A Week In Edmonton, AB, On A $32,500 Salary

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Today: a graduate student and teaching assistant working in biology research who makes $32,500 per year and spends some of her money this week on an Aechmea plant.
Occupation: Graduate Student, Teaching Assistant, and Writing Group Facilitator (I run a weekly science writing workshop for international students.)
Industry: Biology Research
Age: 25
Location: Edmonton, AB
Salary: $24,500 (TA), $8,000 (Pay for the writing group ranges from $6,000 to $10,000, depending on how many shifts I work.)
Paycheque Amount (2x/month, 9 months/year): $1,200 (TA), $300–$500 (writing group)
Gender Identity: Woman

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $700 (I share an apartment with a mostly absent landlady and one roommate. Utilities, internet, and the gym are included.)
Student Loans: $0 (My grandparents contributed to an RESP that paid for 75% of my undergrad degree, and I paid for the rest by working.)
Phone: $83
Spotify: $5
Netflix: $0 (I use my parents' account.)
Medication: $4 (I'm on my mom's health insurance plan.)

Note: I also put scholarship money into savings as lump-sums, so I currently have $7,000 in a high-interest account, $1,000 in an RRSP, and $5,000 in a savings account for travel.

Day One

7:30 a.m. — My alarm goes off, but I feel groggy from two beers and staying up late to work last night. I don't have a meeting until 10 a.m., so I laze in bed scrolling through Facebook. I've been reducing my social media intake, but it's fun to catch up. I finally get up to make my daily cappuccino and decide that leftover Chinese noodles for breakfast will ease the alcohol lethargy. Is a hangover from two beers possible?!
10 a.m. — I'm a teaching assistant (TA), and we have our weekly meeting this morning. But really, I go for the free doughnuts and coffee. Afterwards, I heat up my packed lunch: ginger chicken sausage with asparagus, and roasted sweet potatoes. It's super-yummy and satisfying. My colleague is going to Toronto for a month and loaning me his car while he's gone, so I leave the office to pick it up.
2:30 p.m. — I fill up the car with gas ($30). I'm also craving an iced coffee, so I grab one at 7-Eleven ($2.50). They're out of French vanilla, so I settle for the mocha, but it's sub-par. I only take a few sips to satisfy the craving, then lie down for a quick nap before the caffeine kicks in. I take the afternoon off, because my mind is not operating at full capacity. I'll take Saturday off, too, and make up solid hours on Sunday, when I'm refreshed and energized. $32.50
5:40 p.m. — I have a shower, fill in my eyebrows, and curl my tinted lashes. I get my lashes tinted every few months, because they're long but very blonde, and I hate taking off mascara. Plus, it's cheaper than extensions. I heat up a frozen Jamaican patty that I bought at the farmers' market earlier in the week, then I leave to pick up two of my labmates, who also don't have cars, because we're going to Ikea. We're all very excited!
9:30 p.m. — Ikea is a great success. We have lots of fun and get small but useful things. My biggest purchase is a beautiful Aechmea plant ($40), along with pots, storage boxes, and a garlic press for my boyfriend, M. After dropping off the girls, I head over to M.'s. We're both busy during the week and prioritize our independent goals, so we basically only see each other on weekends. We're planning to move in together in the next few months, because M. is buying a condo. As much as I'm dying to move in, I try not to put extra pressure on him, because it's a massive decision. Since I'm still in grad school, we've agreed that I won't be contributing to the down payment, but I'll pay him rent once I move in. $70
Daily Total: $102.50

Day Two

8 a.m. — M. is already awake and preparing breakfast. I call him back to bed for more cuddles. After some couple time, I migrate to the couch and watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, while M. makes me French toast. He's the best.
12:30 p.m. — We drive back to my place, so I can change, make myself a cappuccino (bless my landlady and her espresso maker), and pick up bags to go grocery shopping. M. and I walk over to the nice organic store by his place. I get local turkey and eggs, avocados, kale, potatoes, crackers, and a small wheel of brie for a weekend treat. We have crackers with brie and turkey for lunch, while also snacking on Haunted Ghost Pepper chips that M. got. $48.70
4 p.m. — We go shopping, and I treat M. to tea and get a dirty chai (dirty means an added espresso shot) for myself ($4.62). We stop at a couple of clothing stores, and M. gets amazing deals at a high-end shop. I dangerously wander around Winners but manage to resist buying some just-okay things. Then we go to a furniture store, and I find a beautiful blue-leather ottoman with a cushion top that flips to become trays, plus it has storage underneath! It's a floor model on sale for $400, and I'm seriously tempted. I wasn't planning to buy anything, but I feel myself falling in love with this ottoman (being 25 is wild). I send details and pictures to my parents and landlady to get their opinions. My dad thinks it's pricey but could be worth it, if it's good quality. I place it on hold, so I can do more research. $4.62
6 p.m. — M. and I head to his place to make dinner. I caramelize onions, then sauté cabbage and carrots, while M. fries up steaks and makes his awesome, cheesy mashed potatoes. I start Googling ottoman prices and researching the furniture brand. As we eat, M. throws on a movie called The Dirt, which is about Mötley Crüe, and we get totally immersed in it. It's surprisingly sad, though, so M. puts on a Kevin Hart comedy special. I munch Chicago Mix and manage not to finish the bag — a first! (M. saw a deal at the grocery store and knows I love Chicago Mix, so he bought me two bags. I'm so spoiled.) I find mixed reviews of the ottoman online, so I'm feeling less certain. I'll call the store tomorrow to ask about the warranty. M. and I cuddle, then happily fall sleep.
Daily Total: $53.32

Day Three

8 a.m. — I wake up at a reasonable time and wander out to hug M., who is playing video games. He's been working insane hours lately and wanting to play for a while, so I'm happy he has time to enjoy himself. Now that I'm awake and hungry, he makes me eggs and toast, and I add brie as well. I can't even lie and say we split cooking evenly; he is always making me food and delivering it to me when I'm busy. I try to repay him in head and back rubs, and he seems to feel spoiled, too. We watch a few episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, then I go home to work, because I took Friday afternoon off.
12:30 p.m. — I had a super-productive morning and am pleased. I call the furniture store to ask more about the ottoman manufacturer and warranty. The salesperson assures me the store has been carrying the ottoman for five years and have only had one request for repair, which was covered by the manufacturer's warranty. I'm convinced! I take a well-deserved break to pick it up, and M. agrees to come along.
3 p.m. — On our way, I treat M. to another tea, and I get a dirty chai again ($4.62). I try to buy coffee only once a week, but M. loves tea and will often treat me, so I'm happy to indulge. Plus dirty chai tea is relatively cheap and delicious. I have a final look at the ottoman and, yes, I'm getting it. It comes to $418.95, and I'm reminded that taxes in Alberta are cheap (I was born in Ontario). We shove it in M.'s car and stop at another furniture store that's nearby, just to look. My favourite bed from our last visit is on sale, and M. is seriously considering it. The salesperson says there is a queen for even cheaper ($1,200), and M. buys it — just like that! I laugh at how much time it took me to consider the ottoman. The bed is so beautiful and classic, dark brown with a thick headboard that has two brass stripes on either end. It also has two drawers at the foot of the bed, which is an awesome perk. I'm already excited to move in and enjoy this bed with M. $423.57
5 p.m. — M. helps me unload the ottoman and get it set up in my room. It looks even better than I imagined! I'm thrilled with this purchase. Unfortunately, my afternoon break spanned a few extra hours, so I have more work to do now. I kiss M. goodbye, and he says he'll drop by later tonight, after he picks up his mom from the airport. I snack on brie, turkey, and crackers for dinner.
8:30 p.m. — The evening is mildly productive, and I'm nearing a decent stopping point when M. calls me to say he's close. He mentions that his mom found a necklace for my birthday present, which is in a few weeks, and I assume he's going to give it to me early, but he arrives seemingly empty-handed. I invite him in for cuddles. Once we get into my room, he hands me a box — it's the necklace! It's a lovely silver bean necklace, because his nickname for me is Bean, and I absolutely adore it. I take off the gold key my parents got me for my 16th birthday and realize the two necklaces symbolize a decade and a pretty massive shift in my life. M. and I cuddle and dream about plans for our future bedroom with the new bed!
Daily Total: $423.57

Day Four

7 a.m. — I make half a piece of toast with peanut butter and a single shot of espresso, so I won't die at the gym. I've been skipping the gym the last few weeks, so I push myself and end up having an awesome workout. Then I have a shower, eat the other half of my peanut butter toast, and indulge in extra-creamy vanilla Greek yogurt. I get dressed, make a single cappuccino, gather my things, and head to the office. I didn't meal prep this weekend, so I'll buy lunch today.
11:30 a.m. — I have an okay morning and decide to beat the line at the Thai-fusion place on campus. I normally get the coconut curry, but the special is a beef brisket, and I was just thinking about beef brisket last night! I give it a try and also get a cookie-brownie bar. The brisket bowl is fine, but the cookie-brownie bar is amazing. I save half of both for lunch tomorrow. I was hoping to send my supervisor a draft of a presentation this morning, but she's too busy to look at it anyway, so I extend my internal deadline to later this afternoon. $19.09
6:40 p.m. — I think my presentation is in okay shape, and I send the draft to my supervisor, hoping she'll have time to meet me tomorrow. It's for my examining committee, which is nerve-racking. This presentation shouldn't be too bad, because it's just a mid-program review to catch people up on my progress. I obviously don't want to look like an idiot in front of the experts, though.
9:30 p.m. — I'm feeling lazy, so I have brie and turkey again. I also boil an egg, then snack on popcorn. I draw sketches for a honeycomb table I want to build. M. is a carpenter and has offered to help me. I also start reading Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood. Indulging in my hobbies helps me to relax, but I'm still anxious about the presentation. I brush my teeth, wash my face, put on moisturizer, and go to sleep.
Daily Total: $19.09

Day Five

5:30 a.m. — I wake up early and can't fall back asleep. I'm probably stressed about the presentation. I try to practise mindfulness, then toss and turn for another hour.
7:30 a.m. — I'm now feeling extremely anxious, so I get up and try to burn off energy at the gym.
8:30 a.m. — I do moderate cardio for half an hour and feel so much better! About a month ago, I started medication for anxiety and depression, which has been helping a lot, but I really want to create healthy habits to manage my mental health when I get off medication. The gym is normally the first thing to slip when I'm busy, but this morning is a good reminder that exercise should become even more important when I'm stressed. I make a cappuccino and have vanilla yogurt for breakfast, get ready, and leave for the office.
12:30 p.m. — Despite being swamped with work, my supervisor provides quick and insightful feedback on my presentation. I'm grateful to get good direction, even though it means removing most of the new results I spent the weekend making. That's science for you!
1 p.m. — I spend the rest of the afternoon implementing the changes. My labmate drops by to offer insight on a calculation I'm thinking about including, but I'm absolutely starving, so I eat leftover brisket bowl while she explains things.
4:10 p.m. — I'm finished my presentation! It feels weird to be done so early, but I'm trying to be more realistic with my expectations and am confident that this will be good enough. I realize I'm hungry again! Maybe it's the extra cardio. I lead a science-writing group tonight, so I have to stay on campus until 7 p.m., so I get a kale salad with chicken from a swanky poke place, and it's delicious. I feel guilty about eating out two days in a row but try not to beat myself up. $14.70
7:10 p.m. — My science-writing group goes well. It's a weekly workshop for international students. Learning the new skills required to run the group has been a challenge but also super-rewarding, and I've grown to love the job. Plus, it pays well. I finally cook when I get home: wild rice and sautéed cabbage, carrots, and kale for future meals.
9:20 p.m. — Since decreasing my social-media consumption, I've been filling my time with other equally random things. I spend about an hour looking at furniture online and start brainstorming a vision for the new bed. It's dark brown with brass, so we're thinking of incorporating deep purple into the bedspread. Afterwards, I read more Cat's Eye, then get ready for bed.
Daily Total: $14.70

Day Six

7 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm, pick up my phone, and look at the first image of a black hole, which was created by a 29-year-old female computer scientist! Invigorated by the power of women in science, I get out of bed and get ready for my presentation. I make my typical morning cappuccino, then spread perfectly ripe avocado on toast, and toss an egg on top. I wear a slightly nicer-than-usual top with pearl earrings to look professional. But this is biology, so I slip on my comfy jeans. I shifted my side part to a middle part yesterday, and my baby bangs are sticking straight out. No amount of hairspray will fix it, so I make a split-second decision and cut them off! I might be more stressed than I realized. It's time to leave, so I grab my lunch and extra ingredients to make a wrap for dinner, since I'll be on campus until 8 p.m.
9:30 a.m. — Someone is in the meeting room I booked when I get there, and he tries to dismiss me by saying “You didn't book it.” The same false accusation happened to my labmate last week, so I stand my ground and show him the booking. I can be a submissive people pleaser, and I'm trying to be more assertive when I think it's warranted. I'm happy with this growth.
10:30 a.m. — I feel confident in the meeting, and the presentation goes really well! I get good feedback, and the committee seems pleased with my progress.
2:30 p.m. — I take it easy and update documents for other meetings later in the day. I heat up my veggie-rice combo for lunch and also treat myself to a caramel macchiato ($4.51). I meet with my supervisor to touch base on future steps. I cancel our meeting in a couple weeks, because I'm taking a trip to visit friends in London and Italy! I'm excited, but I also feel guilty taking time off. After seeing my supervisor, I quickly prepare an agenda for the next meeting. I'm the president of a student group, and we end up planning a coffee event to recruit more members. $4.51
5 p.m. — I meet with my fellow TAs to figure out how to proctor an exam this evening. It seems straightforward, but I'm surprisingly nervous. I think it's just the exam aura; I'm grateful to be watching instead of writing for once. There are free cookies, so I take two. On my way to the exam room, I'm annoyed by a petty comment and realize I'm starving! I quickly make a wrap with things I brought from home and inhale it as I rush over to the exam room. The exam starts with plenty of time to spare, so as usual, things turn out fine.
8:30 p.m. — Proctoring the exam is boring, but I can't complain while watching the students who have to write it. We count our exams to ensure we don't miss any, then I head home for the night and plop onto my bed. I waste an hour scrolling through social media, then read my book and go to bed.
Daily Total: $4.51

Day Seven

6:45 a.m. — I wake up just before my alarm again. Weird! Maybe my body is signalling that I don't need as much sleep? I get up to make a cappuccino and avocado toast. I have lots of time before our marking meeting at 9 a.m, so I play dress-up and strut around the house. I've lost five pounds in the last few weeks, and I'm feeling great.
2:30 p.m. — I'm finally done marking dozens of exams! Luckily, there are lots of snacks, and it's fun doing it with the other TAs, so we can ask each other for advice (and laugh at some of the ridiculous answers). My department is hosting a ceremony of excellence this afternoon to announce award winners, and I get to present my supervisor with a Great Supervisor award. Plus, there will be more free food!
6:30 p.m. — The ceremony is super-casual and fun. My labmate and I both win awards, which is a nice surprise. My supervisor is beet-red when she's called up, but I hope the recognition makes her happy. There's a cash bar, but it's only $3 a drink, so I get a Canadian Club with Coke. I also lend my labmate a dollar. It's a good afternoon, but I'm exhausted. $4
9:30 p.m. — I have a relaxing night of Netflix in bed. M. and I have tickets to an art show tomorrow that I'm excited for, but I should definitely take introvert quiet time before then. I read, get ready for bed and fall asleep.
Daily Total: $4
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