A Week In Detroit, MI, On A $37,500 Salary

·28 min read

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 clinical research assistant who makes $37,500 per year and spends some of her money this week on piping bags.

Occupation: Clinical Research Assistant
Industry: Higher Education
Age: 23
Location: Detroit, MI
Salary: $37,500 + $30 per month cell phone allowance and mileage reimbursement
Net Worth: -$15,462.82 (My car, which is paid off and worth about $2,300, $7,705 in a mutual fund, $3,496.72 in a High Yield Savings Account, $4,466.18 in my Digit accounts, about $18 in a Roth IRA minus debt)
Debt: $33,448 in student loan debt
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,076.31
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $415 (Some background on my housing situation: my housemate I lived together last year. When it was getting close to renewing our lease, we agreed that we would like to continue to live together for the next year. Then her parents told her that if she was interested, they would give her the downpayment for a house. Since we agreed to live together for another year, we talked it over together and she ended up buying the house. Now I rent from her with a formal lease.)
Student Loans: $30 (My student loans are in deferment because I’m in grad school. I put a little money toward the interest.)
Water Bill: $20 (my half)
Car Insurance: $50 (I am still on my parent’s car insurance and this is the amount they ask me to pay. It would be double the cost if I had my own coverage.)
Health Insurance: $140 (deducted from my paycheck)
Vision Insurance: $6 (deducted from my paycheck)
Gas/Electric: $160 (my half)
Cell Phone: $84
Internet: $32 Wi-Fi (my half)
Tidal: $4.99
iCloud Storage: $0.99
Amazon Prime: $13.72
Digit: $2.99
90 Day Bae Patreon: $5
Curology: $45 every 2-3 months
Renter’s Insurance: $14.75
Mutual Fund: $10
Savings: $250 savings + whatever Digit takes out which is about $45-$70 per month

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 never a question of whether or not I would go to college. I knew I was going to college because that was the precedent in my family. All four of my grandparents have at least one master’s degree, my mom was a lawyer in her home country (she got a master’s degree when she came to the U.S.), and my dad has a Master’s degree. I paid for college a few ways: student loans; an undergraduate research program for minorities in STEM, which paid for my tuition balance after my student loans paid out; a little help from my mom freshman year; and some money from my grandparents in my junior and senior years. Right now, I am getting my master’s degree and that tuition is paid for via a tuition benefit because I work at the university that I attend.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I was taught almost nothing about money growing up. During the Great Recession, I knew my parents were stressed and accumulated a lot of credit card debt. I also watched my dad take financial hits when his real estate investments went wrong. So, I grew up being scared of credit cards but not knowing much else. Since college, I’ve taken it upon myself to learn about budgeting and investing and pass the knowledge along to my younger brothers.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was occasionally working in my church’s daycare when I was 12. Our priest recommended me and I’ve always been fiercely self-reliant so I jumped at the chance to have spending money. This job led to a summer nannying job for three little girls when I was 13. Looking back, I can’t believe someone trusted my little 13-year-old self to watch their three young kids. But I did it and was paid very well for it. I have had some kind of job (or more than one) ever since.

Did you worry about money growing up?
YES! As I mentioned above, my parents struggled during the Great Recession and I was already an anxious child so I absorbed their worry. My dad was also the primary breadwinner for most of my life and felt pressure because of that. A lot of that pressure was often taken out on my mom, my younger brothers, and me. I wanted to start to earn money from a young age so that I wouldn’t feel like a burden.

Do you worry about money now?
Of course. I wish I made a bit more money now because I would feel more secure and be able to help out my family more. I used to babysit on the side before the pandemic but now that income has gone away and I struggle to find part-time work that can fit into my schedule with work and school. I am optimistic that I will find a job that pays decently when I earn my master’s degree.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially independent this year when I was paying or at least contributing money towards all of my bills. If I needed money, I could ask my mom for a little bit or ask my aunt or grandparents. I could also move in with either of them if necessary but it would be my very last resort.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My grandparents invested in a mutual fund for me. When I turned 21, they turned the account over to me and it had about $10,000 in it. Since I’m learning more about investing, I will most likely change it to an index fund soon.

Day One

6 a.m. — I reluctantly wake up and start to get ready for my 7 a.m. pelvic floor physical therapy. I do a very lazy morning routine of micellar water and sunscreen and head out with my water and a pear.

8 a.m. — I finish my physical therapy session and realize that my oil desperately needs to be changed. I’m close to my usual mechanic so I stop for an oil change. $37.83

9 a.m. — I make it back home and log into my work computer. For context, I work as a research assistant on clinical trials. I answer messages from participants, update our databases, and make some phone calls to recruit people into our study.

10 a.m. — I stop to make breakfast — scrambled eggs with scallions, cherry tomatoes, and homemade oatcakes with double cream and honey on top.

12:20 p.m. — I stop working to have a check-in with my psychiatrist. I’ve been on SSRIs for about six months now. I was so hesitant to start taking them at first because I was unsure of how my body would respond to them. But I’m feeling much better now that I’m on them. My co-pay is $20 and I account for this money in my budget every month. $20

1 p.m. — I make more recruitment phone calls and then stop for lunch. I have some brown rice spaghetti with meat sauce mixed with mac and cheese. I know it’s a little weird but it’s very good. The energy company comes into the basement to replace the gas line.

4 p.m. — I thought I was supposed to have a Zoom call with a participant but I had the dates all mixed up. This has been happening a lot more lately and I feel so bad when I get stuff confused like this because I want to be professional and considerate to the participants who take the time to talk to me.

5 p.m. — I wallow a little bit while watching Desperate Housewives. While watching, I order some black KN95 and surgical masks from Amazon. I just think the black masks are so chic. I have a $10 Amazon gift card that I use to subsidize this purchase. $30.31

6:45 p.m. — I get a response from my OB/GYN who I messaged earlier today. She has a solution to the issue I brought up and I’m so relieved. I wasn’t being listened to when I started having pelvic pain issues and this doctor listened to me and referred me to physical therapy. It’s such a relief to be heard by a medical professional.

7 p.m. — I turn on some Minne Ripperton and start my reading assignment for class. I am taking bio-statistics this semester, which is a lot more straightforward than I thought it would be. This week we’re learning about linear regression.

8 p.m. — I finish my reading and go downstairs to eat dinner. I (usually) meal prep every Sunday because I don’t have time to cook during the week. I eat my prepped braised chicken thighs, scallion rice, and veggie stir fry. My housemate and I start the latest episode of 90 Day Fiance while I eat. We are AVID fans and watch the show together every week. Right now Mike and Natalie are stressing me out.

10 p.m. — I head upstairs to shower and get ready for bed. My nighttime skincare routine consists of CeraVe foaming face wash, my Curology prescription, Aveeno moisturizing cream, and a small amount of CeraVe healing ointment. I also add PFB Vanish to some dark spots I’ve been struggling with on my neck. I’m in bed by 11 and turn on a Harry Potter audiobook (f*ck J.K. Rowling for her transphobia but I don’t think I’m giving her any more money by listening to an audiobook on the Hoopla app) to go to sleep.

Daily Total: $88.14

Day Two

7:40 a.m. — My sunlight alarm clock goes off and I hit snooze for a while.

8:30 a.m. — I actually get up after checking my emails and finding some music to listen to (more Minnie Ripperton).

9 a.m. — I start working. I’m working on qualitative coding this morning. It can be very interesting but I get restless when I have to work on it for long periods of time.

12 p.m. — I eat some brunch (fried rice with chicken sausage and some egg with Maggi liquid seasoning) and work with less zeal than I did this morning. My friend calls me to tell me he got into grad school! We both have Caribbean parents and understand the pressure to achieve academically. Although, most of my academic pressure has been self-inflicted.

1 p.m. — I have a meeting and do some more recruitment calls.

3:30 p.m. — I have a quick FaceTime call with my boyfriend, M., and then prepare for a Zoom data collection.

5 p.m. — My first data collection is done and I’ll have a ton of paperwork to do for it later. I send off some time-sensitive reports to my boss and supervisor and finally log off at 7.

7:30 p.m. — My housemate and I go on a walk around our neighborhood. The city is coming out of hibernation and I love being able to see other people outside again.

8 p.m. — We get back and I make myself a drink with peach pear La Croix, a tiny bit of gin, and an elderflower and rose cordial I found at World Market. I also heat up a cauliflower pizza from Aldi in the oven for dinner.

9 p.m. — I get into the shower and then do my nighttime skincare routine. I’ve been trying a new way to preserve my wash and go at night — I use a mesh wig cap with an open top and lay my hair in the direction I want it to go. Then I put my bonnet on top. This seems to be keeping it more stretched and preserves my curls better than just putting my bonnet on.

9:30 p.m. — I talk to my mom on the phone and then my boyfriend. Then I start some pelvic floor stretching with a tool that my physical therapist recommended. I finish Runaway Bride while I’m doing my stretches. Late 90s/early 2000s is my favorite era of movies. I think it’s something about the styling (both wardrobe and set) and the pacing that make them feel so different and more calming than more recent movies.

11 p.m. — I turn on a Harry Potter audiobook and head to bed.

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

5:40 a.m. — My sunlight alarm goes off. I used to go to physical therapy twice a week and I forgot to disable the alarm. I turn it off and go back to sleep.

6:30 a.m. — Or I tried to go back to sleep lol. I lay in bed for a while and think about either reading or journaling. I decide on reading. I’m reading Honey Girl right now. It’s the first novel from this author and I wasn’t sure that I liked her writing style at first but I’m enjoying the book and the story is so relatable.

8:15 a.m. — I finally get up and start my morning routine. I wash my face with CeraVe foaming wash and use the Tonymoly I’m Rice scrub. Then I add Aveeno moisturizing cream, CeraVe healing ointment, and finish with Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen (two fingers worth even for my melanated, folks!).

9 a.m. — I start working and finish my coding from yesterday while listening to the sixth Outlander book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, on Hoopla. I refuse to actually read these books because they’re so damn long but I am determined to finish the series. Sometimes I even listen to them on 1.5x speed because there is just so much description. I make some black tea (I can only drink it with milk and a sweetener) and have scrambled eggs and an oatcake with honey and butter for breakfast.

10 a.m. — I make some phone calls and text participants. Part of my ASOS order that I made last week comes and one of the dresses fits. It’s gorgeous and brings tears to my eyes (this doesn’t take much lol). I haven’t put on a dress like this in a very long time.

1 p.m. — I have a coding meeting and then go through a survey for a research program that I was in during undergrad. I also call some participants to do appointment reminders.

3:30 p.m. — I wrap up work as I’m flexing my time for working late yesterday evening. I head out to CVS and Kroger.

4 p.m. — I pick up my prescription and grab some lotion at CVS. $11.84

4:15 p.m. — I head to Kroger. I’m making my littlest brother a belated birthday cake this weekend since he was away at school for his birthday this year. His favorite cake is a champagne cake so I get champagne, butter, food coloring, egg whites, and piping bags to make his cake. I also pick up cashew milk ice cream, whole milk Greek yogurt, eggs, vegan cookies, and yogurt-covered pretzels. $50.76

5 p.m. — I make myself a snack with the Greek yogurt, honey, and nutmeg. My Amazon package of masks comes! Then I head upstairs to call participants and get started on my lectures for this week.

7 p.m. — Okay, I procrastinate a lot but now I’m starting for real. At some point, while I’m watching my lectures, my little brother texts the group chat asking for gas money. I log into my old credit union’s banking app and send him $20. I used to bank here and still have a little bit of money left in the account for situations like these. $20

9 p.m. — I finish watching my lectures and proceed to go down a TikTok rabbit hole. I refuse to download the app on my phone because I don’t have enough confidence in my time management skills. But I figured out that I can watch TikToks to my heart’s content on my Firefox browser so I end up looking at a ton of videos on #striptok.

10 p.m. — I finally get off TikTok and head downstairs to eat dinner. It’s the same braised chicken thighs, scallion rice, and stir-fried veggies but I’m not tired of it yet. I also pay my credit bill while I’m eating. I like to pay off my bill in full every month. My mom is an authorized user on my credit card and sends me money to cover her portion every month. The bill total is $1,590.85 but my spending accounts for $862.93. It’s usually around $500 but I booked an Airbnb this month and have done some damage at ASOS with my stimulus check. I’m very grateful that my job is secure and that I can afford to spend my stimulus check on things that I want instead of basic needs like rent and food like so many others have been forced to do.

12 a.m. — After procrastinating getting ready for bed I finally get up and wash my face. I put on my Harry Potter audiobook and go to sleep.

Daily Total: $82.60

Day Four

7:40 a.m. — Sunlight alarm goes off and of course I snooze for a while.

8:15 a.m. — I get up and log onto Teams for work. No one needs anything from me so I put on some music (my old school Daily Mix on Tidal, which includes Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and of course, more Minnie Ripperton) and take a shower. My skincare routine this morning is the CeraVe foaming acne wash, Heritage Store Rosewater Toner, Aveeno moisturizing cream, CeraVe healing ointment, and then Supergoop’s Unseen sunscreen on top. I have to be on Zoom today, so I put on some eyebrow gel and mascara instead of being completely bare-faced. It’s so weird to think that I used to wear a full face of makeup to work every day before the pandemic.

9:15 a.m. — I bring down a load of laundry to start and make some tea. There appears to be a bug in the basement so I wait to start my load until my housemate comes downstairs and ask her to kill it for me. I really don’t like bugs, like really don’t. Especially any bug that would be crawling around the basement. My housemate and I have been friends for 11 years and living together for two so she is comfortable with her role as bug-killer in our relationship.

10 a.m. — I make some recruitment phone calls and then send out some Zoom invites. I also update some of our databases. My rent auto pay comes out of my account. It’s only $215 this month because my housemate got all of the stimulus money she hadn’t received and is lovely and cuts my rent in half.

12 p.m. — I look at the ASOS app and see that one of my orders has arrived. I immediately go upstairs to try it on. It’s a bikini and the top doesn’t fit. Women’s sizing can be so weird and inconsistent. I order a bigger bikini top and a smaller size of another dress I got from ASOS that doesn’t fit. These purchases are coming out of my stimulus money. $71

12:30 p.m. — I hurry around and make myself a quick lunch of a microwave baked potato and chicken sausage. I don’t have time to eat it before my next Zoom appointment so I make myself a cup of tea to sip on instead.

2:30 p.m. — I finish my Zoom data collection and eat my lunch. Then I get ready to drop off a test kit at one of the participant’s homes. We started this method because of the pandemic so we don’t have to come face to face with people.

4 p.m. — I see a charge on my credit card from the nutritionist I’m working with. My payment plan ended last month so I text and ask her to refund the charge.

5 p.m. — I’m back home and have to call someone to complete their COVID-19 screening. They brush me off and want me to call back at 5:30.

5:30 p.m. — Well, it turns out that that person has been around someone who has COVID so their drop off tomorrow has to be rescheduled. I don’t mind as it’s one more thing that’s off of my plate.

6 p.m. — I decide to work out. I’ve been really into dance cardio lately and have found this YouTube channel called and8 Fitness. They’re twin sisters who do really fun dance workouts and have me sweating with just a 20-minute video. I donate $5 to them afterward because they’re awesome. I also pay for the processing fee. $5.46

7 p.m. — I get into the shower. I eat dinner (more braised chicken thighs and scallion rice but this time with seaweed salad from Costco for ~variety~). Then I get my last load of laundry from the basement.

8 p.m. — I turn on Total Bellas (I do not care about WWE but started watching Total Divas when it first premiered and I love the Bella twins) and start some homework.

9 p.m. — I am determined to fold the piles of laundry around my room tonight so I stop doing homework and fold laundry with Total Bellas still on.

12 a.m. — I finish folding and putting laundry away. I watch another episode while eating some cashew ice cream, which honestly tastes just as good as dairy ice cream, then get up, brush my teeth, and head to bed. With Harry Potter, of course.

Daily Total: $76.46

Day Five

7:40 a.m. — Y’all know the deal.

8 a.m. — After snoozing, I decide to finish Honey Girl. I give it four out of five stars. I really enjoyed the story and reading about a young queer woman trying to figure her shit out. I also can relate to having a complicated relationship with your dad and trying to figure out who you are after going so hard in school for such a long time. I think the characters’ inner dialogue was written in a very flowery, kinda cheesy way that I didn’t love. I also want more from these characters but maybe the author set it up like that so that she can write a sequel. I struggle with not being “completely straight,” as I think about it, for several reasons including the aforementioned Caribbean parents. So, I am reading more books about queer women in an effort to help me feel more comfortable with myself.

8:30 a.m. — I log onto Teams and message with my supervisor about a new data collection procedure that got approved and the person who was exposed to COVID. We forgot that we wrote out procedures in case this happened and it turns out I can drop off their kit and they will mail it themselves.

12 p.m. — Do some work and talk to my mom on the phone.

2 p.m. — I stop working and eat lunch (braised chicken, scallion rice, and stir-fried veggies) while listening to the most recent episode of My Favorite Murder.

3 p.m. — My housemate and I decide we want to try this vegan fast food place that is downtown for dinner. They stop doing pick up at 4, so I place the order and head out. I order vegan cheese fries and a gyro with Quorn meat. $24.29

4:30 p.m. — I get back home and finish doing some data entry and submit my mileage reimbursement for the month.

5 p.m. — My housemate and I finish work and decide to enjoy some cannabis. I got more into cannabis when Michigan legalized recreational cannabis. I usually use it on the weekends, but there was a period of time last summer when it was my only form of anxiety medication and I used it more frequently. Detroit has only recently figured out how they want to proceed with recreational cannabis (MI cities can have a vote on whether or not they want to allow its sale) but I am grateful that native Detroiters get the first recreational licenses. It’s a way to make sure that this will be somewhat equitable as Black people have been getting the short end of the stick as recreational cannabis has been legalized in states across the country. I usually buy cannabis every other month or less. I like to get edibles and flower and usually spend $20-$40.

6 p.m. — We eat our take out and watch My Best Friend’s Wedding. This movie doesn’t make an ounce of sense. We don’t know who we are supposed to be rooting for but Julia Roberts looks beautiful as usual.

7:30 p.m. — We’ve moved on to an episode of Sherlock for old time’s sake.

9 p.m. — My housemate puts on Pride and Prejudice and I start to detangle my hair. I’ve learned a new way to care for my hair and have completely changed my routine since January.

11 p.m. — We finish the movie and I head upstairs and do my nighttime routine. I get into bed and turn on a random Tudor documentary on Amazon while I FaceTime my boyfriend. I fall asleep around 1.

Daily Total: $24.29

Day Six

7:50 a.m. — I wake up naturally and lay in bed for a while. I journal for a while and then get up to wash my hair.

11 a.m. — I finish diffusing my hair and while listening to A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I go down a YouTube rabbit hole for a little while before I realize that I need to eat before my therapy session. I go downstairs and make more oatcakes and eat them with scrambled eggs.

2 p.m. — I finish therapy. We talked about how I want to show up in relationships and reframing negative thoughts. I rush out of the house so that I can get to an Easter egg hunt that my mom is hosting. My little brother, L., who is just back from school wants to come too so I stop by my parent’s house to get him first. $20

3:30 p.m. — L. and I finally get to the easter egg hunt. There’s a really great turnout. We stay for an hour and then head out.

5 p.m. — I need gas so I pull up to a gas station and my brother hops out to pump. I just tell him to fill it all the way up. $39.30

5:15 p.m. — L. is hungry so we stop by a middle eastern restaurant that is close to my parent’s house to get him some food. Of course, he doesn’t have his debit card so I pay. $12.52

5:30 p.m. — I drop L. off at my parent’s house and get a call from M. His car isn’t starting and no one wants to help him jump it so I tell him I will come to help him. My elder little brother, J., is having car troubles too so he begs me to drop him off at the mechanic. I follow him to the mechanic and then drop him back off at my parent’s house.

6:15 p.m. — I get to the mall where my boyfriend’s car has stopped working. We get his car started and then go to dinner.

7 p.m. — We eat outside in one of those little igloo bubbles. I have a very mediocre Haloumi salad and M. has a tropical salad. The total is $35 with the tip and he pays.

7:15 p.m. — There is a liquid nitrogen ice cream place nearby so of course, I have to try it. You get to choose your own mix so it’s kind of like getting frozen yogurt. I get cookie butter and cheesecake with a sweet cream base and M. gets Oreo with a vanilla base. It comes out to $11.25 and M. pays.

7:30 p.m. — M.’s car is not starting again so I have to jump it again. Once we get it started, I tell him just to spend the night at my place instead of driving the hour and a half back home. He agrees but heads to see his friend first before coming over. I go home without him.

10 p.m. — I finish my homework! I’m a little hungry now so I go down to the kitchen and eat a little bulgogi with rice and Chinese broccoli that my roommate made. I also have a small glass of white wine and eat in the kitchen while I chat with my housemate.

11 p.m. — My boyfriend gets to the house and we head upstairs to bed. I think we put on something to watch but I can’t remember because I’m asleep pretty quickly.

Daily Total: $71.82

Day Seven

7:50 a.m. — I’m up.

8:15 a.m. — Okay, now I’m really up. My boyfriend and I talk and cuddle and then end up fooling around for a little bit.

9 a.m. — We get up and I head downstairs to make some breakfast. I make some scrambled eggs and we have oatcakes with double cream.

9:30 a.m. — I get started on my little brother’s birthday cake but realize I can’t find the piping bags I bought anywhere. I even text my housemate but I still can’t find them. I get ready to go to Kroger again but my boyfriend volunteers to go for me. He’s a saint.

10 a.m. — I am making progress with the cake and get it into the oven.

11 a.m. — The cakes are done so now I start on the icing. I’m trying to get more fancy with my cakes so I make some of the icing pink and some of the icing purple. When the cakes are cool, I ice them but I definitely need better tools so that I can up my game.

1 p.m. — I shower and get dressed then head to my to go to my parents’ house. I grew up in a neighborhood that was very connected. Since leaving, I’ve realized how unique my experience was. Almost all of us were immigrants from different parts of the world and we looked out for each other, carpooled, had barbecues, and provided childcare among other things. I’ve noticed that this type of connection is atypical among neighbors now so I really cherish my experience growing up. If we weren’t in a ponderosa, we would have stopped by Easter dinner at my across-the-street neighbor’s house. This year we stop to get food buffet-style and then head back across the street to eat.

2 p.m. — I pick up a turkey wing, mashed potatoes, collard greens, and mac and cheese from our neighbor. Then we sing happy birthday to my little brother and cut his cake.

3 p.m. — I need some things at Target so my mom and I decide to go. Of course, when we get there, it’s closed.

3:30 p.m. — I drop my mom back off at my parent’s house. I really don’t feel like meal prepping this week and mention this to my mom so she gets some prepared things out of her freezer and gives them to me. I love her.

4 p.m. — I get home and just lay around. I bounce between Youtube and Instagram. Sometimes it feels nice just to do nothing for a little while.

6 p.m. — I clean my room and change my sheets. Then I get into my pajamas and do my nighttime skincare routine. I am graduating from pelvic floor physical therapy tomorrow morning and want to be in bed on time.

8 p.m. — My housemate gets home and we talk for a while. I start His Only Wife and know I’m going to be hooked on this book. I go to sleep around 10. Goodnight!

Daily Total: $0

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