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 part-time attorney/writer who has a joint income of $255,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a kayaking excursion.
Content Warning: This Money Diary discusses emotional and physical abuse.
Occupation: Part-Time Attorney/Writer
Industry: Public Interest Law
Location: Boston, MA
Joint Salary: $255,000 joint (I make $75/hour working part-time and my fiancé makes ~$225,000)
My Net Worth: -$29,800 ($10,000 in checking and savings, $61,000 in retirement savings, $8,200 in investments, $3,000 in crypto, and $112,000 in student loan debt.)
My Fiancé’s Net Worth: ~$2 million (Since we aren’t married yet, I will count his net worth separately. My fiancé’s net worth consists of a condo that he owns in full ($500,000), various investments, and savings/retirement. His condo is in a different state and he was renting it out until this month, which covered his condo fees. He is now trying to sell it.)
Debt: $112,000 in law school debt
My Paycheck Amount (weekly): ~$550
My Fiancé’s Paycheck (biweekly): ~$3,800
Rent: ~$3,710 ($3,505 base rent, $150 pet fee, and variable sewer/water charges.)
Student Loans: $1,692.28
Health Insurance: $108.76 biweekly
Dental Insurance: $17.02 biweekly
Vision Insurance: $4.40 biweekly
Hulu/Disney+: $0 (reimbursed by my Amex)
NYT Subscription: $0 (reimbursed by my Amex)
Amazon Prime: $12
Chewy Autoship: ~$60
Pet Insurance: $40
Amex Platinum: $695 (I had this card when the annual fee was $550, for the signup bonus. However, I am planning to cancel this, and my other related subscriptions.)
Phone: $200.39 (I use Mint Mobile and pay this for a 12-month plan for service and 4GB of data each month)
New York Bar Fees: $375
Massachusetts Bar Fees: $99
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?
Absolutely. My parents are first-generation immigrants who constantly emphasized the importance of education. It’s particularly true for my father, who used education as a path to the United States. For undergrad, I went to a state university on a full scholarship, which paid for tuition, room and board, and gave me a laptop and stipend. I took the scholarship in part because my father used finances as a tool of control, but also because my parents didn’t have any savings to help me. My father was emotionally and physically abusive and actually smashed my college-issued laptop beyond repair one time when I was visiting. Luckily, it had an excellent warranty on it, but things like this taught me how important it was to be financially independent. I graduated with no debt and went to law school, where I took on approximately $200,000 worth of debt. I pay off my credit cards every month and have no other debt.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents rarely talked about money. They grew up in a rural village in China and they have very little financial literacy. My parents would often deny certain things I asked for because they were “too expensive,” but we had enough to eat and were generally stable. I learned piecemeal things about our financial situation by observation. My mother stayed at home while my father worked. As I got older, I became aware that my parents made poor financial decisions. My father purchased a second house that we moved into right before the 2008 financial crisis, and our old house was incredibly difficult to sell. My father had heard horror stories about tenants not paying rent, so he refused to rent it and instead chose to pay two mortgages for years. He liquidated his retirement and borrowed money from family members to stay afloat and the house was sold years later at a loss. Any discussion about finances was bound up in discussions about the value of a good job, which was part of why I became an attorney.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I informally tutored students in high school for $12 an hour. My parents didn’t give me an allowance. I would occasionally go out to lunch with friends and hated having to borrow money and pay it back later, so I started tutoring. I worked some minimum wage jobs in college for more discretionary spending.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes. My parents regularly ignored debt collection slips — my father would go for months without opening a single piece of mail — and watching this made me very anxious. I got my mother’s old phone number when I graduated college and regularly got calls about unpaid bills. I worked for a year at a law firm before law school and got a call during work for a $100 medical bill. I immediately paid it because I knew my parents wouldn’t. As the oldest, I would often translate for my parents or help them with things. When I was in ninth grade, my mother briefly attended community college to try to get back into the workforce. I wrote her English essays for her because it was a requirement but her English was not good enough to write much. Things like this translated into an outsized sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of the household.
Do you worry about money now?
I don’t worry about our financial situation, but I have occasional psychological hangups about being financially dependent on my fiancé, P., especially now that he is covering all of our major bills. I’m taking a year to write a novel thanks to the financial support of P. I work part-time ($75 an hour, eight to ten hours a week) for a firm that provides discounted legal services. Prior to this, I worked in big law. After a series of traumatic events at my last job, and after P. was offered a new position that covered the loss of income from me working full-time, we decided I would take a year off to pursue creative writing. I am really grateful and lucky to be in a position where I can pursue my passion with the support of a partner, but I have a lot of trauma around finances being used for control. P. has always been supportive and has never made any demands on what I should do. I try to stay financially prudent and not take him for granted. If we were to break up or get divorced, I would return to law full-time. Neither of us comes from money; his parents were refugees, but much better with finances than my family. I am also slowly replenishing my emergency fund, which I depleted while unemployed and recovering from burnout.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I first became financially responsible at 18, when I went to college on a full ride, although I was still on my parents’ phone plan and health insurance until I started working in law. I wouldn’t say I’m financially independent at this moment because P. is my financial safety net and I am relying on him pretty heavily right now.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My mother occasionally deposited a few hundred dollars into my bank account when I was in school, and my father paid for my accommodations for summer internships in law school. I have not inherited any income.
6:30 a.m. — I wake up early against my will. This is a habit from my full-time days, where my anxiety about cases would wake me up. My fiancé, P., is traveling for work and won’t be home until later today. I shut my eyes again.
9:30 a.m. — My cats wake me up, so I get up and feed them. My morning routine is usually just brushing my teeth, a splash of water on my face, and sunscreen.
10:30 a.m. — I have a peach and a slice of Trader Joe’s Chantilly vanilla cake for breakfast.
11 a.m. — I do chores and alternate between listening to audiobooks and music. I have ADHD and am restarting medication today. This medication takes a few weeks to build up in my system before it kicks in. I was diagnosed at 21. I showed textbook signs of ADHD growing up, but I was a high achiever, so I wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood. I think my anxiety developed as a coping mechanism because I was unable to do anything unless I was panicking about it. I have tried a few medications that worked well but had bad side effects.
1 p.m. — I make a tomato and cucumber salad with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. I start cooking a batch of dried chickpeas in the Instant Pot to roast later. I haven’t worked out in a while and I idly wonder if joining a gym would motivate me. I have somehow forgotten that I used to pay for Equinox when I worked in big law and went there more often to shower than to work out.
1:30 p.m. — I remember I have a voucher code for a SoulCycle class. This was a promotion from my Bilt Mastercard, a credit card that gives us points for paying our rent. I book a class for 4 p.m. today.
3 p.m. — I have totally forgotten that I was making chickpeas. They finished cooking an hour ago, but I need to get to SoulCycle now. I put on sunscreen and mask up. I use Elta MD for my face and neck and use a Neutrogena Baby Sun Stick for the area around my eyes. After trying so many sunscreens that sting my eyes, I use sun sticks instead. I take the T to SoulCycle with a preloaded card.
4:05 p.m. — I’m late to the class because I have trouble finding a photo of my vaccine card, which I left at home. I somehow missed the subject line of my booking confirmation, which clearly stated “Vaccine Required.” In the studio, I stumble around in the dark to my bike and an employee helps me strap in for what feels like half the entire class.
4:45 p.m. — I am incredibly out of shape. I will not be elaborating further at this time.
5:05 p.m. — I take the T home. I need to preserve my phone battery because my apartment requires an app to get in, so I people watch on the train. Some random dude sits next to a woman and immediately manspreads to an offending degree so that she is forced to cross her legs to avoid touching him. The invisible ways women have to accommodate men enrages me.
5:35 p.m. — I get home incredibly tired. One of my cats curls up with me on the couch and I bury my face in his fluffy belly, thinking I should have eaten more than just a salad before working out. I regain my strength and take a shower.
6:15 p.m. — I bet you thought I forgot about the chickpeas, didn’t you? (Yeah, I totally did.) I preheat the oven before putting them in to roast.
6:30 p.m. — A friend sends me a fundraiser link for the shooting victims at Uvalde and I make a donation. The chickpeas are done roasting, so I season them and snack while I write. I shoot for 1,000 words every weekday. I take a short break to feed the cats. $50
8 p.m. — I finish writing. I should probably eat dinner but I’m already full from snacking. I’ll wait until P. is home and maybe we’ll order in. My executive dysfunction makes it hard to eat proper meals when P. isn’t here, so I usually just make really low-effort food.
8:30 p.m. — Eat another peach. P. texts me that he’s landed and will be home within an hour. I’m so excited to see him! We’ve been separated for a week, and until we move (when our lease is over we’ll be moving to the state where his job is based), he will be traveling pretty frequently.
9:15 p.m. — P. is home! He brings me two cronuts: mango and maple bacon flavored. He knows I love mango-flavored anything but got a second in case it isn’t good. The mango flavor is bomb. I eat half and save the rest for tomorrow.
10 p.m. — P. has been on a plane for half the day so we go outside for a walk. My mother would be so happy. She constantly tells me to take more walks. We wander around our neighborhood, which is basically an outdoor shopping mall and has a lively, bustling crowd even at this time of night. It’s nice to feel close to civilization without being right up against it, like in New York. P. hates New York.
10:15 p.m. — We talk about our day and I tell him my SoulCycle horror story and we plan an upcoming trip to Canada.
11 p.m. — I demonstrate to P. how I brush my cats’ teeth by myself. Usually, this is a two-person ordeal. Now I can brush their teeth every night, which they hate. I shower to get the sunscreen off. My usual routine: brush, floss, wash my face with Hada Labo cleanser, apply Hada Labo toner, and Cerave PM. We chat in bed before sleeping around midnight.
Daily Total: $50
6:30 a.m. — Awake again. I read a bit before going back to sleep.
10 a.m. — Wake up. For breakfast, P. cooks us scrambled eggs and I make us English breakfast tea. We finish off the cronuts.
12 p.m. — We pick up packages. I’m expecting five pounds of chickpeas, but the box we pick up is way too heavy to be that. It turns out to be five packages of levelers, used for propping up RVs, not chickpeas. A robot somewhere messed up. Walmart gives me a refund but doesn’t tell me how to ship them back; we’ll probably donate them later.
4 p.m. — My little sister calls me about her quarterly “good grades” bonus. She was born when I was in college, so she’s still in elementary school. Every semester, I pay her $5 for every A she gets and give her another $5 bonus if she gets straight As. She requests that I pay her in Robux, so I add it to her account. $30
4:30 p.m. — I bake bread. The recipe makes two loaves and I freeze one for later.
5 p.m. — We go to Trader Joe’s and buy milk, bananas, peaches, avocados, an onion, a shallot, corn, and sparkling pineapple juice. $22.20
5:30 p.m. — We make spaghetti and spaghetti sauce and pair it with the bread and sparkling pineapple juice. Our spaghetti sauce is by no means authentic, but it is tasty.
7:30 p.m. — Take a walk. A new macaron place has opened up near us so we each pick out two flavors to try: orange Grand Marnier, lavender, chocolate, and birthday cake. They’re good, but I think TJ’s macarons are just as good, if not better. $14.42
8 p.m. — We make popcorn, seasoned with smoked paprika, and open a bottle of pinot noir before watching Turning Red virtually with my siblings. I have three siblings, all younger than me. Since I get Hulu and Disney+ free through my Amex, we might as well use it until I cancel this card.
10:15 p.m. — After the movie, we clean up and I brush my cats’ teeth. After cleaning the litter box, which is my task because P. is allergic to cats but agreed to let me have cats anyway, I meet him in bed in bed.
Daily Total: $66.62
9:15 a.m. — Wake up. We make blueberry pancakes with homemade whipped cream and lemon zest, which is our weekend tradition. Our ginger is starting to go off so we also make chai. It’s pretty good, although I have been chasing the taste of an elusive chai that I love from a place in Cambridge and I really want to recreate it.
1:30 p.m. — I hyperfocus and deep clean the kitchen before taking a shower. I use a restaurant cashback app to make a reservation at an Afghan place my friend suggested for tonight. They are offering a $10 bonus on top of the cashback.
2 p.m. — Apply sunscreen, Heimish Artless Glow Base for the face and Supergoop Play for my body. I apply lipstick, which is about the total extent of makeup I usually wear. For more formal events, I’ll add eyeliner.
3 p.m. — We go out for a walk by the river and get half a pizza for lunch. $12.69
4 p.m. — Return home thirsty and drink sparkling pineapple juice from TJ’s with ice. We then take the T to meet a new friend, B., at a brewery. P. doesn’t have a CharlieCard, so he buys individual tickets. $2.40
5 p.m. — At the brewery, I get a sampler flight of fruity and sour beers while P. gets a pilsner. B. and P. are similar in that most of their current social interactions involve their partners’ friends, but they don’t have many of their own friends yet in the city. They randomly met on a flight, which I love. $26.45
7 p.m. — B. kindly gives us a ride to the Afghan restaurant, where we meet our friend, K.. We get aushak as an appetizer, which the menu describes as ravioli with a ground beef filling. I have a pan-fried sea bass dish and P. gets a kebab plate. K. gets lamb. The food is delicious and nicely spiced. P. pays for all of us. After I submit the receipt on the app, we get $25 back. I cash out my app for a total of $35 (I had $10 sitting in the app from before), which I convert into an Amazon gift card. $125
8:30 p.m. — We walk around the neighborhood before getting ice cream. I get Earl Grey and kulfi (cardamom and pistachio) scoops, while P. gets mocha white chocolate and a B3 (brown butter, brown sugar, and brownie bits). K. pays in return for us getting dinner. We take the T to our apartment so that K. can meet the kittens. $2.40
10:15 p.m. — In our apartment, I make two cups of chamomile tea for K. and myself. We hang out some more before K. goes back home. I do my usual bedtime routine before bed.
Daily Total: $168.94
9:15 a.m. — I wake up before P. and feed the cats. P. gets up an hour later and I make him some English breakfast tea.
11 a.m. — Today is a holiday. We’ve been meaning to go kayaking and the weather is perfect. I reserve a tandem kayak online while P. makes us avocado toast with the last of the homemade bread. $49.61
12:15 p.m. — We get ready to leave. Unbeknownst to me, my entire outfit is navy blue and I look insane.
1 p.m. — We walk to the kayak place and in no time are floating down the river. The weather is perfect. We kayak for an hour and chase around some swans before heading in the direction of home.
2 p.m. — We reward ourselves with boba. I get a mango slush with dragonfruit boba and P. gets his standard brown sugar boba. I’m on a mission to try every single boba this place offers before we leave. $14.95
3 p.m. — I’m hungry, and I cook and roast more chickpeas. We sit on the couch and chill while snacking.
6:15 p.m. — We make more spaghetti to use up the leftover pasta sauce and watch Eternals on Disney+. The spaghetti sauce is even better today than it was two days ago. We have the remaining half of the TJ’s chantilly cake for dessert. I take the day off from writing. I was really productive for the first two months of my 1,000-word challenge, but I am admittedly flagging a bit.
9 p.m. — It’s the end of the month, so we dispose of all the cats’ litter and put in fresh litter. Within five minutes, sure enough, there they both are, christening the litter box with terrifying determination.
10 p.m. — Get ready for bed, do my skin-care routine, and and asleep quickly.
Daily Total: $64.56
5 a.m. — I wake up suddenly and go read on the couch. Work anxiety again.
9 a.m. — P. wakes up and I make us English breakfast tea. I heat up some frozen red bean buns that I made a few months ago, but they’ve been in the freezer so long they’ve gone off. P. makes himself avocado toast with an egg on top and leaves some avocado for me. While toasting my bread, I call Amex to ask about retention offers on my credit card.
11 a.m. — I get distracted reading about credit card retention offers before suddenly remembering I was in the middle of making avocado toast. I eat it (the bread is cold now, sad), gulp down my forgotten cup of tea (also cold) and get ready for work. I do not feel like putting on sunscreen, so I wear a hat instead. Sometimes the act of doing small, inconsequential things takes more effort than I can manage.
11:30 a.m. — P. and I walk to the optometrist, where he is picking up new glasses.
12:15 p.m. — I underestimated how long this walk would take, so I quickly cook spaghetti and toss it in with the leftover spaghetti sauce before heading to work.
1 p.m. — I get into the office. In between bites of spaghetti, I do some drafting and research. Working only a few hours a week works really well for me because I work in short sprints. When I worked full-time, I would have super productive days followed by incredibly inefficient days because I needed to recover my mental stamina. Now, I can take time to recover without feeling guilty for being “on the clock.” I review my draft with my boss and she tells me she was impressed with something I drafted last week. We get along really well and I’m happy she values my work.
4 p.m. — I have a headache from being up so early, and I’ve already reviewed my first draft with my boss, so I let her know I’m leaving now and will come in earlier tomorrow. I top off my CharlieCard. $40
4:30 p.m. — I get home and zone out on the couch. I am exhausted. An hour later, P. comes out of his office to discuss dinner. I’m too tired to do anything so he leaves for TJ’s and comes back with a bottle of organic aloe vera drink, bananas, mangoes, avocados, limes, bougie sourdough bread, and frozen broccoli. $18.70
6 p.m. — We make miso honey chicken, broccoli, and rice. It’s pretty good!
8:30 p.m. — After watching some Netflix, we’re a little peckish, so we share a mango. P. toasts a few slices of the fancy sourdough bread and slathers them with salted butter. He raves about how it’s the best bread he’s ever had. One of our criteria in evaluating food is whether we can make it at home, and alas, I do not have the consistency needed to keep a sourdough starter alive.
8:45 p.m. — I make myself tea with my last chamomile tea sachet and briefly contemplate buying more, except I bought this tea in 2018, so I don’t drink it nearly enough to justify buying more. I have a bad habit of stocking up on stuff I rarely use. P. has some vanilla tea that I got as a sample. I write 1,000 words.
1o p.m. — I brush the cats’ teeth while P. puts the dishes away. I get in bed before P. does, but he takes showers for an ungodly amount of time. An hour later, we go to sleep.
Daily Total: $58.70
2 a.m. — I jolt awake. This is super annoying. I finally fall asleep when the sun starts to come up.
9 a.m. — I’m up. Not the most restful sleep. P. reminds me of how bad the side effects were when I originally took this medication because I’ve somehow forgotten. I’m just chasing that one glorious week when everything felt right with the world before I had an allergic reaction that forced me to go off the medication. It was the difference between gliding through air and slogging through mud.
9:30 a.m. — P. makes avocado toast for us. I boil water for tea.
10:30 a.m. — I put on sunscreen, grab some peaches for lunch, and head out to work.
5 p.m. — Wow, the day flew by! I worked for six hours straight with barely any breaks. I’m coming in again tomorrow because we have a hearing. I’ve already hit my normal amount of hours, but we have a lot to do this week so I don’t mind coming in again.
5:30 p.m. — I get home from work. P. and I chat about our day while preparing dinner, which is almost exactly what we ate yesterday, leftover miso chicken with broccoli.
7 p.m. — P. gets pulled into another work thing, so I write another 1,000 words. After P. is done, we go for a walk and get boba. As always, he gets the brown sugar milk tea boba and I try out a Tie Guan Yin tea with heart-shaped jelly. The jelly is too big to go through a straw, so I eat it with a spoon. The tea has a roasted and slightly bitter edge to it, kind of like hojicha. Meh. We start watching Bubble on Netflix. $14.33
9 p.m. — We get halfway through the movie but it’s getting late, so we get ready for bed. Tonight I do the whole skin care shebang: double cleanse with Heimish All-Clean Balm, then Hada Labo cleanser, then toner, and Skinceuticals Rapid Lipid Restore. Skinceuticals makes my skin look amazing but it is so expensive, so I use it sparingly.
10 p.m. — P. is taking one of his notoriously long showers and joins me in bed an hour later. He attempts verbal affirmation: “I like your hands. They’re so…handsome.” I reciprocate by complimenting his developing ab muscles. It turns out to be his rib. You win some, you lose some.
11 p.m. — All I can think about is this hearing. I take two melatonin pills and get in bed.
3 a.m. — Melatonin doesn’t work. I’ve been tossing and turning all night, thinking about this hearing. I’m frustrated because I feel like I have to constantly make the trade-off between struggling with ordinary tasks while being well-rested (unmedicated), or being competent yet tired all the time, which impacts my ability to do anything anyway (medicated). I take another dose of melatonin.
Daily Total: $14.33
3:15 a.m. — Still not sleepy, so I do some journaling on the couch.
3:45 a.m. — I buy a backup charger for my Mac so I don’t have to tote my only charger back and forth from the office. It’s an Amazon knockoff that costs $27.24 but is free because of the gift cards I redeemed earlier via my restaurant cashback app.
4:30 a.m. — I get caught up journaling before I see the time. I should get some actual sleep now. I probably shouldn’t take any more melatonin.
5:30 a.m. — Still awake and I hate everything. I always forget how bad the insomnia is on this medication. I typically don’t have issues falling asleep, just with staying asleep, but this is exacerbating all of my sleep issues.
6 a.m. — I finally fall asleep.
9 a.m. — P. wakes me up because I need to get going. I put on sunscreen and lipstick and get dressed for court. P. has sliced me a thick piece of toast with butter and made me English breakfast tea so I can get out the door quicker.
9:45 a.m. — I leave for the courthouse. We’re meeting the client at 10:30. Maybe I’ll be early for once!
9:50 a.m. — I forgot my bar card. I go back to get it. So much for being early.
10:15 a.m. — I introduce myself to the person I think is the client. It turns out to be our legal assistant, who I saw just yesterday. I blame it on my contacts, which are not my latest prescription, and my lack of sleep, but this is not an interaction I’ll be recovering from any time soon.
11 a.m. — The hearing goes fine. The judge is unpleasant.
12:45 p.m. — We get back from the hearing. I work on another filing that’s due today.
3 p.m. — I submit what I have to my boss and review it with her; it’s not completely done, but I have to get to an appointment. I take the T home and change out of my suit before walking to the dentist.
4 p.m. — I get to the dentist and let them know my insurance has changed. For some reason, they can’t update it on the same day and I have to pay the full fee for cleaning upfront. Their next date for cleaning is literally in six months, but they reassure me that they will reimburse me once the insurance benefits are verified. I’m annoyed, but I pay the fee. $179
5 p.m. — I feel a little better about the fee because I really like this dental hygienist! We use the same brand of floss, so we nerd out about it for a bit.
5:30 p.m. — I take an Uber to go to dinner at an Italian place with friends. I would normally cancel because I’m so tired but we’ve rescheduled this dinner so many times that I’m going to power through. I have, unfortunately, a lot of experience with doing things while sleep-deprived. I have a $15 monthly Uber credit through my Amex, which gets applied to this ride. $3.32
6 p.m. — We share duck croquettes and I get a saffron pasta dish with seafood. We split the bill three ways. $41.61
8:30 p.m. — This dinner was so nice! I’m glad I came out. My tiredness subsided somewhat during dinner. It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other so we all had a lot of updates. I split an Uber back with a friend who’s going my way. $11.09
10 p.m. — I am so tired. I won’t be able to write 1,000 words today. Thankfully, I’m done with work for the week, and it’s really nice to have permanent three-day weekends. I brush, floss, and do my skincare before crawling into bed.
Daily Total: $235.02
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