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A Week In Northern New Jersey On A $76,686 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 administrator who makes $76,686 per year and spends some of her money this week on Sunday Riley Good Genes.
Occupation: Administrator
Industry: Education
Age: 40
Location: New Jersey
Salary: $76,686
Net Worth: $56,984 ($98,520 in retirement plus $8,000 in savings minus debt. My partner and I have a shared account for static monthly expenses like rent, utilities, and subscriptions and we contribute to a joint savings account for our wedding, but other than that our finances are separate. The majority of our paychecks go into our separate checking accounts and we also each have our own savings.)
Debt: $49,536 ($44,886 in student loans and a $4,650 debt consolidation loan)
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,824
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $900 for my half
Debt Consolidation Loan: $230
Student Loans: $428.82
Car Lease: $366.18
Car Insurance: $96.95
Cable: $81 for my half
Phone: $61 for my half of the family plan my partner and I share
Electric/Gas: averages about $40 for my half
Subscriptions (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime): $22 for my half
Biweekly Compost Pick-up: $16 for my half
NY Times: $6
Rachel Cargle Patreon: $5
Savings: $400 to wedding savings and for my personal savings, it varies
Charitable Contributions: averages about $50 a month to a variety of organizations/individuals with some larger one-off donations throughout the year
Retirement: I contribute 9% pre-tax and my employer contributes 7%; this will go up to 10% in a few months.
Health Insurance: $120 pre-tax
Dental Insurance: $70 pre-tax
Flex Spending Account: $90 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?
Kind of? Of the three of us siblings, I was "the smart one" so it was assumed, but the only pressure was to do it as cost-effectively as possible. For undergrad, I ended up at a really good local state school, lived at home to save money, and paid for it with earnings from my full-time retail job combined with tuition vouchers from both my parents' jobs. I went to grad school abroad and paid for that with student loans.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents drilled into us not spending money we didn't have (I didn't get my first credit card until after grad school) and the importance of a strong work ethic.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I was babysitting as soon as someone would pay me for it, around the age of 12 or 13. My first "real" job was at a florist at age 15. My parents insisted that if I wanted spending money, I needed to get a job as soon as I was old enough for working papers. I think the other piece of that was to teach me responsibility and the value of a dollar.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No. While we didn't go on fancy vacations or have the newest, trendiest things, we always had everything we needed.
Do you worry about money now?
Not really. I worry that I'm going to be paying off my student loans until I die and that we may never own a home, but having a partner to share expenses with and a decent salary has allowed me to relax significantly compared to the days where I was living paycheck to paycheck with maxed out credit cards, a shitty car in constant need of repair, and nothing in savings.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I guess when I started grad school at 22, although I did live with my parents rent-free for a time after I finished grad school. My partner and I have financial safety nets in the form of our wedding savings and in our parents (to an extent) if shit ever really hit the fan.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Not yet, but when my grandparents passed away a few years ago, my mother inherited some money. Apparently, about $10,000 is earmarked for me for something that is in the "adulting" category. I'm hoping that it will eventually go towards a down payment on a home.

Day One

8:15 a.m. — Wake up to my alarm. Get up and love on my partner, L., and the more snuggly of our two cats. Our other cat is somewhere sleeping off his nighttime zoomies. It's Saturday but I'm supposed to drop off my weekly saliva sample at school for COVID testing because we've been remote the last two days due to snow. Luckily a nearby colleague is stopping to pick mine up on her way. Score! Once I make the hand-off, I make L. a cup of the super fancy hot chocolate I got him for Valentine's Day. Another alarm goes off reminding me to take my antidepressant (I take it for my anxiety and panic disorder). I started medication for the first time about a month ago after feeling for months like my physiological symptoms were getting out of control and that therapy alone wasn't cutting it anymore. So far, so good. I think.
10:15 a.m. — Breakfast is half a gluten-free English muffin topped with cheese, bacon, a runny egg, and Everything but the Elote seasoning from Trader Joe's (Everything but the Bagel? I don't know her). I also treat myself to a cup of my favorite French tea that I've been rationing. Then I get to work organizing and cleaning the kitchen while L. works on reorganizing his work from home set up with all these new tech toys he recently purchased.
12:15 p.m. — I mask up and head over to the plant shop in town to buy a large cast iron plant that I can't stop thinking about. It's allegedly almost impossible to kill which is right up my alley. I also pick up a tiny succulent to replace one that I killed when I brought a bunch of plants home from my office at the start of distance learning last March. I also grab a small Calathea with pink striped leaves. $132.75
12:15 p.m. — I stop at our favorite bakery around the corner for a cinnamon roll for L. ($4.41 including $1 tip). $4.41
3 p.m. — Make a lunch salad of romaine lettuce, rotisserie chicken, sweet potato tots, and the best lime vinaigrette from Wegmans (if you don't live near a Wegmans you have my deepest sympathies). L. and I watch a couple of episodes of New Girl and I work on my puzzle. Yes, I've become one of those pandemic puzzle people. Snuggly cat comes trotting up to me with a small piece of plastic that he found who knows where and wants me to throw for him. I redirect him to playing fetch with a giant rubber band instead. Zoomie cat joins in and runs up and down the hallway chasing the rubber band.
8 p.m. — Skip a real dinner because I've been snacking on tortilla chips and Dove peanut butter eggs (the ONLY Easter candy, don't @ me). Give snuggly cat his Prozac (anxiety buds!) and hop in the shower. I'm an evening showerer always and forever. I take two CBD/melatonin gummies and treat my dry winter skin to Glossier Super Bounce Serum and Sunday Riley Tidal Cream. After a little more chill time with L. on the couch, I finish my nighttime routine with some R+Co High Dive Cream in my damp hair, a Klonopin to prevent nocturnal panic attacks, Lush Dream Cream, Laneige lip sleeping mask, and Saje Peaceful Slumber oil. I get under my weighted blanket and start a new library book. Lights out by 9:45.
Daily Total: $137.16

Day Two

9 a.m. — After scrolling through news and social media for a bit, I get out of bed and start getting the laundry together. Our household division of labor includes me on laundry and L. on litter box duty and somehow, we both feel like we've won. I wash my face with Drunk Elephant Juju bar soap and put on some Sunday Riley Good Genes lactic acid treatment. It's so creamy and makes my skin super soft and smooth; perfect for no-makeup days. I pour a small glass of Rook cold brew (a recommendation from a South Jersey diarist — lifechanging) and make a Facebook post on our town curb alert page for a box of stuff we purged during the kitchen organization yesterday.
11:30 a.m. — Make a brunch of shakshuka with two eggs and crumble some feta on top. Continue with the laundry; it ends up being five loads. In between trips to the laundry room, I do some class prep and catch up on work email. We've been lucky enough to be safely in person most of the school year, but when we've had to pivot to remote it comes with no warning. It's exhausting and I have all the feels about all of the things, but I'm making it work and concentrating on building community above all else. Teaching isn't technically part of my job description, but I do have one part-time course right now. I'm in awe of how my full-time faculty friends are making this work. $12.75
2:20 p.m. — Head to CVS to pick up a prescription ($10 on my pre-paid flex-spending debit card). I am the ninth car in line for the drive-thru. It takes 45 minutes and I listen to an episode of Black Fraiser while I wait because Phoebe Robinson is an absolute queen. I get an email that our COVID testing results are such that we'll be back in the building tomorrow. I always have mixed feelings about this but try to focus on the positive to keep the anxiety at bay.
5:30 p.m. — Leftover gluten-free pizza and more New Girl with L. Starting to feel the Sunday night blues settling in. I pop a CBD gummy with a side of theanine (a new supplement I'm trying) and sit outside on the balcony playing word games on my phone until I'm so cold I can't feel my fingers.
9 p.m. — Same bedtime routine as last night except I use Sunday Riley retinoid serum and Drunk Elephant Lala Retro cream on my face. There is usually no rhyme or reason to what I put on my face when and I switch it up a lot. Is this expensive-ass retinoid serum worth it? Who knows. I kiss L. and the cats, set my alarm extra early, and read until around 10.
Daily Total: $12.75

Day Three

6:15 a.m. — My alarm goes off and I'm immediately cranky about how dark it is. My workday makeup routine includes NYX concealer and bronzer, Bare Minerals mineral veil powder, Glossier Boy Brow, and Beauty Counter volumizing mascara. Get dressed in faded black Everlane jeans, an oversized black Aerie sweater, and black Chelsea boots from Target. Kiss L. about a hundred times and head out the door with a small cold brew in hand by 7. Get a notification that we're going to have a half-day because of snow! On the drive, I listen to our ever-evolving wedding playlist (corona bride here) and get a huge nostalgia-induced smile on my face when "Let's Get Married" by Jagged Edge comes on. That is until they get to the line about having some babies and I fake gag. I adore babies and children and even teenagers, but L. and I are in full and enthusiastic agreement that parenthood is not for us.
10 a.m. — Finally come up for air and find that I'm starving. While on a Zoom meeting with the other instructors for the course I'm teaching, I eat a couple of spoonfuls of the best nut butter in the world (Big Spoon Roasters Chai Spice), a very mediocre granola bar, some pineapple from last week that I found in the fridge, and a Chomps beef stick from the snack stash in my work bag. A totally acceptable breakfast.
1 p.m. — Make it home after a snowy drive including a stop at the Container Store for curbside pickup of some bins and baskets that I ordered and paid for last week. Have just enough time to heat up a lunch of rice, chicken, baby spinach, feta, and some lemon dressing (another Wegmans star) before I hop on another Zoom meeting. I also have meetings at 4 and 6. Sadly, early dismissal does not mean an early end to my workday. I cram three Dove peanut butter eggs into my face after my meeting and complete the application for my medical marijuana card.
5:30 p.m. — In between meetings, I manage to set up the bins and baskets on our baker's rack in the kitchen and am so proud of what a difference it's made to such a problem area that I send a pic to my mom and sister. My mom's response is that my compost bucket ruins the look (lol mom), but thankfully that reminds me that tomorrow morning is a compost pick up day, so I set out our bucket. I make turkey taco salad for dinner and prepare to eat in yet another Zoom meeting. Camera off this time since this is a professional affinity group and I'd like these people to think I'm a professional lady that doesn't constantly spill food down the front of my shirt.
8:30 p.m. — Done with my final meeting and dinner clean-up. I take a shower and mentally high-five myself for remembering to bring my rattlesnake plant into the bathroom so it can soak in that sweet, sweet humidity. My face is feeling super dry so I use Trader Joe's watermelon overnight face mask tonight. I sit on the bathroom floor and give zoomie cat all the pets. The bathroom is his favorite and one of the only places in the apartment that he will let us really love on him. He is particular AF about everything. I'm beat and call it a night at 9.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

6:30 a.m. — Alarm goes off and I'm feeling so groggy that I hit snooze three times, falling back to sleep each time. I woke up at 3:30 to the sensation of my bed shaking like there was an earthquake and then laid awake for a while, freaked out. Check the news and find that there was no earthquake, so I guess it was a dream. Or I'm hallucinating? Get dressed in black pants/glorified leggings from Loft, a black tank, a grey and black boyfriend-style blazer from Banana Republic, and the same boots as yesterday. Pour myself a larger cold brew than normal and look for something for breakfast. My fruit and vegetable supply is disappointingly low due to an almost month-long flare-up of an undiagnosed stomach condition and I'm just starting to feel okay adding back in fiber. Make a mental note to start an Instacart order. Head out and listen to a new-to-me podcast, My Momma Told Me, on the drive. I pick the episode featuring Jay Ellis from Insecure because I'm a huge Lawrence stan.
9:30 a.m. — I have a Zoom meeting at 9:50 and am determined to eat breakfast before it starts. With this team, you have to be quick to jump in to get heard and I don't want a mouthful of food to stop me. Today's random assortment is lentil hummus, brazil nuts (daily dose of selenium), baby carrots, gluten-free pita crackers, and cheese.
12:30 p.m. — Heat up the lunch I brought from home yesterday (chicken and rice with ghee) and supplement with romaine lettuce and buffalo cauliflower from the dining hall. Manage to get a few bites in then I remember I have a student coming by in 10 minutes, so I put my food away and my mask back on.
1 p.m. — Actually eating lunch now while texting with my brother-in-law about birthday gifts for my sister. I give up on finishing lunch after about an hour of constant interruptions. Sigh. I get a thank you card with a Target gift card this morning from a sweet group of students that I helped with something and that reminds me that I need to replace a fitted sheet someone with claws ruined. Cats can be such dicks. The second I open the Target app, I get a text from my boss asking for some information she can't access. Sigh again.
4 p.m. — Head out and talk to my mom on the way home. I feed the cats and relax a little bit then continue working on the couch while giving the snuggly cat all the belly rubs his sweet baby angel heart desires. L. is at his computer working overtime but it's nice to be in the same room at least.
6:50 p.m. — L. and I finish work and make dinner. Frozen pizza for him and half a gluten-free English muffin topped with a runny egg, cheese, and loads of Everything but the Elote seasoning for me. I'm really craving protein so I also reheat a scoop of the turkey taco meat from last night. I feel like I should cook a vegetable but that buffalo cauliflower at lunch did me dirty and I decide to pass. We watch Bob's Burgers and The Great North while we eat.
8:30 p.m. — Same nighttime routine as usual except with Beauty Counter Overnight Resurfacing Peel (Look, I know that Beauty Counter is an MLM but I truly love some of their products and no one has ever harassed me about joining their cult) and then I play my ukulele for a while. L. listens for a bit and compliments my improving skills, then heads to bed before me for once. I manage to make it to 9:30, feed the cats second dinner, and follow behind him.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

6:45 a.m. — So. Very. Tired. Out of bed by 7 for the typical morning routine. Throw on a pair of American Eagle jeans and a bright yellow sweater from Target with my favorite tan Dolce Vita booties. Pour a cold brew (they're getting progressively larger as the week goes on) and search for something for breakfast. I end up with a Chomps beef stick, a jar of maple cinnamon pecan and peanut butter (again, Big Spoon — the best!), and one of L.'s rice cakes (gross). No time to make lunch so I'm at the mercy of the dining hall today. L. reminds me he has another interview for a job he's in the running for within his company. I stop in my tracks and do my best to psych him up— he works so hard and would be perfect in this new position! Listen to more of My Mama Told Me on the drive and now that I've heard a full episode I can confirm it's legit hilarious.
12:25 p.m. — I cobble together a lunch of sweet chili tofu, rice, and the insides of two pork bao with really tasty pickles. On the way back to my office, I see one of our security guards that I haven't seen since before the holidays so I stop to catch up with him. These are the moments that make me appreciate being back to work in person despite all the fear and stress and anxiety. Back in my office, every time I take my mask off to take a bite someone knocks on my door. I'm so hungry and haven't had a moment to myself all day. I give in to the madness until my next Zoom meeting, then close my door, pull the blinds, and happily stuff my face. I treat myself to a limoncello La Croix and a couple of Hershey's kisses with lunch.
4:04 p.m. — Time to go home! I never stopped moving today. I taught my class this morning which was truly enjoyable and always a favorite part of my week. We also had a fun event which added to the madness but seeing so many happy kids is always worth the extra work.
5 p.m. — I snack on some chocolate-covered hazelnuts while I catch up on Slack messages in the local mutual aid group I've recently joined. I spend some time messaging with one of the sub-groups about an upcoming event and reach out to a few of my students who are passionate about this issue to see if they want to get involved. I make an easy dinner of baked sweet potato fries and another salad of romaine, chicken, feta, and lemon dressing.
7:20 p.m. — My mask stash is getting low, so I buy a 20-pack of KF94 masks to wear at work on Amazon and spend some time looking at sheets but I'm being picky and the evil empire isn't cutting it. $34.89
7:20 p.m. — Remember that Aerie is having a sale so I pick up this kimono-style sweater I've had my eye on. Last year, I worked remotely and wore exclusively activewear (lol at the use of the word active here) all spring so this will be the first piece of spring work clothing I've bought in two years — purchase justified! $34.96
9 p.m. — I'm showered, moisturized, and both snuggly cat and I are medicated. I strum my ukulele for a bit, making up songs about the cats that I perform for them, and while they don't seem impressed, they are a surprisingly good audience. L. is definitely entertained so my job here is done. Work on my Instacart list in bed and once I'm horizontal, I'm ready to pass out.
Daily Total: $69.85

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — Get up and have to spend some time filling a vial with saliva since it's a COVID testing day. The cats hang out with me in the bathroom (one wants food, one wants pets) until L. gets up to feed them. I also have to spend some time on my hair this morning. I have what I like to call a "texture mullet," slightly wavy in the front and very wavy — but not in a good way — in the back. I do what I can with a comb, a quick pass with the straightening iron, and some Trader Joe's Shea Butter and Coconut Oil Hair Serum on my ends. Get dressed in the same black Loft pants from two days ago (it's a pandemic, don't judge), a black tank, an oversized buffalo plaid cardigan with pockets, and my beloved black boots. Pour a small cold brew that I drink in the car while listening to Sinisterhood.
8:50 a.m. — After spending the first part of the morning outdoors for a fun little event, breakfast is egg salad and grapes that I got from the dining hall yesterday. I'm now wishing I had more caffeine. I settle for a heavy spread of chai spice nut butter on another rice cake.
1 p.m. — Finally time for lunch: turkey taco meat from home supplemented with cilantro lime rice from the dining hall. I grabbed a salad too, but I fill up on taco meat (spoiler alert: I will come to regret this). I also have a Polar black cherry seltzer. I finish my Instacart order in between meetings with students and get a pickup slot for right after work today. Forgot I had a 4:30 meeting (on top of a webinar and a virtual event this evening) so I'm going to have to hustle. I ordered a gluten-free pizza, a regular pizza, milk, cheese, shallots, thyme, mushrooms, cucumbers, pineapple, apples, hummus, dolmas, eggs, a rotisserie chicken, and frozen gluten-free smoked gouda mac and cheese. $66.01
3:10 p.m. — Leave work on the earlier side to drive to Wegmans for my Instacart pick up and then head right home. I have just enough time to unload groceries and lay on the couch for 10 minutes before my meeting. I have horrible agida (acid reflux/heartburn/stomach upset if you're not from an Italian-American family) from that taco meat.
6:52 p.m. — In between work and more work, I check my email and see that my medical marijuana card application was approved so I pay the fee. $100
6:52 p.m. — I also realize that my tax return hit my account a few days ago— time to spend some money! First, I use a 20% off code and purchase a new bottle of Sunday Riley Good Genes, R+Co dry shampoo, and Grown Alchemist hand cream from Dermstore ($134.13). This is the one frivolous treat I planned for this money. $134.13
6:52 p.m. — Next, I (drumroll, please) pay off one of my student loans!!! It's the smaller of my two loans, but it still feels so good. L. remembers to bring the plant into the bathroom while he showers, empties the dishwasher, does the dishes that have piled up in the sink, AND makes me a gluten-free pizza for dinner while I get back to work. He's a friggin' gem. $603.74
9 p.m. — It's been a long day/night. Usual nighttime routine except with half a Klonopin pill tonight. I've been on a new dose of my anxiety meds for almost a week now and have been feeling really good so I really think I can get rid of the nightly Klonopin altogether, but I don't want to test that theory on a school night. Lights out by 10.
Daily Total: $903.88

Day Seven

6:38 a.m. — Wake up before my alarm with a migraine. I pop a prescription migraine pill and lay really still for the next 25 minutes or so and feel okay when I get up. I put on my Black Lives Matter t-shirt with a different pair of black Loft legging-type pants, a black and white patterned cardigan from Target, and black suede and leather high tops. Take some time to talk with L. and we end up laughing hysterically at a joke I make and he keeps riffing on. One of my favorite parts of our relationship is that we're really in sync humor-wise. In the car by 7:50 and put on a random older playlist. A song that reminds me of my sister comes on and I smile hugely, then want to cry because I miss her so much. She's my best friend and we talk, Facetime, or text every single day but I haven't seen her in over a year. Stupid pandemic.
9:26 a.m. — Breakfast today is cucumbers, hummus, pineapple, and a Chomps beef stick. And another cold brew.
1:22 p.m. — Didn't really make a lunch plan so I end up with tofu and veggies in a sweet and spicy sauce. I work on a boring spreadsheet while I eat. I'm craving something sweet and there is no candy to be found so I settle for scraping a dollop of chocolate frosting off of a little piece of cake from the dining hall (I am a garbage person).
5 p.m. — I get home on the late side today because I had a small group meeting for the mutual aid organization and it made more sense to log on from work than rush to get home. I've been wanting to get more involved in my local community and this really feels like the right place for me. As soon as I walk in the door, I hit up my stash of Dove eggs and wolf down two.
6:21 p.m. — For dinner, I finish the pizza from last night and pineapple from breakfast while placing a Costco delivery order for tomorrow. We get chicken breasts, Doritos, granola bars, chocolate chip cookies, cereal, and I add tampons, pads, canned chicken, applesauce pouches, and more granola bars for the food pantry ($134.86 including a 20% tip). L. pays for this one. Typically I pay for the weekly grocery shopping while L. takes care of the monthly cat food/medicine/treat shopping and the occasional Costco shop.
10:40 p.m. — Bedtime after a fun Zoom gathering with my work pals. We haven't gotten together outside of work since pre-pandemic times and many of us rarely see each other in the building these days so it felt like a real celebration to all be "together." This group of people has helped me keep my sanity in so many ways not just during the pandemic and I truly appreciate them. L. is playing some online video game with friends he also hasn't seen in a long time, but he pops over to say hi to everyone. Such a nice end to what felt like the longest week in history.
Daily Total: $0
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