A Week In The Midwest On A $52,000 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 woman in the Midwest paying off breast augmentation surgery and taking last-minute trips to Denver.
Age: 29
Location: I live in a rural area in the Midwest, but I chose not to provide the name of the town because it's easily identifiable. The Obama hate/Trump love is palpable. The closest airport is a 1.5-hour drive and Targets and malls only exist in fairytales. It’s a small community with a low cost of living, which describes many small towns in the United States.
Industry: Manufacturing
Salary: $52,000
Net income: ~$1750, twice a month

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $625/month
Electric/water/sewer: ~$90
Credit Card Debt: $850 (for six months, currently in month four out of six). I had my breasts done (lift + augmentation) a few months ago, which is the $850/month I pay for. It was no interest if paid within six months. I could have paid for the surgery in full when I got it done, but I couldn’t imagine paying that much money and putting a dent in my savings. So, I paid about 40% of the cost in cash and the rest in credit. My percentage of satisfaction with the surgery is for a different diary…
Car insurance: $50
Car note: $0, car is an oldie
Cell phone: $114
Gym: $30
Tithe: $320. Even though my church attendance is sporadic, I still believe in charitable giving, so I give my monthly tithe online.
Spotify: $10
Student loans: $390 (payments resuming in a few months). Total loans are $200,000. I have loans from undergrad and grad school so the full amount I have to repay is ridiculous; I have the debt of a homeowner but without the home.
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Day 1

8:30 a.m. — Roll over after watching football too late. Luckily my drive is 15 mins tops and my boss doesn’t keep tabs on my comings and goings. Since I’m only doing a half day, I get moving.

10 a.m. — Denver Airbnb host emails me that the bigger room in their house wasn’t rented so I can upgrade for free.

10:15 a.m. — Husband of said Airbnb host emails that the room is messy and will not be ready for me. Downgraded.

12 p.m. — Leave work to grab my weekend bag from home and heat up the rest of the pizza from last night’s football pizza party for one.

1 p.m. — Fill up the gas tank before getting on the road to the airport. It was bone dry. $27.51

6 p.m. — Touchdown in Denver. Sat next to two other people while we exchanged about who got the cheapest flight. Mine was $38 r/t #ftw.

7 p.m. — Take the rail from the airport to downtown, get hot chocolate at Union Station ($2.64) and catch a bus to my Airbnb ($9). $11.64

8 p.m. — Tofu pad thai, then crash. $10.30

Daily Total: $49.45


Day 2

8:30 a.m. — Denver Biscuit Company! Biscuit with honey butter and cheese grits. The biscuit is huge and the grits are creamy. $7.24

11 a.m. — Uber to the mall for some essentials ($4.20), beanie from H&M, tights from Forever 21 ($15). Heavily debate “splurging” on a dress at Nordstrom. I text basically everyone I know to get me to pull the trigger. But, my cheapness wins and I leave the mall without it. I do this quite often. $19.20

1 p.m. — In desperate need of water. Walk to Whole Foods. $1.19

1:15 p.m. — Buy a day pass for RTD ($5.20) and galavant about the city. This was an unplanned trip that I only decided to go on because of the cheap flight. One of my favorite things is getting lost in a new city, so I walk around, ride the bus, explore the city, and visit a few thrift stores and specialty shops. I do weekend getaways quite often and it makes living in the middle of nowhere a bit easier. $5.20

4 p.m. — The biscuit from this morning was super heavy, so I’m just now hungry. Grab some local Mexican food. $9.50

10 p.m. — Go downtown, play pool, chat with strangers and locals. $10

10:30 p.m. — See a crepery and cannot restrain myself. Crepe with caramel. $6.24

11 p.m. — Bus ride back to Airbnb.

Daily Total: $58.57
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Day 3

9 a.m. — Walk to Trader Joe's to get snacks for the day. Green apple, Clif bar, water, and plantain chips. $4.13

9: 30 a.m. — Take the bus to explore some more of the city and then chill time at Barnes and Noble to read some of Anna Kendrick’s book. $9.20 for airport pass and bus fare.

4 p.m. — Get to the airport super early, because I’m a classic underestimater of time. Dinner at Panda Express in the airport — when did they get an eggplant and tofu dish!? Sooo good. Meanwhile, one security line for all airlines is not efficient. Split these terminals, TSA. $7.80

8 p.m. — Peanut butter cookie and water before boarding. $5

11 p.m. — A slightly-delayed takeoff, so a slightly-delayed arrival. Then a broken jetway (that’s a thing?). We have to deplane by stairs at the back of the plane, old-school style.

11:45 p.m. — More drama with the parking shuttle. Since it’s too late, there isn't an attendant to give me the corporate discount and punch my frequent parker card. Sigh. I could have saved three bucks and would have gotten three punches on my card. $21 for parking.

1:15 a.m. — Get home after my drive. I basically talked to myself out loud and the time flew by. My apartment is freezing. I turned off the heat while I was gone to save money. I was a stickler one month during grad school with unplugging everything (after seeing an Oprah episode) and conserving the A/C; my electricity bill was $7.26 that month. I share the news with anyone willing to listen and I haven’t gone back since.

Daily Total: $47.13
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Day 4


9:30 a.m. — Get to work just in time for a meeting. My stomach is still asleep so no hunger to address.

10 a.m. — Grab some black coffee from the breakroom. I try to only rely on caffeine when I need to and I reason that my late night qualifies as one of those situations.

2:30 p.m. — Get some salad and a half sandwich from a catered lunch for an important person my company hosted.

6 p.m. — Zucchini pasta at home. Masters of Sex until I get drowsy.

Daily Total: $0

Day 5

6 a.m. — Work out at the gym. I had to stop my usual routine after the breast lift and augmentation surgery and it’s been hard getting back into the groove.

8 a.m. — Work, meetings all morning. I stay away from the free donuts and pizza.

1 p.m. — Subway sandwich and chips. $5.60

6 p.m. — Some rice, beans, and veggies in the fridge from last week.

Daily Total: $5.60

Day 6

6 a.m. — Workout, then work. I take a half day to drive to the city to pick up my sister who is visiting. Before picking her up, I plan to stop by my plastic surgeon’s office to get my before/after photos for my surgery.

12 p.m. — Eat some zucchini pasta from home.

2:30 p.m. — Get carried away in an email war at work and realize it's time to leave and head to the airport.

2:50 p.m. — Get pulled over by the rudest police officer ever. He gives me two — TWO — tickets for speeding and a seat belt. My old car is from the '90s and has the automatic seat belt connected to the door things (Google it), but he says I should have the lap portion fastened also. Give. me. a. break. He also has me come back to his vehicle and sit in the passenger seat while he writes the tickets. I’m fuming and seeing dollar signs as he types away on his laptop.

3:30 p.m. — Call the plastic surgeon office and tell them I won’t make it in time due to the police delay and asked them to email me the pictures. The docs and nurses know that I commute 1.5 hours, so they try to accommodate me and will email the photos when they usually ask people to pick them up (HIPAA reasons).

4 p.m. — Pick up sister, yay! She lives in the south so she’s already over-bundled and has made five comments about how cold it is as soon as she gets in the car.

4:30 p.m. — Go straight to sister’s favorite restaurant here to grab some food. Left my card in the car (conveniently). She pays.

5 p.m. — Stop by the beauty store and pick up a few items that I can’t get in my town. $10.83

5:30 p.m. — We go shopping. Take back two shades of foundation to Target that I absolutely hated, get $21.90 back.

6 p.m. — Go to Ulta to use a Christmas coupon, but they’re out of the Tarte concealer I'm looking for. Head to Nordstrom Rack and cave on a cheap dress. $9.73

7 p.m. — Head to the mall and peak into Sephora to use another Christmas coupon that expires today. My sister settles on the new Kat Von D concealer, I pick up a mascara to try ($37, sister Square cashes me $17) $20

9 p.m. — We’ve done enough damage for the day and get back on the road.

9:30 p.m. — Flashing lights! Twice in one day — I cannot believe this. Officer approaches and I’m praying he’s in a better mood than the first one. He tells me all the reasons he pulled me over, none of which are what I guessed. He says I was swerving, and after I explain we’re sisters and she’s visiting, he assumes we were having a good catch up and I neglected some driving duties. Gives us a warning and tells us to mind our conversation until we arrive at our destination. *wipes brow*

10:30 p.m. — Climb in bed with my sister and promptly fall to sleep. After five minutes, I pop up and pay cell phone bill while it can still be classified as "on-time."

Daily Total: $40.56
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Day 7

7 a.m. — Roll over. Payday! I open my bank account and see more money than usual. Christmas bonus surprise. I’m going to need some padding to offset those two tickets, so I’m happy about that. I make my twice a month payment for le boobs — today’s payment is $550 (ouch) since it’s my non-rent check, electricity bill ($75), and tithe ($320). All counted in monthly expenses.

8 a.m. — Sister heads out for coffee and comes back with corned beef, Pringles, and fruit. She’s random. I eat Pringles and drink a Bolthouse farms breakfast smoothie from my fridge.

12 p.m. — I head to work, even though I planned to work from home.

4 p.m. — Head home.

6 p.m. — Grab dinner at my favorite local burrito spot. It’s the closest thing to Chipotle and she actually likes the food. I pay. $17

Daily Total: $17
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