I got paid to let TikTok users decide how I spent my money for a month. Their choices surprised me.


I recently relocated to New York City and started a new job after graduating. I have a passion for fashion, beauty, my cultural heritage, and creating content. During my time on TikTok, I came across a video by Cleo inviting people to duet for a chance to become Cleo's chief spending officer, which essentially meant getting paid to spend money. As someone from New York, who recently moved there and loves spending, I decided to take the opportunity and was fortunate enough to be selected.

In this role, I participated in a social experiment where human decision-making was compared with Cleo's AI to help with budgeting, making better financial decisions, and saving effectively. Adjusting to the high cost of living in New York has been a challenge for me, despite working at a financial services firm. Managing my finances in this new cultural environment has been a significant undertaking.

My fascination with New York dates back to my first visit as a 19-year-old. The towering skyscrapers and the bustling energy of the city left a lasting impression on me, evoking a sense of wonder as I realized the uniqueness of each person's life and perspective in this vibrant metropolis. My journey to New York has been a remarkable experience, and I'm continuously adapting to the city's dynamic lifestyle and managing my finances effectively.  

I got $545 a week to spend

I got an allowance of $545 a week. That's the average people my age might hope to have for discretionary spending in New York, according to Cleo. I got to keep whatever I saved.

At first, I just assumed people would want me to spend just because they were living through me, right? With the first vlog I did, everyone chose the more expensive option which was to go to the spa for $100 instead of a $5 face mask. And then after that — I don't know if it was my vlogging style or what — they were like, "We're gonna make her save. She's having too much fun."

Every vote after that began to be the audience was choosing the frugal option, the cheaper option. So I think it was really interesting because my assumption going into it was the opposite. And it just kind of made me reflect as to what my spending habits are. And the way I view money regarding how AI does it and how others in the Cleo community do it.

So there was one — it was like using a Groupon for an adventure or going to a basketball game. I was really looking forward to the game. But they chose the cheaper option. I guess as a whole though it did show me that OK, yes, budgeting is good, and it's important to save, but also it's nice to treat yourself once in a while.

Rana Ahmed
Ahmed was "chief spending officer" for Cleo, an AI assistant for personal finances. 
Courtesty Cleo AI

The entire experiment was very eye-opening for me. It also encouraged me to start checking in more, seeing what the spending data is telling me — what the AI is telling me — how much I'm spending, and where I'm spending the most. Unfortunately, I'm spending the most on Amazon. I do spend mindlessly and I think that's what the experiment taught me.

Even though the audience chose the frugal options, I was still having fun.

Splurge it all on the last day

I compare the AI to an advisor — a financial advisor. Like your friends aren't really going to check you with your finances. They're not really aware of how much you're spending. Your parents — it's not their job.

During the last day, it was like, "OK, spend or splurge all the money that you've saved." So I was like, "Maybe this is going to be where things turn around for me." The last day maybe they're just going to be like, "Congratulations. You saved all week. Go enjoy yourself." But then they told me to save again. And then everyone in the comments was really interactive about it and they're like, "Save your money. Save your money." So it was nice.

I'll say I saved like, 60%, 65% of the money.

I'm from the suburbs. I drive everywhere. So when I came to New York, I was Ubering everywhere. Lyft. I'm not really taking the train. I'm not used to it. So I guess like being more conscious of money and mindlessly spending on everyday things. Like, yeah, treat yourself. But treating yourself doesn't mean a $30 Uber every other day. So just being cautious.

Also as I'm entering this next phase in life as a post-grad, just being more conscious of what my long-term financial goals are. Like, I'm 22. I'm not really thinking about buying a house. But at some point, it'd be nice to be like, "Oh, OK, I've been saving for a while now. This is something I can afford right now." Just because maybe I didn't take a couple of Ubers.

I always tell myself, "I don't want money to control me. I want to be able to control it." So having a healthy relationship with money is important.

I wouldn't really think about it until my credit card bill and I'd be like, "Oh, huh." But this is like in the tracks. It's calling me out.

I feel like my friends were voting for the more expensive option because they wanted to live through me. Because they knew me they were like, "Yes, go treat yourself!" But then the public had the complete opposite reaction.

Halloween as a burrito

One thing that stands out is Halloween. I had to do an experiment. It was spend $100 on a nice Halloween costume or spend 20 bucks and get crafty. So I remember walking around the city with people from the Cleo team. They're there to support me and filming and stuff. And we're just like, "OK, how am I going to get a costume for 20 bucks?" This is the day of Halloween. Everything quick and easy is out of stock.

So then we ended up going to CVS and getting tinfoil. And at Chipotle, it was "dress in a costume and get half-off Chipotle." Of course, I'm gonna go to Chipotle dressed as a burrito and I'm gonna get half off. So the girls wrapped me in tinfoil outside of Chipotle. And people were just walking around and, honestly, I thought they'd be more surprised but I guess that's the fun part about New York: You see weird things every day.

Once we started looking like a burrito and everything was kind of wrapped up they would start commenting. And then I had to waddle into Chipotle. It was so embarrassing, but I got my six-dollar burrito and I don't regret it.

Dive bar vs. Michelin-starred restaurant

One of the nights it was like a Michelin-star restaurant or a dive bar. It was interesting because I don't drink. Obviously, I want to try a Michelin-star restaurant. So I had my fingers crossed hoping they were going to pick the Michelin-star restaurant because the day before they had given me the cheaper option. So I had my fingers crossed. Lo and behold, they told me to go to a dive bar. So I was like, how am I going to do this when I don't drink?

I grabbed my roommate and we found this bar but it served non-alcoholic beer. It was just a normal bar. So we went in and I filmed the vlog. And everyone in the comments was like, "That's not what we told you to do." Like they're kind of against it. They're like, "We said dive bar." So it made me think maybe it could have gone to a dive bar and bought everybody drinks.

Rana Ahmed sips on a drink
Rana Ahmed went to a dive bar. 
Courtesy Cleo AI

When people voted for me to do the less-expensive option, I think ultimately, they put themselves in my position. I think there's not enough conversation or personal finance with my generation. So it's either you're very frugal or you spend money very easily.

I'm a first-generation American. I feel like my relationship with money over time is starting to change just because it's more accessible for me now that I've graduated and I'm working. And I think a big goal of mine is to be able to kind of support my family, especially my parents because I feel like they had to work a lot harder to get to where they are just because of the limitations they have, whether it was language or education or environment.

So now I'm working towards being in a position where I can support them. Managing my finances and being able to prioritize supporting them is really motivating for me.

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