A Week In Grand Rapids, MI, On A $41,000 Salary

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.
Today: a high school English teacher who makes $41,000 per year and spends some of her paycheck this week on ashwagandha supplements.
Occupation: English Teacher
Industry: Education
Age: 26
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Salary: $41,000
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $992.58
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $600 for my share. (Rent includes gas, water, trash, internet, a plowing service in winter, and lawn care.)
Student Loan Payment: $178
Car Loan Payment: $100
Health Insurance: $75, out of my paycheck
Electricity: $30
Phone: $50
Charitable Contribution: $10 (It's an automatic donation to a local organization that works with refugees.)
Hulu, Netflix & Spotify: $0 (My friends shared their passwords with me.)
401(k) & 457 Plans: $100 (Between both accounts, I have about $9,000 set away for retirement at this point.)
Savings: $500–$700, depending on my spending and upcoming travels.

Day One

5:10 a.m. — My alarm rings just once before I catch it. My cat, begging for breakfast, woke me twenty minutes ago and I dutifully, albeit sleepily, fed her. I grab my outfit for the day off the top of my dresser and head to the shower.
5:30 a.m. — I listen to the most recent The Moth podcast as I get ready for the day. The episode is about the places we go that shape our lives. As the first story teller comments on the pain of leaving her home, I look up and see all the boxes in my own home. My lease is about to end, but this time I'm moving into a new home by myself, and the reality of my recent breakup hits me hard. I step away from the kitchen and find myself back in the bedroom. I open the closet and find one of my boyfriend's shirts, which smells like him. As tears stream down my face, I remind myself that the breakup is for the best, even though I don't fully believe that just yet.
5:40 a.m. — I come back to the kitchen but tune out the podcast. I pack a banana and a Tupperware of homemade ham and potato soup for lunch. I opt to have Thai takeout leftovers for breakfast instead of my usual smoothie. As I savor my Thai food, I heat water so I can bring a thermos of cinnamon black tea to work as I do every day. I'm on the road by 6 a.m.
11:30 a.m. — I'm a high school teacher, and my juniors are understandably struggling today after a week of standardizing tests including the dreaded SAT. I've had to be extra engaging all day today to make up for their lack of energy. Now it's lunchtime, and I plop into a seat in the staff lounge after heating up my soup.
3:30 p.m. — I'm home from work and it's the beginning of my weekend, but I start to wonder if I'm coming down with a cold. I scrounge around in the medicine cabinet to find DayQuil to help with my sore throat. It's raining outside, and the purple crocuses in the yard look beautiful during the storm. I force myself to be a bit productive by packing two boxes worth of books before taking a nap.
6 p.m. — I'm daydreaming about sushi, but make myself cook at home to save money. For dinner, I make pasta with a homemade sauce consisting of Italian sausage, onion, garlic, basil, diced tomatoes, and half-and-half. I pack up leftovers and bring them over to my friend's house. With me being sick and her being tired, we lazily spend the evening on her couch watching movies and talking. Despite it being a lackluster Friday night, I'm grateful for the company. I've been feeling lonely since my boyfriend (ex? that's painful to write) recently moved out.
10:30 p.m. — I make a pit stop at the local grocery store on my way home to pick up needed supplies before the ice storm kicks in: DayQuil, tissues, and cough drops. I head home and promptly go to sleep. $10.50
Daily Total: $10.50

Day Two

9:30 a.m. — I'm definitely sick. I don't normally sleep in this late. Before opening my eyes, I hear the rapping on my window. The rain must have turned to sleet. I turn to look outside and find myself sharing my pillow with my cat. I get out of bed, make green tea, prepare a simple smoothie, and sit down by a window to read after taking a healthy dose of cold medicine.
11 a.m. — I come into the kitchen to do my dishes and notice some of my food has spoiled. I throw away a number of clementines and salad mix. I feel bad wasting food, but it's certainly hard shopping and cooking for one person. I'm not used to it yet.
2 p.m. — I spend my early afternoon alternating between grading student papers and reading. I take a break and grab boxes from my car that I pilfered from work. I turn on a Spotify playlist and get to work taking down the art from my walls.
3 p.m. — I keep seeing on Facebook that a lot of businesses in the area are losing power and closing. I decide to shower and cook an early dinner just in case I lose power too. I fry potatoes on the stove and add garlic, cheese, and a fried egg on top. Simple, but tasty.
4 p.m. — The rain and general gloominess are relentless and uncharacteristic of April in Michigan. It's bringing me down. I've kept myself busy all day, but in this quiet moment, I think of my ex and my heart just aches. I want to reach out to him and see how he's doing, but I know I shouldn't and space is what we need right now. I look around the room and see constant reminders of him. This was our apartment, after all. I don't want to dwell in this sadness, so I make myself take a nap.
5 p.m. — I start focusing on my plans for the evening. Earlier in the week, I spontaneously reached out to Z., a guy I met in college. I asked him if he wanted to grab a drink sometime, and he said yes. We're meeting tonight in a few hours. I don't know if it's a date or not. I tell myself it isn't so I don't get nervous. As someone who has always been in long-term relationships, I haven't really dated as an adult. The thought freaks me out a bit. I take out my phone and do some light Facebook stalking. I don't think he has a girlfriend. I see recent pictures of him and his dog and of his recent travels. I make a mental note to ask him about both.
6:45 p.m. — A great part about my neighborhood is its walkability. I don a bunch of layers to protect myself from the wind and sleet and walk the few blocks to the restaurant where Z. and I are meeting. I arrive a bit early, take a seat near the back, and order a cider.
7 p.m. — As I wait for Z., a strange man walks up, makes a lot of eye contact, and bends over for a hug. I give him a one-armed hug as I rack my mind to figure out who he is. He starts to sit down and I say, "Uhh, I don't think I'm the person you're meeting." He realizes he's made a mistake and walks away abruptly. The people at the tables next to me chuckle. We assume he was on a Tinder date. I hope he found who he was actually looking for.
7:15 p.m. — Z. finds me and sits down. Over the next few hours, we talk about anything and everything: our travels, jobs, aspirations, college memories, and so on. The conversation flows easily. I like his smile. At one point, when ordering our second drinks, he says: "I have to know – is this a date?" I laugh and say that I don't really know, but it can be. He says he'd like that. For a moment, it's a bit uncomfortable, but our conversation picks up easily.
10:30 p.m. — By the end of the night, I've only had two drinks: a cider and a cocktail. With tip, the bill comes to $17.50. Before we leave, Z. says, "Maybe this is too soon, but would you like to come over for dinner tomorrow? I'll cook." He then adds, "Just promise not to murder me." I laugh because I appreciate a comment like that. He's right; spending time with a stranger does bring up questions about safety, at least for me. I tell him yes, and that that would be nice. We part ways with a second date in the books. I walk home and head to bed. $17.50
Daily Total: $17.50

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — I can't seem to fall back asleep, so I get up. While feeding my cat, I look out the window and see my car covered in a layer of ice. I have brunch plans with a few friends today and wonder if it'll end up being cancelled because no one wants to drive.
8:30 a.m. — The only sound I can hear is the howling wind. I'm on my computer in the breakfast nook and start looking at flights on Kayak. I'm heading to California this summer to participate in a National Endowment for the Humanities institute and I need to book my own transportation. One-way tickets from Grand Rapids to San Jose are $285. I decide to wait a few days to buy one to see if I can get a better price.
10:30 a.m. — There's a lot of back and forth in our group text on whether or not to cancel brunch. We ultimately decide to. I start daydreaming about a snow day tomorrow and getting my hopes up (hey, it's one of the perks of being a teacher!). As I start to plan the rest of my day, I toast an English muffin and slather on a generous amount of peanut butter and strawberry-rhubarb jam from the farmer's market.
1:30 p.m. — I inevitably start to feel a bit stir-crazy. I've been doing much of the same for the last few days and start feeling unsatisfied. While I'm sitting on the couch brushing my cat, my mind wanders to my ex. The pain and loss is a palpable thing. My chest hurts and I feel so heavy. I reach out to my best friend, M., through text for a bit of reassurance. I tell her how scared I am of the future and all the unknowns, about how the newness feels so heavy. M. sends a series of texts back: "Be a little kinder to yourself and where you are and the decisions you're making. I think you're being too hard on yourself again. Each day gets you closer to where you want to be. Set small goals and allow life to happen." M. has always been there for me and has had to give me pep talks like this before. I don't fully accept her words, but I try. I want to. I breathe a bit easier.
5:30 p.m. — It's time to head over to Z.'s house for dinner. I start to question if seeing him again is a good idea and if I'm ready to invest energy into a new person. I tell myself to take things one day at a time, though, and that making new acquaintances is what I need right now. Z. lives a little over a mile away from me in a different area of town, so I decide to drive.
6:30 p.m. — I'd been nervous about coming over, but Z. is so kind and his demeanor puts me at ease. I play with his dog as he cooks dinner and we chat. He serves me sweet potato and black bean tacos garnished with cilantro and avocado. After dinner, we notice the weather has finally let up, and Z. asks if I want to go for a walk in the woods outside his window. After days of feeling quarantined at home, I relish in the idea of being in the woods.
7 p.m. — Wearing our thickest boots, we tromp through snow, ice, and mud behind his dog, who excitedly leads the way. Z. and I share more about our families and our childhoods, bouncing from topic to topic. There isn't a lull in conversation and I can't tell if that's just because we're both so talkative, if it's out of nervousness, or if it's a combination of both. Regardless, talking with him is nice. We wind through the woods and trek across the neighborhood, making a big loop back to his house.
8 p.m. — When we make it back to his driveway, I thank him for the dinner and say we should hang out again soon. My departure probably seems a bit abrupt, but whatever happens next in my life, I want to take it slowly. I'm conscious of my fragility and am trying to take care of my myself.
9 p.m. — When I make it home, I check my phone and see a snow day has been called for work tomorrow. This is the best surprise I can imagine. It's time to make the most of the evening then. After a brief ab workout at home, I draw a bath. I quickly Google household items to add to bath water and get the idea to add a quarter cup of coconut oil. I also add a few drops of lemon and rosemary essential oils. I go all out for this bath – I bring in a book, my Bluetooth speaker, my computer, and half a bottle of wine I opened earlier in the week. I read for a bit, but ultimately decide to turn on Sylvan Esso, slide a bit deeper into the bath, and enjoy the wine. The only thing standing between me and full relaxation is my cat, who – during every bath – thinks I'm in danger and stands on the edge of the tub, alternating between pleading eye contact and hissing at the water.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

8 a.m. — A snow day in spring – who would ever imagine? I decide to get up and make the most of the day. I quickly jump in the shower and make scrambled eggs with toast for breakfast. I make a mental note that I'm stupidly low on groceries. I pack a bag with my computer, a book, student papers, and my wallet, and head out to walk to a café.
9 a.m. — The walk is tedious through the slush, but I get a call from my grandma, who asks if I want to come over for some homemade chicken noodle soup. I say yes. I can't remember the last time my grandma felt well enough to invite me over for lunch.
9:20 a.m. — From my house, I can easily walk to four different cafés, so I rotate where I go. Today, this particular café is relatively empty. I order a turmeric-ginger tea latte and use the time to submit a recent short story of mine to a number of literary publications, which is something I don't usually have time for. I'm pleased to have this extra day to myself and am grateful that I feel relatively positive today. $5.50
12 p.m. — I drive to my grandma's house and find her in the yard throwing old French fries near some robins. She tells me she's feeding them because: "How are they supposed to find food in this snow?" We head inside and she nearly force-feeds me bowl after bowl of chicken soup and crusty bread as she presses me with questions on my new house. I try to seem excited about the move. She gives me food to take home, as always.
3 p.m. — I feel inspired to do some downsizing. I go through my closet and find a handful shirts I never wear to give to the counseling office at my school to be given to students who need them. I take a dozen books to drop off at the nearest Little Free Library for someone else to discover. Then I take pictures of wall art I no longer like and post them on the Facebook Marketplace.
5:30 p.m. — I peer inside the Tupperware my grandma gave me and can't tell what is what, but heat it up regardless. I give it a taste and it really is delicious, so I have it for dinner tonight.
7:30 p.m. — After pouring over prices and times, I order my tickets to head out west this summer. $336 for a one-way ticket to San Jose, CA, plus a trip from California to Seattle for $123 to vist my friend. I don't book a flight home just yet. These costs will eventually be reimbursed by the institute I'm participating in, but that check won't come until August. $459
8 p.m. — Last night's bath was enjoyable enough to convince me to do it again tonight. I fill the tub and balance my gin and tonic with cucumber on the ledge as I settle in. This time, I bring my laptop in so I can watch Baskets on Hulu. A friend told me it was a funny show, but I find it irrevocably sad.
9:30 p.m. — I search for pajamas on this chilly night and find one of my ex's shirts again. I debate putting it on, questioning if it's the right thing to do. I slide it over my head and crawl into bed.
Daily Total: $464.50

Day Five

5 a.m. — I get up to feed my ravenous cat and notice I have to scrape my car off again. Begrudgingly, I proceed to get ready and fill my thermos with peppermint tea to help with my persistent stuffiness and headache. For lunch, I pack more of my pasta leftovers and vow to myself to bring something different tomorrow. I munch on peanut butter toast as I brush my cat, giving her a bit of attention before I leave.
9 a.m. — During my prep hour, I email my principal to express my firm interest in only teaching English next year. Being new to the building, I spent a big chunk of this school year teaching a college-prep class dreaded by staff and students alike. I'm sure my request will be ignored, but I feel better at least verbalizing it. I check online to see if there are any open positions in neighboring districts.
10 a.m. — Z. texts me and asks if I've been to the new poke restaurant in my neighborhood. I text back and start to feel heavy. Hanging out with Z. was fun, but I'm beginning to recognize that I have a lot of healing to do. I make a mental note that I need to express this to Z. sometime this week. I can't keep seeing him and pretending I'm okay.
12 p.m. — Today feels harder than usual. I can't seem to shake the cloud hanging over me. The work hours go by in a blur. I only have a few more hours until I can head home.
3 p.m. — I slump into the couch as soon as I walk in the door. My cat jumps up and joins me in the sun. I remember my grad class meets this upcoming Saturday and I'm behind in my work. I get a lump in my throat and worry about not being prepared, but can't bring myself to work on it right now. I allow myself to rest and cry, but feel guilty as I fall behind in my responsibilities.
6 p.m. — I walk to meet a friend for tacos and a beer. As she talks about her recent work trip, I notice a ring on her finger. She didn't tell me she got engaged. I expect to feel upset, but I don't. I'm glad for her. We order a large appetizer and two tacos apiece. She picks up dinner this time. We head across the street to a brewery and order PB&J ales. I pay for drinks and promise that dinner's on me next time. $10.50
10:30 p.m. — I quickly tidy up the house and throw the ball for my cat before I head to sleep. I feel a bit better than I did earlier, acknowledging that my friends really do care about me.
Daily Total: $10.50

Day Six

5 a.m. — I had some terrible dreams, so I've been awake for awhile. I dutifully rise with my alarm and repeat my normal morning routine before work. I'm not hungry, but I force myself to eat. As I eat my cereal, I remember my friend telling me about ashwagandha supplements and how she takes them when she feels overly stressed. I'm skeptical, but do a quick bit of research and order a bottle off of Amazon on a whim. $20
9:30 a.m. — I text a few trusted friends about the therapists they see and how they pay for it. The rave about their experiences and explain they only have a $20 copay. I convince myself it's something I should try. I look into my insurance and discover I'd have to pay my annual deductible of $1,350 before my insurance covers therapy. I'm crushed. I thought teacher's insurance was supposed to be amazing? I never come close to meeting my deductible and begin to feel like therapy isn't a viable option for me.
2:30 p.m. — The work day is over and I rush to volunteering. Once a week, I volunteer at a nonprofit that works with young students on creative writing.
5:15 p.m. — Driving home, I receive a message from my ex saying he'll be stopping over tomorrow to get the last of his things. Suddenly it feels like I can't breathe again. I try to push it out of my mind, but I can't fight off the tears.
6:15 p.m. — I drown out my thoughts with episodes of Grace and Frankie on Netflix. For dinner, I rummage through my freezer and find homemade egg rolls. I look at the Budget Bytes recipe again for directions on reheating and pop them in the oven. As I watch Netflix and eat dinner, I pack a few boxes of items in the living room, feeling numb to reality.
7:30 p.m. — My close friend invites me over and I quickly accept the invitation. I can't stand being home anymore. We don't do much of anything, but I'm fine with that.
9:30 p.m. — I'm back home and head to sleep. My mind runs rampant with dreams all night.
Daily Total: $20

Day Seven

5 a.m. — Today's the day I've been dreading for a long time. I get ready for work in a daze: I do all of my normal things (shower, make tea, pack lunch), but don't really notice I'm doing them. I make an egg-in-a-basket for breakfast, but barely eat any of it. I pick off pieces of the egg and feed it to my cat who's meowing next to me. She seems to live for moments like these.
6:30 a.m. — I'm at work and I get a text from Z.: “Your week going well?” He's trying to be nice and make conversation. I figure this is when I should tell him how I'm really feeling. I draft a text to send to Z. I briefly explain that I'm in a rough place emotionally right now and need to figure out who I am and what I want now that I'm in this position of being newly single for the first time in my adult life. I state that I need to invest in myself before I can invest in others. I tell him he's very enjoyable to be around and if we continue to hang out, it'll need to be just as friends, not as potential partners. I hit send.
11 a.m. — My new lease is emailed to me. I read through it carefully while my students are busy. I still can't get over the pet fee being $50 per month with a (refundable) $400 pet security deposit.
3:30 p.m. — This is the last time my ex and I will be together at our house. We both cry, embrace, and tell each other happy memories that pass through our minds. We're trying so hard to end this on the best note we can. He packs his car with the rest of his things. We have one last kiss on the porch. We don't say goodbye.
5:30 p.m. — A friend of mine pulls up into the driveway to pick me up. She's taking me to a poetry reading to help get my mind off things. After the event, we head to the cocktail bar by my house and order drinks. I pick up the tab. $25
11 p.m. — As I crawl into bed, I mull over everything that's happening, but am too tired to dig that deeply. I tell myself to take things one day at a time and drift off to sleep.
Daily Total: $25
If you are experiencing anxiety or depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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