A Week In New York, NY On A $1,600 Stipend

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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.

Calling All Students! We’re doing a College Money Diaries series and we want to read your diaries. Send an email to moneydiary@refinery29.com with the subject line “College Money Diary” for a chance to be featured in this upcoming series.

Today: an international student in New York, NY who spends some of her money this week on strawberries.


Occupation: International Student
Industry: Business
Age: 22
Location: New York, NY
Salary: $1,600 internship stipend
Net Worth: $0 (but I recognize my privilege — my parents worked hard to send me to the US for university)
Debt: $46,000 (student loan that I owe my parents)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $880 (living with four other roommates)
Netflix/Hulu: $0 (thank god for roommates who are properly employed)
Prime: $0 (can you believe I’m just starting my student trial)
Spotify: $15
Metrocard: $127 (though I stopped getting the monthly pass ever since the pandemic)
Phone: $40
Laundry: $10
UN ShareTheMeal Donation: $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?
Both my parents did not pursue higher education — my mum actually dropped out after elementary school. However, they worked hard and saved up to provide me and my brother with opportunities they never had. While my brother decided on a vocational route, I buried myself in books and became the first in the family to get a degree.


Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Coming from an Asian family, financial literacy was an important skill my parents made sure to impart, especially since we weren’t well-to-do. They drilled in the importance of saving, not spending more than what we have (and with that, credit cards are the devil), and having savings and insurance plans.


What was your first job and why did you get it?
Part-time cashier at a bakery, simply because it was near my house and paid a 16-year-old decently! While my parents never expected us to help with expenses, I felt like I needed to contribute to the family.


Did you worry about money growing up?
We were comfortable. We had a house and food on the table. I never felt like we were in lack, although there were certainly luxuries that we couldn’t afford to enjoy. For example, dining out or traveling.


Do you worry about money now?
Yes, knowing that my parents took out their savings to send me to school, I want to work hard in order to repay them ASAP. I already have a job offer back home upon graduation, but no one knows in such times.


At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Sadly, still very dependent on the parents.


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

Day One

9 a.m. — I roll out of bed, only to remember that it’s that time of the month — to pay my rent. Quickly Venmo my landlord, N., who is also my flatmate (makes for awkward conversation when we forget to pay the rent). Every time I pay rent, I get reminded of how much I’m spending studying abroad. Back where I’m from, we typically stay with our parents until we start our own family, so renting an apartment isn’t the norm. I was so unfamiliar with the idea that I actually only found my apartment three days before I was due to arrive in NYC. Fast forward three years, I’m still here in this gem of a neighborhood and with some kickass flatmates. Still, rent day makes me mopey.

12:20 p.m. — I decide to reheat leftovers for a light lunch, which consists of stir-fried broccoli and tofu. I made this for lunch two days ago and this is the fifth time straight eating the same meal (this is going to be a thing across the next few days). My meals are nothing to be proud of. I’m one of those who “eats to live” and I can’t really tell the difference between meals unless the food the rotten. I also don’t really know how long you can keep food in the fridge. I guess if it ain’t sour, I’m safe.

1 p.m. — I’m not really satisfied with the meal, but it’ll do. Really not feeling it today, so I decided to treat myself by watching the entire second season of The Politician on Netflix. Ben Platt is a singing angel, Judith Light an absolute icon, and Lucy Boynton is who I want to be when I grow up.

6:40 p.m. — I take some time post-binge to reflect on the show, as well as process my thoughts and emotions. I actually teared at the last two episodes because it was so poignant. I guess with everything that is going on with the world, it made the story feel so much closer to reality.

7 p.m. — Flatmate J. asks if I would like to grab some drinks. I decide to sit this one out even though I’m desperately craving some buzz because I’m still feeling the aftermath of rent day guilt.

7.40 p.m. — I reheat the last of my leftovers before settling down with my Kindle. Honestly, it is one of my best purchase decisions from last year. I went from buying physical books to borrowing free e-books from NYPL. If you don’t have a membership, I would strongly recommend you to sign up for one. It’s free and offers more than just books!

10 p.m. — I wash up before anyone else fights for the shower. There are five of us and one bathroom, so the wait can get really long.

10:30 p.m. — Skype my parents. They live on the other side of the globe and have been in lockdown too. However, the country just opened and people are slowly going back to work. We have a lengthy conversation about the scare of the second wave of infection. Wear a mask, people — it’s not just about you anymore.

11:20 p.m. — I religiously perform my pre-bed routine, which consists of spraying my face with a facial essence (Missha Time Revolution, a dupe for SK-II ) before treating it with my trusty LED light therapy device, followed by a generous amount of moisturizer (rotate between Laneige Sleeping Mask, Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, Vichy Mineral 89, The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid).

11:40 p.m. — Tuck myself in bed and complete the rest of the book before lights out at 2.

Daily Total: $0

Day Two

8 a.m. — I set my alarm for 8 daily, but I have the bad habit of snoozing until 9. At least I make sure it’s really soft so you can’t hear it beyond the room (because flatmates).

9 a.m. — Finally up and headed for the bathroom. I have combination skin so I wash my face with just water when I wake up. Following that is a whole other routine of facial care. I start with Vichy Vitamin C, which I keep in the fridge to slow down the oxidation, followed by a toner. I use a travel spray bottle for toner application because I feel like a lot of liquid is wasted with cotton pads. Next is a moisturizer (Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Moisture Treatment or Vichy Aqualia Thermal Gel) and a generous dollop of sunscreen.

9:30 a.m. — I decide today will be a productive day, starting with laundry. We have a laundry room in the building so it’s really convenient. I help one of my many flatmates, R., with his laundry too. Can all this walking up and down the stairs be considered my workout for the week? $4

11 a.m. — I’m out of food, so I run down to the corner bodega for some tomatoes ($2.99). I can’t resist grabbing my all-time favorite peanut butter ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s ($7.90) while I’m there. $10.89

11:10 a.m. — Throw together a quick lunch of tomato and rice. I just cook the rice in the rice cooker, before throwing in the tomatoes after a while. There’s enough rice to last me for the rest of the week (I’ll keep half in the freezer!) and the best part is that it can be dolled up in multiple ways.

12 p.m. — I finally start on my work for the week. I’m interning for a consumer insights company that is based in my home country but has a small team here in NYC. The job is demanding, but at least it allows for remote work. It’s also on a project-by-project basis, so working hours are quite flexible as long as I finish the project within the timeframe.

8:45 p.m. — I am done for the day. It’s an exhausting day trying to catch up on a new project and I find myself lacking an appetite for dinner. Trusty Trader Joe’s Cheese Puffs it is (not gonna lie, my snacks drawer can rival the bodega’s but stocks have depleted, send help!).

10 p.m. — Onto my nighttime routine. It did take me quite a while to get into it, but I see it as self-care. It’s also important because personal care is one of the few things I have control over, which alleviates a lot of the stress from living in a world that is spiraling out of control.

10:30 p.m. — I browse LinkedIn for a while, reading up articles for work. I always tell myself to go to sleep early, but my mind gets so caught up with work it actually takes hours to wind down… Finally able to fall asleep at around 1:30.

Daily Total: $14.89

Day Three

9 a.m. — Wake up and scroll Instagram mindlessly for 30 minutes. Proceed to roll out of bed to wash up.

9:45 a.m. — Just in time for team call! We do these calls almost every morning just to catch up with each other and keep track of what’s on everyone’s plate. I seriously miss seeing my colleagues physically.

12:20 p.m. — R. delivers heaven in the form of deli coffee just as I’m about to rip my hair off my head. Work truly takes up so much brain juice, but I’m endlessly grateful for the internship. My boss was nice enough to offer me a job while I’m still in NYC on the pretext that I will return home and work for them full time upon graduation. $1

2:30 p.m. — Work is not letting up and I whine to my flatmates about it. I relieve that tension by munching aggressively on my re-heated tomato and rice. R. very nicely fries an egg for me to have with the rice because he can’t fathom how anyone can survive on food so plain.

6.30 p.m. — I’m not done with work but declare it to be off-work hours, which is important now that the boundaries of work and home are blurred. Being the true blue student I am, I cook some instant noodles for dinner.

8 p.m. — This week happens to be my flatmate, N.’s, week for chores but I’ve yet to see him, so I take on some basic cleaning. I don’t mind sweeping the floor and watering the plants in our jungle of an apartment, but I drop him a reminder to take out the recycling as the bin is getting full.

9 p.m. — Wash up and plump up the skin. All this while blasting some music ’cause this girl loves busting out moves! Heading to bed with the kindle, before I fall asleep around midnight.

Daily Total: $1

Day Four

9 a.m. — Body clock wakes up exactly at 9 on the dot. I feel it in my belly that today will be a good day. I drop a text to my work friend, V., to share my excitement, before heading to my bathroom to wash up.

9:45 a.m. — Another daily team call, same routine. But I’m also reminded that I’ve basically interacted with the same people since the start of lockdown. Maybe I should start dating again. Or maybe not. I just really want to meet a new person, have some interesting conversations, and actually feel like I’m 22, instead of feeling like a jaded 40-year-old (no shade to all you 40-year-olds out there). Does anyone have any ideas?

12 p.m. — Want a break from my screen so I decide on a walk around the block, which ends up being a trip into Manhattan to grab lunch (cinnamon bun $1.25 and noodles $3.20, yes I eat weirdly). $4.45

1 p.m. — Quick stop at Trader Joe’s for some veggies and tofu ($9.28). And of course, strawberries ($2) from the fruit cart right outside. The fruits from those carts can be kept shorter, but I’m not complaining at that price. We don’t have such carts back home and most fruits are imported, so they’re really expensive and less sweet for some reason. It’s definitely something I’ll miss when I leave. $11.28

1:50 p.m. — Back to work, but not before I finish my lunch with a spoonful of ice cream.

7 p.m. — Stir-fry some veggies with the ingredients from this afternoon to pair with my reheated tomato rice. R. has been really sweet and patient with the demands of my work, so I offer him dinner as well as half a bottle of wine. We eat in front of the TV and watch Rick and Morty before the man washes the dishes. Bless him.

8:40 p.m. — J. joins us in the living room with more drinks. Well, TGIF. This week has been a relatively short work week since we had extra days off with the Fourth of July weekend.

11 p.m. — Feeling a little more tired than usual due to the drinks and also the fact that I ventured out of the apartment for errands for the first time in a while. I can barely keep myself upright as I brush my teeth so I decide to skip on the nighttime routine.

Daily Total: $15.73

Day Five

11:30 a.m. — Wake up to N. and J. working out in the living room and I quickly join them. Honestly, with so many free workout videos online, I’m reconsidering the need to resume my gym pass. I’m determined to create an at-home fitness plan by the time all this is over.

12:30 p.m. — Good old tomato rice for lunch, while N. made some protein waffles for himself and J. We all plop down in front of the TV, but not before noticing that our mini-fridge (where we store drinks and dairy) has been making weird noises. I really hope it’s not breaking down… N. promises to prowl on YouTube for solutions.

1:15 p.m. — I take out my art materials to do some watercolor painting. I’ve also been seriously considering getting an iPad and the Apple pencil for my drawings since I no longer have to replace my laptop (wanted to get a new one for work, which ended up getting expensed).

6 p.m. — Spend most of the day painting. It’s a hobby I picked up right before I came to NYC and was initially terrible at it, but I forced myself to designate some time each week to paint. While there’s still much to improve, I’m pretty proud of how far I’ve come, considering that YouTube and Instagram are my teachers.

6.10 p.m. — Not super hungry, so I end up eating my strawberries (almost forgot about them!!! Would have been such a waste!) and ice cream. I retreat back to my room for some silent meditation time. I do it during the weekends because my mind gets so caught up with work on weekdays. I sound like I have a toxic relationship with work — I love it, I swear. I’m just learning how to find the right balance, but I’m more inclined to hustle at this point because I’m still young and have the energy to do so.

6:30 p.m. — Find myself feeling a little peckish, so I decide on instant oatmeal to make up for the lack of a proper dinner. The trick is to replace water with any kind of milk, and pop the bowl into the microwave. Jazzes up boring old oatmeal.

7 p.m. — Skype my parents again. It’s a little early their time, but they joke about how old people don’t sleep much. Today is one of those days where I find myself missing home. I feel bad that I’m not physically around to take care of my parents. It’s complicated though… I’ve never planned on staying here forever. The plan has always been to go home, be a productive citizen and a caretaker to the folks who have paved the way for my dream — it’s only right. But it also means leaving the city I’ve grown to love and where I’ve built a second life…

7:30 p.m. — I indulge in Netflix’s Someone Great. I like it because it reminds me so much of NYC, even though I’m still here. Anyone get this?

8:45 p.m. — Post-movie dance party! R. heard me watching the movie and joined in halfway through. We play the movie playlist on Spotify (the songs are great!) and start grooving to it. Quick glance at the mirror shows how stupid we look, but I’m all for it. I pour us some shots!! Usually, the night progresses to us heading to a bar around the block, but we’re trying to avoid crowds so indoor drinking it is.

9:20 p.m. — R. friends ring him up on FaceTime and I join in. Talking to them brings me some sense of normalcy and I’m once again reminded of how much an extrovert I am. I thrive off people’s energies.

10 p.m. — I go wash up, do my skincare, and listen to a podcast, Armchair Expert by Dax Shepard. It’s one of my favorites because I enjoy the breadth of topics they talk about.













12:30 a.m. — Time for bed!

Daily Total: $0

Day Six

11 a.m. — Today feels like a lazy day. I wash up, slap on some moisturizer and sunscreen, and decide to feast on the last of my strawberries.

12 p.m. — I realize I’ve been cooped up indoors for too long. Head down for a walk to enjoy some sunlight. I adore the neighborhood I’m in and send a quick thanks to the property gods for it. I’ve heard enough stories from friends to know that housing in NYC can be a nightmare.

1 p.m. — I pop by the bodega to chat with the friendly people working there. We bonded ever since they rescued me from a night of waiting out in the cold (I left the apartment without my keys) and a dead phone battery. I pick up some more tomatoes ($2.99) while I’m at it. $2.99

1:10 p.m. — Back home for lunch, I heat up leftover veggies and rice. R. happens to be eating and I slide next to him on the couch.

2 p.m. — After I eat, I do a face mask and take a nap.

4 p.m. — I wake up feeling refreshed. In the heat of the moment, I decide to purchase some posters I’ve been staring at from a bunch of local artists. They come up to about $57 with tax and shipping. Yes, I skimp on my meals so that I can buy beautiful things to stare at. $57

5 p.m. — Time to cuddle with my Kindle. Today, I’m reading The Broken Ladder by Keith Payne, which examines the moral effects of inequality and the measures that people take to lessen the harm done by inequality in their lives.

7:30 p.m. — Because I dropped so much on my evening art purchase, I have instant noodles for dinner. I make it fancy with some chopped celery, tofu, and an egg I had lying around.

8:10 p.m. — Wash up and head straight to bed to finish off the book. I do enjoy downtime like this before I begin a new week of work madness.

Daily Total: $59.99

Day Seven

8:45 a.m. — I wake up earlier than usual. I decide to pop in for a shower (hair and all!) before work. N. drops a text on needing us to chip in for toilet rolls ($8). $8

9:20 a.m. — It’s that awkward period after I’m done with my morning routine and before work so I end up lazing on the couch and reading the news.

1 p.m. — Whoa, work came in like a wrecking ball, but I held out quite well and finally have some time to pee and grab food. Not particularly hungry today so I settle on my last packet of instant oatmeal and the remaining pint of Ben & Jerry’s. You can see that I empty out my food before I absolutely need to go for a grocery run. Make a mental note to do it soon because I’ve run out of veggies and am down to the last two servings of the tomato rice.

4 p.m. — President Trump just announced that international students will be sent home if schools go online… and I’m just lost for words… I take the rest of the day off.

7 p.m. — After much angry-crying to R. who took the rest of the day off from his work as well, he decides to grab dinner for both of us. He only needs ten minutes, but it’s enough to leave me spiraling into the abyss of my mind. I’m literally just one semester away from graduation and there’s so much to lose. I can’t afford that after my parents slogged their guts out to send me here. It’s yet another sore reminder of how this will never be home, even though it already has a piece of my heart. I will never belong as long as the institution continues to see me as the Other, no matter the fact that I have a life here or that I try to contribute what I can to my community or that I simply love this place with all of my heart.

9 p.m. — Dreading the call that I’ll be making to my parents. I really don’t know what to say. This year has been so out of whack with all the uncertainty. It ends up being me sobbing while they try to tell me it’s okay. I just really need a hug at this point.

10 p.m. — I can’t be bothered with skincare and I don’t really want to check social media. Just end up staring blankly into space.

12 a.m. — I’m still up and feeling miserable, so I decided to take tomorrow off. R. knocks on the door to ask if I want to hang in the living room instead. J. and N. bought me some snacks so I guess they’ve heard as well. We spend the night listening to N. play his guitar and quiet conversations between the guys on their favorite bands and concerts they’ve been to. At this point, no one knows what’s going to happen. I feel a little better knowing that I do have people standing with me.

Daily Total: $8

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