Money Diaries logo

A Week In New York, NY, On A $46,140 Salary

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.
Has someone you dated ever been less-than-honest about their finances? Was it a deal breaker? Tell us your experience here to be featured in an upcoming Refinery29 story.

Today: a Ph.D. student who makes $46,140 per year and spends some of their money this week on Nespresso pods.
Currency in USD.
Occupation: Ph.D. Student
Industry: Higher Education
Age: 24
Location: New York, NY
Salary: $46,140
Net Worth: $128,996 ($44,720 in savings, $482 in checking, $43,646 in a Roth IRA, $35,104 in a brokerage account, $3,856 in my Robinhood account, and $1,187 in Worthy Bonds)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (2x month): $1,750
Pronouns: they/them

Monthly Expenses
Rent: ~ $1,200 (the rough price for a studio, depending if my partner is living with me)
Utilities: $0, included in rent
Internet: $0, included in rent
Apple Storage: $0.99
Phone: $0, still on family plan
Health Insurance: $0, paid for by school
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?
Yes, always. My parents both have master's degrees and there was always the expectation that I would get one as well. I attended undergrad for three years and went directly into a fully funded Ph.D. program. My parents sat me down and told me that they had saved enough in a 529 for me to have $15,000 a year for four years. I had to choose whether to go to a more expensive school and go into debt, go to a state school, or try to get merit scholarships. I ended up choosing a lower-status school than I was aiming for, but got $30,000 in merit scholarships per year and graduated debt-free. In addition, I still had $15,000 leftover in my 529 since I graduated early, so I used that for housing my first year of grad school.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My dad was a financial advisor so there was a lot of education very young. I worked around the house for money when I was little and was taught how to save and invest.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
Ever since I was about 12 or so, if I asked my dad for money for a field trip or whatever he would tell me, “When are you going to get a job and get your own money?” (My answer was “I'm 12.”) I did end up getting an umpire job when I was 12 and got my first official job working in the kitchen of a hospital when I was 14. There was always massive pressure to work in my house from a very young age.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Not particularly. My parents were always fastidious with financial planning. I was always told we couldn't do some activities because it was too expensive (going to camp, etc.). We lived a pretty minimalistic life, but my parents never struggled to put food on the table.
Do you worry about money now?
Sometimes. I sometimes feel resentful that I'm getting paid so little for five to six years at this point of my life, especially because my earning potential would be $80,000+ if I went private. I worry about getting a professor job that pays enough if I do decide to go into academia. Overall, I live a very simple life, don't really buy a lot, and feel like I'm in a decent financial position.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I have paid for my own expenses except for the 529 money and my phone since I moved out at 18. My parents would probably help me out if I was ever in a dire position, but I don't think I could ever bring myself to ask that of them.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I receive $1,000 every year from my father to put into my Roth IRA.

Day One

6:30 a.m. — Wake up early due to my cat screaming in my face.
7:30 a.m. — Wake up for real. I couldn't fall asleep last night, but I've been meaning to start getting up earlier, so… here goes nothing. I start putting on clothes for today. I go to the bathroom, take my meds, put in my contacts, and slap on some face sunscreen. I don't wear makeup most days and my head is shaved, so this is the extent of my morning routine. It's a pretty nice life. I head to the kitchen and make my usual breakfast: a shot of espresso over ice, and oatmeal with banana and peanut butter.
8:40 a.m. — Morning walk time. I started doing this during the lockdown and it's been a part of my routine ever since. I usually walk a one-mile loop three times per day. Three to five times a week, I substitute one of the walks for a gym session instead, but the gym is closed this week so it will just be walking for me this week.
9 a.m. — Time to start work. My students for the summer course I've been teaching turned in their final assignments last night, so I'm going to be spending my day grading those papers.
10 a.m. — My friend has a presentation for an academic workshop today, so I jump on Zoom to support him.
12 p.m. — More iced espresso, then I walk to my department to do some more work. I bring my lunch to eat there — a salad that I meal-prepped last night that includes greens, snap peas, tomatoes, peaches, goat cheese, chicken thighs, and balsamic dressing. My partner, F., recently left town to start a new Ph.D. program, and I've been trying to keep myself out of the house so I'm not alone all day. No one else is in the department, so I settle in to eat lunch and do work on my own.
3 p.m. — I start heading home to meet my boyfriend who's coming over. I've been polyamorous since I was 18 and currently have two serious partners: F. (who I live with) and K. (who I've been dating for two and a half years), and one casual partner (Q.). K. and I spend the afternoon planning an upcoming camping trip and going on a walk. I also snack on an old piece of brioche smeared with peanut butter and jelly. I'm on a mission to prevent food waste, so most of the time I will just eat odds and ends from around the house.
6 p.m. — Dinner is stuffed peppers (green peppers, ground chicken, onion, black beans, corn), enough for tonight and for two future meals. We watch a documentary on HBO about the Diamond Princess cruise ship and it is actually really good! It's weird that movies about COVID-19 are starting to happen now. We hang around for the rest of the night since K. has some work to do. We end up splitting a green apple drizzled with dark chocolate.
9 p.m. — We start getting ready for bed because K. has to wake up early tomorrow. Asleep by 10.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

7 a.m. — Same morning routine. It's supposed to be hot out today, so I just throw on some jean shorts and a black T-shirt. Meds, eat (oatmeal with a peach this morning), and walk.
9 a.m. — Start gearing up to work. I've been in a frustrating holding pattern waiting for some research applications to go through. While I'm waiting, I've just been filling my time with grading and reading for my dissertation.
12 p.m. — I take another shot of iced espresso and make lunch consisting of a quesadilla (whole wheat tortilla, shredded cheese, leftover chicken thigh) and a handful of snap peas. I take my afternoon walk, but it feels like a hundred degrees out. I'm so ready for fall.
1 p.m. — I head to the library to get some more work done. I run into a couple of friends and we hang out for a few minutes. Small social interactions like this are what sustain me while I'm living alone.
3 p.m. — I'm done with work for the day because I'm not being very productive. I walk home and take a shower. I eat a banana and spend some time on Pinterest. I usually spend more time working during the week, usually 40+ hours, but this is just a particularly unproductive week in between classes and during summer.
5 p.m. — Dinner is a leftover stuffed pepper. I watch Buzzfeed Unsolved as I eat.
6 p.m. — I head over to my other partner, Q.'s, apartment. I swipe into the subway for about a 15-minute train ride ($2.75). I'm extremely blessed that Q. lives so close — I didn't realize how true it was that inter-borough relationships are “long distance” until a few years ago. Now I'm spoiled by having someone who lives in Manhattan with me because not many people our age do. $2.75
6:30 p.m. — When I get to Q.'s, we watch a couple of episodes of Dr. Death. I haven't seen Q. in a while because preparing for F.'s move was hectic last week, so we spend time catching up. I have a sudden craving for those really crappy chocolate hazelnut wafer things, so he runs out to get some for me.
11 p.m. — I head to bed while Q. stays up for a bit longer.
Daily Total: $2.75

Day Three

7 a.m. — I get up and start packing to go back home. I never eat at Q.'s house in the morning because he never has breakfast food. My other partners find the fact that he doesn't feed me in the morning to be an outrage, but honestly, I'm fine just doing my morning routine at home. I do half of my morning routine while I'm there (meds, brush my teeth, sunscreen), which takes all of five minutes. I spend the rest of my time cuddling Q., who is trying his best to sleep.
7:30 a.m. — Time to take the train back to my apartment ($2.75). I try to stop at the farmer's market once I get off the subway but the stands are still setting up. I decide I'll swing by later instead. $2.75
8 a.m. — I make a breakfast of iced espresso and oatmeal with peanut butter and peaches. I try to balance scrolling through Twitter and Instagram, eating my breakfast, and dealing with my cat trying to sit on me since she hasn't seen me since last night.
9 a.m. — Work today is not very interesting. More grading and reading while I continue to wait for my application approval to go through.
12 p.m. — I heat up the last stuffed pepper and scarf it down for lunch while on Twitter.
12:30 p.m. — The farmer's market is up and going by now, so I walk over and pick up five apples ($3.90). They're the same price as at the grocery store, so I usually buy local when I have cash. It's still wicked hot out, so I cut my walk short and go directly to the department. I see some friends again and talk to them before settling down to do my own work. $3.90
3 p.m. — I head back to my apartment. I want some downtime because I have to attend some academic things tonight and I don't want to be exhausted. I'm also starving, so I eat a banana sliced into some yogurt. I also make myself a cup of black tea because I desperately need an energy boost.
3:45 p.m. — I go through my fridge and realize all of my produce is going bad too quickly. I make the snap decision that I'll meal prep all of my food tonight, so none of the food goes to waste. I'll be making two sets of meals tonight: a Mexican bowl and sausage and veggies. There are only a few minutes before my next event, but I quickly chop up some (very sad looking) broccoli, kielbasa, and zucchini and throw it into the oven. I also dump two cups of brown rice into my Instant Pot, which should be enough for four meals.
4 p.m. — The university holds an update on COVID-19 every month and I usually attend these sessions. They've already declared that vaccines will be mandatory for everyone in the fall semester, but now there is controversy over whether masks will be mandatory, too.
4:45 p.m. — HOLY CRAP MY RESEARCH APPLICATION GOT APPROVED!!!! I do a quick bit of work related to the application, but I'll do the rest tomorrow when I'm not so tired.
5:15 p.m. — Dinner is hastily thrown-together ground chicken from earlier this week, a leftover tomato, an avocado, black beans, corn, and some of the brown rice for a Mexican bowl. While I eat, my friend/colleague and I jump on a Zoom meeting. We're trying to launch this other project soon and I'm teaching him the process. After we finish, I go on my evening walk.
7:30 p.m. — Next up is a Zoom talk that I'm attending by one of my favorite academics.
8:30 p.m. — F. calls, so I spend some time hearing about their first few days on their new campus. It's so weird not to have them here and I miss them lots.
9:30 p.m. — I hop in the shower and start getting ready for bed. I'm asleep by 10.
Daily Total: $6.65

Day Four

7:30 a.m. — Start my morning routine the same as always, but instead of doing my walk this morning, I go to drop off my compost instead. There's a compost drop-off at a community garden about three-quarters of a mile from us, so I walk there and back. We started composting a few months ago and I'm in love with it. I've turned into a serious zero-waste nut.
8:45 a.m. — It's project-launching time! This survey will cost around $700, but it's coming out of money that I won for a grant and is considered “reimbursable." I quickly remember how anticlimactic this always is. The project launches and I sit around waiting for feedback ($700 expensed).
11:15 a.m. — Therapy time. I've been doing therapy since I was 15 or so and it's been really helpful for dealing with stressful situations across my life. I Venmo my therapist her co-pay after our session. $20
12 p.m. — Lunch is half a quesadilla stuffed with the Mexican bowl mix (corn, beans, green peppers, ground chicken) and half an avocado. Instead of my usual after-lunch walk, I walk over to my colleague's apartment to pick up his keys. I'll be cat-sitting for him next week. I also pick up a book I have reserved from the library on the way back.
1 p.m. — I quickly shower off, then change into different clothes for my date tonight with a new-ish person, C. After I get ready, I go back to work for a few hours. I didn't get that much done today, but I'll be working over the weekend to make up for it. I eat yogurt with half a banana as a snack.
3:15 p.m. — Head to the bus for my date with C. $2.75
4 p.m. — C. meets me at the bus stop and we walk over to a bowling place. We play two rounds and I win one, lose one. C. pays.
5:30 p.m. — We walk to get food at a bar that C.'s friend owns. We both get a burger and fries. I told myself I wasn't going to eat red meat anymore, but one burger a month isn't too bad… right? C. pays. I should note that C. is insisting on paying for everything because he recently wronged me by showing up late for something important. Normally I prefer to split my dates 50/50.
6:30 p.m. — We head to C.'s apartment. It's my first time coming over to his place. We walk in the door and it is… messy. Like, the kind of mess that a man in his 30s with a stable professional career should not have. I don't like this. At all. He was kind of making up for the incident, but this is just another red flag. I hang out for an hour-and-a-half, then C. calls me a car back to my apartment.
8:40 p.m. — I get home and check-in immediately on my two babies, a.k.a. my cat and my research. Both are doing well. I hang out on Twitter and Instagram and eat half an apple.
9:45 p.m. — Quick shower, nighttime meds, brush teeth, bed.
Daily Total: $22.75

Day Five

6:45 a.m. — Happy weekend! I wake up to the feeling of my cat standing on my chest. I complete my morning routine of meds, sunscreen, and contacts. I have an apple, oatmeal, and espresso as always. My morning walk is rainy.
8:30 a.m. — Back to work. The good thing about Ph.D. programs is that because you get to choose your own schedule, there's freedom to work anytime you'd like. I often put in some hours on the weekend if I don't get much done during the week. The downside is that it's taken me a long time to put boundaries in place.
12 p.m. — I heat up some veggies, kielbasa, and brown rice then I go on my after-lunch walk.
1 p.m. — Head back to work. I FINALLY finish grading essays. Thank god. Now I'm officially off from teaching responsibilities for about three weeks. I take another shot of iced espresso since I'm hanging out with a friend tonight and need the energy.
3:15 p.m. — I FaceTime F. while getting ready to go out. It seems like things are getting a little better for them in their new city. I also eat yogurt with an apple to hold me over until dinner.
4 p.m. — I leave to meet up with my friend to go thrift shopping downtown. We take the train down ($2.75) and head to Buffalo Exchange. I find two sweater-blazer-type things for fall ($41). I recently lost some weight and none of my clothes fit me anymore, so I have to buy some things that I can teach in for the fall. On the train back, the A/C is broken and the entire train car looks ready to pass out ($2.75). $46.50
7 p.m. — Dinner is half a quesadilla with the leftover Mexican bowl mix (black beans, corn, ground chicken, green pepper) and a mix of carrots and snap peas.
8 p.m. — I spend the rest of the night hanging out, reading, and FaceTiming F. I've been an anxious mess today so I do my best to wind down. I'm asleep by 10.
Daily Total: $46.50

Day Six

7:15 a.m. — I wake up and finish my morning routine quickly. The oatmeal fruit of the day is half of a green apple. I walk through the farmer's market on my morning walk and everything looks so good.
8:45 a.m. — I spend most of the morning checking my project occasionally and browsing through Pinterest. Sundays are usually a very chill day for me and I do my best to try to take one full day off per week (I guess checking my project technically doesn't count as "not working" but I'm doing my best).
12 p.m. — My parents are staying in New York overnight, so I walk to meet them for lunch at a restaurant a couple of blocks away from me. I get brioche French toast and it's fantastic. My dad pays. After lunch, my parents come back to my apartment for a little bit to hang out.
2:45 p.m. — After my parents are gone, I go back to monitoring my survey and hanging out on Pinterest. I make the bold decision to try to make peanut butter since I'm out and don't want to have to go to the store before breakfast tomorrow. I've tried before and it didn't go so well. This time, I add about three-quarters of a cup of salted peanuts and a dash of canola oil and…VICTORY!! I'm actually proud of myself! It only makes about a quarter cup of peanut butter, but it will keep me held over until I go grocery shopping tomorrow.
6 p.m. — I head over to my colleague's house to feed his cat. The cat is extremely happy to see me.
6:45 p.m. — I'm not hungry yet, so I go to the grocery store instead of putting it off until tomorrow. I get shredded Mexican cheese, shredded mozzarella, dark chocolate, tilapia, four yogurts, sour cream, peanut butter (so much for making more), carrots, salad greens, baking soda, bananas, a green pepper, a zucchini, a potato, broccoli, and cinnamon. My club card is great and knocks a quarter off the price. The cashier is rushing me so quickly that I forget to show my student ID to get another 10% off. Dammit!!! I have chicken legs in the freezer and staples like brown rice and tortillas, so all of this together should last me until next Sunday. $37.02
7:30 p.m. — I'm finally hungry, so I heat up the rest of the veggies and kielbasa. I throw a hunk of goat cheese on top, because why not. I end up still being hungry after dinner, so I eat half an apple with some dark chocolate melted on top. I watch random videos from Vox on YouTube while I eat.
9 p.m. — I've been having a hard time falling asleep lately, so I start getting ready for bed by begrudgingly turning off my computer and reading instead. Bleh, sleep hygiene or whatever. I take a cold shower then climb into bed.
Daily Total: $37.02

Day Seven

5:45 a.m. — I can't sleep and I've hit close to my eight hours anyway, so I get up and put on some exercise clothes that I set out the night before. I take a shot of iced espresso and eat half a banana.
6 a.m. — I leave to go feed my colleague's cat. On the way back, I stop at the gym. I do some running and an arm workout. I'm so glad the gym is back after being closed last week because it's been torturous walking outside in the heat.
7:15 a.m. — I walk home and take a cold shower. I do my morning routine of meds and sunscreen. Breakfast is my oatmeal with extra homemade peanut butter and a whole peach to compensate for my workout. My project is still running, so I check on it while I eat.
9 a.m. — I get started on coding work for the day. Classes start soon again in the fall, so I have a planning meeting with some colleagues to plan an orientation.
11:30 a.m. — Lunch is half a quesadilla with a Mexican bowl filling.
12 p.m. — I head to the department because I can't stand to be in my apartment alone anymore. I'm getting terrible project results and am currently in a terrible circular pattern of thinking that I'll never graduate, never get a job, etc. I see my friend in the department and she gives me the very long hug that I need. My friend stops by the department with cookies, so I snack on one while I continue working.
2:30 p.m. — My day has now consisted of extremely tedious coding work for several hours in a row, so I take a walk around campus before I start losing it. It does not work. I feel extremely burnt out, so I start packing up to head home for the day. I walk home and try to rest my eyes by reading an old issue of The New Yorker instead.
5 p.m. — I get hungry earlier than usual, so I make garlic tilapia, roasted broccoli, and brown rice.
6 p.m. — I'm still feeling a bit down, but when I leave to feed my colleague's cat, I see my friend and her husband on the street and we make plans for Wednesday. On the walk back from feeding the cat, I call my sister and we talk for a while about her college plans. When I get home, I end up calling K. for half an hour. Talking to so many people makes my night a lot better. I also remember that I'm about to run out of Nespresso pods, so I order enough to last me a month. $42
9 p.m. — I'm feeling exhausted, so I put away my computer and read in bed for a bit. I end up FaceTiming F. for a bit before I fall asleep.
Daily Total: $42
Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual's experience and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.

Do you have a Money Diary you'd like to share? Submit it with us here.

Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here or email us here.

More from Work & Money