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A Week In Chicago On A $205,000 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 associate director who makes $205,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a kitchen sink.
Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up diary. You can read the original submission here.

Occupation: Associate director
Industry: Tech consulting
Age: 38
Location: Chicago
Salary: $205,000 plus 20% bonus plus ~$20,000 from a part-time side gig.
Assets: Home equity: $70,000; savings account: $65,500; IRAs: $442,588; index fund: $50,258.43; 401(k): $4,798; crypto: $2,963; travel savings account: $2,500.
Debt: Mortgage: $469,000 for a two-bed, two-bath condo I bought last year.
Paycheck amount (biweekly): $4,129
Pronouns: She/her
Monthly Expenses
Mortgage, HOA, insurance & taxes: $4,733
Utilities: $150 for gas, electric and wi-fi, give or take (depending on the season). I currently live alone but my boyfriend, A., is moving in at the end of the month. I will not be charging him rent; instead, he is going to cover our gym membership and some of the day-to-day expenses like groceries. He also plans to buy a car that I will use part of the time; longer term, he is saving for a lake house for us.
Insurance (medical, dental, life): $157.09
401(k) contribution:
HBO Max: $17
Netflix: I share A.’s account.
Apple iCloud storage: $9.99
Gym membership: My condo building has a small gym I can use for free. As mentioned, A. is planning to sign us up for a joint membership at a local gym — he will be paying for both of us.
Charitable contributions: $100 for Equal Justice Initiative, Planned Parenthood and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) standing donations, plus sporadic contributions to other organizations on a somewhat ad hoc basis.
Savings: $500 (to my and A.’s joint travel fund), plus whatever is left at the end of the month goes to my personal savings account.
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?
Yes, absolutely. I grew up in an extremely rural, impoverished part of the country and my parents were adamant that a college education was my ticket out. Both of my parents are college graduates themselves and my dad was a faculty member at a major university so I guess it’s fair to say my family placed a high value on education all the way round. Luckily, I was a good student and enjoyed school so I never felt as if I was being pushed into something I didn’t want to do. I was able to cover the full cost of undergrad through an academic scholarship and my parents were gracious enough to cover the rest of my living expenses while I worked several part-time jobs throughout college to build my savings and have spending money for any extras I wanted. I chose to attend the same state university for undergrad and graduate school and I took out a small student loan (about $20,000) to pay for the latter.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Even though my parents rarely, if ever, talked to us about the specifics of their finances (to this day I do not know how much money they were making during my growing up years), they demonstrated a lot of healthy financial habits that I like to think I’ve adopted as an adult…once I got past some very questionable financial decisions in my early 20s, anyway. They were big advocates of avoiding debt, not living beyond our means and being disciplined about saving for the future. I remember my mom teaching me how to balance a checkbook when I was probably 11 or 12 and wow, has that life skill really come in handy in the age of online banking.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I got my first “real” job at 15, as a lifeguard at the local city pool. My parents made it pretty clear that if I wanted a car when I turned 16 I would have to contribute in a meaningful way, plus a lot of my friends (and a bunch of popular upperclassmen) worked there so it seemed like a fun way to spend my summer vacations. It was awesome and once I got a taste of the independence that came with earning my own money, I never looked back.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No, not really, and I realize I was very fortunate in this regard. I think we were solidly middle class, although I also know there were some lean years, especially when my sister and I were younger. Both of my parents had good jobs though, and we were always able to have new clothes for school, participate in extracurricular activities and usually take a family vacation each summer. I was surrounded by poverty on a daily basis and observed from a very young age just how little many people are able to survive on, which made me feel grateful for everything we did have.

Do you worry about money now?
Up until about six months ago I would have responded to this similarly to my last Money Diary and said, “No, not really.” However, I was unexpectedly laid off just before the holidays last year and while I had a safety net and received a severance payment ($87,000), it was still pretty nerve-racking not knowing how long I would be out of work. It really messed with my sense of financial stability in a way I had not experienced before. Luckily, I was able to find a new role with comparable compensation within just a few weeks so I was able to bank most of that severance check and am now using it to bankroll a complete kitchen renovation in my condo. Take that, old job!

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
In my early 20s, once I finished graduate school. My savings are my safety net, first and foremost, although I know both A. and my parents would step in to help if I ever found myself in a desperate situation.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Over the years I’ve received a few thousand dollars here and there as each of my grandparents passed away, plus as I mentioned above, my parents helped me out with living expenses during college and graduate school. Also, when I bought my condo last year my parents came up and helped me repaint the entire thing for free, and are currently letting me borrow their extra vehicle for a couple of months while my kitchen renovation is going on.

Day One

5:30 a.m. — I wake up to my boyfriend, A., getting out of bed because for some reason he’s wide awake and can’t go back to sleep. I have exactly zero reason to get up this early so I turn over and doze off again once he heads out to the living room.
7 a.m. — Okay, much more reasonable. I lounge in bed for a few minutes, checking my work email on my phone, which I realize is not at all a peaceful way to start the day but honestly I’m just going to be anxious until I make sure nothing urgent came in overnight, so I might as well get it out of the way first. Luckily, all is quiet on the work front so I get up, brush my teeth and drink a glass of water before settling on the couch next to A. with my laptop(s).
9:30 a.m. — I stayed at A.’s house last night because my place is currently a construction zone and everything I own is covered in drywall dust. After a couple of hours of work, I need to make my way to my house to check in with the contractor and pick up some packages. A. is off work today and has been happily playing video games for the past few hours but I convince him to take a break and walk to my house with me to see how the kitchen project is coming along. Fun fact: A. and his dad are building custom kitchen cabinets for me, not to mention it will also be his kitchen when he moves in in a couple weeks, so he has a vested interest in checking on the progress, too.
10 a.m. — We walk the mile or so to my house and retrieve my packages from the package room before heading upstairs. The good news is the tile I ordered for my backsplash has arrived. The bad news is it’s the wrong color and friends, if that doesn’t sum up home improvement projects in a nutshell, I don’t know what does. I bought these brand-new, unopened boxes of tiles from someone on eBay when I realized they were out of stock everywhere else but it appears as though the eBay listing was just…not right? I immediately email the seller to figure out how to handle this and also text my contractor to let him know about the delay (I do this all while screaming on the inside because I am a multitasker).
11 a.m. — A. finishes chatting with the construction crew about the placement of new outlets then leaves to head back to his house while I settle in for an afternoon of work. Luckily, I don’t have any client-facing calls this afternoon so the noise in the kitchen doesn’t interfere with anything I need to do. Somewhere in there I eat a “lunch“ of a Trubar I find in my backpack and some almonds, and I take a multivitamin.
4 p.m. — I wrap up work and take a quick shower before throwing a change of clothes and my laptops into my backpack and heading out to go back to A.’s. While my house is such a disaster I’m thankful I have the option to just stay with him since I don’t currently have a functioning kitchen and would likely die of drywall dust inhalation if I had to stay in my own house for the duration of this project. It’s turned into a pretty nice day so I walk over to the public library en route to A.’s to return a book.
6:30 p.m. — Back at A.’s where we spend the next couple of hours scouring the internet for replacement backsplash options. I finally find some that appear to be very similar, although I realize I’m taking a risk by not getting a sample to confirm in person before I order. I just don’t have the luxury of doing that at this point if I want this project to stay somewhat on track so I say a quick prayer to the goddess of home improvement projects and pull the trigger. It’s worth noting the replacement tiles are several hundred dollars more expensive than the original option because of course they fucking are. $890
7:30 p.m. — With that chore out of the way, I heat up some stuffed peppers I made last week and stuck in A.’s freezer, and we eat dinner while watching the latest episode of Palm Royale.
8:30 p.m. — A. is on call beginning early tomorrow morning (i.e. 3 a.m. early) so after the show we do a quick kitchen cleanup, brush teeth, I take my anxiety meds and we get into bed. Lights out by 9 p.m.
Daily Total: $890

Day Two

3:06 a.m. — Wake up to A. getting called into work so he hops out of bed and gets into the shower while I attempt to fall back to sleep. We’ve been together just over two years so by this point I’m pretty used to his work schedule and I know that I’ll likely be awake for at least an hour before I’m able to doze back off. (Not long after my last Money Diary I ended the relationship I was in, as it became more and more apparent that he and I were just on different pages regarding what we envisioned for our future. I met A. a few months later and now here we are, two years later, about to move in together!)
4:15 a.m. — A. kisses me goodbye and leaves for the airport, and I finally manage to go back to sleep.
7:15 a.m. — Wake up for real this time and do my usual morning routine of teeth-brushing and water-drinking before I settle in for a couple of work calls. I’ve been at my new job for a few months and I’m starting to feel like I’m really hitting my stride, which is such a great feeling. I’d be lying if I said my ego wasn’t bruised and my confidence rattled when I got laid off, so I’m hugely relieved and thankful to have landed somewhere I am genuinely enjoying, surrounded by people who have been wonderful to me so far.
9:45 a.m. — We’re trying to use up as much of the food in A.’s fridge and pantry as we can before the move so I scrounge around and end up making myself a snack of oatmeal with strawberries and walnuts, which I eat while listening to an online training class I need to complete to maintain a certification for work.
12:15 p.m. — I decide to take a break and walk to my house to check on the progress there. The crew has gone to lunch when I get home but it looks like things are moving along nicely! I check my mail while I’m there, take a few pictures of the progress to send to my family, water my plants and grab my library book (The Silence of the Girls), which I forgot to bring to A.’s yesterday.
1 p.m. — On my way back, I stop in at a cabinet hardware showroom to take one more look at the handles and knobs I think I want for the kitchen. I picked them out a while ago but didn’t order them yet because I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up finding something I liked better. I still love these and they’re exactly as I remember so I think I’m comfortable saying this decision is final. I don’t place an order here though, because I happen to know another retailer sells them significantly cheaper online.
1:30 p.m. — Back at A.’s, I chop up some peppers and carrots that I eat with hummus and string cheese while working through more online training courses, which is absolutely mind-numbing but an unfortunate necessity for my job. After a few hours of this I can feel my brain starting to melt so I sign off for the day, change into workout clothes and head out to meet my friend K. for a walk.
4:30 p.m. — K. is expecting her first baby in a few months so when the weather is decent she and I have been trying to meet up for nice long walks as a replacement for our pre-pregnancy glory days of day drinking and bar hopping. This afternoon we end up doing a five-mile loop around the city and lakefront and as always I come away from it feeling overwhelmed by how badass the women in my life are and how thankful I am for them. K. is a goddess and I am so happy for her!
6:30 p.m. — I head back to A.’s house and make myself a simple vegetable and chicken pasta using the last of the bell peppers from earlier, an onion and half a box of spaghetti noodles that it would be silly to pack and move across town. It’s nothing exciting but I feel good about slowly continuing to clean out the pantry, so there’s that. While I eat, I text with A. about the cabinet hardware and let him know I’ve made my decision and am going to go ahead and place that order.
7:30 p.m. — I take a quick bath and numb my brain a bit more by mindlessly scrolling on my phone for a few minutes before I start my favorite “home alone while A. is at work” ritual of chilling on the couch with a glass of wine and a true crime documentary. I don’t know why this is the most relaxing way to end my day but damnit, I love it so much. I finally peel myself off the couch and head to bed around 11 p.m. Goodnight!
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

7:15 a.m. — Up and at ’em! Roll out of bed and decide to spend a little time on my part-time side gig, which is some independent consulting I do for a former colleague who started her own company a few years ago. She pays me by the hour and I am more or less able to make my own schedule and work for her when I have some free time. This morning my side client has a couple minor issues they need help with so I spend an hour or so troubleshooting those before I switch over to my regular, full-time job.
10 a.m. — I have a weekly check-in call with my new manager, who I really like working for so far. We spend the first few minutes talking shop, then the rest of the call is dedicated to our March Madness bracket predictions. We agree we’re both much more excited for, and emotionally invested in, the women’s tournament than the men’s. Afterwards, I take a break to scramble a couple of eggs for a snack/late breakfast, before getting back to work.
2:30 p.m. — I take another break from work to place my order for the kitchen cabinet hardware. I knew when I bought my condo I wanted to completely redo the kitchen, and I knew it would be a pretty significant financial investment, but holy hell do I still find myself getting sticker shock from some of the prices of things. That said, now that I’m a few months removed and able to look back with a little different perspective, I’m oddly grateful for the layoff because in addition to opening my mind to career possibilities I had never considered, the severance payout is easing a lot of the pressure of this remodel. Unrelatedly, somewhere in here I eat a snack of deconstructed nachos while standing at the kitchen counter. $861.93
4:30 p.m. — Log off work for the day and decide to go for a walk. My workout routine has been sporadic at best the past month but I do at least try to get some movement in each day while my home is in such a state of upheaval. I’m attending a fundraising gala next weekend and long ago donated all of my pre-COVID-19 dressy dresses so I decide to kill two birds with one stone and walk to Bloomingdales to go dress shopping. A. calls me from his hotel as I’m leaving and we chat about our days while I walk.
5:15 p.m. — Success! I find a cocktail dress I like and it just so happens to be on sale, so now I’m set for the gala. On my walk home I stop in Anthropologie just to browse. I would love to buy all of the things but instead I buy none of the things and mentally congratulate myself on such an impressive display of self-discipline. $189
5:45 p.m. — Last stop on my way home is Walgreens where I grab some La Croix, a bottle of shampoo and a couple RX bars to keep in my purse because if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Purse snacks will save your life. $18
6 p.m. — Back at A.’s and I debate what sort of random pantry concoction to make for dinner tonight. None of my options sounds terribly appetizing but I’m determined not to buy any more groceries than necessary in the next couple weeks. I decide on a quesadilla, which uses the last of our cheddar cheese and the last bit of a jar of salsa so even though everything I’ve eaten today has been yellow and of questionable nutritional value, I feel good about bringing us one step closer to an empty refrigerator.
7:30 p.m. — I take a quick shower then take a 5mg edible and settle down to start reading my new book. It’s not bad but once the edible starts to kick in I switch over to the television and watch an episode of Succession because I fell behind in the last season and haven’t quite finished it yet.
10:15 p.m. — Brush teeth, take my meds and off to bed!
Daily Total: $1,068.93

Day Four

7:15 a.m. — Up at my usual time and decide to walk to my house to get a couple things taken care of before A. gets back to town this afternoon. On my way, I place an order for a breakfast sandwich and an iced tea from Starbucks, then stop by my package room when I get home to pick up my new kitchen faucet that was delivered yesterday (I ordered and paid for this several weeks ago). $9.40
1:30 p.m. — I start a load of laundry then proceed to have a busy morning of client calls, after which I take a quick shower, pack some more clean clothes in my backpack and head out to walk back to A.’s house. Lugging this backpack back and forth between our houses is my main form of cardio these days. He’s home when I get there so we spend a few minutes catching up about his trip and the kitchen progress while he’s been gone before I close myself up in his bedroom for an afternoon of more calls.
5:15 p.m. — Finished with work for the day! I join A. on the couch where he’s playing video games. He makes us each a cocktail before he returns to his game and I return to my book from last night.
6:30 p.m. — Neither of us feels particularly inspired to make dinner tonight so we decide to order sushi instead. We pick out several rolls and a sashimi platter to share and A. places the order. As far as finances go, aside from a joint savings account for travel we do not have any shared finances and don’t have any plans to combine finances in the future either. From day one we’ve always just sort of taken turns picking up the tab for shared expenses and we’ve settled on an arrangement for when we live together that we both feel good about.
7:30 p.m. — The sushi is delightful and we eat it while watching The Truth vs. Alex Jones, which is absolutely gut-wrenching and wow, what a douche-canoe of a human being.
10 p.m. — I need a mental palate-cleanser after that so I disassociate and doomscroll on my phone for a few minutes while A. calls his dad to plan out the remainder of the work to be done on the cabinets they’re building. After that we brush our teeth and head to bed around 11 p.m.
Daily Total: $9.40

Day Five

7:30 a.m. — It’s Friday and I’m hoping to wrap up work early so we can run a couple of errands this afternoon. A. makes us eggs and toast while I dive right into work. He also takes some salmon out of the freezer to thaw for dinner later.
12:30 p.m. — Wrap up my last meeting for the week and decide to call it a (work)day. We walk over to my house to pick up the car that my parents are very graciously letting me borrow for a few weeks, then drive out to the stone supplier I’m using to source my countertop slabs. I picked out the stone I want a few weeks ago and now it’s time to go back and narrow it down to the specific slabs I want. This part is actually really cool and after looking them over, A. and I both end up liking the same two slabs the best, which works out well! Ultimately I have the final say but I do value his opinion and want him to feel like this is our house, not just my house, when he moves in. The supplier marks the slabs I pick but I won’t actually pay for them until the fabricator comes to pick them up.
3:15 p.m. — On our way back downtown we stop at Home Depot to pick up some various odds and ends we’ll need when A. and his dad are ready to install the cabinets (screws of various lengths, wood putty, etc.). $58
4:30 p.m. — We drop the car back off at my house and go upstairs to check on the progress for the day. While A. is chatting with the construction crew, I place an online grocery order for delivery because one of my best friend’s husband is throwing her a birthday party tomorrow and I volunteered to provide some of the snacks. I order various chips, dips, fancy cheeses and crackers, frozen mac and cheese bites, a vegetable tray and mini quiches. I also order some broccoli and fingerling potatoes for A. to make with the salmon later. $127
5:15 p.m. — On our walk back to A.’s we decide to stop into one of our favorite bars for happy hour, where we each drink two old fashioneds. (Wait. When I type that it looks weird. How do you spell the plural of old fashioned? HELP.) Anyway. A. pays.
6:30 p.m. — The groceries get delivered right as we make it back to A.’s so he starts on dinner while I put away the party supplies. I then read my book on the couch until dinner is ready.
7:15 p.m. — We eat while watching basketball and afterward I clean up the kitchen since A. made dinner, then decide to take a bath while he’s on the phone with a buddy who lives on the other side of the country and is planning to visit us this summer.
10:30 p.m. — It’s been a busy week and I’m more than ready to crash so after my bath I crawl into bed and scroll on my phone (really weird how I struggle with anxiety and sleeplessness most nights) before calling it a night.
Daily Total: $185

Day Six

8 a.m. — It feels nice to sleep in just a little bit but I can’t lounge too long because I’ve got things to do and people to see! I kiss A. goodbye then I’m out the door to walk home because I’m meeting some girlfriends for a birthday brunch in a bit.
10:45 a.m. — At home I shower, then spend way too long trying to decide on an outfit for brunch, not because I’m such a picky dresser but because springtime weather in Chicago is largely chaotic and I feel the need to prepare for all four seasons over the next few hours. I finally settle on wide-leg jeans with boots, an off-the-shoulder sweater and a bomber jacket. It’s really anyone’s guess as to whether or not this outfit will be appropriate for the day.
11:30 a.m. — I walk to my friend’s house (the birthday girl!) then order us a Lyft to the restaurant. Another friend has invited us to a drag brunch to kick off the birthday festivities so we head there to meet the rest of our group. At brunch we order bottomless mimosas, obviously, and I order a breakfast sandwich with hash browns. At the end I try to cover both my and the birthday girl’s portion of the check but the friend who invited us very generously offers to cover the entire thing, which is unnecessary but very sweet nonetheless. $8
2:30 p.m. — I part ways with the group and walk to A.’s house to chill for a bit and collect the snacks for the party later. A. hops in the shower while I pack everything up, then I order us another Lyft back to our friends’ house for the party. I’m glad A. isn’t working today so he can go to the party with me. $9.25
5 p.m. — Arrive at my friends’ house and help my friend’s husband, P., finish setting up just as guests start arriving. Many snacks, pieces of birthday cake and champagne toasts later, the party is officially deemed a success! Our friend has a blast and is so appreciative of our efforts to celebrate with her. We don’t officially eat dinner but I do drink my own weight in champagne so…yeah. 10/10, no notes on this entire day.
10:15 p.m. — A. is on call early again tomorrow so he left the party a little while before I did to get home and start winding down before it got too late. I bid my friends goodbye, wish the birthday girl a year filled with fancy cocktails and dance parties, then order myself another Lyft back to A.’s. $14.89
11 p.m. — Home, teeth brushed, meds taken and lights out by 11 p.m.
Daily Total: $32.14

Day Seven

4:30 a.m. — A. gets called in again so I doze on and off while he’s getting ready then manage to fall back asleep once he leaves.
8:15 a.m. — I’m up and migrate to the couch to lounge while I text with my sister and mom and formulate a game plan for my day. I’ve got a running list of projects to tackle in the next couple weeks before A. moves in and now is as good a time as any to start checking some of those things off. I scramble myself a couple of eggs then get dressed and head out.
9:30 a.m. — Quick stop in Foxtrot on my walk home for an iced tea. $4.50
10 a.m. — At home I fold the laundry I did earlier this week that’s been languishing in the dryer for several days, then decide to tackle my closet(s). I need to clear space for A.’s things and frankly, even if he wasn’t moving in, I’m long overdue for a closet clean-out. I’m a big fan of the Reformation x ThredUp project so I box up a bunch of things to send to them and make a mental note to print shipping labels this week.
1:30 p.m. — It may be an exercise in futility while my house is under construction but I can’t stand a bathroom that’s less than pristine so that’s next on the list.
2 p.m. — I take a break and end up just sitting on my couch for a few minutes, gazing around at my condo, reveling in the solitude. I bought this house all by myself, with my own money, at the end of a series of disappointing relationships with boys who couldn’t grow up, and I’ve slowly made (and continue to make) it into something I’m immensely proud of. I’m so excited for this next chapter with A. but part of me is going to miss being the sole mistress of this domain.
2:30 p.m. — Time to get back to work. I water the plants, take out the trash and recycling, measure my old refrigerator and send the measurements to a friend who is taking it off my hands, then finally order the sink I picked out a few weeks ago that's been sitting in my online shopping cart ever since. $650
4 p.m. — I think I’m done with chores for the day so I spend a few minutes packing a suitcase to head back to A.’s. He gets home tomorrow morning, then we’re heading out to spend several days with his parents so he and his dad can work on the kitchen cabinets.
4:45 p.m. — As cute as I’d look dragging my roller bag and backpack across town, I break down and decide to Lyft instead. $8.50
6:30 p.m. — I’m starving and haven’t had many green vegetables this week so I walk to Whole Foods for a salad bar salad plus green beans and roasted potatoes from the hot bar. $16.50
8 p.m. — A quick shower then I read on the couch for a while before heading to bed around 10 p.m. The upcoming week promises to be just as busy as the past one so a decent night’s sleep is definitely in order.
Daily Total: $679.50

The Breakdown

Weekly Total $$ Spent: $2,864.97
Food & Drink: $175.40
Entertainment: $0.00
Home & Health: $2,459.93
Clothes & Beauty $189.00
Transportation $40.64
Other $0.00
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