A Week In Pennsylvania On A $106,000 Salary

Refinery29
·19 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 scientist who makes $106,000 per year and spends some of her money on a cinnamon latte.

Content warning: this diary discusses an eating disorder.

Occupation: Scientist
Industry: Pharmaceuticals
Age: 31
Location: Pennsylvania
Salary: $106,000 + target bonus of 12% + rental income of $930/month
Net Worth: $150,547 (Cash (checking and savings): $23,439, Brokerage: $6,145, Roth IRA: $57,235, Pension (work has since cancelled contributions): $7,863, Roth 401(k): $45,465, Home equity: $10,400)
Debt: Mortgage: $279,600
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $2,287
Pronouns: She

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,800
Car Loan: $515
Internet/Cable: $100
Phone: $50
Utilities: $90
Roth IRA: $450
Charity: $120
Spotify/Hulu:
$10
Car Insurance: $88
Gym: $200
Vacation Savings: $200
Savings: $700
OA Meetings: $20

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. Culturally, we get master’s degrees. It’s a bare minimum. However, I did really enjoy school so I wasn’t at odds with the decision until I got to grad school and hated it. Racism and sexism abound! I earned my PhD, which was fully funded. My parents helped to pay for my undergrad degree. 80% was funded by scholarships and the remaining 20% my parents paid for. I still feel guilty about this because I turned down full scholarships to go to my dream school, which did not offer full academic scholarships as they only offered need-based aid.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Credit cards were to be used to build credit, not to purchase items that were too expensive to afford. If you couldn’t afford it, you couldn’t afford it. Saving was emphasized. My parents invested through work accounts, but we never talked about investing. I learned a lot about investing from watching TV programs.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I worked as a camp counselor. I wanted to earn spending money and to get out of the house in the summer. Fortunately, I was never asked to help with family bills. I remember times when things were scary and we didn’t have extra, but we had what we needed.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes, I heard discussions about finances and watched my parents balance the accounts. I am a worrier though, so I worried about everything.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes, I want to build additional income streams and know that will take more investments. I wonder if I am capable of doing it and if I will reach my goals. I work in a volatile industry and whispers of layoffs are frequent and scary.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
22, after college. Though I worked in college, my parents paid for some of my schooling. I consider my Roth IRA my safety net. I walked through all the worst-case scenarios before I bought my duplex, and that was the conclusion I came to. I could pull from my IRA if I go through my savings. This is not my plan, but a worst-case scenario.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
None, unless I consider my parents help for college.

Day One

8 a.m. — Up and ready to stay in bed. I say a prayer of gratitude to be alive, ask for the willingness to be a decent person, and say “Thy will, not mine, be done.” I am very much struggling with who “Thy” is, but for now, “Thy” feels true to me. I have a few things I wanted to buy and decide to use this time in bed to get these items. Let’s hit it. I start with REI. I get winter gloves and breathable masks. I have a dividend and a gift card from when I signed up for the co-op over a year ago. Total is $21.73 for me. Next is Target. I got a gift card for Christmas. I get coconut butter sealant, bentonite clay, hair gel, Con-air shears, and leave-in conditioner. Total is $0 for me with the gift card. I am on a mission to take better care of myself and will start with my crown. $21.73

9:30 a.m. — I get up and out of bed for some push-ups. My gym is doing a 100 push-up challenge for 100 days. I debate ordering brunch from a small cafe nearby. I haven’t been there before but they have an omelet with crab meat! I can’t justify the $10 delivery on a $10 item. I think about adding to the order and having leftovers, but nothing on the menu seems like it will keep well. I can’t believe how much time I spent debating this.

10:30 a.m. — Maybe I’ll have a sweet potato? I think about food a lot. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder two years ago and have been in recovery for about six months. I manage with therapy, Overeaters Anonymous meetings, a food accountability partner, a sponsor, and outreach to OA friends. I also have depression. I feel guilty sometimes that I have so much “wrong” with me, but everyone has their shit. Back to the sweet potato, is it a craving I’m trying to satisfy? Is the craving an emotional need? I don’t know. I just have some yogurt and try to forget it. I wonder what it is like to be normal around food.

1 p.m. — I start cutting up veggies for meals this week. One recipe says it is optional to peel the potato and optional it shall remain. I also cut some onions, carrots, and broccoli. I compost the scraps. #NatureBitch. I have a salad using none of the above ingredients 🙂

2 p.m. — Put in some laundry. Read Introvert Power and start cooking a cabbage casserole while the laundry runs.

5 p.m. — Phone call with a friend. I don’t have many friends, so I really treasure the friendships I do have. This particular friend has taught me so much about caring for myself and others and showing up for myself. I hope I have been a good friend to her as well over these years.

7 p.m. — I’m not loving this casserole but I am not willing to cook anything else. Maybe the leftovers will taste better? That’s it, I’m sure the flavors just need to mix. I am not a good cook. Read my book with the TV on in the background. It’s too quiet around here.

9 p.m. — Nighty night.

Daily Total: $21.73

Day Two

4 a.m. — Up, prayers, push-ups.

4:30 a.m. — Out the door for the gym. We wear masks and there are only six people allowed at a time. I signed up for this time slot every day about two weeks ago. The regularity helps me. The one time there was a positive case, we shut down for two weeks. I feel safe making this decision to go to the gym.

5:45 a.m. — Back home to shower, take my meds, eat breakfast, and catch a bit of the news.

7 a.m. — Log in and get to work. I have a new role with a lot of responsibility and visibility which I am excited about but I’m definitely feeling imposter syndrome. I was supposed to be training for this role this year, but we’ve had people leave so I got promoted early.

12 p.m. — Have a salad for lunch. It’s a working lunch.

4:30 p.m. — Log off. My eyes are hurting a bit from the screen time, but that doesn’t stop me from wasting time on the internet! I heat up some cabbage leftovers. “I think it tastes better,” I lie to myself out loud. It’s okay. No one can hear me.

7:15 p.m. — I log in to an OA meeting. Sometimes I have trouble focusing.

8:30 p.m. — I read and then go to bed.

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

4 a.m. — Same morning routine as yesterday, and thankful for it!

5:45 a.m. — Tea, shower, and mentally get ready for the day.

6:30 a.m. — Read some of my emails before heading to work. I am already feeling stressed. Why do we speak in acronyms? I honestly don’t understand half of this email and will translate when I am at work. I pick up a breakfast sandwich on the way to work. $4.29

7 a.m. — Luckily I beat the snowstorm to work. On the way to work, I listened to Janelle Monae. She should have a Broadway show! I am right and do not care to hear any dissenting opinions! One of my favorite songs of hers is “Cold War.” I am so thankful for what music has done for me. For an introvert with depression, feeling seen is a real gift.

7:30 a.m. — Meeting marathon begins. I do not need to be in some of these meetings.

11 a.m. — Go into the lab to do science. I spent so long training to be a scientist and spend less and less time actually doing science. C’est la vie.

1 p.m. — 20-minute break for lunch I brought from home — salad and yogurt. 20 minutes because that is the incubation time for this step in the experiment.

4:30 p.m. — Lab work is finished up just in time. I head to the food pantry to volunteer. I know it’s bad to have favorites but I have some of my favorite clients today.

7 p.m. — My shift is done. I head home and log into an OA meeting while I eat more cabbage! How is there still more cabbage?!?!

8:30 p.m. — Stay after the meeting to talk to another fellow. We used to see each other in person and this sucks, but I am incredibly glad we have kept this meeting going. We stay up way late for us.

10 p.m. — Send my food to my accountability partner and go to bed.

Daily Total: $4.29

Day Four

4:30 a.m. —Get up and get ready while listening to Selena. I get to the gym and workout.

5:45 a.m. — Home and decide to roll out my muscles. Then I shower and use some hair oil.

6:45 a.m. — Maybe this cabbage will taste better with a fried egg or two?

7 a.m. — It kinda does! I listen to the news. It is really depressing. I turn it off. My brain is sad enough and the news can push me over the edge if I’m not taking care of myself.

7:30 a.m. — Type tap tippy tap type. Work stuff.

9 a.m. — A scientist co-worker is telling me they don’t want to get the vaccine because they don’t know what is in it and what the long-term effects are. This person also eats tons of processed foods. Everyone has the right to their opinion, I just don’t see how the lines are drawn. Also, we work for a science company. One thing OA has taught me is that my way is not the only way and so much is out of my control. I move on from the conversation.

1 p.m. — I feel heavy feelings setting in. My medication was really helpful in the beginning, but I am wondering if I need an adjustment.

4 p.m. — Log off and head to the grocery store. I see a woman with two kids physically strapped to her and another three walking beside the cart. I immediately feel overwhelmed even though this has nothing to do with me. I want a family, but it doesn’t seem to be working in my favor right now. I am not in a relationship and online dating has been simply ridiculous. I get yogurt, almond milk, pistachios, cheese, and salad mix. $19.09

5 p.m. — The borough has said that I need all new fire alarms in the rental part of my house, so I purchase the fire alarm/CO2 combo. I need three. The three-pack costs more than two two-packs, so I buy two two-packs. I spring for the ones with a 10-year battery so I don’t have to revisit this for 10 years. I purchased this home because it would allow me to have additional rental income. It is not what I would have purchased as a first choice and it is not in the neighborhood I want to be in, but I think sacrificing a little now to have an additional income stream in the future will be worth it. $146.22

6 p.m. — I call my mortgage company to start the process of doing a streamline refinance. I did not put 20% down on my home, because, well, I did not have it. Refinancing will lower my rate and get me some of my original interest back, saving about $200. I also got a fixer-upper and did a renovation loan, so after the renovations are done, I will do a full refinance to get rid of the premium I have to pay because I did not put 20% down. The streamline refinance requires no appraisal and very little paperwork on my end, so it seems like a good way to reduce costs with little effort. The full refinance would save about an additional $300. (Meaning after rental income, I would only have about $400 or so to pay on my mortgage. When both units are rented out, the property will cash flow about $900 each month since my unit is larger.)

6:30 p.m. — Cook dinner and lunch for tomorrow. I make a veggie pot pie from a meal kit. It’s tasting pretty bland so I add some five spice and hope for the best.

7:30 p.m. — It’s okay. I add some sour cream and now it is better. I wonder what the origin of sour cream is.

7:45 p.m. — Sour cream is thought to be a Russian invention, originally made from horse’s milk.

8 p.m. — Bedtime.

Daily Total: $165.31

Day Five

4 a.m. — Same thing!

8 a.m. —I have a meeting with a co-worker that I don’t love. It goes fine.

10:15 — I am waiting at my doctor’s office and am the only one in the waiting room, by their design. I see that I have a complaint about an item I sold on eBay. The buyer is upset that the order hasn’t arrived yet. I know it hasn’t because the tracking number I provided the buyer says the order hasn’t arrived. When I open the message to start a reply, I see eBay has stepped in to remind the buyer to check the provided tracking number and that they were going to close the complaint and transfer the funds to my account once the tracking says the item arrived. Thanks, eBay. While I am on the site, I list an old Fitbit. I pay a copay. $25

12:30 p.m. — Back in the office. I do some work in the lab and then break for lunch. I eat my salad lunch and some bread from home.

2:30 p.m. — The people nearby are talking about Spiderman. Loudly.

3:30 p.m. — Still? Really??? I am in such a bad mood today. They are just enjoying each other’s company and talking about a hobby. I really need a mood adjustment. I don’t feel like me lately, and while yes, they could be quieter, I can have a reaction that serves me better.

5:15 p.m. — Head home and get a new prescription on the way. $10

6 p.m. — Pick up a rotisserie chicken, bread, and mac and cheese from the grocery store. $13.53

6:30 p.m. — Store mac and cheese is gross. It looked so good. I throw it away and feel some guilt because I am wasting food and money but also some pride in myself. In my binge days, I would have eaten the mac and cheese because I bought it and didn’t care what I put in my body. The ability to walk away from things that don’t benefit me is a muscle I’m developing in OA, and it’s helping in so many aspects of life, including dating. Yes, I believe men are like bad mac and cheese.

7:30 p.m. — I sign some papers for the refinance. Of the options I can select to fill out the “Manner in Which Title is Held Section,” “single woman” is the most appropriate one I can select. I didn’t know my gender expression had anything to do with my house title! Learn some new bullshit every day.

8 p.m. — I see I got charged for my meal kit delivery. It is 14 servings. I get the kit every other week to cut down on shipping materials. $65.67

8:30 p.m. — I see there is a new buy alert from the stock service I use. I buy the stock in my Roth IRA. I have the funds in a cash position in my Roth IRA already, so this doesn’t cost me anything today.

9 p.m. — Lights out. That was a day.

Daily Total: $114.20

Day Six

4:30 a.m. — Oh Megan, I wish I was on some hot girl shit but I’m not.

5:45 a.m. — Really enjoy my workout today. Shower and breakfast.

6:30 a.m. — Take my laptop to my couch and read some work docs before another meeting marathon starting at 8 a.m.

7:45 a.m. — Check in with the Rally app. We can get $200 each year from work from doing challenges on the app. Most of them are pretty chill, so the real work is just selling my data!

1 p.m. — Take a break and eat a sandwich.

1:30 p.m. — Back on the old lappy top for work.

3 p.m. — Therapy session. My insurance company hasn’t been billing me for virtual appointments. Usually, this costs $25.

4:10 p.m. — Back online for work.

5:30 p.m. — Call with a tax professional. I am finding the rules around rentals and deductions quite confusing so I am interviewing a tax professional. I really like this one, to the top of the list they go.

6:30 p.m. — Turn off from work for the day. I have zero desire to cook and eat leftovers.

7:30 p.m. — It’s snowing, which means my meal kit might not arrive on time which sends me on a food spiral. I feel so exhausted I just sit on the couch and cry. I realize I haven’t hugged anyone in over a month. My nose feels raw from crying. I don’t watch anything on TV or read a book because I don’t want to engage any of my emotions. I sit on the couch until I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

6:30 a.m. — Up. Thankful for another day to get to try this all again. Last night was bad.

7 a.m. — Workout. Feel really strong today. I think I just needed to cry yesterday.

8 a.m. — This is fun — turns out I don’t actually need these smoke alarms. I have all that I need already for both my unit and the rental, so I return the four I bought earlier this week. I pick up some batteries to replace in the smoke alarms for my tenants. (Return: -$146.22. Batteries: $5.80.) $-140.42

9 a.m. — I head to an art gallery where I had a piece on display. They took my tiny plastic easel (boo!) but I get lots of compliments on my piece when I carry it out to my car. People are nice.

9:30 a.m. — Treat myself to a little sugar-free cinnamon latte. Thanks so much, me. $5.57

11 a.m. — I am out and about, so decide to try that brunch place. I put the order in online and add a 20% tip. I go to pick it up. $10.91

11:30 a.m. — On the way, I pick up a small plastic easel for my piece. $5.29

12 p.m. — Back home, I talk to my OA sponsor.

1:15 p.m. — Heat up my take out and the omelet is so good. Yum yum yum. I feel at peace with this food decision.

2 p.m. — Transfer money from the eBay sale into my account and log into an OA meeting.

4 p.m. — Have some brunch leftovers. I contribute $1,400 to max out my 2020 Roth IRA contribution. I put it in a cash position and make a note to decide later on if I want to use it to buy the target fund or shares of a company. $1,400

5 p.m. — I have been doing laundry throughout the day. My weighted blanket is not dry on its third cycle. Fourth time’s the charm. Maybe something is wrong with the dryer, but I have no energy to look at it. Ugh dinner. I decide on making black bean tacos. I don’t love them, but I do love sour cream.

8:30 p.m. — There’s not much to stay up for. Time for bed.

Daily Total: $1,281.35

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