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.
Today: an unemployed single mother who makes about $34,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on baby slippers.
Editor's Note: This is a follow up diary for the January Money Diary entitled "A Week In Paris, France, On A $101,000 Salary." You'll want to read that first, here. All currency has been converted to USD.
Salary: I stopped working about three months ago — see update below. My unemployment benefits would be roughly $34,000 over the course of a year but I haven't signed up yet.
Paycheck Amount: N/A
Gender Identity: Woman
Utilities: $485 (electricity, gas, and water)
Internet: $43.75 (for a package that includes international calls, TV, and broadband)
Mobile phone: $25.80 for my normal phone + $11 in credit for my burner dumbphone, which I keep on hand for emergencies. No longer on work’s super-plan.
House emergency fund: Used to be $490, but I haven’t contributed lately because a lot of my money is going to therapists and a lawyer. I’ve got a decent stash earmarked for the house, though.
Transportation: $80 for my Navigo pass (I no longer commute as at the beginning of the year. I keep my Navigo pass topped up for regular trips to Paris.)
Gym membership: $175 (I kept this because I need to go to the gym, even if it’s just occasionally. Also, I can also hit the pool, sauna, and steam room whenever I want. I may cancel it, but not right now.)
Other subscriptions (newsletters, business tools for my side business in communications consulting): $31.25 (Have been meaning to weed this one out for awhile.)
Childcare: $0 (I’m my daughter, B.,’s primary caregiver)
Savings: My savings is out of whack at the moment. Getting it into whack is not a top priority right now.
Life Update Since My Last Diary:
A few months after the first diary was published, the company I worked for was acquired. A small investment I'd made a few years ago, plus stock options, paid out. That was roughly equal to a year of base salary. The money didn’t change my life, but it did gave me the mental space to start thinking about a path out of the situation described in that MD. A few months ago, I asked my then-boyfriend, R., to leave for several reasons. While dealing with the separation has been difficult, embarrassing, and painful, it’s actually easier to be a single parent than to pull the wagon for a baby and a disruptive partner.
How I went from earning $101K to being unemployed.
My performance had slipped in the few months before maternity leave. Mostly because of the situation at home. And with everything that happened after B.’s birth, it never really recovered. A few months ago, I floated the idea of a mutually agreed separation to my employer. When they learned what was going on, they bent over backwards to help me out. It just wasn’t possible, though. I felt better resigning on good terms than prolonging the situation with a leave that would drag down my teams and projects.
I handed in my resignation the week I was due to sign a new contract that would have been worth a lot of money over the next four years. How much? More than I ever expected I could earn. That money would have been considered a fortune in my family, but I realized that taking some time to get back on my feet and paving the way for all of us to live a more peaceful life was worth it. Senior management agreed to a small severance. I didn’t want or feel like I deserved more. They also gave me a separate envelope earmarked for executive coaching with a psychologist specialized in trauma and burnout. I’ve been on extended leave for a few months and ended my contract last week.
And now, onto the money.
3 p.m. — My friend, M., is here from Paris. I started telling my friends what was going on at home a few months ago. He drove out this weekend with his van to see B. and me and take us shopping for bulk items. We get baby stuff, bulk essentials, and some storage stuff. $437
4:30 p.m. — Text message from Mysterious Next Door Neighbor. I invited him and his girlfriend for drinks a while ago and they couldn’t make it. Apparently his mother is in poor health. He invites me for lunch this week.
8 p.m. — WhatsApp from R., who is in Paris, asking me to put the car in the garage. The car’s been in the garage for three days, but M.’s car is parked in the driveway outside. It occurs to me that R. probably asked someone to keep an eye on the house after I asked him to leave. Long, slow-burn eyeroll. Asking him to leave was a last-resort solution. Nobody enjoys kicking their partner out. Do they? I don’t know. Maybe. Not me. I didn’t feel liberated or vindicated. Just kind of empty, and relieved that the tension in the air dissipated pretty much immediately.
Daily Total: $437
10 a.m. — M. leaves around the same time my nosy neighbor does. She sees him coming out the guest room door, which opens onto her driveway. Ugh. I hope she doesn’t get the wrong idea and start blabbing. (There was never and will never be anything between us.) This was probably not the best time for him to visit. Some days I hate living in this village.
11:15 a.m. — Property tax bill arrives via email. I pay it online. I have no idea what I’m going to do with the house now that we’re not living here as a family. Or how I’m going to get a place in Paris. But that’s a problem for another day. $1,002
11:20 a.m. — My new perfume arrives in the mail. I was looking for a light all-purpose scent. This smells...exactly like high school in Daytona Beach. Circa 1992. Romantic Rose Teen Spirit deodorant, a note of aerosol hairspray and a whiff of cold cigarette ash. If the essence of Tammy Faye Bakker were distilled and bottled, this would be it. I paid $65 for it last week.
1 p.m. — I make lunch while B. is sleeping — baked salmon and green beans with polenta. I mix up a small portion for B. I then call the organic farm down the road to order our weekly veggie basket for delivery on Friday. $17
5:20 p.m. — B. and I take the stroller and head out to the grocery store where we buy some odds and ends (a bike pump and duct tape). I blow up the stroller tires in the parking lot. This thing is like new now and it makes me very happy. B. stretches out her fat little arms and yelps as she waves them up and down. We bounce back home to the rhythm of her invisible punk symphony. $23
11 p.m. – Online after B. goes to bed. I sign up for a cheap phone plan and buy an iPhone 7. My contract officially ends tomorrow and I need to turn in my company phone. I would be happy with my cheap Nokia dumbphone if I didn’t need a portable office most of the time. I still agonize over spending this kind of money, but every time I try to take the cheap way out it either ends up eating too much time to justify the cost or somehow biting me in the end. $459
12:30 a.m. – B. and I are headed to Paris at dawn. It’s late. I leave the bedside lamp on so I don’t miss the alarm.
Daily Total: $1,501
6:05 a.m. — We’re in the car and on the road with two warm bottles by 6. A minor feat. The sun is up later these days, but by 7:30 the fields are shining under the blue sky. B.’s going with her father for a week of vacation in Bordeaux. I’m going to my old office to clean out my desk and see everyone. I’ll also be meeting with a hypnotherapist, plus a new psychologist, and a potential employer I’ve been talking with recently.
8:20 a.m. — We park at the last suburban train stop, badge in with our Navigo pass, and get on. I always feel like I’m getting away with something when I do this. Cheapest train ride ever.
9:40 a.m. — We arrive at Gare du Nord. No sign of R. Tempted by Starbucks but am carrying a car seat, an infant, her bag, and mine.
10:20 a.m. — R. shows up 40 minutes late. Yesterday, he made a big deal about needing to pick up B. before 10. Apparently Bordeaux is no longer happening. I’m annoyed, mostly by the waiting with a child and heavy bags and nowhere to sit, but also the lack of communication and potential change of plans this week.
12:45 p.m. — First meeting with a new therapist/coach across town. When I left my job, my company gave me an envelope to spend on executive coaching so that I could get back on my feet professionally. I was really surprised by and grateful for this gesture. My home life pretty much sent my career into a tailspin. $83
1:55 pm — I go to FNAC to buy a book the therapist has assigned for next week. I’ve got a good feeling about her. Within the first 30 minutes she honed in on something fairly important about me, which you’d never notice unless you were looking for it. I haven’t actually thought about it for years. With this approach, she’s probably well-positioned to help me with some recurring issues. Hope? $19
2:30 p.m. — I get some food at Rose Bakery on Rue des Martyrs before heading to the office. $14
3 p.m. — Because I apparently never turned on cloud sync for my company phone, I’m now uploading everything to Dropbox. Which is taking forever. Ugh. Stupid mistake. Be better next time. I'm testing out the Dropbox Business plan. I got snagged by the $12/month promo copy, then realized that’s per user with a minimum of three users. $36/month?! Three TB is overkill, but I have no other solution right now. Do people actually pay for this stuff? I'm doing a free test drive for now.
5 p.m. — I go to the wine store. I buy a case of champagne for tomorrow’s after-work party, which the team does about once a month. I’m going to miss them even if I’m leaving under awkward circumstances. $141
5:30 p.m. — I put the champagne to chill in the office fridge and congratulate myself on getting everything done on time today.
8 p.m. — Since R. and I split and he came back to Paris, I usually stay at a hotel when I bring B. for visits. I love my friends, but don’t love couch-surfing in tiny apartments. This is expensive and it can’t last forever, but it gives me the chance to relax. Mostly I like someone else taking care of housekeeping for a few days. My favorite hotel is too expensive this week, so I’m at a small family-owned hotel. The room is ground floor, which isn't great, but the shower pressure is great. $180
8:15 p.m. — A guy just tried to reach into the window?! It’s covered with a plastic guard, but seriously wtf is this place. Ugh. He seems surprised when I throw back the curtain and yell.
Daily Total: $437
9 a.m. – I wake up later than I want to, make coffee, and read. The joys of in-room coffee cannot be overstated.
12 p.m. — I haven’t had breakfast yet and am meeting with a potential employer at 1. The kebab shop across the street beckons with its blinking red sign. Perfect. Döner with double cheese, no sauce. Skip the fries. $7
1:45 p.m. — I meet with the potential employer at a sidewalk café. I order a Perrier with mint syrup. He pays. When it looked like I might not be able to continue working, I put out some feelers. I’ve been off for close to three months now and would like to start working before the end of the year. This company is a startup, which is always a risk, but I like him on a human level. He also worked his way up from next to nothing, which connects us instantly. We finally get around to talking about salary and options. I’m accepting a slightly higher base with none of the perks or deferred comp. So, in total, it’s about 30% lower than my previous package. There are stock options, but that’s always tricky. I did the math a few days ago and the numbers associated with the worst-case scenario are pretty much in line with the risk I’m willing to take for a few years. The thing about startups is knowing when to go all-in or move on. It’s not an exact science, but I have a feel for it now. Turns out we’re pretty well aligned on compensation and timeframes.
4 p.m. — After the meeting, I pop into M&S for an egg-and-cheese sandwich, a scone, and a chocolate bar for later. $7
8 p.m. — I go to the cocktail party with my soon-to-be-former colleagues. Some people knew I was coming, but it’s not an official going-away party. I didn’t want one because the circumstances were so awkward and strange.
9:45 p.m. — They got me presents?! I am so touched! And embarrassed. I hate being the center of attention unless there’s advance notice. They give me flowers, chocolate, and wine. This is so kind and I wish I had been in a better place to open up more and lead in this position. The thing about bad relationships is that they can strip your personhood in insidious ways. You don’t feel as open. It’s hard for people to get to know you. Today’s workplaces are all about integrity and authenticity. It’s very hard to feel like you’ve got integrity or authenticity when there’s such a big gap between your persona and your everyday life. At least it was for me. The party ends on a high note. I finally give into my twice-a-year cigarette craving.
12:50 a.m. — I slump into bed at the hotel. I drift off thinking that sex would be nice, but I honestly don’t know how I’m going to start dating again. No one’s on my radar, anyway. I halfway think about my ideal mate, which would basically be R., but without the anger, control, and intimacy issues. I decide to rethink my definition of the word “ideal.”
Daily Total: $14
9 a.m. — I didn’t drink much last night but feel like my stomach’s full of water. I fish yesterday’s scone out of my bag and make coffee.
11:30 a.m. — I go to the shopping center in Saint-Lazare to buy a suitcase. A wheel on the suitcase I’ve been using for 20 years has split so it doesn’t roll anymore, and it doesn’t do a 360 roll. My back would appreciate a smaller format and wheels that turn in all directions. $77
1 p.m. — Everyone is out of the office today except our contractors. K., one of my remote colleagues, is here from Norway. We go for lunch at a crêperie down the street and talk about kids. His girlfriend has been talking about having a baby and he’s afraid it’s going to affect their relationship. I tell him that it will, but that there’s no way around it. The best thing is to know ahead of time and prepare. $31
3 p.m. — I started seeing a hypnotherapist a few months ago right before I stopped working. I was trying anything and everything to deal with the situation at home. At the end of the first session, I was in this half-dream/half-visualization where I was riding a cloud-powered unicorn motorcycle with streamers. Unfortunately, at today's session, I can’t relax and it doesn’t seem to be working. $78
4:15 p.m. — I go to a kid’s shoe shop to look for something for B. I see some cute rainbow slippers and a pair of sturdier leather high-top sneakers. My mother came to visit B. and me last month and left some money to get B. a pair of shoes, so I use that to buy both. $43
6 p.m. — The suburban trains are packed, so I do some shopping at the FNAC in Châtelet until peak traffic is over. I pick up a couple of Moleskine paperback notebooks. as well as a calendar, a productivity book, and a day planner for next year. $75
7 p.m. — I walk through Châtelet to the RER thinking about what I need to do next week. I should sign up for unemployment, but is it even worth it? I’m going to spend 10 hours signing up, redoing my CV, driving to and from the first meeting, and explaining to someone who doesn’t know what I do that I want this kind of job with this salary range when there are no jobs like that where I live. I freelance on the side and could earn a few times the monthly unemployment benefit by doing a consulting project. Might just skip it.
9:20 p.m. – I get off the suburban train and walk to the parking lot where I left the car. It’s pitch black outside, but the interior is still hot and dusty-smelling. I love summers in France because the sun starts coming up around 4:30 a.m. and sets around 11 p.m., but the shift to shorter days is always brutal.
10:30 p.m. – Crossing this landscape of patchy roads, brush overgrowth, and abandoned factories makes me feel like I’m in a time machine — especially at night. Maybe one day I’ll get it down on paper. I have a ton of ideas, nothing settled, and no time. I stop at the cheap gas station and get three-quarters of a tank. $56
Daily Total: $360
7:20 a.m. — Early in the morning I bolt upright from a vivid dream about how R. is trying to take B. to live in Spain, which is ridiculous for a few reasons. I then remember the hypnotherapy session from yesterday — it DOES work! Although I thought it was supposed to make you feel awesome, which is not exactly how I’m feeling. This is probably some subconscious knot about knowing he’s dating again.
12 p.m. — I go to a therapy appointment with another psychologist, this one in the village. I started seeing her around the time things really went off the rails and I was stranded here with an infant for weeks on end. I spend a lot of time in therapy these days, which is the price I’m paying now for pretending everything was fine for so long. It’s much more effective since I gave up on the whole idea of continual self-improvement and optimization. I’m single, 40, and have an infant. There’s only so much to optimize. I go to therapy twice a week, where I can feel like a complete mess without necessarily feeling like something is wrong with me that I absolutely need to improve. $50
1 p.m. – I walk back home and realize I missed the weekly market. The fruit-and-vegetable guy is still there, but I have no cash. The cheese van is already gone, which makes me think about how we were spending around $200 a month on cheese. Who spends that much on cheese?! (People who should up their fiber intake, that’s who.)
7 p.m. — I realize I’ve done nothing of note all day. I read a think piece by a tech bro who quit everything after having a revelation on ayahuasca. Eyeroll. Have tech bros also co-opted ayahuasca? Is this a thing now?
8 p.m. — I message with A., who is a good friend from the city where I used to live. We talk about me visiting at the end of the month. I really need to see old friends, so I start looking for train tickets.
11 p.m. — I'm still in bed, where I laid down to read my therapy assignment a full 7 hours ago. Haven’t eaten. Missing B. I call it a day and turn in.
12 a.m. — I'm bombarded by messages from R. He’s freaking out about B.’s clothes. How can he not know how to dress her, do laundry, or keep a stock of clean items on hand? And how is this my problem?
Daily Total: $50
8 a.m. — I wake up with a knot in my stomach about messages that may have arrived after I finally fell asleep last night. Nothing.
9 a.m. — I remember that I need to fill out custody forms for the lawyer. We have an appointment in a week. We had a child less than a year ago and we’re already separated and are working with lawyers. It’s better for all of us to have a framework for raising our daughter, with clear roles and expectations. A word about sadness — I read all the comments from my last Money Diary. I sincerely appreciated them all, even the shitty ones. (Also, I agreed with a lot of you who were like “wtf is her life”, but that’s a story for another day.) A lot of comments expressed sadness over the diary, though. And that did make me sad! Here’s my take: While this is a tough situation, and a time where I sometimes feel lost and lonely, “sad” is not a word I’d use to describe it. Getting that payout was a stroke of luck. Most of my family are still alive and in good health, and my mother came to visit for two weeks. I can afford, for right now, to do some things that are really helping. Now, here’s what’s sad to me: Being in a bad relationship and having it get worse. Not knowing how to get out. Not having skills or opportunities to make a living. Losing your way, or spending years in a place like that. Having your kids grow up and think that’s normal. All of those things are sad. Me, I feel lucky.
11 a.m. – Vacation vouchers arrive in the mail from work. And that is officially my last perk.
2 p.m. — I put on gloves and boots and go out to the yard. One of the apple trees is rotten and needs to come down. I spend 15 minutes looking for the chainsaw before realizing it isn’t in the shed. It occurs to me that R. might have sold it. He sold other stuff without telling me in the months before he left. Why is anyone’s guess. I’m so mad. If there was a day where I was looking forward to going to town with a nice, sharp, high-RPM blade, it was today. I get the axe instead.
5 p.m. — Still enraged by the chainsaw, I drive to the city and go to the local equivalent of Wal-Mart. This is a bad idea because I’m going to come back with a ton of baby stuff. If I were more disciplined, I’d buy secondhand, but I have neither the time nor the patience to source it and drive out to the hinterlands to pick it up.
8 p.m. — Back home with a baby haul, as expected. And a $100 brushed-aluminum trash can that I decided I needed to replace the junky plastic one I had on a whim. I wasn't intending to spend this much on a new one, but it’s done. I start taking the tags off onesies and putting tiny socks in lingerie bags for a quick wash. $327
10:30 p.m. — I'm trying to structure a proposal for a consulting project. Would this company agree to let me start working a bit earlier for a flat fee, which is both much more than I’d earn in unemployment and much less than they’d be paying me for a month as a full-time employee? Maybe.
11 p.m. — I halfheartedly check intake dates for next year’s MBA class at the school I was planning to enter this fall. Before life got messy, I was on track to attend the executive program at a top school. Is an MBA going to do me any good at age 40, though? Should I go for a shorter program or do some sort of distance learning certificate? Maybe the best thing I could do now, rather than figuring out how to finance a course, is get cracking on making the money for it between now and mid-October. It’s so reassuring to have money in the bank, but it’s not going to last forever. I close all tabs except for Google Slides and start typing. I work until I fall asleep around midnight.
Daily Total: $327
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.
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