College Money Diaries: A Week That Went Up in Flames

I’d characterize my spending habits by flaming garbage. I’m a 20-year-old junior at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta studying Finance, which is ironic, considering how I manage my personal finances. A goal of mine is to become more responsible with money, which is why I volunteered myself for this diary.

Some things to know about me before I spill my receipts:

-I have some savings from working full-time, sometimes with overtime, all summer long.

-I don’t live on campus; I still live with my parents. They live in Edmonton, my hometown. Given my current earnings, it wouldn’t be wise for me to move out on my own, plus campus is less than a 20-minute drive away.

-Because I live off campus, I have to take care of car-related expenses like gas, and a parking pass. (Luckily, my tuition and school fees include a pass for all public transit within the city.)

-I take care of about half my own groceries since I’m vegetarian and my family is not, but aside from that, most of my weekly spending goes toward shopping.

I have a huge shopping proclivity, which I recognize as problematic but justify with the fact that I work full-time each summer and hold a few part-time jobs throughout the school year and can therefore (kind of) afford it. Weirdly, I spend more on clothes and books than I do on food and other consumable goods. I don’t drink, for instance, so I never spend any money at the bar or on taxis to get home. And for some reason, I haven’t developed the usual college student coffee addiction yet. Maybe it’s still on its way.

My friends are far more conservative with their money than I am. They don’t like to spend their money, ever. They balance me out. Their habits make me more aware of how much I spend relative to my income and how much I should put toward savings. I don’t see the point in working hard to make money if you’re never going to spend a cent of it, but I’m also cognizant that I need to vet my spending more in the future — especially after analyzing my money-doling over the last seven days.

Here’s a breakdown of what I spent this week. I tried not to alter my normal spending habits at all, so the following erratic splurging might not be suitable for all audiences. You have been warned.

Pole dancing is an amazing fitness activity. It’s so much fun, and it makes you so much stronger! I also went to the movies today because I wanted to see if Kingsman 2 held up to the hype — and I really can’t watch a movie without gnawing on something, hence the Doritos.

I recently made an investment purchase by buying a Smart car. I used to drive a seven-seater hand-me-down 2006 Acura MDX, and when I drove that I usually spent upwards of $70 every eight or nine days on gas (it hurt me every time I had to fill up). Now, though, I can get premium gas for scarcely more than $30 every three weeks! It’s heavenly.

I think I have an iTunes problem; I spend way too much money on music. People always tell me to rip songs off of YouTube, but something about buying music is ingrained in me. I like supporting the artist. Also, I know $7.50 is arguably way too much money to ever be spending on vanilla soft-serve, but I had an unshakeable craving.

Today was a light day. I headed a few blocks off campus to one of my favorite little local cafés for vegan dal and two helpings of basmati rice. I don’t head out here much when the weather dips (as it tends to do, severely, in Canada), but when the weather’s still firmly parked in the mild, pleasant cool of fall, this is one of the best meals anyone can get around the university.

I spent barely any time on campus today (I spent barely any time around people, come to think of it) because I had to isolate myself to study for some upcoming midterms, so that’s probably why today was such a cheap one for me.

I treated my significant other to dinner and dessert today. Because of our increasingly busy schedules we don’t get to see each other one-on-one as much as we used to, so I really cherish our time together. Something about not being able to hang out as frequently makes me more inclined toward big shows of affection, like paying for dinner and dessert and providing transportation. Am I…a romantic?

If it looked like I didn’t have much of a spending problem yet, I definitely counteracted everything here. This is the big one: Artizia had this awesome sale for Canadian Thanksgiving, and as a longtime fan of the brand — I still wear a TNA sweater I got from there when I was eleven — I often find myself succumbing to their sales. I debate everything I buy very carefully and generally cut my purchases by about half before checking out, but somehow I always end up pulling the trigger on a bizarrely large sum.

I feel like I get a bit of a pass today because my biggest expenditure was a required purchase — I can’t drive without a legit license. My best friend just received her MCAT scores back and found out that she placed in the 99th percentile, so I felt that dinner and treats were definitely in order. As for the ingredients for confit byaldi (a.k.a. the ratatouille from Ratatouille), that was definitely worth it. Nothing’s better than dinner surrounded by family.

I’ll probably have to cut back for the next couple weeks given that big six-hundy spend, but all in all, my actual in-person spending is lower than I expected. Apparently I spend less on food than I thought I did, and usually I wouldn’t go out to treats and the like as I did this week to celebrate my friend’s achievement. A huge chunk of my money goes down the drain when it comes to clothing sales, and I think a large part of that comes from not having to worry about a mortgage or rent or shouldering the burden of 100% of my groceries yet. If I had to worry about utilities or more substantial living costs, I definitely, definitely would not be able to go to the movies on a whim or consider spending so much on non-essentials. I feel like it’s okay to indulge every once in awhile, so long as I don’t let my bad habits take over. More than anything, I think I need to reassess my closet.

Victoria Chiu is a student and writer. Follow more of her work at her website

Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

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  • Christina

    “Food $200
    Data $150
    Rent $800
    Aritzia $3,600
    Utility $150
    someone who is good at the economy please help me budget this. my family is dying”

    • Amy Brumbpo Tungus

      “spend less on utility”

    • Thorhildur Asgeirsdóttir

      LOL yes hahaha

  • Willa Konefał Davis

    Have you not heard of Spotify? No reason to be spending so much money on music..

    • Teddie

      Yasss or Apple music, only $4.99/month for a student subscription! Supports artists and saves more money for Aritzia haha

    • CayC

      I really disagree on this point. Artists get significantly more in royalties when you purchase an album outright, as opposed to streaming services where they only get a fraction.

      If you truly love music and want to support musicians, buy albums. Cut the Aritzia addiction first.

      • Willa Konefał Davis

        I believe you, but nearly $100 a week on music is absurd for a college student, and for most people. I don’t think its the responsibility of everyday people to overextend themselves financially when its the structure of the music industry/company that is failing to properly compensate musicians, although I agree that is what is right.

        Maybe the execs can cut their paychecks instead?

        • Cristina

          I pay for Spotify premium, so basically it’s like paying for Apple music and people don’t hate on Apple music? I think that counts haha.

    • Artists get nothing from Spotify plays. Nothing = 0.00000000002 per song play

    • Nico

      Respectfully, this is your opinion. I doubt she spends that much every week. Supporting artists by buying their music is a valid hobby.

  • Abby

    Holy cow. I can’t even imagine spending like this as an adult in a two income, no children household in a very affordable city.

    MR, I love it so much when you guys do money diaries but I would love to see something from a more “average” income and spending perspective.

  • Bailey Stark

    Im in college now and I can’t even justify buying a $2 avocado.

  • Adrianna

    You know what’s a quick way to get more “responsible with money?” Try paying rent with a minimum wage paycheck.

  • Mareike Borkowski

    WTF? I’m a grown woman with a relatively well payed job, no kids, no pets and the amount spent here in a week is just about a little bit less than what I can spend in a month after I’ve payed rent, bills etc. How does a summer job pay for this? Sorry if this comes over as bitter. Not meant that way. Just seriously baffled if this is not coming from an upper class household.

    • CMT

      Well, she’s not paying rent or utilities, or buying groceries.

      • Mareike Borkowski

        True, but if that is an average spending week for her, her expenses come up to almost 4000 $ a month. Even if she was paying rent out of this amount, that’sstill a hell lot of money for a college student. Or maybe summer jobs have just become way more lucrative these days.

    • Alissa

      I have a summer job as an engineering intern and make $18/hour which is actually low compared to my friends. If you don’t pay for rent/utilities/phone/groceries I can totally see how she could fund it.

      • Mareike Borkowski

        Wow, okay. Well, I clearly had the wrong summer jobs then 😀
        I really didn’t want to offend. I’ve just never had that kind of money when I was at university and neither did any of my friends. We were all struggling. So spending power like this at that age is just totally foreign to me.

    • JennyWren

      She does mention that in addition to the summer jobs she takes a couple of part-time jobs throughout the year. I’m thinking that because she doesn’t have to pay rent etc. and still has some savings from her summer job anything extra is fun money. Plus the big Artizia spend doesn’t seem to be normal and she mentions she didn’t spend much over the next few weeks because of it. TBH the weirdest thing to me is to see a young person with such pricey tastes- when I was 20 it was still all about Topshop!

      • Kiks

        Topshop isn’t that much cheaper than Aritzia (especially during a sale), is it?

        • JennyWren

          You know, now I’ve done the currency conversion you’re right! But it’s been quite some time since I was twenty, and back then Topshop was still a cheap-and-cheerful kind of place. We still had a dial-up modem and hovercrafts seemed like a legit form of transportation. The changes I’ve seen…

    • lovekatiedid

      Two things I just put together:

      1) she takes a couple of part-time jobs throughout the year
      2) pole dancing

      I’m sure that’s not it, but still kinda funny.

  • Mae

    Happy to see my city on MR! That never happens!
    Trying not to snark on this girl’s spending habits. She has very low expenses since she’s living with her parents, but maybe shifting some of those responsibilities back onto her would teach her to effectively budget .. before she learns some very hard lessons.

  • Rachel

    As a student with a similar living situation as Victoria this money diary is all too familiar to me. I don’t even have to pay for gas or most of my groceries either and my tuition is mostly paid by scholarships too. So it can be really easy when you have saving from summer work as well as money coming in from current part-time work to drop a couple hundred dollars on clothes. I just purchased a new camera and lens that costed $5000 and then spent another $600 on a new winter coat (totally necessary in Canada!)
    I know I’m terrible with money and not having any really financial responsibilities to worry about like paying rent really enables my spending habits. I know all that will need to change when I graduate this year and finally move out of my parents house.

  • Hayley

    Phonomenol (sorry, had to) money diary.

  • Eva Skewes

    I’d love to see a money diary for someone that mostly prepares their meals and occasionally goes out to eat. I was not exactly the paragon of being under budget in October, but making as many of my own meals as possible, is always my goal.

    • Adrianna

      When I was 18, I had a family member steal my identity and ring up some significant debt. Credit card companies wouldn’t grant me more than $150 monthly credit. I was in NYC, which tends to be more expensive. It was awful, but I learned how to monitor spending and budget appropriately.

    • Annie Carr

      There are loads of money diaries on Refinery29 and all of the ones I’ve seen (albeit UK based, US versions exist but may be different) usually feature much more conservative spenders – you might enjoy those! I tend to prefer the more reckless spenders for validation of my own terrible habits but the conservative ones are definitely more useful.

      • Eva Skewes

        Yes I’ve seen those before! I don’t really take money diaries as a guide, they’re almost entirely voyeuristic, but it is nice to see similar habits reflected in the things you read. I’m due to finally pay off a credit card this month (it’s still 0% APR, which is why there was a balance at all, but it will be nice to have it back to $0), and holiday spending is coming up, so money is particularly on the brain.

        I’m also mentally planning what to do with cash back bonuses and credits at the end of the year. Save it all? Spend half?? Decisions.

        • Cristina

          CONGRATS TO YOU!! We are working on paying off our consumer debt and ending the year at almost half down. I vote spend half of those bonuses cause you deserve the reward! I’m in the same boat. What do to with the extra money in December…. treat ourselves or do some responsible adult car maintenance. EW. Being an adult is seriously the worst lol! (or, should I know in comparison with this money diary, being a responsible, full-functioning on my own with all my own bills adult sucks ahah)

          • Eva Skewes

            Well done on cutting your debt in half! Cutting it down and making plans for saving/planned spending is such a mental relief. Like being able to take a breath of air after being under water.

            I think I’ll wind up giving myself the option to spend half. Getting into the habit of saving really makes every money decision so much more consequential and I don’t want to loose that. I’ve enjoyed only spending on stuff I really really really want and need. It makes those purchases more meaningful and I value and use the items more.

  • Amy Brumbpo Tungus

    This gave me anxiety

  • Daniel Szilagyi

    You spent $107.86 on music in just a week?? ouch….i get wanting to support artists and all but what are you exactly buying? are these indie artists or something? if they’re bigger names then i think doing it via streaming is way more than enough.
    Food is tricky but i think if you want to save even more treat yourself a little less often, or do it in a smarter way ( for example bring your own snacks to the movies instead of paying overpriced prices at the stand ) making prepared lunches can save a ton as well, you can literally buy a ton of rice for the price of one meal and since you’re eating veggies it’s even easier and should be even cheaper.

    The clothing is a mixed bag, i can’t imagine that you’d spend $500 every week on new things?

    My entire monthly amounts that i pay (rent,food,electric,medical,credit card,etc) amount to around 2k and that’s not even an average, and you spent almost half of that in a week alone!

  • Renee

    “I feel like it’s okay to indulge every once in awhile, so long as I don’t let my bad habits take over.”
    Girl, you kinda indulged during the whole week tho.

    • missmg

      She mentioned she works and she lives at home – I spent all my money on clothes and travel when I was in college because I had the luxury of living at home. I worked hard and rewarded myself for it, I doubt she spends 600 a week on clothes.

  • Patricia

    OMG soo… How can I write a college money diary for MR?
    This month I did a thing where I tracked all the money I spent on clothes for a whole month, and also kept track of things I didn’t buy to see if I still wanted things after forgetting about them for a bit. Inspired by MR and kind of fun for me! (I spent $450.79 on clothes this month… mostly due to a pair of Nancy Stella Soto pants!)

  • Hannah Laub

    Here is all I will say. I was blessed to inherit some money for college, which meant that I had money for rent + extra during my senior year. Because I also worked multiple part-time jobs, I rationalized frivolous spending (NOTHING like this, but still). I came out of college with no savings and let me tell you, it wasn’t worth any of the fun. I would love to go back to my 21 year old self and let her know she was about to spend the next two years making minimum wage and suffocating under $30k of student loan debt. MORAL of the story: Don’t spend money like it’s skittles in college cause you’re going to need every penny the second you get out.

    • Kiks

      CO-SIGN. I had the BEST wardrobe in university and went out all the time. Now I have crushing debt.

    • Yue

      I think it’s important to point out that she goes to university in Canada and lives at home. Depending on the school her tuition is much much less than even the most inexpensive of American state schools. The average Canadian tuition is $6,000 a year.

  • This whole article just reminds me how mad I am that I’ll never be able to drop the whole “rent” thing from my equation. Life is incomparable financially when you can live with your parents.

    • Kiks

      Yeah but also then you live with your parents.

  • nevvvvave

    If she doesn’t have any other large expenses, then i don’t see a major problem here. Clearly she does know how to save money since most of what she’s spending is coming from money saved over the summer from working full time. She knows that she likes to splurge during the school yr and sets it aside ahead of time.

  • Eliza

    I love this series. I don’t think I’ve ever *not* been surprised at how others choose to spend their money, but that’s half the fun, isn’t it? I had a $30/wk grocery budget while I was in college, but I also managed to spend $50/wk on cigarettes. Irresponsibility comes in many forms…

    • graceyu

      Exactly! I am truly fascinated by money diaries. I don’t care how ridiculous or responsible the spending is, I just appreciate the psychology of it all.

  • cecilrahn

    curious if this is in usd or cad?

    • Olivia!

      My assumption was CAD, which is roughly 1 CAD = .8 USD at the moment

  • Kerri Urbanski

    I can’t fathom having spent $1000/wk on anything (necessity or otherwise) as a college student. I had summer jobs and part-time jobs during the year, loans, scholarships, and a little extra help from my folks (a very little bit and all for necessities), and I still can’t imagine spending that much. Do college students who don’t have trust funds have $52,000 just to SPEND in a year? Is that normal? Am I old? I also can’t imagine my parents helping me financially at that age if I had $1000 a week to essentially burn through. I’m old. This is crazy to me. I mean, I have adult friends who don’t make that much money in a year. I’m not even judging, girl – you do you. I just can’t imagine having money like that to burn at 20.

  • Bridgett

    So what’s the alternative/compromise outside of this whole stream vs. purchasing music dynamic?

    Is it wrong to check music out at the library, can I listen to albums through YouTube? If people don’t have the money to expend on music should they seriously not be allowed to listen to music?

    • Adrianna

      There’s a free Spotify option.

      Also, I’m old enough where I remember buying one-two CDs and listening to the same music for a few months

    • belle

      Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube, sharing music with friends, buying used, you could even use Spotify for most of your music but reserve purchases for artists you really love and want to support.

  • Cassidy Burke

    Oh my. Just to add another perspective: I’m a senior

  • Holy shit I never thought I’d see the day that someone from my hometown is on MR. Hiiiiiii!!! #etown

    • Also what did you get from Aritzia

      • Kiks

        Most important question, right? I need a screenshot of the shopping cart.

  • Lex Noblitt

    Why share this? It promotes shame to those who can’t afford a certain lifestyle and likewise for those fortunate enough to carelessly chuck $1,000 a week. I admire nearly every article MR shares, but this one has always made me cringe. If you find yourself compelled to over-communicate justification for your spending habits, maybe just don’t share? In any case, upon editing, did it not occur to anyone that this receipt affidavit is so obviously atypical for that of a college student? I’m willing to bet the average reader cannot afford the clothing you provide links to in your office apropos, for example; the average reader didn’t have a childhood that allowed them to obtain a $1,000 fur coat from their grandmother. It just seems strange that one would divulge this information. It doesn’t translate as transparency. To be frank, I’m not quite sure what it does translate. Perhaps observe the commentary on this particular post and let that be a gauge?

  • karliq

    I know it can be hard to swallow when someone is in a different financial situation than your own, but I’m not sure why there is so much angst over this post? The MR site is full of expensive fashion (and, granted, no so expensive), and Victoria very clearly represents that demographic. She isn’t taking food out of her children’s mouths or failing to pay rent to her landlord. She is in the covetable position to be able to spend money in a way that will not aversely impact her or those around her and while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is an argument to be made that this is exactly the kind of lifestyle that MR promotes.

    • Adrianna

      I see your point, but many people criticize the inaccessibility of the clothes MR features. I’m mixed about it, because I do enjoy looking at clothing I can’t afford. I think MR is in a tricky spot because it promotes the great message of “Live Your Truth” but presents it as a fantasy.

      I personally find this series obnoxious because it comes off “oh wow, I’m so wasteful with money. Isn’t that cute”

      • Krusty the Kat

        Agreed. The thesis of all the money diaries is “I’m being irresponsible because I can. There will be no repercussions.”

        • Christine Corbin

          Agreed. I guess I don’t understand the point of these features. Every money diary so far has seemed laughably out of touch.

      • Cristina

        I remember when Haley wrote an article that she mostly shops at Thrift Stores and I felt like a veil was lifted.. like WTF. It was like she just burst the fantasy MR bubble that they curate for the rest of us commoners and she was a commoner and I was just like what is life is this the twilight zone apocalypse?! Lol. So now I just read with a grain of salt, because I don’t know that we truly really know anything outside of the curated MR fantasy bubble!

  • Nico

    As someone who works in music and for a company who actively seeks out ways to support our artists, I give her big props for actually buying music on the regular! Especially in the era of streaming. She may not spend this amount every week but I don’t think it’s so unusual for a college student or someone in their early 20s to have a music-buying hobby. I did too.

    Considering how we see a majority of these money diaries dedicate a huge portion of expenses to eating out, surely we can find something better to latch onto than the fact this girl loves music and supports the artists.

  • belle

    Obviously everyone is in a different situation but I’d say that if you KNOW you are spending (somewhat) recklessly then you should take the same approach to your savings.

    Spending $600 at Aritzia? Chuck $600 in an IRA (or whatever the equivalent is in Canada). If you can’t afford that, you should cut it in half and do 300/300 spending vs. saving, for example. This is a good rule of thumb that will 1. help you consider your purchases thoughtfully AND 2. lessen the blow when you ultimately move out and take on more expenses – you won’t look back and regret your spending as much since you know you have exactly that amount in savings. Not to mention you’ll get that sweet sweet compounding interest, so the sooner the better! Seeing my money grow is addicting and while I’m paying off a credit card at the moment I can’t wait to get that out of the way to add more to my savings.

    • Eva Skewes

      This is part of my plan for December onwards!! I’m due to pay off a credit card in a few weeks (it’s still 0% APR which is why there was a balance at all) and I’m psyched to start building up savings and establish a true emergency fund. If planning works out, I’ll have the emergency fund well established right around the time I pay off student loans and get a puppy. Which is about . . . 2-3 years off.

      I should note that I contribute pretty heftily to a 403b through my job, which has made me feel moderately better about my small savings.

      • belle

        That’s great! The equal spending/saving rule really helps me find a balance. Obviously it would be “ideal” if I put 100% of my spending money in savings instead, but that’s not gonna happen, so my rule is a really concrete way of finding that balance.

  • Senka

    Ordering 600 dollars of clothes she will probably wear for a long time, and she wont need to buy for a while makes more sense to me than spending absurd amout of money on music. That part is simply beyond me. It’s like throwing money through the window, literally.

  • Shevaun

    Why the fuck is everybody so mean and judgy in these comments?

    Let the damn girl eat pho. She lives in EDMONTON.

  • You would not want to live in a society of the similarly poor, streamlined into similar behavior patterns by means of social control.. Believe me, I got that t-shirt. Diversity of financial situations is actually a thing to be happy about, per se. The same holds true for lifestyles and habits.

  • JessicaB

    I enjoy seeing what other people spend their money on because it really is a glimpse into their life, who they are, etc, and it’s interesting. HOWEVER. The money diaries I’ve seen on this site are … extravagant? … and a little mind-boggling. A little variety would be nice. Also, I would love to see what the writer bought for $600 from Aritzia. I am 29 years old and have never dropped that much money at once on clothing (not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing?). No judging here, just curious what she purchased.

  • Wowwwww…. wow… wow..

  • elpug

    Girl get yourself an Apple Music account! Just $5 a month for students and you can download any music you please

  • How people spend their money is their own choice but I will say that far too many people spend it because they can justify it. I.E. “I still live at home and don’t pay rent so I can spend that money on clothes” hmmm…. I would say save that money and as someone who worked since 14, paid for school on their own, lived at home (and still lives at home) I know that I have a huge financial advantage so I choose not to squash that advantage for clothes or fancy food just. But alas, that’s my choice 🙂

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I lived at home while I was in college, but I didn’t have that kind of money to throw away. Any money I earned, I saved. I brought a brown bag lunch from home every day and bought a drink. I made most of my clothes when I was in college, and I still do. No amount of clothing or anything else can take the place of having some savings in case of an emergency. I have never spent that much on clothing at once in my entire life! I’m at a point where I could but I wouldn’t. She’ll find out differently when she strikes out on her own and has to pay rent, insurance, and utilities and buy food. Even if you have the money, you shouldn’t be wasteful. And yes, I have purchased things that did not turn out to be as expected. Fortunately, they haven’t been expensive.

  • I would be interested to read some money diaries of journalists, artists, teachers… people scraping by in the city (or anywhere). Although I do love the shock factor of adding up meals out or having surprise shopping blitzes. I’m a teacher and a musician in Chicago! Would gladly share my money diary if you are looking for another voice.

  • jujibees

    Omg…..I’m a college student and I’ve been feeling bad because I spent $20 the other night on take-out to indulge myself after a hard week……this both boggles my mind and makes me feel better! So thanks for that, at the very least, lol!

  • saiqianxi