Money Diaries logo

A Week In Chicago, Illinois, On A $78,000 Salary

Photo: Getty Images.
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 communications coordinator who makes $78,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Taylor Swift tickets.
Occupation: Communications Coordinator
Industry: Higher Education
Age: 24
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Salary: $78,000
Net Worth: $16,189 ($12,000 in Roth IRA, $4,189 in savings)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (1x a month): $6,500
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,025 for my half of a two-bed, one-bath, split with a roommate
Wifi: $27.50 for my half
Electric: ~$15 for my half
Savings: $3,900 (I split my paycheck with 60% going to savings and 40% to spending. Directly depositing the money this way ensures that I'll only touch the 60% for savings in cases of emergency. I pay for rent and all other bills plus miscellaneous spending out of the 40%.)

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. As a child of immigrants, my parents saw education as a path to a better life. I always wanted to go to college since I like learning, and I was lucky enough to enter just as my university announced that they were going debt-free. Private loans were still an option, but in their financial aid package, loans were replaced by grants that I wouldn't have to pay back. This, plus working a part-time job, parents contributing, and my financial aid package accounting for my brother in college at the same time as me, meant that I could graduate debt-free, something that I am immeasurably grateful for.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents didn't have a sit-down conversation about finances with us until I was in college. Growing up, I didn't receive a steady allowance, only the occasional $20 to go to the mall. However, my parents did help me open a bank account in high school when I had my first part-time job. Their financial strategy basically diluted down to "save as much as you can." In high school I started putting the majority of my earnings into my savings account directly from being paid.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was helping in administration at my high school's marketing department. I was always interested in marketing, and my teachers had good impressions of me since I was part of the student club that gave tours (I went to a bougie private school on scholarship and financial aid). It was less for financial reasons and more out of interest that I started this job, and it helped me narrow down what I wanted to study.

Did you worry about money growing up?
A little. I was always careful to be frugal, and being one of the only kids on scholarship/financial aid at my high school made me realize how relative money was. I never invited friends over to hang out as our house couldn't compare to their mansions with mile-long driveways. I knew that money was important but didn't know the details. It wasn't until college that my parents sat me down and told me about our financial situation.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes, mainly for my parents. In college, they told me and my brother that they basically had no retirement savings because they had put it all into our education. In addition, they were still paying off some credit card debt from when they first came to the U.S. and didn't fully understand the credit system. While they own the house, they refinanced it to pay for my brother's student loans and have several more years before it's fully paid off. Because of that, I often worry about what they will do when they retire and am planning to support them financially when that happens.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
My parents paid for my college education while I contributed a little with my part-time job. Now, I am financially independent save for when my parents have a little extra and give it to me (usually around $200, every few months or so). I know that I can rely on them if I do end up in a financial pinch but try to avoid it due to the above reasons.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Day One

7:45 a.m. — Start of the day. I roll out of bed and get ready quickly. The worst thing that's ever happened to me is finding out that expensive skincare does indeed work. My routine consists of Tatcha's The Rice Wash Cleanser and The Dewy Skin Cream. I don't use sunscreen even though I should. Grab a yogurt cup out of the fridge along with my meal-prepped lunch, and I start walking to work.
12 p.m. — Work goes fairly smoothly in the morning, and I manage to finish a project right before lunch. That, plus having an important meeting in the afternoon, means that I treat myself to some Starbucks coffee. I was recently promoted and am now brushing shoulders with fairly important people, so I want to make a good first impression. That means more caffeine. I get myself an iced Americano, eat my prepared lunch (this week, it's roasted carrots with balsamic glaze, panfried chicken thighs, and steamed cabbage), then take a quick walk outside before heading back to the office. $3.80
3 p.m. — The meeting goes well and I'm free to go home early today. I finish up the work day and log off at 5 p.m. on the dot. Then I do a quick workout at home (I'm taking baby steps and am doing simple strength workouts with 5 lb weights), make myself dinner with what I have in the fridge, and watch part of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
6:30 p.m. — Time to head out. As someone very invested in their Christian faith, I'm taking an online Bible class with some friends and walk over to their apartment. It's nice to live so close to one another and to have public transport when I don't have a car. We watch the lecture together, I eat their snacks, and then bid them goodbye for the night.
11 p.m. — After killing some time on YouTube, I decide that it's enough for the day and turn in. Goodnight!
Daily Total: $3.80

Day Two

7:45 a.m. — I follow the same routine and head into work. I have three meetings lined up today, so it's going to be busy. I'm a certified coffee addict but I typically drink the Keurig coffee our office provides. I can't bring myself to pay for a black coffee, so I usually only buy myself espresso drinks as treats.
12 p.m. — Lunchtime! I meet up with a friend who works in a different department, and we head to a newly opened ramen shop. She treated me last time, so I treat her this time. We both get shoyu ramen, and it's her first time trying it. She thinks it's very good; I think it's average. Either way, we catch up and head back to our offices just in time for our hour to finish. $35.38
4 p.m. — Today is busy. I run from one meeting to another and barely have time to greet my coworkers in-between. They all go well, though, and I end the day by catching up with my manager in her office. We go over my to-dos from the meetings, and she offers some perspective on the new tasks I've been given. She's the one who advocated for my promotion and has done a lot to make sure that this position is one where I feel challenged and supported, so I'm very grateful for her in a lot of ways. Our quick check-in turns into a longer discussion, and by the time I get out, it's time to leave work for the day.
6 p.m. — Dinner is whatever I can scrounge up in the fridge. After such a heavy lunch, I try to keep it light with some spinach salad and panfried chicken. Ultimately, my resolve fails, and I treat myself to some of the gelato I have sitting in the fridge.
8 p.m. — Baking time! There's some puff pastry in my freezer that I've been meaning to use along with some old chocolate, so I make a quick tart. I defrost the puff pastry and bake it in a tart tin, then make a chocolate ganache. I blend some defrosted strawberries to make a puree, add that into the ganache, and pour the whole thing into the cooled tart crust. Of course, I lick the bowl when I'm done. I could eat this stuff by the spoonful, but honestly? Apart from the taste, it always feels good to use up ingredients I already have. I put the tart into the fridge to chill, then scroll through Twitter, watch some YouTube, and do some light reading before heading to bed at 11.
Daily Total: $35.38

Day Three

8:30 a.m. — The day gets started, same as always, and I head into the office. Things have picked up a little, and I work to get in a few briefs and drafts before my manager asks me to do some miscellaneous tasks. During my down time, I go onto Poshmark and idly browse through my likes. I've promised myself not to spend more money on clothes until Black Friday hits, so I don't bid on anything.
12 p.m. — I eat my meal prep again and chat with a coworker in the break room. As someone who doesn't really care about variety in food, I really enjoy meal prepping on Sunday and not having to worry about lunches throughout the week. It's therapeutic to cook in such large batches without wasting food, and it saves money. Besides, these balsamic glazed carrots taste really good.
3 p.m. — Afternoon slump. I'm bored enough that I go back to Poshmark. My general philosophy when online thrifting is to only buy from brands I know are good quality and that I would never buy full price. It's a good way to satisfy my inner fashionista while staying (relatively) frugal. Today, I'm looking at & Other Stories tops, and as I browse, I see an unbelievable deal — $9 for a green jacquard dress! I don't think twice before buying. Shipping and tax brings the total up to $18.38 but that barely matters. That's enough to boost my mood for the rest of the day. $18.38
5 p.m. — When I get off work, I head to Target for some groceries. There are cheaper grocery stores in the area, but without a car, it's difficult to transport them back. Target is the most convenient, so I grab a bag of carrots, a bag of spinach, a cucumber, two cases of sparkling water, and some crackers for my work drawer. Then I lug it all home against the wind. $31.72
6:30 p.m. — After putting my groceries away, I hurry to get ready. On Friday evenings, my friends and I have a small Bible study and eat dinner together potluck-style first. I grab the tart from yesterday out of the fridge before getting a ride with my friend. The Bible study is fun, with plenty of teasing one another, and we end up staying past 10 p.m. By the time I get home, I'm exhausted but in a good way. Time for bed.
Daily Total: $50.10

Day Four

8:30 a.m. — I get to sleep in on Saturdays, just for a bit, before I head to class. I'm taking graduate classes while working full-time, and I limit all my classes to Saturdays. I don't bother making my own coffee because there are refreshments provided on campus. I walk to campus, grab a cup of coffee, and get ready for lecture.
10:30 a.m. — Buying from Poshmark the other day was a bad idea, because that's opened the floodgates. Lecture is slow, so while my friend watches over my shoulder, I browse through Poshmark again. This time, I spot a Zara sweater vest listed for $35. I like it, and a few moments later, receive a discounted offer for $25. Yes, please. After shipping and taxes, it comes out to $33.06 but I feel pretty good about the deal. I've been looking for a sweater vest, so it's nice to get a good quality piece that I know I'll wear often. $33.06
12:30 p.m. — Lunch is also provided by the school. The program isn't cheap, so I take advantage of the perks as much as possible. Food aside, that also includes career counseling services, which I use a lot. The counselor's advice helped lead to my promotion. While we eat, my friend asks if I'd be willing to look over her resume and cover letter, which I of course agree to do. I used to be a part-time resume editor, and because my friend is also a freelancer, she asks for my rate. I charge $60 for the resume and $80 for the cover letter. Deal.
2 p.m. — Class #2. I get another cup of coffee and also eat a bag of chips that I brought from lunch. Unfortunately, phones and laptops aren't allowed in this class, so I can't do any online shopping. On second thought, maybe that's a good thing.
5 p.m. — Class is over! I say goodbye to my friends and walk home. Dinner is some hot soup. I use the remainder of my rapidly wilting cabbage and dig up some frozen fish balls from the back of my freezer. Toss it all into a pot of boiling water with some hondashi seasoning, and I have a delicious meal.
7 p.m. — I'm in a shopping mood now, and I chat with some friends about what items we're looking forward to buying once Black Friday rolls around. I add several full-price items to my cart but don't buy, the Poshmark purchases weighing on my mind. I know I said I wouldn't buy more clothes until then, but surely secondhand clothing doesn't count...right?
9 p.m. — My parents call, and we chat about our weeks over the phone. I mention that plane ticket prices for the summer are starting to spike. We've been planning a family vacation for years now, but first COVID got in the way, and then my parents got cold feet. We haven't traveled together internationally for over 10 years, and now that I'm working and able to pay for myself, I really want to take them somewhere nice. We've decided on Europe, and I do some research to find a good hotel. If the price is right, I'll buy the tickets tomorrow. Goodnight!
Daily Total: $33.06

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — Sunday morning! I make my own coffee today since I can't get it free from anywhere else. My coworker went to a fancy coffee exhibition a few months ago and gave me some bean samples I haven't tried yet, so time to give them a go. I grind the beans and use my Keurig single serve for a simple cup of black coffee, and wow. The notes are so defined and crisp, it's like I'm drinking a pour over. I can already see this being bad for my wallet in the future.
10:30 a.m. — I get a ride from a friend to go to our church's Sunday morning meeting. She has two kids who are always hilarious. I love talking with them and learning about their young worlds. This morning, the discussion is about parents, and the younger one (5 years old) has a big revelation. "Everyone is someone's kid," he says with dawning realization. "Mom is grandpa's kid... I'm mom's kid..." His mom and I both crack up laughing.
1 p.m. — Lunchtime! I love it when I'm able to combine lunch and meal prep. This week's menu: kimbap. I boil spinach, julienne then stir fry the carrots, julienne the cucumber, and cook a pot of rice. I defrosted some pork belly this morning, and I pan fry that up. Add sesame oil and salt to the rice, get seaweed sheets, then assemble with all the ingredients. Roll together, and easy, convenient, healthy homemade kimbap for the week. Delicious.
3 p.m. — My friends and I decide to go window shopping at an outdoor mall. One buys a new pair of boots, another buys some socks, and we all get donuts. They're fancier than I would opt for on my own, but the sweetness helps recharge me after walking around in the cold. We browse until we're all too cold and hungry to go on and bid each other goodbye. $2.45
7 p.m. — Dinner is some of the kimbap I made earlier, and then I call my parents. We go over the dates, hotel, and plane tickets together over FaceTime and, after some hesitation, decide to pull the trigger on the trip. Along the way, my dad asks whether or not he "deserves" to go on vacation, to which I fiercely remind him that yes, he does. The price for seven nights at a hotel and round-trip tickets comes out to $5,826.27 total, and we split it evenly. One day, I'll be able to cover my parents' portion completely. $1,942.09
Daily Total: $1,944.54

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — Happy Monday! It's back to the grind. I have several more meetings today, including looking ahead to the rest of the calendar year. By the time I get out of that meeting, I have a few pages of to-dos, and I burrow into my dual monitors to get the work done.
12 p.m. — I really shouldn't, not after the plane tickets, but it's so cold and I've been so busy that I cave and get a cup of coffee during lunch. I order a small Mexican chocolate mocha from a local coffee shop, and the spicy warmth is just the thing I need to get my day back on track. $5.25
2 p.m. — Instagram tells me that Tatcha is having a 25% off pre-Black Friday sale, which I know is going to be their deepest sale of the year. I would buy their items full price anyway, so I'm really saving money...right? I get a refill on my cleanser and moisturizer (and get a serum, because the set is better value than buying the items individually), then add a tonic I've been meaning to try. After completing my purchase, I let my friends know about the sale because I'm nice like that. $128.30
4 p.m. — There's something about having more work to do that makes me spend more money. That, or I'm just a devotee of retail therapy. Instead of my usual haunt Poshmark, I switch things up and go on Thredup instead. Unfortunately, there are some ridiculously good deals on there, and after hemming and hawing, I decide to check out. I get a summery wrap top from & Other Stories ($14.28), a shirt dress from Zara ($15.95), jeans from Abercrombie & Fitch ($15.40), and finally, a Zac Posen bucket bag ($68.75). Shipping is free but there's still tax. $126.10
6 p.m. — I feel a bit queasy at the amount I've spent in the past two days, especially when there's still half a month to go before my paycheck hits. I resolve to not spend any more money and eat a simple dinner while watching some Dungeons and Dragons. I air fry some frozen hong shao rou, warm up a Chinese-style wheat bun, and chop up my remaining cucumber. That turns out not to be enough, so I also fry my leftover bacon and eat some chips.
8 p.m. — Time for the guilt workout. I haven't been doing strength training enough to know if it's helping or not, but I do like being in motion a bit more. I've never taken classes for it and am too shy to go to the gym, so it's referencing workout Twitter threads for me. I'm most afraid of getting the forms wrong and accidentally injuring myself, but hopefully that won't happen.
10:30 p.m. — One workout and shower later, I'm in my PJs. I work on my friend's cover letter and resume, referencing the job she wants to apply to. I've gotten a lot of help from career counseling services, but I know not everyone has that advantage, so I try to be that resource for other people. I text her a few questions for more detail, do some formatting, and send her back a rough draft of her cover letter and resume by the end of the night. Feeling accomplished, sleep comes quick and easy.
Daily Total: $259.65

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — Today is a special day because it's Taylor Swift ticketing day. I have two friends who are massive Swifties, and while I like her music, I wouldn't call myself a fan. But I do love live experiences, so I've thrown my hat in the ring. All three of us registered for the pre-sale, but only the two of them received the number. We also establish our upper limits on pricing, so I tell them that if tickets are over $200 each post-tax and fees, they can just forget about me.
10 a.m. — Ticketing opens, my friends are all queued up, and...Ticketmaster crashes. My friends are understandably stressed, and both of them work from home, so they decide to jump on a Discord call to vent. I can't join from the office but provide moral support by scouring Twitter for the best memes.
3:30 p.m. — Suddenly, my friend messages our group chat frantically to let us know that she's in! Tickets are over $200, though, and she asks me if that's okay. Though that's above my upper limit, the hype from the ticketing has gotten to me, and I tell her to go ahead. She purchases, and we're set to go see Taylor Swift. After the initial excitement dies down, my friend sends us the breakdown, and I Venmo her my portion. Well, upper limits were only ever suggestions, not rules. $253.25
5 p.m. — That was exhilarating. I log out of work for the day and head home. To my delight, my Poshmark packages have arrived, and both are in great condition. The dress fits extremely well, and the sweater vest is exactly the type of trendy layering piece I expected. Having quality pieces that I got secondhand always makes me feel good.
7 p.m. — It gets dark out so quickly nowadays that I barely want to go out, but I'm too excited to stay home. I hop on the L and travel a few stops to my friend's apartment where we play with her cat, watch TV, and listen to Taylor Swift in preparation for the concert. She's thinking about buying a condo once the housing market settles down a little, so we also look at outrageously priced homes in the area and play "would you rather" with apartment features, like in-unit laundry vs a balcony. She votes balcony, and I vote in-unit laundry. Currently, we don't have either. $2
10 p.m. — After a fun evening of chatting and snacking, my friend drives me home. I run into my roommate while getting ready for bed, and she ends up persuading me to message a guy that I saw once on a trip. I guess the hype from Taylor Swift carries over because I end up sending him a text. "Remember, have no expectations!" is my roommate's mantra, which gives me enough peace to go to bed. Sweet dreams!
Daily Total: $255.25
Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual's experience and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.

Do you have a Money Diary you'd like to share? Submit it with us here.

Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here or email us here.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series