A Week In Brussels, Belgium, On A $50,072 Salary

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 business development coordinator working in law who makes $50,072 per year and spends some of her money this week on white chocolate Reese's peanut butter cups.
Occupation: Business Development Coordinator
Industry: Law
Age: 28
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Salary: $50,072
Paycheck Amount (Monthly): $2,180, plus $192 per month in meal vouchers (basically a debit card for groceries)
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $480 for my half (I share a one-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend, L.)
Cleaner: $17 for my half
Insurance: $11.89 for my half (This is for my apartment, civil liability, and health insurance.)
Utilities: $31.15 (gas, electricity, water)
Wifi: Paid for by L.'s work
Netflix: We use L.'s parents' account.
Car Payment: L. has a fully-funded company car (including gas), which is a win for me, as I effectively get a car and a chauffeur.
Gym: $32.61
Cell Phone: Paid for by work
Public Transport: Paid for by work
Dutch Class: Paid for by work
French Class: $226.57
Joint Account: $84.96 (L. and I both contribute to this monthly and then use it to fund our joint social life — dates, coffees, nights out with friends, etc.)
Savings: $226.57

Day One

7:30 a.m. — Alarm goes off, but the bed is too cozy to get up straight away. L. pulls me over to snuggle, bringing us both dangerously close to falling asleep again. I drag myself upright a few minutes later with the promise of a warm mince pie with light cream for breakfast, plus my daily massive coffee and handful of vitamins. Mince pies are hard to find here in Belgium, so I ordered a giant box online last week and spent waaaay too much on shipping — but it isn't December without my favorite festive breakfast. No regrets.
9:15 a.m. — Arrive in the office ahead of my boss and get to work on the morning's to-do list. We have a few big projects this week, so there's plenty to do. Luckily, the most time-sensitive bits are already behind us, so I can afford to go at my own pace.
11:05 a.m. — Coffee break time! I snag a raisin bar thingy from the kitchen and eat it at my desk.
12:30 p.m. — Early lunch at my desk of some tomato soup I brought from home. Then I have a session with my Dutch teacher in am empty conference room, and we spend 90 minutes talking about our holidays. Light conversation topics are a definite perk of being very new to a language! We have caramel Nespressos and mini Neuhaus chocolates. Yum.
4 p.m. — "Treat" myself to a sparkling water from the fridge and a much-too-sweet cereal bar from my handbag to help me power through a boring online training. Ugh. On the upside, some online shopping orders have been delivered to me — batteries, a cute ring-holder for my soon-to-be-wed friend, and a Brave Soul jumper for myself from Black Friday.
5:45 p.m. — I manage to get excused from my last meeting of the day, so teeeeeechnically I could leave now and still be on time for my UBound class — I brought my gym bag this morning and everything! — but it's cold outside, and I'm really not feeling it. I think it would be rude to leave before the meeting is over even though I'm not attending, so I wait to catch up on the key points with my boss before heading home.
7 p.m. — L. texts to let me know he's going out with friends tonight, so I turn on some Christmas music and settle in for a quiet night. I make something that vaguely resembles spaghetti bolognese and freeze most of it, then spend a few hours updating my résumé with a (Belgian) beer in hand. Get some lovely messages from friends back home telling me they got the cards I sent, which almost makes the insane cost of international postage seem reasonable.
12:05 a.m. — L. comes home tipsy, and we share some giggles before falling into bed. Zzzzz.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

7:55 a.m. — There's a work breakfast this morning, so in theory I should wait to eat there, but I can't resist the siren call of mince pies. I accompany my pie with a smaller coffee than usual and call it even.
9 a.m. — Okay, I definitely should have waited — it's Sinterklaas today, so there are lots of special treats at the breakfast. I munch on some chocolate and marshmallows with my colleagues, then head back to my desk to discover everyone has been gifted a giant speculoos (Belgian gingerbread) figurine. Nice!
1:30 p.m. — I meet my friend for lunch. We go to a Lebanese place that's one of our favorite haunts, and I order a halloumi plate with flatbread, hummus, sweet potato, aubergine, and a courgette and cucumber salad. He's about to change jobs but hasn't told anyone yet, so we brainstorm strategies for how he can maintain his poker face while getting drunk at his office party tonight. $8.50
5:40 p.m. — Today's work task is proving challenging, so I go for a walk to clear my head. Pass a headless dark chocolate Santa in the kitchen that's at least as long as my arm and congratulate myself on resisting temptation as I continue on my way. Pause. Turn around. Retreat to my desk with chocolate.
6:10 p.m. — Jump on the tram to go to French class and order some new skinny jeans from Zara while I wait, as my old ones have a hole in the crotch. Everyone's in a good mood so the class is lively, although we get derailed from our set topic of single-sex education almost immediately. We have a new classmate, so I have to do some wrangling to accommodate him in our upcoming Secret Santa (I am the unofficial social secretary of the group), but it all works out in the end. $22.60
9:05 p.m. — Take a detour on the way home to pick up some fancy cheese and chocolate coins for L. at the posh deli around the corner. I'm still getting the hang of the Sinterklaas traditions, as I didn't grow up with them, but I know getting treats is part of it, so I think it'll be a nice surprise for him. He texts to say he's running late, so I'm confident I'll get home before him, but then I'm disappointed when I see that our fairy lights on the balcony are on — which means he's already home and I won't be able to surprise him after all. In the end though, I'm the one surprised — I open the door to discover L. has set up an "apartment picnic" on the floor complete with cushions, candles, and a nice bottle of wine. We chat until late over parma ham, walnuts, rucola, fresh bread, and oven-baked camembert, and I ask him whether it's a new spin on Sinterklaas — only to discover that he had completely forgotten the holiday and was just feeling romantic. Obviously this makes it a hundred times cuter. $15.09
Daily Total: $46.19

Day Three

7:50 a.m. — I take my time getting ready today, as I'm working from home — our new couch is (hopefully) being delivered today! I embrace the opportunity to work in my slippers and exactly zero makeup, and get off to a late start when I realize I'm having laptop trouble and have to call IT to rescue me.
1:15 p.m. — Still no sign of the couch. I scramble an egg with some tomato, rucola, and goat cheese for lunch, along with a not-quite-stale pita bread I find in the cupboard.
2:40 p.m. — It's finally here! The delivery guys waive the €10 fee for carrying it to the first floor — unclear whether they're being nice or just forgot, but I'm not about to ask. I spend a solid half hour sending photos and exclamation marks to all my friends and family — it's tufted yellow velvet and outrageously pretty. I feel like a proud new parent. Have a coffee and some biscuits to celebrate.
5:20 p.m. — Figure I should probably go outside at least once today, so I decide to pick up a few more presents on my list. A howling storm starts the second I close the door, but even with the rain pelting down it's not all that cold, so I decide to stick to my plan. One of the local boutiques has had a display of Inkari alpacas for months now, which L. and I always stop to coo over when we walk past, but this time they lure me inside. I need one last thing to finish off L.'s present, and though it's a LOT more than I'd planned on spending, I figure it's a present for myself as well — welcome one particularly jazzy alpaca to the family. $33.87
6:35 p.m. — Hop into the shower to warm up, then switch Spotify to Christmas music and light a few candles. L. has a work event tonight, so it's the perfect time to do some gift wrapping. I order a Domino's pizza with goat cheese, bacon, mushrooms, and red onion. $19.26
9 p.m. — Pizza arrives, so I pop open a beer and check some emails as I munch. Curl up on the new couch afterwards with The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time has been on my to-read list for years, and I'm loving it so far) and read for a few hours before heading to bed.
Daily Total: $53.13

Day Four

11 a.m. — Cuddle with L. for a bit (we are big fans of the weekend sleep-in) then meander out of bed for breakfast, i.e. lots of coffee and a handful of chocolate coins. I have a spa treatment booked today, which I'm weirdly nervous about. I've never really been to a spa before, but work gave me a voucher recently as a thank you for a big event we organized. I made sure to shave my legs really well yesterday, as someone else will be touching them, but I'm still certain there are spiky patches I've overlooked. What do you even wear to a spa?
1:10 p.m. — Arrive at the spa and the first step is to get naked, so I didn't need to worry about my outfit. They put me in a weird massaging bath thing, which is nice for the first 10 minutes but then gets kind of painful. I step out looking like a boiled lobster and am directed straight to the ~exfoliation station~ where I am scrubbed within an inch of my life. Not convinced by this pampering thing, tbh.
2:05 p.m. — All is forgiven when I get to the massage portion. There is soothing music and a cocoon of hot towels and I feel like I'm floating in some kind of luxury womb. 10/10 would recommend (if someone else is paying).
3:30 p.m. — Get home and immediately make L. feel my newly baby-soft knees even though he'd rather just have lunch already. Oven-warm bread and fancy cheese for lunch, then we head to Lidl to do groceries. We pick up honey, candles, milk, bread, green beans, duck, cereal, garlic spaghetti, soup, pancetta, advocaat (for a cheesecake I'm planning later this week), and a wicker reindeer for L.'s desk at work. I also get nuts, cereal bars, chocolate, canned frankfurters, and lemonade for the office "shoeboxes for the homeless" project. We split the cost. $33.34
7:30 p.m. — Drive to Liège to meet some of L.'s high school friends for dinner. I get rigatoni al forno, split some red wine with L. and have a gin and tonic to finish. We use our joint account to pay and eventually tumble into bed at 1 a.m. $26.40
Daily Total: $59.74

Day Five

11:50 a.m. — Have I mentioned how much I love sleeping in? I really, really love sleeping in. L. makes himself some eggs for brunch but I'm still full from yesterday, so I don't eat much. Then we lounge about for a few hours catching up on our respective to-do lists and browsing the internet. I add an extra cabin bag to my flight home because I'm worried about my gifts getting knocked about in the hold. $18.13
4 p.m. — Catch the tram into town to have a look at the Christmas market. It's identical to last year and raining to boot, but the atmosphere still makes it worth the trip. I duck into a coffee shop to escape a particularly heavy shower and grab two lattes with the joint account. $4.25
6:45 p.m. — I'm craving churros, so I pick up a cone just before we head home. I ask for no powdered sugar, as I always get it all over myself, then promptly regret it when I realize the taste is nowhere near the same without it. We microwave some leftover pasta for dinner when we get back, then settle in on the new couch. It takes a bit of limb-Tetris to get us both comfy, but we manage it eventually. Skype my parents for a while, then watch some TV with tea in hand (Irish breakfast for me, mint for him), and we're in bed by a reasonable hour. $6.80
Daily Total: $29.18

Day Six

9:05 a.m. — Running a little late this morning, but I still manage to make it into the office on time — an advantage of living super close to work. Delighted to see that one of my desk plants, which has been looking all but dead for months, recovered spectacularly over the weekend and produced a record four flowers!
1 p.m. — Lunchtime, which means it's time to catch up on some errands. I pop into Leonidas to pick up a box of chocolates for our cleaner and a lollipop for her daughter ($6.34), then drop off my friend's birthday gift at the post office ($9.86 for shipping). Next, a brisk walk to Hema for gift boxes and some more stuff for the shoebox project (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, lip balm, Wet Wipes, and stroopwafels, $26.51). And finally, we go to the corner shop, where I pick up a bread roll and a pack of white chocolate Reese's peanut butter cups to eat with my soup back at my desk ($2.31 using my meal vouchers). $42.71
5:55 p.m. — Drop my lunchtime purchases off at home and then set off on foot for the big supermarket to get the rest of my list. I buy ingredients for cheesecake and a few multipacks of Belgian beer, which I'll split up and repackage as gifts for family back home (Tripel Karmeliet, Barbar, Mort Subite, and St. Bernardus, if anyone's looking for recommendations!). I use my meal vouchers to pay ($44.34).
6:35 p.m. — L. is playing squash with friends tonight, so I take dinner out to defrost and start work on my cake. I love cheesecakes — they're delicious, not too pricey ingredient-wise, and any idiot with an oven can make one (that's me!). This one is for a friend's dinner party next weekend but I haven't tried the recipe before, so I'm pleased when it turns out really nicely. I wrap a couple more presents and deal with some "personal laundry." (Please PLEASE tell me I'm not the only grown woman who still ends up with bloodstained PJs from time to time?)
9:05 p.m. — L. is back, so I pop dinner in the microwave to heat. I found two dinners in the freezer but only one portion of each, so I split them between us. We have half sausage and bean cassoulet, half sweet potato and fennel seed pasta, and it's a surprisingly tasty combo. Then we curl up in bed with the latest episode of The Good Place.
Daily Total: $42.71

Day Seven

10:25 a.m. — I'm feeling peckish much earlier than usual, so I break for a coffee and a cereal bar I brought from home. I've been experimenting with different brands (trying to find the magic combo of cheap/healthy/tasty), and this one from Lidl is surprisingly good — dark chocolate, cranberry, and cashews, yum.
12:05 p.m. — Head to a meeting of the inter-firm diversity and inclusion committee I'm on. They have a really interesting speaker who's been doing diversity initiatives at a major bank for more than a decade now, which gives us loads to think about. Lunch is provided — I have a salmon pastry, veg spring roll, roast veg tart, and a salad with figs, parma ham, and raspberries. Finish up with a miniature coffee éclair and reflect on the perks of working in the legal sector.
4:45 p.m. — Afternoon sugar craving hits, so I raid the kitchen for a coffee and a Ballisto bar. Wander back to my desk feeling vaguely guilty that every department except my own seems to be in full-on crisis overwork mode. Definitely not going to complain though.
6:30 p.m. — French class tonight is exhausting — the set topic is how societal gender roles shape our choice of career, which could be interesting, but there's an awful lot of misinformation floating around the room. I don't have the energy for an argument, so I decide to hold my tongue (and my temper) and rage-text my friend instead. The two-hour class feels endless, and I'm utterly drained when I leave. I try not to think about how much money I just wasted — these lessons don't come cheap.
9:30 p.m. — L. has a delicious dinner waiting when I get home, which helps my mood a bit. Duck, green beans, and creamy potatoes. Then we watch a few episodes of Arrested Development before bed (a recent discovery for us, so we have a lot of catching up to do!).
Daily Total: $0
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