As much as we worry about it, spend hours each week devoted to acquiring it, plan for it and inevitably part with it, money is still a relatively taboo topic. We don’t typically talk with our friends, neighbors, even co-workers about how much we make, what we spend it on specifically, or how much debt we have—because we just don’t think it’s polite.
But maybe things shouldn’t be this way.
As we chug along into the season of spending—on food, on gifts, on charity—and assess our budgets going into the new year, we wanted to have some forthright conversations about cash. In some ways, money’s the great unifier—we all need it—and if we all want more of it, well, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it. Also, we’re nosy.
So, here’s a look at what some real Raleighites, at different stages of their lives, in different living and career situations, spend over the course of five days. It’s a lot of takeout and drinks and coffee, but it’s also mortgages, travel costs and payments to credit card debt and student loans. And, um, five adult-size Santa suits from walmart.com (we’re not here to judge!).
We hope these diaries make you see that, whether you love or hate the almighty dollar, it really is OK to talk about it. Starting a dialogue can help you budget, help you to save or even help you to recognize that you deserve that raise. See how your spending stacks up.
Designer, 33 + Designer, 26
We’ll call our first diarist Cathy*, a 33-year-old senior designer at a large public IT firm in town. Cathy lives in a house in the South Park neighborhood with her fiancé, Sam, 26, also a designer and they make a combined salary of $196,000 a year. They have $120,000 in savings, pay $1,250 per month to their mortgage, $97.88 for electricity, $49.99 for cable and internet, $31.45 for gas, $58.50 for water and trash and $20 monthly for a security system. They have no student loan debt and pay off their credit cards each month but they do have a $301.06 car payment and pay $67.39 for insurance. Their phone bill comes to $80 month, they have a $32 gym membership, pay $41 for Netflix, Hulu and HBO, $15 for Pandora and Spotify monthly plus $76 to the Produce Project and Compost Now and $11 for Piquant Post, a meal delivery service. Here’s Cathy’s money diary.
At 9:49 a.m., we got an email notification that there was a price drop on one of the houses on our wish list. We were casually talking to a realtor to find out how much we could sell for and what it would cost to buy something bigger than our 800 square-foot house and also looking for contractor quotes to make some improvements to make the small space more usable. We weren’t necessarily ready to buy but we had to go see this beautiful three-bedroom, 1,900 square-foot house in our same neighborhood. We made an appointment for
5 p.m. and spent our lunch break contacting mortgage brokers and eating leftover Chinese takeout. Following a work team happy hour at The Pit (ordered a half pint for $6.33) we ran to make our appointment. We both fell in love with the house and spent the rest of the night stressing about if we were actually ready to buy. In all the craziness we forgot to make dinner and spent $24.84 on takeout pizza from Frank’s on New Bern.
We went to Reuben’s NY Deli for lunch and got two gigantic and delicious sandwiches, spending $26, plus $9 on a beer at Burial for a working meeting during which we decided to officially put in an offer on the house. That night, friends from college visited and stayed with other friends nearby, because of our current lack of space. We took a Lyft for $8.75 to meet them at Bida Manda. We went a little overboard ordering family style to show off to our friends; each couple spent $102. Then we had one drink each at Brewery Bhavana and Watts & Ward. Those charges aren’t on our credit card bill so I guess my friends got those, thanks guys!
We picked up breakfast supplies totaling $39, including a dozen Biscuitville biscuits, and drove to our friends’ house to cook. Then we drove to Durham where we stopped at Bulldega, the Farmers Market, Boxcar, Bull City Mini and Bull City Ciderworks. We spent around $100 total, which included picking up the tab a few times for the group. At Ciderworks, we got a call from our realtor that the seller was still considering the offer we made. We quickly did the math for what it would take for us to go up to the asking price and decided to go for it. Shortly after, we heard back that our offer was accepted! After a mini-celebration/panic, everyone crammed into our house to play Mario Party and rest before heading to the Bluegrass Festival. We couldn’t handle fried food so we went to Weaver Street Market for dinner, spending $11. Then we went back to the festival to get Two Roosters ice cream for $4.
We went to brunch at Clouds Brewing with friends. Clouds was one of the handpicked offers in our Offline Premium subscription, a service in Raleigh and Durham that helps you explore new places. Four of us used our Offline Premium deals and we split the remaining balance two ways, which came to $52 for our half. Then we stopped at Heirloom Brewshop to get a $5 cold brew before saying goodbye to our visiting friends. The most exciting part of the day was going to our new house and handing off the due diligence check of $1,000. We spent the rest of the day signing paperwork, researching insurance companies, and starting a Goodwill box.
We worked from home today which allowed me to snag a dehydrator from Nextdoor for $30. After work, we started on our “oh crap, now we have to get our house in a sellable state” list by going to Home Depot and Target, spending $117. We also spent $68 at PetSmart to get extra litter boxes that our 11 year-old tabby will need in our future, larger home and, of course, a treat for the dog to be fair. Laziness then set in. We got Chick-fil-A for dinner using a gift card from a Red Cross blood drive and $6.97 cash.
Total spent: $1,419.89
Marketing Specialist, 40+
Our next diarist, Tom, is a 40-plus marketing specialist who makes around $75,000 a year, is single and lives alone. Tom pays $1,200 towards the mortgage on his North Hills home. Electricity costs him $40-100 per month depending on the season, cable and internet tops out at $145 per month and he pays $25 for gas, $60 for water, $100 for his phone and $100 per month for a housecleaning service. Tom has no debt and no car payment; he pays $900 per year for car insurance, $160 per month for a gym membership, $119 a year for Netflix and Amazon and $200 per month for doggie day care, which he uses twice a week for his lab. Here’s Tom’s money diary.
I had all-day work meetings so it was a fast lunch: takeout at Chipotle and an afternoon pick-me-up at Starbucks. On the way home, I filled up my tank at Costco for $40 and got Thai to go at Thai House by the Aldi on Wake Forest Road for $28 (I got two orders, who doesn’t love microwaving leftovers!). Total spent: $88, all on credit as I rarely use cash.
DOH! My home office computer suddenly died after 5-plus good years (damn PCs, but I’m just NOT a Mac fan). So I spent the afternoon driving around to Best Buys to see which one had a good replacement in stock. I bought a new HP “loaded” laptop for $900 plus tax plus spent another $149 for Microsoft Office for Home suite. I learned the hard way not to scratch too hard to reveal the hidden activation code as I inadvertently scrubbed it illegible and spent an hour on phone with Microsoft support in India trying to get them to believe me/reactivate with a new code. I skipped lunch and ate leftovers for dinner. Total spent: about $1,100.
I ate breakfast at home then had another day of meetings in RTP but was craving sweet potato fries so I ate lunch at B Good—$11.91—then had Chido Taco for $12 to go after work. Total spent: $24, all on my credit card (love my frequent flier points!).
It was a chill weekend. I went to the gym (O2) and did upper body work, then took a yoga class right after. Then I went home and mowed the lawn and did yard work before my neighbors complain to the City about weeds. Then, I took my friend out for their birthday to Red Dragon and spent $60 on dinner. We saw “Downton Abbey” at the Regal North Hills. I’m a big fan of the series, and anything BBC, so it was great to see the cast back in action, even if—spoiler alert—it was a little far-fetched in that they tried to oust the king and queen’s own serving people. Tickets cost $28. Then, we went to Ben and Jerry’s in North Hills for ice cream. I had a waffle cone of their “The Tonight Dough” flavor as, duh, it has two kinds of cookie dough inside and it cost $20. Total: $110, including tips.
I had stayed up late watching the Florida vs. LSU football game and then the sports news recaps after—it was a battle of the undefeated going into the game. So I slept in late on this rainy Sunday. I only ventured out to get Starbucks coffee and a breakfast sandwich and I did a grocery run at Lidl ($40). I binge-watched Netflix the rest of the day—Battlestar Galactica—I’m a diehard sci-fi fan, so I love the special effects. Then, I meal prepped for the week’s breakfast—my usual concoction of raw oatmeal, fruits, bananas and almond milk, the perfect healthy breakfast. It forces me to eat healthy in mornings. I got a CAVA salad to-go for dinner at the new Midtown East shopping center despite the nightmare that is parking there right now with the Wegmans “newness.” Total spent: $65.
Total spent: $1,386.91
Sales, mid-40s + IT, mid-40s + middle-schooler
Anna, our third diarist, is a married mom to a middle-schooler who lives in a house near North Hills with her family, dog and three cats. Anna and her husband, Mike, are in their mid-late 40s; she works in sales, he works in IT. They have a monthly mortgage payment of $2,184, a monthly car payment of $745.70 and pay $721 per month toward health insurance. The family’s electricity, gas and water bills vary but usually come in around $200 a month. Anna has an $85 monthly gym membership, pays $153 per month for three phone services (an elderly parent is on her family’s plan) and $78.61 per month for Netflix, Hulu and Youtube TV. The family also pays $105 per month for a storage unit for the parent and there’s a recurring monthly payment of $124.50 for a new washer and dryer. They save around $500 per month, contribute $448.80 per month to a 401K and pay around $2,000 monthly on their credit cards.
It was a busy day working from home so I saved myself an hour and ordered groceries via Instacart and Aldi—$52.06. My husband bought lunch at Jersey Mike’s for $7.70. I also paid $23.04 for gas—I was in a hurry so I didn’t fill up. We throw an annual Santa party where an amazing Santa comes to our house and delights the kids. After nine years, these littles have become middle-schoolers so we decided to change it up to keep them on their toes. Five Santa suits from walmart.com cost $128.45. Good luck figuring out who the real Santa is!
My husband took the child to Lowe’s Home Improvement Center. Child was repaid with lunch at the hotdog cart outside. Lumber: $34. Hotdogs: $9.65. Child owed me for forgetting to turn in a school assignment so I had him wash my car—saved $20! I dragged Child and Husband to see an exhibit at CAM: $0! But parking in the Dillon deck downtown cost $4. We had a quick drink and bites at Barcelona across the street: $54. Husband was not thrilled with spending $54 on a (albeit lovely) snack. I got a token for a complimentary small plate on our next visit after leaving a (positive) comment card with a manager. Then, we headed for a proper dinner at Transfer Co. Food Hall- tofu Bulgogi, steak tacos, beer, wine, Cheerwine, cookie: $69.09.
I had promised to take brunch to a friend with a new baby. Decided to make it easy on myself and pick up ready-made items. This was great on the one hand but outrageously expensive on the other—$7 for a pile of scrambled eggs? $14 for a meager fruit salad?? Lesson learned. Wegman’s breakfast —$75.65. Had told Child I ordered this last week (but actually had forgot) so I quickly ordered an Amazon Halloween costume: $29. I had heard about an upcoming dinner at Artspace. Got the invitation and bought two tickets for $129.13. And paid $16.08 to iTunes.
Husband emailed me about the City of Raleigh Museum Dark Walking Tour of downtown Raleigh for the week of Halloween. Promptly purchased 2 tickets for $54.56. Hubs’ lunch in Durham at Fosters Market cost $5.38. I stopped in Harris Teeter to shop for basics and dinner: $52.55. I stopped into the Seaboard Wine Shop to pick up a nice bottle of wine to cap off a Monday: $15.
Husband put $33 gas in his tank. I had to run into Zest for a meeting. I usually leave my wallet in the car on purpose but they had some special candles I bought last year that I wanted again for the holidays. $97.22 in candles, flamingo napkins, velvet pumpkins and an ostrich notepad later, I had everything I “needed.” (You try to resist the cuteness at Zest!) Additionally, I went by Vermillion in North Hills two days back-to-back for work. I had scoped out a sweater the first day, thought about it overnight, then purchased it on the next visit: $190.91. Running around town like crazy with a new employee, we decided to take a much-needed break for lunch at Brewery Bhavana: $34.79. Parking downtown cost $1.50. At the end of the day, took Child to Ben & Jerry’s since he has been so wonderful and thoughtful – $6.63. I opted for Starbucks – $4.71
Total spent: $1,128.10
Marketing Associate, 26
Finally, Rachel, our fourth diarist, is a 26-year-old marketing associate in the healthcare field. She lives with two roommates in Westover where she pays $460 a month for rent, $40 for electricity, $20 for cable and internet, $25 for water and around $3 monthly for gas. Rachel has $4,000 in credit card debt and $30,000 in student loans. She pays $150 a month for her car, $200 for car insurance, $60 a month for her phone and $10 for TV services. Here is Rachel’s money diary.
I had packed the night before for a wedding, worked late and came into work a little after 9 a.m. I didn’t have time to make coffee or breakfast. I went to grab some at the cafe at work with a coworker since it’s BOGO pastry day on Fridays. I bought two items for $4.75. At lunch I had a pesto chicken panini at Jazmin’s for $7.03 and I bought some traveling toiletries, jewelry and a wedding card at Target: $34.29. I was traveling to the mountains and stopped at Panera to get dinner halfway there for $10.55. Total Spent: $56.62.
I stayed at an Airbnb with 13 people the night of the wedding. Only six of us were there in the morning so we went into Blowing Rock to grab brunch. I had an omelet with hash browns and coffee at a cute diner for $16. Then we headed to Food Lion to buy snacks and more wine and beer since we drank everything we had brought the night before. I also got cash to tip the bartenders since the wedding was an open bar. I spent $21.89 on rosé, prosecco, bananas and popcorn. Then I got another $20 out in cash but I didn’t actually end up using all the cash. My credit card payment posted that day, too, $250. Total Spent $292.89.
We made breakfast and decided to do lunch with everyone on the way back to Raleigh. We stopped at a pub in Hickory and I bought a burger and fries for $10.63, with tip. I wanted some coffee for the road so I went around the corner to a cute little coffee shop, got a latte for $3.74. I split gas with my friend and paid him $10; we had to refuel from Durham to Raleigh again, which cost $20. Total spent: $44.37.
I usually get to work around 9 and make my own breakfast if I have time. If I don’t, I tend to hop over to the cafeteria to grab a muffin, bagel or breakfast sandwich and coffee. The company cafeteria’s coffee shop has Starbucks coffee and it’s cheaper than the regular store drinks. I always use either my debit card or credit card for purchases. If I didn’t make lunch, which is often—because I’ve been so busy with work and too mentally tired when I get home to do more work—I buy either a sandwich, salad or combo from the cafeteria. Average prices range from $4 for a personal flatbread, $5.25 for a panini or $6.15 to $9.20 for a combo type of meal. Total Spent $8.43.
I made food but didn’t bring it. I had had it for dinner and didn’t want to eat the same thing again. I was prepping for a big event on Thursday so there was no time to really eat except for something quick so I had a turkey pesto panini. Total Spent: $6.55.
Total spent: $408.86
*All names have been changed.