A Week In Upstate New York On A $69,000 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: an attorney who makes $69,000 per year. This week, she spends it on a hotel room and sparkling water.
Occupation: Attorney
Industry: Legal
Age: 29
Location: Upstate New York
Salary: $69,000 + $6,000 bonus
Paycheck (Biweekly): $1,900
Monthly Expenses
My Housing: $0. I live with my parents.
Husband's Housing: $750 for a room in a house, all inclusive. My husband and I have fully joint finances, however I am the primary (and currently the only consistent) earner. My husband just completed an internship and is now a probationary employee in a different state. If he makes it through his probationary period (which I fully expect he will, because he’s amazing), then he will make an estimated $34,000 next year.
Student Loan Payments: $1,000
Cars: $420 toward two leases
Credit Card: $200. We put everything on credit cards (points!) and pay off all of our interest bearing cards each month. That’s about $1,300 on average, spread across two cards. The $200 is currently going towards a 0% interest card we have put a few “bigger” purchases on recently, such as my bar prep course, some of my bar admission fees, and other moving expenses. I have an extremely tentative job offer for when I move out, and we anticipate that we will be able to lump sum pay this card off within the next eight months. However, even if I don’t get that job, the 0% continues for 18 months; we’re working it down slowly now and then will be more aggressive as we get closer to the expiration.
All Other Monthly Expenses
Health Insurance: $35 per pay period towards my health insurance; my husband’s new job pays 100% for his individual coverage. (My work covers 80% of my individual coverage.)
Paid Family Leave: ~$4 per pay period for New York's paid family leave deduction, which just began on January 1.
Savings: $0. I know this is terrible. I put any reimbursements I get from work into savings (such as gas and tolls, etc.), as well as my twice-yearly bonus into savings, which is usually $6,000 after taxes. We plan to start putting one of my husband’s paychecks per month into savings, but currently we don’t. The biggest reason for that is that we’re trying to pay down two student loans I have that are private (not government-backed) as soon as possible.
Retirement: I hate to admit this but I don’t have a retirement account either. This is 80% my fault and 20% a product of my work. It’s my fault because I know I could get an IRA myself and start funding it, but all my extra money (to the extent I have any, which is almost never), goes towards my student loans. It’s 20% my work’s fault because my job currently offers no retirement savings, which is absolutely 100% insane for a professional company. It’s part of the reason I’m leaving, and it is a mandatory item for my new position. My husband’s new position offers a 401(k) with 5% matching, which we have set up to max out.
Netflix: $13
Spotify: $10
Car Insurance: $135
Planned Parenthood Donation: $20

Day One

8 a.m. — Wake up to the dog crying to be let out. I get up, set him free, and start reading. I'm studying for a second bar exam, and try to cram in as much studying on the weekends as I can. Today, I'm reading an outline on contracts. I make a mug of tea and an egg sandwich and settle in.
11 a.m. — I head over to my in-laws' house to drop off a gift receipt for my MIL's Christmas present (she needs to exchange it) and chat with my husband on the phone while I'm driving. He's in California and meeting our best friends for lunch — basically having the best day ever — while I'm driving through minutes 15-degree winds and getting stuck driving up my in-laws' driveway.
12 p.m. — Home. I would go back to studying, but before my husband left, he took my car to get serviced and learned that my tires need to get changed. It's a lease and we're hoping to turn it into the dealership in March and buy a new car. I need to get new tires or they'll charge me. My dad found a good deal through a friend-of-a-friend, so he's headed out with me to get that done. We drop off my car, run some errands, and get lunch. We stop first at Target for things I should have bought earlier in the week but it was too cold (toothpaste, face wash, laundry detergent, and a birthday card and present for my sister). Dad treats me to lunch and a drink at a nearby pub while we wait for my car to be finished. $150
3:30 p.m. — That took forever, but it was a great deal. Four tires plus labor for $295! Can't beat it. $295
4 p.m. — Back home and settled in to study for the rest of the evening. I'm not hungry from the heavy pub lunch I ate with Dad (poutine and Guinness), so I graze throughout the evening while I run through outlines and questions and essays.
11 p.m. — Where did my day go? I got sucked into a studying vortex! Catch up briefly with my husband over FaceTime; we chat about his visit with our friends, then I crash into bed.
Daily Total: $445

Day Two

8 a.m. — Another dog wakeup, but today I hear my dad moving. I let the dog out of the room and start watching a lecture in bed. Quickly realize that I've become a slug and get up, get dressed, and walk on the treadmill while I watch the lecture.
10 a.m. — Make a mug of tea and an egg sandwich (my usual weekend breakfast) and read more outlines. When I start getting antsy, I make a grocery list. I only grocery shop every other week because I live with my parents. My husband has already moved to California to start his new job, so to save money, I moved back in with my parents. Our agreement is that I (and my husband when he's around) help around the house with manual labor like mowing and shoveling, etc., and purchase things that only I use like my protein powder; they get basically everything else. I pick up anything the household needs when I go out, but because my dad is retired, there usually isn't much.
12 p.m. — Take a study break to go grocery shopping, and also visit my grandmother with my mom. My grandmother has lived in a nursing home for the past two years and I try to go every weekend, but realistically it's more like every other weekend. I check out the new grocery store that just opened near her nursing home; it's nice and has a pretty big selection of "natural" products, so this might become a new routine. My mom and I split the cost of groceries and spend a good hour chatting with my grandma. $20
2 p.m. — Back to studying. I know it's pretty boring, but this is my weekend. I graze while I study but try not eat too much since I bought things to make in my new Instant Pot for dinner.
6 p.m. — If I want to eat dinner at a reasonable hour, I should start cooking now. The cooking time looks reasonable, but it's the prep that will take a while. Start that and put on The West Wing on Netflix while I cook. It's a nice de-stressor. I also FaceTime my husband, who is getting stressed out about starting his new job on Monday. We chat while I slice up mushrooms for beef stroganoff and drink a beer. Eventually, I convince him to take a nap because he's falling asleep on the phone, and I keep cooking. Dinner turns out great; Instant Pots are amazing!
9 p.m. — After dinner and cleaning up, I hit the sauna. My parents are the height of "more is more" and have a sauna in their basement and a hot tub in their backyard. Because of the extreme cold we've been having, I've been in the sauna more than the hot tub recently. I take an outline with me to read, though I know I'll probably end up browsing on my phone. I know, I know — but I'm only seven weeks away from the bar exam and this is a BFD. I do take a break from reading my outline to fail miserably at HQ trivia.
10 p.m. — After some amazing sauna and LED therapy time (the blue lights help assuage my chronic migraines), I get ready for bed. My weekend schedules are packed with studying, but are relatively calm compared to my weekdays. I need to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the stress of getting through the week. Step numero uno is getting a lot of sleep. I FaceTime my husband for a bit and am asleep by 10:30.
Daily Total: $20

Day Three

6 a.m. — I was supposed to get up at 5:30 but I was up with stress dreams most of the night and ended up changing my alarm. Get up at 6 and go downstairs immediately to take care of the dogs and start studying. I study for about an hour while drinking Irish Breakfast tea with my new coconut milk creamer. I'm convinced that getting up so early and drinking a bunch of tea with dairy creamer (and not eating until I get to work) is causing me to have an upset stomach. I'm not lactose-intolerant; I think it's a combo of stress and a very strange eating schedule right now.
7:15 a.m. — I realize that I have to start getting ready for work if I'm going to make it on time. I shower, get dressed, make my protein shake, and am out the door by 8:05. It takes me 15-20 minutes to get to work and I'm at my desk and logged on by 8:30. I'm an attorney at a mid-sized law firm; the partners expect me to be relatively prompt (even though they aren't), so I try to keep my schedule consistent. I keep extra snacks and herbal tea in my desk and bring my lunch most days, which are usually leftovers from the night before. (Today's lunch is leftover stroganoff.) I start wading through my emails from the weekend immediately. The partner I primarily work with texted to say that she's out sick with a migraine, so I'm covering for her. I expect it to be relatively quiet despite that; this time of year, we only get calls from our clients if it's a dire emergency.
12 p.m. — Around lunchtime, I realize that I haven't booked my flights to California for the bar exam — eek! I looked online a week ago or so, but didn't book anything because I wanted to confirm that I could get the time off. It occurred to me this morning that it doesn't matter; either I get the time off or I quit. I need to be there for the exam regardless of my current job's opinion on the matter. Over lunch at my desk, I book my flights through Southwest. I manage to find a pretty good itinerary that gives me a couple of days on either end of my exam, so I don't have to stress out about weather delays before the exam, and I can relax with my husband afterward for a few days. I start looking at a hotel room for the day of the exam but am appalled at the price and hold off for now. $375
5 p.m. — As early as I can without getting side-eyes from the other attorneys, I leave the office and go home. I'm pretty stressed about the cost of the hotel room and I really need to talk to my husband. Pre-bar prep, I stayed at work until 6; now that I'm in the throes of studying (and know that I will be quitting in the next three months), I am not worried about leaving the office at 5 or 5:30. I call my husband from the car. I'm glad I didn't book the hotel because he reminds me that not only do I need the hotel for the night of the exam, I'll need it the night before as well. The bar exam starts at 8 and he lives more than an hour north of the exam location. For my own peace of mind, I need to be there the night before so I don't have to worry about traffic. When I get home, I find a hotel that looks reasonable and is close enough to walk to the testing center. I book it, wanting to die because of the price. $780
6 p.m. — After work, I can usually only put in one or two hours of studying. Today is no exception. I start working on an essay before I notice that the prep course I'm taking assigned an essay I've already done. Score! That means I can check that off, move on to another assignment, and supplement with something less taxing. (Essays are so hard to do after spending a whole day writing, which is mainly what I do.) I study until 8 or so and then watch a few episodes of The West Wing with my mother. Dinner is a frozen Trader Joe's pizza I keep around for just this type of night. I go to bed around 9 so I can start my skincare routine and FaceTime my husband. I manage to get to sleep around 9:30 so I can get up tomorrow at 5:30.
Daily Total: $1,155

Day Four

5:30 a.m. — I did it! (Actually, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and snoozed for 30 minutes, but I got up!) I watch a lecture while I walk on the treadmill, and then do some practice exam questions on the lecture topic. I need to do better: I'm still getting one-fourth of the questions wrong; that's not so great in a non-exam situation. Around 7:15, I start getting ready for work, and after making a protein shake and grabbing leftover pizza for lunch, go to work.
9 a.m. — I get to work and see an email from the State Bar of California reminding me to submit my application for Determination of Moral Character. I'm already an attorney admitted in good standing in New York, so this should be a formality, but it still has to be done. I start the application but about six pages in, freak out. They say they're going to send a letter to my current employer?! I haven't told my current employer I'm moving or taking the CA bar exam. I save my application and pop over to my coworker's office to discuss what I should do. (He's also taking interviews for new jobs.) He suggests telling the partner I trust, but I'm not so sure. I do trust her, but in a partnership, she has an obligation to tell the other partners. I don't want to put her in that position. I decide to mull it over and talk to my husband this evening. I don't end up finishing the application.
1 p.m. — I should probably heat up my lunch and take a break. I brought last night's cauliflower pizza and celery with hummus. I snag a Mr. Goodbar from one of the paralegal's candy jars for dessert. While I eat at my desk, I read a few sections of my contracts outline. I generally don't study while I'm at work, but right now I'm feeling the crunch and need to start incorporating less intensive studying into my lunch break. After about 30 minutes (in which I alternate between reading and quickly looking up to make sure no one sees me reading), I give up and get back to work. I wasn't absorbing any of the information anyway.
5:30 p.m. — After a few more hours of work, I head home, listening to my favorite podcast (Pod Save America) as I drive. Given how much studying I do, this is basically the only way I can keep up with the political news. I know it's extremely partisan, but so am I. I get home to an unwelcome surprise from my bar prep company: an email saying they screwed up. I get on the phone and start trying to fix it with customer service. They're extremely unhelpful, suggesting I go back and redo work I did six weeks ago, and I'm getting more stressed and frustrated. I send an email to the technical service team and pour myself a beer. No studying will be done in this state, so I settle for browsing the internet and reading listicles.
8 p.m. — I've finally settled down from my agitated state enough to attempt some studying, and get in one essay and some flashcards. After, I call my husband to see how his first day at his new job went. I explain my conundrum at work, and we decide I'll just submit the application in the hope that they don't contact my employer. (Why would they? I'm in good standing in New York and it's just more work for everyone.) If they do, I'll deal with it then. Around 9, I realize I haven't eaten dinner and make a quick egg-white sandwich so I don't wake up starving in the middle of the night.
9:30 p.m. — I've been on the phone with my husband for an hour and probably should have meditated before bed, but I don't. Instead, I put on an episode of Parks and Recreation to fall asleep to.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

5:25 a.m. — I'm slowly inching towards a 5 o'clock wake-up. It's painful but necessary. Same routine as yesterday: watch a lecture on the treadmill, do some practice questions, and then get ready for work. I was a little slow this morning and lingered over my tea and cinnamon raisin toast to read a chapter of a new book (trying to regain a semblance of normalcy in my life). I didn't leave for work until 8:30. I do like aspects of my current job; I have some grievances (pay, mostly), but overall I like the people I work with. I grab a protein shake to drink at my desk and leftovers for lunch and head out.
12:45 p.m. — I'm hungry and angry. I check my bar prep website to see if the technical issue has been resolved yet; it has not. Considering I've paid $3,000 for this service, I'm not feeling generous. Decide to heat up the last of the leftover beef stroganoff for lunch and run flashcards in my office to try and cool down. I'm so frustrated with everything right now. I just settled a dud of a case for $20,000, which is a great resolution. The partner I worked for is extremely happy, but they can't manage to give me a raise. Last year, I asked for a raise to $70,000 and didn't get it. And yet, an associate who started the year before me makes $95,000. There was no justification other than "this is how we do it." Unfortunately, that's not a good justification. Now that my husband has a job, I'm starting to feel like I can finally take the plunge and leave. Studying makes me feel like I'm at least making forward movement.
4:30 p.m. — I pop into my partner's office to chat about a particularly crazy client call I just had, and we end up chatting for an hour. I like catching up with her; it reminds me of why I chose to work here. At the end of our conversation, I mention that I need to take a week off in February (to take the bar exam, though she doesn't know it), and we discuss coverage. It should be fine and she doesn't pry into why I'm taking the time off, which is a welcome relief. Around 5:30, I leave the office and go home. I listen to music because I'm feeling melancholy for no good reason. I have a long day of driving tomorrow and want to save my podcasts for that.
6 p.m. — When I get home, I start waging war with my bar prep company. I try not to take out my anger on the person on the other end of the telephone. (I think I'm successful.) I have to write an essay that will be graded by a faceless person, so I do that and start dinner while waiting to hear from my husband. Tonight's meal is taco-stuffed sweet potatoes: sweet potatoes with quinoa and black beans topped with chipotle mayo. There was supposed to be corn but I didn't have any, so I subbed in chopped green chiles; it turns out pretty well. I pour myself a glass of pinot (gifted from my husband's last job) and settle in with flashcards.
9:30 p.m. — My husband calls me around 7 and we're both keyed up; he is extremely stressed out and I'm still upset about earlier. Some good news: He finally met with HR today and tells me all about the fun benefits he's getting from his job. His hourly job is giving him better benefits than the salaried job that I've been at for three years, which stings a bit, but I'm happy for him. I go to bed a little late, knowing that I don't have to get up so early tomorrow.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

6 a.m. — I get up and get moving. I'm on the road going downstate for meetings today, so I don't have to go into the office. I do my usual treadmill walking/lecture watching and then study some more. I take the time to make an egg sandwich and drink a mug of tea before I get ready. My best friend, who is also moving to the West Coast (in two weeks), currently lives near where I'm heading, so I text her to make plans to meet up after my meetings are done. I haven't seen her in a few months; we used to live together in NYC, but since I've moved upstate I only see her a few times a year. I'm moving to SF and she's moving south of SF so we'll still be about an hour apart, but we're both very excited to be closer again. I'm out the door and on the road around 9:15, after taking care of a few client emails on my phone.
9:30 a.m. — Stop for gas before I hit the highway, and take this opportunity to check my emails. I want a full tank before I hit the thruway because gas there is at least 10 cents more expensive, and I already get it 10 cents cheaper by using the loyalty program. I put in a few calls to clients, letting them know I'm on my cell phone, and quickly check in with my husband before he goes to work. I drive for an hour listening to Pod Save America and stop at a rest stop for a bathroom break and refueling. I grab a chai latte from Starbucks to enjoy while I'm driving and then hit the road for another hour and a half. $21.50
12:30 p.m. — I make it to my client's offices and settle down for our meeting. This should be a relatively uncontested meeting but my opposing counsel is ... challenging. He's well-meaning but quirky, which makes our meetings a little frustrating. We get through it in about two hours, though, and everyone seems happy when we're done. My client tells me he brought up my name as a presenter at a conferencef, which is extremely flattering. I thank him and we chat for a little while. Around 3, I hit the road.
4 p.m. — Pick up my best friend, who lives an hour north of my meeting and in the direction of home. I'm so excited to see her! We go to a diner near her house to grab food and catch up. This is a balm for the soul. I'm so in awe of her: she's super smart and just an amazing person. We chat for an hour and a half and split the bill. I have another hour and a half of driving before I get home, so, unfortunately, I can't stay too long. On my ride home, I stop at a rest stop and grab an orange-flavored Perrier. I'm a seltzer addict. $16
7 p.m. — Back home and tired as all heck. Driving today was a nice change of pace. I had about $15 in tolls, plus wear and tear on my car and gas, etc. but I get IRS mileage reimbursement plus tolls; right now with the price of gas that's pretty good! I know I should study, but I'm beat. I pour a generous glass of wine and brush the dog, who desperately needs it. Afterwards, I watch The Big Bang Theory and then FaceTime my husband for a while. We talk about my dinner date with my best friend and other things. I miss him so much but I can't think too long about getting to see him because that stresses me out; the next time I see him I'll be in California for the bar exam, which I definitely don't feel ready for. I go to bed early; it's back to a 5 a.m. wakeup tomorrow!
Daily Total: $37.50

Day Seven

5:15 a.m. — Up and at it! I follow the old routine of lecture and treadmill. Today, I don't have a lot of time for studying before work because I have court at 9 and didn't bring the file home on Wednesday, so I have to pop into my office before I drive out. I do a quick study diagnostic and then start getting ready. Today calls for more formal attire because of court, so I make sure my hair is actually straightened and I have a clean suit jacket. I make my shake and run out the door by 7:30.
10 a.m. — We have a very quick continued proceeding appearance and are out. Score! I do have to go back to court again next week, but I'm glad to be done for today. I need to fill up my tank again (300-plus miles yesterday cleared it out), so I stop at a gas station before I get on the highway back to my office. $28
1:30 p.m. — Lunchtime; I heat up leftover quinoa and pour a can of lentil soup over it. It's weirdly warm out but this is my cold-weather comfort food. I eat while working because I spent an hour earlier bitching with a coworker about our pay. I just got my W-2 and even though my 2017 salary was higher than it was in 2016, I netted less money! The firm is interviewing a new person to add to my two-person department next week, and we discuss my potential exit if they hire this person at a higher salary than me. It's entirely possible; they've already done it once, though the other coworker isn't in the same department as me. I grab one of the seltzers I left in the fridge this morning (Cranberry Cider; I love Polar's seasonal flavors!) and a few donut holes from a random box in the kitchen and keep going on a document review project I'm doing.
2 p.m. — I get a phone call from my bar prep company telling me there will be a resolution by next Tuesday, after the long holiday weekend. I chew them out and put them on notice that I expect compensation. This is extremely unacceptable; I paid over $3,000 for this course and I expect to have the full benefit of it! I seethe in my office for a while, and then decide to open another can of seltzer and start drafting a few memos to clients to finish up my day.
5 p.m. — Peace out! I leave the office as soon as I can without looking indecent. I'm home by 5:30 p.m. and studying. My parents go out to dinner with family and I hunker down with a new lecture. My sister texts me about going out for a drink (on her!), and I agree after I've finished what I'm working on. I finish up my lecture and complete my Character and Fitness Application. I didn't realize how expensive it was though I probably should have guessed; California has been eating up all of my money recently. Once I get the application in, I drive down and pick up my sister and we hit the bar. $550
8 p.m. — I chat briefly with my husband while driving and he tells me he's glad I'm out with my sister, knowing I'll spend the whole weekend studying. He also says he needs some information from her because he wants to name her as his residuary beneficiary (after me) on his life insurance policy. I explain it to her, and she's really excited and thankful. We each grab a beer and order dumplings for dinner: pork and chives and shrimp and mushroom. My sister and I chat about work and life, etc. We haven't seen each other in over a week despite living in the same city, due to our crazy schedules. She grabs the first round and dumplings (she has a gift card), and I pick up the second round and tip. I drop her off around 9:30 and go home to FaceTime my husband and settle into bed for the night. $18
Daily Total: $596
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