A Week In Los Angeles, CA, On A $71,000 Salary

Refinery29
·17 mins 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.

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Today: a communications manager who makes $71,000 per year and spends it some of her money this week on a MacBook Pro.

Occupation: Communications Manager
Industry: Higher Education
Age: 27
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Salary: $71,000
Net Worth: $23,000 (this reflects my HYSA, Roth IRA, 403b, and car minus debt)
Debt: $40,838
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $4,060
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0 for now. I moved in with my parents in March when I started working from home, but I’m planning to move out in a month or two.
Loans: $1,480 ($1,000 toward student loans b/c I’m trying to get rid of it ASAP, $230 toward car, and $250 toward LASIK)
403(b): 5% of paycheck + 10% company match
Roth IRA: $500
Robinhood: $100
HYSA: between $500-$1,000
Car Insurance: $79
Cell Phone: $0 (on a family plan that my sister and brother-in-law generously pay)
HBO: $15 (I share this with my partner and sister; I use my partner’s Netflix)
ClassPass: $49 (currently paused)

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?
Yes, my immigrant parents stressed that going to college was a non-negotiable. I attended undergrad and then went to grad school for journalism. I paid for my undergrad education through a mix of scholarships, student loans, and a part-time job. For grad school, my parents graciously paid for half of my tuition and I took out student loans for the other half.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We never really talked about money growing up. I saw my parents working long days at their small business and I honestly thought we were very middle class, but my brother-in-law now helps my parents manage finances and he let slip that my parents were VERY good savers and investors… so I now think they did pretty well for themselves (SO PROUD OF THEM). My parents are still secretive about money, but my dad will take the time to talk to me about entrepreneurship and investing when I ask.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I had a couple of work-study jobs in college for extra spending cash, but my first “real” job after graduating was teaching English in China. It didn’t pay a whole lot, but it was a great experience and I met my partner, K., through the program.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No. I didn’t always get what I wanted, but I always had what I needed.

Do you worry about money now?
Not in the sense that I won’t have enough to pay bills, but I think about money all the time. I check my bank and investment accounts obsessively and I’m constantly working on side hustles. I know they say “comparison is the thief of joy,” but I can’t help feeling like I’m not as far ahead as my peers.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I started paying for my expenses when I graduated college at age 20, but I know my parents and/or my sister and brother-in-law would step in to help me if something catastrophic were to happen. My partner, K., has also demonstrated in the past that he has my back as well if needed. When I had my dream public radio internship, I was only getting paid $12/hour. During those few months, K. took on more financially. Very thankful.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Nope.

Day One

8:30 a.m. — Wake up and wipe the Butt Paste around my lips off. I have something called perioral dermatitis and it presents itself as a rash around my mouth. I’ve been dealing with it since March and it’s frustrating to have to look in the mirror and see red bumps all around my mouth. Plus it burns. I’ve tried antibiotics, haven’t worn makeup in months, and switched all my skin and hair care products, but nothing has gotten rid of this nasty rash. Only diaper rash cream helps soothe the burning sensation.

9 a.m. — Daily team meeting. We’ve been working from home since March, so these daily morning meetings help establish a work routine (they’re also a good motivation for me to change out of pajamas). Eat breakfast: green bean porridge. I’d usually eat oatmeal with milk, but today is the first day of my dairy/gluten/sugar-free experiment. I’ve read that certain foods may be a trigger for perioral dermatitis, so I’m trying to see if this new diet will help. I’m desperate for this rash to clear, but I’ll also be devastated if I find that I can no longer eat ice cream or pasta.

12 p.m. — I drive to my sister’s house to work (we’ve been part of the same quarantine crew since March) to have a change of environment. She orders Chinese food — orange shrimp, Mapo tofu, and sweet and sour soup. I Venmo her my portion. $14

2 p.m. — My best friend, T., texts me to tell me that her family is putting her beloved dog to sleep. I contemplate going over to visit. She’s been having a tough time and I want to be there for her.

3 p.m. — Hop on a few meetings about the next issue of our magazine. We talk illustrations and photos, which will be a challenge since our school has moved to remote instruction. The only photos we really have are screenshots…but we’ll try to use more illustrations to compensate.

4:30 p.m. — I leave work a bit earlier so I can visit T. and her pup. I stop by Trader Joe’s to pick up some flowers for her family. I also get peaches, nectarines, and shortbread for my nephew. When I arrive at the house, everyone is understandably heartbroken and crying. I’ve always wanted a dog but I’m scared to get attached and have to go through the death of a pet. I say bye to the pup and head back home. $20.25

7 p.m. — My mom cooks dinner — miso eggplant, tofu and mushrooms, and seaweed soup. I’m grateful my parents let me move in with them, but the adjustment has been challenging. They’re obsessed with keeping track of COVID-19 cases/deaths, which heightens their anxiety levels. They’re anxious about me going outdoors for anything and I always feel guilty when I do, even when I’m getting groceries or going on a walk around the neighborhood with my mask on. I’ve come to accept that it’s their house, their rules, but my partner, K., and I plan to move out in a month or two.

7:30 p.m. — Take a walk while listening to Armchair Expert, a favorite podcast of mine. This particular episode is with Bill Gates and is fantastic! Makes walking in 90-degree weather bearable.

9 p.m. — Finish up a bit more work since I left early today.

10 p.m. — Put on HBO’s I May Destroy You and get sucked in immediately. The show explores all aspects of consent, and while it can be hard to watch at times, it’s so topical and well-written that I can’t help but binge. Fall asleep around 1:30 a.m.

Daily Total: $34.25

Day Two

8:30 a.m. — Same morning routine as yesterday. My mouth looks really gross and swollen today.

10 a.m. — After my morning meeting, I drive to my sister’s again for her AC. It’s been in the triple digits here for the past week and my parents are super frugal so they don’t turn on the AC unless it’s unbearable.

11 a.m. — Have to crank out a newsletter today to go out to the entire school. I put on Taylor Swift’s new album because it’s relaxing and helps me focus.

12 p.m. — I eat yesterday’s leftover shrimp and tofu for lunch with my sister and brother-in-law. Still delicious. We watch a rerun of Queer Eye while we eat.

6 p.m. — Fill up gas on my way home. This is only the second time I’m getting gas since March, as opposed to at least twice a month when times were normal. $35.43

6:15 p.m. — I also pick up a strawberry green tea from a boba shop close to home and leave a tip. I bump into my friend/old crush from sixth grade. I’m surprised he recognizes me with my mask on, but it’s nice to hear what he’s been up to! $6.50

6:30 p.m. — Do a series of YouTube workouts. I’ve been loving Chloe Ting videos (anyone else doing her two-week shred challenge??). I’m drenched in sweat by the end and hop in the shower.

7:30 p.m. — Eat a shrimp salad I have in the fridge while chatting with my parents about my cousin and his love life. It’s been a hot topic in my family lately because he was planning to marry his girlfriend but there are disagreements over property/housing. In China, it’s customary for the man to provide housing when he gets married. My cousin has a house, but it’s not up to his girlfriend’s standards. Lots of drama ensues.

8:30 p.m. — FaceTime with K. We moved out of our apartment in March and both moved in with my parents. After months of quarantine, we hit a rough patch trying to navigate all the changes in our lives, so he drove home to Arkansas to be with his parents for a while. Being physically apart has actually brought us emotionally closer. Right before he left, we had several big arguments and I questioned whether I still liked him. I love him and always will, but I know liking your partner is the only way to sustain a relationship. Being apart gave me the space to miss him and like him again.

10 p.m. — Research the new Macbook Pro. I’ve had my current one for nine years and it’s time for her to retire. Not ready to pull the trigger tonight but I take note that Apple is having a back-to-school deal for people in the education space.

11 p.m. — I watch Youtube videos and read the personal finance section of Reddit before I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $41.93

Day Three

4 a.m. — Wake up because my mouth is burning. I can’t wait for my new antibiotics to arrive in the mail!

10 a.m. — I wake up but stay in bed watching YouTube videos for an hour. I’ve been wanting to start my own channel for some time, but I’ve always had some excuse not to. I recently heard someone say, “You can’t steer a parked car,” and that really resonated with me. I can start messy, but I have to start or else I wouldn’t be giving myself the chance to improve.

11 a.m. — Do some more Chloe Ting workouts. I take it easier than usual because my period just started.

12:30 p.m. — Make egg fried rice for lunch. It’s easy, delicious, and a great use of day-old rice.

5 p.m. — My sister and nephew come over. I play with my nephew while my mom and sister make dinner — a cauliflower dish and some guac.

11 p.m. — More skincare research. I come across a blog about how a particular cream helps with perioral dermatitis, so I immediately hit the “buy” button. $47.05

Daily Total: $47.05

Day Four

10 a.m. — Wake up to yellow scabs around my mouth. It’s so painful and dry, I can’t even smile without the skin cracking. I wouldn’t wish this rash on my worst enemy.

11 a.m. — I make a strawberry banana smoothie and read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to take my mind off of the pain.

1 p.m. — My mom can tell I’m in pain so she makes me green bean soup for lunch. I watch a dating show with her and we laugh about how silly some of these guests are.

2:30 p.m. — I watch Last Christmas because I love Emilia Clarke and miss the holidays. The premise is ridiculous but it does distract me from my burning lips.

5 p.m. — Side hustle research. My sister and I are thinking about starting an Etsy shop selling apparel and accessories. She’s the artist and I’ll work on operations/marketing.

6:30 p.m. — I eat veggie porridge for dinner with a side of cold tofu and watch an episode of Shameless.

9 p.m. — I FaceTime K. to ask him about the different specs on the new Macbook Pro. I want to make him a video on Premiere Pro for our anniversary but my old laptop just isn’t having it. I decide to buy the new laptop… it’s pricey but I get a back-to-school discount and free pair of Airpods, score! Hopefully, this new one lasts me another nine years. I’ve been feeling pretty bummed today because of my rash, but talking to K. makes me feel a lot better. I miss him. He’ll likely come back to L.A. in the next couple of weeks so we can look at apartments together. $1,524.35

Daily Total: $1,524.35

Day Five

8 a.m. — Get up, wash Butt Paste off my face, and already know that it’s going to be another painful day. I check my email and my antibiotics are supposed to arrive today, woohoo! I weigh myself and I’m the lightest I’ve been in a few years. Thank you, Chloe Ting (I’m also eating a lot cleaner than usual to try to get rid of the rash).

9 a.m. — I start work. Daily meeting, delegating projects to our student worker, and interviewing people for an article I’m writing. I used to work in journalism where the pace was a lot faster and every day felt like a new adventure, but the pay was low and I also worried about my longterm job security. I switched to communications two years ago for the stability, but I still sometimes wonder where I’d be now had I not given up on working in news.

12:30 p.m. — For lunch, I heat up leftover porridge and cut up a peach. I watch a video posted by a millennial who moved back in with her parents and find it super relatable.

1:30 p.m. — I have my weekly phone call with my therapist. I started seeing her in June and she’s been helping me work through issues I’ve been having with my parents and partner. In my household, emotions are viewed as a weakness, so it’s been nice to be assured that being empathetic and having feelings can be a strength if harnessed well. $58.50

5:30 p.m. — I go to Target to exchange a new shampoo I purchased. I’m trying to figure out what triggered my latest perioral dermatitis flare up and suspect it’s the new shampoo I bought. I also pick up groceries for my family. $40.02

6:30 p.m. — Swing by the boba shop to pick up two strawberry green teas for my sister and me. $11.88

7 p.m. — Come home to another homecooked meal from mom. Today, she made eggs, shrimp, spinach, and grilled salmon.

7:30 p.m. — My antibiotics are finally here! Fingers crossed they help.

11 p.m. — Watch Shameless while looking up apartments for rent. Fall asleep a couple of hours later.

Daily Total: $110.40

Day Six

8 a.m. — Get up and change into my workout clothes to do a few Chloe Ting workouts. She kicks my butt yet again, but I’m proud that I’m sticking to my fitness plan. I shower and text K. happy anniversary! Our relationship is six years old today.

9 a.m. — Today’s going to be a busy workday because there’s a webinar our team is in charge of. Ever since March, our school has been hosting coronavirus-related town hall talks where we invite experts to talk about mental health, the healthcare industry, etc.

1:30 p.m. — After a successful webinar, I head over to my sister’s house. She went to the grocery store earlier in the day and bought me a California roll for lunch. I scarf it down because there’s still a lot to cross off the to-do list today for work.

6 p.m. — Go home to yet another homecooked meal by mom: garlic eggplant and zucchini. So thankful!

9 p.m. — Facetime with K. as we celebrate our anniversary virtually for the first time. He sends me a video he made about our relationship — it’s full of our old flirty emails and photos we’ve taken together over the last six years. K. always gives me the most thoughtful and sentimental gifts and this year is no different. I’m grateful that I met him abroad seven years ago and to have grown up with my best friend!

11 p.m. — Work on my side hustle and watch TV until I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8:30 a.m. — Heat up some green bean soup and prepare for my daily meeting.

1 p.m. — Heat up porridge and three types of tofu… I never realized how much tofu I ate until this week. I catch up with a coworker over Zoom and I realize just how much I’ve missed her! Our staff/faculty are all a little older, so it’s nice to chat with someone closer to my age and discuss career goals. We decide to be accountability partners and schedule another catch up two weeks from now to check in on our goals.

5:30 p.m. — More Chloe Ting workouts. Today’s workouts focused on upper body strength and abs. Ow.

6:30 p.m. — Today, my mom makes my absolute favorite dish: crab with rice cakes. I stuff my face and wonder why I’m in such a hurry to move out.

8 p.m. — My sister emails me a shirt design and I order a sample shirt to see what the quality looks like. We set a goal of opening up our Etsy shop in a month. $12.94

9:30 p.m. — Today is PAYDAY! I believe in a zero-based budget and always pay myself first. I spend some time transferring money into my HYSA and Roth IRA. I’ve treated personal finance as a hobby for the last two years, and it’s such a good feeling to finally feel in control of my money.

10:30 p.m. — I watch Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (which is honestly really great storytelling) and fall asleep a little past midnight.

Daily Total: $12.94

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