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A Week In Western Colorado On A $77,000 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 medical coding auditor who makes $77,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on an Otherland candle.
All currency in USD.
Occupation: Medical Coding Auditor
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 37
Location: Western Colorado
Salary: $77,000
Net Worth: ~$209,000 ($22,582 in a HYSA, $6,735 in joint checking account, $7,500 in a brokerage account, $56,573 in Roth IRA, $60,543 in 401(k), ~$416,000 house value, minus debt. My sister, B., and I live together and co-own our house, so I count only half of the house in my net worth. We keep our finances separate aside from the joint checking account we use to pay bills, but we split most expenses 50/50.)
Debt: $289,340 on the mortgage ($144,670 my half) and $7,898 on my car
Paycheck Amount (weekly): $895, after 17% 401(k) contribution
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $765, which is my half of the $1,530 mortgage payment. (I share the house with my sister, B., and our six cats. B. and I both knew early in adulthood that we didn't want spouses or kids, so it only made sense for us to go dual-income together. It's unconventional, but it works for us. B. makes ~$65,000.)
Car Payment: $175
Utilities (Electric, Gas, Water, Trash): $195
Internet: $32.50
Car Insurance: $93
Health Insurance: $283
House Cleaning Service: $160 (every other week)
Cell Phone: $66 ($34 for Mint Mobile and $32 for the phone itself; I'm still paying it off interest-free with my Apple card)
Career Coach: $75
Netflix, Disney Plus, Kindle Unlimited, DoorDash Dashpass: $33
Pest Control: $29 (my half of $58)
MMORPG Gaming Subscription: $13
Donations: $300
401(k): $1,006, deducted from my paychecks pre-tax
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. My parents have five degrees between them, so growing up I thought college was just something everyone did. I am extremely lucky in that my parents paid for my entire college education, which included a BA and later an associate's degree when it became apparent that no one was hiring boilerplate liberal arts grads in the middle of the Great Recession. It wasn't until my late teens/early 20s that I began to realise how privileged I was to have parents who were able to fund my education!
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn't really talk about money much, which is surprising considering it's my dad's favourite topic. My parents taught me the basics about checking and savings accounts, but everything else I know about personal finance I learned from the internet. My strongest memories of financial conversations are from my earliest working years when I had jobs that paid barely above minimum wage. When I got my paychecks, my dad would ask how much I made. When I told him, he would respond with something like, "That's nice. I made $35,000 this week." It made me feel like garbage. Like I said above, I'm incredibly grateful that my dad paid for my college (my mom was a SAHM), but I think his attitude toward finances contributed to my semi-thorny relationship with money today. I often feel ashamed and guilty that I had every financial advantage growing up, but still haven't done anything meaningful with my life.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
At 16, I got a job shelving books at a local library. I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it, but my mom insisted. I think she probably worried — justifiably — that I would turn out completely spoiled and useless if I wasn't put to work.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No, we were well off. We had a sizable house, nice cars, and regular vacations.
Do you worry about money now?
Somewhat, yes. I have an emergency fund saved up, so I know I would be okay for at least a little while if I lost my job or something. But being an older millennial, and having the experience of graduating college into a recession with a 10% unemployment rate, has left some pretty significant financial scars. I vividly remember the desperation of wanting to be independent and support myself, but being unable to find a job to save my life. So I do worry that, should the economy take another major downturn, I could find myself back in that same helpless position.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I was 26 when I finally landed a job that paid a living wage. Up until then, I was living with my parents and working retail and/or attending school. Nowadays my safety net is my savings, which in an emergency could probably sustain me for close to a year if I went really, really bare-bones. My sister is another part of my safety net (as I am for her) since we live together and split most expenses. And finally, though my parents are retired now, I'm sure they would let me move back in with them if I absolutely had to. But they've already spent so much time and money taking care of me that I would only do that to them in the direst of circumstances!
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My grandmother left me a few thousand dollars when she passed away, but I was a young teen so I never actually saw any of it. I'm not sure what my parents did with it — probably put it toward my college fund. Aside from that, my parents paid for college and they also gave me and my sister several thousand dollars apiece to put toward the down payment for our first house. We still would have been able to buy the house without their help, but the money they gave us definitely made the process less stressful.

Day One

9:30 a.m. — If it's a day ending in Y, a cat is waking me up. I get up and feed the menagerie, then make breakfast for myself: a banana, whole wheat toast with butter, and iced coffee. After eating, I lay out my Anthropologie bath rugs that arrived last night; they go perfectly with the bathroom's new green and gold colour scheme. My sister, B., and I are putting the finishing touches on this bathroom remodel. Lucky for me, home renovation is one of her hobbies and she's amazing at it. Even so, the costs are no joke, and more are on the way: new kitchen cabinets and countertop, new external doors, and (gulp) a new roof. I love my house, and homeownership in general, but sometimes it feels like throwing money into a bottomless hole.
10 a.m. — I sit at my home office desk and get to work. My job isn't picky about when I start as long as I get my hours in. I'm not a morning person, so I usually begin around 10. My days consist of wading through spreadsheets and hospital records to fix coding errors. Medical coding involves determining what happened during a patient encounter and capturing the data using specialised codes. For example, if you go to the ER because you're nauseous, the code is R11.0, but if you're nauseous and vomiting, it's R11.2. There are tens of thousands of codes, so things can get tricky. It's my job to make sure it's all in order. (Oh, and say you visit the doctor because you got in a fight with a duck? That's W61.62XA. There's a code for pretty much everything.)
12 p.m. — B. texts from a Thai food truck to ask if I want anything for later. I order wontons with cream cheese, green onion, and celery, with sweet chili dipping sauce. $10
2 p.m. — I take a late lunch break and make myself a sandwich with leftover smoked tri-tip beef, plus a cinnamon roll for dessert.
3 p.m. — Back to work for a while, then I take a break to water our outside flowers and play some Merge Mansion, which is a stupidly addictive mobile game. I buy a few in-game packs because I suck at delayed gratification. $5.23
7 p.m. — I finish work. B. texts from Sam's Club, where she's discovered dish sets on clearance for $20 apiece. Our current dinnerware is pretty old, so we decide to buy two sets. She also picks up heavy whipping cream, cheese, coffee, and a couple of whole chickens. The total comes out to $92.64, which we split in half. $46.32
7:30 p.m. — B. gets home, and we climb in our hot tub on the back porch. We drink cheap sparkling wine and chat about our days while enjoying the sunset over the mountains.
9 p.m. — I eat the wontons I ordered earlier, then spend a couple of hours playing Stray, a video game where you play as a cat. 100% up my alley.
11 p.m. — Evening hours are cat-cuddling time while I scroll social media. Then I play more Merge Mansion and drop more cash on it. $4.18
12 a.m. — I head to bed after completing my skin-care routine of… having skin. I know I should probably use toner and eye cream and all that stuff, but I've never gotten into the habit. Once in bed, I take a while to fall asleep, thanks to my vice of mindlessly surfing the internet on my phone.
Daily Total: $65.73

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — One of my cats wakes me up. I let her out of my room and go back to sleep.
9:30 a.m. — My alarm goes off. I take a quick scroll through the news and social media, because how better to start the day than with a nice dose of existential dread? I get up and make my bed, then feed the cats. Normally B. and I make the cats' food at home — bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, chicken hearts, and chicken livers in an industrial-type meat grinder, mixed with egg yolks and supplements — but we've been slacking lately, so the cats get FreshPet food, which they enjoy far more than the homemade food. While the cats eat, I make breakfast for myself: whole wheat toast and a strawberry banana smoothie. While the bread toasts, I text my mom, who's recovering from COVID, and ask how she's feeling.
10 a.m. — I get to work, sipping ice water. I play a bit of Merge Mansion while I work and drop a few more dollars on it. $4.18
12:30 p.m. — I get a voicemail from the American Health Information Management Association reminding me that I'm due to fork over cash to keep my membership and professional credential active. The credential is required for my job, so I had better get on that. While nearly all employers in this industry require credentials, they don't all reimburse credential fees. I've been with my current employer for less than a year, so I fire off an email to my recruiter to find out whether the organisation will cover the cost. I'm not holding my breath.
12:37 p.m. — My recruiter says yes, they will reimburse the dues! I'm happy to be wrong. I head to AHIMA's website and take care of that ($135 expensed).
2:15 p.m. — I break for lunch, but I'm not hungry, so I write for about 15 minutes. I've been very slowly working on a novel since late 2019. I'm only now nearing the end of the first draft since I was too stressed to write much in 2020, for obvious reasons. 2021 and 2022 haven't been much better on that front, but I'm forcing myself to write anyway since this thing refuses to finish itself. 15 minutes gets me 300+ words. After that, I'm feeling drowsy, so I spend the rest of my lunch break on a nap. I'm hungry when I wake up, so I grab an iced coffee from the fridge and heat up some leftover beef and mushroom pot pie that B. and I made a few days ago. I eat while getting back to work.
5:30 p.m. — I'm feeling antsy after sitting around all day, so I take a break from work and jog around my house for around twenty minutes. Probably not the most effective workout, but at least it's something.
6:30 p.m. — I finish up work and settle in for some gaming. I'm an avid player of Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMORPG — think World of Warcraft, but with lightsabers. (Yes, I'm a cat lady and a Star Wars/gaming nerd — hitting all the stereotypes here!) One of my teams needs someone to fill in tonight, so I volunteer and hop on voice chat to join them. I'm very introverted and easily drained during in-person interaction, so aside from hanging out with B., this is my preferred form of socialisation. I get the fun of playing a game with friends, joking around, and enjoying camaraderie, but without the pressure of hanging out in person. After a couple of hours of gaming, I eat dinner, which is more leftovers: chicken with a creamy dill and Dijon mustard sauce, green beans, and a glass of sangria. I play SWTOR with another friend, N., for another hour, then log off.
10 p.m. — I finally get an email I've been waiting on for two months: the results for round one of a flash-fiction writing contest I entered. After a few minutes of psyching myself up, I look at the list to find that my story took second place in my group. Phew! That gives me a boost of confidence heading into this weekend, when I will receive the next set of prompts and write my story for round two. After two rounds, the top scorers in each group advance to round three. There are over 4,000 writers competing in this contest, so I'm proud of myself for a strong round one finish. I celebrate with some Ben & Jerry's peanut butter cup ice cream that I already had in the freezer.
10:30 p.m. — I brush my teeth and take a shower, which includes my actual skin-care routine: CeraVe hydrating cleanser followed by Neutrogena SPF 15 moisturiser after I'm out and dried off.
11:00 p.m. — I play some more Merge Mansion, then read for a while (A Lady's Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin), and head to bed.
Daily Total: $4.18

Day Three

9 a.m. — Once again, cats wake me up this morning. B. is home today — she doesn't work on Fridays, lucky duck — so we chat as I feed the cats and she unloads the dishwasher. I do my morning stuff — taking meds, brushing my hair, etc. Next, I make my toast-and-smoothie breakfast (mixed berry today), and sit down to work around 10:45, after lighting a Verdant Verve candle from Otherland — my latest candle obsession.
2 p.m. — I break for lunch, and B. and I head out for some shopping. First, we stop at the grocery store and pick up Greek yoghurt, milk, bananas, asparagus, and coffee. My portion of that comes to $19.95. We're getting hungry, and on Fridays we let ourselves order takeout, so we swipe through the DoorDash app looking at the options. We decide on Red Robin. While we wait for our lunch order to be ready, we head to the liquor store and pick up Chocolate Shop red wine, a bottle of Galea mimosa wine cocktail, and some peach-flavoured beer that B. wants to use in a chicken recipe tonight ($21.50 for my portion). Then it's off to pick up Red Robin, where B. gets fish & chips and I get a garlicky mushroom chicken sandwich with fries. B. pays and I Venmo her my portion, which comes out to $16.16. $57.61
4 p.m. — It's late afternoon by the time we arrive back home, and I sign back into work. Since I took time out for errands, I'll have to work late tonight, which sucks, especially on a Friday. But it's worth it to get the errands done.
8 p.m. — I finally finish work after dragging through four hours of zero motivation. My job has stringent productivity requirements that we log on spreadsheets every day, meaning I have to account for every hour of my workday. It's frustrating, given studies that show people are typically productive for only three to five hours a day, so I end every workday feeling frazzled and drained. Fortunately, B. has been working on dinner while I've been on the clock. We splurged on a combination grill/smoker a couple of months ago, and B. is gung-ho about smoking as much meat as she possibly can. Tonight, she's smoked a whole chicken with the aforementioned can of beer shoved up its [redacted]. Apparently, this makes the chicken tender and juicy. It's delicious, in any case. I finish off the meal with a glass of the Galea cocktail and an apple with honey-roasted peanut butter.
10 p.m. — I get the email with my prompt and genre assignments for round two of the flash fiction contest. I open the email to find my assigned genre is… comedy. My brain wilts. I'm great at cracking dirty jokes on the fly, but writing a 1,000-word comedy story in under 48 hours? It's going to be a challenge.
12 a.m. — After a couple of hours of relaxation and cat-cuddling, I head to bed.
Daily Total: $57.61

Day Four

9 a.m. — Normally I'm a big fan of sleeping in on the weekends, but today B. and I have plans to attend the annual peach festival in the neighbouring town. It opens at 10 and we want to arrive early to beat as much of the heat as possible. I feed the cats and do the rest of my morning routine, but skip breakfast since there will be plenty of delicious food at the festival.
9:45 a.m. — We head out. We wait in line for 45 minutes in the boiling heat before we make it into the park — even though we pull out our phones and buy tickets online. Skipping breakfast was a mistake. By the time we get inside, I'm hangry. $7
11 a.m. — At the food vendors, we get filled crepes — peaches and cream for me, savory and meat-filled for B. My crepe is delicious, but I need protein, so I get a grilled brat and then follow that up with a peachy dessert. I am no longer hangry. I text a couple of pictures to my mom, who scolds me for eating too much. Sigh. $48.85
12 p.m. — Next we head to the merchandise vendors, where B. buys some earrings from a jewellery vendor and I get a ring ($10.96). We both also buy cute tiny purses that clip to your waistband so you can carry things around hands-free and without dealing with purse straps. Should be useful for my walks in the park. $41.25
1 p.m. — We grab some peach ice cream, then follow that up with frozen peach lemonade and cold brew coffee floats, since I need a caffeine boost. We browse the merchandise booths a little more and buy some CBD oil to split. I've tried CBD gummies in the past for my anxiety but didn't notice much difference, so I hope the oil will be more effective. Finally, we buy some actual peaches, then head back home. B. paid for all of the above, so I Venmo her. $51.50
3 p.m. — After five hours of walking around outside in 95-degree heat, we're both exhausted. B. falls asleep on the couch and I crash on my bed with three fans blowing on me.
5:45 p.m. — I'm dozing when my phone alarm wakes me up, reminding me of my weekly gaming session with friends. We play SWTOR together for two hours. I play another half hour by myself before logging off.
12:30 a.m. — I eat some cheese, a banana, Skinnypop butter popcorn, and ginger ale, and waste some more time on the internet. I finally head for bed in the wee hours of the morning, because I'm a Responsible Adult.
Daily Total: $148.60

Day Five

10:30 a.m. — I laze in bed for another hour doing my news and social media check, then playing more Merge Mansion. I spend $8 on a couple of item packs, hating myself and my dopamine-starved brain all the while. $8
11:30 a.m. — I get up, feed the cats, take my meds, then have a bowl of cereal for breakfast/lunch (Special K Protein Cinnamon Brown Sugar Crunch). I'm low on lip balm, so I order some more while I eat. I use Hurraw! balm, which has a ton of different flavors. I pick black cherry, banana, and almond cardamom rose. With shipping, it comes out to $18. After I'm done eating, the cats are feeling spicy since they've just been fed, so I zoom around the house with them for a bit. $18
12 p.m. — B. and I grab a bottle of wine and go outside to the not-so-hot tub to cool off. I also grab a bottled iced coffee from the fridge since I need my daily caffeine dose. We relax in the water and discuss my comedy story, which is due at 10 p.m. this evening. B. helps me brainstorm some new ideas that are more original and creative than my initial scenario.
1:30 p.m. — Chilling in the pool on a sunny Sunday afternoon with coffee in one hand and wine in the other; what's not to love? After an hour and a half, my bladder sharply reminds me of the downsides. Back inside, I take a long shower, including Pravana violet colour enhancer, a new addition to my routine. At my last salon visit, I had my stylist dye my hair a deep purple (my favorite colour), which I'd wanted for years. Now that I'm in my late 30s, I finally decided to go for it. My stylist recommended the colour enhancer to help the purple stick around longer.
3 p.m. — My stomach's starting to growl, so I have a banana, some leftover smoked chicken, and the rest of the ginger ale I didn't finish last night.
4 p.m. — It's six hours to the comedy story deadline, so I can no longer justify putting it off. I grab a White Claw strawberry lemonade and sit down on the couch to write.
7:30 p.m. — I think I spent more time looking up names for my characters than I did actually writing, but I now have a 995-word draft (1,000 is the limit) that I hope doesn't suck too badly. I'll let it sit for a little while, then look over it again before I submit it. But for now, I'm hungry. I heat up my Red Robin leftovers from Friday.
9 p.m. — The Sunday Scaries are in full force. I'm morose about the weekend flying by so fast. I also don't think my comedy story is funny enough, and B. agrees, which makes me pessimistic. I'm not sure how to make it funnier and the deadline is in an hour, so I go ahead and submit it. If nothing else, at least I wrote something. Now to wait another two months for the results.
9:30 p.m. — It's been another day of not much movement, so I get in another informal “exercise” session of jogging around my house, just to get my heart rate up and increase my step counter.
10 p.m. — Earlier in the day, I got an email notification from the library that my e-book hold on Ruth Ware's new book, The It Girl, has finally come in. I'm an avid reader of mysteries and thrillers, so I'm excited for this one and it helps alleviate the focus issues I was having the previous evening. I read while snacking on a Nature Valley almond butter biscuit dipped in amaretto-flavored honey that I got at a local farmer's market. Sweet tooth satisfied, I read some more, then head to bed around 12:30.
Daily Total: $26

Day Six

9:30 a.m. — Monday starts off with a bang when I go to the kitchen to feed the cats, only to find a gigantic swarm of ants. Again. We've had this ant infestation for several months now, despite repeated visits from the pest-control company. Think it might be time to give this company the boot and try a different one.
10 a.m. — I make my toast/banana/coffee breakfast and get to work, where the day promptly gets worse. We have a department-wide Zoom meeting this morning, innocently titled “touch-base,” but it's actually an hour of the department director yelling about all the things we're apparently doing wrong, including such delightful phrases as “performance management” and “HR involvement.” Personally, I think that when an entire department is apparently underperforming, it's less an issue of employee competence and more likely a failure in training or communication… but what do I know? I haven't had any performance-related notifications from my manager, but the meeting leaves me paranoid that I've been screwing up without knowing it and the hammer is about to fall. I wish companies would approach issues constructively instead of resorting to threats and shaming. And corporations wonder why their employees are so disengaged…
12 p.m. — I get on DoorDash and order delivery from a local mom-n'-pop restaurant that specialises in delicious pudding parfaits. They also make a mean pulled-pork sandwich, so I order that, plus a s'mores flavored parfait. $22
6:30 p.m. — Stress notwithstanding, the rest of the workday goes by uneventfully. When I'm done, I head to the park for a long walk to clear my head. Being out in nature always helps.
9 p.m. — Back home, I heat up a late dinner of frozen chicken fried rice, then do some gaming and reading before heading toward bed around midnight. But first, I mix up a couple of batches of peaches and cream overnight oats. The oats already look delicious and I can't wait to try them tomorrow.
Daily Total: $22

Day Seven

9:30 a.m. — Wake up and do the usual news and social media scroll.
10 a.m. — Head to the kitchen to feed the cats and — surprise! — more ants on the cats' food dishes. I Raid the hell out of them, rinse their corpses into the sink, and run the disposal, which is probably overkill but I don't care. I load all the food dishes into the dishwasher and run it on full blast, then scrub the whole area. Next, I find a juicy hairball in the middle of my new bathroom runner. Clean that up and spray the whole area with carpet cleaner. I realise I'm on my last roll of toilet paper because I mistakenly thought I had more in our storage area. Then, I water all the outside plants because I've forgotten the past couple of days and they look like they're in death throes.
11:45 a.m. — It's nearly noon and I haven't even had breakfast, let alone done any work. Internal screaming intensifies.
12 p.m. — Sit down at my work desk with some iced coffee and a jar of overnight oats. They're a tad soupy, but taste absolutely scrumptious. I make a mental note to use less milk next time and chow down.
2 p.m. — I burn candles in my home office pretty much all day, every workday, and my stash is getting low. I order a pack of three candles from Otherland: a cardamom scent, a saffron and suede scent, and a smoky maple scent. They're pricey for the size, but I'll get good use out of them. I'm okay with spending some money to make my workday suck a little less. $80.10
2:30 p.m. — I break for lunch, but I'm still full, so I do some odds and ends. A virtual writers' group I recently joined is meeting on Zoom this Saturday, and this will be our first time sharing our work for the group to read and critique. I upload the first chapter of my novel-in-progress to the group Discord. I'm scared, but feedback is an essential part of the process for someone like me who hopes to one day be traditionally published. Hopefully, my group won't tear it to shreds!
2:45 p.m. — Next, I head to Sam's Club to pick up toilet paper and some other essentials. In addition to stocking up on TP, I get paper towels, Greek yoghurt, a couple of cases of bottled iced coffee, several bags of popcorn, and two ready-to-bake meals. The total comes out to $154.62, but B. and I will split the meals, yogurt, paper towels, and coffee, so my portion is $114.25. $114.25
3:45 p.m. — Heading home, I stop and pick up the mail, which includes my $750 check that the state governor randomly sent out to all taxpayers. I love living in Colorado! Then I play the “dodge cats while carrying in groceries” game, and since I'm hungry, I pop one of the pre-made meals I just bought into the oven. Then I finally sign back into work. Another late evening tonight.
7:45 p.m. — After work, I take a nice long nap, followed by an evening of reading, gaming, and snuggling with cats.
12 a.m. — Head to bed, to hopefully have sweet dreams of tomorrow's peaches and cream oats!
Daily Total: $194.35
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