I’d Totally Save Money If It Didn’t Feel Impossible

by Julie Buntin

I make $35,000 a year. I know I should save. I want to save. But each month there’s nothing left. The problem isn’t that I don’t try (my planner is full of meticulous calculations), or that I’m super extravagant (though I can be), or that I don’t like working (life is work and I’m a hustler). I think the problem is the sneak expenses.

Here’s where my money goes each month:

Post-tax biweekly salary after deductions: $1,061

Rent: $800
Phone: $75
Student loans: $300 (yes, IBR and consolidated)
Gym: $90 (I know, but please let me have this, it’s in on the ground floor of my office building and it keeps me sane.)
Credit card: $150
Transportation: $100

That leaves, by my calculations, a little over $400 to get me through four weeks in New York City. Add in my miscellaneous freelance income (which comes in big beautiful coin-waterfalls or stingy little puffs of money-scented air), and I’d estimate that leaves about $200 a week to live and eat on. And save.

Enter the sneak expenses. Like buying a plane ticket home to see my family for Christmas ($650). Buying a bike/lock/helmet/light ($350). Needing a new winter coat ($200). Oh shit, my fucking iPhone’s broken ($200). Medical bills for tests related to chronic headaches ($50-$1000). Going on vacation with my boyfriend, our first together in over two years ($600). Crap, I overdrafted because I’m a moron ($30). Five Old Navy sleeveless button-downs to wear under blazers, for work ($75). My mom’s in town and I feel obligated to treat her because I’m the one person in my family right now with a full-time job ($200).

And there goes any extra cash, and then some.

Once basic needs are fulfilled, the line between need and want gets muddled. Most of my so-called sneak expenses would probably fall into the want category. But they feel like needs to me. the prospect of saving $20 here and there seems futile when every time I do some staggering Frankenstein of an expense enters stage-left.

Of course, these are excuses. I like to blame New York. I’m sure if you dropped me in a reasonably priced city with the same income, I’d find a way to continue to have this problem. I’m ashamed that I’m not more careful, but I also don’t really see an alternative until I start making more money. When I was in grad school, I got a funding package that was just high enough to live off of as long as I worked part-time as an admin assistant for my program and taught classes. I didn’t save a penny during those years. I simply got by. I make more now, but the feeling at the end of month is similar. I’m still getting by.

Julie Buntin lives in New York.