A Week In Ottawa, ON, On A $56,000 Salary

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Today: an educational assistant who makes $56,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on highlighters.
Warning: This diary contains descriptions of disordered eating and treatment.
Occupation: Educational Assistant
Industry: Education
Age: 34
Location: Ottawa, ON
Salary: $56,000
Net Worth: $8,000 (I have $14,500 in savings.)
Debt: $6,500 ($2,000 on a line of credit and $4,500 in student loans)
Paycheque Amount (2x/month): $1,200
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses
Note: My husband, G., earns approximately three times what I do, so he covers the expenses listed below, from rent to car insurance, plus things like meals out and groceries. I send him a portion of my cheque every two weeks. This amount varies but generally works out to around $1,400 a month.
Rent: $1,425
Netflix & Crave: $25
Phone: $125 (for mine and my husband's phone)
Car Payment: $175
Car Insurance: $200
Gym: $0 (It's usually $50 but currently suspended.)
Union Dues: $165 (deducted from my paycheque)
RRSP & Pension: $125 (deducted from my paycheque)
Health & Dental Benefits: $45 (I don't pay much for benefits, which I'm so grateful for, because I have several chronic illnesses. One of my daily medications alone would be nearly $300 a month. It's heartbreaking to think of folks who need this medication and have to pay out of pocket. I just say a prayer of thanks and keep voting NDP. )
Savings: $600 (I contribute $400 a month to our joints savings and $200 to my personal savings.)

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 mother is a preternaturally gifted individual who prizes intellect and education. She has multiple degrees and continues to pursue higher education even now, in her 60s. It, therefore, must've been a huge disappointment to her that I did a two-year college program in social services instead of going to university. However, having reached the limits of my career with the education I have now, I went back to university this past September. My goal is to complete a bachelor's and a master's by 40 and qualify as a therapist. I'm paying for the textbooks myself and using a student loan for tuition. I had planned on going down to part-time work this semester because I'm taking a full course load, but since we're in pandemic times, and there's not much else to do, I'm working full-time as well as going to school full-time. Will it end in disaster? Only time will tell! Having grown up without a lot of money, the idea of willingly reducing my income before absolutely necessary is anathema to me.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I grew up in rural PEI as one of four children in a single-parent household, and money was tight for a long time. There weren't a lot of social-service supports in place (although the church and women's groups were amazing), and my mom was always honest in an age-appropriate way about the limits of our financial situation. On one memorable occasion, after receiving her paycheque and paying all the bills, my mother spent her last few dollars on a sack of flour to make loaf after loaf of bread. Combined with the preserves she had put up the summer before, we survived on jam sandwiches for every meal until the next payday. Shortly after that time, she was hired by the federal government, and the job was literally life-changing. I'm not saying there were never financial hardships again — we were still a large family on one income — but it took us from poor to lower-middle-class.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was working at a local arena. I applied because my best friend was working there already, and I'm a follower! It was a good introduction to the realities of working, but it wasn't the best atmosphere for a 16-year-old girl. The work environment was very much an old boys' club, and the attitudes towards us from our fellow employees ranged from disinterested to lascivious to outright assaultive.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Absolutely. I still feel uncomfortable finishing off the last of anything — cereal, juice, soap — and reuse tea bags until they fall apart.

Do you worry about money now?
Money anxiety is ingrained in me. My husband has the opposite mentality; money flows out of his hands and more money will end up back in his pocket on payday. We balance each other out in that way.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
It took a few false starts for me to become financially independent. My mom has always been there to rescue me, and I'm proud to say I haven't needed it in over a decade. I know, however, that should things ever go sidewise, I always have a place to stay at her home.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I received $5,000 in survivors' benefits from my stepfather's insurance after he passed away. I used it to purchase my first car.

Day One

5 a.m. — I roll out of bed and put on my workout clothes, which I laid out last night. I do a 25-minute dynamic warm-up (leg swings, arm circles, squats, etc.) while doomscrolling the news. Domestic terrorists surged on the US Capitol yesterday, which seems both insane and like the natural progression of tensions that have been building. After my warm-up, I scoop my sleepy dog out of bed and take him outside for a quick walk. I feed him breakfast and eat two dates before heading out for a run.
7:15 a.m. — I get back from my run (12.6 kms), thankful for the relatively mild temperatures and the dry sidewalks. I took up running this past May after becoming fed up with at-home HIIT workouts, and I absolutely love it. I trained all summer and ended up running five half marathons over the fall. I've now settled into a routine of about 85 kms a week. I'd like to run a full marathon this spring, so my training for that will begin in earnest in a few weeks' time. Once home, I stretch for 15 minutes. I've been having shin pain lately, so stretching is non-negotiable.
7:30 a.m. — I switch on the kettle for tea and hop in the shower. Today is a hair-washing day (I follow the Curly Girl method), and I'm excited to try a new cleansing conditioner that was gifted to me by a hairstylist friend. It's by Authentic Beauty Concept, which I've never heard of before. It smells gorgeous and expensive and is something I wouldn't purchase for myself, so this is a treat. I follow my skin-care routine (hyaluronic acid, sunscreen, moisturizer, all from The Ordinary) and slap on foundation, cream blush, and mascara. A little curl cream, and I'm ready to go.

8 a.m. — At this point, my stomach is sending out a million "feed me now" messages. I have cottage cheese, blueberries, and muesli while checking social media and getting caught up on the latest news. I make a giant mug of green tea (seriously, it's nearly the size of my face) and settle into my workspace in the living room for the school day.
10 a.m. — It's been a decent morning. I work for a school board with children identified as needing extra support. Taking things virtual has been a challenge, and I'm thankful that I'm able to work from home these days. I have a multitude of chronic illnesses that range from "fairly well-controlled" to "angry gremlins destroying my inner workings at will," and I need to be careful about my risk these days. In between meets with students, I take a break to walk around my living room for 10 minutes to stretch my legs. I also make a cup of herbal tea, adding a pinch of salt to help recoup electrolytes.
11 a.m. — I take the dog out for a quick lap around the block. He's always thrilled to go outside first thing in the morning, and then his enthusiasm wanes throughout the day. By bedtime, he has to be carried outside like a little princeling. After the walk, I sauté veggies in broth and add a splash of red wine vinegar and warm up the seasoned TVP I made a few days ago. I toss this all with lettuce for a clumsy sort of salad and also make two pieces of toast with powdered peanut butter. I have Crohn's disease, and one of my trigger foods is the stabilizer used in many shelf-stable breads. A few times a month, I bake bread, slice it, and freeze it. I scroll through Reddit and Instagram while eating. My workday tends to be stressful, so I like to switch off as much as possible on my break. At noon, I get back online.
2 p.m. — I go for a brisk 25-minute walk. Afterward, I park myself on the couch and set a 10-minute timer to rein in my social media scrolling. It's too easy to lose track of time these days. Time is an illusion!
2:45 p.m. — Normally I would go back to work now, but today I'm taking the last block off to attend a virtual appointment with my dietician. I've struggled with disordered eating for almost two decades, and I've been actively seeking treatment since June. It isn't easy — it sucks, actually — but the idea of a future where I wake up at 65 and am still counting my raisins is worse. My husband leaves to give me privacy. $125
4 p.m. — Those appointments are completely draining, but I've made a lot of progress that I'm proud of. I leave immediately afterward to meet my sister for a socially distant chat and stop off along the way to pick up fortifying drinks at a local coffee shop: a cappuccino for her and a tea for me. I leave a 30% tip because times is tough, folks. $10.55
5:15 p.m. — After a lovely sister date, I come home and make dinner for myself and G. We eat radically different diets and generally at different times, so eating together is a novelty. For him, I roast a Cornish game hen that I'd purchased for his Christmas dinner before switching menus at the last minute. The hen has been brining since yesterday, and he raves about it. I'm a pescatarian (although I'm considering making the switch to vegetarianism for environmental reasons), so for myself, I warm up the last of a vegetable soup I made earlier on in the week and toast a piece of cornbread from the freezer. We watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off, followed by many, many episodes of Cobra Kai.
8 p.m. — My husband takes the dog out for his last walk of the day, and I wash the dishes from dinner. I finish my book, Little Darlings by Melanie Golding (pretty good!), before toddling off to bed at about 9:45 p.m. G. comes in to drop off the dog on the bed and kiss me goodnight before returning to watch TV. He's quite the night owl.
Daily Total: $135.55

Day Two

5 a.m. — I roll out of bed, warm up, and take the dog out for a walk before heading out on another run.
7:15 a.m. — Brrrrr. So much for milder temperatures. It's nearly -20°C with the wind chill, and my face and hands are absolutely frozen by the time I get home from a 12.5-km run. I make a mental note to buy better gloves, then stretch and head into a warm shower.
7:45 a.m. — I scrunch my hair with curl reactivating spray and get dressed. After yesterday's session, I'm feeling a little sensitive. I'm in the weight restoration phase of ED recovery, and I'm uncomfortable in my body these days, so I counter that feeling by wearing loose, stretchy sorts of clothing as much as possible. Today, I put on leggings and a hoodie to take off the pressure. I throw on just enough makeup that I won't look dead on camera (mascara, concealer, and cream blush) before I make green tea and have it with cottage cheese, blueberries, and muesli.
8:30 a.m. — Fortified with another mug of tea, I sit down for the morning's meets.
10 a.m. — I stretch my legs, and G. heads to the grocery store. I add a few items to our shared shopping list app. He gets cottage cheese, cashew milk, miso paste, dried figs, cumin, jam, and rice cakes for me, and eggs, chicken wings, and cheese for himself. The bill comes to $68, and he pays. I feel bad that he so often covers more of the groceries, because the food I eat tends to be more expensive, but our spending balances out in other ways.
11 a.m. — I break for lunch, take the dog out for a walk, and make the same lunch as yesterday. While eating, I get a notification that my package from Zenni Optical has been delivered. I'd ordered a few pairs of glasses. I try them on and decide to keep one and return the others.
2 p.m. — I do a 25-minute yoga sequence. I used to do hot yoga in the Before Times, and it's a nice change from running.
6 p.m. — In an effort to do our part to help small businesses, G. and I order takeout once every two weeks. Tonight, we choose a family-owned Asian fusion restaurant. G. gets pork belly on noodles, and I have a veggie stir-fry on cauliflower rice. We split an order of tofu and mushroom momos. The food at this place is amazing, and the smell in the car on the way back from picking it up is heavenly ($48.50 goes on our shared credit card, which I help pay for with the money I transfer G. each month).
9:45 p.m. — I take the dog to bed with me, while G. stays up to watch TV.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

5:30 a.m. — On weekends, I sleep in a little later but otherwise follow the same routine. Today is my long run at 18 kms, and it's quite cold out — humbug.
8:30 a.m. — I. Am. Starving. I have my usual breakfast with extra muesli. I then dissolve into the couch for a couple of hours of restorative social media scrolling.
11 a.m. — Just before 11 a.m., I walk to a wellness clinic to get a 50-minute massage. I'm so thankful that RMTs are able to work during this time. All the running I do can be absolute hell on my body, and the knots in my hamstrings aren't leaving without a fight. I spend the time deep breathing my way through the pain. My RMT is worth his weight in gold, although I often dream of the time when a massage is a relaxing experience again, instead of an hour of torture. $108
12 p.m. — On my way home, G. messages me to pick up lip balm. Ottawa winters, with the winds and the subsequent cranking up of the thermostat, wreak havoc on our skin and lips. I buy two tubes of Carmex, which should keep the cracks at bay. $5.86
12:30 p.m. — Once home, I make myself another salad, throwing a can of tuna in the mix since I'm out of TVP. I have the salad with two slices of homemade toast and watch four episodes of The Wilds. It's exactly the kind of escapism I need after a long run.
2:30 p.m. — It's a few hours after lunch, and I'm already so hungry. I peel and dice a pear and sauté it quickly, then add a couple of handfuls of Goldfish pretzel crackers for that heavenly one-two punch of sweet and salty.
4 p.m. — I take the dog out for a quick walk and call my mom. She's far away in one of the Atlantic provinces, and I miss her terribly, so I call her fairly often — sometimes daily. The poor woman must be fed up with me by now.
6 p.m. — I scramble up firm tofu with frozen veggies and rice, while G. makes himself chicken wings for dinner. We have a Zoom meet planned with a few friends tonight and end up online with them until 10 p.m., when I tap out and go to bed. We had a lot of these group video chats last spring, and they petered out. I resolve to have them more often this winter. They're so fun and make me feel near-normal, something I don't often get to feel these days.
Daily Total: $113.86

Day Four

5:30 a.m. — I hop out of bed and complete the usual routine. Today's run is shorter — 10.5 kms — to give myself recovery time after the long one yesterday.
7:30 a.m. — After stretching and showering, I park myself on the couch for breakfast and make a plan for the day. I made a friend a cake for NYE, and I'd like to get the pan back, as well as have a few moments of outdoor chat time. I also have a bag of clothes I purchased with a Christmas gift card that needs to be returned. Google indicates that one store is still open for returns.
11 a.m. — Google lied. Booooo.
11:30 a.m. — I pick up the pan and chitter chat with my friend until it's too cold to stand outside any longer. I drive partway home, then decide that I need more time alone and pull over into a parking lot. I read a book on my phone for half an hour until the chill permeates the car.
12 p.m. — G. texts me on my way home to pick up water flavour drops if I'm near a store. I pull off to Food Basics and buy six packets in various flavours. I also see that canned tuna is on sale and pick up four of those for Future Me. $36.23
12:30 p.m. — Once home, I'm too hungry to cook my usual mess of vegetables and instead have raw carrots and a can of tuna (not mixed together, I swear), along with toast. Yes, my eating habits are boring AF, but recovery is a journey, and I'm doing my best.
3 p.m. — Ah yes, the post-long-run ravenous hunger is here. I dice and cook another pear in the same manner as yesterday and add a bowl of muesli.
4 p.m. — G. and I layer up in warm clothes, pack the dog up in the car, and meet friends for a nice walk and talk (an activity I've come to call, if only in my own mind, a Sorkin). It's lovely, and we make rough plans to meet again around the same time next week.
5:30 p.m. — Once home, I tackle meal prep. Tomorrow my winter classes start at the university, and I'm hoping to streamline things for myself as much as possible. I make a vat of vegetable soup for lunches and two kilos of salsa chicken for G., along with rice for both of us. For tonight's dinner, I have veggie stir-fry with rice and two sunny-side-up eggs. We watch the most recent episode of The Stand (good!) and the movie Shirley in which Elisabeth Moss tortures grad students (also good!). G. gives me a foot rub because he's the best.
10 p.m. — I wearily wash my face and slap on hyaluronic acid and heavy night cream before toddling off to bed. Ottawa winters, my friends.
Daily Total: $36.23

Day Five

5 a.m. — Rise and shine, all. The dog does not want to go outside and drags his feet. I cannot blame him. It's chilly out there. I bundle up for my run with a buff, which can be worn like a scarf, hood, snood, or face mask — it's one of the best investments I've made for my running habit.
7:30 a.m. — I'm done 12.5 kms, and I stretch, shower, and dress for the day in leggings and a sweater. I'm leaning hard into the hygge principle, clothes-wise. I make a fresh batch of muesli for the week, which I ought to have done last night but eh. I toast rolled oats, rolled barley, and wheat bran in the oven for 20 minutes while I'm dressing and putting on makeup, then stir in bran cereal, coconut, raisins, and sunflower seeds. I also throw in a third of a bag of Kashi GOLEAN Crunch cereal (I love those clusters). Once it's ready, I eat it along with the standard cottage cheese and blueberries.
8 a.m. — I take half an hour before work to skim the readings for this week's classes. My course load this semester is heavy, but I think I'm up for the challenge.
10:30 a.m. — Today has been go, go, go. I take 10 minutes in between students to make a cup of tea and throw in a load of laundry. A colleague emails asking if we can meet tomorrow during the lunch break, and I have to squash a twinge of guilt before responding in the negative. As an EA, I'm not paid for my lunch break, and the union rules state that I need to take it or I'm owed that time back. Ultimately, we find a time to meet during instructional time.
11 a.m. — I'm beyond ready for my break when it comes around. I take the dog out for a quick pee, then heat up soup from yesterday. It's only gotten better overnight and is spicy and amazing. I (of course) have it with toast and proceed to ignore everything and everyone for the next 45 minutes. It's emotionally draining to be on camera with students, and I like to completely disconnect on my breaks. At noon, I log back online.
1:30 p.m. — Hmm. That soup, while delicious, was evidently not enough food. I grab a can of tuna to munch on in between students.
2 p.m. — On my break, I take a look at the syllabi for my classes, and — sigh — shell out for two textbooks. Luckily, both have ebook options, but still, they're pricey. I take a walk afterward and listen to a podcast to soothe the soul (JK it's about murder). Once home, I scarf down a couple of rice cakes before logging back online. $128.65
3:30 p.m. — After work, I nip downtown to get bloodwork done. One of my chronic illnesses has been kicking in as of late, so I've been getting my levels monitored every two weeks. I'm hoping for a better result this time. After the lab, I pop into a grocery store to pick up frozen mixed vegetables, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, oat milk, and tinned tomatoes. So many of my standby recipes start with a tin of tomatoes: curries, soups, stews, shakshuka. They're also great for adding to scrambled eggs in the morning for a quick hit of flavour, colour, and nutrients. $36.50
5 p.m. — I make a slapdash dinner of white beans, mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions all sautéed together with broth, red wine vinegar, and nutritional yeast. I toss it on top of bagged salad and call it good. I then sit in front of the computer again for a lecture.
9:30 p.m. — Ugh. The professor is giving off seriously unpleasant vibes. He proudly states that no one gets higher than a 75% in his class, which is not the flex he thinks it is. Oh well, it's only for 12 weeks. I can do anything for 12 weeks, I tell myself. My eyes are closing by themselves by the end of the lecture, so I wash my face, apply night cream, and go to bed.
Daily Total: $165.15

Day Six

5 a.m. — It's a blissfully mild day today, around -3°C, and I'm ever so thankful. I do 12.5 kms, and my legs feel like lead by the end, although my watch tells me my average pace was good (for me).
7:30 a.m. — Once showered and dressed, I online shop for school supplies while eating the usual breakfast. Since my course load is heavy this semester, I need to change my organizational strategies. I go to the Staples website and order binders, highlighters, and printer ink. $64.90
11 a.m. — Busy, busy morning. I heat up my soup and have it with a can of tuna and toast. About 20 minutes after I finish eating, I'm still hungry. Mindful of the work I'm doing with my dietitian, I have another piece of toast. Having more toast might seem like a small thing, but for me it's huge. Good job, self. I use the remainder of my break to watch a pre-recorded lecture from one of my classes.
1:30 p.m. — Well, this is a bummer, if expected: The province has announced a stay-at-home order. But for some reason, there aren't any limitations on big box stores, like other provinces have. Thanks, Ford. Way to show your priorities. I take a few minutes in between students to make bread. It's fairly easy to do while working. Ten minutes to throw all the ingredients into the stand mixer and let it whip the dough into shape, and then it's just a matter of scraping it into various vessels and letting it do its thing. I make a 12-grain loaf and an English muffin-ish loaf. They're both amazing.
3:30 p.m. — After work, I nip out to Staples to pick up my order. I also go to the post office at Shoppers to mail out a stack of clothes that didn't fit, and while I'm there, I grab cooking spray, hot sauce, and eggs. $24.89
5 p.m. — I spend an hour printing off the PowerPoint presentations for my first few weeks of classes and organizing all the notes in my new giant binder. I feel better about my chances once it's all in front of me. Honestly, I'm a little terrified of going back to school full-time, but I know it'll be worth it in the end. While I'm printing and hole punching, I also make a giant pot of vegetarian lasagna soup (basically a tomato soup with TVP, extra veggies, Italian seasonings, and a few broken noodles).
6 p.m. — I sit on the couch with my soup and watch a video for one of my classes. G. watches with me because the topic is actually quite interesting: a look at a few high-profile psychology experiments from the seventies.
7 p.m. — I make myself steamed oat milk with hazelnut syrup and cinnamon in my Nespresso Aeroccino milk frother. I rarely buy things for myself that are so luxurious, but I absolutely adore it. I sip while finishing What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Let me say this: big fan! I love her ability to hook the reader with a concept right from the first page, then slowly pull back to show how the story is grounded in real emotion.
9:45 p.m. — Soooooo tired. I smooch G. good night, throw on hyaluronic acid and night cream, and I'm off to dreamland.
Daily Total: $89.79

Day Seven

4:51 a.m. — Ugh. My hip hurts so much that I have a dream in which a doctor tells me I have hip death (a recurring fear because I've spent years on corticosteroids for autoimmune issues). I take daily calcium and vitamin D supplements to offset the depletion caused by prednisone, but there's only so much I can control. I carefully warm up and hope for the best. At least it's a balmy -2°C this morning.
7:30 a.m. — After 12.25 kms, my hip is making its anger known. I foam roll for a few minutes. Maybe it's time to see the physiotherapist again. Today is my hair-washing day, and I have to say I'm in love with this cleansing conditioner. My hair feels silky and incredible. I spritz on curl gel, wrap my hair in a T-shirt, and get dressed. I wear jeans today. I'm not feeling body confident, but I keep telling myself the only way out of body dysmorphia land is through, so jeans it is. I balance it out with a loose-fitting black button-down shirt, which helps. My hair routine takes a long time, so by breakfast, my hunger has reached threat level midnight. Muesli, muesli, where have you been all my life?
11 a.m. — Another super-busy morning. A lot of my students are struggling with their behaviours right now, which is completely understandable, but some of their teachers are stressing over it. Honestly, I'm of the attitude that it's all about choosing your battles. In the middle of an unprecedented global crisis, I'm not willing to choose the "wear real clothes to virtual class" battle. PJs are A-OK in this circumstance. During my lunch break, I watch a lecture on 2x speed to maximize my time. It's a course I was worried about, but so far it's both interesting and more in my wheelhouse than I'd expected. G. takes the dog out for his walk and meets a friend for a socially distant visit. I'd love to join but, honestly, the mood at home is a little tense. This has been an extremely difficult year, and some days it feels like the hits just keep coming. At noon, I log back online to meet with students.
2 p.m. — On break, I finish the lecture from this morning. Of course, I make several cups of tea whilst on break.
4 p.m. — After work, I go back to watching lectures until I'm all caught up for the week. I'm sure it'll balance out when I'm in the swing of things, but this first week feels brutal! A friend comes by with her dog, and we go for a socially distanced walk. We haven't set eyes on each other since before Christmas, so this is a blessing. The stay-at-home order officially begins tomorrow, and I'm praying it's effective and doesn't last too long. Last March was cold, dark, and lonely, and I hope that this winter isn't a rerun of that experience.
5 p.m. — Once home, to the surprise of no one, my stomach is growling. I heat up lasagna soup, while G. makes himself chicken, and we watch the season premiere of American Gods. It's not great, but what else are we going to do? It's a good time to be mediocre television, with such a captive audience.
6:30 p.m. — After about 10 minutes of feverish scrolling through food pictures on Instagram, I remind myself that this is a sign of hunger and that I should eat something else. It's hard to get past the shame of wanting to eat more after dinner, but I get myself a snack of carrot sticks and mini rice cakes. Every time I do something like this, it's an active choice between recovery and relapse, and I'll take my tiny wins whenever I can.
7 p.m. — G. and I watch four episodes of Ted Lasso. It's such a heartwarming show. By 9:30 p.m., I realize I've been asleep for the past 10 minutes, and I head off to apply night cream. Night, all.
Daily Total: $0
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