A Week In San Francisco, CA, On A $30,000 Freelance Income

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 Freelance Artist, Coach, and Performer who makes $30,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a McDonald's French Fries.
Occupation: Freelance Artist, Coach & Performer (I supplement my income with retail)
Industry: Arts
Age: 30
Location: San Francisco, CA
Salary: $30,000 is the goal, but it fluctuates
Paycheck Amount (Depends on the gig. Some are one-offs, some gigs have weekly pay or bi-weekly pay): Depends on the gig — sometimes I charge hourly, sometimes I charge for the total event.
Gender Identity: Woman
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Monthly Expenses
Rent: $950 including utilities (My friend is doing me a solid and lets me rent his spare room)
Instructor's Insurance: $51.66
Health Care Premium: $107.50
Retirement: 30% of pay (On regular earnings, I have set up 401ks and Roths with all three of my employers)
Savings: 30% of my self-employment into a robo-invested savings account through Ellevest.com (robo-investment for women by women empowering us through investing!). I also earn about .5% on my savings account through a credit union. I keep a buffer emergency fund in that savings account.

Day One

4:30 a.m. — I'm up! My alarm vibrates on the table next to me. It's Inventory Weekend! I work in retail to supplement my freelance income. Inventory is a regular event in retail — all staff is called in over the course of two days to count every. single. item. in the store to prevent “shrink” (loss). My colleagues and I will be in the store from 6 a.m., four hours before opening, to start counting. I jump in the shower, fry two eggs for breakfast, and pack my leftover spaghetti squash with chickpeas and broccoli for my walk to work. My employer has a program incentivizing the reduction of single-occupancy vehicle transportation, and I get a punch on a card towards raffle entry for a paid half-day off every time I walk or take public transportation to work.
8:30 a.m. — To boost morale there is Peet's Coffee and muffins in the break room. I snack on my muffin while bleep-blooping the epic inventory of meal bars and “impulse buy” snacks with a scanner. I've never seen so many kinds of energy foods in my life (all designed for human consumption?!). I scan birthday cake flavored goo, caffeinated jelly beans, and power protein stroop waffles.
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10:30 a.m. — It's lunchtime and I'm not incredibly hungry, but I still have three hours left on my shift and I don't want to feel hungry later. My colleague arrived with warm lo mein to share, which is way more appealing than my soggy spaghetti squash.
1 p.m. — We finish the warehouse inventory early! Rounds of high fives and high spirits abound. It is actually lunchtime and I'm in a treat-yo-self mood after seven hours of bleep-blooping. There's a pizza shop across the street specializing in square pizza. I'm not opposed to trying new things. I walk home eating the pizza and ready for a disco nap. $6.51
3:30 p.m. — I'm teaching a private lesson at a studio in the city, which is a half-hour walk from my apartment. On the walk to the studio, I'm in an ice cream mood, but this part of the city is the bougie design district and there's no ice cream. However, there is a Starbucks — I indulge in a caramel frappuccino. I have a pre-loaded Starbucks card but there's only $1 left on it. I pay the balance and load $20 on the card. $24.45
6 p.m. — I stop at Trader Joe's on the walk home. “Express Yourself” by Madonna is playing and all the employees and shoppers are mouthing the lyrics and bopping their heads in time to the beat. It's a Trader Joe's utopia. I buy a can of cannelloni beans, veggie potstickers, those dank dark chocolate PB cups, and edamame. $12.55
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7 p.m. — At home, I pull a bag of veggie scraps out of the freezer and put them in the slow cooker with water and salt to make vegetable broth overnight. I've wasted $3 on pre-made veggie broth too many times when I can make it with my free veggie scraps! I snack on popcorn and PB cups for dinner and conk out early.
Daily Total: $43.51

Day Two

7 a.m. — Up without my alarm. Cooool. Usual routine of shower/breakfast (fried eggs) and computer time. This morning I'm researching grants and funding for a trip I'm planning and taking part in this fall. I'm an adventure athlete and a group of my friends and I are teaming up with a like-minded group of Chinese athletes in China to collaborate in what I can best describe as expedition-based outdoor performance art installation/athletic expression. My partner and I have received a grant to cover our flights from an American climbing organization but I'm looking for additional funding for the rest of the team's travel expenses.
9:15 a.m. — Ah! I'm late! I live six miles away from the other school I teach at and it takes an hour by public transportation. I have to ride the SF Municipal train and then connect to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART fart). I book an Uber Pool and use the ride to update my business income/expenses I keep on a spreadsheet on Google Drive. My co-passenger is STOKED that the driver has offered us all gum and bottled water (I decline). The driver happily smacks his gum all the way to the school. $12.01
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12:15 p.m. — My classes this morning are awesome — I appropriately challenged the kids today and they were hella engaged. We all leveled up our hula-hooping skills. A parent approaches me after the class about private lessons. Score! I just moved here recently and am still building a client base. I take the BART home (using prepaid clipper card; about $5.25).
2:30 p.m. — It takes an hour and a half to get home on the trains! I spend the time practicing Mandarin on DuoLingo. Cool cool, now I know how to say “My name is…your name is.” When I finally get home, I scoop the veggie scraps out of the vegetable broth I cooked all night and add cannelloni beans, kale, carrots, and celery to the broth. I spend the rest of the afternoon reporting my wages on Covered California, CA's healthcare platform. The monthly premium is subsidized depending on annual earnings, but the program is NOT designed for freelancers. My income fluxes all the time and I must report changes in my wages within 30 days. This means I am reporting changes almost every month and it affects my premium rate for the next month. Today's update adds an additional $60 to my monthly premium. Gah! I don't need to pay the bill until late August.
6 p.m. — Let the bleep-blooping commence! I walk to the retail store for Day Two of Inventory, and get a punch on my card for walking. I've packed the squash again for dinner.
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10 p.m. — I didn't need to pack dinner after all — they made a BBQ for the inventory staff! I eat a hotdog without a bun (I dunno I just don't like hot dog buns — please laugh at the thought of me eating a bare hot dog), half a veggie burger, and mounds of broccoli.
1 a.m. — We're. finally. done. I drag myself home and into bed.
Daily Total: $12.01

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — Up with my vibrating alarm. So. tired. Shower, eggs, quick e-mails. I'm thankfully out the door on time to catch the free shuttle to the BART station to the school across the Bay (about $3.25 off my clipper for BART).
11:30 a.m. — Lunch and e-mail hustle time. I finally manage to eat that squash I've been neglecting. No worries, did not die, made sure to refrigerate all those times I didn't eat it. I respond to several e-mails and reach out to prospective clients. It looks like there's a vendor willing to loan photography equipment for our China trip!
3 p.m. — My classes for the day are over. I spend an hour and a half training (I can train for free when I coach at the studio), and take BART into the city to the other studio where I teach more classes this evening. My clipper card is low, I top it up with $60. $60
9 p.m. — I stop at Trader Joe's for yogurt on the walk home. I use the last of my SNAP food benefits to pay for it — the government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It is not a welfare program, it is a federal entitlement program. This means that anyone who is eligible may receive benefits, and it does not take the benefits away from someone else. I qualified when I moved back to the US after living in Australia for a year on a Working Holiday visa. I came back with a short turnaround before a river trip in the Grand Canyon with my partner. It was the trip of a lifetime, spending 27 days with 16 folks on boats celebrating my 30th birthday, Christmas, NYE, and my partner's birthday. I taught workshops and classes to generate income before the trip, but it wasn't much as the market rates in Arizona for my craft are low. My low income qualified me to receive SNAP benefits and Arizona health care. When I moved to CA in March for a three-month contract with a big company, I ended my benefits. I have stretched out the accrued benefits and used them to purchase groceries for the last three months.
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Daily Total: $60

Day Four

7 a.m. — Breakfast/shower/computer time, researching, and emails/free shuttle/DuoLingo/BART/to studio.
11:30 a.m. — Kale bean soup for lunch while I have a phone call with an event booking agency expressing interest in future opportunities. I then have another phone call with a different event company and schedule a time to meet.
4:30 p.m. — I train for an hour and decide to spring for dinner early because I'll be training until my friend is done teaching at 8:30 when we'll go out for a drink. I don't want to drink on an empty stomach after a long training sesh. There's not much food near this studio, except McDonald's. I get a chicken snack wrap and fries. I head back to the studio and make new friends and share fun skills until 8:30 when my friend is ready to go out. $8.64
8:30 p.m. — I'm excited to see my friend and catch up — we finally live in the same city. She's my best friend and I haven't had many friends here. I'm so excited to see her and spend quality one on one time catching up with her. When I show up to the bar, I find out my friend invited a bunch of other people. One of the extra guest's birthday is tomorrow and she seems to have made this into a birthday event for herself, and invited more of her friends for her birthday. There are so many people, I don't get to spend much time talking to my friend. I order warm olives for the table and a cider for myself. I learn my friend has just gotten a grant to put together a performance at a major venue with 18 synchronized performers and did not book me as one of her performers. I'm shocked — we've always booked each other to perform in our events. I grapple with my feelings and head home.
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Daily Total: $8.64

Day Five

8 a.m. — I forgot to pay last night! I Venmo my friend $20 for the drink and olives. $20
11:30 a.m. — Kale bean soup for lunch with a side of taxes. The Australian tax season is July 1st to June 30th. I had to file an extension on my US taxes this April in order to finish paying off my Australian taxes for last year that didn't come until July. It's been ridiculous. A friend of mine does my accounting for me for free (she says she doesn't mind because I'm so organized — she's amazing) and she's sent me the final US tax doc to review. I get a text from my partner — he's alive and in service for an hour while he takes a kiddo to the urgent care. My partner is a wilderness educator and we go through long-distance stints while he's out working. It's always exciting when I get a text from him after days out in the field!
4 p.m. — I'm cheap and stubborn. I have a pixie cut because it makes me feel beautiful and look my age (I look like a 12-year-old and get carded on the reg), but I only cut it every three months to keep it cheap. It's now been four months because I was looking for a stylist and it looks like a round shaggy ball on my head. I finally find a stylist that is AMAZING! We chat about freelancing and how we each approach retirement savings and health care. I tip her 20%. $108
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5 p.m. — HONGRY and no time to go home. I get a snack size burrito and chips at a Mexican restaurant near the BART station. $5.41
6 p.m. — Back at the studio. I'm scheduled to substitute two classes tonight, but one was canceled due to low enrollment. A coach I admire is teaching during the time slot of my canceled class, so I decide to take that class. As a coach myself, the studio allows me to take the class at 75% percent off, and deducts the tuition from my paychecks quarterly. We work on clowning while on aerial rope. I squish myself in a knot around my waist 10 feet up in the air and talk about everyday life while suspended. $10
9:00 p.m. — The class I taught was an awesome group of gung-ho adults. A student clad in yellow tinted glasses was so pleased by the class, he tips me $4. I head home on the BART/Muni using my prepaid card.
Daily Total: $143.41

Day Six

8 a.m. — Same same morning routine.
11:30 a.m. — Kale bean soup and computer hustle.
4 p.m. — After my classes, I head to the post office to mail a videographer friend some video footage of my projects on flash drives. I'd like to make a demo reel to send to potential clients and another reel about a project I organized a few years ago. The footage is raw and I don't have the time and programs to process it. $2.64
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5:30 p.m. — I BART to the other studio to teach two classes. The energy is high in both. It is refreshing to teach adults after a day of kids camp.
9 p.m. — I head home and fall asleep.
Daily Total: $2.64

Day Seven

8 a.m. — Same same morning routine, but I have a big day ahead of me and I pack two kale soups.
11:30 a.m. — Whew! What a morning! The kids are rehearsing for their show for the parents this afternoon. One kid misses her trick and gets tangled in an aerial silk about 12 feet up in the air. I ask her to stay calm and I lower her down with my co-coach. The girl is shaken, but fine. The kids break for lunch and I sub an adult class during my regular lunch break (aka no lunch break). I take five minutes after to wolf down my soup while the campers warm-up for the afternoon's rehearsal and showcase.
4 p.m. — The show was a great success! The girl executed her moves without a hitch after we focused in and practiced. I choreographed three routines for the “Under the Sea” theme show. The parents ate it up. After everyone clears out, my best friend arrives for training. I invite her to do six-minute abs with me and ask for feedback about why she didn't book me for her upcoming event. She doesn't have any feedback and says it's not personal. It is confusing, and hard not to take personally, especially as I've invited her to perform in all of my events. She says some stuff about how I should learn to accept that friendships change and I need to learn not to focus on events I'm not invited to. I'm surprised by her “should's” and “need to's” — they are negative framing words that expect perfection rather than acknowledging that I am not perfect and there is always space for growth and change.
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5:30 p.m. — I let the conversation run longer than I meant and book it to the BART station — I'll be late for my retail shift. I'm feeling the feels. Out of habit, I get off at the station near my house, but I'm not going home and it makes me even later for work. I exit the BART station/walk in a circle/tap back into the BART station/tap back out in a flurry of brainless activity trying to figure out how best to get to work. I call my supervisor at the retail place and tell them I'm going to be late. I get on the train in the wrong direction. When I get off the train I run into Walgreens for a snack. It is the only thing nearby and I'm out of time to eat my dinner. Suddenly the appeal of a weird protein cookie is high, but alas, the cookie is dry and mealy in my mouth while I run the rest of the way to work. $2.44
10 p.m. — I walk home and think about the day. Despite whatever is going on with my friend, I try to check in with myself about what's good. I had a lot of genuine interactions at the cash wrap today at work, and the clients I worked with this week were all happy with my classes. I even choreographed three acts for a show! I have to do a lot of paperwork for government shit (like taxes and health care), but I was on top of it this week and I have a trip coming up with folks that are willing to support it either financially or with gear. That's exciting! At home, my roommates (they're partners) are up watching Game of Thrones. I read all the books (nerd: it me), and I watch the show sporadically with them. We're getting to the point where the show surpasses the books and I'll have to watch more devotedly if I want to learn what's going on. We catch up about each other's weeks as we've barely seen each other. I feel connected and grateful for their friendship.
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Daily Total: $2.44
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