Interview guide

How are young people managing their spending?


Warm up

  • Thank for participating
  • Intro to project 
    • School project
    • Driven by curiosity on spending habits
  • Expectations
    • Time frame (30 minutes)
    • Able to leave at any time
    • Answer only questions that are comfortable
    • No right or wrong answers
  • Permission to record [start recording]



  • Get basic info on spending
  • Recent experience
    • Tell me about the last time you made a purchase. 
      • Look for: type of purchase, price of purchase, emotion towards purchase, awareness of purchasing habits, etc.
    • How did you choose to pay for [purchase]?
      • Look for: type of payment, rationale for type of payment, emotion toward payment, etc.
    • How common is that in comparison with your normal purchasing habits?
    • What would you consider to be a normal purchasing habit?
  • Accounts for spending
    • Tell me about the types of accounts you have for spending.
      • Look for: types of accounts, mentions of non-spending accounts like savings, attitudes towards accounts, etc.
    • How do you choose which account to spend from when?
    • How do you feel when you spend from [those accounts]?
    • Have you ever shifted habits in how you spend from which account? If so, why?
  • Balances
    • From your spending accounts, how often are you aware of your balance? How often are you unaware of your balance?
    • Tell me about a time when you were unaware of your balance in your account? How did you feel about that time?
  • Financial stability
    • What are your financial goal(s)?
      • Look for: stability, level of worry or stress, savings, big purchases, spending goals, etc.
    • How will you know when you've reached your goal(s)?
    • What are you doing currently to reach your goal(s)?
      • Look for: habits, tools, etc.
    • What would you change in your [habits, tools, etc] to meet your goal(s)?


Wrap up

  • Give opportunity to share other thoughts
  • Thank for time and insight

Interview notes


Taylor, 27

My closet is literally full of clothes with the tags still on. I can’t resist a deal, but I’m terrible at sending things back.

Occupation: Sales representative
Annual Salary: $83k
Types of accounts: Checking, credit cards (2), savings

  • Feels guilty about purchases, but still loves the "therapy" of shopping (both digital and online)
  • Feels pride about belongings, fashion is a key part of identity
  • Often can't buy things based on low balances
  • Has frequently borrowed from friends and family from small amounts like meals to larger amounts like rent
  • Wants to be out of debt, but doesn't see a way out

Mason, 28

I don’t usually worry about my spending, especially for anything tech-related. It’s important that I stay connected.

Occupation: Designer
Annual Salary: $75k
Types of accounts: Checking, credit card, savings, stocks, 401k

  • Frequently purchases high priced items on credit
  • Uses points card for travel
  • Pays off balances most of the time but sometimes spreads out bigger amounts over a few months
  • Doesn't often worry about balances, but every once in a while has to refill checking from savings on overdraft

Jacob, 24

I really just try to spend what I have and tuck away the rest for later. I’d like to buy a house someday, but it’s not anytime soon.

Occupation: Graduate student
Annual Salary: $12k + loan funds
Types of accounts: Checking

  • Primarily spends from checking account on debit card
  • Reviews finances weekly
  • Never does recurring payments or subscriptions, likes to review charges and receipts at an item level
  • Comparison shops online whenever possible 
  • Still asks for money from parents when in a pinch
  • Worries about student loan debt, but hopes the payoff will be worth it

Trinity, 21

The thing I’m most proud of is putting money away in my savings every paycheck. It’s hard, but rewarding to see it grow.

Occupation: Yoga instructor
Annual Salary: $52k
Types of accounts: Checking, credit card, savings

  • Only has one credit card and pays it off every month
  • Uses cash in savings for travel
  • Is a vegetarian and cooks at home to cut back on expenses
  • Has a dream of opening a yoga studio

Daniel, 28

I put more on my credit card than I’d like to. Like sometimes when my statement shows up, I’m shocked at how much I spent on just dinner.

Occupation: Retail manager
Annual Salary: $48k
Types of accounts: Checking, credit cards (3), 401k

  • Self-proclaimed "foodie," has thousands of followers on Instagram
  • Works hard, plays hard to blow off steam
  • Recently promoted to store manager
  • Has an overdraft backup to credit, uses this more than would like
  • Tends to not split bills when out with friends, but figures they'll make it up later
  • Would rather "live well now" than worry about the future

Julia, 23

Of course I worry about rent; it stresses me out. But there’s nothing I can do about that; it’s more the little stuff that gets me.

Occupation: Massage therapist
Annual Salary: $43k
Types of accounts: Checking, credit cards (2), savings

  • Sends money back to parents every month
  • Uses budgeting app, is frustrated that it seems like there's never any money left
  • Feels bad about buying things for self (clothing, dinners out, etc) but also needs those things
  • Hasn't taken a vacation in a year
  • Still waiting on employer to respond to her request for a raise
  • Thinks sometimes she could make more money working independently but needs benefits

Jessica, 34

I don’t have great credit, but I have a few cards that I rotate through. I try and pay them off every month, but let’s be real: that doesn’t always happen.

Occupation: Teacher
Annual Salary: $65k
Types of accounts: Checking, credit cards (5)

  • Pays minimum balances on credit cards
  • Returns gifts whenever possible for store credit
  • Feels depressed when checking balances so mostly avoids it
  • Works a part time job as a server to get cash 
  • Credit is low, so doesn't anticipate anything like buying a house
  • Hopes to find a financially stable partner


Emily, 26



Annual Salary

Types of accounts
Checking, credit card, savings, 401k


Spending weaknesses

  • Can't hold back from a quality pair of shoes or a designer handbag
  • Happily pays the extra for almond milk in her lattes or for added avocado

Financial strengths

  • Maxes out her 401k contributions every year
  • Reserves credit card for special occasions like big trips, pays for day to day from checking account
  • Checks balance frequently through banking app


  • Rent takes what feels like most of her paycheck
  • Even with her bank's itemization, it's still hard to see exactly where funds are going
  • Savings seems like an arbitrary action


  • Be aware of where money is going
  • Cut excessive or unnecessary spending
  • Have a safety net (e.g. a few months pay tucked away)

Research insights

  1. Finances are frustrating when money is tight, whether it's always tight or just when balances dip low. 

  2. People are unlikely to check balances, particularly when funds might be limited.

  3. Credit cards are used frequently as extra cash: either when balances are low or for big purchases.

  4. It's often difficult to balance spending between frequent small purchases and infrequent bigger purchases.

  5. People wish they had more money, despite the appeal of having things and experiences.