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A Week In Vancouver, BC, On A $43,000 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.

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Today: an administrative clerk working in legal services who makes $43,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on social justice kitten cards.
Occupation: Administrative clerk
Industry: Legal services
Age: 26
Location: Vancouver, BC
Salary: $43,000
Net Worth: $13,550 ($9,400 in an RRSP and $4,150 in a savings account)
Debt: $0
Paycheque Amount (2x/month): $1,475
Pronouns: She/They

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $900 (T. and I share a large one-bedroom that's the main floor of a heritage house, and we split the rent equally, so this is the total for my half. Our downstairs neighbour is a good friend, and the upstairs suite is occupied by the landlord who is pretty lovely, as far as landlords go.)
Internet: $35
Phone: $22 (I have a ridiculously good plan.)
Savings: $200
Spotify: $10.69 (I mooch all my other streaming passwords off friends and family.)
Donations: $56 (small amounts given to a few different causes and podcasts)

lWas 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?
This is complicated and uncomfortable. I was labeled as a gifted kid in elementary school, and while it was recognized that I was bright in secondary school, I struggled with intense mental health issues that made it hard to go to class and to get anything done. I actually dropped out for a semester but went back the following year and managed to graduate high school on time. My family expected that I would be the first to complete a degree, but that hasn't happened. I did go to a small university for about three years and studied a lot of different things because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I paid for it myself while working multiple jobs — sometimes 50-hour weeks — on top of three or four courses. My grades and my mental health suffered. I took what was supposed to be a semester off to work, but that was about five years ago, and I haven't gone back yet. I might return to school, but if I do, I'll likely take out a loan so I don't kill myself and my grades with work.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We were poor, and I knew it. I have two siblings with learning disabilities, and my parents split when I was five. My mom didn't make a lot of money, and we had to be thrifty. I learned not to ask for things because I knew how much it hurt my mom to say no. I was aware of the ins and outs of our finances before becoming a teenager and did my best to help.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I had a paper route when I was 10 or 11 and started babysitting around age 12. Some of it was for spending money, but I would also sneak cash into my mom's wallet. To this day, I've never talked to her about it and don't know if she knows I did that. At 15, I started working in restaurants to save for school.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes. A lot.

Do you worry about money now?
Not as much. I live in a high-cost-of-living city, but I grew up here and don't want to leave. I have some savings now and a steady income, and while it's definitely not a lot, it's enough that I feel confident I can feed myself and my cats and pay the rent.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I moved out at 20 but started paying for basically everything myself in my teen years. My mom is still not doing great financially, but if I need help paying rent, she would scrape together funds to help me. That being said, I wouldn't want to ask, so I'm building my savings as much as I can so I can be my own safety net.

Day One

7:05 a.m. — Alarm goes off, snuggle T., and resist the cats' meows for a few minutes. I get up, brush teeth, take meds, feed cats, make coffee, and eat yogurt and granola. Today I'm dressing in a black T-shirt, a black-and-white polka dot skirt, grey tights, black boots, and my navy corduroy jacket. My bangs are uneven, so I give them a trim. I can't remember the last time someone other than me or T. cut my hair.
8:30 a.m. — I leave for work, walk to the Skytrain, and do my best to resist the smells of coffee and cinnamon buns at all the bakeries I pass on the way. I listen to an episode of The Cut. Alison Bechdel is the guest. I love her, and it's refreshing to hear her take on exercise and what it does to our bodies inside and out, which is the subject of her new book, The Secret to Superman Strength. I tap through the faregates and give silent thanks that everyone is wearing a mask, and properly. Most days I ride my bike to work, but T. and I are getting our first vaccine doses (!) after work, so they're going to meet me downtown, and we'll take transit home together. $2.40
8:55 a.m. — I'm early for work! This rarely happens. I've grown to dislike my job, and that's made it harder and harder to leave the house in the mornings. I go to the kitchen to get coffee, fill my water bottle, and put my lunch in the fridge and then settle in.
10:06 a.m. — It's a slow morning at work. I catch a glance of my bangs and now think I might need to trim them even more on one side. I would love a real haircut soon. After some consideration, I determine that I'm indeed hungry and not just bored, so I eat the apple I packed.
1 p.m. — It's lunchtime, and I'm in a sour mood following a long argument with my boss over something minor that we should've been able to have a reasonable conversation about. She can't see my perspective — this is a recurring problem. I take a break and go to the bank to close my account. I've been meaning to do this for a while because I transferred all my banking to a credit union that invests in green energy projects and local businesses instead of fossil fuels. There's no line when I get to the bank, the teller is pleasant, and the process is much faster and less painful than I expected. I'm still grumpy and hungry, so I go for a walk in the sun and get an iced mocha and an apple fritter cruffin (so a croissant x muffin?). Back at the office, I heat up my lunch, leftovers from last night's dinner of eggplant and tomato pasta, and spend the rest of my break munching and scrolling Twitter. The cruffin is alright, but I wouldn't get it again. $11
5 p.m. — My boss comes in and tells me I was right. Ha! I feel vindicated. The workday is over, and it's time to walk to the convention centre for my shot!
5:30 p.m. — I meet up with T. and get vaccinated. Our immunizer is a lovely and sweet nurse who came out of retirement to help with the vaccination effort. K., our downstairs neighbour and good pal, is also getting her shot today, so she gives us a ride home. K. lives alone, and we share a laundry area and air vents, so we declared ourselves a bubble. We're all so relieved, and I only sob a little. We stop by our favourite vegetarian Mexican restaurant on our way home, and I pick up burrito bowls for the three of us. $39.42
6:20 p.m. — We're home, and T. has bought a bottle of bubbly, which we affectionately refer to as zhampagne (we are big Schitt's Creek fans) as well as salted caramel and chocolate cake from an Italian bakery down the street. The cake says “Happy Vaccine Day!” T. went all out. We have to find the joy where we can get it. T. takes porch portraits of us with our zhampagne and our “I'm COVID-19 Vaccinated!” stickers. We eat our burrito bowls. I have a Zoom meeting with an organization I volunteer with, and N. and K. go downstairs to watch RuPaul's Drag Race.
8:30 p.m. — My meeting is over. I feed the cats and go downstairs. We watch Whip It, which T. and I have never seen. K. is a huge fan, and we can see why: It's great.
10:30 p.m. — We finish off our indulgent day with cake and an episode of Parks and Recreation. My bedtime routine is fairly short and consists of brushing the cats' teeth (you can call us crazy, but T. is a feline dental hygiene evangelist and hopefully it will save us on vet bills in the long run), brushing my own teeth, washing my face, and applying moisturizer. I snuggle up into bed with T. and the cats and I'm out by around 11 p.m.
Daily Total: $52.82

Day Two

9:45 a.m. — I wake up, shocked at how late it is. I was hoping to prep before two job interviews I have today. Oh well. Both jobs are administrative coordinator positions in the non-profit sector with organizations that I would love to work for. I think I'm qualified, but it's rough out there. I'm lucky to have a job at all; so many of my friends and colleagues have lost theirs over the past year. I want to work somewhere more aligned with my values, so I hope one of my interviews pans out. I eat my leftover burrito bowl, make coffee, mildly panic, then put on a clean black shirt and brush my hair. I ask T. if I should put on makeup for this Zoom interview. I haven't worn makeup in at least a year, but I'm worried about my eyebrows disappearing on the webcam and/or looking like a raccoon, so I dab on foundation over my blemishes and dark circles, apply mascara, and fill in my brows.
11 a.m. — Interview time. I think it goes okay. I feel rusty. I haven't had an interview in a long time and I feel a little underqualified for this role, but it's with an organization I admire. There's a question about how I would handle an instance of transphobia, and I don't know how well I answer it. My partner is non-binary, and I'm probably not cis. (Maybe? I don't even know anymore. This is something I'm trying to figure out.) I get emotional. I would love this job but don't want to get my hopes up.
12:30 p.m. — I have more coffee and chat with T. I send a thank you note to the interviewers and expand on my answer around transphobia. Is that kosher? I don't know. I go for a walk to pick up a book I pre-ordered, The Anthropocene Reviewed. It's not there yet, but that's okay. It's a beautiful day for a walk, and I have a lot in my to-read pile anyway. I also have some artwork we got framed to pick up, so I go to the other end of the main street in our neighbourhood. The frame shop also sells cute postcards, and I pick up a couple featuring social justice kittens to put on our bulletin board. $8.42
1:20 p.m. — I come home to find an email notifying me that I've been appointed to a 2SLGBTQ+ advisory committee I applied to. Stoked! I make a smoothie to share with T. and pet the cats. They're snuggled up in their bed by the window and giving each other baths. It's adorable. I ask T. if this happens every day and how they ever get any work done. It does, and they say that in all honesty they get very little done during the afternoon nap/bath time. I do some prep for my second interview of the day and hope to feel more confident in this one.
3:30 p.m. — This interview goes well. I feel relaxed, and it's more of a conversation. I can tell that this is an organization I would love to work for. I ask about next steps, and they say that they're at the end of their interview cycle and expect to get back to me soon.
4:30 p.m. — I get a call from the organization I just interviewed with, and they want to offer me the job! Conditional on reference checks, but I know those won't be a problem. I happily accept. T. is now off work for the day. We have a slice of cake and watch cooking videos on YouTube before our online trivia starts at 5 p.m. It's a good time as always. When it's over, we watch more YouTube videos. I'm about to get up to make dinner, but one of our cats sits on my lap, so obviously I can't move. We chat and snuggle and pet the cat.
7:30 p.m. — I love cooking but I'm feeling tired and want something quick and easy, so I dip into our freezer stash. Tonight's dinner is yam and sundried tomato pierogies, and they're delicious. I have a shower while T. cleans up the kitchen.
9 p.m. — We watch a couple of episodes of Grey's Anatomy and have more cake and a glass of red wine. Then I do my bedtime routine before tucking in. T. and I have sex and laugh as we try to keep the cats off the bed. We snuggle up and go to sleep.
Daily Total: $8.42

Day Three

7:45 a.m. — Crap. I must've slept through my alarm. I scarf down toast with peanut butter, brush my teeth, and get dressed in jeans (hooray for Friday denim day), a black T-shirt, and my corduroy jacket. The bike ride is quick, and I hit almost all green lights, so I make it just in time for 9 a.m.
9:30 a.m. — I realize my manager isn't here today and check in with her second in command (the person I had an argument with the other day). Turns out, she's at home with a sick toddler. I wanted to give my resignation in person or at least a call, but she isn't online, so I guess it's going to have to be an email. My new employer emails me to ask what my current rate of pay is and says she'll try to match it. That's such great news. I was worried there wouldn't be any wiggle room because it's a non-profit, but it's also a living wage employer. I forward a pay stub, and she agrees to match my current salary. Obviously, it would be nice to be offered more, but this is still a big improvement for me. It's an organization much more aligned with my values and it's also closer to home.
1 p.m. — Work has been steady but not too busy. My coworkers say they'll miss me but they're all happy for me. I failed to pack a lunch aside from an apple so I get pad Thai from a food truck and eat it while sitting in the sun outside a nearby art gallery. $14
5 p.m. — The rest of the workday is uneventful. I don't get a response from my manager. Oh well, I guess I'll talk to her on Monday. It's a gorgeous day outside, and the bike ride home is lovely. I get home, kiss T., and pet the cats. We play Stardew Valley and have a cider to celebrate the end of another work week.
7 p.m. — I make a chickpea, sweet potato, and carrot stew with ginger and garlic for dinner. I usually make this as a curry and serve it over rice, but we're out of rice, and I only have half a can of tomatoes leftover from the pasta the other night, so I add veggie broth, tomato paste, and a can of coconut milk. It's very good. T. washes the dishes while I read a chapter of Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. T. doesn't like to cook but is happy to wash the dishes. I love to cook, so our division of labour works out. When they're done, we snuggle up on the couch with more Grey's Anatomy, two glasses of red wine, and cake. We're in bed by 11 p.m.
Daily Total: $14

Day Four

8:30 a.m. — I wake up, snuggle T., and get out of bed to feed the cats and make coffee. Breakfast is peanut butter on toast along with a glass of Nuun because I feel hungover? Admittedly, those two glasses of red wine last night were poured with a heavy hand.
9:30 a.m. — Today is the last day of a civic engagement course I've been taking for the last month. It's been wonderful. I've learned a lot about myself, and I feel hopeful. I know it won't be easy, but I have a good idea of how we can make positive changes happen in our city. I've also met some cool and inspiring people. I'm making a short presentation that I'm nervous about, but it goes well.
11:30 a.m. — Class is over, so I log off of Zoom and veg on the couch with a couple of episodes of The Stand. I'm not typically a horror fan, but this is more psychological than gory, and I'm enjoying it so far.
1:30 p.m. — T. and I each have a bowl of leftover stew and then freeze the rest. I've still got a headache so I lay down for a nap while T. goes to the liquor store to pick up beer and wine.
3 p.m. — I wake up feeling much better. T. and I have a video call with a friend and then we watch the campaign launch for a candidate in a nearby riding. No one knows when the next federal election will be called, but there's been lots of speculation that it will be this summer or fall, so parties are getting their nominations in place now. After the launch, we call back the same friend, who also watched it, to discuss. The event had a star-studded list of speakers, and there was hopeful energy, despite the fact that the riding is a long shot. We'll see what happens. I donate $10 to the campaign and sign up to volunteer. $10
6:30 p.m. — T. and I get poutine for dinner. They pay online, and I go for a walk to pick it up. It's another gorgeous day, and I try not to get upset with myself for wasting it indoors — I needed the rest. The poutine is delicious. We pair it with a beer from Persephone. After dinner, it's still light and warm out, so I dig around in the garden. The lettuce I planted is looking great and the bok choy is coming in too.
9 p.m. — We smoke a little weed on the balcony and retire to the couch with an episode of The Great British Bake Off and the last piece of vaccine-day cake. Life is good. I'm in bed by 11 p.m., snuggling with T. and the cats.
Daily Total: $10

Day Five

11 a.m. — It's an extremely lazy morning. I make pancakes out of my sourdough discard, then feed the starter so I can make bread tomorrow. I scroll through Instagram and see that a friend of a friend has passed away. I didn't know him. This year has been so full of loss. His friends have started a GoFundMe for his mother to cover funeral expenses. I donate $20. $20
1 p.m. — I do a few chores, wash the sheets, clean out the fridge, text my dad to check in on him. T. and I have a long call with their sister, who lives in Ottawa but will be moving back to Vancouver in a couple of months. Everyone is excited about that. The two of them are watching Scandal together, so I leave when that starts.
3 p.m. — I plan out meals for the week and make a grocery list. T. hates grocery shopping, and because I'm the main cook, I guess it makes sense that I do this task. I don't mind it. We're pretty laissez-faire about splitting costs for food. I buy our fresh produce on a weekly basis, and then once or twice a month we put in an order for other staples from a package-free grocery store that delivers by e-bike. Those orders can get pricey (usually around $200), and T. covers them. Sometimes I feel guilty about our not-quite-even split, but they make about $24,000 more than I do a year.
3:30 p.m. — We live a block from a street that has a ton of great small grocers and so many good restaurants. I love where we live. I walk a few blocks to my favourite Italian grocer. My haul consists of parsley, dill, spinach, leeks, garlic, shallots, onions, red potatoes, yams, zucchini, eggplants, carrots, turnips, avocados, asparagus, lemons, a lime, a red pepper, cucumbers, bananas, apples, a mango, fresh and canned tomatoes, a can of coconut milk, yogurt, a box of ditalini, and a jar of marmalade. $50.24
4:30 p.m. — I soak chickpeas and make chocolate chip oatmeal cookie bars. Afterward, I clean the kitchen and bathroom while catching up on local politics podcasts.
7:30 p.m. — Dinner tonight is spinach and potato pancakes with poached eggs. I've never made potato pancakes before, and they're delicious. The eggs are perfectly poached, which is something I'm not always great at. Tonight's beer pairing is an aged brown ale that tastes almost like cherries.
8:30 p.m. — I feed the cats, then hang out with K. and watch the new episode of RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under. There's a lot of drama and fire amongst the queens this season. K. goes back to her place, and I snuggle up with T. on the couch and watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off with a glass of wine. In writing all this out, I realize we're drinking every day. This wasn't normal in pre-pandemic times. Gotta cope how you can, I guess? We're in bed around 11:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $70.24

Day Six

8:30 a.m. — Wake up, feed the cats, make coffee. My sourdough starter has barely risen, so I give it another feeding. Breakfast is a refried spinach and potato pancake with a fried egg on top. Still delicious. I read a chapter of Burnout.
10 a.m. — Therapy! I love my therapist, and we have a great working relationship. Today is tough but good. I'm fortunate to have great extended benefits that pay for most of the session ($40 is out of pocket). Hopefully, they are as good or comparable at my new gig. I didn't actually ask about that, but in the post they advertised “comprehensive extended benefits.” We'll see. I still don't love having therapy over Zoom and look forward to the day when it can happen in person again. $40
11 a.m. — T. and I hang the art I picked up from the frame shop the other day. It looks great. We moved into this place in December, and it felt like home immediately, and even more so now. After the nails and hammers are put away, we melt into the couch and play Stardew Valley.
2 p.m. — I eat one of the cookie bars I made yesterday, along with a banana. K. gave me a bunch of seeds, and I sort through them to see what else I'd like to add to my plot. It's raining and doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon, but I'd like to get the seeds in the ground, so I go outside anyway. I plant carrots, cucumbers, beans, peas, basil, sage, cilantro, and edible flowers. It feels so good to get my hands in the dirt, and I love growing food.
3 p.m. — I take a shower to get the dirt off and warm up. I sprawl out on the bed and our kitten immediately lays down on me. He's so soft and cute and snuggly. I guess I won't be going anywhere for a while. Such a burden, I know.
4:30 p.m. — I set the chickpeas to simmer, start my sourdough, and do some online window shopping. I've always wanted to get a shirt or two from Peau de Loup, and there's a big sale for the long weekend. I put a few things in my cart and decide I'll buy them if I still want them after dinner.
7 p.m. — Dinner tonight is butter-roasted salmon with asparagus and Brussels sprouts, and it is GOOD. T. and I bought into a community-supported fishery this year (a $400 share of the catch), and once a month, we use that credit to buy nice fish that's caught in a sustainable way by a local fishing family. We each have a cider to go with it.
8:30 p.m. — I've decided that I want everything in my cart. I don't buy clothing often. In fact, I can only think of one other time this calendar year I bought clothes (a dress, a jumpsuit, and a skirt from Torrid around my birthday because I had a gift card). I buy two flannel shirts and a pair of boxers for myself, a short-sleeve button down each for me and T., and four masks (two of which match the patterns of our shirts). I avoid the shipping charges by selecting the pick-up option. The store is a half hour walk away. $185.92
9 p.m. — We watch another episode of Grey's and go to bed around 10 p.m.
Daily Total: $225.92

Day Seven

7:05 a.m. — My alarm goes off, and I do my typical morning routine of coffee, feeding cats, etc. I have yogurt and granola for breakfast and put on a floral dress, brown boots, and my corduroy jacket.
9 a.m. — The bike ride to work is nice, and I'm paired with my favourite coworker today. The work day goes by slowly but not painfully. I still haven't gotten a response from my manager about my resignation, which feels awkward. She walks by and waves at me on her way in but that's it.
1 p.m. — Lunch is leftover salmon and veggies, which I eat while reading another chapter of Burnout. I call my grandmother to say hi and check in, but she doesn't answer, so I leave a voicemail. Hopefully she's alright. I miss her.
2:30 p.m. — Still no response from my manager, so I send her an IM saying I hope she had a good long weekend and asking if she saw my email. She responds saying she's sorry to hear that I'm resigning and that she'll set up a meeting in the next few days to discuss my transition. That's a relief. Even though I don't like this job or the company, I like my team and don't want to leave them in the lurch.
5 p.m. — Another lovely bike ride home from work. I love spring in this city. There are so many beautiful flowers, and they all smell amazing. When I get home, I see that T. has done a bunch of laundry and even folded my clothes, and I thank them profusely with kisses and snuggles.
7 p.m. — Dinner tonight is a quick and easy favourite: kale from the garden with tofu on rice noodles in peanut sauce, plus a glass of red wine. T. and I chat excitedly and somewhat nervously about the province's restart plan, which means we can spend time indoors with people who don't live in our house for the first time in about six months. We've lived together since December, and aside from our downstairs neighbour K., we've never had any friends over. We make plans to have a couple of pals over for dinner this weekend. It will have been at least 10 days since all of us have had our first vaccine dose, and we've been careful and will continue to be. We are excited!
8:30 p.m. — I read another chapter of my book while T. cleans the kitchen. They join me on the couch, and we watch a few episodes of Parks and Recreation and play with the cats. We're in bed around 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $0
If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 at any time or text 45645 between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. ET. Residents of Quebec, please call 1-866-277-3553.
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