A Week In Nashville, TN, On A $21,000 Salary

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: an administrative assistant who makes $21,000 per year. This week, she spends some of her money on sunflower seeds.

Occupation: Graduate Program Administrative Assistant
Industry: Academia
Age: 28
Location: Nashville, TN
Salary: $21,000 after Social Security, Medicare, federal income tax and benefits
Paycheck: $865/bimonthly. I also earn a $150 incentive each quarter for participating in my job's wellness program.
Savings: $3,000
Employer Retirement: $11,479.43 (with a percentage matched by my employer)
Investments: $11,408.19

Monthly Expenses
Housing Costs: $945 including water

All Other Monthly Expenses
Renter's Insurance: $12.58
Electric: $30-$35
Phone Bill: $44, my share in a family plan.
Groceries: $120-$150
Netflix: $4.99 for DVD rental. I don't have internet or cable.
Credit Card: $355.74 on my current balance. I primarily pay bills and make purchases with my credit card to gain cash back rewards. The balance is paid each cycle so I won't incur interest or late fees.
Climb Nashville Membership: $71.01
Tithe: $90/bimonthly. I tithe to an orphanage in Argentina that my parents helped start almost 20 years ago. I haven't regularly attended church but go to friends' churches during weeknights.

Day One

7 a.m. — I have three alarms set to irritate me out of bed; I snooze them all. I get home late on Sunday nights from weekend climbing trips, so Mondays are not my favorite. I rush to the bathroom to wash my face and dab a tincture of castor oil, lavender, tea tree, cedar wood, and niaouli. I check the weather while putting on mascara and eyeshadow; I don't wear foundation. If there's an especially pulsating pimple, I'll use concealer, but my face and wallet prefer bare skin. I slip on a dress and denim jacket and I'm out the door.

8:30 a.m. — I drink green tea and eat homemade granola that I baked for the week. (Mash four bananas and mix in three-fourths of a cup of peanut butter, one teaspoon of vanilla, one or two tablespoons of honey, one or two tablespoons of cinnamon, two or three cups of rolled oats. I eyeball it and add cranberries and/or chopped dates, almonds, sunflower, chia, and flaxseed. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Voila! It can be bars, balls, or a crumble.)

12:30 p.m. — I go home to eat because I didn't meal prep lunches before I left for the weekend like I usually do. (I try not to eat out more than once a week.) I spy a soup can that was reserved for camping, but since one of my friends loves cooking while we camp (last weekend we had quesadilla burgers and burrito omelets), the soup can hasn't left the shelf. Speaking of which, I need to Venmo him gas money. I do that, eat the soup and carrot sticks, and watch Gilmore Girls until it's time to return to work. $10

6 p.m. — I meal prep this week's lunches by making my staple of zucchini, bell peppers, chickpeas, cannellini beans, black beans, tomatoes, spinach, garlic, and taco seasoning all in one pot. I top it with couscous and place everything in five lunch containers. For this week's dinners, I roast cauliflower with the leftover taco seasoning, and sweet potatoes with chili pepper and cinnamon.

8:30 p.m. — Rest day means it's time to watch Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Martin Freeman's surprising accent makes me want a Scotsman. I text a friend and we talk about the guy she's dating and the guy I'm interested in. She warns me to find a guy who cuddles, because her current beau is not a fan of snuggling. If I'm with a guy, you better believe the Holy Spirit won't find room between us.

Daily Total: $10

Day Two

6:45 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm; no bueno. I close my eyes for 10 minutes and then jump when my alarm rings. I do the same quick ritual in the morning and pack my bag with breakfast granola, lunch and carrot sticks, and the Netflix return envelope. I pretend my dirty climbing and camping gear aren't lying by my front door.

9 a.m. — My boss comes in with pumpkin donut holes; divine! We are foodies and enjoy swapping recipes and finds at Aldi. I wait until I digest my granola, and have a donut.

12 p.m. — It's a slow day and I'm on my fourth donut hole in five minutes. I try to focus on work, but I'm thinking about a guy I like, B. I think there's a mutual attraction, but he's preoccupied with work that could potentially have him move out of state so I understand if he's hesitant and overwhelmed.

1:15 p.m. — I find a quiet spot at one of the campus coffee shops and eat while reading Arno Ilgner's The Rock Warrior's Way. When I began climbing, I didn't realize how applicable the sport was to developing a well-rounded life. You learn to trust yourself and your partner, become courageous and vulnerable, problem solve and calculate risks, respond to failure, and so much more. The downside to climbing is that the gear is expensive, and I won't be able to invest in my own rack until next year when I have fewer expenses. Thank you to my friends for sharing.

5:30 p.m. — I eat dinner. I'm surprised at how filling the cauliflower and sweet potatoes are. Vegetables as comfort food? Apparently, it is possible.

6:30 p.m. — I should be climbing, but I'm stuck socializing. My climbing partner and I chat with B. and some other folks at the boulder wall. B. and I steal glances amid particles of chalk and laboring grunts (at least I think we do) while we talk about climbing injuries. We're masochistic creatures.

9 p.m. — I unpack and decide to repack my gear for the upcoming weekend. I spent a couple hundred dollars on camping gear, but when my finances started getting really tight a few months ago, I returned the expensive gear and found affordable replacements on Amazon. I should've bargain shopped beforehand. REI and Backcountry, you are my weaknesses.

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

8:30 a.m. — I let my boss know I'm no longer taking Thursday and Friday off. I was going to be a roadie for friends who are doing a 24-hour climbing competition in Arkansas, but with a major car repair coming up costing between $1,000-$1,200, I decide not to go. I paid the entrance fee ($45) two months ago which is a bummer, but considering meals and gas, I'm still saving money. I feel bad disappointing my gal pals. We've been stoked about this competition for months, but I've had reservations about going for a few weeks and decide to listen to my gut and save the money.

1:15 p.m. — I'm about to nosh on my prepped lunch and carrots. You'd think repetition gets old but if it's good, who cares? Normally, I meal prep two weeks' worth of lunches (five in the fridge and five in the freezer) and use spices and different vegetable combos for variety. I'm not a vegetarian or vegan. Meat is just too expensive, so I save that for when I eat out.

4:30 p.m. — Off to the gym for Alpine Fit. Climb Nashville is amazing: It's $70 per month, which is steep for me, but that includes climbing, fitness, and yoga classes. The membership is automatically charged to my credit card at the end of each month, and yet it always surprises me. Sometimes I think I need to get a side hustle. Work, work, work? Nope. I'd rather be frugal so I can have my free time.

7 p.m. — Oh, boy. Alpine Fit was physical torture, but there's so much adrenaline rushing through my cherry-red face, I won't feel the pain until tomorrow. Along with this physical misery, there was mental misery — about B., I have no clue how this man feels about me. We worked out. He crushed. I crashed. We chatted, making plans for the weekend, making plans to lead climb tomorrow with friends. Then, he realized he's supposed to have dinner with colleagues; we part ways with him saying, “It was nice seeing you.” Okay... I feel like I'm in a '90s rom-com.

10 p.m. — After a much needed shower, I heat up my cauliflower and sweet potatoes and watch Gilmore Girls. I fall asleep once the episode finishes and then wake up to the incredibly luminous lamp above me. I pack my climbing gear and lunch bag, and then brush my teeth and fall into bed. I read my devotional and have speaks with God. I like B., but if there is something there, I deserve to feel some sort of reciprocated desire. I don't need to invest in romantic feelings if we're just going to be friends. Amen.

Daily Total: $0

Day Four

9 a.m. — Five people ask if I'm okay. Maybe it's the wavy mess of hair because I couldn't brush it, or the heating pad bunched on my shoulder. Either way, it's all due to Alpine — and climbing tonight will be a feat. Someone better take pity and offer a massage. I never pay for massages because I have kind friends and return the favor. Hey, massage train! Nominal means equals bartering services.

11:20 a.m. — I'm reviewing my bank account. I'm better off than most, but I despise not having a bigger savings cushion. I moved to Nashville over a year ago and had some massive expenses — moving from Florida, hefty rent, paying off student loans, medical bills from a badly sprained ankle, freak car issues (new rear brakes, flat tire, cracked windshield, broken coolant fan, and now I need a new water pump and timing belt so my car doesn't explode at 100,000 miles). So, I need to figure out how to cover rent, a major car repair, and traveling to a bouldering comp in North Carolina that's in a few weeks. Ode to the stresses of money. Thank goodness I'm moving in with a friend in mid-December, and my expenses will be nearly cut in half. Hurray for growing that savings account.

2:05 p.m. — Pop-Tart break. $0.86

5:15 p.m. — B. and I stretch with friends before jumping on the lead wall. We're both tight from Alpine. I joke about needing a massage, but no one takes the bait. As a warm-up, B. starts us on a 5.10. How dare he think that's a warm-up? A miracle occurs and I sent the sucker clean. The whole evening is going really well: the climbing, the camaraderie. What's even more interesting is how B. and I are acting together. We're really comfortable and say “we” and “us” like we're an item; this rom-com is taking a turn for the better.

9 p.m. — I got sucked into the climbing gym time warp. Finally, I'm home and full of energy; I wash my hair (something I do twice a week with baking soda, water, and rosemary essential oil and a tar shampoo — no oiliness for days!), do laundry, run the dishwasher, make a grocery list for tomorrow, meal prep next week's lunches (sautéed sweet potatoes, diced tomatoes, cannellini beans, black beans, chickpeas and brussels sprouts with turmeric, garlic powder, chili pepper, lemon pepper, and salt and pepper in coconut oil). Heat up dinner and watch Gilmore Girls.

12:15 a.m. — Bed. Devotional. Crash.

Daily Total: $0.86

Day Five

6:50 a.m. — I get out of bed anticipating my muscles to seize, but the old body is holding up pretty well. I debate whether to wear Chacos because my feet are sore from standing at my desk all week in flat sandals. I like to alternate between sitting and standing so I don't become one with my desk chair. I gather my lunch and grocery bags for my trip to Aldi after work and head out.

9:50 a.m. — Yep, I should've worn my Chacos. My heels ache.

12:30 p.m. — Time for my delicious lunch and carrot sticks. Tonight, I'm hanging out with friends and I hope we order pizza. I'm craving bread and cheese, and I'm also PMSing and dealing with a pinball game going on in my uterus and ovaries.

3:45 p.m. — Pop-Tart break. $0.86

5 p.m. — I'm at Aldi, the best grocery store ever. I buy two weeks' worth of groceries that can sometimes stretch to three weeks if I meal prep and get very creative. I get two bunches of bananas, apples, nectarines, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, two packages of zucchini and bell peppers, carrots, tortillas, two cans of chickpeas, cannellini beans, black beans, diced tomatoes, butter, dried mango and cranberries, honey, peppermint tea, two boxes of couscous, vanilla, oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, two dozen eggs and moscato. $67.54

7 p.m. — On the way to hang out with friends, I get gas and air one of my tires. $29.85

9 p.m. — My friend and I are two glasses in on his phenomenal Hungarian Malbec while we decide where to eat. We walk 10 minutes to a Chicago-style pizzeria where we meet up with friends. I split a 16-inch spinach garlic thin crust and eat some of my friends' chicken and pesto pizza, too. Oh, the goodness in my belly. $12.38

Daily Total: $110.63

Day Six

9 a.m. — It's been weeks since I last slept in on a Saturday, and it's much needed. I review my accounts and see that my bimonthly paycheck has gone through. There's just enough in my checking to cover rent next week, so I transfer $50 from my savings for a buffer. I also transfer $250 from my savings to pay a portion of my credit card balance. I'll have to transfer more after I get my car fixed, too. It's frustrating chiseling away at my savings, but bills must be paid. I'll build it up after I move. $250

12:45 p.m. — A girlfriend and I head to Percy Priest Lake. It may be the beginning of fall, but it's 90 degrees outside and gorgeous. We stop by a gas station to pick up treats — Mike's Hard Lemonade and Doritos. She pays because she's amazing and knows I'm trying to save money; also, I'm driving.

5:30 p.m. — We spend all day gabbing, laying out, and rotating in the water to maintain an even tan. It was such a peaceful rest day with her. We've only known each other for a few months, but we've really hit it off. I've been fortunate with the friends I've made in Nashville. Most of us are transplants and actively looking for a surrogate family. This city, and especially Climb Nashville, are definitely the friendliest places I've ever known.

10 p.m. — It's an early night for me because B. and I are heading out to climb in the morning. I get ready for bed, have my devotional, and sleep time.

Daily Total: $250

Day Seven

7 a.m. — I didn't sleep much because I was too excited. I really want to climb without falling or freaking on my project route (Christine, 10a). I know the moves, but there's one part that gets in my head and I freeze on the wall with indecision. Not today! I eat an egg burrito while changing and gathering my gear. B. arrives and we're off.

10:15 a.m. — We're at Obed, my home away from home. We go to South Clear where our projects are located and hopefully intercept our friends who arrived last night. B. warms-up on Spawn (10b/c), a route that I have a history of antipathy with because it was the highest and hardest route I was thrown on as a beginner. Out of stubbornness, I top rope the stupid route and actually enjoy myself. What the heck!?

11 a.m. — Our friends find us. Some of us move to Solstice (12a), B.'s project and I become the “belay bitch” (yes, it's an affectionate term, and not reserved for only women) to B. and a friend who are both incredibly strong climbers. They alternate climbing and then give me a catch, and I barely make it to the second bolt. I'm in awe of their abilities.

1 p.m. — Christine, we meet again. I lasso B. to belay me. He gives me confidence and great instruction. I'm taking my time, breathing, and then I hit the crux and spend too much time worrying instead of doing. B. yells up, “Stop dancing around and move!” My arms are so pumped. I try to shift over the prowl, but my grip is not holding and my worst fear happens; I take a big whipper accompanied by a scream that I never knew could come out of my mouth. My friends whoop and holler because taking a whipper means you did your hardest and went for it. I jug back up to the crux and I'm amped to make another go, but then my body begins to shake uncontrollably. All that adrenaline made me feel unstable and I ask to be lowered. I quietly sit down. B. comes over and talks to me while untying my figure eight. If I didn't let my head get in the way, I could've easily made that move. It's another obstacle I need to conquer but I'm glad I finally went for the move and let myself fall. Next time.

7 p.m. — After a long day of climbing, we follow tradition and go to Romo's Mexican Restaurant. We're a lovely group of gross climbers who smell of sweat, dirt, and bug spray. I pay B.'s and my bill since he drove. $22.35

10:15 p.m. — On the way home, I debate whether to ask B. if there's a mutual attraction. We're very comfortable with one another and I see a spark, but he hasn't initiated anything and I think he's the kind of guy who would. We arrive at my place, he turns off the car and we hug goodbye. I walk away smiling. I'm not going to let my impatience get the better of me — nor am I going to carry a torch for him. If he asks me out, I'll definitely say yes. But if we're just going to be friends, I'm glad for that, too.

Daily Total: $22.35

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