A Week In South Texas On A $52,000 Salary

·17 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 teacher who makes $52,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a Starbucks chai tea.

Occupation: Teacher
Industry: Education
Age: 27
Location: South Texas
Salary: $52,000
Net Worth: ~$14,000 (Checking: $3,000, savings: $36,000, 403(b) retirement: $3,580, minus debt.)
Debt: Student loan debt: $26,432, credit card debt: $2,000
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $3,420 + $500 master’s bonus paid out in two installments per academic semester
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $650 paid to my partner, which covers half of her mortgage payment and all utilities. My partner owns her condo alone and I pay her rent.
Student Loans: Currently deferred, will be $250 in September
Credit Card: $350
Savings: $300
Money Sent To Mom: I send my mom about $350/month to help her out
Health Insurance: $0 (my dad works in healthcare and I get it for free as a perk)
Phone Bill: $74.08 paid to my brother
Apple Storage: $2.99
Billie Subscription: $9.74 every three months
Netflix: $21.64, which I share with my entire family
YouTube Premium: $17.31
Spotify: $14.06 for a duo subscription I share with one of my brothers in exchange for use of his YouTube TV
Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, YouTube TV: $0 (I use various friends’ and relatives’ subscriptions)

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. I was born in the US despite my parents living in Mexico along the Texas border. My primary language is Spanish and I was raised in Mexico until I started studying in the US at 17. I excelled in school and was taught that education is the key to a better life, so there was never a question of whether or not I’d get a degree. My degree was mostly covered by financial aid, but I did have to take out student loans when I decided to pursue two majors. My undergraduate education took five-and-a-half years after mental health struggles required me to receive treatment and slow down, but the time allowed me to fall in love with research and education, which led to a master’s degree. I was very blessed to receive a scholarship that paid for those two years, saving me about $35,000.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We did not have too many conversations about money at home. My mom ended up not finishing her degree to take care of me and my brothers, so my dad was our only source of income. We never went without and were able to have many indulgences, but I ended up realizing my parents were never good at saving money. Though my dad ended up with a steady and high income, we spent above our means. I very much appreciate the memories created on yearly trips, shopping, meals, etc., but I wish I’d been more aware of actual numbers as I am recovering from quite the shopping addiction. Plus, being raised in Mexico and then moving to the US means I never learned anything about credit scores, credit cards, investments, retirement, or insurance, as those systems are different, so I did not learn about finances until about 23 when I did my own research.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was at 19, working at my university as a tutor. At the time, my mom drove me and my siblings back and forth from Mexico to the US for classes. Though they never expressed it to me, I figured the cost of tolls and gas money would add up rapidly, so I decided to start working in order to help with these costs, have fun money, and gain a little more independence.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes and no. My dad always earned in pesos, so that meant he had to increase his income if he wanted to be spending dollars. Living on the border is quite special. I remember traveling across to the US every weekend and thinking of McDonald’s and JCPenney shopping as the pinnacles of wealth, so I thought we were doing okay. I later learned that a lot of these shopping trips had to be financed by store credit cards and that both my parents had spending problems.

Do you worry about money now?
Every single day! Once I started earning my own money, I struggled to save it since I didn’t understand how to do that besides using a piggy bank for loose change. I’ve had to deal with a shopping addiction that still has a hold on me, mirroring a lot of the problems I noticed in my parents’ behavior towards money. My current job is my first full-time job and I feel quite behind in comparison to other people my age. If I had to describe it, I’d say I feel like I’m in my early twenties, not 27. Most of my savings account is actually my mom’s money. She keeps it in my savings account and in my name so she can have a safety net and not have to account for it during her divorce. It’s a little shady, to be honest, but she has never had an income of her own so I feel okay protecting her wealth. I am building a safety net, but the fact that I only started investing a year ago and don’t own property or a vehicle because I can’t afford them brings me a lot of shame.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became mostly responsible for myself at age 19 when I moved to the US and started paying for my own rent and bills — though my parents helped as much as they could with groceries or whenever money was tight. It wasn’t until I was 26 that I stopped receiving financial support from them. I know that if anything happened and I lost my job or had an emergency, I have some savings to help, and my parents, siblings, and girlfriend would all gladly help me out.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Not quite, but I consider the help my parents gave me throughout my undergraduate and graduate education a form of inheritance.

Day One

9 a.m. — The joys of being a teacher come from funny students and long summers, during which I love taking my time and getting up as late as humanly possible. Now that my eyes are open and I can’t seem to go back to bed, I decide to scroll on my phone for the longest amount of time.

9:45 a.m. — I actually get out of bed and go through my morning routine of brushing my teeth, using a medicated bar soap for my acne, The Ordinary Niacinamide Serum, La Roche-Posay Toleriane Matte Moisturizer, Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen, and a random Colourpop lip mask. Yesterday was hair wash day, so I just put it down and let it be. I put away the makeup brushes I washed yesterday, make my bed, open the windows, get changed to start on laundry, make coffee and a mango smoothie, do my makeup, and most importantly, greet my girlfriend, N., and our dog, P., who is the light of our lives. N. and I sleep in separate rooms most days, so greeting her in the morning is my favorite.

12 p.m. — I get some cleaning and laundry done and spend time outside with P. Take out some chicken to defrost for dinner and decide to start one of the projects I’ve been wanting to take on for a while, which is decluttering my drawers and organizing them. I play Netflix in the background as I do this. Late to the party, but The Pharmacist is interesting!

3 p.m. — I get caught in a cycle of decluttering and putting things back, so I take a break to rest with P. and N. before she has to leave for the gym. When she leaves about half an hour later, I go back to my mess.

5:30 p.m. — I have to leave my mess to meet my mom, who has just gotten here so I can practice my driving. Surprise! I’m almost 30 and do not have a driver’s license, which wouldn’t be absolutely terrible if I lived in a big city with reliable public transportation, but I actually don’t know how I’ve gotten this far without driving. This past year I was working at the same school as N., so we carpooled together, meaning I never had to drive. However, I decided to apply for a position at a different school when a class I’ve always loved became available, and while I’m ecstatic to have gotten it, it means I absolutely need to drive myself to work. My road test is this week, and I’ve been practicing with my mom since I’ll be keeping her car if I get my license (bless her). I’m feeling a lot more confident despite my driving anxiety, but today’s practice is rough on me (parking is hard, y’all).

7 p.m. — Feeling a little concerned about my ability to park, but still make a quick stop at the grocery store while out with my mom. I’m hungry and craving tostadas for dinner, so I stop to pick up cheese and crema and a few juices for N. $13.74

9:45 p.m. — N. and I have dinner, watch Better Call Saul, and spend time with the pup. N. starts work tomorrow, so she has to review her materials before going to bed. We decide on a quick Starbucks run for fuel and to unwind. N. and I use my Starbucks account exclusively, but since it’s running dry at the moment, I add $10 to cover our drinks (latte for her, chai for me). When we get home, N. reviews her materials while I do my night routine (same medicated soap, The Inkey List BHA serum, Versed Recovery Mode night cream, and lip mask). I’m sleeping in her room tonight, so I bring my drink and current book (Giovanni’s Room) with me. Read a bit and it’s lights out for the three of us at 11:30. $10

Daily Total: $23.74

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — Wake up so N. can begin her work and I go through my morning routine. While she works, P. and I enjoy each other’s company and I have a toasted avocado bagel with red pepper flakes and an oat milk latte.

3:20 p.m. — I’m so bored after an uneventful morning. I make a Google Forms survey to bother N. as she works to ask if she loves me and if she supports my craving for Crumbl Cookies. She says yes to both, so I place a four-cookie box order to be delivered later tonight. $21.64

5:30 p.m. — Get picked up by my mom again. After driving practice, I still feel overwhelmed. At least I get home at the same time my Crumbl Cookies do, so I’m happy.

10:20 p.m. — We have a nice dinner of leftovers, share a cookie, and chat for a long time about going back to work. I’m not that excited, if I’m honest. Teaching is difficult, and I will be transferring schools, subjects, and grade levels. To distract myself, I do a face mask (Youth To The People Superclay) and finish Giovanni’s Room (amazing). I sleep in my room tonight.

Daily Total: $21.64

Day Three

9:30 a.m. — I’m already dreading this morning because I have to take THE SHOWER in anticipation of a laser appointment tomorrow. I love my Mexican genes, but I hate shaving!

11:45 a.m. — That took forever, but I do feel delicious after the shower with my fresh shave, clean hair, exfoliated skin, and light vanilla lotion scent. I come out to make coffee and say hi to P., then do my makeup. N. comes out for her lunch break, so we make sandwiches and chat. After we eat, I go back to my room and paint my nails.

3:45 p.m. — N. comes out of her room after finishing work and getting ready for the gym. It seems like taking THE shower was a good thing because she gives me a very, um, enthusiastic goodbye. I’m definitely having a good day today.

8 p.m. — Today’s driving practice makes me feel better about my test tomorrow, but I also try to forget about it because I don’t want to overthink and do worse. N. has dinner ready for when I get home. We decide to go to Starbucks again because we love chai. I add more money to the account and get excited to collect enough stars for a couple of free drinks next time. We get a pup cup for P., whose smile really does make everything better. We sip our tea outside and chat about everything: work, childhood, goals, health… Eight years later and I’m still so in love with this woman. $10

12:20 a.m. — I’ve been overthinking all night and trying to distract myself with TikTok after my night routine, but realize it’s getting late. Buenas noches!

Daily Total: $10

Day Four

7:30 a.m. — I’m up and so anxious. I get ready and then am driven to my 9 a.m. appointment by my mom.

9:30 a.m. — My appointment ends within the first 10 minutes. Guess who failed because apparently, all turns should be 15 mph, and going too slow can automatically disqualify you. I am so upset. I take the loss and sign up to retake the test tomorrow at 8 a.m.

10:45 a.m. — Finally home. I complain to N., who also doesn’t understand what happened, but as a consolation prize, she makes me French toast and scrambled eggs. I don’t deserve her. I munch on more Crumbl Cookies and try to enjoy my coffee, before deciding to take a nap.

2:50 p.m. — We overslept, oops. I take a quick body shower so I can be fresh for my laser appointment and wait on N. so she can drop me off.

5 p.m. — My appointment goes well and I chat with my technician about my driving test. She is sympathetic and tells me she doesn’t know anyone who’s passed on the first try at the location I went to, so I feel slightly comforted. I pay for the appointment and tip her. It hurts to pay this much for laser when razors are cheap, but I remember how terrible they are and I decide it makes me happy to pay this much. $246

5:10 p.m. — Order an Uber home since N. is at the gym. I jump in the shower when I get home. $13.07

11 p.m. — It’s been a chill night after a light dinner of salad and chicken (made by N., so good). We go to bed early. Nervous for tomorrow!

Daily Total: $259.07

Day Five

6:30 a.m. — I’m up and ready. Leave with mom at 7 a.m. though my appointment isn’t for another hour. I truly hate it here.

9:00 a.m. — Home and crying. I didn’t pass again, because a different instructor now said I was too fast on my 15 mph turns. I know it’s silly to cry since I am too old for this, but it’s extremely upsetting because I just don’t understand and don’t get to try again until next week. To make matters worse, N. is quite upset too and we have an argument. I cool down by taking a nap with P.

11:50 a.m. — I’m still very sad when I wake up. I get a notification for a launch by a stationery shop I adore, Jamie Paige Doodles. Her tagline is “Doodles To Make You Smile” and I definitely need that today, so I order some of her new notepads, stickers, and greeting cards. I immediately feel better after ordering. It is unnecessary, but with school coming up I go through notepads like crazy, so might as well have cute ones, plus I love using stickers and cards as rewards for my students, so it’s all worth it to me. $109

1 p.m. — I’ve been moping on the couch for too long. I force myself to have a sandwich, coffee, and a lot of water.

4 p.m. — After ranting to my friends about the DPS, they remind me I’m a bad bitch, so I decide I want to look like one and take the time to do my favorite thing: makeup and YouTube! At the same time, I get a notification that a book I preordered for my mom from Barnes & Noble has finally shipped, and I get charged for it. $31.33

5 p.m. — N. gets home from running errands and I get reminded of how much we love each other. She apologizes for our argument and I do as well. Turns out she got me a pair of cute earrings and a pin as a pick-me-up, and I cry, of course. For dinner, I order sushi, yakimeshi, and gyoza for one. $38.44

10:40 p.m. — N. suggests we crack open a bottle of wine and watch a movie. We’re a little buzzed and feel like watching Mean Girls, but first we go to McDonald’s to get nuggets and fries, N.’s treat. We end up falling asleep sometime after 1 a.m.

Daily Total: $178.77

Day Six

11 a.m. — Up and scroll. I cuddle P. for a while since N. is at the gym and then do my morning routine.

1:40 p.m. — P. has kept me company as I watch YouTube and sip coffee. N. gets home with a few groceries because she wants to learn how to BBQ and brings my favorite Arizona tea. We chat and have lunch together.

4:35 p.m. — It’s been an uneventful and lazy Saturday, so I start the 1,000-piece puzzle I was given two months ago while I listen to financial podcasts.

8 p.m. — N. is hungry and starts prepping the grill while I get started on the sides, Mexican rice, and pico de gallo.

9:30 p.m. — Dinner is delicious and I’m so impressed by N.’s cooking. We decide to clean the kitchen right after and somehow end up restructuring our entire living room.

2 a.m. — I don’t even know how we ended up going to bed at this time, goodnight!

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

11:30 a.m. — We wake up late. I take a quick body shower and do my skin-care routine, then have cereal for breakfast while coaching N. on how to make the best torta ever.

7:30 p.m. — It’s been a lazy day of napping and working on my puzzle. N.’s family stops by to say hi so we chat for about 15 minutes and I proceed to take another shower because today’s heat should be criminal. When I get out, N. suggests we get Little Caesar’s Pizza and I enthusiastically agree (N.’s treat). We also stop at a gas station where I pick up a couple of sodas and chips. $6.09

10:30 p.m. — Night routine with extra moisturizer because I need it. Tomorrow begins my last week of summer!

Daily Total: $6.09

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