A Week In Southern Ontario On A $14,400 Contract

Photo: courtesy of McDonald's.
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Today: a wildlife technician working in nature conservation who's on a $14,400 contract and spends some of her money this week on McDonald's takeout.
Occupation: Wildlife Technician
Industry: Nature Conservation
Age: 27
Location: Southern Ontario
Salary: $14,400 (for a full-time, six-month contract)
Net Worth: -$14,173 (My assets total $20,827. The breakdown is: $7,765 in a TFSA, $4,500 in savings, a car worth $6,500, and $2,062 in clothes currently up for sale online.)
Debt: $35,000 (student loans)
Paycheque Amount (2x/month): $994.33
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0 (My boyfriend, R., and I live with my parents so we can save money.)
Phone: $39
Car Insurance: $65
RRSP & Pension: $58 (deducted from my paycheque)
Savings: $800
Student Loan: $537

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. In high school, I felt that everyone pushed for university and that it was the key to my success, so I did an undergraduate and a graduate degree. Since then, I’ve found the opposite to be true: My friends who went into trades have savings and houses, while the university graduates have nothing but debt. Both of my parents and all of my siblings also graduated from university with varying degrees of income. 

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Nothing besides helping me understand taxes and credit scores. I’m lucky that my brother is an employee of a major bank and has taken the time to educate me on investing. 

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I got my first job at the age of 14, as a busser at a restaurant, to pay for an exchange trip to New Zealand.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Not at all. My parents never wanted to discuss money unless I asked for something non-essential. Then they'd tell me I needed to pay for it myself.

Do you worry about money now?
Money can be stressful. It's extremely difficult to get full-time work in the conservation sector, and I have quite a bit of student debt.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I went on a year-long exchange to New Zealand at the age of 15 and had to manage my money. I ended up running out about nine months into the trip, but my parents helped me out. So, yes, I have a safety net. I did a much better job when I moved out to attend university at the age of 19. My family didn't support me, so I took out student loans for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Day One

7:30 a.m. — I wake up because my parents are up, and their bedroom is right above ours. Before you say it: Yes, I'm a typical millennial living in my parents' basement. I play the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode as R. sleeps beside me.
8 a.m. — I grudgingly get up and prepare for work. My skin-care routine consists of the Biophora line from a dermatologist’s office. The starter pack cost me about $100, and I've used it for the last two months. I haven't noticed a huge difference from the Clarins line I was using previously, but I'll save my final judgment until I've used up the products. I put in my contacts, feed our two cats, and make tea. It’s a tradition that I make tea every morning before waking up R. — he's always happier to wake up to tea. I work from home for the science department of a conservation charity, and our bedroom is also my office.
8:30 a.m. — I open my laptop and look over my calendar for the day. I'll need to banish R. to my mom’s sewing room because I have Zoom meetings. One of our cats keeps me company as she does most workdays.
11:30 a.m. — R. and I make fried eggs on toast. My parents are kind enough to pay for standard groceries. If we want any extra snacks or takeout, we need to pay ourselves. I head back to work for the afternoon.
2:30 p.m. — I have a virtual appointment with a neurologist. I've been waiting months for this appointment, and I’m nervous because a genetic disease runs in my family, and I'm worried I have the symptoms. I want to know if I have it before deciding whether or not to have children. The doctor says I need a DNA test and that I'll receive the requisition form for testing within a week. 
5 p.m. — I finish work for the day and clean the litter boxes. I need to get out of the house, so I go to the vet to pick up food for one of the cats. He has a megacolon — yes, that’s a real thing — and requires special cat food to help him stay regular. A four-kilo bag costs $88.29 with tax. We cut this cost by giving him Friskies Pâté in the evening. The high-water content of the wet food also helps his condition. $88.29
5:45 p.m. — I work out with Fitness Boxing 2: Rhythm & Exercise (a Christmas present from my brother) on the Switch before having a shower and eating dinner with my family. It’s roasted chicken with veggies and multigrain buns. 
8 p.m. — R. and I watch murder mysteries on YouTube before playing Animal Crossing. We get ready for bed around 11:30 p.m. Goodnight y'all! 
Daily Total: $88.29

Day Two

8 a.m. — I get up and do the same thing I do every morning: wash my face, put in contact lenses, make tea, feed the cats, and get started at work. R. is feeling under the weather this morning and his symptoms sound a lot like a common cold or COVID-19: stuffy nose and headache. I take his temperature, and he doesn’t have a fever, which is a good sign, but he books a COVID test. 
10 a.m. — I volunteer with an international non-profit that's linked with the UN, and I'm halfway through a 10-hour UN training program. I log into an hour-long session that focuses on the Security Council. 
11 a.m. — I have oatmeal with bananas, and R. has beans on toast. We talk about how he could've gotten COVID — if that is what he has. It seems unlikely. R. lost his job back in November and has been unemployed since, so he has only left the house to pick up groceries and other necessities for my family. He's a UK national on a temporary IEC work visa and didn't make enough money before unemployment to qualify for CERB or EI. He has been bored senseless, but today he's applying for a UK teacher’s college that starts in September. We've been together for seven years, living between the UK and Canada, and we still haven't decided which country to settle in. Our families are separated between the places and a lot of our friends are, too, which is a bummer. I love the culture in the UK and how everyone spends so much time getting together and meeting new people, usually at the pub. However, we both love the natural areas in Canada — it really is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. Right now, we're split 50/50 between them. R.'s visa will be expiring at the end of this year, and if we haven't decided by then, a decision will be made for us.
12 p.m. — Back to work for the afternoon. I'll need to work longer today to compensate for the morning training. I snack on Slovenian nut bread, otherwise known as potica, that R. and I made earlier in the week. 
5 p.m. — I go through emails and tasks for the non-profit I volunteer with, then play Ring Fit Adventure on the Switch for a workout, take a quick shower, and eat dinner. Today, we have wonton soup courtesy of my parents.
8 p.m. — Since the latest lockdown started, R. and I watch two movies a week: a critically acclaimed one on Friday and a panned one on Monday. Tonight, it's Silence of the Lambs, which turns out to be a great psychological thriller and oddly satisfying considering the ending. Afterward, I clean the bathroom as well as the cats' water fountain and litter boxes. I play with the cats before going to bed around 11 p.m.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

8 a.m. — It’s the weekend! I wake up with the normal routine and get started on the Marie Kondo technique of putting all your clothes on the bed to see what you really have and what you can get rid of. I already went through my closet a couple of months ago and sold $800 worth of clothes on Poshmark (minus the 20% sales fee). Because of COVID, I’ve had more time to think about what I spend my money on by creating monthly budgets. Before the pandemic, I was spending a ton on fast fashion, buying things that didn’t fit well, and I'd end up never taking off the tags. I’ve decided to change my habits and only purchase high-quality, multi-use pieces that fit well and take care of them properly, so I can use them for longer. I'm only letting myself purchase new wardrobe items with money made from the old ones and, damn, there’s some stuff I have my eye on.
10 a.m. — I find mould on the wall in my closet, and it’s growing on a cardigan that was up against it. I put all the clothes on that side of the closet in the washing machine, spray Lysol, and wipe the wall before telling my dad about the problem. He agrees we need to keep an eye on it.
11:30 a.m. — I cook a Japanese udon noodle stir-fry with carrots and cabbage for lunch, then R. and I make a Greek honey cake from a friend's recipe while we chat with my parents. 
2 p.m. — I take photos of the clothes I’ve committed to selling (nothing from the mould wall, don’t worry). I realize I'm in the black right now and purchase a few items, including my mom’s birthday present, from Down 2 the Wire, a jewelry store in South Africa that sells earrings and bracelets made of materials recovered from illegal snare traps. It was recommended to me by a South African friend I met in my international wildlife trade program. The website and ordering process are a little sketchy. I find out the shipping will be quite expensive because they can’t trust their national postal service, and my friend confirms this is true. (How lucky are we to live in Canada?) I send $77 via PayPal to the company (I’ll let you know if it’s a scam). Although snares in South Africa are often made from fence wire, and this jewelry doesn't necessarily meet my "high-quality" criteria, I'm also looking for sentimental items. $77
4 p.m. — I video call a friend who lives in the UK, and we speak for a couple of hours. It's so nice to talk to someone! I miss seeing all of my friends. 
6 p.m. — I feed the cats, and we have red pepper pasta for dinner. 
Daily Total: $77

Day Four

9 a.m. — We sleep in. What are Sundays for? R. and I have plans to go hiking, but we cancel because we're still waiting for his COVID test results, and the trails have been very busy. We play Pokémon GO in the backyard, though, just to get outside.
11 a.m. — R. helps my dad with renovations, which they do together most weekends. They're working on the main-floor bathroom right now. I want to order something nice from a bakery for Valentine’s Day, but I remember my Oma makes the best German chocolate cake, so I save my money and spend 30 minutes digging through my family’s collection of recipes to bake my own.
3 p.m. — I purchase a black harness from a local shop on Etsy for $30. It's for Valentine’s Day and, because of the flattering design, I'm hoping to also wear it as a fashion accessory on or under clothes. $30
3:30 p.m. — I play Boxing Fitness 2 before taking a shower and settling down to post my clothes on Poshmark. I put up 60 listings worth over $2,000.
6:30 p.m. — My family orders veggie pizza for dinner. Afterward, R. and I play Mario Kart on the Switch, then I finish the evening off by watching YouTube videos. By 10:30 p.m., we're in bed and R. plays a mobile game next to me. Goodnight! 
Daily Total: $30

Day Five

8 a.m. — Monday morning. I get up and get started on my daily routine. I have a few presentations in the afternoon that I prepare for. I’m feeling stressed about all of the deadlines I have coming up. 
11 a.m. — R. calls the hospital and finds out he doesn't have COVID. We're both thrilled. A positive test in a relatively small house with my parents, who are over 60, would make things very awkward. We had already discussed how we might've had to isolate within the house, making an uncomfortable situation even worse.
2:30 p.m. — I finish my last meeting for the day and steel myself to call Service Canada. I know I will be on hold for two-plus hours listening to crackling elevator music. This will be the fifth time I’ve called. I was unemployed for three weeks in October, between contracts, and filled out an EI claim. The charity I was working for doesn't submit Records of Employment (ROEs) electronically, so it took me a while to receive the form in the mail. I dropped it off at my local Service Canada centre and was not allowed to speak to anyone. It turns out an employee at the main office had already reviewed my claim and labelled it as “missing documents.” Since then, I've been trying to get an employee to review the case. Every time I call, an employee confirms they received my ROE but that no one has had time to review it. The phone representative ups the priority of the claim each time I call and gives me a new deadline to call back. With dread, I pick up the phone and call, working while I wait. I think about how lucky I am not to be in desperate need of that money to pay for rent or food.
4 p.m. — The number of people calling in today must be lower than usual because I get through after only 90 or so minutes. Service Canada again ups the priority of my claim and tells me to call back after three days if I still haven’t received my money. I finish work for the day, and R. and I go to a local provincial park for a hike.
6 p.m. — It feels so nice to be outside with just the two of us. It has been hard living in the same room together and in a three-bedroom house with my parents as well. On top of that, my brother was ill, and when he was discharged from the hospital, he needed care and lived with us for three months, which made things 1,000 times more difficult. He's used to living alone and was not considerate at all. I very much miss having my own time and space. We finish the hike as it starts to get dark. We're hungry after the long walk, and R. has a gift card for McDonald’s, so we stop there for dinner. The card only has $10 left on it, so I pay $15.48, and we eat in the car before heading home. $15.48
7 p.m. — I feed the cats a little later than normal tonight, and they let me know about it. I sold three of the items I put up on Poshmark (a sweater, a belt, and a pair of jeans), so I start packing them up for shipment. I make about $85 with the Poshmark fee deduction. 
7:30 p.m. — I do some volunteer work for the conservation organization, then R. and I play Animal Crossing while we talk about what we want to do when the pandemic is over. I can't wait to travel again. Travel was a big part of my life before, and I miss the excitement of exploring new places. Usually R. would've been back to see his family, or they would've come to see us here, but he hasn't seen them for two years now. Being able to hold them again is top of his list. 
10:30 p.m. — We head to bed. This mundane day-to-day routine is really getting to me.
Daily Total: $15.48

Day Six

8 a.m. — Another day of work. I get up and get ready. I have early meetings today, and R. takes the Poshmark parcels to the post office. 
11 a.m. — I clean the kitchen before R. and I make hot cereal with berries for lunch. If you’ve made it this far and are wondering why I haven’t been eating breakfast, it's because I'm on a fasting-type diet in which I eat anything I want for six hours a day and don't eat for the remaining 18. It's a short-term fix because I gained weight during the first lockdown from overeating. I've lost about 10 pounds since the end of December.
12 p.m. — I prepare for a big presentation I have in a few hours.
4 p.m. — The presentation goes well! I finish work for the day, vacuum the basement, change the bed sheets, and go upstairs to do laundry.
6 p.m. — We have lamb donairs for dinner. They're one of the only pre-packaged meals from Costco I actually like! 
7 p.m. — I finish up the laundry and fold clothes while I watch Bridgerton
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — I wake up a bit early this morning to hand in some important work I’ve finished.
11:30 a.m. — R. and I make sandwiches with cold cuts and veggies for lunch, then go for a walk around the block to play Pokémon GO. 
12:30 a.m. — The blood work requisition from the neurologist arrives. She told me to go on a Monday, so the blood can be sent to the testing centre in Ottawa quickly. It’s already Wednesday, so I plan to go next week. I can’t wait to find out the results!
4 p.m. — I finish work for the day, and R. and I take another item I’ve sold to the post office down the road. I made about $15 on this pair of pants. 
4:15 p.m. — I play Ring Fit Adventure for my workout but I’m exhausted for some reason and end my session after 20 minutes. I apply an Olaplex No. 3 treatment on my hair for 10 minutes before showering. I got it as a Christmas present from R., and I love the way my hair feels after using it. I’m feeling run down this week and little things like that help. 
6:30 p.m. — Dinner is grilled salmon. 
8 p.m. — We watch The Wicker Man (no, not the old one). It's just okay for the most part, but the ending is the worst. Nicolas Cage really has his own genre at this point. While watching, I practice my new hobby: embroidery. I got a starter kit on Amazon at the start of the year for about $25.
10:30 p.m. — I sit down to write my last Money Diary entry. Now that I’ve documented my life for the last week, I feel like I haven't accomplished much but also a lot — does that make sense? I got rid of the clutter in my life, but I didn’t really do anything fun. Since I can't go anywhere or see anyone, I’m trying to find new ways to have fun. R. and I started indoor gardening, for example, and he has been focusing on his passion, which is writing. The pandemic has been good for saving money, but I don’t know what I’m saving for at this point. A house seems unattainable, and we don’t know where we want to live anyway. An apartment has been put off until this is all over. I feel like I’m not really living during the pandemic; I’m just waiting around. But enough of that. I resolve to make more time to chat with friends and find something I enjoy this month.
Daily Total: $0
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