When I interview personal finance authors, I've started asking them to keep a spending diary for a few days, in the style of New York magazine's food diaries, so we can see how (and whether) they practice what they preach. Here is the latest installment, from Brent Kessel, author of It's Not About the Money. (The full Q&A with Kessel is here.) Kessel's diary:
Wednesday: I'm debating whether to put a $499 Bluetooth in the Audi. It's safer than reaching for the headset, but what if the car's maintenance keeps getting more expensive? (This year alone it will be $3,000!) And if I sell it, I'll never recoup that $500. So I go over to Verizon and trade in the $129 Jawbone for a $99 Motorola headset, which I feel works better anyway, and I skip the Bluetooth installation.
Thursday: At Design Within Reach, they want $1,100 per chair for the four chairs I want to put in my office. The red fabric looks great, but I need to get to the airport. But how much is it worth just to have this decision behind me? I debate but then realize that I'll like the $250 chairs from Macy's just as much, and I'll have $3,000 left over (to pay for the Audi maintenance!). Then my wife is pulling me over to look at dining room chairs and says, "I've got spring fever with our house. I want to do the garden and furniture—it's been seven years!" and I feel some fear arise about how much this will all cost.
Friday: I'm at the bookstore at the Kripalu Yoga Center, where I'm teaching my "It's Not About the Money" workshop to 60 people this weekend. As the head of programs takes me in there as part of my tour, she mentions that I get a 20 percent discount as part of the faculty. I remember being here with my wife two years ago and buying great gifts for many of our friends, and ourselves, too! I feel this rush of excitement; maybe I should buy a bunch of cool, yogi stuff, given the discount. I immediately recoil from that thought, instead saying to myself, "You need to focus on your workshop for now—maybe Sunday."
Saturday: I walk back into the bookstore at Kripalu and look around. The greeting cards are drawing me in. There are a couple of thank-you cards that I'd like to send—wouldn't it be sweet to send these great brush-painted cards instead of my usual corporate cards? Yes, but I don't really feel like the hassle. And I certainly don't need any more books—I've already got a stack 4 feet high in the bedroom that I haven't had time to read—I've been too busy writing my own! In the dining hall at dinner, I notice the beautiful Buddha paintings on the wall. The blue one seems like it would look perfect in my office and pick up the blue hues of the ocean. But I can't walk up to it now to see what the little paper tag next to it says. I'm here leading a workshop on integrating spiritual insights and practices with money, including allowing our impulses to spend to just pass without acting on them. What will people think?!
Sunday: The Buddha is just too beautiful. I don't care. I walk up and see that there's no price listed. But the artist's contact info is there. I jot it down to send an E-mail later. At the airport, the skycap is loading our four bags. What if I only have a $20—should I give him $20? He needs it more than I do, probably. But that's a lot. I open my wallet. No, I have a $10. That makes it easy. I give him a $10 tip.
On the plane, the snack cart is coming down the aisle. I've just finished teaching a very intensive three-day workshop. I want to reward myself. How about Pringles, M&M's, cookies, crackers, a Coke, or ginger ale. Naahh, I'll feel like crap. So I go for the M&M's and crackers, and a tomato juice—$3 in all. (The juice and crackers were free.) After landing, I went and picked up my Audi from the dealer, where he'd replaced the tires, replaced a transmission pan, and fixed a power steering fluid problem. I thought the total bill was going to be around $1,500, but it's $2,224. I feel a bit of a lump in my throat about how expensive it was. Should I just replace this car soon or not? I'm up to about $3,000 this year already, and it's only March!
Monday: Ordering lunch from the cafe in the building, the jalapeño veggie burger is going to cost about $8. Should I get the antioxidant drink (carrot, apple, beet, ginger juice) or not, for another $5? Yeah, my throat's hurting a bit, and it's only $5, which I run through the company anyway, so after tax and splitting with my partners, it's only about $2 out of my pocket.
Sunday: Going to meet a friend for coffee and a breakfast snack. I'm running late, stuck in back-to-school traffic. I call him at 8:06. We were supposed to meet at 8. "Why don't you grab me something to drink and eat so we can spend more of our time talking once I'm there," I ask. He says, "Sure." I'm thinking, "Well, I could go for it seeing he's buying," which is not my usual M.O. I ask for a soy vanilla chai and a berry scone—pretty cheap date, I guess.
Total spent: $3,346