A Week In Ottawa, ON, On An $80,000 Salary

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Today: a lawyer working in litigation who makes $80,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on ice cream.
Editor's note: This diary was submitted before Ontario's public health restrictions were tightened in response to increased COVID-19 cases.

Occupation: Lawyer
Industry: Litigation
Age: 27
Location: Ottawa, ON
Salary: $80,000
Net Worth: -$36,500 (TFSA = $32,000; RRSP = $500)
Debt: $69,000 (This is in a student line of credit with an interest rate of 2.45%. I had $90,000 in debt at the end of law school.)
Paycheque Amount (2x/month): $2,151
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,210 (including utilities)
Student Line of Credit: $1,000–$2,000 (I try to pay as close to $2,000 as I can each month.)
Health & Dental Benefits Premium: $18.68 ($9.34 is deducted from each paycheque.)
Spotify: $10
Internet: $57
Phone: $54
TFSA: $100

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 absolutely expected me to go to university, because I was very academically inclined. They saved approximately $8,000 for me in an RESP. They would've liked to have helped more but were unable to due to an unforeseen and permanent disability preventing one of my parents from working.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
For as long as I can remember, my parents were very stressed about finances. As a result, I was conscious of needing to work and save from an early age. I studied tax law in school, and I've learned investment strategies from financial subreddits and YouTube videos. My parents never had the type of financial understanding I now have, which is too bad, because I think they could've saved more for retirement if I had intervened a decade ago.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
When I was eight, I delivered newspapers to 30 houses twice a week. When I was 15, I got a job at Harvey's.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Very much so. I remember hiding pizza day order slips, so my mom wouldn't feel bad that she couldn't afford to buy me pizza, and cancelling on a birthday party or two when I knew my parents couldn't afford to buy my friends presents.

Do you worry about money now?
I'm very conscious of money, but I don't worry. I live within my means and could sell my investments if I were ever in real trouble.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I was responsible for buying all my own clothing with my newspaper route money at 14, my own phone at 15, my own car insurance and gas at 16, my own birth control at 17, and my own rent, bills, and groceries at 18.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I received $20,000 from an aunt who passed away when I was 25. That money went directly into my TFSA and has been growing since then.

Day One

8 a.m.  — I turn off my 7:20 a.m. alarm (my Responsible Person alarm) and let myself sleep in until 8 a.m. (my Last Chance To Not Be Late alarm) because I'm thoroughly exhausted. It's Tuesday, and while everyone else enjoyed the long weekend, I worked Sunday and Monday, because I have big deadlines this week and the court waits for no one. Being a junior lawyer means putting in long hours and slogging through tedious assignments. Legally Blonde made it seem like so much more fun than this!
10 a.m.  — Most of my firm works from home, but I go into the office, and we have a full-time assistant who is also there. We're very friendly, and I hear her walking down the hall toward the kitchen, so I decide I need some socially distanced chitchat. I was working from home in my one-bedroom apartment for four months, and I was truly circling the drain. I felt disconnected from everyone and everything, couldn't keep up with deadlines, and generally felt like I was drowning. I requested to return to the office just so I could be out of my apartment, and it has really helped my overall mood and productivity.

12:30 p.m. — My stomach is rumbling, and my hands are twitchy from all the caffeine I've had. I have an important brief due on Friday, and my brain is swimming with things to double check, documents to cross reference, and formatting to do before I send it off to a partner for final approval. I mask up and head out for a salad at a nearby lunch counter. I opt for chopped romaine with chickpeas, bacon bits, broccoli, corn, onion, red pepper, and sunflower seeds. $8.98

6 p.m. — I'm almost finished with my first draft of this brief, but I'll need fresh eyes to give it another review tomorrow before sending it off to the partner in charge of the file. It'll be cutting it close to have him review it tomorrow, send back revisions the following day, and finalize it for Friday. I look at the list of other files I need to get through this week, and my stomach knots up. I go out into the drizzling rain. I was hoping to go out for a run to clear my head, but mother nature has a different idea. Tonight will be a Netflix and leftover stir-fry kind of night. 

Daily Total: $8.98

Day Two

8 a.m. — I didn't fall asleep until 1:30 a.m., so I'm sleeping in. I struggle with more feelings of anxiousness than I ever have before, and I blame it on being more sedentary than I've ever been in my life. I used to love going to the gym in the evenings. That's where I could unwind and think through my work and life. I've been intermittently running, but I can't seem to stick with it long enough to enjoy it. I think about going to a spinning studio nearby this week. I have a pack of classes I bought in December but haven't been able to use since COVID appeared. My mom has been fighting cancer, though, and I've been visiting her every couple weeks for moral support, so I'm very conscientious about exposing her to any kind of illness.

12:45 p.m. — I pick up a Cobb salad from the grocery store nearby and use the low-cal ranch dressing in the office fridge. I don't understand why the dressings that come with pre-made salads are always SO calorific — the salad makers don't seem to understand their audience at all! $9.03

1 p.m.  — I call my mom. She's delighted to have a surprise call and tells me that she's trying to walk more to increase her stamina. Having to go through a first incidence of cancer, surgery, and radiation during the pandemic has been extremely tough on my mom. She often calls me for pump-up talks before a new week of treatment or to vent (and sometimes cry). I love her so much. 

5:10 p.m.  — I send my brief to the partner. I feel bad because I know I'm sending it late in the day, and he likely won't look at it until tomorrow. I'm painting myself into a corner with a very small window for editing and finalizing this document. I'm frustrated at myself and take a walk to calm down. I got cheated out of a holiday on Monday, so I rationalize that it's fine to take extra time for myself now. I can stay late other days this week and maybe I'll work on the weekend to catch up. 

8:10 p.m. — Internal dialogue: "OooOooohh I'm feeling snacky! How bad would it be if I grabbed an ice cream from the corner store? I had salad for lunch. It wouldn't be that bad right?!" My desire for ice cream outweighs my desire to eat sensibly tonight. When I arrive at the freezer in the corner store, I note that there are no dairy-free options. I'm lactose intolerant, but I persist in the quest for creamy goodness. I'm going to hate myself in a couple hours, but the chocolate peanut butter Häagen-Dazs is calling my name. $7.95

Daily Total: $16.98

Day Three

7:20 a.m.  — Success! I hop out of bed at the first alarm and jump in the shower. I have a client meeting today, so I need to look presentable. I blast "Boss B*tch" by Doja Cat and dance around my bathroom while I put on mascara. I'm a big, big fan of morning dance parties. I used to have a dance party by myself pretty much every day during university. I walk to work, which saves money on transit and means I don't have to pay for a car.

10 a.m. — I received my paycheque today! I've been trying to live off of one cheque each month and put the other towards debt. I don't always succeed, but I try my best. I always pay off the balance on my credit card and put the rest toward my line of credit or purchase stocks in my TFSA. Today, I put $300 toward my credit card and $1,851 toward my debt. Stocks are at an all-time high, and I don't feel that this is sustainable. I foresee a minor correction coming, so I will wait on stock purchases until there's a sufficient drop.  

1 p.m. — I work through lunch on the other files I have glaring at me, then get a call from my assistant that the new client is here. I put on my mask, grab my laptop, and go to the conference room. The client is not great at keeping a mask over their mouth and nose, and I make a small joke about adjusting to speaking with fabric over my face. They don't get the hint. We're six feet apart, so I let it go. 

2 p.m. — I have a call with the partner to review the brief I submitted. He has a lot of ideas about what should be included and excluded. He wants something different now than he did last week, so this will take a while. I book another meeting for tomorrow to go over my second draft. 

7 p.m. — My eyes are glazing over, and I have a headache from skipping breakfast and lunch, so I wrap work for tonight. I go home and make a very lazy dinner of pan-fried potatoes with ketchup, then go back to the fridge for grapes an hour later. 

Daily Total: $0

Day Four

7:30 a.m.  — I skip breakfast and pack myself a bunch of baby carrots for "lunch." I have things to do and places to be today. I'm at the office by 7:30 a.m. to get this brief DONE.

3:40 p.m. — After a flurry of activity and calls, the brief is submitted to the court and through to the other side. Praise Jesus!

3:50 p.m. — I look at the stock market and see that things have tanked several percentage points since yesterday. I have a couple thousand in cash sitting in my TFSA, and I consider buying more shares of an ETF (exchange-traded fund) that's my go-to because my bank doesn't charge commission fees for purchasing it, and it has an extremely low MER (management expense ratio) of 0.1%. I almost pulled my hair out earlier this year when my mom told me her retirement investments are all in mutual funds with management fees of nearly 2%. I subscribe to the Warren Buffett method: I buy with the aim to hold long-term. About 60% of my investments are in S&P 500 Index funds, and 40% in individual companies. My stock portfolio has consistently beat the interest rate of my line of credit, which is at prime. But despite that, I've still been hammering away at my debt more than adding to my investments. I hold off on purchasing more shares because I'm wary about the volatility in the market.

7 p.m. — I run home and change into leggings and an oversized sweater. My friend is an amazing cook, and she has offered to make me a lamb dinner (drool face). Most of my friends live within a 10-minute walk of my place. It's pretty sweet, I must say. I stroll on over to her place and stop at the LCBO along the way to pick up a nice wine. I splurge a little because I know this dinner is going to be better than anything I've had in weeks. We have a wonderful evening talking shit about work and catching up on the latest celebrity gossip. $22.88

Daily Total: $22.88

Day Five

9:30 a.m. — I grab myself a coffee and a chocolate chip cookie from a local café, then walk to the Rideau Canal. I luxuriate in the sunshine as I bop along to "Girls in the Hood" by Megan Thee Stallion. It makes me feel like I'm a 19-year-old wild child dancing at the bar again. I daydream about taking one of those classes where they teach you to dance in high heels. $7.92
11 a.m. — As I'm walking back to my apartment, I pass the cheap nail salon I've been going to on occasion for the last five years. Somewhere in the back of my head, I still have Megan Thee Stallion playing and make the impulsive decision to be a *hot girl* and do *hot shit* and get my nails done. The nail salon has a solid one and half stars on Yelp, but the prices can't be beat! I'm the only client in the place, and the staff is thrilled to have a walk in. I feel bad that small businesses are being hit so hard by the current situation. My nail lady is gloved, masked, and has a plexiglass wall between us. My nails look great, and my self esteem is at an all-time high, so I leave a generous tip. $42.55
2 p.m. — My friend calls to see if I want to walk to a patio for drinks and dinner. Heck. Yes. We go for an hour-long walk down a path beside the river and round up two more friends. We plunk ourselves down at a picnic table on a patio far from any other customers. Over the next three hours, we split two bottles of wine between us ($40 per bottle), and I order a chicken burger ($22). Our server is a 12/10. I want to be her friend. It may be the wine, but I don't think so. I give her a $15 tip. P.S. The patio was 60% empty, so we weren't just hogging a table, promise! P.P.S. This day is not representative of a normal Saturday; it just happened to be particularly expensive due to impulsive decisions. $63.23
Daily Total: $113.70

Day Six

8 a.m.  — Hangovers are no fun. I lazily pull myself out of bed, plop myself down on the couch, and watch Netflix. My little brother has kindly allowed me to mooch access to his account for the last couple of years. I'm re-watching You. It's sooo much creepier when you know what is going to happen!

2 p.m. — After my lazy morning on the couch, I go out for stroll and consider stopping by the mall to pick up new long-sleeve shirts, but since the COVID shutdowns began, my interest in shopping, fashion, makeup, and general consumerism has plummeted. What's the point of buying a new sweater when nobody will see me in it? My group of best friends/my bubble doesn't care what I look like, as long as I don't smell. I pop into Shoppers Drug Mart for face wash and hand soap, then go home to do laundry in preparation for the work week. $15.95
Daily Total: $15.95

Day Seven

7:20 a.m.  — I didn't fall asleep until 2 a.m., but I'm up early anyways. I may as well go into work and get the ball rolling.

9 a.m.  — The ball is certainly not rolling. I've been reading the news for an hour. Yikes. Okay, now I REALLY need to get moving.

9:50 a.m.  — I'm just hitting my stride on a new assignment when I get a reminder that we have a Zoom call. Ugh, why 10 a.m.?! What an awkward time. I find it so difficult to get back into the flow of things after these meetings. I almost always end up with a wasted morning.

12:30 p.m.  — I call my mom. She had a followup appointment with her oncologist today. Her treatments wrapped up a month ago, so this meeting was to review her recent imaging results. She's happy to report that the images show nothing of concern! I do a happy dance in my office while I munch baby carrots and crackers. I hope we can put this chapter behind us forever.

5:50 p.m. — As the day inches closer to dinnertime, my stomach is rumbling and my focus is fading. I feel annoyed that I didn't get everything on my list finished. I'm probably hangry. I grab a slew of fresh produce, eggs, a baguette, green olives, and a bag of frozen pierogies. I have a stock pile of frozen meat and vegetables from a Costco trip two weeks ago, so all I really need are the fresh items. I also pick up spring mix so that I don't wind up buying salads for lunch again this week. $46.32

Daily Total: $46.32

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