Book Review: Refinery29 Money Diaries is the Book for the Voyeur in All Of Us

By Elizabeth Roberts

 Elizabeth Roberts became a Financial Gym client in 2017. She is a contributing writer to Financial Gym’s blog, “Financially Free”.

Whenever I walk into an apartment, I want to know how much the rent is. Even if it’s a friend, I never ask because I was taught it’s awkward – and kind of rude – to talk about money. Turns out, I’m not alone. In 2017, Refinery29 surveyed its readers and found that “only 18 percent of millennial women talk about money with their friends.” Enter Refinery29’s Money Diaries.

I feel like such a voyeur every time I read these profiles. The anonymous writers tell us their occupation, age, location and annual salary. Then for a week, they log how much money they spend each day. What people choose to spend money on is fascinating and Refinery29 editor turned author Lindsey Stanberry turned the series into a book: “Money Diaries: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Your Finances…And Everyone Else’s.” The book includes 9 money diaries, 32 money challenges and frank advice on how to talk about money and your finances with your family and friends.

Refinery29 Money Diaries taught me that how we spend our money on is actually fairly emotional. Sometimes it’s not a choice, like paying rent or buying medication we need to live our healthiest lives. But oftentimes, spending is driven less by necessity and more by what we feel in the moment, like celebrating a promotion at an expensive restaurant that we’d normally never go to. Lindsey introduces more than just the logs in the book, she also addresses how to negotiate for a higher raise, manage credit card debt, build an emergency fund and buy property.  

You may know about Money Diaries from an article that went viral earlier this year, a marketing intern who wrote about making $25 an hour with a $1,000 monthly allowance. The article was criticized on social media for making it look easy to live in New York, but of course it's easy when you're getting so much financial assistance. The problem with the post wasn’t that the writer received family help, but that she barely acknowledged her privilege. I understand why there was backlash – but I also think that shaming people is just going to make them more reluctant to be transparent. 

To that end, I will admit my privilege here as well. One anonymous woman in the Money Diaries book wrote, “It’s a lot less scary to take risks when you know you can always move back in with your mom and Dad if s**t hits the fan.” I quit a job before getting another one because I knew that if I couldn’t find another job in New York right away, I could just move back to Maryland and live with my parents rent free. My parents didn’t end up being my roomies (again), but it was comforting to have that financial cushion. It’s important to acknowledge our advantages when we’re sharing our financial stories. Ignoring privilege makes it seem like anyone can do what you can – which is dishonest since we don’t all come from the same financial background. If we want to trust each other when we talk about money, we need to be transparent.  

After reading the book, I decided to challenge myself and create my own Money Diary.

DAY ONE: $199. Paid my annual fee of $144 for a Squarespace account, it serves as an online portfolio where my articles live. Writing this is reminding me I need to update it! Split an UberPool with my boyfriend ($5) to his friend’s apartment so we could head together to a wedding in Long Island. His friends drove; we offered to pay gas but they generously declined. My boyfriend covered the gift – we’ve gone to so many weddings this year that he buys presents for his friends and I purchase gifts for my friends. We sign them as from both of us. The wedding was incredible – completely stuffed from the cocktail hour but powered through that plated filet. In order to sleep at home and avoid a hotel, we scheduled an Uber back from Long Island to my apartment. It’s an amazing option to avoid surge and guarantee that a driver will pick you up at a designated time. We head back at 1:30am, my share was $50.

DAY TWO: $158. Two of my monthly memberships are paid today: $4 for my New York Times subscription (still somehow locked into the student price) and $130 for Equinox, I get a great gym discount from work. Split a pie ($19 for my share) from Juliana’s with my boyfriend. The key is to call ahead for takeout and not stand in line for two hours. $5 lemonade to go with the pizza. 

DAY THREE: $224. I buy a two-year, $200 Young Professionals membership for New York Women In Communications. I save $50 since I pay for two years at once. I’m obsessed with podcasts and I’m a producer for their pod “Coffee Break w/NYWICI”. Meet a friend for dinner at Local 92, a Mediterranean restaurant that has food specials on Mondays. We share a bunch of plates – so much that it covers the table – and I spend $24. What a deal. 

DAY FOUR: $37. I meet a different friend at Yuca Bar on Avenue A. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in the city, the tapas are as big as entrees. On Tuesdays, the tapas are 30% off (used to be 50% but I’ll take what I can get.) There’s a carafe of sangria involved.

DAY FIVE: $44. Worked out this morning, treated myself to a $4 breakfast sandwich in the office cafeteria. I’m starving. Listened to one of my favorite podcasts “Today, Explained” and bought a Quip electric toothbrush for $40 after listening to their ads for months. If you use their code, you not only get a discount but also support the show.

DAY SIX: $0. I brought my breakfast and lunch to work, followed by chores and eating dinner at home. Ever since I joined Financial Gym last year, I try to spend one day a week where I don’t spend any money. My spending shows I like to eat at restaurants a lot. I try to balance it out by bringing my lunch to work four out of five days a week.

DAY SEVEN: $7. I buy a truly terrible calzone ($7) for the bus ride home from New York to D.C. There’s always a flicker of sadness that comes with buying bad food.

 TOTAL SPENT: $669

·      Food & Drink: $96.

·      Entertainment: $0

·      Home & Health: $170

·      Clothes & Beauty: $0

·      Transportation: $55

·      Career Growth/Education: $348

 The Squarespace and NYWICI memberships were the bulk of my spending. Since they’re annual expenses and don’t usually pop up, I was feeling pretty good about my log - until I lost 3000 euros… Part 2 of this Money Diary curveball comes Oct. 22.

Join the Fireside Chat with Refinery29 Money Diaries author, Lindsey Stanberry and The Financial Gym’s Founder and CEO, Shannon McLay on October 16th. Each ticket includes a copy of the book. Lindsey will be available to sign books as well.