A Week In Montana On A $60,000 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.

Today: a freelance writer and film-set wrangler working in media and entertainment who makes $60,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Meowijuana catnip toy.
Occupation: Freelance Writer & Film-Set Wrangler
Industry: Media & Entertainment
Age: 34
Location: Montana
Salary: $60,000
Net Worth: $500,000 (I own a three-bedroom house, so much of this comes from what I've paid off on my mortgage and the increased property value. I have $100,000 total between a Roth IRA and an investment portfolio. I've never had a job with a retirement plan, so I do everything on my own. I usually have between $25,000 and $35,000 in my checking account because I have this perpetual fear that my house will fall down around me or I'll lose all my jobs and have to survive by myself.)
Debt: $300,000 (remaining on my mortgage)
Paycheck Amount (monthly): $3,800 (My income varies HUGELY. Some months I make $9,000 between a movie and writing, but other months I don't work at all.)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,150 (My total mortgage is $1,900, and I have one tenant who pays $750.)
Electricity: $80 (my half)
Internet: $40 (my half)
Water: $15
Trash Collection: $20
Patreon: $15
Spotify & Hulu: $0 (ex's parents' account)
Healthcare Plan: $180 (It's so bad.)
Phone: $70 (I pay this amount to my parents. They will never succeed in kicking me off the family plan.)
Truck Insurance: $120
Investments: $500
Roth IRA: $200 (I max this out at the end of each year.)

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, I had zero choice in the matter. I went straight from high school to a four-year degree. I have a BA in English, and I think if I'd been given an opportunity to explore more after high school, I would have gone into a different field. I was too immature to go to college at 18 and I regret not taking more advantage of the opportunities from my large state school. My parents paid for my college, including room and board. I have a lot of guilt about this because it meant my dad worked for 40 years nonstop to pay for four college degrees for myself and my siblings.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My family was very well off but didn't act like it. There was a lot of secrecy around money and a lot of guilt and anxiety about spending it. I was taught to save from a really young age and to have a perpetual fear of scarcity. My family never experienced scarcity, but my mom had a lot of issues around money, and they impacted my unhealthy relationship with my own finances. We never knew how much our dad made (he was high up in his industry), and to this day I have no idea how much money my parents have. I think it's a lot?

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started babysitting at 13, then lifeguarding at 16. I didn't get an allowance and was taught to work (and save) if I wanted spending money. My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me and my siblings, and they always told us that independence and financial security were the most important aspects of securing a future for ourselves. I saved my babysitting and lifeguarding money in a savings account and would allow myself a certain percentage per month for treats.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Aside from my parents' secrecy, no. I didn't know we were well off, but my family owned multiple vacation homes and new cars. I wasn't allowed to go do expensive things with friends, but it was only because my mom was so strict about saving.

Do you worry about money now?
Sometimes. I know I have a poor relationship with money, and that I leave way too much in my checking account. I've never had the fallback of a dual income, and I am solely responsible for a large house and all the bills and things that come with single homeownership. My income is also so variable that it creates a feeling of instability when I rarely know how much money I'll bring in each month. I love the flexibility, though, and I wouldn't trade it.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
At 22, after college. I always bought my own cars and used my own spending money, but they paid for tuition and room and board.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I received a settlement from a lawsuit in 2013, which I invested with a financial advisor. It went toward the down payment on my house in 2018. I credit this with jump-starting my investments and helping me secure stability in the housing market.
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Day One

7 a.m. — I'm working on a movie right now, and today is off from set. Feed the cat, make coffee (going through a French press phase), and open up my computer. I work two jobs about equal amounts. I'm a writer and I work on film sets. The indie features I've been working on last between four and six weeks, so before a movie starts, I try to finish shorter assignments, then work on longer-lead pieces on my days off.
10 a.m. — I open packages from brands and PR firms. I write a lot about outdoor gear, and brands send me gear to try out. Today, I got two pairs of trail running shoes, fancy sunscreen, and a lightweight spring jacket. I add the new gear and the rep's name to my spreadsheet, then make an appointment for my truck's 15,000-mile service. The mechanic is able to squeeze me in later this afternoon, which is amazing.
1 p.m. — Errand time! I'm working long days on set (including commute), so I have to get a lot done on my off day. I've never been able to live at home during a film, though, so even though the drive isn't great, I'm happy to not stay on location this month. I stop at Petco with my refillable kitty litter bucket (save $2!) and also buy litter box deodoriser and a catnip toy from a brand called Meowijuana, which is hilarious. $29.98
3 p.m. — More errands, including the watch place, to get my new fancy watch resized ($8), the Co-op for a wrap ($9), Target for coat hangers ($12), and Michael's to use my rewards for a clearance candle (it was $15, and I got it for $2.50) $31.50
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4 p.m. — Truck appointment. I bought my truck new last year, and it's still under warranty, so the service is free. There's a guy with a sign playing violin on the corner as I leave. I drop $5 in his bucket because I actually have cash. $5
6:30 p.m. — Going to make dinner at my friend, L.'s, house and I grab ingredients on the way: carrots, noodles, spinach, onion. The pandemic and my movie/travel schedule wreaked havoc on my social life over the past two years, so I try to see my in-town friends when I have days off. We make dressed-up ramen and have a great visit. $9
9 p.m. — Back home. I chat with my roommate/tenant, N., and try to beat the dried mud off my coveralls for work tomorrow. Organise my layers, untangle my headset, and text the other art-department people to see what I need to pick up for the scenes tomorrow. The call sheet comes in with a 9:30 start, 8:30 breakfast, which means I need to be on the road after picking up props by 7:30. Netflix and lights out by 10.
Daily Total: $75.48

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — Up with the screaming cat. Slept terribly last night and kept waking up from anxiety dreams. I'll get fed on set, so I throw on clothes that I can run around in, find my radio and toolkit, feed the cat, and I'm out the door by 7. I don't have a makeup or skin-care routine, so mornings are fast.
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7:30 a.m. — At the store to buy five watermelons for set. I have the art department p-card, so it's not my money, but the watermelons are $1 a pound and end up being $79! Holy shit! $79 (expensed)
8:45 a.m. — On set for the day! Breakfast burrito and coffee as I help stage the interior for today's shots. I usually work in the horse department as a film wrangler, but I'm set dec for this movie, and it has been fun to learn a new job.
1 p.m. — The day is going fast. I am mostly resetting between takes and chatting with friends at video village. I was lucky enough to get onto film crews right when a lot of projects started shooting in Montana, so I know almost everyone on this crew, and it's really fun.
4 p.m. — Second meal! Bison burgers, scalloped potatoes, salad, and roasted veggies. My food and life expenses during a shoot are super low, because we're fed on set, my gas is reimbursed, and I have no time to do anything outside of the 12-hour days, plus two hours of commuting each day.
9 p.m. — Home after wrap. I'm waiting on the call sheet to see if I need to set an alarm, so I watch some of the Obama-narrated national park series on Netflix. Thanks to my insane schedule (movies and media trips), I spend a lot of time alone at home. I love working and seeing people when I travel, but there's not a lot to report at home.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Three

6:20 a.m. — Jolt awake from a stress dream in which I pulled out my eyebrows and grew a beard. I rarely remember my dreams, so the past few days have been weeeeird. Scroll depressing Roe v. Wade stories for an hour.
7:45 a.m. — Out the door. Weather goes from rain to sleet over the pass, along with three construction areas on the highway. Spring in Montana is clutch.
11:30 a.m. — Pulled off set to run errands and start painting props for tomorrow. I go to Kenyon Noble and put everything on the production account. I also buy a tool belt for myself with my own credit card. I was trying to avoid adding to my kit for this job because I've spent way too much money on my film wrangling movie gear, but I'm sick of losing tools in my overall pockets. $30.88
6:30 p.m. — Hit a wall preparing props and chat with the stunt coordinator. I know him from other shows, and he's a stunt double on Yellowstone, a show I kind of want to work on. I go to the crafty trailer and grab gummy bears, an apple, cheese, and a Perrier. The locations manager is going on a coffee run, and I cave and request an iced coffee. I will certainly regret this later when I can't sleep.
9:30 p.m. — Wrapped, cleaned up, and reset on the interior. I grab a burrito from catering to eat on my drive home, check in with the art director, and peace out.
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10:30 p.m. — Home. So tired. Tight turnaround for tomorrow. I have to be at the production office at 6:45 a.m., which means leaving the house at 6. This is a non-union show, so we haven't had the lovely 12-hour turnarounds between wrap and call. Brush teeth. Goodnight.
Daily Total: $30.88

Day Four

5:30 a.m. — Awake from anxiety. I know I took my anti-anxiety meds so WTF? I have to pack an overnight bag, because we have another insane turnaround for tomorrow and production got us hotel rooms. My department has a two-hour pre-call today to dress the new set. Bag packed, dressed, teeth brushed and out the door by 6:02.
2:15 p.m. — Oh my god, I'm so tired. This is a hard set to dress. It's outside, super remote, and so windy. Lots of heavy, moving objects. I haven't stopped moving since 6:45 this morning. I am also recovering from a nasty bout of bronchitis and I feel like I'm going to collapse.
4:15 p.m. — I stagger up the hill for lunch and sit in my truck to get out of the wind. I'm not hungry but I need the morale boost of chili and cornbread. Bless you, catering!
9 p.m. — We're wrapped. I'm so tired my eyes feel like sandpaper. I drag carts of props and gear up the steep, rocky hill to the van and load out. I decide to drive the hour home instead of staying at the hotel.
10:15 p.m. — Home. My face is raw from windburn so I put on lotion, feed the cat, and pass out in my clothes. Being on a film crew is nonstop fun!
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Daily Total: $0

Day Five

6:45 a.m. — I wake up to a text from the production designer. They have a light set day so if I don't want to come in, I don't have to since yesterday was long and tomorrow will be even longer. I can't help overthinking that maybe I acted too tired yesterday, or I did something wrong. I message her back and decide to stay home and work on articles for my clients.
9 a.m. — I make coffee, water houseplants, put away laundry, and chat with N. about planting the garden. My dad texts and says he lost his headphones and he's bummed. They were a cheap Skullcandy pair I gave to him a few years ago. I text my sister (who has Amazon Prime) the link and venmo her the money for the earbuds. I text my dad back and tell him we took care of it. I have a lot of guilt about my dad working for so long to pay for college, so little things like this make me feel better. $7.50
3 p.m. — Work on articles for three clients (a gear article, a column, and edits on a reported feature) and get a Google alert for my name. An article I wrote has been translated into French, which is cool and makes me wish I still spoke French (nine years of French in school and zero retention). I cook pasta and chickpeas with veggie broth and tomato paste. I don't keep a lot of food in the house during shoots, and this is one of my go-to meals that comes together fast.
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4:30 p.m. — Decide to see a matinee of The Northman. It's rainy out, and I've worked enough on writing today to take a movie break. Trying to take advantage of this unexpected day off from set! $11.50
7 p.m. — Alternate listening to my audiobook, Once More We Saw Stars, and watching The New York Times' "Anatomy of a Scene," in which directors narrate behind the scenes. As a kid, I always loved watching the DVD extras and seeing how movies were made, so it makes sense I'd like working on film sets.
Daily Total: $19

Day Six

6:45 — Make coffee, feed cat, and take a 45-minute walk around the neighbourhood. I usually run every day, but this bronchitis is lingering, so a walk will suffice. I finish my audiobook and get a notification that my next audiobook loan is ready. If you have a library card, get the Libby app! You can borrow ebooks and audiobooks for free!
8 a.m. — Leave for set and start The Memory Police as an audiobook. This has been on my TBR forever.
9:30 a.m. — It's our Friday on set! I grab food at the catering van on the way to outdoor set, where I spend a few hours rebuilding pieces, moving props, and setting scenes. I watch some of the takes, chat with the actors, and organize props and set dec for our next location.
1:30 p.m. — I get sent to the next location to start running gear and set dressing the room we're shooting in later. I grab a nitro cold brew, La Croix, and a bagel sandwich at crafty, then spend a few hours hanging pictures, moving furniture, and working with the DP (directory of photography) to make sure everything works in the frames for all the upcoming coverage.
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4:30 p.m. — The art department has been working nonstop, so one of the PAs brings lunch up to us on set. Today is soufflé and an amazing salad. Most of my set dec work is done, so I sit in another room with the hair and makeup ladies and read a book on my Kindle app.
9 p.m. — The production designer wraps me SUPER early. They'll be shooting till 3 a.m., but we had an early pre-call, and my day is over. I ratchet some larger items into place in the van to make their load-out easier, then swing by the crafty trailer and grab a Spindrift and a handful of snacks for the drive home. N. texts and asks me to pick up cleaning spray (he venmos me the $6), and I also get gas, which is $75 (!!!), but the production will reimburse me. $75 (expensed)
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

6:20 a.m. — Make coffee and an egg sandwich, feed cat, clean up around the house, put laundry in, mow lawn, sort recycling. I try to take care of everything at once during my off-day from set to avoid stressing about it during long shoots.
10:30 a.m. — Six-mile hike/trail run on a favourite trail. I guess I'm feeling better! Back at my truck, I have a message from my friend, P., who's wrangling this movie. I'll be helping out as a wrangler (jumping departments) for two horse-heavy days next week, and he's working the horses today. He invites me out to the ranch to test some out. I've worked with him as a wrangler on other movies so I'm stoked to be able to ride on this show, even just for a few days.
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4:30 p.m. — Ride all afternoon and pick out my picture horse, a tall sorrel mare with a lot of spunk. It's a blast, and P. takes us to Dairy Queen up the valley. He pays.
6 p.m. — Back home. I get easy edits back on my gear article (fast turnaround from this editor) and I do them quickly, then change into yoga clothes for a 7:30 class. I used to have a membership to this studio, but I'm gone so much that a punch card makes more sense. I use one of my pre-paid punches to reserve a spot.
8:30 p.m. — Super hard yoga class. (Does anyone look good doing a revolved half moon?) At home, I switch over the laundry that I forgot about this morning and say hi to N. who is planting our starter plants in the raised beds I built a few years ago.
10:30 p.m. — Call sheet comes in, so I set an alarm and read my book before passing out.
Daily Total: $0
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