A Week In Toronto, ON, On A $66,000 Salary

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Welcome to Money Diaries where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We're asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.
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Today: a clinical research co-ordinator working in health care who makes $66,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on pizza.

Occupation: Clinical Research Co-ordinator
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 28
Location: Toronto, ON
Salary: $66,000
Net Worth: –$13,685
Debt: $13,860
Paycheque Amount (2x/month): $1,783
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,377 (I rent a one-bedroom apartment and typically live alone, but my boyfriend, T., lost his job due to the pandemic, so he's been living with me for free.)
Utilities: $35–$50
Phone: $27.05 (I choose to not have a data plan to save money and also to resist the urge to constantly be online.)
Student Loan: $600–$900 (The minimum payment is $300, but I try to make as many additional payments as possible.)
Pension: $179.49 (deducted from my paycheque)
Medical & Dental Insurance: $53.22 (deducted from my paycheque)
Life Insurance: $30.35 (deducted from my paycheque)
Cello Rental: $45
Netflix: $9.99
Spotify Family: $14.99
TFSA: $350

Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
My parents didn't attend higher education, so I think they were more focused on me graduating high school than attending university. I only realized higher education was an option when my peers started applying for schools in Grade 11. I applied for all sorts of degrees across a wide range of universities simply because I could. No one ever asked me what I wanted to do for a living or helped me figure out what kinds of careers were available to me. I originally took a year of English at a university close to home but dropped out because I was scared that I wouldn't find a job after graduating. Eventually, I settled on biochemistry at a school out of town. My mom helped to pay for my textbooks when I was pursuing English, but after I changed my major, she lost faith in how seriously I took schooling. From then on, I paid for school through student loans and part-time work.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We never discussed money as a family. The topic was so taboo that for the longest time, I didn't even know what my father did for a living. All I knew was that money was incredibly tight when I was growing up. I saw the financial pressure my parents faced in providing for me. My mom worked multiple jobs in order to put food on the table. My parents' financial situation truly came to light when I was 16, and they divorced essentially because of debt. We sold our home, my dad declared bankruptcy, and we resumed the tradition of never talking about money. Long story short: Money is a painful conversation piece in my family.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I got my first job when I was 13, working at FedEx. I harbored an insurmountable amount of guilt for being "expensive" as my parents called me. So I was determined to be financially independent of them — as much as a child could be. Since 13, I've paid for my own phone, food, laundry, tampons, clothes, and entertainment.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes. All the time. Way more than a child should have.

Do you worry about money now?
Not as much now as I have in the past. Before getting my current position, I worked minimum-wage jobs and had very little help from my ex to pay for bills. I remember only eating one meal a day after graduating from university, just so I could pay my bills. I lost so much weight and I was really not in a good place. After leaving that relationship, I was able to manage my money on my own terms. I got a better-paying job and finally had a little extra cash after paying my bills. At the time, all of my furniture came from the curb or donation bins. I saved up for the last three years to replace these pieces and recently spent all of my savings on new furniture (I have absolutely no regrets).

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
In a way, I became financially independent at 13. Obviously, my parents paid for shelter, but I was paying for everything I touched and with my own money. I moved out at 17, which is when I completely became financially responsible. I have no financial safety net, and it gives me nightmares.

Day One

6 a.m. — Despite working from home, I make an effort to wake up three hours before work in order to recreate a commute. This helps me to separate my home-life from work-life, even when they both occupy the same space. I fill this time with reading. I'm making my way through the 100 Essential Penguin Classics. I've read 42 so far, 30 of which I read in 2020 alone. I make myself a coffee and settle down to begin my next book, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. After two coffees, I make morning smoothies for T. and me. We didn't plan on living together so soon, but when the pandemic hit, and he couldn't work, he really needed a comforting place to stay. It started as a sleepover, but I guess we live together now. At the beginning of our relationship, he helped me pay for groceries and he'll spot me when I'm short for bills, but I've told him to save the money he's gotten from CERB and EI in case we're ever in desperate need of cash. He helps out in other ways by cleaning, walking the dog, cooking, and fixing things around the apartment, which speaks volumes.
12 p.m. — I've been submitting experimental drug-related updates and side effects for three hours now, and I definitely need a break. This month, I've been making every effort to take my full one-hour lunch. I usually eat at my desk and work, which is an awful habit I want to break. For lunch, I heat up spaghetti leftovers, and T. and I watch YouTube videos of a boy who plays famous songs in the wrong key. It's oddly hilarious.
6:30 p.m. — We're running low on critical household supplies, so T. and I bundle up to go grocery shopping. I have only $150 left in my bank account, which makes me nervous because this haul consists of a lot of big-ticket items. We buy fresh vegetables, a variety of meat, plus ground turkey and liver for my dog, coffee, a bounty of frozen fruit, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, bread, dairy, and spices. The total comes to $222.61. I pay $150 with my debit card and put the rest on credit. I feel defeated. $222.61
Daily Total: $222.61

Day Two

5 a.m. — It's so early, and I'm barely functioning. While drinking coffee, I get dressed and apply mascara because I'm working at the office today. I pour a coffee into a Swell bottle and top it with cream, sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. I'm a huge promoter of bringing home-brew coffee to work because buying takeout coffee can be a hidden sinkhole in your bank account. At 6 a.m., I'm finally presentable and walk to the bus stop. $3.25
3 p.m. — It takes my stomach growling and feeling lightheaded to make me realize that I haven't eaten yet. I only work at the office periodically, so on-site days are extremely chaotic. A large portion of my job involves health records, which, unfortunately, are still paper-based. Despite having electronic physician dictations and labs, clinical-trial health records involve additional files that are scattered across all departments. I spend the whole morning visiting the pharmacy, labs, in-patient wards, nursing stations, and chemo wards to collect all of the paper records accumulated in the past week. I scarf down my meal before going home on the bus. $3.25
8:15 p.m. — My paycheque arrives, so I stop watching The Bachelor to pay bills and organize my budget: I set aside half of my rent and student loan payments into a separate chequing account so that I don't spend it. Then 10% of my paycheque goes to savings, and I set aside $400 for groceries and household expenses. I make an additional student loan payment and pay my phone bill. I have $50 left to spend on anything that I want!
Daily Total: $6.50

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — I finish my book and spend an hour writing my impressions in my reading journal. After trading Wharton for Tolstoy, I head to the kitchen to make fruit smoothies.
11 a.m. — I finally finish responding to yesterday's 40 emails. Now would be a good time for a break so I prepare a large kale Caesar salad and browse through resumes. My department is hiring eight people, and we've been interviewing applicants since August. After my salad, I call candidates to conduct screening interviews.
5 p.m. — T. had started roasting a chicken, but he had to leave to help his mom. When I'm done work, I continue where he left off. I boil potatoes, steam broccoli, and feed the dog. While all of this is cooking, I practice the cello, a new hobby I started in November. When faced with a second lockdown, I wanted to do something creative to pass the time. The cello is quite out-there for me, but I've fallen in love with it. I love the challenge of learning how to read music and make beautiful noise. Though it's hard, I'm able to laugh at my mistakes and be proud of my accomplishments.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

11 a.m. — Today seems to be one of those days where all of my staff have a pressing question. I'm happy that I finished my weekly to-do list yesterday because their questions are tricky. For lunch, I heat up pasta (the last of it, thankfully) and sort my laundry. The laundry room in my building's basement is empty, so I rush downstairs to claim the machines.
5:30 p.m. — For dinner, we have leftover roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and kale Caesar salad. T. needs guitar strings, so we travel via TTC to a music shop downtown. We've rarely ventured outside of our neighborhood during the pandemic, so we're shocked to see how much downtown has changed. So many stores are dark and boarded up that we begin to doubt our ingrained directions. Are we going the right way? When our curbside pick-up is complete, we walk back to the subway station in silence. I was born and raised in Toronto and T. grew up here, too, so it's heartbreaking to watch the city we love disappear before our eyes. $3.25
8 p.m. — Back at home, while T. is re-stringing his guitar, I finish folding my laundry. Over tea, we talk about our losses but also how much we've grown from this global experience. I'm thankful for him and for the food in the fridge. I fall asleep feeling full and grateful.
Daily Total: $3.25

Day Five

1:30 p.m. — I spend literally four hours talking to T. about our experiences learning to play music, the books we're reading, and what differentiates literature from pulp fiction. I fell in love with him because he's the only person that I can debate things with for hours. When we both hear our stomachs growl, we move into the kitchen. Together, we make breakfast sausages and a frittata with red peppers, spinach, scallions, and feta. We pair everything with frozen orange juice from a can.
3 p.m. — T. is cleaning, and I do my taxes. I've always gone to an accountant, but I'm determined to save money this year. I do scientific research for a living; I'm sure I can figure this out, too! For the next hour, I agonize over tax receipts and find myself Googling what all of the different line numbers and claim types mean but I eventually figure it out. I pay $22.54 for the program but I end up getting a refund of $673! Once I receive that, I plan to put it straight toward my student loans. $22.54
8 p.m. — The dog is out of food, so I get to work in the kitchen. Since he was a puppy, he's been a frustratingly picky eater. No matter which brand of kibble I buy, he goes on hunger strikes. At the beginning of the pandemic, we started making his food from scratch, and he now enjoys — and even begs — for meals. He's a healthy size now, his fur is smooth and shiny, and his breath hardly smells. It's a lot of effort (each batch lasts four or five days) and costs double the price of a bag of kibble (about $60 a month), but it's well worth it. For his food, I cook beef liver and ground turkey. I mix in spinach, red peppers, carrots, zucchini, peas, and coconut oil in a bowl. Once the meat is incorporated, I sprinkle in ground eggshells for calcium. I feed him a small portion and put the rest in the fridge.
Daily Total: $22.54

Day Six

9 a.m. — Same routine: coffee, feed the dog, let him out, read. It's my mom's birthday today, and we've made plans to go to her place for lunch. I've never taken T. to my mom's place so I'm nervous. He knows everything about my childhood, but I still get anxious when I see my mom. We have a very strained and cold relationship — that's all I'll say.
12 p.m. — My mom keeps pushing back our lunch, so T. and I decide to eat by ourselves. We make more breakfast sausages and the same kind of frittata as yesterday.
4 p.m. — My mom has now decided that she wants to come to my place for dinner on account of me having a bigger apartment (my one-bedroom versus her bachelor). I order three medium pizzas, dipping sauces, and pop to arrive at 4 p.m., like we agreed, but she's still not here. $76.36
5:30 p.m. — Finally, she arrives. She opens her presents, we eat the delicious vanilla-coconut cake with chocolate ganache frosting that T. made this morning, and catch up. By 8 p.m., we say our goodbyes. We managed not to fight at all, which is a great accomplishment!
Daily Total: $76.36

Day Seven

11 a.m. — It's a super-slow day at work, so I take the time to catch up on long-term projects. For lunch, I heat up leftover pizza and read.
5 p.m. — After conducting back-to-back interviews for my department, I'm excited to get off the computer. T. and I eat leftover pizza, and I take out pork chops from the freezer to defrost in the fridge for tomorrow's dinner. We've run out of smoothie supplies and other essentials, so we write out a grocery list and go to the store.
7 p.m. — Our grocery bill this time is a lot smaller than last week's, and I'm thrilled. For this trip, we buy frozen fruit, fresh veggies, more meat for the dog's meals, and dairy. The total comes to $91.86 which is not bad, not bad at all. $91.86
9 p.m. — T. puts away the groceries while I prepare for work tomorrow. I'm working at the hospital, so I spend 20 minutes carefully choosing what to wear. I truly get excited to wear anything but sweats when I work in the office. After selecting a cute black dress, a chunky necklace, and a knitted sweater, I shower, blowdry my hair, and settle on the couch to watch Teen Mom OG until I fall asleep.
Daily Total: $91.86
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