In 2017, I wrote a Man Repeller Money Diary entitled “A Week That Went Up in Flames.” At the time, I was halfway through my undergraduate degree in finance, had virtually no expenses, and was working steadily year-round, with some side hustles going at the same time. Newly 20 years old, I was thrilled to have an abundance of what I perceived to be totally disposable income and I spent it with abandon. New clothes, meals at restaurants, gifts for friends, nights out, trips abroad—I bought whatever I wanted. At one point, I had a package arriving almost every single day.
Needless to say, mistakes were made.
After the story went live, and commenters rightfully called out my irresponsible attitude towards money, a spark was lit: I started to think more about personal finance—a subject I knew very little about despite studying financial institutions, markets, and investment theory as part of my major. I eased myself into a different money mindset with books like my mom’s 1993 copy of The Wealthy Barber (which, while outdated, was a good jumping-off point); podcasts like Mad Money w/ Jim Cramer; and video series from The Dave Ramsey Show and The Graham Stephan Show (I love his Millionaire Reacts series) to real young-adult budget overviews like CNBC’s Millennial Money and Glamour’s Honest Accounts and Money Tours. Slowly, these resources helped me reorient my relationship with spending, saving, and investing, and thank god they did, because my life, and my income, was about to change.
In order to graduate, I had to quit my job to complete my last few courses over summer. Then I got into law school, which came with super-high tuition, rent, and other expenses—costs my parents were no longer going to cover. In the course of a year, both by means of determination and necessity, I transformed from a freewheeling spender into a scrupulous saver.
Here’s what a week of spending looks like for me now:
Sunday is when I do my shopping for the week. I found this great lentil soup recipe that’s a dupe of my favorite branded soup. I modified it to fit my tastes, and I figured out that a small bag of lentils can last me about a week if I make this recipe every day. I’m allergic to many things, so I cook almost all my meals at home, meatless and eggless. Cooking everything myself is good for my health and my wallet.
Nothing spent on Monday—snagged free parking and took the train the rest of the way to school for my summer classes. I ate bananas and blueberries from my fridge for brunch along with some steel-cut oats. (I can’t stomach food early in the morning, so I typically eat one meal between the times of breakfast and lunch.) For dinner, I had the barley I bought yesterday with the mixed veggies and ginger, doused in spices.
A big goose egg for today too! Did the same public transit routine and made my lentil soup for both of my meals.
I can’t afford to splash out on expensive meals anymore, but I still like to go out with friends and bond over delicious food, so sometimes I get a big appetizer instead. This dish of the most amazing fries is so big it’s basically an entrée.
I’m a points wizard—I always sign up for loyalty cards for places I frequent that allow you to earn points for every dollar you spend, and my favorites are the ones that allow you to convert points into discounts off regularly priced items. They’re especially great at places where you need to spend money anyway, like grocery stores. Today I cashed out a bunch of my accumulated points to pay for a book I’ve been eyeing for weeks. I don’t buy every book I want—I have a lot of PDF copies of different novels—but every once in a while I treat myself to the luxury of a hardcover or paperback.
Ari Aster’s new film was pretty weird, but in a good way—and being able to see it with my friend at a locally owned theatre using an additional student discount made it even better. I’m definitely very careful about where my money goes, but I don’t like to let my budgeting stop me from having fun. Enjoying little things with my friends keeps me sane.
Paying for gas makes me wince every time, but it’s a necessity. I don’t live in a place that has super convenient public transit access, so I generally need to drive to a station or bus stop before I can go anywhere.
Another day of mostly studying. I realize that I’m becoming kind of boring, but I guess it’s paying off in a literal sense. My date night with my boyfriend this Friday consisted of staying in and watching Netflix specials we have on our watch lists while eating pasta and leftover ice cream cake.
My friend’s going-away is a special occasion, but I saved by getting a cheaper entrée. Maximizing points and free perks also made a difference today—usually a regularly priced real fruit bubble tea will cost me upwards of $7. Remembering my stamp cards and coupons can really pay off!
Let’s see how the damage compares to my last report…
Changing my spending habits was hard, but I’m glad to see it got me the results I wanted. Could I be saving more? Yes, of course. But to me, being fiscally responsible doesn’t have to mean cutting out every last thing that brings me joy—that was an important distinction I had to learn. I’m lucky to not be in the position of fixating on every cent, but I do have to track and be mindful of my money. I think about it every day.
Spending used to be like a drug to me: I was thrilled to have money for the first time, and buying things was a high I’d never felt before. As with any beloved habit, change was uncomfortable but necessary.
What were your biggest financial lessons and breakthroughs, and how did you learn them? Drop your money-related tips and tricks in the comments below—I’m always looking for new ones!