Taking the Other Way Home

Mike: Logan, how are you doing this week? I’ve been calling you a “ball of mishaps.” A “walking ball of mishaps.”

Logan: Yes that is apt. Ha. Let’s see. Monday my computer died and did this grey screen of death flashing folder question mark TERRIBLE THING. So I went to the Apple store, but you know, not before having to borrow a friend’s computer for the day and then getting on the wrong subway, etc. But I got it fixed and I was still under AppleCare even though I thought I wasn’t and that was great! And then yesterday my power cord stopped working, ha. That actually doesn’t seem like that many mishaps. I’m sure there’s more. When I got back from Minneapolis I walked around the city in some thrift store boots that I’d been wearing for weeks but since in Minneapolis I didn’t walk anywhere, I got this gnarly blister and then my ankle swelled up and I thought I had blood poisoning. I guess that was a mishap.

Mike: And the fact that you sort of ran out of money until the middle of this month. Which seems like you’ve been able to push through okay? Inquiring minds would like an update, I think.

Logan: I dealt with that little mishap through discovering that with overdraft protection, if I used my debit card as a credit card (and like, had it swiped at a restaurant or whatever), it got denied. BUT if I used it with my pin number it was accepted, with the requisite $3 fee for fucking up. So I took out $100 ($3 fee plus $2 ATM fee plus $2 ATM fee from the ATM) as my food and coffee money, which I spent … kind of quickly, but still have some of. I’ll probably have to re-up, but paying $7 in fees to get cash has actually made me not want to get cash, SURPRISINGLY. (And also knowing it’s not real cash and that as soon as I get a check I’ll be transferring it back to my credit card.)

And tonight I’m going to return many things to Target. I’ve been putting that off because I’m nervous about doing it, which is silly because I have worked in retail, and I know that you can just return stuff! People do it all the time and that is fine! But I’m still nervous about it—what if they don’t let me?! This is irrational, I know. Also I have been taking a different subway so I don’t walk by my neighborhood bar on the way home, and this has allowed that money to last and last. Turns out I don’t spend much cash when I don’t drink. WEIRD.

Mike: Yeah, I find returning things uncomfortable too, which is why I go shopping so rarely, or find a thing I like, and just buy that same thing whenever I need it. But, I am sure it will be fine! Also, returning things during the holidays is super stressful, so getting it done sooner will be much better for you.

The taking a different subway so that you’re not tempted to stop by a bar and buy drinks is so interesting to me! Because that’s something I don’t think I’d ever do, mostly because I only drink at bars if I’m meeting someone (social drinker!). But you’re doing this on your own, which to me, is brave, because I find doing that to be awkward sometimes. It’s like going to a sit-down restaurant alone. What do you do? Look at your phone? What did we do in these situations before smartphones? Books, I think. I have a travel writer friend who takes all these solo trips around the world, and she says if you don’t have something to read, sometimes you can strike up conversations with people around you and make friends—which I also find intimidating.

Logan: Yeah books. I’m adverse to sitting in a restaurant or bar and scrolling through Twitter (though I’ve done it, sure), but I read books on my phone (the key to doing this is that you have to put it on the mode where the screen is black and the words are white? Otherwise it’s too bright and you RUIN THE MOOD for you and everyone else. Plus it feels better on your eyeballs.) But yeah I go out alone all the time and have since … gosh, forever? I did it a lot when I lived in San Diego and didn’t really have any friends. Being around people—even if I don’t know them and am not talking to them—just feels so good sometimes, so I’d take myself out to dinner or bring a book to a bar. If I don’t have a book with me, which I always do now because of glorious ebooks, I’ll scribble on some paper or eavesdrop on people. I’ve made friends in bars, had good conversations with strangers, but I think if you go there with that sole interest, it can be disappointing. But, mostly, yeah. I read and nurse a drink.

Mike: Okay, I’m going to step in here, because this is the part where I think people might think, “Oh, but you can’t afford that!” Which: true. But, I think you’re aware of that, and the taking a different subway home plan is actually a good idea to take away that temptation. It’s interesting to be in that frame of mind, and then figure out how to take yourself out of it. My subconscious frame of mind is: “I can’t afford to stop at a bar, or stop by one of the many restaurants I walk by on the way home.” It’s actually something I don’t even think about doing. I basically just get on the train after work, and go home to whatever is waiting for me in the fridge.

Logan: Yeah, the idea of what I can “afford” and “not afford” has always been a problem for me, mostly in that I feel like if I can pay for it right now—with cash, with my debit card, historically, with a credit card—then I can afford it. My ideas about spending are heavily influenced by the Weight Watchers points system, basically: You can eat whatever you want, but you only have so many points, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Like, Weight Watchers doesn’t say, you can’t have cheesecake. They say, you can have cheesecake but then you can only eat raw vegetables the rest of the day because you’re out of points. So I feel like I can actually buy anything, I just have to be willing to not buy things when my money is gone. Which kind of works but when I run out of money two weeks before payday that kind of breaks down. But yeah, in the moment, I will always choose present me over future me, and if present me has $7 to buy a drink and tip the bartender and sit in a nice cozy bar with a book and good music, I will do that.

Mike: I think there’s a lot to unpack there! I feel like there must be a way for you to have those moments where you can do that, and also have real money to do it. Part of this, I think, has a lot to do with trade-offs. What things that cost you money would you be willing to give up so that you can have that money to do another thing you want, like stop by a bar on the way home from work? Let’s think about it and reconvene here, same time, next week!

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39 Comments / Post A Comment

bgprincipessa (#699)

THE BUNK.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@bgprincipessa I think I comment on pictures more often than article content, but I swear I read the articles too. (Reverse Playboy? Idk.)

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@bgprincipessa
Jimmy-You know what they call a man who pays that much attention to his clothes, don’t you?

Bunk-A grown up.

Oh Bunk I love you! Almost as much as Jimmy and Wallace and Frank Sabotka and Shardine and…

aetataureate (#1,310)

“I realized I could just way overdraw my account!” is not really a solution to “I ran out of money,” is it?? Gray-area credit-card-like scam solution?

@aetataureate One of her credit cards, which she gave to Mike to stop her using, is still attached to her account as overdraft protection. So technically it’s not a “proper” overdraft, just the bank charging her a fee to charge a credit card which she gave to friend so she wouldn’t charge it. (I think that’s the situation?)

@stuffisthings (And lest that sound too harsh, I should point out that I, employed at a grown-up job, am now off to ask my girlfriend, a grad student, to lend me some cash to get through to payday. Sigh.)

@stuffisthings This is a correct assessment! It wasn’t connected to my account for a long time—back in June I was debated reinstating the connection For Emergencies, but decided not to. Around the time I was moving (2 months ago??) I found the form to connect them again and decided to send it in. So this is the first time I’ve used it this year (I think?) and having gone so long without using credit cards, it is Really Stressful to see that balance going up instead of down and will transfer however much was transferred over back when I get paid.

Lily Rowan (#70)

I am fascinated by people, because it doesn’t even occur to me to worry about returning anything. “Changed my mind!” “Don’t like it after all!” “Didn’t fit right!” ….and that’s if they even ask, which they don’t necessarily.

sally (#917)

So, basically it’s taken six months to find out she had her one credit card for emergencies the whole time.

The thing with the Weight Watchers points system, though (if I remember correctly), is that it’s not just about day to day. It’s also about how many point you use in a week (or a month). So, like, you can’t eat all of your week’s worth of points at the beginning of the week – then you don’t have any left for sustenance at the end! Same with money – buy whatever you want and then stop buying when you run out of money….as long as you still have what you need to survive until next payday.

(That wasn’t very eloquent, but it’s been a very long Friday in my office)

questingbeast (#2,409)

@Saralyn@twitter Yeah, this is what I was thinking! When you start WeightWatchers it’s like ‘oh, I can have cake? BRILLIANT’, but then you realise that that lump of cake is not worth being hungry the rest of the day and if you plan out good full meals you’re actually more satisfied and you feel like you’ve earnt the treats you can fit in. It’s a good analogy for money really!

Megano! (#124)

Aw, let’s all ship Logan some booze for Christmas! And fancy glasses, so she can FEEL like she’s in a bar.

I did not get a smartphone until I was 24, so usually when I ate out alone (which is not super often, but it happens), I would just sit and enjoy my food, with a book if I had one with me. Usually I made happy food eating noises.

Slutface (#53)

@Megano! I just got a smartphone two weeks ago. I feel so bourgeois!

Megano! (#124)

@Slutface Actually i just realized my first phone was not a smartphone! I actually got my first smartphone in May!

Slutface (#53)

I can’t imagine having to change my route so I don’t spend money. Like, just go home. Why is it that hard? There are deeper issues going on here.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@Slutface Maybe you are also not a spending addict with $20k in credit card debt? If Logan was an alcoholic taking a different subway home to avoid the bar, I’m pretty sure we’d all be down with that. It’s her coping mechanism!

Slutface (#53)

@Lauren Good point, but I think it would be helpful for her to try to figure out WHY she is a spending addict. I have my own addiction issues and I couldn’t begin to try to change until I faced the root cause.

megsy (#1,565)

I don’t get people who are uncomfortable eating alone. Maybe I’m just a crazy extrovert.

kellyography (#250)

@megsy I’m an introvert and don’t mind doing anything alone. I go to movies and out to eat alone all the time. A book is definitely key in many situations.

tawdryhepburn (#2,826)

I don’t mean this in a judgmental or presumptuous way, and I know even if you found a sliding-scale clinic you might not be able to afford it, but have you tried therapy, Logan? A lot of the stuff you write about reminds me of my own issues with money before I started cognitive behavioral therapy – like, not returning stuff that would get you money you need back because you’re irrationality anxious? Me! I used to even not deposit checks for sizable amounts of money owed to me because the bank made me anxious.

Dealing with my underlying anxiety issues is the only thing that has ever made me able to change how I handle money. Trying to change my spending patterns without addressing the reason they existed never worked for me.

madrassoup (#929)

Hmm. I am starting to think that the editorial direction has guided the direction of the comment section, in that all the attention to Logan’s challenges (which she is always 100% honest about) has created an environment in which people feel REALLY free to snark on her. It’s a weird dynamic, and one in which I think that Mike is sometimes all too complicit. I’m not saying Logan is a victim here, but I do think that the site veers too hard and too often in the Logan Is a Mess direction.

Like, the discussion opens with Logan talking about a series of mishaps related to her computer and boots. Those are both money related, but it wasn’t enough somehow, so Mike had to remind her that she had other, “bigger” problems. Which then opens her up to being judged for how she’s getting around them (even for finding an alternate route home which, while not a choice everyone would make, has worked for her). It’s just so weird to me how comfortable everyone is with this, and makes me wonder what she needs to do to generate a different level of discussion. Like, should she liveblog her sessions with a therapist on top of it all so we feel like she’s addressing her issues to our satisfaction?

I just feel like Logan the person has to play Logan the character on this site so everyone, including Mike, can play their roles. But it is getting stale. Besides, I’d be interested in hearing what motivates some of Mike’s choices, too. Like going to bed at 10pm every weeknight? Taking lunch to work every single day? I’m honestly not judging, just listing examples of things that show how he seems to have an interesting – and heretofore unexplored – level of rigidity in his life. It’s an interesting counterpoint to Logan’s, but we only ever explore Logan’s stuff, and mostly only because everyone seems to want to see her fixed.

olivia (#1,618)

@madrassoup YES THIS. You summed up my thoughts on this exchange perfectly. I think this site would really benefit from more practical information and advice vs. this type of post. And I say that because I would really like more practical advice.

For example, when the post about the 401k loan came out, it was informative, because I didn’t really know much about those, but it didn’t really delve into the nitty gritty. I get that this isn’t an FAQ site about financial matters, but it seems like more solid how to type advice is missing.

Ellie (#62)

@madrassoup Yeah, I totally agree. This is a weird vibe. Honestly, I find reading about Logan’s financial issues incredibly uncomfortable (and yet I keep reading; I know I don’t have to). The most uncomfortable part for me are the justifications that are just barely justify-y enough that they would sound cute or funny or acceptable from someone without the same kind of debt. I guess I’m continuing to “snark” and I don’t always (though, I admit, I often do) feel that just because something’s on the internet, it’s open season, but this whole vibe is just weird. I like the idea of a site talking about young people and money, and I’m just as if not more voyeuristic than the next person, but I’d prefer it become less emotional/personal.

Nick (#1,548)

@Ellie FWIW, I completely disagree with you and sincerely hope Mike and Logan don’t clam up now about their personal experiences and thoughts about their finances (and life in general) or stop doing these types of articles. There are thousands of generic, interchangeable financial advice sites out there for your perusal, The Billfold’s main selling point is the personal element. If that makes you uncomfortable, then you should be asking yourself why you are apparently unable to just click “close tab” and instead are forcing your will upon others.

Slutface (#53)

@Nick I like the personal aspect, but I think the site (and Logan herself to some extent) think it’s cute or funny to have “Logan the mess” as this ongoing thing. I agree with the commenter above, that it’s starting to feel uncomfortable and even annoying. I used to love Logan’s posts and writing, but now I usually just end up rolling my eyes.

Mike Dang (#2)

Thanks for the comments here. The editorial direction of this site will always veer in the direction of what is real and honest, and these are real things that are happening in our lives right now. And what is real is sometimes uncomfortable. It is messy. And it is brave to put it out there honestly, like Logan does, and she chooses to do it as one-half of this site. It’s a little upsetting to hear that people would believe that we are discussing real, deep-rooted problems for amusement. And I know that a lot of people identify with Logan, and never say anything because they fear being judged (I know that because we get emails from them). Before we post these discussions, we know what we’re getting into. As the editors of this site, we know that it creates an opening for snark and criticism, but we don’t have any control over what the commenters will say. But as a whole, we believe the readership here (on all the Awl sites, really) is one of the smarter, and more considerate that we’ve come across, and we really appreciate that.

I really wish people would stop thinking of us as characters playing roles. We’re real people, with real feelings having honest discussions. This isn’t some storyline we’re making up. In real life, people have problems. Sometimes it takes time to identify those problems. Sometimes it takes even a greater amount of time to fix those problems. And watching this unfold over a long period of time without drastic changes can feel stale, but, that’s just real life. If this were fake and I were writing this storyline, Logan would have solved all her problems months ago, and we would currently be indebted to the mob or something, or maybe there would be a twist, and that twist would be that “Mike” and “Logan” never existed, but were created by some guy named Dave who lives in Ohio.

On our About page, we talk about how we’re not another personal finance site, that we’re interested in people’s lives, and that we want to create an honest conversation about difficult money issues. This is what makes us unique compared to the hundreds of PF sites out there that already delve into the nitty gritty, typical how-to stuff (plus, at the very top of our homepage, we have a how-to section you can click on that will take you to more than 50 pieces I’ve written giving how-tos and practical advice—everything from rolling your 401(k) into a Roth to what compound interest is). The reason why money is so difficult to talk about is because it’s emotional and personal, and this site would quickly become very boring if that was taken out of the equation.

And I’ve been completely open and honest here too. Are readers really unclear about who I am, and why I make the choices I make? Has my life not been explored enough? Earlier in the week in the post about bringing lunch to work, I wrote a long comment explaining that I bring my lunch because it allows me to reallocate that money to going out to nice dinners with my friends. I’ve also written about my routine a few times, which has me waking up at 5 a.m. every day, which is why I go to bed at 10 every night. I’ve written about how my family grew up with very little money and that our family of five once shared a one-bedroom apartment in a bad neighborhood where I wasn’t allowed to play outside at night; that I supported myself throughout college by taking out loans, and that I had to pay extra interest on those loans because my parents couldn’t co-sign them; that I have parents who disapprove of my career choices, and that because of that, my relationship with them is complicated; that I support them by sending home money every month, and that I have to work more than one job to do so; that there was a period in my life when I was also supporting my unemployed older brother, and that that was difficult for me and I felt conflicted over it; that my parents have no money saved up for retirement and that I worry about how I’m going to support them in their old age and feel that pressure every time I talk to them on the phone. The only way I’m supporting myself and my family is by maintaining a high level of responsibility. Has none of what I’ve written before explained the motivations behind the choices I make, or the “level of rigidity” in my life, or offer any sort of counterpoint to what Logan goes through? I believe that Logan and I have been equally and exceptionally open about our lives on this site. We’re keeping things honest and real, and we’re going to continue to do that. We also think that it’ll help if she and I have some of these conversations with other people, and that’s already in the works, and that’ll help provide a way to mix it up. I hope you trust what we’re doing as editors, and I thank you again for reading this response, and our site.

questingbeast (#2,409)

@Nick ‘There are thousands of generic, interchangeable financial advice sites out there for your perusal, The Billfold’s main selling point is the personal element.’ I completely agree with this. I think ‘traditional’ finance sites also tend to attract people who are already fairly finance-savvy, which is fine, but a lot of people having more ‘basic’ financial problems, who maybe need advice the most, wouldn’t find them useful. Personally I’m not in a position to be sorting out pensions or saving an awful lot right now, but ‘oh no I’ve spent all my money and it’s not payday’ is something I really identify with, and need to work on. I don’t think the commentors above should assume that everyone is tutting at Logan; I’m thinking ‘Wow, I know how that goes!’ and find a lot of Mike’s thoughts on it helpful. Different strokes and all that.

Slutface (#53)

@questingbeast I appreciate your thoughtful response Mike. I think because money is so personal, that IS why some readers are having a negative reaction. It’s not that we don’t like Logan, it’s we’re frustrated with her and WANT her to get it together. I know that doesn’t happen overnight and it’s hard work and I know she’s trying.

But I also think it’s unrealistic for you to expect that all your readers have the exact same reaction to the content. I don’t think anyone here was trolling or rude towards Logan. Just expressing their opinion.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Slutface And for the record, I don’t believe anyone here is being rude either, and I appreciate that people are taking the time (on a Saturday!) to comment on here. Time for coffee! :)

aetataureate (#1,310)

If people were sniping at Logan on random posts (are they? I . . . hope not) it would be one thing, but everyone comments openly on each post that’s about decisions in ANY way. Logan’s maybe not a mature spender or money manager at this point but she’s certainly an adult and knows what’s happening here. This is her job, literally! And getting paid to try to solve your own problems with a prudent friend/colleague’s near-constant guidance AND the input of a bunch of strangers you can take or leave is . . . kind of a dream come true.

Mike and Logan are perfect complements here. Logan lives a life many of us see and resemble and makes choices we see our friends and selves make but she is inwardly (now, outwardly) tormented by it and trying to change. She’s the picture of Dorian Gray that obviously a LOT of people in her age bracket (which I am also in!) are hiding and dealing with. Mike has an exceptionally good financial face and has pretty happily made the sacrifices to accomplish that, and I feel like the reason Logan is his friend and work partner and all of us find him compelling is that he ISN’T some smug ascetic.

aetataureate (#1,310)

(The best example from this week is actually the post about lunches, which made equal numbers of people annoyed for opposite reasons!)

Ellie (#62)

@Nick I’m not “forcing my will upon others,” I’m saying what I think about something on the internet, in a comments section provided for that purpose, with as much right to do so as you or anyone else has! The argument that if you’re dissatisfied with something, you should stop reading it instead of venturing a non-supportive opinion is really tired. Also, I don’t read this site (which I don’t even read terribly often) in search of financial advice and the lack of financial advice isn’t what I’m troubled by – just the “uncomfortable” vibe.

janestreet (#1,123)

@Mike Dang I feel like the point was that Logan opens up and gets snarked at and you open up with and are treated with deference and respect, which you deserve for winning at financial responsibility! But there’s still inequality here. And because of the audience are people who work hard to save money, there’s a natural snark at people who DON’T spend in a way the group feels is wise. And that CONTINUES that inequality, particularly because it fits into the narrative that Logan’s ways are wrong and yours are right — and as you often say, it’s not that black and white.

For instance, that lunch post got all these people cranked at me for spending buckets on lunch. But Logan was right, what I really wanted was the ease of mind, and … I can afford that lunch. So I do. But there is definitely a level of natural judging because this is hard and budgeting and money are not easy. It’s natural, but I don’t think it always makes it right. Polar opposites are EXCELLENT narrative tools — it’s the main reason I love this blog — but they do, naturally, generate some snark and that’s hard for people who see themselves in the “wrong”, you know? (Which is not to say it bothered me in re: lunches, I’m a big girl, but I think that’s what aforementioned commenters were getting at.)

DON (#706)

Hey, Mike, Logan, I just wanted to say you are both incredible. I never thought a boring-old personal finance blog would become my favorite blog, but it has. I get equal satisfaction out of the comment section here as I do having thanksgiving dinner with my extended family. Logan is off in the pantry having a glass of wine by herself, mike just left the room to go get desert ready and Nick and Ellie are still giving death stares across the table at each other. I’m over at the kids table eavesdropping/kicking my little cousins under the table. The tension could cut glass! Love you guys.

Don’t get me started on my money issues…I just forget about them by buying more things! YAY!

dudeascending (#1,921)

I really like the personal perspectives here because personal finance is, well, personal. I think it’s incredibly brave for Logan to open up about her situation. She’s also, presumably, paid a living wage to do so. There are lots of right ways to do personal finance, but no matter how you twist it, overspending ain’t one. Is it really snarky to point this out?

Whit@twitter (#2,413)

I have grown to really enjoy these conversations, since I feel like I have a Mike side and a Logan side within me, and lo, here are the conversations I have with myself in my brain, but OUTSIDE of my brain!

LHOOQ (#1,634)

Just a note to say that I appreciate what you guys do, Mike and Logan, and the thing I appreciate most is your honest, and willingness to be personal. Money seems to be the topic that is the hardest to talk about, and I think it’s better for everyone if we end that taboo.

My achilles heel is not money management but rather procrastination, which is kind of similar in some ways, and I am still stuck with the problem of only sometimes wanting to do the mature thing.

ThatJenn (#916)

I’ve started having more of my paycheck deposited into my savings account (which I can only withdraw from a few times a month, or else I get charged and it turns into a checking account) so I can use my checking account a little more like WW points/my allowance. Logan, any chance this might work for you? (I mean, after you get a little more caught up – I know what it’s like when you have so many debts and payments that you seemingly can’t afford to put any money away.)

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