In this edition of MR Money Diaries, Daniel Nelson, a 30-year-old carpenter living in Brooklyn, documents his expenses for eight days.
I have lived in New York for about six years now. Currently, I’m a fabricator at a design-build studio located in Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which means I do custom carpentry and metalwork for commercial and residential spaces. My relationship with money is strange. I definitely want it, but I’m always a little confused at my inability to save or collect/earn any substantial income. I oscillate between wondering if I’m just the kind of narcissist who believes the universe would never let me suffer that much and therefore money is not so important to me, and blaming my dad, who has some significant issues with successful people generally, especially men, probably because his father was both successful and a dirtbag.
I work 70 hours a week, on average. I chronically say yes to jobs but also constantly undervalue my labor because I think of my skill set as a hobby rather than a profession. As a result, I’m always verging on insolvency despite having no free time. My friends make a lot more than me. But they are generous, as well, which means the effect of living in a set above my station is unclear.
I think I might just be living out my 16-year-old dream: I’m in New York City, living in an apartment with my girlfriend, working as a carpenter, drinking too much. It’s funny that even as my interests mature, I’m simultaneously accomplishing outdated goals from a childhood I no longer relate to. I pretty much think about money like a 16-year-old, too. If I have more than a thousand dollars in my bank account, I feel like I’m entirely fine — otherwise, even $999, I think I’m fucked. The stakes are higher, I guess.
My coworker Nathan gives me a $20 bill to buy him a coffee, but I get distracted when I get to the coffee shop because the girls working there make comments on my new haircut (I’ve been away for three weeks), which embarrasses me. I end up accidentally spending his money on a pastry and an iced coffee for myself (hence my free breakfast). I wind up splitting my pastry with him but promise I’ll pay him back tomorrow if he lets me keep the change. The chip in my credit card is broken and I need some money for the day. I keep cash at home, so I can draw from that later, but I won’t be home for a while. Keeping cash at home is the only way I ever feel somewhat all right about my finances, which is ridiculous because it’s the worst way to keep money, dying on the vine like that.
Later, I go looking for a jean jacket at a thrift store. I recently got drunk and gave mine away to some guy, and I need a new one. They’re all too trendy though. And I’m a dummy because jean jacket prices are way up. I buy two pairs of jeans instead.
I go to buy a coffee in the afternoon, but they give it to me for free! Sometimes that happens. I recently realized people treat me exceedingly better when I remain quiet at the register. The problem with that is I’m an aggressive talker and more than anything else just wanna chat. 🙁
Today’s expenses make sense.
I have to get coffee from a popular micro-chain bagel spot as opposed to the less-popular coffee spot I usually go to because I think they’ll be able break my $100 bill at 8:30 a.m. My card is busted entirely (although no one trusts me when I say that — people refuse to type in the numbers without feebly reinserting it a few times first, just in case I’m lying). I probably didn’t even get the right change, but now I’m on the train so I can’t count it. I’m not that type of person. I’m not Lorde.
When I get to work, I give Nathan his $22 as promised. He feels a little paternal toward me, so he gives me $2 back. But then I tuck a dollar into his keyboard to split it. So that’s $21 in that negotiation.
I get another kombucha and vegan sandwich for lunch. This one is called “the cheezsteak.” It’s $18 with tip. This is the price of health food. The price of longevity. I’m yawning by the afternoon and get another coffee. On my way home, I stop for cigarettes. They tell me they don’t have the cheap ones at my regular spot, so I go across the street. I wanna quit anyway, but me and the girls have plans to gossip tonight. One is bringing her dog over for us to dog-sit this weekend. Stiiiiiieg! (That’s the name of the dog.)
I am very hungover. I drive to work with a coffee in my cup holder and it’s splashing all over the goddamn car. A bit later, I get another coffee and a breakfast roll — anything to fight the feeling. I get vertigo while cutting a piece of metal at work.
I get two slices of pizza for lunch. Really greasy, but I guess that’s the idea. Money is literally no object today. I have a headache. I buy some DayQuil. I buy a scratcher. I probably just don’t feel good so I think the world owes me some money.
After work, I take a cab to meet some friends to fight off my reputation of always being late. The driver takes the slowest route, we get stuck in traffic and I end up being late anyway and have to give him 20 bucks, which is annoying. When I get there, I pay my friend Andy $88 for a house we rented recently in Mexico City. I also pay a $191 electric bill because they are going to cut it off in six days if I don’t. (I pay it quarterly, am supposed to pay it monthly.) I am having a pretty good time at this point, so not sure why I am logging into my ConEd account. Meanwhile, my friend Max says I owe him $350 from a trip we took four years ago. That’s never gonna happen.
We buy more drinks, I pay a $20 cover (Jesus, what am I doing?) and then we eventually get a Lyft home, which Andy pays for and has not yet asked for me to pay him for…
As for today’s expense. Uuuuuh. What the fuck? Can’t tell which is a worse habit: going out or my electricity situation.
I sleep till 12:30 p.m. 🙁 I get a coffee by myself and then my girlfriend Kiki and I walk down the street with Stieg. We argue lightly with a few peaks (one crescendo). I think we’re both just kinda hungry.
I buy two iced coffees and a sandwich. When the man says I owe $15.17, I hear $13.17, so I give him $15 and we look at each other for some time. After a while, he kinda shakes his head and says, “That’s okay.” I immediately feel indignant but then see the price listed and begin apologizing. He seems over it and over me, so I go outside and sit in the wind. Stieg eats crumbs on the ground under the table. Kiki joins us and we proceed through a safe conversation about dogs versus cats (a form of drawing up a peace treaty after arguing before). The weather warms.
Later, Kiki and I decide to go out to eat. I pay for our dinner and drinks. Then she goes to meet up with an old friend and my friend Max rents a Citibike for me so we can ride to Williamsburg together. I buy too many drinks. I lecture my friend Andy about the virtue of telling the truth for 10 minutes and then buy cigarettes for $12 even though the guy said they were $15. Andy calls me a hypocrite. That’s true. Soon I run out of cash and start Venmoing people since my card is broken. Later I buy a cab home.
I really shouldn’t drink hard alcohol when I’m out. When Kiki gets back from hanging with her friend, I try to tease her about it but it just sounds jealous. I don’t have any grace. So I go to bed after finishing some pasta leftovers. Geez, grim.
I don’t spend any money all day until dinner. I go to a new place near my house for takeout. The staff is super nice but the sneeze guard is too high so they can’t hear my order at first. The delivery guys stand around me while I wait for my food and discuss routes. I like the food but it’s heavy on the mayo and I get a stomachache for the rest of the night. I play a game called “A Dark Room” on Kiki’s phone until 3 a.m. while she and Stieg watch Twin Peaks…successful app! What a cheap evening. Bet I buy this game, though. Ugh.
I go back to the coffee chain to break another $100 (card still broken). The girl behind the counter is very much in control of herself. It feels nice to meet someone like that in the morning. On the train, squished between a young man and older woman, I think about democracy and whether or not it can work at a modern scale. The woman next to me is reading the paper and keeps glancing over at me, annoyed, and jabs me with an elbow while turning the page.
I buy breakfast, then lunch, then a movie ticket to see Gemini at Alamo Drafthouse even though I have MoviePass (I left the card at home), which would have made the movie free. When Kiki shows up, she uses her MoviePass, but I can barely make a joke. I’m too tired. I’m worried I’m gonna fall asleep in the theater, but I’m excited to eat fries in a very dark and quiet room and watch Zoe Kravitz do anything.
My expenses are unexpectedly low for a “cheat day.”
Today feels like it doesn’t exist. I buy a coffee at a little coffee shop that’s been around for two years but claims it has been around for five years…interesting. But wassup with that cold brew. Later, I buy breakfast and another coffee. Money down the drain. Lunch is dumplings. Dinner is two slices of pizza and a beer. Whyyyyyyyyyyyy. I’m still tired from the weekend. I can’t live in this city.
I work until 9:30 p.m. and then pick up a bottle of mezcal on my way home. It’s $35 — pricey. The guy behind the counter nibbles his own lips. “Delicious,” he mutters. Weird. We proceed to have a confusing conversation about GMOs. The whole thing is a wtf.
In the morning, I get a coffee. The guy accidentally pours milk into it, to which I overreact by yelling “Nooooo!!!” He looks up and meets my eyes as he continues to pour the milk. “You don’t want milk?” he asks slowly. “That’s okay, milk is good!” I shout as I flee the shop.
I try to put $40 on a MetroCard. I miss three trains because the machine keeps telling me to contact my bank. People in line are getting annoyed because I keep switching between machines and saying out loud, “What do you mean, ‘call my bank?!’” Eventually, I get it to work and have to wait 10 minutes for the next train. I’m feeling weird today. It’s nice out.
When I get another coffee, the barista accidentally gives me an extra coffee, so I give it to my coworker. He’s grateful. I’m a hero.
I get a burrito for lunch. This place is horrible, don’t know why I came here. I already knew I hated it. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I know I’ll return?
It’s interesting to see how much I spend. Honestly, I just liked having an excuse to journal. I don’t really feel guilty about my expenses, though I am definitely spending more than I am making, if that’s my average. I think I am still waiting to commit to my own life. Before then, I think the future still holds riches undreamt. It’s an easy fantasy. A Band-Aid. I’m 30. Maybe it will never happen. Maybe I won’t find a direction. Then again, maybe I’ll go to coding boot camp.
Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.