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It’s 11 PM on a Friday, and I’m doom scrolling on the internet when I take a detour to Refinery 29 for something light. I end up down a rabbit hole called The Money Diaries

“Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.”

The Money Diaries Prologue

The Money Diaries Paradox

I wonder, “what could be so taboo about women tracking what they spend?” As it turns out, a whole lot more than I expected. As a reader, you come to The Money Diaries for one of two experiences:

  1. To learn about yourself by relating to an anonymous diarist
  2. To be entertained by a diarist’s ridiculousness and a razor-sharp comment section

As a result, the series has become a paradox. It’s a corner of the internet where women are empowered to talk openly about money. It’s also a place where commenters are unrelentingly critical, proving why women don’t talk about money in the first place.

Origin of the Money Diaries

The series began in 2016 and is based on the idea that “the first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend.” Anonymous contributors are called diarists, and for a full week, they track everything. 

Each entry is time-stamped and includes candid commentary about the day. Entries must include every penny that was spent, but they often include much more. Through these confessionals, we get a sense of who these strangers are. Their sarcasm, sense of humor, and self-judgment come through, as does their self-awareness or lack of it.

At the beginning of each article, the diarists are profiled. Information such as their age, occupation, city of residence, annual income, savings, and net worth are summarized for context, but details are limited to maintain anonymity.

The Average Money Diarist

The average money diarist is young, affluent, and educated. As the series has progressed, Refinery 29 has worked to include a greater diversity of experiences. However, the average contributor still speaks to the makeup of Refinery 29s primary audience.

  • The average age is 27
  • The average salary is $93,135
  • Live in the United States in a Big City (15% live in New York City)
  • Has a full-time job with an annual salary

Data source: Redditor Dollars_to_Doughnuts analyzed 150 Money Diaries from October 2019 to March 2020. 

The Benefits of Keeping A Money Diary

The benefits of keeping a money diary for yourself are straightforward. Tracking your spending makes you more self-aware and can be a catalyst for change. 

The benefits of tracking your spending: 

  1. See how small expenditures add up
  2. Hold yourself accountable
  3. Look at your spending objectively
  4. Find ways to improve your budget
  5. Help stop mindless spending
  6. Set aside time each day to focus on your financial goals

On the other hand, the benefits of sharing publicly are open to interpretation. Those bold enough to submit money diaries to Refinery 29 for consideration should know that shouldering intense criticism is part of the deal. 

The Money Diaries Superlatives

Transparency and Intense Online Criticism 

If a millennial buys a $23 avocado wrap in the Hampton’s with inherited wealth and you don’t read about it on Money Diaries, did it actually happen? We may learn a lot more from diarists like us, but we are captivated by the unusual outliers. 

The fact that diarists are anonymous permits readers to look with a critical eye at their choices. The comment section has become a boisterous and essential part of The Money Diaries’ experience. 

Criticism is not limited to financial choices, either. Everything from a diarist’s occupation, drinking habits, and relationships are fair game for the commentariat. Nothing riles them more than inherited wealth, mooching off of partners or parents, no student loan debt, or high earners who aren’t generous. Low earners are also subject to criticism when they spend beyond their means, in the eyes of the keyboard warriors.

It’s easy to reduce the Money Diaries to its least relatable or most controversial contributors. After all, those are the dairies that gain viral traction, but in reality, the majority are ordinary people being radically honest about one week in their life. The comment sections on these posts are filled with messages of solidarity, validation, and genuine concern. 

For every negative comment, countless others defend a diarist’s right to spend her money and time as she chooses. 

“What on earth is everyone’s obsession with how hard or not hard another woman works? It’s a shame that Americans have such an unhealthy addiction to working themselves to the bone – we wear it like it’s some kind of badge of honor.”


Why Women Should Talk Openly About Money

When women are not open about how much money they make, it empowers the wrong people. For example, discussing compensation helps close the gender pay gap. Talking about income also helps lessen the shame women feel for out-earning their partners or prioritizing their careers. 

Women who like to spend money are often vilified by society as greedy or shallow. Talking openly about how you spend your money can help other women accept and embrace what is healthy for them and what is not. It’s also vitally important to recognize that what may be healthy spending for one woman is irresponsible for another. 

Go Ahead, Ask Your Friends About Money!

Since The Money Diaries took off, copycats have sprung up all over the internet. Money confessionals are now published on Vice, Wirecutter, Man Repeller, Reddit, and The Guardian, to name a few. Mention the series in a group of young women, and you are likely to meet with knowing nods. 

As exciting and dramatic as the series can be, talking with your friends about money doesn’t have to be. When friends ask me about my job or previous jobs, I include my salary in the conversation. It tells an important story. 

I am not hesitant to talk about my debt or my budget because being honest and open holds me accountable. Friends have told me that my openness has encouraged them to look closely at their own finances. I couldn’t think of a more positive outcome.

Feeling brave? If you decide to keep a money diary for a week, you can submit it to Refinery 29 for a chance to be featured.

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