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A Week In Lancaster County, PA, On A $25,000 Salary

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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: a registered behavior technician who makes $25,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on DayQuil.
Occupation: Registered Behavior Technician
Industry: Education
Age: 35
Location: Lancaster County, PA
Salary: $25,000
Net Worth: -$36,000 (checking: $500, savings: $200, minus debt).
Debt: $25,000 in student loan debt, $12,000 in credit card debt.
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $690
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $650 (my half, split with my husband. We do not share finances and he makes about $45,000 per year).
Student Loans: $350
Credit Card Payment: $200
Cell Phone: $70
Amazon Prime: $15
Cable/Internet: $45 (my half, split with my husband).
Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
There were no expectations. Both of my parents graduated high school and my dad went on to start his own construction business. My parents instilled in me the value of hard work and I always knew if I wanted to go to college, I would be paying for it myself. I was taught college was a privilege, not a necessity. I paid for my undergraduate with student loans (which I am still paying for and will be for many years), and I paid for my master's degree out of pocket as I went.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I grew up in a rural area that values hard work. I was taught that money was given to us by God to use wisely and that at the end of the day, it is all His anyway. I knew my parents did not save and they did not believe in having debt. They never bought a new car and they built their house with family and friends' help and labor. Most of my family works in construction, farming or logging. I had a coffee can where I kept my Christmas money. We did not receive an allowance but we were paid for chores like mowing the grass and helping clean.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first jobs were babysitting and dog-sitting. When I turned 13, it was expected I would find a real job. I worked at a deli after school and on Saturdays. I ended up working there through college. I have also been waitressing as a side job for over 16 years. This is the first year I do not have a second job since I was 20.
Did you worry about money growing up?
I had a great childhood, I always had enough to eat, clothing and shelter. We always had enough and I thought we had everything. Now I know we were middle class. We never spent money unnecessarily and eating out was special. Vacations were to our family mountain cabin and sometimes the beach in the summer. My parents never bought new vehicles and my dad taught me that the cheapest vehicle is always the one you own.
Do you worry about money now?
Every day. I don't want a lot, I would just like to be debt-free. One of my greatest loves is travel and I wish I had enough to do that freely. I would also like to have enough someday to give away to those in need.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible when I moved out of my parents' home and started paying rent. Due to my health issues, that was when I was in my 20s. I do not have a financial safety net but I have family if I truly needed help.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My mom received money from my grandmother and she gave me $5,000 several years ago. I think I put mine toward my car. My parents have also helped me each time I have moved.

Day One

6 a.m. — It's Friday morning and I can't sleep. My husband leaves for work at 5:30 and I usually go back to bed until 7:30, but not today. I just lie in bed and read my book, 11.22.63 by Stephen King, and it is so good. This is the first King novel I have read and I love it! I do some stretches in bed and finally get up around 6:45.
7 a.m. — I start the coffee and make a mental note to add that and creamer to my grocery list for this weekend. I take a shower then slather my face in Ponds cold cream. I have been using this since I was 15 and it does the job well. I get dressed and I'm happy because today is Friday and we can wear jeans! I work at an elementary school and it is mostly casual but I still like the days when I can dress down. My makeup routine is NYX primer, followed by concealer and foundation. I put on a little bit of eyeshadow and black eyeliner, then finish with Essence mascara, which is worth all the hype. I buy it in multiples from Amazon.
8 a.m. — I eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast and drink my coffee. I call my mom and let her know I will be sending her my monthly money transfer of $350 (in monthly expenses)`. My parents were very kind and paid off my student loans with a home equity loan when I graduated with my undergraduate degree. So now I pay them rather than having to pay back a high-interest private loan. Looking back, I'm not sure if I still would have done this but at the time it seemed like the right choice and they were helping me out.
8:45 a.m. — I leave for work. My title is registered behavior technician, which is a fancy way of saying that I work with kids who have disabilities. These can be kids who have autism, emotional disturbances, physical disabilities, and other academic and social disabilities. My job does not pay very well but hopefully soon I will be able to move up and perhaps have my own classroom. That is the dream.
12 p.m. — My day goes by fast. I have applesauce and snacks I packed for lunch. I work in several classrooms around the school and I'm on the move all day. While I'm at work, my husband, T., stops at the store for me and gets bread, eggs and juice. We don't have a formal way of splitting costs but we share all household utilities and rent and try to split the groceries. Right now he makes a lot more than I do and helps cover my half of the rent sometimes. Hopefully, I will be the one making more money once I become a full-time teacher. He pays for these groceries because I got some snacks the other day.

6:30 p.m. — I have a chill night in. I make tomato soup and grilled cheese for dinner. I continue to sip my wine and read my book and T. plays video games. I shower and wash my hair, put on lotion, and then read a little bit more. T. joins me and we cuddle and then fall asleep around 10.

Daily Total: $0

Day Two

8:45 a.m. — I get to sleep in today because it's the weekend. I'm planning on cleaning but I don't feel very motivated to get going. I brush my teeth, start the coffee and then start sweeping. Cleaning is easier because I have coffee.
1 p.m. — I finish cleaning the house and it smells so good. My husband works on his side hustle job while I clean. I do some stretches, then enjoy a cup of noodles for lunch. I read my book until T. comes home.
3:30 p.m. — We run to Dollar Tree to pick up a few things. I get soap and some groceries and we split the cost ($15). Then we decide to eat at Olive Garden because we have a gift card. After our gift card the total comes to $30, which we split ($15). Everything is delicious. We eat a lot of soup and breadsticks. $30
8 p.m. — We relax at home and head to bed around 10. I read my book and T. watches scrapping videos on YouTube.
Daily Total: $30

Day Three

8 a.m. — We wake up and realize we missed the early service for church. So we are going to go to the second service. I lie in bed until 8:30 and then finally get up and make coffee. T. makes bacon, eggs and toast and I take my pills. I grew up with juvenile diabetes and had a kidney and pancreas transplant three years ago. I am now on about 30 different pills per day but it is so much better than being on dialysis and being sick all the time. I consider it a good trade-off and I am thankful for life every day.
10 a.m. — We get ready and then head to church. We go to a small rural nondenominational church and we enjoy visiting as much as we can. We put a little in the offering. After the service, we head home and I start organizing while T. works on his shed. We eat leftovers and munch on pistachios. $20
3 p.m. — I read my book while listening to a training video I have to do for work, which basically means I'm reading my book.
8 p.m. — We watch Oz on Amazon Prime tonight while we have barbecue chicken sandwiches for dinner. We head to bed around 9:30.

Daily Total: $20

Day Four

8 a.m. — I couldn't fall asleep last night and am so tired. It's a three-day weekend so I have a lot of plans for organizing today. I get up, brush my teeth, then start the coffee.
9 a.m. — I work on organizing my office area a little bit this morning. I have been on an organizing kick lately and I'm having a lot of fun. I leave to go to Walmart around 10:30. I buy candles, wipes, curl cream, DayQuil and NyQuil, and pay for all that myself because those are my personal items ($50). Then I buy some groceries (I will split the cost for these later with T.). I buy rolls, tortillas, corn, club soda, coffee, creamer, avocados, red and green peppers, roast beef and mozzarella cheese ($50). I try to plan meals ahead of time so I have all the ingredients and don't have to worry about picking items up during the week. After shopping, I stop at Arby's and get myself a turkey sandwich and curly fries. I also get a sandwich for T. to eat later ($18). $118
2 p.m. — I spend the rest of the afternoon cleaning and making pasta salad to eat for dinner. After my husband gets home, I talk to him a little bit and then I cannot stay awake anymore so I go lie down for a few hours.
8 p.m. — T. wakes me up to take my pills and I decide to go right back to sleep. I'm calling it a night.
Daily Total: $118

Day Five

6 a.m. — I am up early but I got a good 10 hours of sleep so I feel well rested. I lie in bed until about 6:30 and then finally get up and make coffee. It's back to work today!
11:30 a.m. — Today is going fast but it's been a rough day. I love my job but sometimes it can be overwhelming. For lunch, I have a fruit cup and some goldfish. I can usually make do by eating several snacks for lunch, although I sometimes buy school lunch if it's something good like pizza. At 2, I have an e-visit with my doctor because my throat is really bothering me. It has been sore for a while now and won't go away. The doctor says I have the signs of strep and prescribes me an antibiotic.
5 p.m. — After work I drive to pick up my prescription ($7). I'm on my husband's insurance because I can't get it through my job and sometimes I have to copay for certain prescriptions. $7
6 p.m. — I make stuffed shells and garlic bread for dinner and it turns out really good. We eat and then I clean up. We watch two episodes of Oz and then go to bed pretty early. We are both tired and my throat feels worse as the night goes on.
Daily Total: $7

Day Six

6 a.m. — My cough was really bad last night and my throat feels raw this morning. I also have no voice. I email the proper contacts at school to let them know I won't be in today. I don't feel sick all over but I sound totally terrible and don't want to get anyone else sick. School is a petri dish of sick kids and bacteria.
7 a.m. — I try to go back to sleep but I can't. I get up and take a hot bath to help me feel better. I eat some oatmeal with maple syrup and milk and curl up with my book in bed.
11:30 a.m. — I mostly read all morning. Some of my medications make me feel dizzy and my blood sugar drops so I stop reading and eat an English muffin with Nutella.
3:30 p.m. — Wake up from a nice nap. T. is home and he says hi and then works in his shed. I finally come downstairs and try to organize a little bit. I don't get much done.
5 p.m. — I make roast beef and cheese sliders for dinner. So easy and so good. Instant mashed potatoes round it out. T. and I argue some and I don't want to eat anymore. Back to reading my book. I'm actually looking forward to seeing my kids tomorrow at school. They bring me such happiness.
8 p.m. — We watch one episode of Oz and then call it a night. It takes me a while to fall asleep. Several of my medications cause insomnia, resulting in me having to take more medication to fall asleep. It's a tricky thing to balance and sometimes I get overwhelmed by it.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

5 a.m. — I am up when my husband gets up and can't fall back asleep. I read some news on my phone and check my emails. I do some stretching in bed and then get out of bed around 6:30.
7 a.m. — I make coffee and put on my makeup. Since I have time, I make chicken tortilla soup in my crockpot for dinner tonight. It's an easy recipe and delicious. Then I sit in bed and read for a little. I don't feel that great but I feel like I have to go to work because we need the money. I hate that feeling.
10 a.m. — Today is a hard day. We have a few meltdowns and one kid runs into another class. I feel too nauseous to eat lunch so I just take a break and sit outside for a while.
3:30 p.m. — After struggling through today I am finally done. I come home and lie down in bed. I place an Amazon order for a knee brace for T. and concealer for me. $26
6 p.m. — My cough is getting worse as the day goes on. I have a quick dinner and then go lie in bed and read a little bit. I'm loving my book and it's distracting me from my throat pain.
7 p.m. — T. joins me in bed. He is also very tired and his shoulders are aching. I rub some pain relief cream on him and think about coating myself in it. I'm too tired. We fall asleep by 8 p.m.
Daily Total: $26
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