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Welcome to The Penny Hoarder Community’s first Money Diary. Inspired by Refinery 29’s Money Diaries, this post takes an in-depth look at the spending habits of one of our community members who was kind enough to send in a three-day breakdown of their expenses.

Keeping your own money diary to track your spending helps you stick to a budget and take control of your finances.

Tales From a Social Worker on a Budget

Today: a social worker who makes $59,000 per year and uses the cash envelope system to budget.

Occupation: Social Worker

Industry: Not-for-profit agency

Age: 50

Location: Maine

Salary: $59,000

Child Support: $300/month

Debt: $98,000 mortgage, $70,000 student debt under Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. (“1 year remaining!”); $14,000 vehicle (purchased in 2021). No credit card debt or personal loans.

Paycheck Amount: Net $1,635.75 every two weeks



Monthly Expenses

Mortgage: $1,230, includes taxes/insurance. (“I deliberately purchased a home that was easy to afford. It’s small, but we make it work.”)

Gas/Electric: $160

Car Payment: $287

Loans: Student loan is $120

Health Insurance: Monthly pre-tax is $503 for a family of 4 (includes insurance plus FSA contribution).

Car Insurance: $52 (“No one but me drives YET.”)

Netflix/Other Streaming: $75

Internet: $98

Cell: $94 (4 phones)

Contributions and Donations:

403(b): $100 each paycheck plus employer contribution of $300 (“amazing retirement with my employer! So … $216/month from me and $650/m from my employer.”)

Church: $100 monthly

Monthly total: $2835

Do you feel you’re in a good place financially? What money worries, if any, do you have?

I do feel I am in a good place! Not that I would turn down lottery winnings, but I love the work I do and am very content. I have enough to pay my bills and have a little leftover for fun. I have savings for an emergency, I can support my family and we are very fortunate.

My concern is retirement. I would like to retire earlier than later. Let’s say 10 years. I live pretty simply so it’s possible. But the current market for my 403(b) – ugh!

Have you overcome any financial challenges to get to where you are today?

Yes. Divorce and bankruptcy from the divorce. I was also out of the mainstream workforce for several years. Essentially, I started over in work and life about 10 years ago. Growing up I was never taught anything about money, so I have learned it all as an adult. Most of it in the last 10 years.

What is the best piece of financial advice you’ve ever received?

Save – you will sleep better at night! Cash envelopes and sinking funds have been a game changer.

Day One

10:30 a.m. – Working remotely and my computer charger died. Stopped for coffee ($3.50) on the way to the office to find a charger. Nope. Will need to order it – $20. Stopped at the bank to deposit $700 from my sinking fund envelope for vacation this summer, then paid deposit on the trip!

Noon – Forgot lunch of course, since I was all disorganized when I left the house. I have some oatmeal at work and had that. Man, do I need to go grocery shopping.

5 p.m. – Dropped off a kid at work then dinner at home from whatever we have in the fridge. Experimenting with the air fryer I found on a Freecycle website. Laundry and some picking up as usual. Only three more days of school, thankfully! I think I am more done than the kids. Worked on my budget to prep for payday Wednesday. Created a grocery list to shop tomorrow right after work, then off to pick up my kid from work at 9:45 p.m. Home and to bed to read alone for an hour.

Daily total: $23.50

Day Two

8 a.m. – Charger isn’t in yet so I can’t work remotely today, which is a bummer because it’s supposed to be beautiful. I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel for food to bring to work since I put off shopping. Coffee at the office and some more instant oatmeal with apples. My neighbors called me to report a break-in to their car, and I’ve been looking at security cameras, so I decided to order one for $120. (Pulled from my household sinking funds.)

3 p.m. – Dr. appointment today that I paid out of pocket for $150. (Pulled from my FSA funds.) Medical care in rural areas can be challenging. I wanted to stop at Dunkin’s for a coffee, but didn’t. But man, I want one, especially after that appointment.

5 p.m. – Grocery shopping at Aldi for the week from my list and using my cash envelope for food ($89.64). It’s frustrating that I get less and less for my money.

6 p.m. – Home to cook dinner for us all (me and three teen boys).

10 p.m. – We sat around the table after dinner and planned the rest of the week – what’s happening in school for the kids, end of school year activities, who will do what around the house, and any after-work things I need to do. We played some Uno, then the kids went to play video games and talk with their friends while I watched some TV.

Daily total: $359.64

Day Three

8 a.m. – It’s payday so I treat myself to a coffee ($3.50), and reload my Dunkin card for $20, and off to work. I scheduled a busy day today, so it should go by quickly!

2 p.m. – Finally have a few minutes to myself to eat my lunch that I packed. Broccoli cheddar soup and some fresh bread. I also head to the bank to take out money for all my cash envelopes ($450). I transfer money to my sinking funds ($570). I pay bills online totaling $510. This includes my credit card in full every month, streaming services and gas for the car.

6:30 p.m. – I worked a bit late and the kids made dinner. Their favorite – mac and cheese and chicken patties. I’m thrilled to eat anything I don’t have to cook! While we were eating, I talked with them briefly about the budget and showed them how much things cost and how I pay for it. It’s important to me that they know how to budget. The high school offers a financial literacy class and I insist that they take this. I divided out my cash into all the envelopes – food, vacation, Costco, personal, etc. And, I’m done for the day.

Daily total: $533.50

Breakdown

Food + Drink: $116.64

Bills: $510

Home + Health: $290

3-Day Total Spent: $916.64

Are you interested in sharing your own money diary with The Penny Hoarder Community? If so, email [email protected] or send a private message to me, @Will S.

Last edited by Will S.
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