A Week In Shanghai On A $276,000 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, a relocated freelance marketer with her expat husband, hosting guests and missing out on Fourth of July.
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Industry: Freelance Marketing
Age: 22
Location: Shanghai, China
Salary: about $36,000; plus husband’s, a product development manager, $240,000
Paycheck Amount: $1,000-2,000 every two weeks, paid and stays in the U.S. My husband brings over $2,100 of his paycheck to China each month. The rest of his paycheck ($5,650) + $1,390 in rental income we make on the house we own and my entire paycheck stays in the U.S.
# of Roommates: 2, my husband and our kitten

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $333 (My husband’s expat contract gave us a $4,166 a month for rent, but we went over by $333, so we pay the difference.)
Mortgage: $1,050 (on our house back home in Cleveland, OH)
Utilities: $121 in China (internet, electric, gas, and water); plus $250 in U.S. (for our tenants renting out our house)
Phone Bill: $90 in the U.S. (We kept our numbers on a low plan, but pay for my mom’s plan); plus $41 in China (my husband’s company covers his)
Car Loan: $400 (for our car back home, trying to sell it!)
Life Insurance: $300
Health Insurance: Husband’s plan covers
Retirement: $650
Housekeeper: $83
Gym Membership: $266 each, per year (paid)
Yoga Membership: $1,750 per year (paid)
Hulu, Netflix, Spotify, & VPN: $36
Money for Travel Savings Account: $1,325
Transportation: Husband’s company pays for our driver. Most companies that bring foreigners overseas to work under an expat contract won’t allow the foreigner to drive in the country. If the foreigner gets in an accident, the costs could end up falling on the company, so they prefer to provide their expat workers with drivers to avoid any complications.

Day One

7:30 a.m. — Wake up feeling TERRIBLE, so I pop a few DayQuils we brought when we moved from the States.

9:30 a.m. —My mom stocked our freezer with food when she visited from the States last month. We only moved to Shanghai a few months ago, so it was her first visit and her first time to China. (She loved it — she’s already saving up for a trip back next year.) I munch on a to-go breakfast wrap she made as I head out the door.

9:55 a.m. — A team of my former coworkers and I are starting up a digital marketing agency together. I'm checking out potential co-working office spaces with my cofounder today and got to the first tour early. Free tea while I wait!

10:30 a.m. — We want to time the commute, so we walk to the subway station near my house and take the subway to the next office space. It's 45 cents, but I have money left on my transit card.

11:30 a.m. — The tour's over and we decide to do lunch. We both have sore throats, so we go for a soupy noodle place. It's only $7.82 for us both, but we've been out for the agency, so we comp it to the company.

1:30 p.m. — Since we're a group of freelancers starting the agency together, we're all still working from home until we decide on a place. I want to take an Uber (SO cheap here) but my cofounder lives near my place and she convinces me to walk back with her, instead. It's insanely hot and humid, so I grab an iced tea on the way down. $4.06

3 p.m. — Take a break from working to order groceries from Kate & Kimi, since it's same-day delivery if you order by 3 p.m. I can't think under the pressure and grab papaya, apples, pears, kiwis, blueberries, cauliflower, broccoli, frozen peas, soy sauce, a bottle of lemon juice, and a pack of pre-marinated chicken, hoping it's enough to last until our guests come into town. $23.91

6:30 p.m. — Husband will be home from work soon and I'm starving. I snack on some hummus I made last week and rice chips I brought from the States last time I visited. Do so while making cauliflower "fried rice" and the marinated chicken thighs for dinner.

7:30 p.m. — Why does everything taste gross when you're sick?! My husband finishes up my plate and opens a home-brewed beer while I make a smoothie with the groceries from today. We settle in for a night in front of the TV.

Daily Total: $27.97

Day Two

8:30 a.m. — Wake up feeling terrible again. More DayQuil from back home and I'm feeling super lazy, so for breakfast, I eat leftover cauliflower fried rice cold. Gross, I know.

10 a.m. — Take the subway to another co-working space tour. It’s 45 cents and I still have money on my prepaid card, so I use that. The drinks are free here again, but my throat's on fire, so I chug a ton of their fancy infused water.

11 a.m. — Taking the subway back home. Another 45 cents from my prepaid card.

11:20 a.m. — I have nothing but bubble tea on my mind! The subway station next to my house is attached to a mall, so I run to Happy Lemon for a boba milk tea on my way home. At home, I pop open my laptop on the couch and eat leftover hummus while I work. $2.26

7 p.m. — It’s pretty rare for spouses to get invited to my husband’s weekday work dinners, but we were this time, so I decide to go, even though I’m feeling under-the-weather. (I’m a foodie — can’t turn down good food and beer.) My husband and the driver pick me up on their way over from work, so I don’t have to take a crowded subway.

7:30 p.m. — We head to a local brewery and all get steaks and beers. Everyone also gets dessert and I feel like a buzzkill for passing on it, but we have my husband’s cousin and his daughter visiting for a week and I know I’ll get my fill of sweet treats with her. My husband and I rack up a bill of $82.07, but expense it to his company.

Daily Total: $2.26

Day Three

9 a.m. — Feeling better today, so I do a morning yoga class using my prepaid unlimited year pass. I run into a friend in the class and I've been meaning to make plans with her anyway, so we decide to do lunch after we get ready for the day.

11:30 a.m. — Lunch at our neighborhood favorite, Liquid Laundry Brewery. They have these ice cream waffles that are to die for, so we split the dessert, but order our own lunch combo sets. They forget to bring out my beer since the set came with a drink, but I'm full by the time I realize anyway, so my total comes out to $16.36.

1:45 pm — It's such a gorgeous day out and I'm just itching to be outside. I grab my laptop from home and work from a neighborhood bakery. I feel weird for only getting a tea at a bakery, but their patio is gorgeous with way better Wi-Fi than the nearby coffee shops. $3.45

6 p.m. — Meet my husband at home and notice our housekeeper stopped by — so fresh and so clean. He grabs the leash and takes our kitten for a walk around the apartment compound garden (she's a Bengal and BEGS for it) while I drop off some dry cleaning. It comes out to $16.62, but his company will give us 10% back. $15.01

6:30 p.m. — Forgot to order groceries today and they’re still on a walk, so I run to the supermarket in the mall across the street. It's a pretty expensive, foreign goods store that we try not to shop at too often, but I find a box of quinoa pasta on sale and grab a pack of Riega Alfredo mix. I add some chopped broccoli and crushed red pepper to it at home and bam — dinner served! $4.80

8 p.m. — Crack into a gifted Compartes donut chocolate bar to celebrate being able to breathe again! Clocking into our typical weeknight routine: watching TV while sprawled on the couch.

Daily Total: $39.62

Day Four

7:22 a.m. — I finished up the week’s work yesterday so I could have the day off. I wanted to sleep in, but end up waking up to my husband’s alarm. I lay in bed and pay a few bills on my phone (all of which are monthly occurrences).

8:30 a.m. — Get to yoga early, so I lounge around with a cup of tea (free). I’m in the meditation room, but end up people-watching — everyone around me is on their phone. Yup, I’m definitely in China.

11:30 a.m. — Play with the cat and eat leftover pasta for lunch.

12 p.m. — We’re doing a huge road trip through Italy in a few months and plan on staying at an estate with a name that matches our last name. It's definitely an abnormal splurge, but way too cool to resist. It’s a super-remote, farmhouse-style B & B and they typically don’t do online payments, but I’ve convinced them. I pay the deposit. $77.65

3:45 p.m. — Our guests are in town! Our driver picked them up from the airport and dropped them at our place. They settle in and we head to the mall across the street for a snack and some grocery shopping. I buy them some mochi to try for the first time. We also run to the supermarket to buy kid-friendly snacks, which they insist they pay for. $3.59

6 p.m. — We meet my husband at home after walking them around the neighborhood a bit and crack open a few home-brews.

7 p.m. — We rarely have guests, since it’s pretty expensive to come out here from the U.S., but when we do, we always take them to the same place for their arrival dinner. It's a foreigner-friendly Sichuan restaurant with a basil cocktail that's to die for — and is walking-distance from our house. Since we have a kid with us, we order the least-spicy items on the menu, so it ends up being something new for us all. We handle the bill, of course. $61.14

9 p.m. — Consumed by jet lag, they head to bed early. We were invited out, but decide against it. Netflix in bed sounds way more appealing.

Daily Total: $142.38

Day Five

9 a.m. — Our guests wake up early and try to considerately prepare breakfast on their own, but I forgot to prep them on the outlet conversions! They accidentally blew the Keurig we brought from home, so we run out to get them some coffee and breakfast. There isn't much open yet, so we grab them some coffee and dumplings at BaoBao. Super fatty — and I'm not on vacation — so I make myself cereal with the groceries from yesterday. $4.48

11 a.m. — I've been dying to try the beautiful day spa down the road and thought it'd be the perfect opportunity to pamper our guests. My husband and his cousin get massages while his daughter and I get mani-pedis. Total was around $134.74 for us all, but our cousin firmly insists that he pay. We make a promise to catch him back with food.

2 p.m. — We take a taxi to the fabric market to get custom suits made for the boys. We don't have much on our transportation cards, so we refill both our cards with $14.97 each. The taxi comes out to $5.09, but I pay with the transportation card. Total: $29.94

3:30 p.m. — High tea time! We take a taxi over to The Bund. This is definitely an abnormal event for us all. I've always wanted to do a fancy tea party, which I knew the visiting 8-year-old would also love, and the skyline view from M on The Bund is spectacular. It's the perfect amount of food, since we flew past lunch. It's our treat. $90.75

5 p.m. — We take a ferry across the river, so they can get the full skyline experience. It's 30 cents each, but my husband and I use our transportation cards and our cousin pays for their entrance separately.

7 p.m. — We hop in a taxi to dinner after walking around a bit. It's pouring at this point, so we're feeling like the luckiest alive to have found one. It comes out to $5.09, but we pay with our transportation cards again.

7:30 p.m. — Dinner at D.O.C! I chose this place because of their gorgeous patio, but it's raining like no other, so we don't get to experience it. It's cozy and warm inside, so no complaints, and the food is great. We're happy to treat our guests again. $102.29

10 p.m. — Back to bed a little earlier than usual for us, but we're exhausted after all the excitement, anyway.

Daily Total: $227.46
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Day Six

8 a.m. — Waking up early for dentist appointments. Our driver takes us over and our guests explore the area while my husband and I are at the office.

11 a.m. — My husband's out before me, so he grabs some breakfast with our guests. $36.32

11:50 p.m. — I'm finally done! I'm always the one who gets stuck sitting around and waiting. We prepaid for our appointment, which our insurance paid us back for, so I'm good to go. I'm starving by the time it's all over, so my husband grabs me a veggie burger from one of my favorite cafés. $7.77

1 p.m. — I have another doctor's appointment, so our driver drops everyone else off at an American restaurant that's hosting a big Fourth of July cookout. I'm a little jealous, but they promise to save me some crawfish.

1:30 p.m. — The total for the appointment and my prescription comes out to $387.81, but is covered by our insurance.

1:45 p.m. — Meet everyone back at the cookout. Husband buys beer and food tokens and saved some crawfish for me, which I completely forget how to break open and proceed to get juice all over the place. $29.90

2:30 p.m. — There's an ancient water town nearby that the guests are really excited about, so we head that way afterward. Our driver drops us off and we meet a local friend of mine at a Starbucks. I'm tired already, but I'm trying to cut out coffee. I grab a green tea latte, instead. $5.68

3 p.m. — It starts to rain and we're down one umbrella. I grab one from a guy who set up a DIY umbrella stall by the water town entrance. $2.24

3:15 p.m. — We make a few stops around the town: ice cream for the 8-year-old, a few throws at archery for my friend and I, and lots of water bottles for us all. It's all really cheap. $1.49

5:30 p.m. — Exhausted and ready to be home! It's a far walk to the subway station and the 8-year-old has had enough of the day, so we hail an Uber back home. $11.21

6:30 pm — We’re way too tired to go out to eat, so I decided to make dinner for the bunch. The boys go grocery shopping, which our cousin insists he pay for, while I take a quick shower. I make everyone grilled cheeses and tomato soup and I prepare myself a pot of quinoa spaghetti.

7:45 p.m. — Our guests are doing a little trip of their own to Beijing the next day, so I’m preparing sandwiches for their train ride. The guys walk to a nearby cigar shop to and grab some goodies, which our cousin pays for.

8:30 p.m. — A relaxing night of home-brews and cigars on our patio.

Daily Total: $94.61

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — Back to the grind. I wake up early to sneak in a yoga class before work.

10:15 a.m. — I’m loving this 8-year-old...she’s convinced her dad that ice cream’s appropriate breakfast food, so we’re out to grab a sweet treat before their train. This is something I can get behind. She’s a doll and treats me to a matcha soft serve cone.

11:55 a.m. — The guests are off to Beijing with the driver, so I set up shop on the patio for a day of work.

3:55 p.m. — Quick break to sneak in a late lunch of leftover spaghetti

7:30 pm — Our housekeeper stops by. We pay her monthly to do our dishes, vacuum the rugs, mop, and scrub up the bathrooms and kitchen. She insists that her job doesn’t feel complete until she’s made the beds and folded the laundry, so she sometimes does that, too. She doesn’t this time, since I decide to conquer the laundry while watching TV.

8:45 p.m. — My husband’s on a work trip as well, so I’m on my own for dinner. Feeling super lazy and don’t want to mess up the dishes our housekeeper just did, so I make myself some toast with the leftover groceries. Then, straight to snuggling into bed with the kitty and watching Netflix until I’m asleep.

Daily Total: $0.00
Editor's note: All prices have been converted from renminbi to dollars. 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.

The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.


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