A Week In Illinois On A $40,000 Salary

Refinery29
·25 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 military band member who makes $40,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a zipper.

Occupation: Military Band Member
Industry: Government
Age: 26
Location: Illinois
Salary: $24,512 in base pay, plus $15,668 in tax-free housing/food allowance
Net Worth: $3,250 (I have around $3,000 in my savings account, $11,000 in my Roth IRA, $5,500 in my TSP, and $16,250 in debt. I’m only recently out of the red and that is very exciting!!)
Debt: $16,250 in student loans
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,294.50
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $855 (I live in a one-bedroom with two cats.)
Loans: $500 for my master’s degree
Water: $45
Pet Rent: $40
TSP: $410 (government savings plan)
Roth IRA: $500
Savings: $150 (My savings account has some buckets in it (cat emergency fund, savings for moving, savings for car insurance that I pay every six months), and part of my monthly contribution goes into those buckets.)
Renter’s Insurance: $11
Car Insurance: $72 (although it’s paid off twice a year)
Electric: $40-$45
Internet: $60
Cell Phone: on my parents’ plan until this current lease is up
Netflix: use my parents’
Spotify: use my sister’s

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 expected it, although I know they would have accepted me not going, and my career field demands it. I’m a classical musician by trade and no one these days is getting a full-time playing job without several degrees. In my circle, it’s expected that most people get a bachelor’s and a master’s in their instrument. My parents are very generous and kind and they paid for my rent and tuition for my undergrad. I covered all expenses for my master’s, hence the loans.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
There was very little conversation, if any. I know my parents were struggling financially when I was young. My mom worked nights and went to school during the day to finish a degree she stopped when she got pregnant and my dad worked in construction. We lived in a one-room garage while my dad slowly renovated a house they bought until it was habitable. Things improved a lot for them once my mom got her teaching degree and we moved. I didn’t learn about anything financial from them, although my mom opened accounts for all of us at the local bank and we deposited whatever money we got in those.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was at 15 and I worked for an event company as a pseudo caterer/waiter/person who did whatever I was told to do. It was very physical work, but we got paid like $100 in cash at the end of the event so I didn’t complain. I got the job because a.) a lot of my friends worked for them and b.) I wanted to have money. I’m pretty sure that I hardly spent any of that money and just put it in the bank.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes. I knew we weren’t very well off when we were young and I always worried about being a financial burden on my parents. They are truly two of the most generous, open-hearted people and I am so lucky to have had them as parents because they gave me and my sisters everything we could possibly want. My mom never bought or did things for herself and I felt so guilty for that! I think that’s probably why I save so much nowadays.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes. Maybe even more than when I didn’t have any. When I graduated from grad school, I did a summer program at an institute in New York and when I got back to Chicago, I had such a hard time finding a job I could do while still maintaining my music and practicing four hours during the day. Long story short, I was super broke and barely made enough to eat. Now that I’ve won this job in the military and I have a super-secure source of income, it’s been hard to break from my old mindset and actually buy nice things or go out to eat. I know $40,000 is not that much, especially compared to a lot of other MDers, but I seriously feel like a millionaire.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible for myself when I moved from my home state to Chicago for grad school at 22. At that time, my parents did pay for my phone bill and streaming services etc, but that seems like a normal experience nowadays. However, my parents would 100% support me if I lost my job or had a financial crisis.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
When I graduated from grad school, my uncle gave me roughly $10,000, which I used to buy a used car. Again, my family is amazing and generous — he has done the same with all of my cousins who attended college, and the amount depended on their GPAs.

Day One

7 a.m. — Cat alarm clock activated. One of my cats, T., has digestion issues and I’ve cut chicken out of his diet, so he gets special wet food that my other cat, K., doesn’t. K. always steals T.’s food, so I give him some of his own canned chicken today aaaand he has no interest. Classic. I do my hygiene (brush my teeth, sunscreen, deodorant) and then it’s instant coffee time. I slice off a piece of banana bread that I made yesterday and munch while reading the news.

8:30 a.m. — Work time! I have to research some prospective pieces for next year, so I do a deep dive into that. All of the listening really makes me miss performing. Also, of course, emails, meetings, etc.

12 p.m. — I make a cup of Trader Joe’s chai tea. Soooo good. Also, lunch is BBQ lentil leftovers with toast.

12:30 p.m. — Practice time. I’m feeling extra motivated today after my listening session!

2:30 p.m. — I’m feeling cooped up, so I go on a walk for a bit outside and listen to a podcast. I get back and am still feeling cooped up, so I decide to drive to an orchard to pick up some apples. I also grab a loaf of hummingbird bread. I go on another walk around the orchard since it’s so beautiful and nice out today. $9.71

5 p.m. — Home now and it’s already dark out. Phooey. I put an emkfit workout up on my TV and follow along. It’s legs and butt and wow, I’m sore after. I also do a quick Blogilates arm workout even though I know I should let one part of my body not be sore tomorrow.

6 p.m. — Showered and refreshed, I start on dinner. I hate cooking because I’m lazy and don’t like standing in the kitchen for hours, but somehow always convince myself to cook long meals! I make vegetarian shepherd’s pie and have three burners going at once and manage not to burn anything — success!

7:30 p.m. — Dinner is ready and I take a swig of wine because that’s really all it takes and settle down to watch The Great British Baking Show with my long-distance boyfriend, C.

10 p.m. — I get into bed and put on an ASMR video to listen to while I read. I tell myself I’m going to stay up until 11, but I manage to fall asleep around 10:15 with my glasses on. Oof.

Daily Total: $9.71

Day Two

7 a.m. — The cats demand my attention, so I get up to feed/medicate them. Unfortunately, I can’t fall back asleep once I’m up, so I look through some news stories.

8 a.m. — Hunger strikes and I get out of bed. I grab a slice of the hummingbird bread from yesterday, put it in the toaster oven for a minute, and then put on some vegan butter. I get my french press going and freshen up. I put on a podcast (A Beautiful Mess) while I sit and enjoy breakfast.

8:30 a.m. — Time to go through emails and see what’s happening. Not much today that requires my attention.

9:15 a.m. — Weather says it’s raining this afternoon, so I head out for a run. I do sprints today for 2.5 miles and then walk the mile back home.

10:10 a.m. — Home and sweaty. I do a plank for a minute and a mini arm workout. I let myself cool down and chug some water before I take a shower.

11 a.m. — Back to work. More emails and I make a couple of calls. I also update my calendar with my new work meeting schedules. I get an email that my Chewy package has been delivered (ordered last week, and it was like $49). I open it and put together the cactus-shaped scratcher, which I bought in the hopes that my cats will use it instead of my couch. I spray it with some catnip to further entice them.

12 p.m. — Time to practice. I do a 30-minute warmup, then eat a quick lunch of BBQ lentils on toast, with an apple from yesterday. I move to repertoire and practice again.

3 p.m. — Feeling restless in the house and with no more duties today, I grab my mask and purse and get in the car. Cases are rising rapidly in my area, so I’m trying to limit my activities, but this is a special need. I pull up to Joann’s and get my curbside pickup order for an invisible zipper and a marking wheel. With my coupons, it comes out to $4.38. I then drive to Dunkin’ and get a medium iced coffee in the drive-thru. This is my first time getting coffee out since March! I pay ($3.01), pull over, apply hand sanitizer, wipe down my steering wheel, transfer the coffee to my own cup, then sanitize again. Is anyone else still so paranoid? $7.39

3:30 p.m. — I go to a local park and have a walk. It’s more crowded than I thought it would be, so I don’t stay very long. No one else seems to care about social distancing on the paths.

4:15 p.m. — Home and I wash up and then immediately take out my sister’s sewing machine and read through the manual. I bought fabric to make pillow covers months ago but then chickened out about hand sewing in a zipper so my sister lent me her sewing machine and I’m finally trying to figure it out. It does not go well.

5:15 p.m. — I call my mom and vent my frustration. She says how hard putting in a zipper is — thanks for the reassurance!! Oh well. It’s for a later time. I plop on the couch and turn on Alias, season 4.

6 p.m. — Dinner time, which is a salad today. I don’t know why I keep getting spring mix when I hate raw spinach. More Alias.

8:30 p.m. — I am addicted to this trash show. C. sends me some keyboards he likes and I give him my opinion. I find a Sailor Moon one and am seriously considering it!! I chug water because I feel like I have been lacking.

9 p.m. — Hygiene done (hyaluronic acid, retinol moisturizer, teeth flossed), in bed, watching my ASMR and reading, when I realize that I should make overnight oats for tomorrow, so I begrudgingly unwrap myself and make it (oats, chia seeds, PB2, soy milk). I catch T. playing with a new toy and he looks so guilty for some reason haha. I manage to wait until 11 to fall asleep. Hoorah!

Daily Total: $7.39

Day Three

6:50 a.m. — In classic cat form, the day I want to wake up early, my cats don’t bother me. I don’t use an alarm clock, I just let myself rise naturally (or by cats), so I’m happy I woke up early.

7:05 a.m. — It’s Veterans Day today, so I have the day off. I watch some videos my career field has put out and am moved to tears. I get ready, grab my coffee from yesterday, and head out.

8:30 a.m. — Long trip, but I made it! I’m finally checking out a state park hiking trail. It’s six miles and 30 degrees out, but I’m psyched.

11 a.m. — Sweaty and also freezing, I get in my car and drive to a gas station (mask up, glove up, fill ‘er up). I forget to put the gas cap on before I turn on my car, and then the check engine light goes off. Upsettingly, despite putting the cap back on, the check engine light stays on the whole ride home?? Praying that it will go away. $16.71

11:30 a.m. — Run into a local coffee shop and got a veggie quiche to eat before I head home. It’s so tasty. $6

12:30 p.m. — Back home. I shower and change into comfy clothes since I’m still cold from the hike. I put on The Bachelorette episode from last night and do a little cleaning, then snuggle the cats.

1:30 p.m. — I attempt to practice but start feeling lightheaded and nauseous, so I get into bed. I got diagnosed with gastritis early this year after many years of unexplained stomach issues and the issue is basically resolved, but I still get bouts of this a few times a month. I know I’m probably just dehydrated and need to eat, but I can’t stomach the idea of food so I just grab some water.

4 p.m. — Have been munching on crackers with no change, so I move to the couch to watch Alias.

5 p.m. — Finally starting to feel more human, so I throw together a flatbread pizza with onion, bell pepper, and banana pepper on it. I put What To Expect When You’re Expecting on and do the dishes while I wait for dinner to be ready. Guess what y’all, this movie also made me cry. How??

7 p.m. — Motivated by a conversation with C., I draft my dream home design/layout to send to him. I have no artistic skills and no idea how roofs work, but it’s fun to imagine!

8:30 p.m. — Man I’m really not good at keeping myself out of bed at night. I do some holiday present searching for C. and my mom. I’ve already gotten both of my sisters’ presents taken care of, thank goodness. I almost buy something for C., but at the last second look up the product and see it way cheaper on a different website! Phew. I do buy myself a June menstrual cup since it’s on sale. $9.99

10:24 p.m. — Snuggling the kitties. I apparently text C. “Fall aslee]us gig gn g gn g luv u” while half asleep so. I’m sure he is charmed.

Daily Total: $32.70

Day Four

7:15 a.m. — Rise and shine! Once again wake up before the cats came at me. Nice.

8:20 a.m. — In uniform, I drive to work. We’re filming the visual portion of a holiday video we recorded last month and I’m cautiously excited. I’m happy to be doing my actual job, but nervous about being in person.

1 p.m. — Back home. I’m still hungry, so I compile some leftovers — the 1/4 of the pizza I didn’t eat yesterday and the rest of my lentils. Also an oatmeal raisin cookie.

1:45 p.m. — Practice grind time. So not feeling it right now, but I will persevere.

3:15 p.m. — I get on my work laptop and do a bit of work I didn’t finish this morning.

4 p.m. — Feeling sleepy, so I make an instant coffee and go on a walk around the neighborhood.

5 p.m. — The sun has set, so I return home and do a 15-minute arm workout and then a 15-minute ab workout from Blogilates. C. FaceTimes me as I’m finishing and we catch each other up on our days.

6:20 p.m. — Showered, skincare done, I put on a movie — Morning Glory — and snuggle with my cats on the couch and have a light apple and cheese snack.

7:30 p.m. — My spring mix is sad so I force myself to fish out what pieces are good and make a salad with it. Blegh. The only thing worse than raw spinach is wilted spinach. Also, while doing dishes my slippery hand drops my french press beaker and it shatters everywhere! This is a truly tragic evening.

8:30 p.m. — When Morning Glory is over, I put on Bling Ring. I know I consume a lot of media, but sometimes it’s just to have some noise in the house. I don’t love living alone on evenings like this.

10:30 p.m. — Teeth flossed, kitties snuggled, ASMR on, anxiety about the future running rampant, I fall asleep around 11.

Daily Total: $0

Day Five

7:30 a.m. — Wake up. Feed and medicate the kitties, then I go to the kitchen to make some instant coffee and grab a slice of banana bread to warm. While that’s happening, I get changed into jeans and a cardigan (I feel like the odd one out, but I have to put on proper clothes every day in order to get things done) and do the hygiene. I settle down for coffee and news. A new stay at home order has been issued in my state and I’m starting to feel the COVID anxiety rising again. I’m supposed to start my two-week quarantine before I see C. for Thanksgiving today, which means I’ll need to get groceries delivered probably once before then. Part of me is starting to second guess my decision to travel though.

9 a.m. — Time to get to work. I have a bunch of meetings and a call with my supervisor who encourages me to volunteer somewhere, so I shoot an email to a local farm/hiking trail asking to help maintain the trails.

12:15 p.m. — Lunch break! I heat up leftover shepherd’s pie and have an oatmeal cookie and a berry La Croix. I also throw my laundry into the communal washer, conveniently located next door to my apartment. $1.25

1 p.m. — Practice. I take my laundry out and hang it up precariously throughout my apartment. I have underwear hanging about on every surface.

3 p.m. — I pack up my instrument, check my work computer for emails, and put on my little sister’s Twitch stream. She got into it recently and I try to leave her streams up for as long as I can — I don’t know if that does anything for her, but I try! Also, I update my monthly spending spreadsheet with my purchases from this week and since it’s payday (hooray!), I move $500 to my Vanguard, $500 to my student loans, and $200 to my savings account, as an offset for my social security (since government workers aren’t paying social security until January when we’ll have to pay double) and for my car insurance bucket (since I noticed that I’m a bit behind on funding it). My usual $150 to savings will get auto-drafted on Monday.

4 p.m. — My neighbor is getting her carpet professionally cleaned and the machine is literally right outside my living room window making an unimaginable racket, so I bundle up to go on a walk in the neighborhood. When I get back, my hands are frozen so I make a chai tea, grab a handful of kettle corn, and snuggle up with the kitties on the couch while I put on The Circle.

5:30 p.m. — C. finishes with his lesson and he gives me a call. He’s been really busy with school and music lately and I’m so proud of him for how hard he’s been working, but I miss him. When we hang up, I do some tidying around the apartment.

7:30 p.m. — I heat up more shepherd’s pie for dinner, pour a glass of merlot, and put on The Great British Baking Show to watch with C.

8:30 p.m. — Afterwards, I play a bit of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and eat a Reese’s pumpkin until I start feeling sleepy. I do my once-a-week exfoliant (The Ordinary’s AHA 30% + BHA 2%) and follow up with hyaluronic acid. I get into bed, much to the pleasure of the kitties who instantly come snuggle. I read and put on some ASMR and fall asleep around 11.

Daily Total: $1.25

Day Six

8 a.m. — I sleep in a bit today, probably due to the thunderstorm going on. So dark outside! I take care of the kitties, wonder why I’m cramping a bit, and then realize I missed two days of the pill… I recently switched from the ring because my vagina was “too tiny” according to the gynecologist. Good thing I’m not having sex right now.

8:30 a.m. — Really feeling those lazy vibes today. I pour a little bowl of cereal, cuddle my cat who has been screaming all over the apartment today, and do some reading.

11 a.m. — I place another pick-up order at Joann’s for crafting supplies. C. and I have our anniversary in December, so we decided last year to do a handmade gift for our anniversary and a purchased gift for Christmas. I have $5.99 in credit on Paypal from Rakuten, so the purchase is $11. $11

12 p.m. — Even on the weekend, practice time is necessary. I want to note that I’m in maintenance mode, so I’m definitely practicing less than I would if I had a performance coming up, but it’s been hard to find my motivation and drive during this quarantine.

1 p.m. — Oof. My upset stomach is back today. I quickly heat up leftover shepherd’s pie and eat an apple. The food doesn’t assuage it, so I have a lie down on the couch with some Alias and the cats take the opportunity to cuddle.

4:15 p.m. — I am semi-human again. It’s still pouring outside and I have no desire to interact with that, so I put on a podcast and a walking video (there’s a whole series on YouTube of “walk at home” videos that have been very enjoyable on days like this… Don’t knock ’em until you try!) to get my steps in. I call my mom one mile in and we chat while I finish up and then do some lower body band exercises.

5 p.m. — I do a little bit of gaming on Assassin’s Creed: Origins while I wait for my body to cool down. I sweat like crazy with the slightest amount of physical exertion, even during a shower.

6:30 p.m. — Clean, moisturized, I start to make a veggie burger and oven fries and pour myself a vodka coke. It’s my ultimate weakness! When it’s ready, I sit down and put on Schitt’s Creek.

8 p.m. — C. asks to play Stardew Valley together. We haven’t played it in months, so we start a new town and play for a couple of days.

10:30 p.m. — I get ready for bed, snuggle up with the cats and an ASMR video, and fall asleep by 11.

Daily Total: $11

Day Seven

8:30 a.m. — Begrudgingly leave my bed on the cat’s behalf. Probably because of the gloomy weather, I really don’t want to get up.

9:30 a.m. — With instant coffee and banana bread in hand, I goof off on my laptop for a bit. I see a recipe on Smitten Kitchen that I want to make, so I start drafting a grocery list. I also make a loose list of what I have in my pantry and freezer. Neither of them are super spacious/organized, and I hate to have food go to waste, so I try to shop for things to go with what I already have. I place an online grocery order for pickup for $84.20, which should last me through to Thanksgiving (fingers crossed). The haul is: Greek yogurt, refried beans, broccoli, ranch seasoning, marinara sauce, bell pepper, coconut milk yogurt, tortilla chips, plant butter, apples, tomatoes, carrots, MorningStar chicken nuggets, veggie sausage, green tea, turmeric tea, matcha green tea, peach tea, chai tea, coffee, chickpea pasta, cheese, veggie soup, frozen green beans, cranberry sauce, bay leaves, and celery. Can you tell there was a sale on tea? $84.20

11:15 a.m. — I go on a walk outside and call my mom, but it’s crazy windy and she can’t hear me so I only walk about a mile before I head back inside.

12 p.m. — Practice time! I’m trying to mix up my warm-up and I just play all the variations of arpeggios today. Sorry, neighbors.

1:30 p.m. — Lunch today is, you guessed it, shepherd’s pie. I only have one more serving, so I’m savoring these easy meals. I toast a piece of hummingbird bread to go with it, and I put on some Alias while I eat.

2:30 p.m. — I go out to my car to see if the engine check signal is gone… it’s not. I do more internet searching for advice and see a thread on some car forum where they say it took about 10 car-starts to cycle out the signal. I’ll do that tomorrow. I also attempt to measure the thickness of my rear brake pad because my dealership told me they were getting thin last time I was there, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t accurately measure it because it came out as 15 mm…

3:30 p.m. — Feeling the need to move my body, so I go on a tempo run on a trail near my apartment. The wind is still going strong and it sucks. I go ahead and change into pajamas after my shower because I’m cold.

4 p.m. — C. and I play some Stardew and get through two days before he leaves to practice. I pull up some apartment listings from a management company in the city over from me to peruse. C. and I are tentatively planning on having him move down here next year, depending on the state of the world and auditions he’s taking, etc… But it’s really hard for me not to plan ahead in my mind and I’m so worried it’s not going to work out. Is anyone else like this?

5 p.m. — I put on the My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast and finally put up my laundry and do some general tidying.

7 p.m. — Dinner is, of course, the rest of the shepherd’s pie and some truly questionable spring mix and croutons. That’s a salad, right? It’s accompanied by Schitt’s Creek. For dessert, I eat two oatmeal cookies that I portion off half at a time in an attempt to eat less, but we all know I was just delaying the inevitable.

9:30 p.m. — Your girl is in bed, moisturized, and playing pillow to my needy cats. I put on some ASMR and read until I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $84.20

Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual’s experience and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29’s point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.

Do you have a Money Diary you’d like to share? Submit it with us here.

Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here or email us here.

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

A Week In Washington, D.C., On A $55,000 Salary

A Week In Brooklyn, NY, On A $65,000 Salary

A Week In Chicago, IL, On A $50,000 Salary