My Weekend Money Diary: Edition #1

Comme Des Garcons Wallet

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!

Friday

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

My rum punch drink that didn’t come in a cute cup.

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.

Saturday

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.

Rei Kawakubo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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

Sunday

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.

I’ll take two bottles of champagne, thanks.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

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  • Jane @ Cash Fasting

    Yes! I started my Cash Fasts as a result of the Refinery29 money diaries, so I love this! Honestly, this doesn’t seem like a terribly excessive weekend, especially in NYC. The best thing about this process is that the act of recording makes you rethink purchases, which is part of why I started blogging in the first place. Plus, it’s fun to read! Can’t wait to see more 🙂

    • Haha, I can’t guarantee other ones will be as interesting, but we’ll see!

      I was surprised that the simple act of writing something down added a layer of accountability. Like with Mint I can just ignore the red ‘overbudget’ bars by clicking out of the screen.

      So you should definitely read the Man Repeller money diaries in the link I gave. I don’t play at that level of spend, but I think a lot of people in the city do, so it’s pretty fascinating stuff.

  • Former New Yorker

    Champagne vending machine! That bottle is so cute! I miss NYC for these types of things. They have them where I live too (LA) but usually an hour drive from where I live so I usually stay home because I don’t want to waste gas/find parking.

    #5 is so true. SO eats so much. And turns so cranky if not watered and fed every hour.

    Writing down expenses sounds like a great idea though, I’ll give it a shot!

    • Yeah, I’ve lived here for over 7 years now and it still amazes me the sheer number of frugal things to do. Like, this event was open to the public so anyone off the street could have just walked in! No RSVP required. You just have to be in the know about it by following brands on Instagram, etc.

      My SO makes amazing, restaurant-quality meals, so I’d say it all evens out 🙂

  • Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial

    I wrote a money diary for R29. I learned that I eat out a lot to socialize with friends but am otherwise pretty good about limiting my spending. Also that random people on the internet can be super judgy about how you structure your life and spend money.

    Love your money diary. The Cartier popup sounds like it was a lot of fun! Though, I’d say, there’s no such thing as too much for avocados, avocado toast haters be damned. 😉

    • Thanks for stopping by! The Cartier thing WAS really fun. I was on Twitter today and I saw some article about ‘look at what the chicest New Yorkers’ wore to the Cartier popup. Meanwhile, my friends and I rolled up in ripped jeans 🙂

      I’ve accepted that socializing with my friends just means I’m going to spend money. But that’s why I have a system for my money. So I CAN splurge on some things. And I’m an 80/20 girl so reducing my rent has netted me over $10,000 a year, while cutting out going out once a month will net me what, like, $800?

      Now I really want to know which money diary was yours 🙂 You must have been doing something right, because that’s usually when the judgment comes out.

  • We write down everything on paper every week for spending. It helps to track, but we still spend when we don’t need to at times. I think we are so in tune with our finances and get almost overconfident and overspend without realizing it, especially on the weekends.

    You do a great job at saving on groceries for being in NYC and finding great things to do for free. Also, if I lived in NYC my breakfast budget would explode. Zucker’s Bagels is about the most amazing thing ever. Will definitely check out Smorgasburg when my company is paying next time I am there.

    • OMG, Zucker’s! I used to work around there and when I felt like splurging I’d get the lox and salmon bagel. Sooo good.

      I never felt like I needed to write things down, either but clearly I still had some bogus spends 🙂

  • David

    Living in NY is very expensive. I guess you noticed at this point, but many small expenses lead to lots of money spent. That’s why I started tracking my spending.

    On a side note, please let me know if there is a deal to get free champagne bottles in NYC. I’ll hop on the LIRR, the cost of the tickets might be worth it…

    • I don’t think NYC is as expensive as people think. But I’m probably jaded since I’ve mostly lived in cities. Boston, where I used to live, is comparable at this point.

      Also, wait, I thought you were a DC dude?

      Will def tweet at you next time there’s a deal.

      • David

        Thanks!

        I’m a LI native and went to school in Maryland. Currently working in Bethesda but I say D.C. because people actually know where that is. I’m moving back to NY in September for a 100% WFH position

  • Finance Patriot

    I know talent when I see it, and I have promoted you to my “blogs links” page under recommendations. Congrats, now I will send all my readers (mostly my grandma) your way as well 🙂

    As an older frugal man, I have to ask the following as I have a life of frugal tricks up my sleeve.

    1. Have you ever considered bringing a shot glass airplane size bottle of liquor with you to a restaurant, order a non alcoholic drink and pay less and pour it in, instead?
    2. Taxis? Come on, I’m 41 and I uber. I am hoping you meant take an uber.

    OK, I thought living in NYC you must have gone to the Knicks game, ate at some fine expensive restaurant with a chef on TV, and your luxury apartment in hipster land probably leaves you in the red each month. What am I missing?

    • WHOA. I have arrived. Although one of those links on that page is not like the others…I hope your grandma is into learning about buying “expensive” clothes and travel hacking! Otherwise, she’ll be pretty disappointed. But thank you–it means a lot that someone out there likes what I’m doing here 🙂

      1. Ha, yes, I used to pull crap like this in my early 20s. You wouldn’t believe how many rules I completely disregarded. Once a punk, always a punk.
      2. I refuse to install Uber on my phone. It’s easier to avoid temptation that way. One of the very things I’m super cheap about, heh.

      NYC is surprisingly cheap once you let your imagination roam free. Knicks game = get the nosebleed seats. Expensive restaurant = cheap out on regular meals to pay for that one epic meal. Luxury apartment = total ripoff, are you crazy?

      Thanks for reading, as usual!

      • Finance Patriot

        I think ethnic food from a street vendor is just as good and welcome as a fine restaurant. You’re mostly paying for the service anyway and not so much the food. I can carry my own food, plates, etc, thank you very much.

        For our recent trip to Puerto Rico, we read about how “food and drink” were not allowed to be brought with us to the resort’s private Island. Needless to say we did this everyday after the first day (when we realized no one was checking our bags). Some rules are just meant to be broken.

  • I just discovered your blog and I’m in love!

    I’ll be moving to NYC in September with my husband and we’ll only have one income for a while which is a little scary…but we did some research and it seems like you can get by in NYC without spending a fortune. It was great to read this post and to know that it’s possible to stick to a small budget when it comes to day-to-day things.

    • Hi!

      Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment! Congrats on your NYC move. I’m sure you know, but there’s no other city like it. And yes, I totally think NYC is less expensive than everyone says, because there’s so much competition here. Deals are abound, and Chinatown is awesome. And there are a million free events all the time. Actually, The Shins are playing for free in the park right now, but I’m too lazy to go 🙂

      Not that you asked, but my advice to you is to try to get your rent as reasonable as possible. That’s the biggest expense you’ll have so if you can get that right, you can splurge on other things.

      • I’m so excited for the move! And thank you for the advice about rent – that will definitely be our biggest challenge financially.

  • Sophie

    I love reading money diaries from refinery29! It’s my favorite thing to read through and it’s always so interesting how people spend and save. You definitely inspired me to do one of these 🙂

    • Yes, you should do one! They’re fun to write and they make you more conscious of your spending.

      I actually think the Refinery29 ones are way too detailed. I don’t need the hour-by-hour report, but maybe that’s just me…

  • Gina Carpellotti

    I track every cent that I spend. I enter it into an Excel workbook, and then it calculates the total spent by category — and then tracks actual vs. projected. My husband created the workbook for me, and while some would consider it to be tedious to track EVERYthing that they spend, I don’t. I nerd out. I look at the categories where I could cut back.

    We spend a good deal on groceries and household items because we buy mostly organic produce. This is our priority. We buy beans, spice, and grains in bulk.

    The one area where I can cut back? I need to start packing breakfast and lunch, rather than eating two meals in the work cafeteria.

    • Hey Gina,

      Thanks for reading! You sound exactly like my husband 🙂 He also prioritizes healthy food, so I’ve accepted that our food costs are just higher. Packing lunch and breakfast is a good compromise to offset those costs.

      I admire your dedication to tracking expenses! I use Mint now, which I check every few days, but it’s definitely a good exercise for me to manually track at time to identify any unnecessary spending.