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A Week In San Jose, CA, On A $65,000 Salary

Photo: Courtesy of Nalgene.
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 arts administrator who makes $65,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a Nalgene water bottle.
Occupation: Arts Administrator
Industry: Museums and Galleries
Age: 31
Location: San Jose, CA
Salary: ~$65,000 including stipend; when stipend ends I will make closer to $60,000.
Net Worth: $23,952 ($1,238 in my checking account, $14,691 in a high yield savings, $2,000 in a travel savings account and $20,171.43 in my 401(k), minus debt).
Debt: $13,398 car loan + $750 on credit card.
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): fluctuates between $2,053 and $2,300 depending on number of hours worked.
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,995 (studio in-law unit with a private backyard).
Car Payment: $325
Electricity: ~$80
Health Insurance: $16
Dental Insurance: covered by my employer.
Car Insurance: $92
Internet: $65
Hulu/Disney+: $13.99 (I trade with my parents for Netflix, HBO Max and Apple TV).
Spotify: $9.99
Cell Phone: still on my parents' plan.
401(k): My job contributes 10% of my salary every month ($557) and I don't contribute anything extra at this point in time.
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?
My mom was the first in her family to go to college whereas my dad was the only person in his family to not finish college so I have always had a balanced approach to higher education. Both of my parents went to community college before transferring to a four-year university but I was definitely a complete snob about college. I went to a high school that put a huge emphasis on your intelligence and where you went to school mattered. I didn't get into any in-state schools (which was a huge blow to my ego) so I went to a state school in a different state. My grandfather and my parents paid for my tuition. I lived at home while in grad school (which is required for my field), worked to pay my part of the tuition and my parents paid the other half. I am very grateful to have zero debt and would not have been able to pursue a career in the arts without my parents' safety net.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My family lived within their means so I witnessed a lot of good spending habits while growing up. It was important to my parents that I didn't go into debt for college or work during the school year. If I wanted something extra or to go on a trip outside of our normal family vacation, it was my responsibility to pay for it. So I learned early on that living expenses came before fun things like going out and concerts.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I wasn't allowed to work during the school year so I was a lifeguard at the city pool over the summer. I would put most of my earnings into my travel savings and would spend the remaining on going out with friends.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Growing up we were strictly lower middle class by Bay Area standards. I never had to worry about money, food was always on the table, I received gifts and parties for my birthday and the holidays, and we went on a family vacation every year. My parents rented for most of my life and just recently bought a house. I did notice we lived more frugally than my peers and my house was definitely on the smaller/older side but I didn't get the sense that we struggled.
Do you worry about money now?
More often than I should. I live in one of the most expensive areas in the world on an art salary. I've been in my industry for a decade now and have only lived in expensive markets. So as of late, I've been thinking a lot about sustainability and what that looks like for me. I'm a great saver in spite of my lifestyle choices, so that's been a solace. I recently moved into a better studio (it took me 10 years to finally have an in-unit washer/dryer!) but I'm back to spending half of my income on rent. So I guess I'm worried about money in the sense that I'm tired of spending so much to live on a below-cost-of-living salary. I don't regret pursuing a career in art but I feel as if I'm outgrowing the belief that my work is a labor of love.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible for myself after I graduated college and started working my first job. My parents still helped me with a few expenses such as my car payment, insurance and cell phone bill, but most of my expenses have been on me since I was 23. My parents are more financially sound now that I'm an adult so when I can freeload on one of their vacations, I definitely do so. Now, other than my cell phone bill I'm completely self-reliant. The pandemic allowed me to start building a safety net for myself. If I lost my job, I could continue to take care of myself for a short period of time and I would hesitate to fall back on my parents unless it was absolutely necessary.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My grandfather was extremely successful so I will inherit a large trust that will be split among my extended family when he passes away. I don't let this affect the way I live, save or plan out my financial trajectory. It's my responsibility to build my own financial security and any money I inherit I see as a bonus. But this safety net and the support of my parents have allowed me to pursue a career in the arts, which I wouldn't have been able to do if that inheritance wasn't a factor. Also, now that my parents are more financially stable and have built wealth over time, I will inherit their trust as well.

Day One

7 a.m. — Wake up, make espresso and get ready for work. Blend a smoothie with vegan protein powder, banana, coconut yogurt and strawberries for breakfast. I drink my coffee quickly and gather my things before heading to the office. I'm getting an early start today since I'm heading out of town for the weekend to visit my boyfriend, D., who is a wildland firefighter for a national park six months out of the year. I'm hourly so if I want to leave work early, I have to start early.
7:45 a.m. — Fill up on gas on the way to work so I don't have to go on the way out later today. $28.89
8 a.m. — Gather my materials for the day, prepare a second cup of coffee at work and go through emails.
12:30 p.m. — Conduct performance evaluations all morning. I manage a team of 20 people so there are a lot of performance reviews that need to be completed. I'm fried and hungry. I head over to another side of campus for a lunchtime walk and pick up a caprese sandwich and an afternoon iced coffee for dinner since I'll be driving and won't feel like stopping. I eat leftover udon noodle soup for lunch. $11.99
2:40 p.m. — I take a tea break and walk time. I stock the office with a variety of tea options so tea is always free.
4 p.m. — Finally finish up the day and head out to meet D. in the wilderness. I listen to a few podcasts, eat my sandwich and enjoy the scenery.
8:30 p.m. — Finally arrive at the park and give D. a big hug and smooch. He was sick last time I saw him so we didn't give each other nearly as much affection as we usually do. We make up for that thoroughly this evening. We stay up far too late and fall asleep around 1.
Daily Total: $40.88

Day Two

8 a.m. — Wake up and snuggle for as long as possible. Then get up to run some errands.
9:30 a.m. — Arrive at a coffee shop for breakfast. I order a coffee and veggie bagel and D. orders a breakfast sandwich. I pay. $25
11 a.m. — We head to town to run errands. D. pays for lunch and we indulge in burgers and split sweet potato fries. We drink kombuchas we picked up at the store.
5 p.m. — Head back home and get ready to head out again. D. wants to take me blueberry picking. We hop in the car and head to a blueberry farm.
6 p.m. — We pick blueberries and listen to a local band perform. We each pay for our ticket and blueberry stash. I contemplate buying a handmade mug but decide against it (I have far too many mugs). $11
8:30 p.m. — Arrive back at D.'s place and get ready for bed. Since we had a late lunch, I'm not in the mood for dinner but snack on some chips while D. makes himself something. We snuggle and spend time with each other before lights out at 11.
Daily Total: $36

Day Three

6 a.m. — D.'s alarm goes off and we canoodle for as long as possible. We both get ready to leave for the day. Sometimes I stay even when D.'s working to go on a hike and explore the park on my own. This time I decide to head home early because I have a lot to do. I steal an RX bar and banana from D. for breakfast.
7:30 a.m. — Fill up on gas on my way out. $38
10:45 a.m. — Make it home in record time. I love leaving early on Sundays, there's never anyone on the road and it makes up for the traffic I hit on the way down. I talk with my neighbor for a bit and then get ready to go on a bike ride.
12:30 p.m. — I get a great ride in and feel more confident that I'm not as out of shape as I originally thought. This past winter was very wet for California standards so my workout routine was severely affected. I'm just getting back into the groove — two months before my big European trek through the Alps! This is my first bike ride in over five months and it feels good. I make an egg avocado sandwich and work on a grocery list. I'm still hungry so I finish off some olive oil cake I made last weekend.
1:30 p.m. — Head out for my volunteer shift at the wildlife sanctuary. This is something new I'm trying.
4 p.m. — I don't think volunteering at the sanctuary is for me. I love wildlife and want to give back as much as I can but certain duties are a little too hard for me to bear. After my shift I head to the grocery store for the week. I hit Whole Foods this time because there are certain products I need that they carry. I pick up asparagus, bananas, onions, greens, avocados, arborio rice, veggie broth, chips, salsa, oat milk and sparkling water. $57.89
5 p.m. — I sit in the backyard with a glass of wine and chips and salsa and catch up on my food and travel magazines. Tonight I'm making asparagus and pancetta risotto for dinner. I love risotto but it requires much babying. Dinner takes me a while to prep but it is so worth it.
6:30 p.m. — I eat dinner and watch Taste the Nation. I love travel and food shows, they help me wander without leaving home.
7 p.m. — D. calls after work and we chat for a bit. The months having him away are hard but I'm pretty independent and support his purpose so it's worth the time apart.
9 p.m. — Get in bed and curl up with my book. Lights out by 9:45.
Daily Total: $95.89

Day Four

7 a.m. — Wake up and make espresso and an everything bagel with avocado. Prep leftover risotto for lunch.
8:15 a.m. — Arrive at work and check emails before meetings begin. Grab some green tea from the breakroom.
12:30 p.m. — Attend morning meetings. We are in the midst of planning our exhibition schedule for the next few years. It's always an exciting time. Heat up my leftover risotto and take lunch outside.
5 p.m. — Leave work for the day and head home. Once home, I get my workout clothes on and head out for a walk. Walking is my safe space; if I don't get at minimum two walks in a day, I'm grumpy. It feels good to walk around my neighborhood. D. calls while I'm on my walk and we talk about our day.
6:30 p.m. — I'm FaceTiming my best friend tonight. She lives in Iowa and we set up FaceTime dates as much as we can. I prep dinner while we chat, which is a warm udon noodle salad with chili oil, soy sauce, a hard-boiled egg, scallions and broccoli.
8:30 p.m. — Get ready for bed and prepare some tea and curl up with my book. I send D. a quick goodnight text. Lights out by 9:30, I'm exhausted.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

7 a.m. — Wake up even though I don't have to be at work early today, ugh. Lie in bed for as long as humanly possible before coffee beckons me to the kitchen. Make espresso and jump back into bed, reading blogs about my upcoming hike. I'm nervous I'm not in good enough shape to tackle 110 miles over the course of 10 days but reading the latest blog makes me feel better.
8:30 a.m. — Cook up a fried egg and an everything bagel with avocado. I'm in need of more espresso today so I make a second cup, this time frothing some oat milk to make a latte. Turn my computer on and prepare for my Zoom call.
9:30 a.m. — Finish up the call and look outside to my backyard and see it's raining. UGH. All of my patio furniture is out and I don't have covers. Bummer. I text my dad about grill covers (they just bought me a new grill). He will order a cover for me at Home Depot and have it delivered to my neighborhood store. He doesn't let me pay for it, typical. A walk in the rain is out of the question so I guess I'm working out at home.

10 a.m. — Complete a strength and core workout and get ready for work. I make a protein smoothie of half a banana, protein powder, coconut yogurt, strawberries and oat milk. I use the other half of the banana to make a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch.

11 a.m. — Work on budgets this morning. I'm not good with numbers (hence the art degree) but have somehow managed to work jobs that require an immense amount of financial literacy. I've learned a lot on the job.

1:30 p.m. — It's time to take a break and although my lunch break isn't technically for a few more hours, I take it now. I eat my peanut butter banana sandwich and go on a walk around campus.

4:30 p.m. — Today is a slow day so I catch up on some admin work before I need to prep the galleries for a poetry class. I finish prepping and take a short walk.

5:30 p.m. — The poetry class arrives and settles into the galleries. I listen in and marvel at the creativity of the students. I love connecting different departments with the art we have on view. It is my mission to provide opportunities for cross-pollination between departments. The arts can aid any field by enhancing critical thinking skills. Even though it's a late night, I'm happy I was able to shift my hours for this type of class engagement.

6:45 p.m. — Heat up the remaining risotto from Sunday and have dinner at work. I steal a Limoncello La Croix from the fridge. We have a bunch left over from a program last month. Answer texts from my hometown friend group chat and settle on a place to grab drinks over the weekend since we'll all be in town.

7:45 p.m. — Arrive home and jump into the shower. Place an online order for my prescription and chat with D. for a bit while snacking on some peppermint chocolate-covered pretzels. Watch an episode of Ted Lasso and curl up with my book before bed. $3.17

10 p.m. — Lights out.

Daily Total: $3.17

Day Six

7 a.m. — Wake up with an awful tension headache. I didn't sleep well and feel groggy. Get up to make espresso. While doomscrolling I remember it's payday. I log into my online banking and immediately move money to savings ($400) and pay off half of my credit card ($600). I just moved last month so I have double the expenses on my credit card. Given my limited income, I split it in half and plan to pay the remaining balance next month. I hate doing this and always prefer paying off my credit card in full but alas, sometimes life has other plans. I finish getting ready for work, prep an everything bagel with avocado for breakfast and a banana peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and head out the door.
8:15 a.m. — Arrive at work and I'm already feeling sluggish. After checking email and reading the New York Times, a walk is in order to jump-start my day.
9:30 a.m. — Conduct more performance evaluations. After this morning, I only have six more to go, thank goodness. Managing a team of 20 is tricky, especially a student team. It has taken me some time to get used to managing students; they require a lighter touch, which can be frustrating at times. Most of the time it is rewarding.
12:30 p.m. — It's finally time for lunch so I grab my sandwich and head outside to my favorite bench. Scroll through Instagram for a bit and take a quick catnap for the remainder of my lunch break. Taking naps outside during my lunch break is a habit I started during the pandemic when I was working from home. I've kept up the routine since being back in the office. It helps me decompress from staring at a screen all day.
4 p.m. — I leave work early to meet up with a colleague to discuss her latest project. We meet at a beer garden. I order a glass of rosé. $9
6 p.m. — After drinks I walk over to the secondhand bookstore to pick up a baby book. One of my best friends is having a baby shower this weekend. I settle on the classic Goodnight Moon. $9.98
6:30 p.m. — Arrive home, jump into my workout clothes and go on a nice, long walk. It feels good to be outside.
7 p.m. — Munch on chips and salsa while prepping dinner. Tonight I'm in the mood for something light so I prep a grain salad comprised of red lentils, cucumber, asparagus, avocado and shallots with a tahini balsamic lemon dressing. I order a gift from my friend's baby shower registry on Amazon. $19.98
8:30 p.m. — I'm still hungry so I make a bowl of peppermint chocolate-covered pretzels and some bedtime tea. I call D. and we catch up on the day and decide whether we want to go to the Blink-182 concert later this month. There are heavily discounted but obstructed seats available. We decide to go for it and I put the tickets on my credit card, D. will pay me back ($69 each including cancellation insurance). $138
10:15 p.m. — D. and I chat for longer than usual; he doesn't work tomorrow so he has energy to spare. I capitalize on this and chat for as long as possible. When he is on a fire assignment he can be unavailable for up to two weeks at a time. When the season is slow, we talk a lot more than usual to make up for these long stretches of silence. It's straight to bed after we hang up.
Daily Total: $176.96

Day Seven

7 a.m. — Wake up and make espresso. Get ready for work and journal while sipping on my coffee. I'm at a crossroads with my career and I'm using quiet moments to check in with myself to see how my current position aligns with my goals and lifestyle. I'm approaching my two-year work anniversary and with my salary decreasing at the start of the next fiscal year, it's time to evaluate my priorities. I am sick of moving jobs every few years but even more sick of not making a livable wage. Unfortunately, upward movement isn't an option at my current institution since we are a small staff. It's a bummer because I like my coworkers and the environment. I'm hoping my next job can find a balance of both worlds.
8:30 a.m. — I don't have to be at work until 10 today so I make a breakfast sandwich with cheddar cheese, a scrambled egg and avocado. I work on a job application while eating breakfast. I package up the lentil salad for lunch and get ready for work.
10 a.m. — Arrive at work and prep the remaining evaluations for tomorrow. We have our annual end-of-the-year student party this evening so I prep the remaining items needed ahead of the gathering. I receive a surprising email inviting me to contribute an article for an upcoming art publication. I'm floored and now anxious about what I should prepare — I haven't written a formal paper in years. I'm feeling a little insecure about the whole endeavor.
11 a.m. — I'm out of coffee at home so I take a walk to the nearby coffee shop and buy a bag of espresso for my moka pot. I can't help but order an overpriced London Fog latte with oat milk. $22
4:30 p.m. — Host our annual end-of-the-year student gathering and celebrate our graduating seniors. I eat a vegan chocolate cupcake.
6:45 p.m. — I'm finally home and famished. I'm in the mood for something comforting. I make cacio e pepe with some leftover pasta noodles and pecorino romano. I finally perfected this dish about a year ago. I roast the remaining asparagus to go with it. I'm low on groceries but I'll be with family over the weekend so there's no need to go to the store until I'm back home on Sunday.
8 p.m. — I place an order on Amazon for some home items: a new outdoor hammock and a retractable clothesline. I also buy a new Nalgene bottle for my backpacking pack. D. calls after band practice and we catch up on the day. I tell him about being invited to write an article for a journal and how nervous I am. He reminds me I just finished editing a book so I'm more prepared than I think. He is very supportive of me and my career endeavors. Ya'll don't settle on someone who doesn't support your purpose/individual goals! We talk until it's time for bed. $135.80
Daily Total: $157.80
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