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A Week In California On A $175,000 Salary

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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.

Today: a data analyst who makes $175,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a Spirit Airlines ticket.
Currency in USD.
Occupation: Data Analytics
Industry: Education Tech
Age: 29
Location: Orange County, California, USA
Salary: $175,000
Net Worth: $1.7 million ($10,000 in checking account, $400,000 in personal investments, $1 million in unexercised tech stock equity from a past employer (a year ago, this was potentially worthless stock options but now has real value since the company IPO'd), $18,000 in HSA, $253,000 in retirement accounts [$68,000 in Roth IRA (rolled over from a 401k), $65,000 in Traditional IRA, $120,000 in Traditional 401(k)], $13,000 paid-off car.)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $9,174 (post-taxes and HSA contribution but pre-401(k) contribution)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,650 for my half of a two-bed/one-bath I rent with my boyfriend
HSA: $278 pre-tax contribution
401(k): $5,000 (My company only recently set up a 401(k) program, so recently started making ~$5,000/month contributions to max this out)
Utilities: $70
Car Insurance: $80
Cell Phone: $35
Gym: $72 (after a $20 credit I get monthly from my health insurance for being active)
Donations: ~$400 (I donate in lump sums throughout the year with a goal of donating $5,000 total this year.)
Netflix/Spotify/Amazon/HBO: $0 — thank you friends and family!
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 always emphasized that we should work hard and do well in school, but there was never an explicit expectation from them that I go. It definitely felt more like a societal/personal expectation I had for myself. I excelled in school and worked hard to be the best in my class and my teachers expected me to go on to do great things. I honestly never thought about how I would pay for college because I knew my family was poor enough to qualify for financial aid. Sure enough, I ended up matriculating at a top private university where 100% of my tuition was covered by scholarships and financial aid.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
There were never really any conversations about how to save or manage money though my parents were always pretty sensible about spending. They avoided credit cards and debt, only bought what was necessary, and clipped coupons when they could. They were also very frugal and did things like reuse takeout containers and plastic bags. Pretty much everything I know now about how to manage money and wealth has been self-taught or learned from peers/the internet.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
It was sort of a rite of passage in my family to work at Best Buy because both of my older sisters worked there, so I applied as soon as I turned 16. I hated the job, but it was the only way for me to have any meaningful amount of spending money to feel like a normal teenager (i.e. gas, clothes, restaurants). Best Buy also paid about $7.50 or so, which was slightly above minimum wage — it felt like I was raking it in! Unfortunately, I spent it as quickly as I earned it, so I ended up saving very little of this for college.
Did you worry about money growing up?
I knew my parents didn't make a lot of money, so I was always very self-conscious about our income level compared to my peers. This gave me a lot of anxiety growing up trying to hide my home life from my friends. I never invited them over, tried to park far away to hide the fact that I drove a cheap old car, and worked as much as I could at my part-time job to afford "normal" teenager things. This instilled in me a strong desire for independence so that I could forge my own path to create the life that I wanted.
Do you worry about money now?
I have a technical, in-demand skillset so job security prevents me from worrying about money on an existential level, but I do think about it incessantly. I have been tracking every cent I spend in an Excel spreadsheet for the last five years so that I'm aware of where I spend money. I'm not sure what my life will look like 10 years from now (kids? early retirement?), but I'm constantly spinning my wheels wondering if I will have enough for any and all of these possibilities. I would also love to be able to support my parents and siblings by being able to remove financial stress from their lives. I've given a few cash gifts to some family members to help them with various expenses and I'd love to give more.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
When I was 18 and moved away for college and my parents were no longer responsible for housing and feeding me. While I felt like I could turn to my parents/family if I was in a dire situation, I don't think they would have been able to help with very much besides having a warm bed for me to sleep in. I paid for all of my own expenses in college with money I received from financial aid/scholarships and working part-time.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I received an allowance from my mother growing up (something like $20/week) up until I started working part-time. I saved all of this up over many years and was able to buy myself a laptop when I started college. Other than that, I don't expect to inherit money from my parents.

Day One

7:45 a.m. — It's Sunday morning and I'm out of bed before 9 a.m. — it's a miracle! My boyfriend, O., is planning to go on a run with a coworker and I'm tagging along. We leave the house at 8 and meet up with his coworker, B., at the nearby ocean bluff. We get in a quick three-mile jog then chat with B. for a bit. He tells us he's moving soon and I'm bummed. We moved to the OC for O.'s new job a few months ago and have been low-key looking for new friends.
9:30 a.m. — After we part ways with B., O. decides we should reward ourselves with a "health" smoothie, so we walk back home and stop at the overpriced juice shop along the way. O. and I usually put our items on one tab and split it down the middle; my half is $17, which buys me a 32-oz "Green Day" smoothie bowl. It is truly criminal that a smoothie could cost so much, but I recently found peace with the fact that places like this exist and it's okay to indulge once in a while. At least it's also delicious (and healthy??). I eat half and put the other half in the freezer back home. $16.82
10:15 a.m. — After a quick body shower and face wash, I do my morning skincare routine — Paula's Choice niacinamide, The Ordinary hyaluronic acid, and moisturizer. I started this routine last December, and while I can't say I've noticed a difference in my skin, I already bought all the stuff so I'm gonna keep using it. I have some very overripe bananas, so I get to work turning them into banana bread. I catch up on a couple of episodes of Planet Money podcasts while I bake.
12 p.m. — The banana bread comes out of the oven, and as per usual, it's not quite right; it's closer to bread than banana bread. This time, I didn't have the volume of banana mash that the recipe called for, and I forgot that I should have made up for the missing liquid volume. I eat a slice anyway and also eat half of the other half of my smoothie bowl. (Per Zeno's paradox, if I keep this up, will I have infinite smoothie??)
2 p.m. — O. asks if I want to talk about what happened yesterday. We got into a bit of a tiff yesterday afternoon while walking home from the beach and there's been a bit of tension between us since. Basically, I really like things being clean and avoiding messes and O. tells me it's annoying for me to "nag" about inconsequential things. We share our perspectives but we don't really reach a resolution. I feel unseen, unappreciated, and vilified, but I guess that's life as a woman.
4:30 p.m. — I'm hungry from the lack of solid food for lunch and cannot make it to dinner without a snack. I panfry a handful of mini chicken wontons (courtesy of Costco) and finish it with a few peanut M&Ms (giant tub also courtesy of Costco). Then O. and I play a couple of hours of Zelda on his Nintendo Switch. We just started this game recently as a new "couples activity" and take turns making progress by handing the remote back and forth. I'm definitely better with the puzzles and he's better at facing off with the baddies.
6:30 p.m. — After a gruesome and untimely death, we call it quits and start prepping dinner. We rummage around our fridge and make Caprese salads with a side of steamed Japanese yams.
10 p.m. — We settle into the living room to watch the second episode of Mare of Easttown accompanied by a bowl of strawberries bought from the farmer's market yesterday. This show came highly recommended, but we still can't see past it as a formulaic crime drama. I do some Duolingo Spanish in bed before passing out around midnight.
Daily Total: $16.82

Day Two

9 a.m. — Struggle to wake up — definitely got interrupted mid-REM cycle. Drag myself out of bed, do the morning skincare routine, and fire up my laptop to respond to Slack messages. Fifteen minutes later, O. comes in asking if I want a bagel for breakfast. He's WFH this morning because his office is having a beach outing in the afternoon, which will be a nice break from the 12-hour workdays he's been pulling. We split a bagel with cream cheese, a slice of banana bread, and the rest of my smoothie bowl from yesterday.
12 p.m. — Beach time! I check Slack one last time for any last messages, and we pack up the car and head to the beach. O. pays the $15 for parking once we get there, and wow, it's quite the spectacle! The event is at this large beachside venue complete with a DJ. We grab sangria, hotdogs, and ice cream bars while we bounce around catching up with his various coworkers. It's a lot more fun than I was expecting! We stay for a few hours then head to the airport where I drop O. off to catch a flight to the east coast where he'll be for the next few days for work.
4:30 p.m. — Back home! I settle back down at my computer to catch up on work and pop on some Crest Whitestrips. I'm a little self-conscious about my teeth after never wearing my retainers throughout college (I'm sorry, Mom, for wasting the money you spent on braces). I've thought about Invisalign but can't stomach the cost when my teeth truly aren't THAT bad. Whitening is my compromise as an easy and cheap way to improve my smile.
7 p.m. — I guess I should eat something for dinner. I'm not particularly hungry but know I will be later if I don't eat now, so I heat up some leftovers from a few days ago (chicken, mashed potatoes, and roasted veggies — it passed the sniff test) and watch an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is my go-to show when O. isn't around. Halfway through season two now, and WOW, what a great episode! Mrs. Maisel always makes my introverted self feel full of energy and ready to take on the world. I'm tempted to watch another but force myself to turn off the TV.
8:30 p.m. — I find a nice flowy yoga video from Five Parks Yoga on YouTube and stretch out for the next hour. Afterward, I take a body shower and do my night routine — I rotate between Paula's Choice 2% BHA Exfoliant, tretinoin cream, and The Ordinary's AHA peeling solution. Tonight is peeling solution night. I paint my face with the blood-red liquid and let it sit while I floss and brush my teeth.
11 p.m. — Wind down in bed with a bit of Duolingo and reading. Currently reading The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia and am loving the premise of this universe as well as the protagonist. I got into sci-fi a few years ago and can't stop exploring this genre. Lights out around midnight.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

8:15 a.m. — After a few rounds of snooze, I finally get out of bed. I take care of business in the bathroom then prepare my typical breakfast of raisin bran, blueberries, and almond milk with a cup of instant coffee. (O. and I are not at all coffee snobs, so we find that Trader Joe's instant coffee works perfectly for us. When I'm feeling fancy, I have a Nespresso machine.) I sit at the kitchen bar counter munching on my cereal while listening to daily briefs from The New York Times and WSJ from my Google Home. It's mostly depressing news about the state of the world, but one positive headline comes up — I'm cautiously optimistic that Biden will be able to pass new estate taxes that will get the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes on their assets when they die. Yay for addressing the massive income inequality and accumulation of wealth that afflicts the U.S.!
1:15 p.m. — Break for lunch. I don't normally wait this late for lunch, so I'm very jittery from the lack of food. I make a quick tofu scramble, throwing in a random assortment of veggies I find in the fridge (spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes). I also eat a slice of the disappointing banana bread. It's still disappointing. I watch a couple of segments of Colbert on YouTube while I eat.
4:30 p.m. — I get some Slack messages from the CEO with follow-ups from a marketing analysis I delivered last week. My mind is racing in three different directions at this point, so I take a break from the computer and load the dishwasher. Still thinking about next steps on my analysis, I eat a small bowl of Fage Total 0% yogurt mixed with almond butter and sliced strawberries.
6:30 p.m. — Time to call it quits! I'm going climbing today with a climbing partner I met through a local Facebook group. I love this hobby because it's such a great way to meet new people wherever I go and the climbing community is so welcoming. We both want to work on becoming stronger lead climbers, so I grab my rope on the way out the door. I've been climbing for the last six years or so and probably spend 10% of my waking hours thinking about, watching, or going climbing. I'm a little bummed O. doesn't share this passion with me but can't say he hasn't tried.
9:45 p.m. — Back home after a good session of moderate climbing. I am a beast when I'm climbing on top rope, but the fear of falling means I don't climb anywhere near my limit while lead climbing. Looking forward to working on this mental aspect of climbing some more. I take a shower, washing my hair this time, and then look for something to snack on. It's a bit too late for real food (I don't like to eat too close to bedtime), so I pull a couple of small snacks from the pantry — two mini mochi balls and a chocolate wafer.
1 a.m. — Oops, got caught up grinding on some work stuff. Night routine then off to bed.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

9:15 a.m. — Out of bed after turning my 8 a.m. alarm off for the last time (oops, hit the snooze button a bit too much). I do my morning bathroom routine and eat my typical breakfast with the Google Home news. I put on a bit of makeup (powder + eyebrow tint) since I have a couple of Zoom meetings today.
12:15 p.m. — Head to the kitchen and make coconut rice in the Instant Pot. I'm hoping the mango I bought last week is still in okay shape to accompany this rice later as a poor man's mango sticky rice. I eat some of the rice immediately with Trader Joe's pulled jackfruit and a handful of chopped slaw. I also eat a few peanut M&M's while watching the latest IFSC climbing world cup.
3 p.m. — I take a break from work to have a Zoom meeting with a young woman I recently started mentoring. We were matched in a mentorship program run by an organisation from which we both received college scholarships. I'm so excited to be serving as a mentor — it feels good to be able to help somebody.
4 p.m. — After a lot of internal back and forth, I finally decide to rebook a flight I have to go to San Francisco next week. I'm meeting up with some friends in the city to drive to Tahoe for the weekend. I'm a little annoyed because I had previously confirmed my flight details with the group a couple of weeks ago, but now someone is asking that we leave SF on Friday morning, instead of the afternoon, which means I have to buy a new flight to get in a day earlier. I grumpily book the new flight and sigh, telling myself that it's *only* $30 that I wasted on the old flight (thank you, Spirit). $42.59
5 p.m. — I'm feeling restless, distracted, and really hot — the lack of AC in my apartment is finally rearing its ugly head. I'm a pretty firm believer that you shouldn't waste your time trying to be productive when you're feeling low motivation, so I take a break from work and lounge on the couch. I finish the rest of the pulled jackfruit from lunch, watch an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and play some Zelda. Gah, still can't complete the latest challenge O. and I have been working on.
8 p.m. — I check my email and see a notification for a press release from a startup I am interested in and decide to pull the trigger and invest $2,000. I'm an LP in an investing syndicate, which gives me access to interesting startup investments. They are high-risk, high-reward opportunities, so I'm completely in the mindset of "don't gamble more than you're willing to lose." But I'm excited to invest in this company. Also, most of my net worth comes from a tech startup I worked at previously that had a very successful IPO exit, so I feel like I'm kind of paying it forward. $2,000
8:45 p.m. — Get back to work to finish up an analysis that I failed to make progress on earlier today.
10 p.m. — Head to the airport to pick up O. We try to grab some In-n-Out (our airport pickup tradition), but the lines are insane even at this hour. When we get home, we heat up microwave meals from the freezer (mine is a Trader Joe's vegetable pad thai that is decidedly not bad) then play Zelda for an hour. We beat the challenge we've been working on!! #teamwork. Head to bed around 1.
Daily Total: $2,042.59

Day Five

8:15 a.m. — Wake up and check the stock market on various trading apps I have on my phone. The market is down a bit today, so I decide to buy the dip. I recently rolled my 401(k) into a Roth IRA and have been slowly reinvesting the funds, so I buy about $12,000 worth of ETFs and individual stocks. After 30 minutes, O. finally nudges me out of bed and I log on to start working.
9:30 a.m. — O. comes into my home office to let me know that he'll likely have to do a lot of travelling for the next few months for work. We chat for a bit about we can make the most of the situation, and somehow, find ourselves back in bed with our clothes off. After a quick cuddle session, we get cleaned up. O. heads out to work while I get back to my home office.
10:25 a.m. — Take a quick break to unload the dishwasher and eat a late breakfast — cereal with strawberries today. Having a dishwasher has been a total game-changer for me because doing the dishes has always been my least favourite chore.
12:15 p.m. — Another break to do a load of laundry. I always try to do laundry in the morning/afternoon during "off-peak" electricity hours to not only reduce my energy bill but to also increase the chances that I'm using electricity generated by renewable resources.
12:30 p.m. — My eye doctor calls to confirm my glasses order from my office visit last week. I approve the expense and pay out-of-pocket. Though I do have an HSA, here's a pro-tip: if you can avoid it, don't spend the money in your HSA. Instead, treat it as a retirement/investment vehicle because it is triple tax-advantaged. You'll almost certainly have medical expenses when you're older and by then the balance will have multiplied in value. $243
1:15 p.m. — Lunchtime! I prepare pan-fried orange chicken from TJ's served on top of yesterday's coconut rice. After noticing the severe lack of veggies, I top it with a diced kumato and eat while watching a couple of segments of Colbert.
3:30 p.m. — Decide to head to the climbing gym early today to avoid crowds at the gym. No partner today, so I'll be doing some solo bouldering.
6:15 p.m. — What a great session! I sent my v6 project after a few attempts and did a lot of other fun routes. After I wrap up, I head to O.'s office to meet up with him for the evening. I grab a sandwich from the office kitchen (their in-house kitchen serves lunch during the day and will re-package leftovers into dinner boxes for late-working employees) and munch on it while he finishes up his work. While there, we chat with one of his coworkers who invites us to hike San Gorgonio in a couple of weeks. We eagerly accept and book a permit.
8:30 p.m. — O. hops in my car to ride home with me while he leaves his car plugged in at work. He has an electric car and his office offers free charging as a perk. We need it to be fully juiced up for this weekend's trip — we're overnight backpacking on the Channel Islands. When we get home, O. goes for a run while I pack my backpacking bag for tomorrow. After much frantic searching, I finally find my headlamp where I left it in a random bag from the last camping trip we did (shame on my past self for not putting it back in its normal spot).
9:30 p.m. — I celebrate being done packing by slicing (that is, totally butchering) the mango from earlier and eating it with the rest of the coconut rice., which I share with O. We watch an episode of The Boys before heading to bed.
Daily Total: $243

Day Six

7 a.m. — Up early today! To shorten the drive to the ferry for our hike, we're heading to L.A. today to crash with O.'s parents for the night. We're hoping an early start will help us avoid the insane L.A. traffic, which is in fact, totally not exaggerated. Also, I'm interviewing a candidate for a role on my team, so I need to be at a computer at 9.
7:50 a.m. — We make it to O.'s office to grab his car and check Google Maps for the ETA to get into L.A. — 1 hour and 17 minutes. Oh no! If we left now, we wouldn't make it in time for me to sit down for my interview, so we decide to stay at his office for a few more hours and leave after both of our morning meetings are done. We settle down in his office and grab doughnuts and lattes from the kitchen.
11:30 a.m. — No sign of O. yet. I'm not sure if we're sticking around for lunch here, so I grab a bag of potato chips from the kitchen. I find O. chatting with a coworker nearby and ask him if he's ready to leave. He says he still needs about 20 more minutes to wrap some stuff up. At this point, we decide we might as well grab a bite here since the office is about to serve lunch anyway.
12 p.m. — We grab a boxed lunch from the office cafeteria and sit down to eat quickly. Today they are serving grilled pesto chicken with veggies and potatoes plus carrot cake for dessert. I'm *extremely* full by the time we hop in the car. Thankfully, O.'s driving, so I succumb to the food coma for about 15 minutes. We listen to a Sam Harris podcast during the drive — his interviews are typically very thought-provoking but today's episode on mating strategies and evolutionary psychology doesn't introduce any new ideas to me.
1:30 p.m. — We arrive at O.'s parent's house and greet them as well as the housekeeper who is there for the afternoon. This housekeeper has been with O.'s family for decades and was even a part-time nanny for O. growing up. O. had a much more privileged upbringing compared to mine. When we first started dating, this made me pretty uncomfortable because I felt so out of place in his home and around his parents, but they've never judged me nor made me feel out of place. Eventually, I came to see that they're fairly normal people who got to where they are through a combination of hard work and luck. After we say our hellos, we both get back to work for a few more hours.
5 p.m. — I decide I'm done with work for the day and catch up with O.'s parents. When O. is done, we get some fresh air and go for a walk around the neighbourhood.
6:30 p.m. — Dinner with O.'s parents is always a semi-homemade meal from Costco at 6:30 on the dot. Tonight is lasagna with sausage and garlic bread and mini chocolate cakes for dessert. I also have a glass of white wine.
7:30 p.m. — O. and I forgot to pick up fuel for our camping stove, so we head to REI to grab it. O. has some credit on his REI account that reduces most of the bill. We also pick up a Subway sandwich to bring on our hike tomorrow. We only need this to cover one of our meals for the hike, so we get a turkey footlong to split. $8.01
8:30 p.m. — When we get back to his parents' house, we get into the hot tub, which is a tradition of ours when we stay with his parents. We relax in the tub for 45 minutes then clean up and head to bed early.
Daily Total: $8.01

Day Seven

6:30 a.m. — Wake up early to pack a few more things and do one last check to make sure we're not forgetting anything. I make us a couple of bagels with cream cheese to-go and also wrap a cinnamon roll in aluminium foil. We hit the road right on schedule and arrive for check-in at 8:30. We have some time to kill before the ferry leaves, so we walk across the street to sit on the beach and share one of the bagels while watching the morning surfers.
9:15 a.m. — Load up onto the ferry (I prepaid for the tickets a while back) and we're off! The ferry ride is about an hour and a half. I'm nervous about getting seasick, so we sit towards the back. I eye the little cafe in the main cabin, noting that they sell warm food and beer — will definitely be hitting that up on the return trip! The boat ride is mostly calm and pleasant. We even see a pod of dolphins feeding along the way — so incredible!!
11:15 a.m. — We get to the island and grab our gear once it's unloaded. O. and I sit at a picnic table near the dock and eat the other bagel I packed this morning then get started on our hike. It's incredibly hot and dry with zero clouds in the sky. I'm sweating buckets hiking up and down the rolling hills. I try not to cry every time I walk face-first into a spider web and eventually start hiking while waving a big stick in front of me to catch any invisible webs. Hiking is so much fun, right?!
1 p.m. — We quickly cover the three miles to get to our campsite. We set up our tent and lounge around, chatting with the solo hiker in the adjacent campsite. I'm so grateful to have snagged a weekend reservation at this amazing campground only a couple of months ago. It's a four-site backcountry campground with epic views of the ocean. I eventually get hungry and eat my half of the Subway sandwich.
6 p.m. — After some time relaxing and reading, O. and I decide to have dinner. We boil some water on our camping stove and prepare chicken and dumplings MREs. I pour a packet of sriracha all over my portion, which really takes the meal up a notch. I'm pleased that the "dumplings" have so much texture! O. and I also share the cinnamon roll I packed for dessert.
8 p.m. — We watch the sunset then brush our teeth and cosy up inside my tiny two-person tent. This tent was an absolute steal for $20 on Amazon. I've used it at least 15 times already and it's still holding strong. We watch an episode of The Boys before heading to bed early in anticipation of our 5 a.m. wake-up call for tomorrow's long 10-mile hike.
Daily Total: $0
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