Welcome to Money Diaries where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We’re asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.
Today: a policy researcher who makes $76,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Lush body scrub.
Occupation: Policy Researcher
Location: Austin, TX
Net Worth: $200,000 (checking and savings: $30,000, 401(k) and Roth IRA: $86,500, investments: $87,763)
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,703
Rent: $906 (I split rent with my partner)
Spotify: $5 (contribute to a family plan with my family)
SWEAT App: $54 every three months
Car/Rental Insurance: $65
Headspace: $20 (I bought a group plan around Christmas last year and gave it to five of my family members and friends)
Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
There was absolutely an expectation to attend both undergraduate and graduate school. I don’t think I ever realized there was a different path you could take. My parents paid for both undergrad and graduate school with help from my grandparents.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My mom would always hunt for a bargain for anything we’d buy and I definitely got my “must save money” mentality from her. Other than that, my family didn’t have too many conversations about money that I can remember.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started babysitting in middle school and made a significant amount of money from it through steady relationships with a few families. I loved babysitting and enjoyed having the extra cash around without having to ask my parents for money.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes and no. I was never worried about our family’s situation, but I heard my mom worrying about credit card bills a lot. Our family could probably be considered house poor — we lived in a great house and had everything we needed, but my parents did not have too much extra to spend aside from mortgage payments.
Do you worry about money now?
I wouldn’t say I worry, but I am very conscious about it. Sometimes I get stressed when I do spend money, even though I know I’m saving a decent amount. I compulsively track my spending and saving, and I also set a daily spend limit so I can stay on track with my savings. I’m hoping to reach a point where I can FIRE one day.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible for myself after graduating from undergraduate college (with the exception of my parents paying for grad school a year later). I am lucky to have a financial safety net in the form of my grandparents who are still alive.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
In addition to schooling, my mom gave me her old car. I’ve also received large sums of money from my grandparents. They are still alive, but I would almost consider these amounts close to money that I might receive in a will.
7 a.m. — My alarm wakes me up, but I hit snooze since I didn’t sleep well. My boyfriend of almost three years, T., kisses me goodbye and takes our dog to daycare on his way to work. He still works in person, while my job got switched to being virtual during the pandemic. My puppy (yes, I got a pandemic puppy in July) and boyfriend are the only two things that have kept me sane over the past year, but on days like this, I’m happy we have the option of doggie daycare. Being home all day with an energetic puppy is no joke. This is her second of 20 half-days in a package I bought earlier.
8:30 a.m. — I get up and make a smoothie with frozen blueberries, banana, flax seeds, oat milk, and a scoop of protein powder. I open my laptop and sleepily begin to work.
11 a.m. — I can never wait until noon to eat lunch. Today I make a frozen fish filet from Trader Joe’s, rice, and homemade beet sauerkraut. Yum! I love playing around in the kitchen, especially with fermentations like sauerkraut or sourdough bread. Yes, I baked my way through the pandemic, but I was baking even before then! I check my email and see that the couch for our patio that I ordered is scheduled to come this week, a whole month earlier than I thought! My boyfriend and I just moved apartments a few weeks ago, which was a huge stressor. I’m excited for this new couch, which feels to me like the final step of our move.
2 p.m. — I hop in the car to pick up my dog from daycare. On the way back, I stop at the car wash. It’s my dog’s first time in a car wash and her reaction is super funny. Obviously, I record it and send the video to my family. Back home, I drag a chair out to the patio and the pup snoozes next to me as I try to be productive for the rest of the workday. $11
6 p.m. — I finish working (I wasn’t super focused earlier so I made up for it by working a little later) and T. calls to tell me he’s going to be getting back late. I do a lower body workout from the Sweat app. T. finally gets home so we take the dog on a walk together. He offers to make dinner; farro salad with asparagus and pistachios. The recipe comes from a cookbook I got him for Christmas a year ago and he makes it about once a week.
8 p.m. — We wrap up the night with a few episodes of Stargate, which we’re binging on Netflix. It’s not really my type of show, but T. loves it and gets really excited when I make Stargate references throughout the day. We’ve finally made it to season 6 out of 10. I half-watch while I clean up the kitchen and prep some bread to rise overnight. I realize we’ve run out of bread flour, so I have to supplement with some older whole wheat that we have on hand. We’re asleep by 10:30.
Daily Total: $11
5 a.m. — Ugh, my least favorite kind of insomnia. I’m awake and can’t get back to sleep. I’ve read articles about this happening to so many people during the pandemic, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I don’t want to turn my brain on yet so I turn on Netflix. Gilmore Girls is my go-to show when I want more of a white-noise type deal, I’ve seen it so many times and their excessively fast-talking feels like a comfortable pattern.
7:30 a.m. — Back to my regularly scheduled grind. T. leaves as I take the puppy for a hike. When I get back home, I shower and make some toast with peanut butter and jelly, and drink a Clean to get some caffeine since I have a big presentation at 10. I shape the bread dough for its second rise.
10 a.m. — Turns out, the fact that I’ve been avoiding caffeine to try to improve my sleep made that Clean a terrible idea. I’m jittery the whole morning leading up to my presentation, but I end up killing it! My boss tells me I did a good job so I do a little happy dance.
11 a.m. — I walk my dog and stop in at my apartment’s leasing office to make sure they remember that we’d put in a few work requests on our new apartment. We learned that the people who lived here before us used the apartment as a weekend home, which explains why so many of the appliances didn’t work when we moved in. A ceiling fan is broken, the dryer doesn’t work, and we found a moldy leak in one of the closets. Since the winter storm was about a month ago, we aren’t too surprised to see leaks, etc. But the dryer not working has been our biggest issue. My boyfriend refuses to do laundry until the dryer is fixed and let’s just say our closet is just turning into a pile of his dirty clothes. When I get back home, I pop the bread in the oven.
12:30 p.m. — With the bread done and the dryer supposedly fixed (plot twist, it actually isn’t), I make lunch using the freshly baked bread. I make a version of a Rueben with sliced chicken, my sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing on my freshly baked bread. As a half-Jewish girl who grew up in the northeast, Ruebens are one of my true joys.
1 p.m. — I get a call from my neurologist who I was supposed to see today. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Occipital Neuralgia, a condition where the nerves at the top of my spine are damaged, which has caused really bad headaches. Moving (and possibly my first COVID vaccine shot) seems to have inflamed them again, so I’ve been planning to go in to get a steroid shot which would block the nerve pain. The shot is pretty expensive since it’s not covered by insurance, but it’s worth it to not live in fear that I could get a pulsing headache at any second. However, the doctor’s office called me to say that I shouldn’t come in for the shot today since my second vaccine shot is scheduled for tomorrow. This is a huge bummer.
2 p.m. — I want to take a break from working so I head to the pet store with my dog to reward her for being so chill all day. Plus, I hate it when she looks bored even though I might be projecting. I plan on buying her a couple of bones, but once I’m in the store, I remember that she needs dog food as well. What was supposed to be a cheap trip just became a bit more expensive. Oh well, now this saves me from making a separate Chewy order and I’d rather avoid having something shipped when I can just pick it up. $64.37
5:30 p.m. — T. gets home and we go on another walk. I cook dinner (sesame peanut noodles with chicken) and we discuss how the puppy has been walking stiff and acting somewhat lethargic. It might be time for a vet visit. I look into pet insurance and decide it might be a good investment in case we need to get x-rays, so I buy it with the full intention of canceling after we go to the vet. $28
9 p.m. — We play Zoom games with my parents for an hour. After I win at an online version of Scattergories, we say goodnight and head to bed. We’re asleep by 11. Big day tomorrow, getting my second vaccine shot!
Daily Total: $92.37
5 a.m. — I realize I’m awake and after a little while check the time, 5:28 a.m. Darn it. Instead of going the Netflix route, I grab my journal and write a few pages. Then I open up my Libby app and listen to my book on tape, Untamed by Glennon Doyle. The fact that I’d been seeing it all over social media feeds made me wary at first, but I’ve been truly enjoying it. Highly recommend.
7:30 a.m. — I get out of bed, truly ravenous by this point. I make scrambled eggs and toast, hoping the delicious smells will be nice for T. to wake up to. The dog and I go out for our morning hike.
9 a.m. — Vaccine time! I hop in the car to drive 40 minutes to the site. I fill up my tank on the way. When I get to the vaccine site, there’s no line at all, and it takes about 20 minutes including the 15 minute waiting period. I grab an “I got vaccinated!” sticker and a water bottle and head back to Austin. $20.99
11 a.m. — I do a light arm workout from my SWEAT app to try to mitigate arm pain then heat up some leftover bean soup for lunch. The soup, along with the bread I made yesterday, really hits the spot. As I open up my work computer, I realize it’s time to register for summer courses. I have been working toward a certificate in data analytics and visualization, so I need to register for another online class to complete the certificate by the end of the year. The class costs $840, but I will be reimbursed by my workplace with proof that I passed. Feeling extra thankful today that I work at a company where I can take the morning to get my vaccine and also further my career through continuing education. $840
3 p.m. — Another maintenance person has come to do repairs in my apartment for a few hours, so I go to a café and work on the patio. Plus, a little extra sugar couldn’t hurt today as I’m starting to feel lethargic from the shot. I pick up a fruit tart and a lemon tart. Delish. $7.53
5 p.m. — T. comes home and he convinces me to go on a walk with him and the dog. I take a nap while he works out and then for dinner, we have Instant Pot chicken along with sautéed kale. I work on my taxes and watch The Crown for the rest of the night. Lights out around 10.
Daily Total: $840.52
7 a.m. — T. wakes me up because he has to go in to work early. He’s already walked and fed the dog and even made me a smoothie. Score. The dog is full of energy today so we go on a hike and then head to the dog park. I get back, have my smoothie, and begin working around 8:30.
11 a.m. — I take a break, walk the dog, and submit an order at the grocery store that I’ll pick up on Saturday. Ordering two days in advance means free curbside pickup! I add food to meal prep for the week and a few items to bake cupcakes for my coworker’s birthday next week. I’ll be charged when I pick it up.
12 p.m. — Lunch is some leftover chicken with pasta. Then I take a nap. Sorry to my need to constantly be overachieving, the vaccine shot is stronger this time! My productivity is not my worth. My productivity is not my worth.
6 p.m. — T. is home, so we walk the dog together. We shake things up by exploring a new route on our hike this time. Neither of us wants to figure out what to do with our mishmash of leftovers in the fridge, so T. orders dinner from a restaurant near us. The hearty soup goes great with an overcast day and we eat some of my homemade bread to go with it.
8 p.m. — I’m feeling bakey (yes, it’s a word, especially when it comes to my moods) even though I don’t have any flour left. I throw together some chocolate bark using dark chocolate, coconut, and nuts. Pretty sure it’s going to be delicious, but I’ll have to wait until tomorrow after it cools to taste it. While I’m baking, I finish listening to Untamed and immediately want to dive into another inspiring book. I download Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea on my library app. Lights and tech are off by 11.
Daily Total: $0
6 a.m. — No. No. No. No. No. Back to sleep.
8:30 a.m. — I basically slept through the night! Woo!!! I happily get up and take the dog for a walk even though it’s raining. She’s unbothered by the dampness and it’s really pretty in the woods. Get home and make a smoothie. T. is staying home today because he has virtual class all day. He’s in a part-time graduate program and it meets on a Friday and Saturday once per month.
10:30 a.m. — Still haven’t started working, whoops. But my chocolate bark is delicious! I realize I don’t have it in me to work from home, I’ve really hit a wall after WFH for over a year. I head back to the café in hopes that a change of scenery will help me get something done. I purchase coffee and another pastry to fuel my determination. It helps a little. My productivity is not my worth. My productivity is not my worth. $7.53
12:30 p.m. — Since my computer is about to die, I leave the coffee shop and head to TJ Maxx across the street to buy tweezers. The two pairs that I already own inexplicably disappeared during our move and waiting until they show up is no longer an option. I promise myself that when I’m fully COVID-immune (just have to wait 12 more days!) the first appointment I’m going to make is to get my eyebrows shaped. I’m finding it increasingly important to keep my brow game strong since the rest of my face is covered by a mask when I go out in public. A body scrub catches my eye as well, but I tell myself to go to Lush where I can recycle the packaging. $4.32
5 p.m. — Our patio couch has been delivered! Putting this together seems like a perfect late-pandemic Friday night activity. We clean up the patio, pull out the couch, and it’s all put together in 15 minutes. Sometimes dating an engineer is really nice. We sit on our patio, listen to music, and drink beers for the rest of the evening. For dinner, I make fried rice with frozen vegetables. After dinner, we watch another episode of Stargate and then go to bed.
Daily Total: $11.85
8 a.m. — T. wakes me up because he has class but hasn’t walked the dog. To my delight, she actually jumps onto my bed and cuddles with me for 30 minutes. Maybe she is finally growing out of her puppy energy! I browse my phone and find that I have four credits left on my ClassPass account; I was an avid user of ClassPass before quarantine began a year ago. I find an outdoor class at my favorite barre studio and book it. I wonder why it’s been so deeply discounted until I look outside — it’s pretty windy and the weather report says 70% chance of rain. Oh no.
9:15 a.m. — I shovel down some cereal and rush downtown for my class. I’m super grateful that outdoor classes have become a regular thing during the pandemic. The weather turns gorgeous and I get a great workout in.
10:45 a.m. — As luck would have it, my barre studio is five minutes away from Lush. I head over to pick up a body scrub. When I get to the store, I see that they are experiencing a nationwide ingredients shortage (!!) so I go with a few new products, the Rub Rub Rub body scrub and the Let The Good Times Roll cleanser. I also get a tiny “naked” pot of lotion with a little paw print on it because I can’t resist its cuteness. $38.90
11 a.m. — I notice that there’s an OfficeMax right next to Lush. Since my new office space has carpet, I am in desperate need of a mat to protect the carpet from my office chair. I run in and grab the cheapest one they have. Luckily, I’m able to get this reimbursed since my company expanded wellness reimbursements to include office supplies. ($37.88, expensed)
11:15 a.m. — Finally, I head to HEB to pick up my grocery order for the week. The order has ingredients for breakfasts (eggs, Kodiak Cakes, cantaloupe); lunches (ramen, coconut milk); dinners (chicken, pork, sage, shallots, broccoli, garlic, apples, cranberries, lemons, onion, potatoes), snacks (pretzels, cashews, celery, Yasso frozen yogurt bars); and baking supplies (AP flour, cake flour, salt, dark brown sugar, chocolate chips, aluminum foil). I’ve planned out our next few dinners and I’ll be making a sage brine for the pork using a recipe from my favorite cookbook, Ruhlman’s Twenty. We’ll also be having a lot of chicken, potatoes, and vegetables, which happens to be T.’s favorite meal. He likes to keep it simple and healthy. As soon I get my order, I am emailed the receipt. $77.14
4 p.m. — While the afternoon consisted of napping with my puppy on the couch, I get up to tune into a “Stop Asian Hate” rally being held downtown. I had considered going in person, but since I’m still waiting for my vaccine to be fully effective, I figured it would be safer to attend virtually. Unfortunately, the event livestream cuts out after only the second speaker. Disappointed, I research online for more ways to donate my time and reach out to the group I volunteer with to see if they have any suggestions. They send a few resources and promise we’ll brainstorm at our monthly meeting next week. I donate $20 to the organizers of the rally. $20
6 p.m. — I sulk around for the rest of the evening, not feeling as inspired as I expected to. T. and I eat chicken, potatoes, and collard greens for dinner, and then we play cards. He destroys me in gin rummy.
10 p.m. — I have a quick mental breakdown about the fact that I should be doing more to help my community, but T. promises me we’ll figure out a plan to do more to help. After some soothing cuddles, I fall asleep fully clothed, without doing my nightly routine. The most energy I can muster is asking T. to bring me my birth control pill. A year ago, I would’ve never imagined having emotions like this. But over a year into this pandemic, it feels pretty normal to break down once in a while.
Daily Total: $136.04
9:30 a.m. — I wake up feeling refreshed and in a much better mood. I delete Instagram off my phone, something I tend to do when I’m making a concerted effort to stay positive. I make Kodiak Cake pancakes, adding chocolate chips to my half since T. likes his plain.
10:30 a.m. — Errand time. We head to Target so T. can pick up supplies for a project he wants to finish. When he’s not working or in school, T. spends his time woodworking. Today he’s planning to make a knife holder and a sofa table to go behind our couch in the living room area. We also remember we have a big bag of coins that we’ve been meaning to cash in at a Coinstar. We make bets on how much the coins will amount to, I guess $21 and he guesses $32. The coins end up amounting to $24.27, in the middle! We opt to put it on an Applebee’s gift card, because why not.
2 p.m. — T.’s woodworking takes up the next few hours, and I help him measure out and paint the wood for our table. I want to be able to say I helped with at least one piece of furniture in our apartment! We eat peanut butter sandwiches for a late lunch and then head out for another hike. On our hike, we see a group of people slacklining between highways 50 feet above the ground. Austin is definitely still weird sometimes.
6 p.m. — Where did this day go? I totally forgot about making the pork chop brine, so we make a kale salad with chicken, sweet potato, pepitas, and cranberries for dinner. I also begin to make a batch of cookies using some of the sage and other ingredients I got at the store yesterday. My best friend sent me the recipe for these cookies and could not stop raving about them.
8:30 p.m. — I tune in for my Sunday night Zoom call with my family. A weekly zoom with my family is a tradition that began when lockdown began and it’s turned out to be something I look forward to every week. We often include extended family living across the country too. This time, my grandparents join from Chicago and it’s nice to see them. When my Zoom call is done, I join T. who is watching Stargate yet again and we wash up and go to bed. We fall asleep around 10:30.
Daily Total: $0
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