A Week In Berkeley, CA, On A $94,000 Salary

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Today: a Tech Consultant working who makes $94,000 per year and spends her week celebrating Ramadan with friends and family.
Occupation: Tech Consultant
Industry: Tech
Age: 25
Location: Berkeley, CA
Salary: $94,100
Paycheck Amount (2/month): $1,766 (after taxes, 401(k), stock, and health insurance deductions)
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,334
Loans: $0
Cell Phone: $0 (on my family's plan)
Internet: $42
Health Insurance: $110
401(k): $1,273 and my company matches 6%. (Big believer in making the most out of my retirement accounts)
Company Stock Purchasing Program: $200 (Company-offered program where employees can purchase company stock at a discount)
Savings: $500
Charitable Donations: $40 (I support the UN refugee agency, my local food bank, and an org called Developments in Literacy, which builds schools in Pakistan)
The New York Times: $7.50
The Washington Post: $3.99

Day One

4:15 a.m. — My alarm blares, and I bat blindly at my phone until some semblance of coherence returns. It's Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and I need to get up and eat something before dawn. I summon my shreds of willpower and stumble to the kitchen. Thankfully, I have tons of leftovers in the fridge from over the weekend. After some half-asleep fumbling, I end up with a haphazard meal of oatmeal with chia seeds, Burmese lamb stir fry and rice, half a cup of black tea for the caffeine, and as much water as I can handle. The fast lasts from sunrise to sunset, and hydration is key. I inhale everything as quickly as I can at 4 a.m., and end up feeling like a walking water tub by the end of it. Comes with the territory.
5 a.m. — I quickly perform my morning prayers before going back to bed. It's still two hours before I actually need to get up, and though some of my more-together friends use this time to journal, do yoga, and whatever the hell else, I'm just out here trying to survive. During the summer, the days, and thus the fast, last more than 15 hours, so taking it easy when possible is important.
7:30 a.m. — My alarm goes off for real. I sigh and get up. Since I'm not eating breakfast, my morning routine is expedited, and I'm out the door in twenty minutes.
8 a.m. — I'm in consulting, and am currently on a project at a large tech company. This is great and all, but my commute most definitely is not. Getting from Berkeley to the South Bay at the peak of morning traffic is truly cruel and unusual punishment, and my round-trip commute takes up to four hours. The only saving grace is that I can take the company bus, which departs from a BART stop close to my apartment, so I can usually sleep or read or whatever else. I take an Uber to the stop, which I'll expense later. ($11.01 expensed)
9:45 a.m. — I finally arrive at the office and start going through my email, dealing with all that comes with a new week.
12 p.m. — I might not be eating lunch today, but I will definitely be taking my break. I abandon my desk for a couch in an undisturbed corner of the office, ready to listen to a podcast for the next 40 minutes or so.
12:15 p.m. — 15 minutes into my break, I get a very unwelcome phone call. It's the recruiter for a position at a different company I've been interviewing at for close to two months, with bad news. The call lasts less than five minutes, but it's ruined my whole day. I've been job hunting for a while now, and felt really good about this role; getting to the final round and then stumbling at the finish line is quite depressing. Dealing with rejection is a part of life, of course, and associating one's self-worth with one's career is always a bad idea, but knowing that doesn't make this incident any less painful. I spend the rest of my break slumped on the couch, feeling defeated.
1 p.m. — Defeated or not, I still have my current job to attend to, so I spend the rest of the day in spreadsheets and meetings.
6:30 p.m. — I finally Uber home after being dropped off by the bus, still bummed after today's disappointment. There's still an hour and a half until sunset and I'm definitely feeling the effects of the fast by this point — very sluggish, and my head is aching. I know people who use the last hour or so before sunset to work out; the rationale being that since your body is in ketosis at this point it's the most efficient time to do so. However, I value my happiness too much to attempt such a thing, and also want to remain conscious, so laying on the couch it is. ($8.04 expensed)
8:06 p.m. — It's finally sunset to the minute, as confirmed by my phone. I break my fast with three glasses of water in quick succession,. After letting that settle, I eat the rest of a shawarma from yesterday. After a week or so of fasting, your appetite noticeably diminishes. Thank you, leftovers.
10 p.m. — I get ready for bed and take some time to reflect on the day. While my spirituality and connection to my faith is constantly evolving, waxing and waning throughout the year, Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, and a time for reconnection, self-reflection and improvement, and community. I always make it a point to participate and be as active and present in it as I can. Tonight, it's more difficult than usual, given my generally shitty day, but I try. Lights out by midnight.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

4:15 a.m. — Up and at ‘em. Today's feast consists of, you guessed it, more leftovers. Chicken tikka masala and naan, accompanied by chai — really leaning into my South Asian roots. Plenty of water with chia seeds to cap it off.
7:30 a.m. — When my alarm goes off this time, I instantly know between the sound of pouring rain outside and the suggestion of a headache at my temples that I'm not making the great pilgrimage to the client site today. Thankfully, working at home is an option sometimes, and I'm definitely taking it. Back to sleep.
9 a.m. — Okay, I really have to get up now. I freshen up, log in to my various laptops, and ping my manager to let him know I'm remote today; he's pretty chill about it. I continue on some tasks I've been working on. I find that most of my angst from yesterday has mercifully faded — sleep really is the human version of turning it off and then on again. I'm still disappointed, but life goes on.
1 p.m. — During an Insta scrolling break, I see that an acquaintance is raising money during Ramadan to build water wells in Pakistan. I Venmo him some money. $20
4 p.m. — The day goes by fairly quickly — fasting really is easier when you're laying on your couch for most of it!
7 p.m. — By this point my main concern is what to eat for iftar, the evening meal to break the fast. Not surprisingly, I fall prey to my food cravings embarrassingly easily this month. After much introspection and focus grouping with some group chats, I settle, even more embarrassingly, on Halal Guys. To crown my shame, I Postmates it. I regret nothing. $16.59
8:08 p.m. — Sunset is a little later each day, to my sorrow. My very overpriced Halal Guys gyro bowl arrives right on time, and I've already had about four bites before I realize they put the hot sauce directly into the bowl. As a brown person I pride myself on my spice tolerance, but I swear HG uses napalm in its hot sauce. It's too late to stop now, though, and I just blot my streaming eyes and keep going, my mouth empathizing with the residents of King's Landing more and more.
10 p.m. — Have a low key rest of the evening, watching an episode of The Good Place before going to sleep.
Daily Total: $36.59

Day Three

4:15 a.m. — I'm finally out of leftovers, thank god. I made and froze a batch of buttermilk chocolate chip pancakes over the weekend and reheat one now. I also have chai, water, and a chicken kabob on the side for the protein.
7:30 a.m. — Okay, going to work for real today. I get dressed and into the Uber, wincing at the insane surge currently active. Would definitely be seeking alternate means if I couldn't expense these fees! ($23 expensed)
9:30 a.m. — Arrive at the office, start doing work things. (Basically, insert that office scene from Life-Size where Tyra Banks is typing nonsense into Word.)
12 p.m. — Spend my “lunch” break attempting to listen to a podcast, which turns into scrolling through social media, which turns into becoming very angry (I am my own worst enemy). Alabama has just signed into law the nation's most restrictive abortion laws, even in cases of rape or incest, with doctors facing up to 99 years if convicted. The whole thing is clearly meant to be challenged in court, and then appealed up to the Supreme Court, where activists are obviously betting on Kavanaugh et al. to chip away at Roe v. Wade. It's disgusting. Women should have free will over their bodies and the right to make their own decisions (never mind the fact that banning legal, safe abortion just guarantees illegal, dangerous abortion). I don't understand why people feel so free to assert their own religious beliefs over others — coming from my perspective, my own faith has stances on abortion, but I wouldn't presume to codify them and impose them on others. Truly, it boggles the mind.
5 p.m. — The rest of the day passes fairly quickly, despite my lingering disgust over the state of American politics, and I hop in the bus heading back for Berkeley. This evening I'll be going to a weekly Muslim women's discussion group, where we meet to discuss specific topics, and how they relate to our own lives. Since it's Ramadan, we'll be having a potluck iftar as well.
7 p.m. — Upon arriving in Berkeley, I stop by a popular local pizza chain, Sliver Pizzeria, and pick up a pie to go. $22.94
7:05 p.m. — Pizza in hand, Uber to my friend's place. $10.66
7:30 p.m. — I arrive at the discussion and note with amusement that someone else has also brought Sliver. Well, I did say it's popular. The discussion is good; we all reflect on how Ramadan has been going, any insights we may have, etc. It's sometimes easy for days to go by without doing anything that connects to my faith, especially since I don't necessarily appear “obviously” Muslim, and it's nice to have a space where I can relate to other Muslim women, particularly in today's world.
8:12 p.m. — Gratefully break my fast with quite a smorgasbord of options, in the end settling on a bowl of chicken curry, salad, and a slice of Sliver. Not everyone was fasting today (there are many exemptions to fasting, from pregnant or menstruating women to children to the elderly or to the mentally incapable), but impressive damage is done to the buffet table just the same.
9:45 p.m. — People start trickling out, and I grab an Uber back to my place, taking my leftover pizza with me. $5.97
Daily Total: $39.57

Day Four

4:15 a.m. — Getting up in time to eat something is a major struggle this morning. The sobering thought of fasting without eating anything at all is finally what propels me out of bed, and I get to the kitchen with minutes to spare looking for something, anything, to eat. The deeper I get into this month the more of a sad pre-dawn food scavenger I become, not unlike the video of that rat dragging a slice of pizza bigger than its body through the New York subway. Appropriately, I settle on the leftover pizza, with plenty of water.
7:30 a.m. — It's raining again this morning, but I can't easily get away with working from home again so soon, so off I go. Uber to the bus stop and get to work without issue, listening to Kacey Musgraves along the way for some much needed cheer. ($8.33 expensed)
11 a.m. — I get a news digest email informing me that NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced his candidacy for president, bringing the Dem candidate count to 23 and prompting an eye-roll. I have no idea why apparently every dude in the Democratic Party has suddenly decided he's the cure to our long national nightmare (seriously, it's 17 men to 6 women). I'm sure it's nothing more than a PR campaign for some of them, but still, it's getting old. And considering the residents of de Blasio's own city don't seem to like him all that much...in any case, I'm pulling hard for Liz Warren; her comprehensive policy platform, desire to break up the tech companies, and intention to seriously address the dual looming crises of American student debt and climate have won my support.
7 p.m. — I Uber home after arriving at the bus stop in Berkeley. ($9.12 expensed)
8:15 a.m. — I break my fast with the rest of the pizza. Obviously, my typically reasonably healthy diet goes by the wayside during Ramadan — it's not uncommon, ironically, to gain weight during this month.
9 p.m. — I very much want to chill and generally do as little as possible, but my apartment is in sore need of a deep cleaning. My parents are arriving in town tomorrow and will be staying with me for a few days. They're retired, and always try to spend part of Ramadan with me — I honestly really enjoy the time with them. Not so much the vacuuming, dusting, and sweeping that precedes their arrival.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

4:15 a.m. — Oatmeal and a fried egg for breakfast today. I mean, it's not pizza, but it does the trick.
7:30 a.m. — Manage to wake up without snoozing this morning, and get to the office in good time c/o the mercifully light Friday traffic. ($8.45 expensed)
10 a.m. — Get an email from a recruiter at a different company responding to my application, requesting an interview time. It's always nice to hear back from applications, of course, but it's hard to be as excited as I once would've been. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that I might just be burned out right now. I respond affirmatively regardless — if nothing else, hearing more about the role might make me more dialed in.
12 p.m. — Sneak a quick nap in. I'll finish this podcast I've been stuck on eventually....
2 p.m. — My parents text to let me know they've arrived and located the keys I left for them. Here's hoping the vacuuming meets my very South Asian mother's standards.
6:30 p.m. — Get back to my apartment (via work bus and Uber) and exchange a warm welcome with the ‘rents. It's nice to see them, and know they'll be here for a bit. Ramadan is all about community and thus family, and doing a lot of it alone can be sad and sometimes isolating. ($8.56 expensed)
7:30 p.m. — We head to dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant in Berkeley, Great China. The wait is kind of crazy, but we do have time to burn. We finally get seated and order hot and sour soup, Mongolian beef, and spicy eggplant with chicken. I'm full tragically early into the meal, but enjoy it and catching up with my parents regardless. My dad kindly pays.
9:30 p.m. — We return to my apartment and have post-meal tea and Indian sweets my mom brought with her from Texas. The food aspect of parental visits is always a bonus.
11 p.m. — We're all tired, and eventually start getting ready for bed. I head to my couch, where I'll be crashing for the next few nights. I nap here enough as it is, so not too much of a burden.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

4:15 a.m. — Eating this meal with my mother is a very different and welcome experience. Catching up with her one-on-one (my dad doesn't fast) while the rest of the world is sleeping is really nice. I try to help her cook, but she makes me sit while she prepares eggs and kabobs with tea and water. I can admit it's nice to feel babied every once in a while.
11 a.m. — Shamelessly sleep in. The sleep deficit I've been running this month is starting to catch up with me.
3 p.m. — It's a rainy, lazy day, so we all end up doing our own thing in the apartment. I read some of Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, which I've enjoyed thus far.
7 p.m. — Slowly start getting ready for an iftar dinner hosted by two of my friends this evening; I feel a bit bad about ditching my parents right after they arrived, but they'll be here for a while.
8 p.m. — My parents decide to go to dinner on their own, and it works out so that they're able to drop me off in their rental car on the way. I can't help but smile at the high school vibes of all of this, but hey, a ride is a ride.
8:15 p.m. — Walk in just in time to break my fast. My friends have laid out quite the spread: biryani, kabobs, several Egyptian dishes, a salad. We all slowly come back to life as we eat, and it's great catching up with everyone.
3 a.m. — These parties always tend to go pretty late, since everyone is wide awake and newly renewed and filled with social energy after being listless all day; it's not uncommon to just end up staying up til it's time to eat again before dawn. I get some venting in about my job search situation and get some good advice. Several rounds of mafia, tea, and hours of conversation later, I hop in an Uber to make it back to my place in time to eat with my mom. $8.33
Daily Total: $8.33

Day Seven

4:15 a.m. — I arrive home before my mom wakes up, and have tea ready by the time she emerges. I'm still pretty full from all the grazing of the past few hours, but have an egg at her insistence. After that, it is finally time for bed
12 p.m. — Welp, my sleep schedule is totally shot. I don't even want to think about tomorrow morning.
1 p.m. — I'm finally prodded from my couch cocoon by my parents, and at their behest we head out for a drive to some of their favorite spots in town, including the Berkeley Rose Garden. The roses are all in bloom, and we enjoy walking through them and taking in the view of the Bay. For all the exorbitant prices, it really is a beautiful place.
3 p.m. — We return after a couple of hours and all settle into our own thing, my dad heading out for a walk while I waste time on the internet and my mom reads The Financial Times.
8:15 p.m. — My dad is a great cook and makes dinner while my mom and I semi-nap on the couch. The broiled salmon, sautéed greens, and potatoes sure beat most of the other meals I've had this week.
9 p.m. — Now awake and fully alert, I queue up Game of Thrones on my laptop. Hard to believe this is the last episode ever. I've been a bit disappointed with Season 8, but hope this will be a satisfying finale.
10:30 p.m. — ...well, that was something. It wasn't terrible, and I was overall alright with the outcomes, but it felt so rushed, like the rest of the season. It's a shame. Still, I have to appreciate the show as a whole; truly the end of an era. I vaguely wonder if George R. R. Martin will ever finish the books....no one I've talked to seems too optimistic.
11:30 p.m. — After taking a quick shower and getting things ready for the new week, I try to go to bed. Of course, thanks to yesterday's ill-advised nocturnal adventure, I lay awake for quite some time, but eventually drift off.
Daily Total: $0
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