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A Week In Cincinnati, OH, On A $25,000 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 part-time projectionist who makes $25,000 per year and spends some of their money this week on MeUndies.
All currency in USD.
Occupation: Various
Industry: Projectionist at a church, after-school teacher, organizing after-school programs, graphic designer for t-shirts
Age: 35
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Salary: $25,000
Net Worth: ~$49,235 ($21,372 in a couple of different bank accounts, $10,574.53 in an IRA, $88,000 house value (which is technically joint-owned with my parents because the mortgage company wouldn't recognize my part-time income, and I needed their assistance with the down payment regardless), $17,100 is apparently the current value of my car (my parents helped me initially afford that, too), minus debt.)
Debt: $78,310.85 outstanding mortgage
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $732 (The amount varies based on how often I work, but this is my most recent paycheck.)
Pronouns: They/she

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $641.71
Utilities: ~$200
Internet: $45.91
Phone: $20
Lawn Mowing Service: $60
Pet Insurance: $25.16
Cinemark Movie Club: $9.99 (currently paused so I can use up the backlog of credits I didn't use while COVID numbers were high)
Streaming Services: $0 (I'm a guest on different friends' accounts for Netflix, Prime, and Disney+)
Super Coffee: $28.89
OTC Vitamins/Supplements: $62
Prescription Medicines: $0 (covered by insurance)
Medical Insurance: $0 (likely to change pretty soon provided my current jobs all hold steady, but so far I haven't been kicked off Medicaid)
Charity/Activism: $5 to ACLU, $5 to Sierra Club, $10 to Heifer International
IRA: $50 (I add more manually when I feel like I can)
Home/Auto Insurance: $69.30
Compost Service: $12
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?
Both my parents are college graduates, so higher education was always expected and my parents planned for it financially. I ended up going to a private liberal arts college, which was expensive but affordable for them with some help from my grandmother. I didn't actually need a loan, but my dad was savvy enough to tell me to take out a small loan that I could pay back easily for the sake of establishing good credit. I got a degree that is now pretty useless to me. My original plan was to be a professor, but I never ended up pursuing that career path, which is in no small part due to getting into an abusive relationship right out of college that wasn't conducive to any sort of success. I later went back for an associate's degree in Computer Information Systems, which my grandmother also helped pay for. I have forever been grateful for this complete lack of ongoing student debt.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents taught me how to keep track of my money and evaluate what was a reasonable price for whatever I might be looking to buy. My dad studies financial theories and practices as a hobby and he's spending his retirement volunteering as treasurer for the chorus he's in, so he's smart about it and he's passed bits and pieces of that down to me. That said, I never knew exactly how much money we had, and I actually still don't know exactly, other than being told it's enough for them to help support me as much as they have.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was as a Girl Scout Camp junior counselor. I was 16, and junior counselors worked for three weeks rather than the whole summer. There wasn't any pressure for me to work at that age, but I wanted to feel grown up. I'd been going to the camp for years at that point, so it just felt like a natural extension of my usual summer activities.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No, not at all. I only worried mildly when there was something specific I wanted that I had to ask my parents for and wasn't sure if they would agree, though they usually did. We could afford anything I needed, though they imposed reasonable limitations so I didn't get spoiled about it.
Do you worry about money now?
All the time, and more than I really should at this point. I graduated at the peak of the recession so my job history is a bit wonky. On top of that, mental health issues mean I have to be careful about my work environment or risk burnout that quickly manifests as a physical mystery illness, so it's been hard to find steady employment. I also have a weird history of my better jobs just disappearing out from under me due to circumstances entirely beyond my control, so that's led to a lingering paranoia that anything I have won't actually last. I logically recognize that I am extremely privileged to have access to a generational safety net and I'll never be in serious financial trouble, but anxiety has always latched hard onto "what if something happens to that somehow?" That, and growing up with my dad, who just seemed like the god of stable finances, has led to a lot of guilt over my own apparent inability to make a living, even though my parents have never actually guilted me about it.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I've been trying to be financially responsible for myself since I graduated from college (the first time). I'm 35 and I'm just now at a point where I can be. Even then, my parents still give me money on a regular basis, if only so that I have extra I can put into a retirement account. If any large unexpected expenses come up, I know I can rely on them if I can't afford them myself. I'm extremely grateful for everything they've done for me and I've been assured over and over that it isn't a burden, but they also are both retired now, so I still worry about cutting into their retirement funds while not having enough to really secure my own.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I haven't inherited any money, but my parents and grandparents have been generous in gifting me whatever I've needed to stay afloat. My parents have also helped me with large expenses in the past.

Day One

8:15 a.m. — My alarm goes off and I groan because I, as usual, didn't sleep well. I'm a night owl and I know 8:15 won't sound early to most people, but it is for me. I only get up this early on Sundays so I can make it to my part-time job running the projector for church services. I throw on clothes (a t-shirt with the church's logo and a nice pair of jeans), feed my cat, grab a bottle of Super Coffee for my own breakfast, and head out the door.
12 p.m. — I can last through the service on the Super Coffee, but on the way home, I'm hungry. I go to the drive-thru at Freddy's and pick up a combo meal and a concrete. This costs $12.79, but I have a gift card. KFC is next door and I've been craving their coleslaw, so I go there next and order a large coleslaw to put in my fridge for later. $4.49
1 p.m. — After I eat, I remember that I need to get cat food. So I head to and prepare the next cart: a bag of dry food, a tub of Greenies treats, and three cases of the one flavor of wet food that my cat likes for a total of $101.52. She'll be set for a good couple of months with that. $101.52
8 p.m. — Dinner is leftovers of a tofu scramble I made yesterday, some of the coleslaw from earlier, and a can of lime La Croix. I eat while listening to an audiobook of Gideon the Ninth that I borrowed from my library website. I mix together a shaker of overnight oats so I'll have it for tomorrow morning. Before I go to bed, I try the first of a sample set of supplement pills that are supposed to help me sleep through the night. I hope they'll either work like a charm and fix all my sleep issues, or work not at all so I'll know not to spend money on them in the future.
Daily Total: $106.01

Day Two

11 a.m. — After not sleeping well, I finally get out of bed and toss on some leggings and my comfy Star Wars sweatshirt. Today is a work-from-home day, so I can wear whatever I want for it. Breakfast is the oats from last night plus a banana. While I eat, I download the free design assets available on Creative Market the way I do every Monday. Doing so regularly has allowed me to amass a large collection of graphics, fonts, themes, and other assets without paying for any of them.
12 p.m. — It's time for part-time job number two — doing administrative work for an after-school program. I appreciate the days when work can be done at my own pace, in comfortable clothes, with a cat laying on my lap.
1 p.m. — Monday at 1 p.m. marks the opening of my ordering window for Imperfect Foods. I use them for a fair amount of my groceries because it's convenient and relatively cheap. Today, I'm skipping the order. I don't need enough this week to justify the shipping cost and, having just spent a bunch on my cat's food, I'd rather not overspend on my own.
3 p.m. — Work is slow today and my energy is lagging so I pause to heat up a can of baked beans and eat that with coleslaw and a can of Pepsi.
7:30 p.m. — Dinner is a salad with spinach, apples, nuts, and cheese. I listen to an audiobook while I eat. After I eat, I keep listening while coloring in an adult coloring book.
10 p.m. —My friends and I decide to watch a movie together online. I make some popcorn and then pop on Kiki's Delivery Service using my friend's HBO account. After the movie, I take a sleeping pill and head to bed.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

11 a.m. — Sleep went better last night, but I'm still not sure whether to credit the pills or not. It's frustrating when I can't decide whether something is worth spending more money on. My first meal today is some ricotta cheese and fresh blueberries, plus a K-cup cappuccino. Browsing my email, I find a notice that a preorder for a book I recognize but don't exactly remember purchasing has gone through, so I guess that's $13.99 I'm giving to Barnes & Noble today. Thanks, past me? $13.99
12 p.m. — Today, my job involves contacting potential teachers for a big event teaching kids a variety of programs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in a few weeks. This seems like an overwhelming amount of time to be teaching, but it'll get me $240 for the day and I'd be stupid not to take that, so I sign myself to teach that day as well.
3 p.m. — I wrap up my admin work and leave to teach my class. I grab a banana on the way out the door. I'm sad thinking about how I only have a couple of weeks left before this class wraps up. Sometimes I'm glad to see a class end, but when it's a great group like this, it just means making $60 less each week and losing contact with kids I really enjoy working with.
4:30 p.m. — I walk a lap around the school when I'm done teaching to get some steps in before heading back to my car. Then I go to the shopping center across the street to grab a few groceries. I get spinach, broccoli, baby carrots, and a large box of frozen taquitos. $21.97
5 p.m. — I make one more stop on the way home to fill up my gas tank. Then I heat up some of the taquitos for dinner. $26.39
10 p.m. — I finish the audiobook and immediately go back to the library website to check out the next book in the series. I spend the rest of the evening chatting with friends online and munching on carrots and ranch. I find some tomatoes I'd forgotten about hiding in my refrigerator and discover they've molded. I begrudgingly dump them into the compost bin. I like tomatoes and despise letting food rot. Even with composting, it still feels like such a waste.
Daily Total: $62.35

Day Four

11 a.m. — I grab a Super Coffee and a banana and I get ready for work, which is after-school admin and then teaching again. I'm still hungry after I eat, so I supplement with a bowl of cereal.
4:30 p.m. — After class, I pick up food from Wendy's. I get chili, Baconator fries, and a frosty-ccino. $10.47
6 p.m. — A lot of my underwear is starting to wear out and a friend recently introduced me to the MeUndies website. $16-20 for a single pair of underpants strikes me as exorbitant, but I've already tried them and like them enough that I've decided it's worth signing up for the membership and replacing my underwear drawer one month at a time for a while. I can afford this, but spending money triggers a panic attack. My cat senses it and gives me a cuddle. $44.20
8 p.m. — I meet a friend in a Discord chat for our weekly Wednesday night watch party. I rarely drink alcohol, but I realise I have the ingredients to make sangria, so I sip on that and snack on some mini pretzels while we watch the Sherlock Holmes series from the '80s.
Daily Total: $54.67

Day Five

6 a.m. — I've been laying in bed for hours, but for some reason I still haven't fallen asleep. I get up, grab a handful of trail mix as a snack, and then lay back down to poke at my phone. With underwear still on my mind, I end up researching sports bras, because I've never found a good one. I don't buy anything now, but decide to look later when I'm not trying to fall asleep.
9:30 a.m. — My alarm goes off and I've gotten maybe an hour or two of sleep all night. Today is going to suck. I drag myself out of bed, scarf down a banana and a Super Coffee, and then drive to the studio that serves as a storehouse and sales location for the t-shirts I work on. I'm typically only involved on the design side so I've never been there before, but I find it easily enough and the meeting goes well. I feel a bit more certain of what our processes look like after. I chat with my coworker for a bit while I'm there.
12:30 p.m. — I drive home, pop some taquitos in the microwave, and grab a Pepsi. Lunch needs to be relatively quick because I also have some admin work to get done today. I'm still eating taquitos when I get on a video meeting with my boss.
3 p.m. — My cat's annual vet check-up is scheduled for today at 3:30 so I wrap up work to wrangle her into her carrier. Thankfully, the vet is just a couple of minutes from my house. The only thing she needs is a treatment for the chronic ear infection that flares with seasonal allergies. Her insurance doesn't cover this routine stuff, so this appointment costs $71. $71
4:15 p.m. — My cat is very grateful to be back in the house. I'm exhausted but afraid that if I let myself nap, I won't be able to wake up again to do the rest of the things I need to do this evening. Instead, I return to the idea of sports bras. After a solid hour of deliberation, I settle on ordering two different bras from HerRoom to try, for a whopping total of $143.30. I hate how expensive bras always are in my size. That said, my bras are about as worn by now as the rest of my underwear, so it's worth getting something new. $143.30
5:30 p.m. — Thursday is my usual day to prepare the slides that I'll project on Sunday. Before I leave, I place an order on the P.F. Chang's website for pickup at 8:30 tonight. I have a gift card, so I decide to get a family meal and break it into several days' worth of meals for myself. The whole thing costs $69 (thanks for the upcharge, gluten sensitivity) but the gift card means that I only pay $19.
6 p.m. — I get to the church and spend the hour before rehearsal getting the presentation put together. After rehearsal, I pick up my food on the way home. I brew some decaf green tea and congratulate myself on surviving everything I needed to do today without keeling over. $19
Daily Total: $233.30

Day Six

11:30 a.m. — I slept, but I'm still exhausted. I lay in bed until I absolutely need to move, then heat up some beef and broccoli from last night's takeout and scroll through my email until it's time to video chat with my boss at noon. Email ads are super tempting when I'm not feeling great, especially the ones that involve art and craft supplies, but I manage to talk myself out of engaging in retail therapy.
2:30 p.m. — I finish the work that needs to be done today and clock out slightly early. I flop on the couch and fall back asleep for a while. I eventually wake up, still exhausted. I really feel like I'm paying for yesterday.
7:45 p.m. — After spending a while aimlessly clicking around the internet, I make a salad. I mix up a packet of True Lemonade to drink with it. While I eat, I start reading my digital copy of Things That Matter by Joshua Becker, the book I was surprised by having preordered a few days ago.
10 p.m. — The friends I watched the movie with before are up for finishing the video game Let's Play series we've been making our way through, so we wrap that up tonight. I munch on a Magnum ice cream bar while we watch and chat.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

3 p.m. — Saturday is my day to be a total lump so I stay in bed curled up with my cat until well into the afternoon, then heat up more P.F. Changs. I've decided that the pills do help me stay asleep as long as I can fall asleep to begin with, so it might be worth getting more to see if they help in the long term. The same company also makes a fast-acting version aimed at falling asleep in the first place, and they can be taken together, so maybe I should try both? I balk at the idea of adding a $76 subscription to what I already pay for supplements each month, but if it does ultimately help my sleep issues, it will be worth it. $76
6 p.m. — It seems warm in my house, so I check the thermostat. Then I check the air conditioning unit. It should be running, but it isn't. After flipping switches on my thermostat a few times, I decide to just turn it off and leave it for a while. I don't want to think about how much that will cost to get fixed. I had been planning on a warm dinner, but the idea of adding heat to the room is suddenly unappealing, so I finish off the carrots and dip instead. Luckily for me, I try the air conditioner again later on and it works this time. I can wrap up the week being glad to have avoided that expense, at least for now.
Daily Total: $76
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