Welcome to Taking Stock, a space where we can take a deep breath and try to figure out what the current state of the economy really means for our finances. Every month, personal finance expert Paco de Leon will answer your most difficult, emotionally charged questions about money. These last few years have forced many of us to reprioritize our finances — but Taking Stock is here to help us figure it out together.
Victoria, 27 - New York
“In an attempt to save a little while also paying for rising rent and bills, I am now essentially living paycheck-to-paycheck,” Victoria tells Refinery29. To save money, she’s switched her grocery shopping to a cheaper store and canceled unnecessary subscriptions. “To manage my spending I have removed my cards from my digital wallet to avoid mindlessly tapping throughout the week,” she says. “My roommates and I have shifted towards splitting a Costco membership to stay stocked while avoiding food waste by sharing much of what we buy.”
Victoria’s current financial plan is to save up three months of living expenses for emergency use, and she would ultimately like to pay off her debts in the next year. “I try to put a little money aside every paycheck, but the amount has decreased since the cost of living has gone up,” she says. “Each month I assess how much is sustainable for me to save to ensure my saving doesn't cut into necessary spending.”
Lisa*, 30 - New York
“I make more money than I ever have, and yet I still barely save just existing day-to-day in New York,” Lisa tells Refinery29. “My spending habits haven't changed but I feel myself squeezing every paycheck in a way I never did before, even though I'm making more money.” She gets around a 3% cost-of-living salary increase each year, but it does not feel sufficient.
Lisa started planning her wedding at the end of 2019 and because of COVID, had to push it until this year. “The price difference for a wedding in 2019 to 2023 is astronomical,” she says. “We had a hefty budget that we were supposed to come well below, but we are absolutely going over budget now we have to pay 2023 prices. It's probably going to cost 20-30% more than we had originally calculated, even with giving ourselves room for unexpected costs. I've had to pause my 401k contributions to pay for the extra cost, which is probably not a great choice, but it's what works for me.”
To cut back on spending, Lisa has had to stop eating out as frequently — although it’s her favorite thing — and has also started looking for sales at the grocery store to decide what to make for the week. “I'm a lot less inclined to travel for fun and I've cut down on my favorite workout class, even though it’s what keeps me sane, because it’s expensive,” she says. “I also have generational wealth thanks to my parents, so while I worry day to day (because I don’t receive anything from them) I'm less worried long term, which is a real privilege.”
Kristina, 36 - Florida
Kristina lives between New York City and Florida, but because of inflation, she now spends far more time in the southern state. “When I come to New York it’s no longer feasible to take Ubers as I normally did. An Uber from Soho to Midtown East used to cost around $15-20, and now it is double that,” she says. “A plain Starbucks cup of coffee went from $2.13 to over $3, a regular manicure around the corner from my place was $13, now it is $18 or over $20 at similar places.”
Kristina has cut back on groceries, and with the prices of eggs skyrocketing, she either doesn’t buy eggs or buys fewer and eats them more sparingly. “Same goes for meat and seafood, as I normally shop at Whole Foods,” she says. “I no longer buy lobster tail and rarely buy fresh fish for this reason.” Kristina also no longer gets eyelash extensions.
Currently, Kristina says she has no long term financial plan “as banks are offering rates lower than inflation and there is no change in sight,” she says. “I do invest in the market by buying ETFs (exchange-traded funds) and having a money market account (an account with a higher interest rate). Also I try to save as much as possible and not spend on anything frivolous.”
Caroline, 27 - Pennsylvania
Caroline says that the growing inflation rate has made her current salary less comfortable to live on than it had been before, and she’s “having to employ more tactics to save and be conscious of my spending.”
“Rather than shopping at Whole Foods, I've started shopping at Trader Joe's and only buying what I know I'll eat in the next couple weeks,” Caroline tells Refinery29. “I used to be a chronic over-purchaser of produce that I'd end up having to throw away, so I've started being wiser with my choices there especially if I know I'm traveling soon. I stopped getting my nails done and have opted for press-ons instead, and get my hair highlighted every four-to-five months versus two-to-three.”
Caroline’s online shopping habit has also changed due to recent price increases. “I've started a note in my phone to keep track of everything I spend and it's helped me decide whether I truly need to buy something after seeing my monthly spend thus far,” she says. “My account for my credit card also segments my spending into sections, which is helpful to check too.”
Amanda, 38 - New York
“My rent is absurd, and because of the tax breaks landlords were taking advantage of are ending in the coming years they are now able to add ‘fees’ to my already exorbitant rent,” Amanda tells Refinery29. “I have to be hyper vigilant on where my money goes each month, and often choose not to do things because the rate of inflation is too much.”
To save money, Amanda buys fewer fresh fruits and vegetables and more frozen and canned foods so they don’t go to waste. “I use different beauty products than what I'd prefer because I can't justify a $60 mascara anymore,” she says.
When it comes to tried and true financial tips, they’re “all tried, and no true,” Amanda says. “I keep my finances in order with attention to detail and following up on deals where I can get them [to help with] with recurring expenses.”