Wishing For A Unicorn


Today I’m talking to Billfold reader Carly about savings, homebuying, and sad desk lunches.

Nicole: So tell me, Carly: how have you saved money this year?

Carly: Largely, I started a new job last November which included a big bump in salary.

Nicole: Nice! What industry, if I may ask? IS IT STEM

Carly: I’m a project manager at an ad agency, mostly managing web stuff. I never know how to categorize what I do.

Nicole: You are totally Dawn on Mad Men, now that she’s been promoted. Maybe. I’m never sure how to feel about Mad Men characters. [EDIT: I KNOW SHE’S PROBABLY A COMBINATION OF DAWN AND HARRY, BUT HARRY IS AWFUL]

Carly: Haha, I don’t actually watch Mad Men, but from the little I know of the show, the drinking seems accurate.

Nicole: HA. So you got a salary bump, but managed to avoid the dreaded lifestyle creep?

Carly: I am very good at spending exactly all of the money I have, but no more, so I try to aggressively automatically move money into savings, because if it sits in my checking account, I will spend it.

Nicole: That makes sense. I have to write myself lists of numbers that belong to bills and groceries and things,so I don’t trick myself into thinking I can spend everything in my checking account RIGHT NOW.

Carly: Well, about half of my money goes to rent, and the other bills I pay mid-month. So it works out that almost one paycheck goes to rent on the 1st, and then everything else hits around the 15th. I live by myself in Park Slope, which is a stupidly nice neighborhood.

Nicole: Oh, I have heard of Park Slope. It has strollers.

Carly: Yes. But also lots of other things.

Nicole: LOL I know. I don’t know why the “Park Slope parenting” stereotype stands out above the others. All of my bills come during the last week of the month, for me. This means I have to start from Day 1 thinking about “this money does not belong to today, it belongs to Day 25.”

Carly: Yeah, I aggressively check my money on Mint, and with rent hitting at the beginning of the month, it looks like I’m over budget immediately. So it’s like a game for my money to overtake my spending.

Nicole: Ha, I like that. Professor McGonigal would be so proud (that is a gamification joke).

Carly: Haha, yeah. Mint was the first step in me trying to understand my money like four or five years ago, and I love it. I’m still not great at knowing what I’m going to spend money on in advance, but at least I know how much I have at any given time.

Nicole: So do your savings make you feel wealthy? Or, um, “wealthy?”

Carly: I love, love, love the net worth over time chart, but no. Sadly. I went to an open house for an apartment this weekend, because the money is hypothetically an apartment fund, but in New York I might as well be wishing for a unicorn.

Nicole: You mean purchasing an apartment, right?

Carly: Yeah.

Nicole: That’s, like, $300K minimum? Half million?

Carly: It depends on what you want, and where. The one I went to was $289K, and the space was actually really nice even though the kitchen needed to be gutted. But it wasn’t in a super exciting neighborhood. Like, I got off the subway and felt like I could have been in the suburbs. It was really residential (one bedroom apt).

Nicole: Yeah, if you are going to spend that much it had better be in a place you love. The sort of “it’s either a HUGE YES, or it’s a NO” idea.

Carly: Well, I once went to an open house in my neighborhood just because I was walking by and the sign outside said the apt had been featured on Design Sponge. It was a duplex, I think it was about $800k.

Nicole: Wow.

Carly: Yup.

Nicole: Wait, is it this place?

Carly: No… let me see if I can find it. [EDIT: SHE TOTALLY FOUND IT]

Nicole: I am digging parts of that aesthetic but I do not want to stand on an animal skin rug that is still shaped like the animal.

Carly: Yeah, I don’t know about that rug.

Nicole: To each their own.

Carly: If I were going for an animal-ish look, I love this rug.

Nicole: Aww, that’s adorable! It’s like a stuffed animal. Like a plushie animal. Not a taxidermy.

Carly: Yes.

Nicole: Okay, last question: do you feel like you are saving “too much,” “too little,” or “the right amount?” Do your savings match your goals now and for the future?

Carly: If I spend too much time looking real estate or reading blogs about the people who put away, like, half their income and retire at 35 I start panicking that I’m not saving enough, but realistically, I also want to enjoy life. So probably about the right amount. I feel like I could save more money if I didn’t go out for lunch pretty much every day.

Nicole: Possibly, but then you’d still have to eat lunch somehow.

Carly: Yeah.

Nicole: Even Mike Dang buys lunch!

Carly: When I bring lunch, I eat at my desk, and it’s just not pleasant.


Carly: It’s probably more than worth it to get up and get that slice of pizza. Yes. Exactly.

Nicole: Well, here is a parting thought to make you feel better: Lunch at $10 a day on average times 5 days a week times 40 weeks a year is $2,000.

Carly: That is not as much as I thought it was going to be.

Nicole: That is a lot, but it’s also not a lot. My monthly grocery budget is around $250, which is $3,000 in a year. So you would be buying more groceries if you were eating fewer lunches out, but the cost differential would not be enormous.

Carly: $2,000 a year is not going to be the difference in affording the $800k duplex.

Nicole: Eat your lunches with no financial guilt!

Carly: Unless I live something like 4,000 years.


Carly: If I find the fountain of youth, I’ll reconsider my lunches.

Photo credit: Rob Boudon



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