Personal Finance Columnist Loses $10,000

Personal finance columnist M. P. Dunleavey lost $10,000. Her year-end financial review showed an inexplicable, gaping hole in her bank account. Where did the money go? Large hidden bank fees? Identity theft? Drugs?

I ran through the numbers again with my husband, and he reached the same conclusion: approximately $10,000 was missing in action. That was the vacation we didn’t take, part of the new roof we might need, some terrific wine we didn’t drink. Now we really wanted to know where that money went.

It wasn’t long before it showed up. After sitting there for a while at the kitchen table, stunned, my husband said, “Thirty dollars.”

He explained his theory. One day, we were about to visit friends and had offered to pick up dessert and wine — which came to about $30 . The next day we had a birthday to attend and a prescription to pick up, and we spent about $30. We took out the calculator: $10,000 divided by 365 is about $27.

It wasn’t that we spent $30 mindlessly every day, but once we started digging for the “we’re not really spending any money” money — a trip to Lowe’s, new shoes for my son, iTunes downloads for my husband, a new work outfit for me — all the little things fell into place.

M. P. Dunleavey lost $10,000 to teach us a lesson about nickel and diming our savings away. Her loss is a reminder that every time we go to the ATM, every time we stop for take-out, every time we reach for our wallet, money seeps from our bank account. There is a line between ascetic saving and carefree living, but as Dunleavey points out, it will shift between people and bank accounts: “It’s too stressful to monitor every dime you spend — yet it’s vital to know where your money is going, so that it goes toward what matters most.”

A Little Here, a Little There and It’s Gone [NYT]

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. DallasDMD says:

    Not knowing that $30 spent every day adds up to a significant amount is pretty downright stupid. Why should I listen to a so-called personal finance columnist who can’t grasp such simple concepts?

  2. One would think a personal financial columnist would know better about personal finance. It turns out her management skill is about as good as my cat.

  3. Tank says:

    oops

  4. flackman says:

    Was this photo taken on Casual Friday?

  5. popeye_doyle says:

    $10,000 goes a long way towards breast lift surgery.

  6. azntg says:

    The way the post is titled by the Consumerist is really sensationalistic, although it’s quite true.

    Goodness, that’s a pretty big oversight by the columnist. Every little bit adds up. Speaking of which, I think I’d better do some accounting too, to calculate the money that’s owed to me and that I owe! (I’ve been getting a little lax lately)

  7. headon says:

    She is trying to make a point but her elementary writing style limits her ability to express herself. She works for the Times? I thought they had editors. Put her on page six, she’s a ditz.

  8. BrianH says:

    Her column should be filed in the Scholastic books section along with Clifford and Curious George. I doubt there’s a single dimwit hanging on her every word, looking for her sagacious advice.

    If you’re living the lifestyle of “oh let’s flit over to Gelson’s gourmet and drop $30 on wine & chocolate so we can impress our friends”, maybe fretting over $10k/year isn’t really a big concern for you.

    I’m not even gonna comment on the photo.

  9. route52 says:

    It’s a sobering column. And she’s right: her point is that you have to be REALLY on top of your money, logging literally every single transaction, no matter how seemingly insignificant. That’s something I’m worried about for when I finally start making real money and not a grad student stipend – will my relatively swell bank account inspire weekly mindless $100 shopping sprees at Target? I sure hope not. But it takes real vigilance to avoid that habit.

    Her point at the end of the column is mostly correct – that money wasn’t wasted, necessarily; it bought things like paint for her house and shoes for her kid, which I think we can all agree are necessary expenses. The problem is that none of those expenditures were part of her budget; if she had money set aside in her budget for “household improvements” or “child necessities” she would a)know where her money was going and b)probably be able to limit her spending. She wouldn’t have ended the year with $10,000 extra dollars, but she might have ended it with $5,000. She says “it’s too stressful to monitor every dime you spend” – for me it would be too stressful not to!

  10. snowmentality says:

    @popeye_doyle — Yes, because this post was a call for opinions on whether Internet 13-year-olds find M.P. Dunleavey’s breasts sufficiently attractive.

  11. dlab says:

    This lady needs to stop blogging about personal finance. She’s supposed to know this kind of crap.

  12. new and troubling questions says:

    “my forte is the psychology of money, not the accounting of it” – i would NOT take much of any advice from this lady

  13. GearheadGeek says:

    @route52: One thing to do with that “real money” is what my partner is doing with his med-school money. Set out a monthly budget, put all the money you get into a high-yield savings account and put only the monthly budget money into a checking account. For us it was to help adjust to having LESS money (he went from working full time to med school) but it would work well either way. It’s just a free way to help you control the money, to help a little with the self-discipline.

  14. Trick says:

    Long ago before I began tracking every penny I spent with Quicken, I would often pull out $20 or more at the ATM for something cheap. Before I knew it, it would all be gone and I had no idea where it went.

    Now I keep receipts for everything and track it all. I can tell you the sales tax I paid on junk food from home improvements… at first I was shocked how much I wasted.

    I still do frivolous things here and there of course… but now I know when I am getting a little too frivolous and pull back.

  15. no.no.notorious says:

    ohhh NYT…just not as credible as you used to be. Tell me again now, how many times has Freakonomics been revised?

  16. loueloui says:

    Right, but think of all the money she saved on makeup. BLEG!

  17. RottNDude says:

    She looks like Constable Odo from Deep Space Nine – did he shape shift into a female again?

  18. sven.kirk says:

    @route52: There is cheap and easy program that track you spending. It is called Money/Quicken (your program preference). You can spend less than 5 minutes a day on it, and it will track your spending in ALL areas. Banking has come a long way from just using your check book register.

    Yes, I do understand that house maintenance, shoes, and clothes do add up. Especially when you do not keep track of them.

  19. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    No kidding. If you take $30 out of your bank account every day, then of course you’re not going to have anything left. My friends wonder why I don’t buy a $30 this or a $20 that as an impulse purchase, but I’m always the one at the end of the year with an intact back account and they’re all broke.

    Seriously, though, you’d think a personal finance columnist would have a better handle on her own finances.

  20. dlab says:

    @route52:

    Coming up with a budget and scrutinizing EVERY SINGLE PURCHASE you make are the logical first steps in taking control of your finances. This is something that parents should teach their children (as mine did), and not something that you should be surprised to learn from a personal finance writer. Particularly not from one who can’t account – or budget – for $30 worth of iTunes downloads one day and the same amount of wine and chocolate the next. HOW CAN YOU JUST LOSE $10,000???

    Thanks, Consumerist, for pointing out personal finance writers worth ignoring.

  21. laserjobs says:

    She has no credibility as a personal finance columnist if she can’t keep track of $10k. Where do these news orgainzations pick up these shills?

  22. Wouldn’t the money on that prescription have been tracked because it’s a medical expense? Is a personal finance columnist telling us that she doesn’t track her medical expenses for tax deductions? HELL, Target now prints medical totals ON receipts for this exact purpose. What’s next? Invest in Lotto tickets?

    “The guy at the counter said the odds are better than the Stock Market”, says NYT Finance Columnist.

  23. SuffolkHouse says:

    This story is stupid. They poured through their finances and didn’t realized they were somehow spending about $30 a day? Did their “system” just exclude charges of $30.00 from their ledger?

    Someone that stupid really should have lost $10,000.

    Lesson? Don’t be a complete and total idiot. Great lesson.

  24. @RottNDude: Be careful, next it will be a Tarqazian Razor Beast, and you’ll be sorry then. It’ll take Bashir three hours with a Dermal Regenerator.

  25. flackman says:

    This just makes me want to spend $30 today. Great, Consumerist. Thanks for being an enabler.

  26. craiggers says:

    Hello! She didn’t LOSE $10,000. It’s not like the money was there Tuesday and gone Wednesday. The article is meant to point out that the mindless little things we drop a few dollars on everyday adds up at the end of the year.

  27. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @craiggers: So I believe the point we’re making here is intelligent folks such as commenters here don’t need some self-proclaimed expert to tell us to keep track of things like that.
    But with the out-of-context quote presented here, it certainly sounds like a WTF moment as if the money had suddenly disappeared.

  28. reykjavik says:

    Everyone needs to chill the fuck out!!!

    A) Yes the picture is bizarre, but she’s pretty enough to be a finance columnist.

    B) She was just making a point that small expenses add up quick. $30 a day is a lot for all you single losers with no girlfriends. But when you have a spouse, kids, house etc… 30 a day is nothing! (and easy to not keep track of).

    C) Its the NYT! They’re a neo-nazi jew-hating rag that hasn’t told the truth in 100 years, so what do you expect from the people they hire? If you get this pissed off this easily I advise you not read the NYT as this shock and awe will be constant.

  29. wring says:

    @popeye_doyle: dude. she just needs a good bra.

  30. Rabbigrrl says:

    OK, folks, so you feel that it’s appropriate to comment on her breasts and appearancez? – You’re wrong. STFU about how she looks, that’s irrelevant, and offensive.

    Appropriate comment: My, how nice that she can afford to drop $30 a day on unaccounted purchases.

  31. route52 says:

    @dlab: Yes, I am aware of this. I do have a budget and I do keep every receipt I get and I do track my purchases in a green grid-ruled notebook and also, recently, on wasabe. I put 30% of each and every paycheck into a high yield savings account. I pay off my credit card balance in full every month, no exceptions ever. So I am no money moron. My point is that doing so is not always FUN and that if one is making a bunch of money, it can be a lot easier to forget about doing those boring but necessary things than it is when you are making less than $20,000 a year. It does take constant vigilance for me to maintain those good habits. I didn’t see this column as financial “advice” than it is someone (who, yes, should absolutely know better) saying that EVEN IF you write about finance as your profession it is still easy to lose track of those everyday purchases – so imagine how easy it is to lose track if you’re an average person who doesn’t like to think too much about money.

    Her reminder seems completely stupid and obvious to us because the demographic of this site is people who are extremely attuned to consumerism and consumption and spending and saving. The audience of the New York Times is much broader. Therefore, the column that seems like a waste of space to us might be a dramatic wake-up call for a lot of people. What is better, do you think – to insult and berate those people for being “stupid” or to try to apply the lesson to our own lives, no matter how seemingly obvious it is?

    @GearheadGeek: @sven.kirk: Thanks for the helpful advice (:

  32. Sherryness says:

    I’ve always had a column in my budget each week for “miscellaneous.” Set a reasonable amount for that column and stick to it. Seems like a no-brainer!

  33. I have my credit card number memorized. worst thing possible. swiping takes the consciousness out of spending. Go a week paying ONLY by cash and you will notice how much [useless] spending you do.

  34. disavow says:

    @dlab: If I had to track every last gas station cappuccino or cafeteria lunch at work, I’d burn out in minutes. So instead I give myself a monthly cash allowance of $200 plus after-tax income from overtime worked. If I go over, then I start paying closer attention. No relevance to this article ($10k? yowza!), it’s just a more-relaxed alternative to tracking everything.

    @reykjavik: So every single male is a loser. Gotcha.

  35. gingerCE says:

    First, it’s almost shocking that their health insurance costs almost as much as their home mortgage AND home equity loan–and that doesn’t include health costs/copays which she lists separately–just the insurance.

    However, the reason her system didn’t work was the easy access to money (debit/credit card). Hate to say it but since she is the breadwinner and her husband takes care of their kid, it sounds like he was spending the money–on little things that added up to 10K, Maybe she should do the budget, then give him cash so he can only spend the amount budgeted. If he needs extra put that into the budget so they know where the money is going.

  36. gingerCE says:

    I kinda agree that she should’ve known better. If she set a budget, why didn’t she realize that she was spending an extra $1000 a month than planned. Seems like she would’ve caught on to this over budget spending a lot sooner than she did.

    However, in the case of the LAUSD, some teachers were getting paid an extra $1000 a month and no one reported it so maybe people don’t notice an extra $1000 gone or gained each month.

  37. hollerhither says:

    Is this the NYT Style Section again…? Ugh.

    Says a lot for self-proclaimed “experts,” doesn’t it? I bet it was a struggle to decide whether to admit it and get a column out of it, or keep it to herself due to high embarrassment factor.

    I agree her looks shouldn’t be part of this but wearing a cleavage-baring tank top in a professional photo is a bit beyond the pale. All in all, not the best judgment on, er, display here.

  38. MissTic says:

    And the NY Times wonders why it’s profits are in the crapper??

  39. “She says “it’s too stressful to monitor every dime you spend” – for me it would be too stressful not to!”

    Yeah, how is this stressful? They give you receipts for everything, it takes hardly any longer to enter 15 at the end of the week instead of 10.

    And for just this reason I have my budget software automatically deduct $20 monthly from my budget, which accounts for things like parking meters and vending machines, which my husband isn’t perfect about and I’m not perfect about because they DON’T give receipts.

    (But, note, I don’t reconcile my budget software with my actual accounts; I simply use it to track spending, and then ensure it roughly matches with the accounts. That random $20 would be a rotten idea if you were reconciling.)

  40. rjhiggins says:

    Wow, the misogyny here is distressing. Apparently it’s OK to take financial advice from studs like Jim Kramer or Warren Buffett but not a woman who doesn’t measure up to the standards of attractiveness of a bunch of immature people with no greater accomplishment than the ability to post on an Internet message board.

    You guys must be thankful you don’t have to post your pictures here. I’d venture we wouldn’t mistake any of you for Brad Pitt.

  41. fredmertz says:

    @rjhiggins: If Jim Cramer’s PR photo showed him in a spandex tank top, the comments would be even worse. Like Jennifer Love Hewitt, the problem is dressing appropriately for one’s body, not the body itself.

  42. coren says:

    If “loses” means “didn’t keep track of personal spending, and spent”, then this would be a far better article title.

    Either way, doesn’t give me a lot of faith in the NYT columnist.

    @rjhiggins: Well, not mistake. Since I am Brad Pitt.

  43. czarandy says:

    It’s not “losing” if she got goods she felt were worth the money at the time.

  44. kimsama says:

    M. P. Dunleavey is one of the worst personal finance bloggers ever.

    Seriously, if you’ve never read her other columns, do yourself a favor and do so. They are hilarious. Like the one where she decides to buy a house even though she hasn’t been able to sell her old house because the new house is so cool and she’d be so sad if she didn’t buy it, that it’s worth it even though her and her husband’s salaries won’t cover it! But they can worry about that after they get their second house, dammit!

    And don’t even get me started on her “Women in Red” aka “Enabling women in debt to stay in debt and rationalize it like I do” column on MSN.

    As a woman, I think she’s disgusting because not only should she not be giving advice due to her inability to keep her own spending under control, she also perpetuates the stereotype that women are purely emotional when it comes to financial decisions. No, I think many of us are rational and careful like Eyebrows McGee (go Eyebrows!).

  45. Benny Gesserit says:

    @Rabbigrrl: Do you kiss you grandmother with that mouth?

  46. D-Bo says:

    That would be like a fitness columnist writing how she didn’t realized she gained 100 pounds over a year…

  47. Mr. Gunn says:

    That pic looks like it belongs on HotorNot, but it’s nice to know she’s the finance world’s Ric Romero.

  48. @Jim (The Canuck One): No but I did something to your mother with this one, Trebek.

  49. Nytmare says:

    Sounds like it was $10,000 cash expenses for a family of 4. So budget $2,500 per person per year for misc expenses and forget about keeping track of it all. What’s tracking the dimes going to get you?

  50. louisb3 says:

    How insipid. The headline should’ve read “Personal Finance Columnist Pisses Away $10,000″.

  51. bentcorner says:

    I would drink $30 worth of scotch a day if I was married to that nag.

  52. backbroken says:

    Holy shit! Money I spend comes out of my bank account!?!?

    Next article please.

  53. crapple says:

    diggers and redditers – check your snideness at the door.

    There is something to take away from this; even ‘experts’ make mistakes or find a way to improve…simple oversight does happen to everyone.

  54. mistaketv says:

    That story is contrived BS of the worst sort. It’s clearly a made-up revelation meant to impart a lesson. Nothing was ever missing, that’s just a label they applied to make it more dramatic for print. Insultingly transparent junk writing.

  55. Shadowman615 says:

    I think many of the commenters here didn’t actually read the article. Carey’s writeup on the article (“inexplicable, gaping hole in her bank account”) is a bit misleading here.

    And unless you are only making $20,000 a year, $10,000 is not really a lot to spend in a year. It comes out to, er…only about $30 a day! The point is, you could make any seemingly trivial expense look like a much worse sum when you look at it annually.

  56. badteaparty says:

    WOW – y’all are harsh, and tightwads to boot. Great if you want to save. Great if you keep track of every dime. Personally I am not going to freak out every time I need to pick up wine and pastries for a dinner party. I know how much my bills are. I know how much I need to save for retirement/emergencies/etc. After that, I don’t drive myself nuts – life is too short! I respect you guys for tracking every penny, but not everyone who doesn’t track every penny is a moron. I still have savings and no debt, so personal spending style is really noone’s business after that.

  57. uricmu says:

    Wouldn’t it make sense to have a separate credit card or a wallet compartment for this ad-hoc purchases?

  58. Beerad says:

    Gee, it’s just like that time I realized that I had totally lost $36,500 from my savings account last year, until it suddenly occurred to me that maybe the practice of lighting my daily after-evening cigar with a $100 bill was somehow related to the loss.

    This column can be summarized in six words: Little purchases, over time, add up. Not exactly a groundbreaking concept.

  59. anatak says:

    @discounteggroll: Exactly, M.P. is a prime candidate for a good ol’ budget and cash-based envelope system for spending.

    Maybe the point of her employ as a personal finance columnist is for readers to see her transformation from financial fool to financial semi-pro? sophomore?

  60. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    For goodness sakes, how does a personal finance columnist not run a budget and keep track of her expenses. It takes her until the end of the year to realize that she’s spent an extra $10k? I know how much I’ve spent at the end of every month and I don’t write a column advising people what to do with their money.

    Use a budget and you won’t randomly spend $30 every day. Plus $30 is a heck of a lot of random expenses day after day.

  61. And unless you are only making $20,000 a year, $10,000 is not really a lot to spend in a year.

    @Shadowman615: Maybe if you know where it’s going but the point here is that she didn’t. I would think that if you’re on a budget 10K in unaccounted for spending is a lot no matter how much money you make.

  62. I’m not understanding all the hoopla over the photo. I don’t even know how Consumerist got it: I’m not seeing it on the NY Times web site.

  63. Kurtz says:

    @fredmertz: The thought of Jim Kramer in a spandex tank top just made me throw up a little. Thanks.

  64. kakashisan says:

    We need a “Dumbass tag” for this one.

    /Oh wait, this isn’t Fark…

  65. Techguy1138 says:

    I actually liked this story. Please don’t hesitate to post more like it.

    She has 3 people in her family and is talking about $9 a day per person.It’s not hard to spend that. It’s easy to loose track of.

    I can see that this is a contrived story but it is a nice reminder that the little expenses add up. It shows how a couple of $$ per person per day can be a huge expense.

    It was written in a way that the writer wasn’t berating her reader for not being perfect. I liked it.

  66. backbroken says:

    Yes. Living costs money. According to the article, I can presume about $10 a day ($30/3 people).

    So the solution is….die or take a vow of poverty.

    As for me, I’ll spend that pocket change, make my life a little brighter, and not lose any sleep. For farks sake, you make it to spend it! Just do it within reason, and a few ‘day to day’ expenses are certainly within reason!

  67. olivia2.0 says:

    @popeye_doyle: Hey, fleshbot is that way —>

  68. SecureLocation says:

    I try never to take financial advice from women who dress like lap dancers (nor lap dances from women who dress like stock brokers)

  69. coren says:

    @backbroken: Except that this is 10 grand outside of their budget that they had no clue what happened to.

    So take your food, your rent, your utilities, car, insurance, gas, etc. Take all those out of the budget. Take out any big items you plan and budget for, or anything else you have to pay regularly.

    Now, after all that, I don’t know about you, but I’d be surprised if I spent more than 100 bucks extra a month (3 a day), and most of that, I knew I was spending at the time and actually, yknow, kept track of it.

    Which is what I’d expect a finance columnist to do.

  70. Shred says:

    1) Her boobs and lack of makeup have nothing to do with this article, and I hope beyond hope that you are a 13-year-old boy and that’s all that accounts for your misogyny.

    2) If you think her boobs require surgery, you obviously haven’t seen many real boobs.

    Jesus christ.