Money Diaries: The twentysomething nonprofit worker swimming in student loans

Money Diaries: The twentysomething nonprofit worker swimming in student loans

After years of depriving financial voyeurs of their favorite series, we’ve decided to relaunch The Money Diaries, articles where we collect stories from real people about their spending habits over seven days and anonymize them.

We LOVE hearing how people spend their money. Unfortunately, people lie — they share purchases that are socially acceptable (eg groceries), but not the purchases they really make (eg four shots of whiskey on a Thursday night).

That’s why we created The Money Diaries. It’s an opportunity for people to give us their REAL spending habits — “good” and “bad” — and insights into how they handle their finances each week.

Today, we’re taking a look into the life of a twentysomething nonprofit worker who wants to quit her job AND move across the country…while she’s saddled with a mountain of student loan debt.


Day 1

Amount in checking account: $1,650

9:00 AM: PAYDAY!!! To the tune of $3,450. Added to my existing $1,650, that gives me a healthy $5,100. Though that may seem like a lot, I only get paid once a month. But this day is heaven for me. The bloat in my account never lasts long, though, because $1,625 in rent is the next day (I split that with my husband).

I still get to keep a good amount of the money since I don’t contribute to a 401K. My small nonprofit doesn’t contribute anything so…why bother? 

Though my husband and I have individual checking accounts, we pool our savings together with the goal of building enough to invest in a high yield account.

We’re hoping to get $20,000 in savings before investing. We’re currently at around $18,000, but once we hit our goal, we’ll be putting around $10,000 – $15,000 in it that we plan to NEVER touch (at least until retirement).

However, my husband and I are also in the midst of moving from Chicago to Washington DC for his job, so we’ve had to tap into our savings while we wait for the moving reimbursement from his company. Between the moving van rental, the security deposit, and first month’s rent in one of the most expensive cities in America, we’ve taken a pretty big hit — but hopefully it won’t last long.  

The move comes with a pay raise from his company, though, which also offers great benefits for the two of us (dental, health, etc) since it’s a fancy Fortune 500 job. We are a TWO income household so things like our rent, meals, and groceries are all shared expenses. Who said being married can’t be fun? 

11:00 AM: Now it’s time for the monthly ritual of balancing the bank accounts and scheduling payments. Usually, I spare about 10 minutes while I’m in the office zoned out in my “work mode” and don’t mind thinking about the numbers TOO much. It helps me push through the low-level anxiety that often comes with looking at my bank statements.

Still, I grit my teeth since I’m just moving around money that’s going to disappear soon.

12:30 PM: I realized I forgot my lunch — but I DON’T BUY A LUNCH (the good lunch spot is closed Monday anyway) so I eat a bunch of “snacks” from the company kitchen to hold me over until the end of the day.

6:00 PM: Head to the gym to get my lift on. We paid $1,475 for an annual membership to our gym (that’s ~$122/month). That was a few months ago and this covers both my husband and I. While it’s a BIG chunk at once, it’s cheaper overall than paying month-by-month. It’s those small things that we do to save $5 – $10 a month that add up when it comes to saving for other things (eg travel, tattoos, burritos at Chipotle, etc).

7:00 PM: After skipping lunch and going through a marathon 3+ hour training in an office with NO AC IN JULY?! then hitting the gym I finally get the sweet sweet bliss of a $7 burrito from Chipotle. Monday Night Burritos are the one meal we budget a week because…well, burritos are awesome.

Day 2

Amount in checking account: $5,093

9:00 AM: Aaaaaand it all comes crashing down as our $1,625 ($812.50/month each) rent needs to be paid. Hopefully, my husband sent me his half already, otherwise I get the lucky chance to front the full amount since my account is flush.

10:00 AM: Time to pay $571 toward my student loans for grad school. The amount that I owe Ms Fannie Mae is in the neighborhood of $35,000 — a number that makes me want to break down every time I think about it.

Since I’m a social worker at a nonprofit, though, I was able to sign up for that public service loan forgiveness plan where if you work for a nonprofit or in government your loans are forgiven after 10 years of payments. So when I set up my loans I did income-based repayment.

It was a gamble because now I’m racking up a lot of interest but it’s been helpful with my career in nonprofit where you definitely need a masters if you want to rise to a director-level position and make better money.

4:45 PM: Paid $2.85 for parking. I tell myself it’s faster than public transit, but I’d just rather not stand butt-to-butt with a stranger on a train for 30 minutes.

5:00 PM: Therapy might not be glamorous but it’s an essential — like going to the gym for your brain! And it’s worth the $15 copay. Thank god for my husband’s benefits, otherwise that amount would be too high to keep my alarming amount of stress and anxiety at bay.

6:30 PM: Run time. My husband and I purposefully adopted a hobby that’s both cheap and healthy. That being said, we’re both training for a race in November that set us back $540 in all.

While that may seem like a lot (and it is), it’s worth it to us because 1. It’s a race in Disney World and 2. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime half-marathon experience — not just another local 5K.

Day 3

Amount in checking account: $3,691.65

9:15 AM: Bought a cup of coffee for $2.75. Normally we buy our coffee in bulk or mooch off the office supply. Social workers run on very little sleep and not a lot of time for full meals. We need coffee. There are riots and pandemonium in the streets when we run out.  

5:30 PM: My husband and I have sub-saving accounts set up just for “fun money.” Today, I dipped into it to get a new tattoo.

Luckily, I’ve developed a good relationship with my tattoo artist, so he always cuts me a deal on the cost (it ended up being $375 for a big piece on my leg). I make up for it with a generous tip of $30.

I’ve been averaging a new tattoo about every six months. So over the course of a year, it doesn’t add up to a LOT of our annual budget — but it does skew things for a week.

Day 4

Amount in checking account: $3,283.90

8:40 AM: Put $40 worth of gas in my car. Driving around the city to go to trainings and meetings takes a toll. Gotta fill up!

Luckily, my job pays for my gas for meetings and trainings. Unluckily, they don’t pay for me for regular commutes to the office.

2:00 PM: This week SUCKED. I deserve a delicious buffalo chicken sandwich and some goddamn mac and cheese from the lunch place across the street from work. Taking a hit of $12 but it’s worth it. Every. Single. Cent.

I may have forgotten my lunch on purpose to justify buying this….

Day 5

Amount in checking account: $3,231.90

2:00 PM: Buy $50 worth of dog food for our Great Pyrenees mountain dog, Moose. He’s roughly the size of a small horse and eats about twice as much. We buy our food in bulk each month.

3:00 PM: It’s the time of the month to pay the credit card bill. This month is a healthy $875. I charge everything if I can for the rewards points. If not, it’s just wasted money, right?

Also, those frequent flyer miles .

So, I try to pay my credit card bills at the beginning of the month after my ONE paycheck, so I make sure I still have enough money in my account to pay off my cards 100% of the time.

3:01 PM: After paying off credit cards and factoring in student loan payments, I put about $1,000 into our savings account. At this point, my checking looks a little thinner than I’d like, but not too bad. I’d rather invest more into our savings and bootstrap it for the next month.

We use this for our cushion, in case of emergencies (like repairs to the car or purchasing new furniture after we move, the annual gym membership, etc.). We also budget our travel out of this savings pot.

Since the way we travel is jumping on deals as they come up, we can’t plan so far ahead as to say, “This year we’re going to Korea, Spain, and Florida…” but we CAN say, “We can afford one international trip, or two international trips if the 2nd trip is close to $400 in all round trip.” So we DO have an annual travel budget of $1,200 — but from the outside our travel looks spontaneous… like buying two tickets to Spain after discovering the airfare price 20 minutes earlier (something we did last month).

Day 6

Amount in checking account: $1,306.90

5:00 PM: Decide to FINALLY take a tour of our favorite beer maker: Revolution Brewery. My husband and I paid $13.50 a piece for the tour (that included a free beer!) and an additional $14 each for extra beer at the bar. We each pay our own way here.

Oh, the places I’ll miss when we move to DC…

6:30 PM: After spending much more than we intended to on beer, we stopped by Revolution’s tap house and restaurant for dinner with two of our friends. My husband and I spring $14 each on some juicy, much-too-unhealthy-but-oh-so-delicious pub burgers and fries.

I make him pay though. Fringe benefits of being married.

Day 7

Amount in checking account: $1,279.40

5:30 PM: Buy some last-minute groceries for $5.70.

7:00 PM: Date night! Headed out to a theater a bit outside of the city because it’s cheaper ($10 for the both of us).

8:00 PM: Make sure to pay our $15/month HBO subscription because it’s also Game of Thrones night — very necessary.


In sum

I think everything went well this week — especially when you consider the unique situation we were in what with:

  1. Getting ready to move across the country
  2. Purchasing things we wouldn’t normally buy (brewery tours, tattoos, etc)

I don’t have a lot left for the month going forward but I don’t mind having to bootstrap it for the time being. Luckily, I can lean on my husband just a bit to get us through the move.

Speaking of which, I was (and still very much am) anxious about the move. If you’ve ever been to Washington DC then you know it ain’t cheap. It’s especially not cheap trying to move there, set up new utilities, pay for new parking spots, and all the other things.

Also, I still don’t have a job lined up out there (though I’m looking!) so we’ll have to rely on my husband’s income to help get us through for the time being. That means absolutely no eating out, getting tattoos, traveling abroad, or pretty much anything else I love doing…which SUCKS.

But, hey, taking risks is what being young is about….right?

Final checking account balance: $1,248.70

Total spent: $2,851.30

Total saved: $1,000

Lunches skipped: 1

Meals eaten out: 3

Tattoos received: 1

Mental breakdowns: Lost count

Deaths in Game of Thrones: I’m not spoiling that for you.

What do you think?

After reading through her financial and domestic situation, what advice would you give the author of today’s Money Diary?

REMEMBER: Be constructive but polite. Through years of writing this blog, I’m hardened against bitter commenters who foam at the mouth, flailing around for something to get offended by. Money Diaries authors are not. Feel free to offer honest feedback, but let’s keep it civil.

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Money Diaries: The twentysomething nonprofit worker swimming in student loans is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.



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