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What happens when we’re transparent about what we make and spend

Phoebe Unterman and Kai Ryssdal Sep 5, 2018
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

What happens when we’re transparent about what we make and spend

Phoebe Unterman and Kai Ryssdal Sep 5, 2018
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

What does financial advice specifically for women look like? Refinery29’s Work & Money Editor Lindsey Stanberry says they launched their Money Diaries series after seeing that women wanted to share their personal stories and that the website’s audience couldn’t get enough of them. Over time, the series has been called “the most lurid corner of the internet” by the New Yorker, generated a torrent of haters in comments, sparked cultural commentary about how obscuring financial privilege can work to protect America’s racially skewed institutions of wealth inheritance, and led to a book, also called “Money Diaries,” which came out Sept. 4. The book includes many previously unseen money diaries, including the one excerpted below, as well as financial advice geared toward women. To hear Stanberry’s conversation with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal, click the audio player above.

Refinery29 Money Diaries by Lindsey Stanberry


Money Diary #9

A Week in Atlanta, GA, on a $230,000 Salary


OCCUPATION: Sales executive

INDUSTRY: Software

AGE: 31



PAYCHECK AMOUNT (TWICE A MONTH): $2,700 + quarterly commission bonuses, usually around $20,000 per quarter






Checking Account Balance: $3,500

Savings Account Balance: $30,000

Emergency Savings Contribution: $500/paycheck

General Savings Contribution: $200/paycheck



Mortgage: $3,200 (includes taxes and insurance; my

fiancé and I split this 50/50.)

Utilities: $531 (split with fiancé)

Phone: $120

Housekeeper: $88 every other week (split with fiancé)



Car Payment: $250 (on a $13,000 car loan)

Car Insurance: $75



Health Insurance: $20/paycheck

HSA: $100/paycheck

Gym: $169

Therapist: $275



Amazon Fresh: $14.99

Netflix/HBO Go: $24.99 (We don’t have cable.)



Student Loan Debt

Total: $55,000

Student Loan Payment: $342



401(k) Contribution: $350/paycheck + $5,600 every bonus




7:30 a.m. — Wake up. My 100-year-old house is freezing, and it takes a ton of willpower to get out of bed. Let the dogs out, and start coffee for myself and my fiancé, M.

8 a.m. — Still dragging. M. made a gluten-free peanut butter bagel, but he hated it so I ate it instead! Grabbed an apple on my way out the door to work.

12 p.m. — Team lunch today (Indian food!), and my boss expensed it. Doesn’t really matter, though, since we get breakfast and lunch for free. Saved the leftovers for M.

12:30 p.m. — Sign the contract for the photographer for our wedding brunch. She’s quite expensive ($300 an hour with a three-hour minimum), but this is the only wedding event my grandparents will be able to attend, and it’s important to me to get good pictures. I put it on my SPG Amex to get the extra points (trying to save up for our honeymoon!). $450

3:35 p.m. — I’m hunting for a pair of leather boots. I’d LOVE a Jimmy Choo pair but can’t bring myself to spend that much. Find a Frye pair on Tradesy for about $165, which I could cover with credits from things I’ve sold. Resolve not to purchase until I go to Frye to make sure they fit.

5 p.m. — Go to a workout class. I spend $169 a month on an unlimited pass, so I try to go at least 10 times to make it worthwhile. But this is the first time I’ve been this month. Fail.

6:30 p.m. — Really wanted to order from the Vietnamese place close to home as I’m completely wiped. However, we really went overboard eating out last week, so I’m trying to pull back for the next couple of weeks. Make pasta with pesto and a fried egg.

7:30 p.m. — Settle in to watch “Little Women” with my dogs. Decide to hit the sack early so I can get up a bit earlier in the morning.




6:21 a.m. — Forgot to set my alarm, but still manage to wake up an hour early. Sadly, waste this extra time reading emails and the news.

7:45 a.m. — Bagel from M. I’m still late getting out the door and barely make my 9:30 meeting.

12 p.m. — Grab Chinese food in the office cafeteria.

1 p.m. — Head home early to let dogs out and work from home.

2:15 p.m. — Check to see when my year-end bonus is coming in. It’s a week earlier than I expected! I mentally start making plans for the $42,000 bonus (pretax). I want to put the bulk of it toward student loans, but I also want to repaint my kitchen cabinets (probably about $1,600). And Christmas gifts, of course. I also noticed that a random bonus I wasn’t expecting came through last week. I usually put the bulk of my bonus into my 401(k), which is why I missed it. This extra bump means I hit the $18,000 limit a bit earlier than I anticipated, so turn off my contributions for the rest of the year.

4:38 p.m. — Read an interesting review of the book “The Gilded Years,” and buy on Kindle $8.99

5 p.m. — Meet with a security consultant. There’s been a rash of burglaries in my still-gentrifying neighborhood, so I want to make sure the house is well protected. Decide to go whole hog, and pay him a security deposit. $500

6:30 p.m. — Really wanted Vietnamese again but resisted and made do with pasta.

DAILY TOTAL: $508.99



6 a.m. — We’re out of the “good” coffee, and I have to drink really overpowering Bourbon-flavored coffee. I scrounge up some toast and an apple.

7 a.m. — I use a service in Atlanta that sends stylists to your house for blowouts. I know it sounds indulgent, but it’s the most efficient option. Plus, it’s about the same price as going to the salon, and I have to get my hair done before my business trip. I work in software sales and deal with a lot of old-school men, so it’s really important that I look polished in my meetings. Sadly, my naturally curly hair isn’t seen as “professional” in my line of work. $65

10:30 a.m. — Uber to the airport. $15 (expensed)

11 a.m. — I always buy the exact same things when I travel: two trashy magazines and a bottle of sparkling water. I avoid Chick-fil-A and grab a cup of carrots and hummus. $25

1:30 p.m. — Land and head straight to the hotel to scarf down lunch before afternoon meetings. Get a terrible fish sandwich at the hotel restaurant. $17 (expensed)

2:30 p.m. — Uber to meetings. $12 (expensed)

5:30 p.m. — Meetings over! I still have a ton of work to do, but craving pasta, so Uber Eats it is! $26 (expensed)

6 p.m. — I order M.’s wedding ring. Luckily, he’s not into jewelry, so we’re going with a nontraditional wood ring that I found on Etsy. $40

8:30 p.m. — To bed early again, so I can finish up work in the morning.




5 a.m. — Damn the alarm clock.

6:45 a.m. — Room service breakfast arrives — fried eggs, bacon and potatoes with coffee. Hallelujah! $28 (expensed)

8 a.m. — I am obsessive about checking our accounts on Mint. My S.O. and I have one shared checking account where we deposit money each month for our mortgage and house bills, and a joint emergency savings account for the inevitable disasters like squirrels in the attic (so fun), but everything else is separate. Once a week, I scrutinize our spending. We’ve spent almost $1,500 on food this month. Yikes. Definitely need to pull waaay back.

9 a.m. — I’ve been using the app Debitize to automatically withdraw money from my checking account when I use my credit card. In the past, I strictly used a debit card for daily purchases, since I had a pretty bad history of keeping track of my spending on credit cards. But since I’m trying to rack up points for my honeymoon, it’s definitely better to do my day-to-day spending on my credit cards to get points, as long as I can stay on top of paying it all off. Debitize makes it super easy.

9:15 a.m. — Bought a college sweatshirt from my alma mater for my nephew (he asked!), as well as some books for my brother and nephew for Christmas. $116

9:30 a.m. — Uber to my first meeting. $6 (expensed)

9:45 a.m. — Get to my meeting super early, so I pop into CVS to pick up some travel-sized toiletries. $20

9:50 a.m. — Stop in a coffee shop to work before my meetings. Don’t like to over caffeinate so order a matcha latte. $6 (expensed)

11:30 a.m. — Make a pit stop in between meetings for an excellent dollar slice. $2 (expensed)

5 p.m. — Whew! Day of meetings finally over. Have a few minutes back at my hotel to decompress before a client dinner tonight. Got an email from the painter saying the price will double if I use two colors for the cabinets ($2,900). WTF.

6 p.m. — Fancy client dinner at a tapas restaurant. I used to be really into picking the absolute best restaurants for client dinners and never really minded staying out all hours of the night. These days, I try to keep everything to under two hours and two drinks max. Still, the food is amazing and my clients are actually pretty cool people. My boss picked up the tab.

8:30 p.m. — Boss called an Uber for us to get back to the hotel. I’m wiped, which feels really lame since it’s only 8:30. To be fair, I’ve been working since 5 a.m. and forced social interactions completely exhaust me emotionally. Climb into bed so I can get up early to do work before more client meetings.




6 a.m. — Wake up and start working. Slightly annoyed because I can’t get a hold of room service right away. $29 (expensed)

7:30 a.m. — It’s BONUS DAY! I’m almost scared to look at my bank account. This will be the biggest bonus check I’ve ever gotten: $42,000 before taxes. I’m in sales, so a big chunk of my take-home pay comes in the form of quarterly commission bonuses. This can be good and bad, but luckily last quarter was very good. I immediately put $5,600 into my 401(k) so I can max out before the end of the year. After that and taxes, I have about $20,000. I plan to put $15,000 toward my student loans, pay off my credit card balance of about $3,000, and the other $2,000 will pay for my kitchen cabinets.

9 a.m. — Headed to another day of meetings.

9:15 a.m. — Turns out the exec I was supposed to meet with had a conflict, so meeting canceled.

11 a.m. — At the airport, praying to get a seat on an earlier flight. Buy my customary magazines and water, plus a sandwich. $20

11:30 a.m. — Success! Made the flight!

2 p.m. — Uber home. $16 (expensed)

5:30 p.m. — Try to knock out some more Christmas shopping. Get gifts for M., my nephew, my sister-in-law and my future brother-in-law. I keep track of all of the gifts on a spreadsheet to make sure I don’t go too over budget, but honestly Christmas is my favorite holiday. I take a lot of pride in thinking carefully about the gifts I get people and aim to buy presents they’d never buy for themselves. I have a particular soft spot for my family because I know we do a lot better than them financially, so I like to give them nice things for Christmas. $640

6 p.m. — Giving in to weeklong Vietnamese craving. $26

7:30 p.m. — Zonked out on the sofa.




7 a.m. — We are totally out of coffee, so I head down the block to get a couple of cups to go. Also pick up a bagel for M. $6

9 a.m. — Finally make it to another workout class. Not quite as brutal as Monday’s, but I’m still woefully out of shape.

10 a.m. — I’m disgusting after my workout, but the paint store is on the way home, so I make a stop. Order three samples. $22

10:30 a.m. — Quick stop at home.

10:45 a.m. — Sitting in line at McDonald’s. I actually really hate fast food and constantly nag M. about his love of processed food. I thought it would be faster than making a sandwich at home but ended up having to wait for my order. Ugh. $4

11:30 a.m. — Head to Anthropologie and BHLDN. I generally spend too much money at Anthro, and now that I’m planning my wedding, it’s gotten even worse. I originally picked out a shawl for $180 on BHLDN, but it’s back-ordered, so I need to find a replacement ASAP, as we’ll be outdoors in the middle of winter for this wedding brunch. I’m finding few options that match the classic, vintage look of my dress. Finally, in distress, I find a faux fur stole that honestly looks terrible, but I buy it just in case the rest of my shopping is completely fruitless. Also throw in a sparkly headband from BHLDN because I’m a magpie. $300

12:45 p.m. — I find a great plaid shawl at J. Crew that makes my preppy heart sing. $79

1:15 p.m. — Stop by Banana to shop for M. He couldn’t care less about what he wears, but I figure it wouldn’t hurt for him to look nice for our pictures. Everything at Banana is 50 percent off (who buys full price at Banana?). Pick out a pair of pants, a button-up and a sweater, plus another plaid shawl (maybe this one will work better than the J. Crew one?). $179

1:45 p.m. — Make a last-minute detour to Trashy Diva. I was originally hoping to find a petticoat to go under my dress, but they stopped selling them. I find a great sparkly headband for literally 1/10th the price of the one from BHLDN. $12

2 p.m. — Dash home to shower and change before the dinner party. It’s kind of a big deal since it’s with M.’s boss. Try to look relatively well put together.

3 p.m. — Dinner party is fine. It’s weird: It feels so adult, but in my mind, I should still be at the kids’ table. Make small talk and do the whole “What do you do? Where did you go to school? Do you know so-and-so?” Ivy League roulette, which I hate. Drink too much wine.

8:30 p.m. — Bail on plans to go out with my friend because I’m super tired. End up watching old episodes of “The West Wing” with M.

9 p.m. — Try on my purchases from today (I hate store dressing rooms). End up texting pictures to my mom, and we both agree the Banana Republic shawl is the winner, so I’ll return the items from BHLDN and J. Crew.




6 a.m. — Wake up early. Use this sudden burst of energy to clean the house while M. sleeps.

8:30 a.m. — M. finally is up, so we go out for brunch. He picks up the tab.

10 a.m. — We need a GPS tracker for one of our dogs, so we head over to the pet store. They don’t have any in stock, so we have to order online. We spend waaay too much money on our dogs; it’s embarrassing.

10:30 a.m. — Pop into Home Depot to check out the Christmas lights. We browse a bit, but they don’t have the display we wanted, so we leave empty-handed. I’m also PMSing, so I got super crabby.

Probably 80 percent of the fights in my relationship have started in Home Depot.

11:30 a.m. — While M. stops by the grocery store, I pop into T.J.Maxx. I love a good discount, and T.J.Maxx is like my crack. I pick up a gift for my brother and a few stocking stuffers. $123

1 p.m. — Meet a girlfriend for lunch. The restaurant is super packed, so we get lattes and window-shop.

I love our get-togethers because we can discuss work challenges and gossip. Lots of self-care going on post–Home Depot meltdown. $16

1:30 p.m. — Return ill-advised accessories to BHLDN and feel super vindicated and $300 richer.

2 p.m. — Wander into an amazing flower shop (seriously dreamy) and decide to get my mom a flower-arranging class for Christmas. $150

2:15 p.m. — Return plaid shawl to J. Crew.

3 p.m. — Head to the paint store to pick up my samples, though I’m wondering if now is the best time to drop $2,000 on upgrades?

3:30 p.m. — Stop by the grocery store to get extra ingredients for chili (sour cream and cheese). I also get some eggs. $16

3:45 p.m. — My sister-in-law calls. I’ve been trying to arrange time to hang out with my nephew, and they are finally free.

4:15 p.m. — Nephew in tow, I head back to my house. I don’t know how it happens, but my weekends just fly by with tons of errands, etc.

4:45 p.m. — We spend some quality time putting up Christmas decorations. I also bribe him with hot chocolate and marshmallows, so he’ll like me more than M. — who’s basically a big kid.

5:30 p.m. — Made amazing chili and beer bread from Trader Joe’s.

9 p.m. — After watching “Sing” with my nephew, we take him home and hit the sack.




TOTAL SPENT: $2,817.99






OTHER: $1,479




You earn a big salary for someone so young. Was there a moment when you hit a certain salary that it felt monumental?

It felt like a big accomplishment when I first made over $100,000. I was pretty young, 25 or 26. I remember, like, telling my friend, “Oh my gosh, this is how much money I made last year,” and she was, like, “Me, too!” I think we both thought hitting that six-figure mark was something that would happen later in our careers. We were both pleasantly surprised, like, Oh, OK. OK, I can do this.

Whom do you rely on for financial advice?

I have a couple of really good girlfriends who I talk with about my finances and my financial goals. We’ll talk about our salaries or how much money to expect with a certain promotion or how much to negotiate for. We want to help each other out — we’re not competitive with each other at all.

Do you talk with your family about your salary?

Not really. It’s not that I feel uncomfortable, we just don’t talk about it. It wasn’t something that my parents talked about with me growing up, and they don’t ask now. They know I make good money, but they don’t know how much.

How do you and your fiancé manage your money?

We talk about finances quite a bit, but it’s usually me initiating the conversation. I’m definitely more of the financial geek in our relationship. My fiancé’s kind of hands off, he’s just, like, “Tell me how much I need to save,” and that’s it. So I’m the one who manages the details.


Excerpted from “Refinery29 Money Diaries” by Lindsey Stanberry. Copyright © 2018 by Refinery29. Excerpted with permission by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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