A Week In The Great Lakes On A $30,000 Salary

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 Project Coordinator who makes $30,000 per year and spends it on some of her money this week on sailing gloves.

Occupation: Project Coordinator
Industry: Nonprofit
Age: 21
Location: Small city in the Great Lakes
Salary: $30,000
Net Worth: I have about $30,000 in debt, a couple of assets (I think? My sailboat and my car), about $2,500 in savings at any given time, and about $1,000 in a retirement account that I haven’t started actively using yet. Maybe negative $20,000? Yikes.
Debt: $22,000 in federal student loans. $8,000 for my car loan.
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): About $1,040
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Housing: I live on a sailboat that I bought in cash two years ago. Dock fee is $2,200 a year, plus about $500 for winter storage. This includes electric, water, and use of all marina facilities (bathhouse, community kitchen, pool, patio) I pay half this, thanks to an arrangement with the marina manager where I help out in the busy season for him (spring and fall) doing odd jobs around the property. This is paid yearly. If you do the math, this works out to a housing cost of around $113 a month.
Car payment: $225
Student Loans: My payments will begin in October, and will be about $200 a month.
Cell Phone: $45 (for my portion of my family’s plan, I pay for my line and unlimited hotspot usage so I can have internet at the marina and when I’m traveling.)
Car Insurance: $86
Subscriptions: $10 (I am on my family’s Spotify and Netflix accounts, and they refuse to let me pay for it. This is my monthly donation to my local NPR station.)
















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. Neither of my parents has a four-year degree, and they cared deeply about me achieving more than they had the means to. I also had a knack for test-taking growing up, so my guidance counselors and teachers also always spoke with me about college aspirations. I attended an expensive public school for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, fitting both into four years. Academic scholarships covered most of this. My total cost of tuition for the four years was about $80,000, which was all paid for. My student loans were taken out to cover my living costs, which I have mixed feelings about. I am proud to have earned my scholarships and gotten my degree, but I wish I would have known more about how much rent costs in a college town. I worked all four years (20 hours a week editing an academic journal), but this was basically enough to cover groceries and gas for my car.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
In my household, money was looked at as a kind of necessary evil — having a job and making money was a way to allow us to do the things we really wanted to do, such as renovating a house or having boats or traveling. I did not receive an allowance, and my parents mostly educated me about finances through walking me through opening a savings account where I could put “birthday money” and explaining how a Certificate of Deposit worked (my grandparents were big on those). As I’ve gotten older, I started asking more questions about making, saving, and spending money, and they have been very open with me and answer all of my questions.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was as a lifeguard. I got it for several reasons: I wanted an excuse to not mow our huge lawn in the summer, I love the water and it seemed better than bagging groceries or fast food, and all my friends were doing it too. I came back to it for the following summers in high school because someone (my boss) finally explained to me that I was pretty good at it, and that if I worked hard I could become a head lifeguard (I did), and that this would look great on a résumé as a way to show responsibility and leadership. She was right.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No. My family wasn’t rich, but my parents were smart about having very little debt. I think they also insulated me from any worry — my dad lost his job in the 2008 financial crisis and I didn’t even realize it until a couple of years ago. I just remembered the time as the summer when my dad was home and we got to do a ton of cool stuff like building a raised garden bed for my mom and having chocolate milk every day at lunch.

Do you worry about money now?
Not really. Even though I don’t make a lot of money, I know that I can cover my monthly expenses and I have a little saved to get me through unexpected issues. I realize this comes from a place of privilege, but I honestly just don’t think about it that much. A college friend had been sending me Money Diaries and I realized this might be a good way to force myself to check in on my money situation as I transition to my post-grad life.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible for myself at the beginning of my freshman year of college. From then on, I paid my own rent, groceries, car payment, etc. I do have a financial safety net, and I am grateful for it. If I ever needed help, my parents would assist me, and they remind me of this often.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
No.



















Day One

6:30 a.m. — Cue The Bangles, it’s manic Monday. I wake up to sunlight starting to peek in the windows of my Catalina 25, directly into my eyes (depending on the day, this can be amazing or awful) and I get up to walk up to the bathhouse. I’m lucky that my marina has excellent liveaboard facilities. I shower and brush my teeth, say hello to the sleepy-eyed dockhands, and walk back out to the boat. I get a pot of water boiling on my electric hot pad, put a couple of spoonfuls of Cafe Bustelo into a Yeti tumbler, and get dressed for the day. I (carefully) pour the hot water into my tumbler, grab my work bag, and head up the dock to my car. Morning routine: done.

7:45 a.m. — Five-minute drive into work, park in the parking garage (free! Gotta love Midwestern cities), and head into the office. I’m always the first one here without trying. I get to work answering emails, reviewing bylaw drafts, and working on a project plan for a new program. The morning flies by.

12:45 p.m. — Break time. I walk across the street to a market/cafe and grab a green tea and a panini. Get a notification from my Apple watch that I need to move more today, so I walk down to the water and eat, then walk back to the office. $9.50

4 p.m. — After going over projects with the interns, scheduling Zoom meetings (like herding cats, always), and more email, I’m done for the day! I swing by my parents’ house to go for a run with my sister (who is in high school), and I end up staying for dinner. Both of my parents are excellent cooks, and tonight is homemade tomato basil pasta, eaten al fresco.

8 p.m. — Back at the marina, I take my kayak out for a little paddle down the coastline to unwind. When I’m done, I get out a glass of wine and set out in the cockpit. I text with my friend, D., about coming to visit this weekend and read a book. (The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry. It’s been recommended to me so many times, but I’m a little iffy on it so far.) Sun sets around 9, and I head to bed in the quarter berth. Lulled to sleep by the sound of gentle water on the hull.

Daily Total: $9.50

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — Same morning routine as always, beautiful sunrise today!

12:30 p.m. — After a morning that absolutely flies by, I head out for lunch with a coworker of mine. We pick a spot on the water, she gets an impossible burger and I get ahi tuna tacos and an iced tea. Then back to the grind! Program launches are so much fun. $12

4 p.m. — Done for the day. I stop to get gas ($37 for premium gas – German engineering is high maintenance, but worth it) on my way to the sailing club. I crew on a racing sailboat, and we have practice tonight. $37

9 p.m. — After three and a half hours of some really quality spinnaker practice, the team heads downtown for celebratory beers! I really need some sailing gloves, the calluses on my hands are not a good look. I get a local IPA and split some nachos with another crew member. I guess this counts as dinner? $16

10:30 p.m. — Back at the marina, falling into bed. My little sailboat is always so cozy, but especially on nights like these, when I’m exhausted and it’s about 64 degrees with a light breeze. Perfect sleeping weather!

Daily Total: $65

Day Three

6:30 a.m. — Morning routine again. Aggressive sunlight today, this feels very early.

12:50 p.m. — Come up for air after an intense planning session with the rest of the team today. We all head out to lunch at the market/cafe (same as Monday), and this time I get a tomato, mozzarella, and basil sandwich. I should really pack my lunch, but it’s difficult because I have very limited food storage on the sailboat. Something to work on. $7.50

4 p.m. — Done for the day! I stop at West Marine on the way to the club to buy sailing gloves. Hopefully these will stop the cycle of calluses on my hands. We have a race tonight, and the wind is nice and strong. We sail really well and come in second place. My team has a great mix of really experienced sailors and relative newbies (like myself) and I enjoy it immensely. In college, I was told constantly that I should move to D.C. or my state’s capitol if I wanted to have a chance in my field (nonprofit and public administration), but why would I want to live anywhere else when I can have such a low cost of living, and get to live like this? $42

9:30 p.m. — Back to the marina, eat a Clif bar, catch the afterglow of a beautiful sunset from the cockpit, and think about some plans for this weekend when D. is here, then off to bed.

Daily Total: $49.50

Day Four

6:30 a.m. — Morning routine. I also wake up to a text from my skipper saying we actually won last night! The boat who finished before us apparently crossed the start line too soon and had to take a time penalty. Great way to start the day.

10 a.m. — Important meeting with project partners and funders. We are getting a new program off the ground (it was supposed to start in May, but ya know, COVID). It’s tough to be in a sector where so much trust is built through face to face meetings, but my executive director has been doing a great job with adjusting how we do things. Mandatory face masks, meetings around huge conference tables, and virtual meetings have become the new normal, and it looks like it’s here to stay! I’m kind of expecting us to go back to all working from home as cases tick up again, as we all had been doing since I started after graduation in May.

1 p.m. — Slightly late (and long) lunch today — I meet a friend who is in town for work and we talk about her upcoming job plans and politics. We also discuss ways we can help out with some local campaigns in ways that are safe for the current climate. Some heavy conversation, but every conversation feels that way lately! Or maybe it’s just me. I get a taco bowl with grilled chicken, brown rice, corn, tomatoes, avocado, and a bunch of greens and herbs, and I pay for my friend’s meal as well. $33

4 p.m. — Debrief with my coworkers about the meeting this morning — the amount of new funding coming in for this project could mean serious changes in a positive direction for the nonprofit, and we are all really excited! I leave work feeling very hopeful for the future.

4:30 p.m. — I go kayaking in the wetlands with some friends and we see bald eagles, a couple of turtles, and baby ducks. Another huge pro of where I live!

6:30 p.m. — Dinner on the sailboat. I have exactly one pot, so I make a lot of one-pot meals. I make a stir fry (this is a stretch, it’s stir fry-ish) with brown rice, red and green peppers, and some weird stir fry sauce my parents gave me. Not bad! Everything tastes better when you’re sitting in the cockpit, looking out into the lake. I wash dishes up in our community kitchen and end up talking to some other liveaboards for a couple of hours. They invite me to their sailboat for drinks, and before I know it, its midnight. How does that happen?

12:30 a.m. — Finally tucked in the quarter berth. Goodnight!

Daily Total: $33

Day Five

5:30 a.m. — Happy Friday! Realized I haven’t exercised (almost) at all this week, so I get up early to run. I run along the lakeshore, startling countless seagulls and ducks, and watch the sunrise. Then, morning routine and head into work.

9 a.m. — I usually don’t eat breakfast, but this morning I am starving! I walk to a juice bar a couple of blocks over and get a blended smoothie/juice thing — dates, banana, cold brew, cacao. Looks strange, but it’s delicious and filling! Then back to work. $10

12 p.m. — My office closes at noon on summer Fridays and I think it’s just about the best perk ever invented. I chat with my boss quickly before we leave about scheduling a meeting next week to go over my plans. I just started here a couple of months ago, but I have ended up taking on a lot of responsibility with our new program and I want to check in with her on it. It feels so good to put my degree to use in a community that I really love!

1 p.m. — Snacky lunch on the boat — cheese sticks, Triscuits, and an apple. I really need to do better with cooking/packing lunch/the whole eating thing. Maybe next week. I close up the hatches and wash the outside of the boat, then check the shrouds and halyards. I’m going sailing this weekend with D., so I want to make sure everything is ready!

3 p.m. — I head to the grocery and buy hummus, pretzels, peanut butter, bread, a bottle of Tito’s, and grapefruit juice. $56

3:30 p.m. — I get back to the marina, put away the groceries, and get an email that my refund went through for the marathon I had signed up for in October that was canceled. I understand why it couldn’t go on, but after training for months it was a big let down. I found out it was canceled about two weeks ago, and since then I’ve run probably four times. Gotta find some new motivation! Credit of $138.

5 p.m. — D. is here! We’ve been friends for about six years and I literally never get sick of seeing him. We talk for hours, drink, eat, and watch the sunset together. I laugh at him for being 6’4″ and hitting his head everywhere on the sailboat, he tells me to buy a bigger sailboat. We pass out probably around 1. I don’t keep a clock on the boat.

Daily Total: $66

Day Six

8 a.m. — Rise and shine, it’s time to sail! But first, we make coffee with my hot pad (again, he tells me I need a bigger sailboat with a real galley, I tell him that he can be the one to buy it for me). We motor out of the marina, hoist the mainsail, then roll out the jib. It’s a beautiful day!

2 p.m. — We cruise along with nowhere to go and nowhere to be, and make peanut butter sandwiches when we get hungry. We jump in and swim a couple of times in the afternoon.

6 p.m. — We make it back into the marina, mix up some drinks, and head up to the pool. You really can’t beat a nice evening swim.

7 p.m. — Some liveaboard friends are heading downtown for sushi, and they offer to bring us back some. We give them $30 to get us spicy tuna rolls and whatever the house special is, and they refuse the money. When they get back we eat together and talk about their recent cruise. I feel so lucky to live in a marina where there are so many experienced sailors. They give great advice and always offer a helping hand on projects on the boat. D. and I head back to the boat around 10 (maybe?), drink, and watch the stars. At some point, we fall asleep outside.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

7 a.m. — Woken up by the sun and the smell of coffee drifting over from my boat neighbors. They offer us coffee and doughnuts from a local place and we happily accept!

9 a.m. — D. and I kayak down the lakeshore, talking about little trips we want to make for the rest of the summer. We travel together often and COVID has made us into great road-trippers lately. We both love to hike and backpack, and it’s pretty easy to be socially distant when you’re on a trail in hundreds of miles of wilderness.

1 p.m. — We head into town to look for lunch at the farmer’s market. With a mask and sunglasses on, I feel like I look like a bank robber, but I suppose we all do at the moment! We buy cherry tomatoes, butter lettuce, cucumbers, bell peppers, and some really good looking olive oil and sourdough bread. We take it back to the marina, introduce some lemons, and make a big salad, and dip chunks of bread into the olive oil. It comes out to $17.50 for my half. $17.50

3 p.m. — We go out on some family friends’ boat for wakeboarding and tubing. I’ll be so sore tomorrow, but it’s worth it! We give them $20 for gas. ($10 for my half) $10

6 p.m. — D. and I relax back on my sailboat with more bread and olive oil (is this weird? It’s delicious) and talk about the coming fall. I’ll need to find a place to live on land when the season is over in October, and his lease will be up. We somehow come to the conclusion that we should live together? I don’t know where this is going, but the conversation ends with us both grinning and me having to force him to actually head back to his house (an hour away) so we can both go to work tomorrow.

9:30 p.m. — In bed after taking a slow walk on the lakeshore to try to clear my head. So much to think about. Back at it tomorrow!

Daily Total: $27.50

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