A Week In Boston, MA, On A $35,000 Salary

Photographed by Tayler Smith.

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.

Today: a research assistant who makes $35,000 per year. She spends some of her money this week on "so many" bus tickets and pads.

Occupation: Research Assistant
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 23
Location: Boston, MA
Salary: $35,000
Paycheck (Biweekly): $993

Monthly Expenses
Housing: $0; I moved in with my parents to save money for medical school.
Loans: $1,500 in student loans. I'm making payments way past the minimum to pay off all of my federal loans before med school.

All Other Monthly Expenses: I put all expenses (below) on my credit card, which I pay in full every month. I have no credit card debt.
Gym Membership: $69 (discounted from $85 through a benefit at work)
Cell Phone: $31
Migraine Prescription: $40
Savings: I am not putting any money into savings as there is no savings plan that has an interest rate as high as my student loans.

Day One

5 a.m. — I am insanely jet-lagged and finally get out of bed at 5 a.m. after tossing and turning since 3:30. I returned home on Wednesday from a week in Europe, and I have had the hardest time getting over jet lag. I make myself my standard breakfast — oatmeal with almond milk and honey and a big cup of coffee. I then go out on a run for the first time in three weeks. I have been traveling a lot lately for medical school interviews as well as my recent Europe trip, and am feeling the pain. Five miles feel like 50.

8 a.m. — After my grueling run, I hop in the shower and quickly change before heading out the door to work. I only live about a mile away from the hospital, so I get to walk. It has been disturbingly sunny and warm in Boston the past couple of days, and I sweat through my sweater on the 20-minute stroll. I sit at my desk and open up my food services account through the hospital to reload it. For putting $100 on the card, I get a $20 bonus, plus using this card gets me a 20% discount on the food in the hospital food court! I head down to get a coffee and cereal cup for a second breakfast/post-workout boost. $100

3 p.m. — It is a slow Friday, and one of the doctors I work for is out, so after getting sweet potato fries twice from the hospital food court (I am a creature of habit and eat very specific foods), I call it a day about an hour early and head home. On my way back I stop at the Trader Joe's across the street from my apartment (I know, I am truly blessed) to pick up some of my staples: Fiber-O cereal, unsalted roasted almonds, pretzel slims, almond milk, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, watermelon slices, and the Green Salad Palette for dinner tonight. Usually my parents stock up groceries but to offset the burden of my living at home, I try to cover my own food costs as much as I can. That's not to say I do not indulge in my dad's cooking every once in a while! $35.91

8 p.m. — I was invited to interview at a medical school out of town, so I look up the transportation options I have to get there, but don't commit to anything. I am thinking of tacking on a vacation to this interview, but am debating whether I want to spend that much money. I just came back from vacation but have been saving up my days off for this autumn interview circuit, and want to indulge as much as I can! My exploration is interrupted by my dog jumping on my lap, knocking my computer aside. She has been extra needy ever since I came home, and so I spend the rest of the night giving her quality cuddle time and catching up on trashy reality TV that I missed while abroad.

Daily Total: $135.91

Day Two

10 a.m. — I was up at 5 a.m. again. Jet lag always kicks my butt going from east to west! I make oatmeal and coffee and rewatch last night's reality TV, which I fell asleep watching. It is my mental junk food and I am not ashamed. I then head out to drop off my interview suit at the dry cleaner's ($25). It has seen better days, and after being lugged around four cities over five days it is in need of a good wash. I also stop by the next door Starbucks and get a grande skim milk cappuccino ($4.37). $29.37

12 p.m. — I eat a berry salad to tide me over until lunchtime. I then pack almonds and an apple my parents bought at the farmers' market, and take my dog out to the dog park. It rained overnight and it is so muddy, but my 65-pound mutt loves it. She finds the rattiest tennis ball and insists we play fetch. I can't help it, she is too cute.

2 p.m. — My dad has spent the past year perfecting his bread recipe and culturing his sourdough starter; props to him because his homemade breads have gotten much better recently. I make an open-faced tomato and cheese sandwich with Israeli cheese my mom picked up at the specialty import store in our neighborhood. I snack on pretzel slims as well.

4 p.m. — My mom drops a bombshell on me by telling me that a sibling I do not get along with is coming home the week I'm scheduled to go out of town for my interview, and is planning on staying the weekend. Given we are not even on speaking terms at the moment, this announcement reaffirms my desire to tack on more days to my interview trip. I bookmark a bunch of Airbnb rooms, but do not take the plunge as I reassess my month's budget.

8 p.m. — Annoyed and upset, I text my friend to see if she is up to grabbing a bite with me. She is, and we go to the neighborhood fro-yo spot for sweets and heart-to-heart convo. She and I have been friends since high school, lost touch during college, and reconnected when we both moved back to Boston. I love having friends who have known my family drama for years, and I love her even more for covering my sugar high.

Daily Total: $29.37

Day Three

9 a.m. — I wake up at 5 a.m. again and laze out of going on a run. Instead, I make my standard oatmeal and coffee, and sign up for a marathon-training plan on the Nike Run Club app. I input the Paris Marathon date (April 8th, 2018) as my projected race date. It has been a bucket list item of mine for years, but I want to see if I stick to the plan before I officially sign up. In the meantime, I continue my pseudo-productivity by finally booking the Airbnb I have been eyeing for two nights. I have a student-host at the medical school the night before, and the time overlap between my sibling and me will be less than 24 hours. Disaster averted. $146.96

11 a.m. — My youngest sibling comes home happy from winning a race that morning. In celebration, I make omelets for everyone. I then take the mutt to the dog park; it is sunny today and there are lots of puppy pals to play with, but she once again finds the muddiest, grossest ball and insists on slobbering all over it then playing fetch. I can't say no to her face.

1 p.m. — I munch on way too many almonds and do a more intensive assessment of my finances for the near future. I schedule my last federal loan payment of $1,100, as well as a credit card payment for later in the month. Now that my federal loans are all paid off and my private loan payments are down at $280 per month, I will have an extra $1,000 per month freed up. I plan on taking a bit of a sabbatical before medical school to travel through Southeast Asia and New Zealand, and will need to save up some funds. I have about $5,000 already; in NZ I can get a working holiday visa. If I can save about $2,500 more, that will give me enough to survive for six months. I review my last few credit card statements to find where I can shave off some spending. I realize I have been traveling way too much, and start reconsidering my earlier spend on the Airbnb. I am clearly indecisive.

4 p.m. — I discuss my apprehensions with my youngest sibling, who is so much more mature than I was at that age. My need to get out of the house during that weekend is reaffirmed and I feel a little better.

8 p.m. — Mama made rice and vegan chili for dinner tonight, and we settle in to watch 90 Day Fiancé. She and I have recently fallen in love with TLC, although her favorite show is The Little Couple. My mom claims our dog loves Say Yes to the Dress. No comment.

Daily Total: $146.96

Day Four

5 a.m. — Waking up at this hour is socially acceptable during the week, right? Oatmeal and coffee first thing, then I head to the gym to run on the treadmill as per the NRC app training program. It is an easy 2.5 mile run, but it still hurts. I cannot believe how much fitness I have lost from a three-week break.

8 a.m. — I pack Fiber-O's from last week's purchase to snack on at work and head out. I pick up a coffee at the food court and sit down for a day of paperwork and phone calls. As a research assistant, I do a lot of the scheduling and recruiting of patients, which means speaking to a wide variety of people from all over Boston who represent a whole host of different communities. I love this job because of the direct patient interaction; I feel like a real doctor-to-be.

2 p.m. — My lab group meets for two hours and I am bored out of my mind the entire time. I am so relieved to finally be excused. I go to the food court to get sweet potato fries and a rice pilaf dish.

6 p.m. — I make it home from work around 4:30 p.m. and take the dog out for her afternoon walk. I look at Uber prices for a different interview I have within commuting distance of Boston the next day, and am shocked to see that it would cost me $75. I immediately look for alternatives and settle on a bus in the morning. I figure I can find my way home on the way back depending on when the day ends. $9.50

7 p.m. — I almost forget to pick up my suit from the dry cleaner and make it right before they close. Second disaster averted.

Daily Total: $9.50

Day Five

5 a.m. — Finally a day I can justify an early wake-up! I eat my standard breakfast and get dressed in my interview suit. I slip on my heels, do my hair and makeup, and cringe. I hate the way I look dressed up. I pack almonds to snack on and hit the road.

8 a.m. — I make it on my bus and hit the road, eating loudly crunching almonds to the dismay of my weary co-travelers. Once I make it to the bus stop at my destination town, I get a medium coffee from Dunkin'. $2.25

9 a.m. — I take the public bus across town to the medical school campus, but get off five stops too soon. Now have to march uphill in heels for a half-mile. I arrive sweaty and disoriented, but everyone is nervous too, so I feel I am in good company. $1.75

3:30 p.m. — The interview could have gone better. I really am a bad advocate for myself and need to learn the humble-brag. I am getting better with each interview, so that is some consolation. Another interviewee and I get to the train station via Uber (she pays) just in time to catch the commuter rail back to Boston. I buy the ticket onboard, and she and I discuss our fears and anxieties about the application process. It is a long process that starts in June and goes on until May of the following year; once you submit your application, the wait is indefinite. It is excruciating, especially for someone as impatient as me. $11.50

6 p.m. — My mom bought all my Trader Joe's favorites because she knew I would be stressed post-interview. Sometimes living at home sucks, but other times — it is the best. My pup comes to cuddle on the couch, and we watch The Real Housewives of Dallas together.

Daily Total: $15.50

Day Six

6 a.m. — Wow, I must have been truly exhausted from my interview because I wake up a whole hour later than usual! I have my standard breakfast and head to the gym for a guided tempo run via the NRC app. I shower and settle in for a day working from home.

11 a.m. — I buy the transport tickets to my out-of-town interview next week and begin to plan my weekend excursion as well. I text a friend in that town and we make plans for tacos and tequila post-interview. Now I am excited. $27

12 p.m. — I eat more almonds and take my dog to the dog park, which is one of my favorite things to do in the world. Seriously guys, adopt a dog. It will change your life.

7 p.m. — After a zucchini linguine dinner, my mom and I watch old episodes of The Little Couple. Unexpectedly, the door swings open and my sibling walks in, and I freeze. My mom got the dates wrong and this is week they are home. I spend the rest of the night in my room, dodging awkward conversation.

Daily Total: $27

Day Seven

6 a.m. — I am so dreadfully boring with my same breakfast and morning run, this time a 2.5-miler that is much more difficult than I anticipated. I was never a runner before, and I am starting to remember why.

9 a.m. — As I walk to work I feel something a little funny occurring south of the border... After I get my morning coffee, I realize that Aunt Flo is knocking at the door. I am glad I have pads in my backpack that should tide me over for at least the morning.

12 p.m. — I use my lunch hour to step out and buy a wrap from Pret A Manger ($8.99) and some pads from the CVS ($8.99). I don't know what makes me angrier, the fact that the pads are so damn expensive, or the fact I just dropped the same amount on a wrap that is almost void of content. Never again. $17.98

4 p.m. — The first day of my period always drains my energy. I think I might be anemic but have never followed that hunch further than that. I make it home, finish off my almonds, and curl up in a ball. I inadvertently fall asleep way too early.

10:15 p.m. — I wake up covered in sweat and ravenous for chocolate. I open the freezer and find that my mama has bought my absolute favorite Dove strawberry sorbet chocolate bars; she must have picked up on my hormonal state. I eat two, get an immediate sugar high, and then crash back in bed around 11:30.

Daily Total: $17.98

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