A Week In San Francisco On A $17,500 Budget

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.

This week: an entrepreneur who makes $17,500 per year and spends it on sweet potato fries.

Occupation: Entrepreneur
Industry: Architecture
Age: 31
Location: San Francisco
Salary: $17,500
Paycheck Amount (varies): I quit my job in December to start my own architecture and design firm. I was officially open for business on January 1. I had $15,000 in savings, but that was quickly depleted to $4,750 at my lowest point in March. Since then, my savings are up to $6,600. I've been living extremely frugally (rarely eating out, no vacations or shopping, and taking advantage of free entertainment). Checks from clients will carry me through the summer.
Jan/Feb: $0
Mar/April: $5,000
May: $7,500

Monthly Expenses
Housing: $2,175 (with a $325 tax deduction for using a home office). I know this seems like a lot, but it's not for San Francisco. I feel lucky to live alone in a studio apartment that I love. My last job allowed me to afford the rent, but it's more difficult now that I don't have steady income. I'm depending on savings to get me through the year.
Student Loans: $200

All Other Monthly Expenses
IRA Retirement account: $100. I wish I could contribute more but it's better than nothing!
Utilities: $35
Internet: $30
Phone: $0 (I'm on my family's plan.)
Spotify: $0 (Also get through family.)
Health Insurance: $0. I'm so fortunate to be on Medi-Cal while I start my business. It's based on average monthly income in a year. Even though I made a lot this month, there have been other months in which I've made $0. I feel bad getting assistance, so I speak to the wonderful Medi-Cal representatives often to make sure I'm reporting my income appropriately. I hope to be on my own health insurance by August.

7:30 a.m. — I wake up super late because there was a mosquito in my room last night; we battled, I lost. My face has five bites, and my eyes are swollen from a poor night's sleep. I get ready and have cereal, a banana, and some green tea.

12 p.m. — I had a two-hour meeting in Berkeley this morning with a consultant. It went well, and I walked out feeling like a boss for holding my own. I decide to reward myself with a lunch I can claim as a business expense on my taxes. I head over to Sweetgreen for a tasty salad with snap peas and berries. $10.57

1 p.m. — I check my credit card and see that I've only spent $190 in the first three weeks of this month. I haven't been out spending money because I've been working so many hours. I stop by Half-Priced Books to sell some old books I have in my car and browse for something new. They buy everything I sell, so I only have to pay $6.20 for the new ones. $6.20

2 p.m. — I drive home and pay the bridge toll, which I will submit to the client as a reimbursable expense later. I sit in traffic for over an hour. $4

3:30 p.m. — I stop at Target to stock up on some supplies. My low credit card balance gives me an itch to spend some money. I purchase two boxes of cereal, Pirate's Booty cheese puffs, face wash, body lotion, toilet paper, bug spray, sunscreen, an at-home waxing kit (saves so much money!), anti-inflammatory cream for my mosquito bites, and a can of tennis balls for the weekend. $66.59

4:45 p.m. — I'm back home eating Pirate's Booty and cleaning my apartment. I call a friend in L.A. who needs to vent about work; a newer and less experienced male employee was promoted ahead of her. She pointed out the discrepancy in a recent employee review, and her male superiors told her to show leadership skills by supporting others — no joke. I encourage her to form a union with other disaffected female employees, but she'll probably just quit. I don't blame her; fighting the patriarchy is hard. I'm reminded of all the reasons I wanted to start my own business. If you can't fight them, show them how it's done.

7 p.m. — I eat some leftover Indian food I have in my fridge and then watch TV until I fall asleep

Daily Total: $87.36
6:30 a.m. — I usually leave the blinds open and wake up with the sun, so I'm up around 6:30 a.m. these days. I snooze a bit and then get ready and eat cereal.

7:45 a.m. — I sit at my dining table (office) and sip green tea while taking work calls. I'm lucky to have two clients right now. My main client's final deadline is in three weeks, and I'm getting nervous about managing two clients at once during such a critical time. Client 1 calls and asks me to go to Dallas on Monday to give a presentation. They agree to pay airfare and expenses. My mind races as I think through everything I need to prep for a presentation and an unexpected trip, all while juggling Client 2. To clear my mind, I go outside and enjoy the warm, sunny day, unusual for San Francisco around this time of year. I walk through the park and stop at the bank. I feel better taking a break when I can work in an errand!

10:45 a.m. — I stress eat Pirate's Booty and peanut butter toast while working at my computer.

12 p.m. — Even though I've been snacking all morning, I'm still starving. I have a huge bowl of leftover lentils and rice, and some pieces of chocolate. Working from home means I'm less tempted to go out and spend money on lunch.

3:30 p.m. — I get an email from Client 1 saying I don't need to travel and give a presentation after all. Hooray! I celebrate with a nectarine.

6 p.m. — I have a piece of leftover spinach quiche I made two days ago. I don't usually eat this early, but I'm meeting a friend tonight. Working from home has made me realize that I need to schedule more social time with friends. I could go a week without speaking to another human if I didn't make an effort.

6:30 p.m. — I take the bus and meet a friend at SF MOMA to see the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit before it ends. My mom got me a membership for my birthday last year, so I get two passes for free! Best gift ever. $2.50

9 p.m. — Get back home and I'm starving again. I eat some toast with herb butter, but I'm still hungry so I have a bowl of cereal. I didn't eat enough veggies today... I read for a while and fall asleep around 11.

Daily Total: $2.50
6:30 a.m. — I'm up with the sun, and it's another beautiful day! I want to be super productive so that I can get some time outside. I listen to NPR while I get ready, and then have cereal and green tea.

8 a.m. — The sunny weather reminds me that I need a new swimsuit. I've had the same Old Navy one-piece for 11 years and the elastic has finally snapped. I browse online for awhile but chicken out on making a purchase. I'm tempted to treat myself because this month has been the most lucrative of the year with two paying clients, but Client 1 ends next month and Client 2 ends in August. I don't have any guaranteed income after that, so I need to be careful with my spending. I'm also worried about saving enough to pay taxes and having money to live on for the rest of the year.

8:30 a.m. — I open some files to start work but my AutoCAD software license has expired. I need to renew my annual subscription, and it's $304! This is only one of five software suites I use regularly, so I check my other software and discover that two more licenses will expire next month, costing me $950 total to renew. Earlier this month, I was tempted to put more money into my student loans and IRA account, but now I'm grateful that I didn't. I know I can write off this purchase as a business expense, but it's really really difficult to part with such a large sum of money. Planning for business expenses and making a budget for my personal financial goals has been the biggest challenge. I feel like my life will be on hold until I can establish some financial stability. $304

10:15 a.m. — I have trouble activating the license I just bought and spend time on the phone and going through online forums. I'm feeling defeated and stressed out about money. I decide to go outside for an indulgent mid-morning break to clear my head. I throw on my running shorts and head to the park.

11:15 a.m. — I'm feeling energized from the exercise! I drink water, eat a mango, and get back to work!

1:30 p.m. — A quick meal of lentils and rice at my computer. I work through lunch.

2:30 p.m. — Snacking is easy when you have a kitchen and the pantry two steps away. Time for some peanut butter toast before I get back to work.

7 p.m. — I eat the last slice of spinach quiche and sautéed asparagus for dinner at my desk/dining table. Working while I eat is a bad habit. It's hard to have boundaries with food when I work in my kitchen, which is where I usually eat meals.

9 p.m. — I stop working. I consider calling some friends and going out for a beer — it is Friday night after all — but I think about the unexpected software expense from earlier and decide to stay in. One beer is never actually one beer…

Daily Total: $304
6:15 a.m. — Even though it's Saturday, I wake up a little early and lounge in bed watching the sunrise and reading the news. Cereal and green tea for breakfast. I spend the morning lounging, reading blogs, doing some laundry in the basement ($9 for two loads), sprucing up the apartment, drinking more green tea, and eating a piece of toast with herb butter and a sliced tomato. $9

11:30 a.m. — I walk to the grocery store and buy supplies for the week: peaches, nectarines, bananas, mushrooms, eggplant, carrots, spinach, eggs, tortillas, regular milk, coconut milk, hummus, four pack of scones, a chocolate bar, and ice cream. I already have some pantry staples so this is more about supplementing my stock to prepare meals for the week. The most expensive items are the chocolate and ice cream; I'm only human. $44.69

12:15 p.m. — I do a Kayla Itsines workout at home. I did the full 12-week program last year with a friend, and I've tried to keep it up since then but I get bored with the same routine. Now I do a variety of free outdoor cardio exercises (running/biking/hiking/tennis) and supplement with Kayla.

1:30 p.m. — I eat a scone and make a big batch of spinach soup, some for now, and two servings for later.

3 p.m. — A friend is moving to NYC and having a going-away party in Golden Gate park. I grab a blanket and four leftover beers from my fridge. While enjoying the beautiful weather, I get a frantic phone call from Client 1. She isn't upset with me (phew!) but is upset with a proposal submitted by a consultant. We talk for 15 minutes, and she seems calmer; I'll need to send some follow-up items later. I return to my friends and enjoy the rest of the afternoon drinking beer, eating snacks, and attempting to fly a kite.

7 p.m. — A bunch of friends decide to get Korean food. I decline and go home to make mushroom pasta. I have a mild case of FOMO, but my budget can't handle a Saturday night out. Also, I have plans to see some of these same friends tomorrow in a less-expensive setting.

8 p.m. — I work for two hours and send the follow-up items I promised. I read in bed until 11:30 p.m.

Daily Total: $53.69
6:30 a.m. — I wake up with a sore throat. I add some honey to my green tea and then eat a scone and banana. I do an hour of work before meeting a friend to play tennis.

10 a.m. — Most tennis courts in San Francisco are free, but we go to the Golden Gate Park courts. They charge $5, but it's exactly halfway between our homes; she pays now since I paid last time. We don't have to wait and immediately walk onto a court for a friendly rally.

12 p.m. — We finish playing and take a walk around the park, where we stumble upon a farmer's market. We buy two pints of blueberries, and I pay for both of us. They're expensive ($10) but delicious! We meet up with another friend and their sister for lunch at a local brew pub. The food isn't great, but we enjoy each other's company. I have poached eggs on toast with avocado and a side salad, and we share an order of sweet potato fries. $27

3 p.m. — On my way home, I walk by Starbucks and remember that I still have money on an old gift card. I get a chai latte.

4 p.m. — I've done very little work this weekend, and I'm slightly stressed about looming deadlines. Still, this is the first weekend I've taken off four weeks, and it was very necessary for my mental health. I decide to leisurely do some work while watching Netflix. I scan receipts from the past month and organize some paperwork; the work isn't billable time since it's general admin stuff. I'd like to get some kind of software to help — QuickBooks, Slack, or whatever people use — but I know I'll go down a rabbit hole researching. Maybe next month.

7:30 p.m. — I eat leftover mushroom pasta and then read and watch TV until bed.

Daily Total: $27
6:45 a.m. — I wake up with a serious sore throat. I have green tea, a scone, and a banana. I get ready for the day and sit down at my computer with another mug of green tea.

1:30 p.m. — Lunch break! I have spinach soup, toast with herb butter, and a hard-boiled egg. Sometimes I eat at my computer, but today I stand in the kitchen and listen to the news.

4:45 p.m. — Snack on hummus with a tortilla, take an Emergen-C, then eat a handful of blueberries from yesterday. This diary makes me realize how much I snack!

7 p.m. — A friend comes over to do some work with me. I get lonely working from home, so having a desk buddy is a welcome changed. I planned on making a Thai curry, but I feel increasingly ill. My friend offers to order delivery as a thank you for past home-cooked meals I've made for him. We order Indian food; I get matar paneer, daal, and rice. He gets chicken tikka and a chaat appetizer. I have enough left over for two more meals!

10 p.m. — We work for two hours before I take a Benadryl and crawl into bed.

Daily Total: $0
6:45 a.m. — I wake up coughing but feeling a little better. My scones sprouted mold, so I eat cereal instead and drink some green tea as I get ready.

7:45 a.m. — I sit down to work with another green tea. I make a third cup half way through the morning.

12 p.m. — I move my car because of street cleaning and use the opportunity to take a 30-minute walk through the park. The perks of working from home!

1 p.m. — Indian food for lunch then back to work.

3 p.m. — I snack on a nectarine and realize that most of the fruit I bought this weekend is ripe and will soon turn. I defrost a frozen pie crust from my freezer, chop the fruit I have into small pieces, and make a crostata.

3:30 p.m. — I do more work while it bakes. When it comes out of the oven, I barely let it cool before eating a nice chunk.

6 p.m. — I talk to my mom on the phone for 45 minutes. She has a friend who might need an architect for a job. Most new business opportunities fall through, so I try not to get too excited because clients usually back out when it comes time to sign a contract and pay money. (If I had a nickel for every time someone said they had work for me…) But of course I will follow up tomorrow and see if it leads anywhere, fingers crossed.

7 p.m. — I'm starving. Was planning on making a Thai curry but the Indian food is so delicious. I can't stop eating it!

9:30 p.m. — I finally call it quits for the night. My brain is tired so I watch some mindless TV and go to bed around 11.

Daily Total: $0
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Money Diaries are meant to reflect individual women's experiences and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

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