Money Diary logo

A Week In Brooklyn, NY, On A $50,000 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: an administrative assistant/teacher who makes $50,000 per year and spends some of their money this week on essential oils.
Editor's Note: This diary was written in December 2021.
Occupation: Administrative Assistant and Teacher
Industry: Education
Age: 35
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Salary: $50,000
Net Worth: -$11,700 ($6,500 in a high-yield savings account, $14,000 in my 403(b) now, and about $2,000 in my Roth IRA minus student debt)
Debt: $34,207
Paycheck Amount (1x/week): $800
Pronouns: They/them

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,075 (I rent a rent-stabilized one-bedroom apartment by myself.)
Student Loans: $0 right now because of COVID relief. It'll be $200/month when I restart payments.
Hulu: $17.98 (I pay extra for Showtime)
Spotify: $15.99 (family account that I share with friends)
Netflix, Disney+: $0 (thanks, friends!)
Car Insurance: $126
Cell Phone: $0 (I share my car with a friend who pays my phone bill)
Internet: $58
Gas: $46
Electric: $85
Water: $46
NYT + Crossword + Cooking: $13
Acorns Subscription: $3
Google Storage: $1.99
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?
There was absolutely an expectation. Both of my parents were the first in their families to go to college, and they both got master's degrees. The expectation was that I would too. I went to college straight out of high school with undiagnosed learning disabilities. I transferred a lot and ended up failing out. I took out lots of loans that I'll never pay off. In my late 20s, I returned as a nontraditional student because I wanted to go to a very specific grad program. I got into the program, took out even more loans, and dropped out after one semester because I realized I would never earn enough in that industry to pay off the debt. I am still deeply in debt, but far less than my peers who completed their master's programs. When I began my grad school program I cashed out my 401(k) to cover my rent; I was able to pull about $3,000 from it after taxes.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn't talk about money much. I was told from a young age that I needed to work if I wanted to spend money the way I wanted to (on CDs, buying a car, paying for car insurance, etc.), but we never talked about how much these things should cost or how much I should expect to earn. I really wish I'd gotten more financial literacy education either from my parents or from my school. It wasn't until my early 30s that my dad started telling me about our family's financial situation. I learned that we lived beyond our means for a lot of my childhood and almost lost our house at one point. My mom had a steady job as a public school teacher and my dad freelanced so there was usually enough to cover bills, but not always.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started working at 13, washing dishes and waiting tables at a local restaurant. I needed to buy school clothes and supplies and save up to buy a car because I lived in a rural area where you couldn't get around without one.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No, because money was never discussed in my household. I didn't really have a concept of it until I started working.
Do you worry about money now?
Not as much as I used to, but more than I'd like to. It's taken years but I've finally built up an emergency fund and figured out how to budget in a way that makes sense to me. I am very concerned about student loan repayments, though. I know that if I were to have a medical issue, I would be bankrupt almost immediately.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
19, when I moved out of my parents' house. I borrowed money from my parents from time to time back then, but stopped that in my early 20s. My financial safety net was credit cards, which helped me float my money more easily when I was working in the service industry and getting inconsistent paychecks. My current safety net is credit cards (the highest limit card I have is $14,500) in case of emergency and about $6,500 in a high-yield savings account.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I inherited $3,000 when my grandmother passed away last year. I redistributed a lot of it through mutual aid networks and to undocumented friends during COVID.

Day One

6 a.m. — Time to wake up! Today is going to be a really long day because my school has a board meeting tonight. I shower, drink cold brew with oat milk while I listen to The Daily, get dressed, and head out the door. I'm fortunate enough to live near the train so it's only a five-minute walk. One MetroCard swipe and I'm on my way. $2.75
12 p.m. — It's been a busy morning. My work bestie is on vacation this week so I'm covering part of his job in addition to mine. Lucky for me, that includes getting catering leftovers from a meeting today. I grab a couple mini-wraps, some fruit, and a cookie for lunch.
5:30 p.m. — It's been a stressful and busy day, but there's more free food! I always order a nice catered dinner for our in-person board meetings. I grab a Diet Coke, a few more mini-wraps, and some cheese and crackers, and then settle in for another four hours of meetings.
9 p.m. — My 14-hour day is finally over! The school reimburses us for cabs if we have to stay past 9. A colleague with a company card lives in my neighborhood, so she orders us a Lyft to share. I fall asleep almost immediately when I get home.
Daily Total: $2.75

Day Two

6 a.m. — Up and at 'em again! I make my cold brew, sit in my cozy chair and listen to The Daily, then get dressed and take the subway to work. Lots of back-to-back meetings again, but at least there's free food again! Actually, there's always free food. The school I work at provides breakfast and lunch at no cost to us every day. I grab a mini bagel and cream cheese, and drink my second coffee of the day at my desk. $2.75
1:30 p.m. — Today is flying by. I grab some leftover food for my lunch (mini croissant sandwiches!) and head back to my desk to work on my lesson plan for later this week.
5 p.m. — Leaving at a reasonable hour today! After an intense professional development meeting, I'm excited to go home and get ready for a first date. $2.75
7 p.m. — I'm excited and anxious about the date I'm going on tonight! It's with a person I've been flirting with for a few months after sliding into their DMs on Instagram. We have plans to go to a restaurant I've been dying to try. I'm so nervous that I decide to walk to their place (a 90-minute walk) instead of taking the train, so I can calm myself down.
11:45 p.m. — The date goes really well! They're cute, caring, and kind. Plus, they are good at boundaries and communication. That's really all I can ask for. We plan a second date and I take a cab home. $11.58
Daily Total: $17.08

Day Three

6 a.m. — A little hard to wake up this morning after staying out late last night, but that's okay. I do my usual morning routine (cold brew, podcast, get ready for work) and shower before taking the train to work. $2.75
8:30 a.m. — I need so much coffee. Good thing I have an espresso maker in my office! I make a double shot oat milk iced latte for myself and continue to work on some projects.
1 p.m. — I love that we get free lunch here! It's mac and cheese day, which is one of my favorites. While I'm eating, I start doing some online holiday shopping. I usually make candles for winter holiday gifts, so I buy some wax, wicks, and essential oils on Amazon during my lunch break. I make a mental note to ask the preschool art teacher to save me some crayon nubs so I can melt them down to dye my candles. $46.84
3 p.m. — I have an offsite meeting with our event planner and we have to visit a venue that's about a 15-minute train ride, or 30-minute walk, from school. She wants to take the train there to see what the travel feels like, so we hop on the subway. The venue is really nice and we decide to host our winter holiday faculty and staff party there. $2.75
4 p.m. — After our offsite meeting, I need to buy supplies for class. I teach an after-school culinary class every week — this week we're making dumplings. I buy dumpling wrappers, edamame, corn, canned pumpkin, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ponzu, ginger, and garlic for class, along with some hummus for me to snack on at home. I get reimbursed up to $30 for food cost for each class, so I only end up spending $2.14. $2.14
6 p.m. — Finally back in my neighborhood, and I'm too tired to cook dinner. I pick up a couple pumpkin samsas from an Uzbek restaurant for a quick dinner. I eat them over the course of my evening while doing laundry and prepping food for tomorrow's class. My apartment building doesn't have laundry in it, but I bought myself a small portable washer on Amazon when I moved in a few months ago and it's been awesome. I hook it up to my shower and it drains into my bathtub. As a person with ADHD and autism who finds laundromats to be a sensory nightmare, this thing is amazing. It's so nice to not spend money on laundry all the time, and not have to leave the house to wash clothes. $5.25
Daily Total: $59.73

Day Four

6 a.m. — Good morning, time for my usual routine! Cold brew, podcast, get dressed, subway to work. It's my teaching day, which is always my favorite day of the week, so I'm in a good mood. $2.75
11 a.m. — Uh oh. Our weekly COVID testing results just came back and we have to dismiss a bunch of students immediately. I make myself a very strong oat milk latte to get through it.
12:30 p.m. — These poor kids got dismissed right before lunchtime so they're scared and hungry waiting outside for their grown-ups to get them. I run into the cafeteria and grab a big box of bagels, cream cheese, jelly, butter, and knives so they can snack and calm down a bit.
2:30 p.m. — About half of my cooking class had to go home, but this means I have a little extra time to set up and a few minutes to grab lunch. Being friends with the director of dining services pays off; he set aside so much food for all of us who had to help with emergency dismissal.
5:30 p.m. — Finally done for the day! I make up plates of leftover dumplings from class for the guys who run the after-school program and our night security guard, and a plate for myself and the friend I'm hanging out with after school. I worked at a different school a few blocks away from this one last school year and I'm still close with one of my colleagues from there. His hours are usually later than mine since he's in IT, so we hang out on Thursdays when I get out at the same time he does. We walk to the park and eat dumplings for dinner, then wander around downtown Brooklyn for a few hours before heading to our respective homes.

Daily Total: $2.75

Day Five

6 a.m. — Getting up this morning is hard. Yesterday was stressful and I'm covering at my school's other location because all of the administrators are out there today. $2.75
8 a.m. — People here are stressed! I offer to run out and get bagels for myself and another teacher, and I grab a coffee as well. We get free food and drink in the main building but that's a couple of blocks away, so I go to a local deli and pay actual money instead. $9.27
12 p.m. — I'm shuttling back and forth between buildings all day and bring back pizza from the main building for lunch. Yum! I also go to the teachers' lounge and make myself a fake mocha (coffee + hot chocolate mix).
5 p.m. — I was supposed to go to a punk show with a friend tonight, but after the week I've had, all I want to do is lie down. My friend so also tired, so I take the train to their place and we hang out on their couch and catch up all night. We haven't seen each other in a few months, so it's nice to be able to spend quality time. After a few hours, I take the train home. $5.50
9 p.m. — In a rare moment of genius, I have the foresight to order dinner for myself while I'm a few stops away from home. An order of drunken noodles and an order of vegan pork, cilantro, and soft tofu is waiting for me on my doorknob when I arrive! It's the best present I could've given myself, and it'll be food for the next few days. I eat half of the noodles while sitting on the couch watching This Old House and stash everything else in the fridge for later. $39.64
Daily Total: $57.16

Day Six

9 a.m. — I get a much-needed chance to sleep in today. I drink my morning cold brew and reheat my leftover noodles. I'm planning to walk to the monthly craft fair at a gay bar on the other side of town later, so I enjoy a low-key morning.
1 p.m. — It's so nice out today! I walk to the craft fair and I make sure to stop at my favorite coffee shop in my old neighborhood. They make the best cold brew, and you can add a shot of CBD to it for $5. I get a CBD cold brew with oat milk and a spinach & cheese pastry as a snack. While I'm there, I also stop by a few independent gift-type stores looking for holiday presents for my friends. I have something very specific in mind for my best friend, but can't find what I'm looking for. $16.60
4 p.m. — After a lot of walking (20k+ steps!), I'm feeling snack-y. I go to my favorite donut shop which is near the craft fair. The shop is sold out of my favorite donut, so I get a different kind plus an iced horchata, and then head to the market. $10.78
5 p.m. — The market is so good! I end up buying an herb-infused olive oil for my best friend, cute carafes for the gift I'm planning to make his wife, and some small gifts for the rest of our group chat since we're all doing Christmas together this year. Successful shopping day! $110
6 p.m. — I take the train ($2.75) most of the way home, but they're doing track work so I get off two stops early. Normally I'd walk from here, but I did so much walking earlier that I decide to take a cab ($10.27). When I get home, I eat the fake pork/soft tofu/cilantro dish I ordered last night. $13.02
Daily Total: $150.40

Day Seven

8 a.m. — Good morning! I make coffee as usual, but this time I add simple syrup. Normally I'm an unsweetened coffee person, but I'm making flavored simple syrups for my friend's wife for Christmas and I need to try out the recipes. Cardamom, my favorite, works its way into my first coffee of the day. I drink it while cooking myself an easy breakfast (egg and cheese on rye, with toum instead of butter). The second syrup of the day is infused with dried lavender and butterfly pea flower tea, and it turns bright blue when it's steeped. This one makes its way into my second cup of coffee, which tastes exactly like homosexuality (don't @ me, I'm gay).
12 p.m. — I invited my old neighbors over for a Hanukkah party next weekend, and I want to buy potatoes and stuff before the holiday rush wipes everything off the shelves. They're vegan and so is their three-year-old, so I head to the local kosher grocery store where I know I'll be able to find plenty of dairy-free treats. I buy russet and sweet potatoes, red and yellow onions, vegan sour cream, some vegan cheese I've never seen before, dairy-free gelt, a dreidel to fill with small toys, apples, and a handful of other stuff. I want to buy salad greens but the produce section is so full of people that I get overwhelmed. I'll do some supplemental shopping later in the week. $55.98
2 p.m. — My local Buy Nothing group is pretty active and I love it. I pick up a vintage cake carrier after grocery shopping and it's so cute! On my way back from grabbing it, I pop into my local pizza shop for a spinach roll. I didn't eat any vegetables yet today so I feel like I need it. When I get home, I heat up some vegan bolognese sauce use that for dipping. I also manage to give away an old flatware set I don't need anymore and some kelp noodles I'd tried but didn't like. Thanks, Buy Nothing! $8.27
Daily Total: $64.25
Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual's experience and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.

Do you have a Money Diary you'd like to share? Submit it with us here.

Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here or email us here.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series