Career & Money

Celebrity Ham and Old Navy Jeans: A TV Producer’s Money Diary

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In this edition of MR Money Diaries, Newton, a 31 year old producer in New York, documents her spending for a week.

In the age of news/entertainment/television/digital streaming, it’s not entirely clear what I do, but “producer” is vague enough to be accurate. I’m 31 years old. Generally, I have good spending habits, thanks to compulsive behaviors like looking at my bank account and digital credit card statements every single morning, none of which I intend to correct. I try to save money with the goal of owning a home one day. I could be conflating that desire with aspirations to run a commune, but what’s the real difference? Saving is saving and whatever happens on my property is my business. While I’m comfortable with the way I live, showing people makes me feel less so. Why am I doing this?

Before we begin, these monthly expenses aren’t in my weekly breakdown, but are worth noting: my $121 pre-tax monthly MetroCard, my $15 gym membership, my $145 phone bill, my $8 Netflix account (that enriches the lives of four other known people in my life).

So it begins:

I generally eat an egg-thing for breakfast at home with the assist from a small cup of iced coffee poured fresh from a grimey jar that sits in the back of my fridge. Today was no different.

Off to work!

I am blessed with office-provided snacks, which I realize are meant to signify that I am both valued and expected to stay at my desk for 11+ hours a day. We get a fresh stock of raw almond packs and I’m nothing but grateful for this drought-inducing bounty.

I get a $7 range salad for lunch from a grocery store a block from my office. There is salmon in it because I trick myself into believing the olive oil they dunk the filet in is actually the fish oil I nutritionally need to stay afloat. I won’t watch that documentary about farm-raised salmon rotting me from the inside out. No bag, no utensils, no receipt.

I get dinner after work with three college friends who know and accept me for who I am. That tenderness goes for $38 at Ponty Bistro.

I’ve made it to the gym and reward myself after with egg yolks in the privacy of my own home.

Off to work!

I recently switched to this new job and it has shaken up my whole lunch game. After repeatedly buying salmon-centric meals at my old office cafeteria, the guy who prepared them eventually pulled me aside to speak seriously about the possibly elevated levels of unspecified toxins in my system. I love the “mind your own business” policy at this new grocery store. $7.

It’s hard for me to purchase anything online without first putting it in my digital shopping cart and then immediately closing the browser. I do this 11 to 12 times over the course of a few months. But today, I pull the trigger on a plane ticket to see my parents for Christmas. I can only spiritually commit to a one-way ticket, for now.

I eat dinner made out of the weekend’s grocery haul.

I down some eggs and drop off vegetable scraps at the neighborhood compost collection. This doesn’t cost anything but feels like publicly pooping, which is socially expensive.

Off to work!

Today’s lunch is just repackaged leftovers turned into a salad. Free.

It feels important here to disclose that I again had an office-provided snack rather than going out to buy one. It feels hard here to disclose that it was an oversized pack of cashews, because those are just teardrops of butter. Work picks up the tab for dinner after a long day, which is good. This also means I don’t get home until 1 a.m., which is bad.

I generally take about 12,000 steps a day according to my iPhone (more on days when I have a Before Sunrise-inspired date). Despite the fact that 30 to 60 percent of those can be attributed to pacing in my own apartment, I wear down the tread in my sneakers quickly. A price-cut on an old favorite inspires this style-stagnant purchase, keeping today’s total spend under $40.

Lunch is an uninspiring repeat of leftovers transformed by baby spinach.

Because of the anonymity of this article, I’m able to disclose that I buy the one-way return ticket for my Christmas visit during office hours.

It’s hard for me to put my business out here about my lavish laundry habits, but: I do a morning drop-off of my dirties, and pick-up a tall stack of black t-shirts folded with military precision by the evening. I should read in the launderette while the spin cycle runs and fold my pit stains away myself. I don’t.

I find a Kind Bar in an old bag and chew a ton of gum in addition to eating an unspecified homemade dinner. It’s important for me to cook the meat in my fridge before it rots. I will still eat it after it rots, but that can end with a trip to the doctor and picking a primary care physician is confusing.

Lunch is another reclaimed dinner salad restoration project.

My coffee and snack consumption comes directly from work.

I block out Friday night to crash at home and read a magazine.

It’s worth acknowledging here that this was a spend-free day. I will also disclose here that I pay for nearly everything on a credit card. I have not touched a coin in five months.

I celebrate Christmas with my family but worship at the church of Trader Joe’s. The full content of one’s grocery list should remain between a person and their doctor/cashier, but I spend just under $60 for today’s service.

I took two centerpieces from the last wedding I went to and dumped the flowers out in the parking lot before fleeing with the pots. They’re handmade and lovely but I’d have to hammer a hole in the bottom and risk destroying the one beautiful thing in my life to make them functional planters. Instead, today I buy new pots for some plants that need extra room.

My dad is in town, so, after the flower-pot purchasing, we check out Art in the Age of Black Power at the Brooklyn Museum. He’s eligible for that senior discount! I pick up the tickets—and some coffee. He picks up the tab for lunch.

I eat a free dinner at a birthday party for my auntie.

I’m on my fifth pair of the exact same jeans.I wear them every day, until they are able to aromatically announce themselves independently. Then they get tossed in the washer, and the process starts all over again. When the crotch finally gives out I get a new pair. This time, a coupon brings my daily denim to under $16. People slept on post-performance fleece Old Navy, but they make a banger pair of indigo mid-rise original skinny jeans.

I go to the beach with my friends and bring snacks everyone thinks are g-r-o-s-s. I’m embarrassed but will disclose this was a package of something called “Celebrity Ham” that costs $2.49 at the Trader Joe’s. I get this and grubby fridge iced coffee all to myself.

This was a pricey week for me. I’m not usually dropping cash on plane tickets and sneakers, so this amount is typically cut in half. But the usual blips on the radar follow this same pattern: plane tickets, bus tickets, a dinner with pals. I give to charity, but not enough. I buy seltzer in suspiciously large seasonal bulk purchases.

Living is expensive. Saving is time consuming. Food preparation, subway schlepping and nursing cheap jeans doesn’t feel like a chore to me because I never bothered to update my operating budget since the recession. But I think I would be truly shook by keeping a “time diary,” and seeing how many minutes of my day are spent spiritually dithering on purchases, waiting in sluggish trains and standing over cast iron and kale. Ultimately I’m lucky that I can save.

I’ve never dated anyone who made more money than me or had lavish spending habits — so I haven’t been nudged to change (one way or another) in a relationship. I once hatched a plan to take a subway with a girlfriend at 4:30 a.m. to JFK airport and she didn’t dump me! Did I mention I pack great airport snacks?

Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

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