A Week In Philadelphia On A $28,000 Salary

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennial women 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.)

Today, an academic assistant saving for grad school and judging freshmen at her alma mater.

Occupation: Academic library assistant and impending graduate student
Industry: Higher Education
Age: 22
Location: Philadelphia
Salary: $28,000
Paycheck Amount (2x a month): $1,072.80 before taxes
# of roommates: Two (my father and stepmother)
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $50 (paid to my father)
Transportation: $100
Phone Bill: $105 ( saved 17% by using university discount)
Utilities: None (perks of living at home)
Savings: It varies. For the past few months I’ve been aiming to put $200 into an emergency account and $200 into a separate account to cover impending graduate school expenses. I’ll be moving to NYC in the summer.
Groceries: $100 (aiming for $25 a week)
Credit Cards: Also varies. This particular month I spend $130 on credit card payments. I currently have about $2,000 in credit card debt.

Day One

9 a.m. — I grab a blueberry yogurt parfait and banana, takeaways from my grad school visit at Parsons and a random bodega in Harlem. 75-cent cups of bodega coffee and 50-cent bananas will probably be my new habit when I move to NYC.

12 p.m. — Leftovers. Went to Sylvia’s in Harlem last weekend, and the microwaved fried chicken and mac and cheese is still good two days later.

2 p.m. — I buy some bus tokens for the week instead of a pass; maybe the six dollars I save will bump up my sad checking account ($18). I run to Five Below to pick up some supplies for my at-home mani-pedi for my alma mater’s Spring Formal, so I can save 30 bucks. I leave the store with nail polish remover, nail buffer, a few Wet n’ Wild nail colors, and other beauty bits ($13). Total: $31

3 p.m. — Afternoon slump. I eat a snack, which consists of a fruit-and-cheese tray and an unfiltered Ginger Ale that I nabbed from the graduate school visit. Free snacks are, in fact, the best snacks.

6 p.m. — Convinced myself that I was going to walk 20 blocks in order to save a bus token. Lies. I spend a token to go visit my sick aunt, with my mother. Burger King is on the menu for dinner; don’t judge me. Mom pays.
Daily Total: $31

Day Two

9 a.m. — I vote no to getting out of bed today. I take a sick day. Spent the night at my mother’s house. I get in touch with my inner child and have Fruit Loops for breakfast.

12 p.m. — Nap time. It's okay to eat breakfast and then sleep for another three hours right?

1 p.m. — My mother’s refrigerator is a wasteland. I manage to find wheat bread, spinach, and classic Kraft (faux) cheese slices. I make a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of weak coffee.

3 p.m. — I watch Take the Lead with my brother. It makes me nostalgic for 2006 all over again. I used to be obsessed with dance movies.

5 p.m. — Who’s a good daughter? I decided to make dinner so my mother doesn’t have to. I marinate some sirloin she left out and sauté it with some veggies and whip up my recipe for corn muffins à la box o’ Jiffy.

8 p.m. — Sleepytime tea and my own bed.

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

9 a.m. — I wake up late, as usual. I have a Nature Valley Bar (the extra-crumbly one) and Perrier for breakfast.

12 p.m. — Hump day. I eat the PB & J on wheat that my mom made for my lunch two days ago. Yes. she made me a PB & J. I am not ashamed.

1 p.m. — It’s the hour when I fly away from my desk (with the beautiful view of old drop ceilings and plaster columns) to go get some downtown air.

2 p.m. — I stop by the local farmer’s market, I repeat to myself silently that I do not need to spend 15 bucks on an organic chicken-salad sandwich and fresh-squeezed juice. I’ve been considering the idea of going vegetarian or pescatarian at least. I find a “Plant-Based on a Budget Challenge” that gives weekly plant-based meal plans with a spending budget of $25. I’m going to try and follow the plan, with only a $15 budget for groceries. I stop at the farmer’s market booth, because produce here is cheaper than at Trader Joe’s, where I normally grocery-shop. My budget is tighter this week, but I manage to pick up fresh chicken sausage for my father, two Fuji apples, sweet potatoes, kale, romaine lettuce, walnuts, dried cranberries, and lemons. $25 ( $10 for the sausage, for which my father pays me back)

3:15 p.m. — Before leaving, I stop by my favorite craft booth, which has handmade jewelry and African-print fabrics. Yards of fabric run about five bucks a yard. I pick up two yards of a navy-blue-and-ochre-striped fabric for my latest headwrap obsession. $10
5 p.m. — I blow the dust off a can of chicken I bought two months ago. There’s a sad-looking tomato hiding behind moldy bread in the fridge. There’s some wheat flatbread that looks edible. Chicken salad for dinner and lunch tomorrow.

8 p.m. — My father now goes to the gym every day, bless his heart. I go with him on Wednesday nights.

9 p.m. — I hate the gym. I eat Wendy’s chicken nuggets and a side salad, post-workout, courtesy of my father.

Daily Total: $35

Day Four

9 a.m. — Late, again. I throw some Multigrain Cheerios in a sandwich bag, I keep almond milk at work.

11 a.m. — My stomach betrays me. I eat my last Nature Valley Bar and a banana I had been saving for the afternoon.

1 p.m. — Leftover chicken salad sandwich for lunch, and water to drown out the disappointment over the fact that I’d rather be eating sushi, but I can’t because I need money to attend the spring formal.

2 p.m. — Last-minute makeup purchases for tomorrow’s face. KISS brand lashes, a 12-color matte eyeshadow palette, and the most glorious brownish-red liquid lipstick. They're all from a random beauty supply store in downtown Philadelphia. $12
5 p.m. — Canadian bacon and eggs over-easy for dinner. Still need to get more groceries for the vegetarian challenge.

7 p.m. — My dad guilts me into going to the gym. No Wendy’s this time.

8 p.m. — Microwaved banana-bread English muffin and Sleepytime tea.

Daily Total: $12

Day Five

10 a.m. — Vacation day! I can actually get up and cook breakfast. I make Canadian bacon, eggs, and toast. I drink leftover raspberry iced tea. We're out of coffee (thanks, Dad).

12 p.m. — Catch up on The Mindy Project and Grey’s Anatomy.

3 p.m. — I eat Cheerios and half a banana and prep for the spring formal. I feel like an old lady; I have one friend left in undergrad.

4 p.m. — Hair done, nails done, everything did. Yes, I am fancy.

5:30 p.m. — One false-lash strip is not cooperating with the other one.

7 p.m. — I’m back on my old campus. Memories? I pay my friend back for the ticket, and the pre-gaming begins. My liver. $40

9 p.m. — So, these are today’s 18-year-olds. I give disapproving looks at underclassmen while I sip my Tequila Sunrise. $6

10 p.m. — My friend buys me a beer, and then it’s the dance floor for the rest of the night.

12:30 a.m. — The rubbery chicken and cold pasta at formal has disappeared. Then I remember the joys of college via late-night deliveries. I order a cheesesteak for me and a burger for my friend. $17.70

Daily Total: $63.70

Day 6

11 a.m. — The best part of waking up? Eating free dining-hall food. I have bacon, an omelet, Danishes, and tater tots.

12 p.m. — I remember why dining hall food is never a good idea.

4 p.m. — I wake up from my four-hour nap, and I’m starving. I get ready to head back home, and I make my friend walk to McDonald’s with me. I have no other choice. I have sugar-free iced coffee, nuggets, and fries. $4

4:30 p.m. — The thirst is very real; I head to CVS to pick up a liter of water. $1.69

6 p.m. — I turn down a friend’s invite to karaoke because, as much as I want to belt out showtunes, I need to save money.

7 p.m. — I eat fried fish and salad at my grandparents’ house for dinner.

Daily Total: $5.69

Day 7

1 p.m. — I sleep in until the afternoon and then get ready for work. I don’t normally work on Sundays, but I’ve been picking up additional weekend shifts in order to put more money away for grad school.

3 p.m. — I'm working from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. today, and I didn’t have time to grab food, so it’s a granola bar and orange juice for a late lunch.

5 p.m. — I don’t get a dinner break today, so I just pick up a six-inch tuna sub, unsweetened iced tea, and baked chips from Subway with the 10 bucks my grandparents gave me the other day. Gotta love grandparents. $6

10 p.m. — I will never work on Sundays again. I consider going to a late-night happy hour alone, but a friend intercepts. I pick up pizza and cheese fries to go with the beer she has in her fridge. $8

Daily Total: $14
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