A Week In St. Louis, MO, On A $40,000 Salary

·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 woman who works in academic affairs makes $40,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Gatorade Zero.

Occupation: Academic Affairs
Industry: Education
Age: 39
Location: St. Louis, MO
Salary: $40,000
Net Worth: $28,500 ($50,000 in home equity, $5,000 in savings, $1,500 in cryptocurrency minus debt)
Debt: $103,000 ($75,000 mortgage, $13,000 in student loans, and $15,000 in credit card debt)
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,100
Pronouns: she/her/hers

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $750 for a two-bedroom house
Student Loans: in forbearance
Utilities: $150
Phone: $70
Son’s Phone: $15
Internet: $50
Car Insurance: $90
Health Insurance: $400 ($0 for me through work, $400 for my son, taken out of paycheck)
Credit Cards: $600 (paying off four cards I racked up during the year I was only working part-time due to health issues)
Netflix: $10
Hulu: $6
Spotify: $10
Disney+: Use my sister’s account
HelloFresh: $64 (currently trying it at a promotional rate, if I continue it will be only twice a month)
NPR: $5
Prime: $100/year
Instacart: $100/year
Saving: Varies week to week as I’m doing the 52-week savings challenge this year. This past week I threw in $69 to cover two weeks ($34 and $35).

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, there was an expectation to attend higher education. There was never really a discussion or plan, but I went to community colleges for two years to get my associate’s and then transferred to four-year colleges to get my bachelor’s degree. I hopped around schools until well into my 30’s (with lots of time off) and finally got my degree and then pursued a master’s degree. A few years ago, I went back and got an associate’s in paralegal studies. I had grants and loans for all of my schooling.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents were both thrifty people. They taught me how to shop sales. I still remember chasing the blue light special in Kmart! I still feel like I missed out on learning how to budget and save appropriately. I am trying to learn those now and teach those skills to my son.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first official job was working at McDonald’s when I was 16. I got it to be able to buy things I wanted. Before that, I worked with a lady from my mom’s church who traveled around to small town picnics and events, where she sold shirts, silly spray, glow sticks, and other miscellaneous toys. I would usually get paid $35 a day which felt like a goldmine when I was 13. Looking back, it wasn’t that much based on the hours I worked. I did that for several years during the summers. But dang, it was all worth it for those Arizona jean shorts and UnionBay shirts. HA!

Did you worry about money growing up?
I never really worried about money as a kid. We always seemed to have what we needed. I did want name-brand clothes and didn’t understand why my mom couldn’t just buy them for me. I also remember going to the grocery store every week and learning about buying the store brand of things to save money.

Do you worry about money now?
I worry less about money now than I have the last couple of years. I am on the right track to pay off my debt and increase my savings. I could not have said these things two years ago. I had taken a part-time job, as I was diagnosed with POTS and struggling with dizziness, fatigue, pain, etc. It was definitely not a great time in my life as I was unable to do a lot of things, including working full time. I’m currently working on a few creative projects that will hopefully help build up my savings.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I went out on my own at 18. I’ve popped back here and there when I needed to. Both of my parents have always helped me in whatever way they can. My dad helped me get a car 12 years ago when I got divorced. I still don’t feel financially responsible. Ha! I’d much rather spend my money on a vacation than fixing up my house.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My aunt gave me $10,000 in stocks about 12 years ago. I used the majority of that to put a down payment on my car. Sometimes my dad will randomly send a check to me for several hundred bucks. Those are always happy days in my house! Also, my best friend’s parents gave me $5,000 when he passed away. It was completely unexpected but very much appreciated.

Day One

6 a.m. — Turn off my alarm and all alarms up to 7:30 and instantly decide I will do my run during my lunch hour.

7:30 a.m. — Get out of bed and wake up my kiddo, V. He feeds the dog and takes her out. We both take our pills and vitamins. I make a vanilla iced coffee and heat up some sweet potato hash while I fry an egg. Kiddo eats cereal and does his morning routine while I start logging into all of my systems. He starts virtual school at 8:25 and I log into work at 8:30.

10 a.m. — Answer emails and phone calls and work on an orientation project.

12:30 p.m. — Take my lunch and run five miles on my treadmill in the basement.

1:30 p.m. — Work is super slow, so I write more of the novel I’m working on. Munch on Pringles, marshmallows, and jello. Wash it down with a Gatorade Zero.

4:30 p.m. — Decide to pop an edible in celebration of 4/20. Plus, it’s snowing outside. Snow in the second half of April is nuts. I contemplate whether or not hell is actually freezing over. Take a bath to soak my old bones. Running beats up my body pretty good still. Heat up some leftover chicken linguine for myself and leftover tacos for the kid. We eat dinner and then catch up on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. We spent the last month watching all the movies in the Marvel universe. My son is 13, so I relish anything we still do together. We snack on fruit snacks and I trade all my yellow ones for any other color he’ll give me!

8 p.m. — Pop my night pill. Read a library book and text a dude I’ve been talking to for a couple of months. I question whether I’ll jump right back into dating once I feel it’s safe to do so. I feel so empty and frustrated with guys right now. I assume it will be much better once people are more out and about.

9 p.m. — Brush and floss (seriously, I have gum issues and absolutely have to). Head to bed and sleep the Tuesday away.

Daily Total: $0

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — Alarm goes off and I snooze until the next one. Get up and walk on the treadmill. My family and I started a streak challenge on January 1 to see how many days we can, at the very least, walk one mile. There are three of us still streaking and it’s day 111.

8:30 a.m. — The kiddo and I are both logged in and staring at screens. I eat a peach Activia yogurt and sing the jingle in my head. The morning is super slow as I’ve already become way too efficient at this job. Work on my novel some more.

11 a.m. — Lunch is turkey slices, carrots dipped in guacamole, a Laughing Cow cheese wedge, a pickle, and a sugar-free jello. I buy a 10-pack of card protectors for my vaccine record on Amazon and use some of a gift card. I’ll give the other nine to family and friends.

12:30 p.m. — Take my lunch and lay on the couch with the pup. Some days, I need the extra rest. I’m just super glad I have my POTS under control and don’t fall asleep every day during lunch and after work. My calves hurt a lot, so I drink a bottle of water.

4:30 p.m. — I make zucchini pizza boats for dinner. I save half of them for lunch tomorrow. V. takes the dog for another walk while I whip him up some bagel pizzas. We eat dinner at the table and talk about the day.

10 p.m. — Pop my night pill. Get ready for bed by brushing my teeth and flossing. Pass out immediately afterward.

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

6 a.m. — Wake up and feel miserable. At some point, yell at the kid to get up. He somehow does.

8 a.m. — Jump out of bed, get dressed, take pills and vitamins, and make an iced coffee. Feel feverish and have super itchy eyes. My period is about to start too. My boobs are screaming. Dang it, it’s going to be an okay day. I must will it so.

8:30 a.m. — We both log into our computers and start our days. V.’s virtual school has been a nightmare. I have to constantly nag him to get work done. Every time I walk by, he’s on a different site usually playing games. I hit a breaking point every few weeks. He goes to his dad’s this weekend, so luckily I won’t have to nag anyone for the entire weekend. Spend the morning working on the orientation project.

10:30 a.m. — I eat a bagel and a yogurt. Listen to clips of music and rate them for a survey where I make $20. I like to do surveys, quizzes, etc. to earn gift cards or a little extra spending cash. My side hustle is strong, but I keep trying to focus on ways to make passive income, hence the books I’m working on.

12 p.m. — Run five miles on the treadmill. Pretty sure every part of me wants to die more now.

1 p.m. — Work on my own personal writing all afternoon in between answering phone calls and emails. Eat the rest of the zucchini boats. Prep the agenda for my writing club I hold weekly via Zoom. I started it back in December and have found it super helpful to get my stuff done. Order groceries from Walmart (I know…the devil!) to be delivered on Sunday (using the free trial): milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, zucchini, turkey, sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, bananas, water, edamame, ground turkey, guacamole, tomato sauce, and peanut butter crackers. $41.90

3 p.m. — Get the kiddo ready for his doctor’s appointment. Quick in and out visit with the nurse and home before we know it. Take a quick shower.

5 p.m. — Received a HelloFresh box today. We had been using EveryPlate but I got tired of their potato and carrot heavy sides. Try out the cajun blackened tilapia with red beans and lemon rice for dinner. I like using meal delivery services because I don’t know how to cook fish and veggie meals. I’ve gotten some great recipes I like to recreate that are easy and delicious.

6:30 p.m. — Open the Zoom room and kick back with a White Claw. The meeting goes great. I always love this time every week as it’s been a huge part of my social interaction the last several months.

8:30 p.m. — Wrap up the meeting and shut it down. Pop my night pill. Brush my teeth, floss, and head to bed.

Daily Total: $41.90

Day Four

6:30 a.m. — Rise and shine. Throw on some workout clothes, strip my bed, grab a bottle of water, and head to the basement. Throw my bedding into the washer. Walk three miles on the treadmill. Dry my bedding.

7:30 a.m. — Wake up the boy by blasting our favorite Rebecca Black song. He gets the dog fed and taken out while I prep our pills and vitamins. I make pancakes and sausage patties and we each have a breakfast sandwich. Make a cleaning to-do list so I can get the whole house clean before the weekend.

8:30 a.m. — Log into work and start cleaning the kitchen. Restart the dryer for a little longer. Clean the bathroom and prep for a meeting at 10. Running back and forth to my computer to check on things already has me hungry. I eat some turkey slices, cheese wedge, carrots, and a pickle during a meeting. Make my bed and continue more loads of laundry.

12:30 p.m. — Take my lunch break and lay down with my dog. She loves taking a nap snuggled up next to me on the couch. I play solitaire on my phone.

1:30 p.m. — Spend the majority of the afternoon working on an orientation. Every hour I get up and do a little more cleaning: vacuum dog hair off the couch, sweep the living room and dining room, and vacuum my room. Yell at the kiddo to clean his room for the 708th time today.

4:30 p.m. — Celebrate another work week in the books. Crank up the Spotify while I make nacho-rific loaded potato wedges. I always like to know what everyone is cooking for meals these days. Last year at this time, I was amazing myself in the kitchen. Now, I just feel like I’m on autopilot and every day is the same. I will tell you that those potato wedges were divine. Ha!

6 p.m. — V. gets picked up by his dad. I pack my bags for the weekend and get all the dog’s stuff ready. We set out for my sister’s who lives about an hour and a half away. We’re staying there tonight so she can do eight miles with me in the morning. We did 10 last weekend and it was a horrible run. She made me sign up for a half marathon this summer. I just started running last January. It’s been a slow and painful process because of my illness. I never really thought that I would be able to run again a few years ago. It’s been nice to push myself and see how far I’ve come.

8 p.m. — Arrive at my sister’s and settle in. Pop my night pill. Brush my teeth and head to bed.

Daily Total: $0

Day Five

6 a.m. — Wake up and get all my running gear on. Feed the dog and take her out. Pop my pills and vitamins and eat peanut butter crackers and a granola bar.

7 a.m. — Stretch and head out the door to run. Take the backroads and almost get hit by a truck that doesn’t see us as he’s backing out of his driveway.

9 a.m. — After a nice cool-down walk, we get back and shower. My other sister is having a 40th birthday party so we get ready to head over there. Normally, I’d put on some makeup but I don’t want to aggravate my rosacea.

11 a.m. — Head to my sister’s with the dog. The party starts at 1, but I want to get there a little bit early so I can take an edible and it will kick in a little after the party starts. Stop at a Walgreens on the way and pick up two gift cards for my sister. Throw those in a bag of candy I already purchased and have her present ready to go. $40

1 p.m. — The party is insane. Or maybe I just haven’t been out in a year! My brother-in-law grills burgers, hot dogs, and kabobs. He also smokes some pork that is incredible. I will definitely need to find out the rub he used. My niece has a daiquiri bar. My family is weird and lovely. They’re the only people I’ve really been seeing consistently through the pandemic.

4 p.m. — I stop drinking around 4 since I plan to drive all the way home and want to leave by 7. That will get me home after 10. The dog and I say our goodbyes and head out. Fill up with gas. $26.59

10:30 p.m. — Finally home. Unload the car, brush my teeth, and head straight to bed.

Daily Total: $66.59

Day Six

8 a.m. — Did not set an alarm and sleep in until 8. Feels good. Get dressed, feed the pets, and eat a granola bar. Take the dog on a three-mile loop around our house.

9 a.m. — Watch a few of the new Younger episodes. Ugh. I remember the show being better. Oh, well…we all know I watch it for the hot tattoo guy. Duh. I remember that my friend D. is coming over and put in another delivery order from Aldi for snacks and things I forgot: chips, guacamole, salsa, pads, super-duper pads, Gatorade Zero, turkey sausage, strawberries, pearsecco, and lemon cookies. $49.51

1 p.m. — My friend D. comes over. We catch up, discuss our vision boards, and then decide to go check out a couple of houses in the area after the Aldi order is delivered. Did not end up getting the pearsecco or cookies. Probably for the best, but I really wanted to try both! We only make it to one open house that’s still open. We score a freshly baked cookie. Delicious! We drive by a couple of other houses she’s been looking at online.

3 p.m. — We end up gabbing over chips and guac. We each drink a White Claw. Feed the dog and let her play outside/sit in the sun.

5:30 p.m. — Tell D. goodbye and get the dog all ready and hop in the car to go pick up my son from his dad’s house.

7:00 p.m. — Grab V. and drive home.

8 p.m. — V. logs a mile on the treadmill. We just started a virtual run where you have to log 1.7 miles per day for a month. We did it last year and we both really enjoyed it. Plus, we get t-shirts out of it, so it’s even better. He showers and gets ready for bed while I watch some more episodes of Younger and play solitaire on my phone. Why do I now keep getting ads for retirement homes/assisted living places? Your algorithm is wrong! I’m not old, I just enjoy a good round of solitaire, dang it!!! Pop my night pill and take a stress-reduction gummy around 9:30 p.m. that usually helps me sleep (GABA, L-Theanine, and lemon balm).

Daily Total: $49.51

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — Get up and get the kiddo up. Normal morning routine. I have the worst cramps and excessive flow. I actually experience flooding for about half of my periods now. I hate that I never knew this existed. I pop two pills to help clot and reduce the bleeding. I don’t feel like eating and just drink a vanilla iced coffee.

8:30 a.m. — Call IT and open a ticket as I keep having network issues every Monday. Spend all morning answering emails and phone calls. I make myself another vanilla iced coffee around 10. My stomach hurts from the cramping and bleeding.

10:30 a.m. — Order a solar house number address thing from Amazon. Currently, the house numbers are on a metal sign in the grass (which cannot be seen at night). Eat some peanut butter crackers. Notice that the two packages I ordered from Walmart on Sunday are actually cheese and crackers. Blast it all! $28.49

12:30 p.m. — Take my lunch and walk three miles on the treadmill. I don’t agree with the experts that say exercise is great for cramps and your period. For me, exercise makes the flooding even worse and it’s sometimes hard to get out of the fetal position.

1:30 p.m. — Eat some turkey slices, cheese wedge, two hard-boiled eggs, and an apple (pop two more pills). Spend the rest of the afternoon working on the orientation project. Send an email to a drive-in to reserve two spots for their double feature on Saturday night. Taking the kiddo and meeting my dad there to watch The Goonies and Beetle Juice. It will be $20 for two spots, but we’ll pay when we get there.

4:30 p.m. — Work is done and I start cooking firecracker meatballs with roasted green beans and jasmine rice (another HelloFresh meal). I talk to my sister on the phone about her job interview earlier today. We also talk about splitting a monthly subscription box. We decide to do six months of a camping/outdoors one. We’ll each get three boxes and agree that I’ll take the first one. She wants to look at Cairn and Nomadik and see which one she likes more. They’re both about $30 a month and seem like a fun way to try new things. Plus, I’m not going shopping in stores still and I’m itching to do so. Ha!

6 p.m. — After we finish dinner (and two more pills), V. and I watch the last episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I put a heating pad on my lower back. Luckily, my period is basically over. Whenever I have flooding, it usually only lasts six to eight hours and then I have a super light flow/spotting the next couple of days.

7:30 p.m. — We both decide to read a little before getting ready for bed. He goes to bed after an hour and I decide to do the same. Pop my night pill, brush my teeth, and floss. Play a little solitaire right before I play a meditation. Fall asleep before it’s over.

Daily Total: $28.49

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