR avocados. $21.56
Weekend Total: $100.21
*All grocery spending reflects my half of the total expenses, no matter who paid.
Five Things I Learned
I honestly didn’t think I’d really get anything out of this, because I thought I’ve graduated to like, Honors Level Personal Finance Class. But here’s what I learned: unconscious spending happens to all of us. Nobody’s perfect, unless they happen to be a robot instead of a human. A few points:
- Manually tracking your spending TOTALLY WORKS. If you have to write everything down, you end up considering each purchase. For us, seeing the numbers all together helped us realize that spending money at lunch at a trendy outdoor market wasn’t worth it.
- Oh geez, we spent $8 on avocados in a span of 3 days. That needs to be dialed back. There’s always something you can improve.
- My friends ripped me off at the tiki bar! Adding up the numbers again, I actually owed $25 and not the $36 I paid. It’s tricky to split the bill with friends when everyone orders a different amount. Even though I technically overpaid, my friend have bought me drinks in the past and didn’t hit me up for money, so it’s all good.
- Eating out for lunch is not important to me. If I want to avoid of spending, I need to get better at planning activities so we can be home around mealtimes. To avoid the salad purchases I should have left the house earlier.
- When you shack up with a significant other, your spending habits change. They just do. For me, they’ve increased, especially in the grocery category. But healthy food is important to my fiancé, and I have to respect that. Just like how he ends up spending more on travel because that’s important to me.
Do you ever do money diaries? If so, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever noticed?
Image: The Luxe Strategist