A Week In Cologne, Germany, On A $75,000 Freelance 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. (Thanks, New York mag, for the inspiration.)

This week, a freelancer in Cologne, Germany, disputing traffic tickets.
Occupation: Freelance project manager
Industry: Media
Age: 31
Location: Cologne, Germany
Salary: $75,000 agreed so far this year; it was $62,000 last year. My boyfriend makes $62,000 a year.
Paycheck Amount: Invoices paid around the 28th and 15th, the bulk of it around the 28th. Amounts vary greatly every month. This month, I received (before tax) $2,765 and will receive $5,252 (before tax) at the end of the month.
# of roommates: Two (my boyfriend and our dog)
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Monthly Expenses
Rent: $785 for my half
Utilities: $60 per month for my half
Phone Bill: $400 (I freelance, so I'm on the phone all the time. I can bill back related calls to clients). I have a U.S. and a German phone, as strangely, T-Mobile U.S. is cheaper for making international calls from overseas than any deals I could find from German providers.
Car Lease: $162 for my half
Health Insurance: $390
Housekeeper: $167. I pay the whole cost. My partner and I tried cleaning our place ourselves, but neither of us really want or like to clean, and it ended up dominating most weekends. My boyfriend didn't want to spend the money for a cleaner, but the state of our flat really started to stress me out. Plus, because I work from home and my partner has an office job, I kept feeling like it was my responsibility because I was at home all day. I told him I would pay for it just because it would make me less stressed.
Netflix & Spotify: $13. I pay for Spotify; my boyfriend pays for Netflix.
Credit card payments: $1,000 a month. I had some irresponsible years that I am now paying for. I have $25k in credit card debt.
Other: We use the Splitwise app to keep track of who has paid for what and who owes whom what. My boyfriend currently owes me $600 for some bookings I made in advance of our three-week Christmas trip.
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Day One

10 a.m. — Wake up. I got to bed at 5 a.m. last night, as I stayed up to watch the debate. I think it would have been better if I had just gone to bed early.

11 a.m. — Cleaner comes! We had a trial with one cleaner a few weeks ago, but I wasn't really satisfied with the job he did, though he was very nice. So, we have a new one today. She does a good job overall. This is counted in our monthly expenses.

2:30 p.m. — Cleaner leaves. I pick at leftovers in the refrigerator and take the dog to the park.

3:20 p.m. — I have a conference call in 10 minutes, but I am determined to have a clean oven. I make a paste from baking soda and water, remove the trays and racks from the oven, coat those, and spread it all around the inside of the oven. I will let it sit and deal with it later.

4 p.m. — Silversun Pickups are playing in Dusseldorf at the end of the month. I want to go, but the $32.69 ticket price feels steep, plus I have a terrible habit of never going to events I actually buy tickets for (but if it's something I can get into for free, I am there). I decide to wait. If it sells out before the show, I will just listen to the records really loud at home and be grateful that I don't have to make my way through a crowd to get to the bathroom.

7 p.m. — Boyfriend gets home from work. He's going to Paris for work tomorrow, and neither of us went to get groceries today. I end up throwing together linguine alfredo with poached eggs from stuff we have in the fridge and cupboard. He attacks the oven with a spray bottle filled with vinegar and water, and finishes the job so I don't have to.

Daily Total: $0
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Day Two

10 a.m. — One of my invoices got paid today, so I transfer money to my U.S. bank account to make this month's credit card and U.S. phone bill. I use Transferwise, as it's cheaper than sending directly from bank to bank. $8.80

10:05 a.m. — It's starting to get cold, we have wood floors in the flat, and I'm not so good at remembering to wear slippers. I buy three pairs of super thick socks (Heatholders) from Amazon, and a pair of knit-and-fleece slipper-socks in preparation for the winter. I'm a big fan of Amazon Prime, and after my boyfriend and I went to the shopping area last weekend to buy a cushion from Habitat, I was reminded how much I love internet shopping vs. actually going to a store and dealing with crowds. $35.90

1 p.m. — I pull a frozen Dr. Oetker pizza from the fridge for lunch and top with a balsamic-glaze drizzle and smoked salt.

2 p.m. — The dog and I walk to the post office so I can send a housewarming present to a friend in Belgium, return some chinos my boyfriend bought ahead of our trip to Asia in December, and mail some samples to folks. $17.45

2:15 p.m. — There is a farmer's market on the platz outside the post office. I buy some raspberries. $2.21

5 p.m. — Appointment with my therapist, covered by insurance.

7 p.m. — Order a takeaway from a nearby restaurant. Walk over with the dog to pick it up. $9.85

9 p.m. — I do look at some of my favorite online retailers, but manage to shut my laptop before I am too tempted to buy anything. I am so tempted to do some online shopping, but I remember that I need to actually save money to pay taxes. This is one of the things I struggle with the most as a freelancer. I spent 14 years of my life getting paychecks with tax already deducted, and now I have to put aside money to pay the taxes separately. Also, learning to put aside money for quiet months is a skill I am trying to master. Freelancing is difficult because you can only project money to a certain point — there were months when I was pulling in $15,000 a month, and months when I earned nothing. I had a few tough months after a few good months last year, and I am learning how this all works.

Daily Total: $74.21
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Day Three

10 a.m. — We got a traffic fine for not prepaying a bridge & tunnel toll in January in the UK, and have spent months disputing the charge. The people say I can only dispute via post, but most of the letters they send don't actually arrive so costs are spiraling. I suck it up and just pay it even though I feel some of the late fees they are charging are insane. They are supposed to allow you to pay a reduced fine if you pay within 14 days, but they didn't actually send us any correspondence until three months after the event. I have been disputing but I just got a new letter with added fees on top. $158

12 p.m. — Beans on toast for brunch!

2:45 p.m. — Big drama. The building manager put up a sign earlier this week saying there would be fire alarm installation today between 1:40 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. The manager didn't email or put letters in our postbox, nor did they explain what this would actually entail (one per room? one per apartment? just in the hallway?). I have an appointment at 3:15 which means I need to leave at 2:55 at the latest to be on time.

2:50 p.m. — The guys finally arrive, just as I am about to change to go. They don't speak English (fine, I am in Germany, this is my problem), and I keep trying to tell them I need to go, so they can't do it now, but they get very aggressive, getting in my face and being very physically intimidating. I keep trying to call my boyfriend, since he speaks German, but the call can't connect, and I keep getting freaked out by these shouting men. I end up kicking them out of the apartment but am very shaken, late, and needing a taxi. $14.09

3:15 p.m. — I go for a massage a few times a month. It helps with stress and repetitive strain from phone / laptop usage. My usual masseuse is a magician, but she is on maternity leave, so her husband fills in. $55

4:30 p.m. — I buy a four-journey carnet for the subway. It's expensive here. $11.92

5 p.m. — I have a conference call with a potential new client and talk them through a proposal, which I send over on email immediately after the call. They say they will let me know feedback tomorrow.

5:30 p.m. — My dog is old and on medication. Her pills are significantly cheaper when we buy them from a vet in Berlin who ships to us. The pills arrive, and I pay the invoice immediately. $115.97

7:30 p.m. — I heat up leftover lasagna for dinner.

10 p.m. — Boyfriend gets back from his trip to Paris. He picked some stuff up for me from the apothéke in Paris — homeoplasmine, A313, and biafine. Yes, all those articles about French Pharmacy products are true: Nothing is better for winter chapped lips than homeoplasmine! He puts $19.75 in Splitwise.

Daily Total: $374.73
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Day Four

11.45 a.m. — I miss the train, so I end up taking a taxi. $12.80

12 p.m. — I go to the dentist. Last week I had some fillings replaced, and my teeth are still pretty sensitive, so my dentist makes some adjustments. Insurance covers 90%, so I will be billed for 10% later.

1:30 p.m. — I am out and about today, so I treat myself to lunch: a gourmet burger and fries. $15

1:55 p.m. — I get an email from the potential client accepting my proposal yesterday. Great news! Being a freelancer is difficult, and locking in new projects that will last the next six to nine months is fantastic, because that means guaranteed income for the next few months.

2 p.m. — I go for acupuncture. I started going a month ago when my hayfever and anxiety were pretty bad. Not sure if it's working; I go weekly, but insurance covers it, so I am giving it a long-term try.

3 p.m. — I buy a punnet of raspberries for a snack. $2.80

6:45 p.m. — Boyfriend and I go to Dusseldorf to see friends. We ride with another friend, eat dinner, and have a few sodas at one of the Irish pubs there. $19.78

Daily Total: $50.38
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Day Five

10:30 a.m. — Breakfast for the first time in days. I am really bad with this. I buy some brotchen, and eat it with stilton, bacon, and honey that I have in the fridge/pantry. $0.96

12 p.m. — I get a notice that I have to renew my domains for my work website. Two-year renewal is $52.59

12:30 p.m. — I pay my yearly registered agent fee to CT Corporation for my business. $429

1 p.m. — I eat corn cakes (like rice cakes, but made from corn) with a cream-cheese-herb spread.

2 p.m. — I win an eBay auction for a leather jacket I have long admired — brand-new retail cost was about $800, managed to get it used (and good condition) for $70 including shipping from the U.K. I am pleased with my patience! $70

2:30 p.m. — Boyfriend calls. We're deciding on what car to lease, which we get through his work. We have to pay 1% of the yearly purchase price, but get insurance included. We have had an electric car, which makes me feel better about taking care of the environment, but there have been downsides, like how expensive it is and how hard it is to find places to charge. We make the decision to change cars next month to a small gas car, which will save us $193 a month going forward.

3 p.m. — I get an email from an existing client about a new project. We agree to have a call next week. It's been a good week for new business for me. Fingers crossed this keeps going like this, as I am fine this year, but am nervous about next.

7:40 p.m. — Date night! We go out to dinner at an Austrian place we walked by a few weeks ago. I spent a month in Vienna during my 14 months of living on the road, and fell in love with the place and the food. Delicious schnitzels and tafelspitz (almost as good as in Vienna), some sturm (very young wine, that basically is delicious, alcoholic, carbonated grape juice), and a shared apple strudel. Delicious. We will definitely come back, but probably for more special occasions, because it's on the expensive side. We split. $126.16

12:55 a.m. — I break down and order the three Lime Crime lipsticks I've been eyeing for a while. I blame the sturm. $70.95

Daily Total: $749.66
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Day Six

10:30 a.m. — Shops are closed Sundays, so we have to do everything on Saturday. I lay in bed browsing Serious Eats and decide what we will be eating the next few days. I think it's time for chili and find a good recipe, but it requires some kinds of dried chilies that are impossible to find in stores here. I order them on the web and will make the chili when they arrive. $8.79

12:40 p.m. — We go to the Asian grocery for some powdered dashi, togarashi, ginger, and datu puti (Filipino cane vinegar). I sneak some rice crackers into the basket. I pay; I put it in Splitwise. My half: $9.55

1:15 p.m. — We go to Bauhaus (the German Home Depot!) for a radiator key (boyfriend has to bleed the radiators) and some rubber gloves, and we end up buying some plants and succulents, as well as sprout seeds. Boyfriend fancies himself a gardener. One thing our apartment lacks is any sort of outside space. We see a nice-looking table planter, which I take note of, as I haven't figured out his Christmas present yet. He pays and puts it in Splitwise. My half: $29.88

1:45 p.m. — Next stop is the drink market. The grocery store we go to has a second store across the street that only sells soft drinks, water, juice, and beer. We go there to return our empty bottles; we get back $6.20 and buy some crates of sparkling water and soda. I pay and put it in Splitwise. My half: $8.98

2 p.m. — To the grocery store! We go once a week for one big shop. On Sundays I make lunch bowls for the week for my boyfriend. He assists with chopping. He says he wants something with chorizo in it this week, so I get chicken, chorizo, brown rice, peppers, onions, corn, cheese, jalapenos, and sour cream. We buy entrecôte for the gyudon that we will have for dinner, plus eggs, milk, bacon, balsamic vinegar, honey dijon mustard, tortilla chips, goat cheese, raspberries, and two bottles of Sturm. For dinner tomorrow night we will have mushroom ragu with pasta, so we buy 1kg of assorted fresh mushrooms (oyster, crimini, and portobello), 40g of dried porcini mushrooms, orecchiette, dry white wine, a large carrot, onions, and a stollen for a friend whom I will be seeing next week in London. We realize we haven't eaten yet, and I feel faint, so I throw a smoothie and some pretzel rolls in the trolley to eat in the car. He pays; we put it in Splitwise. My half: $64.14

3 p.m. — We have to make a second stop at another smaller grocery store closer to home. I am not that happy with the cuisine here (outside of German, Turkish, and Italian, it's hard to find any other food here) so I cook a lot, and I used to joke about having to go to three different shops to get everything I need (plus a lot of online ordering) but it's actually the truth. We get the remaining 600g of mushrooms, as it was a limited selection at the first shop (shiitake and porcini), plus two cans of black beans (hard to find here, the only kind generally available are terrible "Mexican-style," but if you wash off the weird sauce, you have canned black beans). I pay, we put it in Splitwise. My half: $9.45

3:30 p.m. — We go home; I unpack the food while my boyfriend takes the dog out. I check the mail and have a bill from my accountant. $456.14

5 p.m. — I start cooking; my boyfriend is going to go have a boys' night with a friend in Dusseldorf. I make the gyudon using the ingredients we bought earlier plus some sesame seeds, mirin, sugar, rice, and soy sauce from the pantry, spring onions and pickled ginger we have in the fridge, plus some pickled onions I made a few weeks ago. I make up a box for him to bring for his friend.

8 p.m. — Boyfriend is gone, and the dog and I are watching movies. I order a set of four Le Creuset ramekins for an eggs en cocotte dish I want to make. $30.71

Daily Total: $617.64
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Day Seven

10:30 a.m. — My boyfriend comes home and goes to buy some brotchen so we have bread for brunch and dinner. We take a nap after he gets back from the shop. The bread was his treat.

1 p.m. — We finally have brunch — soft-boiled eggs, bacon, brotchen, lots of cheeses and spreads (like speculoos butter, nutella, jam, marmite, honey).

1:30 p.m. — We start preparing his lunch for the week. I make homemade taco seasoning (chipotle chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, chili flakes, cayenne pepper), and rub two gigantic (1 kg!) chicken breasts with my taco seasoning, dump a jar of salsa and a cup of chicken stock with the chicken breasts in the slow cooker, and put in a few tablespoons of my homemade hot sauce, a few tablespoons of tomato puree, and a can of drained jalapenos. It cooks for four hours.

2 p.m. — Lots of chopping. I sautee onions, garlic, and a habanero in duck fat, and then throw in two chopped red peppers and three chopped tomatoes, followed by two cans of black beans and a can of corn. In a separate pan, we fry up finely chopped chorizo and throw the chorizo in the beans and corn. We also put the rice maker on with a mix of quinoa and brown and wild rice, and make some chipotle crema with some sour cream, half a lime, salt, a chipotle pepper, and two teaspoons of adobo sauce.

6 p.m. — He shreds the chicken breas; we assemble the five bowls and top with shredded cheese before putting back in the fridge.

7 p.m. — We start dinner (lamenting that we spent the whole day so far in the kitchen, but cooking is a pretty good way to spend a Sunday in Cologne when most other things are closed). We are making the mushroom ragu tonight, so lots of chopping of the many, many mushrooms, garlic, onions, and carrot.

8 p.m. — The ragu is on simmer for an hour, so we start watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

9 p.m. — Time to eat! I'm pleased: I haven't spent any money today.

Daily Total: $0
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Editor's Note: All prices have been converted to USD.

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