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A Week In Denver On A $60,000 Salary

Photo: Courtesy of Wendy's.
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 clinical research coordinator working in healthcare who makes $60,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a Biggie Bag from Wendy’s.

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Occupation: Clinical research coordinator
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 28
Location: Denver
Salary: $60,000
Net Worth: $177,000 (~$35,000 in a HYSA; $50,000 in my 401(k) and Roth IRA; $90,000 in a brokerage account I inherited from my grandfather when he passed last year; ~$2,000 in a foreign bank account that I need to close)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (monthly): $3,752.42
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $955 (I share a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with my partner, F. He brings home around $100,000 and he’s part of my financial picture, but we don’t combine our finances.)
Electricity: $40–60
Other Utilities: $35
Renter’s Insurance: $12
Car Insurance: $127
Phone: Bank of mom and dad
Health & Dental Insurance: $0 (covered by my employer)
Spotify: $10.99
Parking: $36
401(k) Contribution: $250 (My employer also contributes $500, a 200% match)
Roth IRA: $550
Savings: $550

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?
My parents would have killed me if I decided not to go to college. Education made a huge difference in their lives, as well as my grandparents’ lives. I went to college for a STEM major and paid with merit and need-based scholarships, plus $27,000 in federal student loans and my parents’ help. When I graduated, I lived at home for 18 months to pay off my loans. When both of my younger siblings decided not to go to college immediately after high school, my parents were surprisingly supportive of them.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My mom handled a lot of the day-to-day money stuff (budgeting, paying bills, et cetera), while my dad handled investments. My mom grew up extremely poor and was always very stressed about money (and subsequently how much we ate). My dad was the one who helped me set up my first 401(k) and explained investment options. I’m not sure he was completely right about everything, but at least I know they have ample retirement savings.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was at a theme park. I wanted spending money and to get out of the house during the summer.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Sometimes. My parents both worked for the government when I was young, so they always had jobs, and we always had food on the table, warm beds, and working cars. My parents really loved to remind us that they grew up with much less.

Do you worry about money now?
On a personal level, no. I make enough to support my lifestyle and inheriting so much money has relieved a lot of my worries for my future. If I didn’t have an inheritance, I’d feel much more concerned about my future, so on a systemic level, yes, I worry. Inheriting $90,000 shouldn’t be a requirement for feeling secure or being able to buy property or retire.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became responsible for myself at 23 when I moved overseas after college. My parents acted as a huge safety net when I had to move back to the US very suddenly in 2020. But now my savings and my partner are my safety net, even though my parents would always help me out.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes, I received $90,000 in stocks when my grandfather passed away last year.

Day One

5 a.m. — I’m up to take more laxatives after not sleeping well last night. I’m getting a colonoscopy today because I’ve been displaying some concerning symptoms. I drink water and Powerade, then crawl back into bed until it’s time to leave. F. cooks turkey bacon (how dare he?), and I take out the dog. When we get to the hospital, I owe $239 up front. $239
12:15 p.m. — I’ve been fasting for 24 hours, so by the time the anesthesiologist puts me under, I’m STARVING. The procedure goes well, and the doctor determines that my bowels are very healthy! I ask what might be causing my symptoms, and we talk through a few things. He tells me to seriously stop eating dairy.
1:30 p.m. — F. and I stop at Wendy’s on the way home, and I buy a Biggie Bag with a bacon cheeseburger, nuggets, fries, and a Sprite. I also crack open a Trader Joe’s Harvest Apple Salad Kit. This is truly the most wonderful meal I’ve ever had. $7.19
3:30 p.m. — After a nap, I get up and do some meal prep (and clean the toilet... Anyways). The prep is lentils and rice with caramelized onion and turkey meatballs. I also eat the other half of the Trader Joe’s Harvest Apple Salad Kit.
6:30 p.m. — F. and I watch Leave the World Behind while eating dinner. It’s fine. My Letterboxd rating is 3/5. (Reminder: Fix the family Netflix account so that it’s charged to my credit card.) I fall asleep without doing my skincare.
Daily Total: $246.19

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — Wake up, feed the dog, start the coffee. I wash, exfoliate, and moisturize my face. I feel sooooo much better now that I can a) eat solid foods and b) know I don’t have anything wrong with my colon. I started showing some concerning symptoms last month. I have a few distant family members who were diagnosed with colon cancer this past year. I’m convinced their cases are connected to the family farm, which is near an old factory that contaminated the local water supply with forever chemicals back in the ’70s or ’80s. At least one of the chemicals has been linked to colorectal cancer. The peace of mind is totally worth $239 and a day of liquids.
12:30 p.m. — I’m working from home and doing a bunch of random admin stuff that I’ve been putting off: billing, data entry, reading through letters, et cetera. I hop on a call quickly, then take the dog for a quick jog. I have a giant smoothie and a cookie for lunch, then walk to the grocery store. I pick up TP, fruit, vegan cheese, sparkling waters, marshmallows, Rice Krispies, and eggs. $50.58
4 p.m. — I wrap up a moderately boring day at work, then head to the gym in our building. F. wanders in as I’m finishing up and scares me when he touches my waist!
6:30 p.m. — I make dairy-free spicy rigatoni because it’s freezing out. F. and I watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and then I work on some embroidery for my Secret Santa gift. He plays video games with a friend. I remember to floss and do my retinol and petroleum jelly routine. (The internet tells me retinol will prevent wrinkles or something, and my mom tells me petroleum jelly under my eyes will prevent wrinkles or something.)
9 p.m. — F. and I cuddle and talk. He’s having a hard time adjusting to his new role as a manager at a startup. He was working at a very well-established company, and the culture is completely different at the new place, especially the long hours he’s expected to work.
Daily Total: $50.58

Day Three

6:30 a.m. — I get up and start my pre-work routine. I’m hybrid, and it’s an office day. I eat a nut bar and walk over to the train station. After I get set up in the office, my coworkers invite me to grab coffee, and I get an almond milk latte. $6.54
12 p.m. — I spend the morning chatting with a patient, then it’s time for our department Christmas party! Every year, I remind my manager that there are a lot of non-Christian people in our department, so maybe make it a HOLIDAY party instead of a Christmas party, and every year she forgets. At least the catering has vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options (she has a habit of ordering burgers and then acting shocked that there are multiple vegetarians in the department).
4 p.m. — I wrap up a few things after the party and head home. I walk the dog, hit the gym, and work on Christmas presents. Dinner is lentils and rice with turkey meatballs.
9 p.m. — I do my evening skincare and cuddle with F. He’s having a rough time with his job.
Daily Total: $6.54

Day Four

7 a.m. — I get up and put on a very American Girl doll–inspired outfit. My team’s Christmas party is this afternoon, so I hop in my car and drive to work. I usually take public transit, but it’s not practical for going to an off-site party after work. I eat a muffin someone brought to the office.
9 a.m. — Work is so crazy right now. All of these pharmaceutical companies are trying to close studies by the end of the month, and it’s not possible when they’ve spent (in some cases) an entire year ignoring emails! I resign myself to chasing down regulatory documents for the rest of the day.
12:30 p.m. — I heat up my spicy rigatoni for lunch, and my officemate comments that it smells delicious and asks for the recipe. He doesn’t understand the concept of coconut milk, so I reassure him that he can use heavy cream.
4 p.m. — Holiday party time! This year, it’s at a pub, but we all have to buy our own meals (the joys of being in a public health job). I get a cider, BLAT sandwich, and fries. It’s pretty good! We all have a great time. I really do love my coworkers. $27.89
6:30 p.m. — I get home, and my friend texts that a supervisor position on her team just opened up. It would come with a $10,000 raise. I spend the evening working on a cover letter and sprucing up my résumé, while F. watches some show about Godzilla.
Daily Total: $27.89

Day Five

7 a.m. — I get up and walk to the train station. It doesn’t come after 10 minutes. Actually no trains show up! I’m signed up for service alerts, but I’m not getting them. The RTD’s website says train service is canceled due to a power outage. Okay, it’s not canceled; there’s a shuttle bus but it will add at least an hour to my commute. I rush home and drive to work. I eat a nut bar as I drive.
9:30 a.m. — I help a doctor set up an electronic signature. Someone brought bagels to the clinic, and I help myself to one.
1 p.m. — I really want my officemate’s salad, but it’s $14 (and now in his stomach). I settle for my lentils, rice, meatballs, and pomegranate seeds. I get a page and spend the afternoon running around the hospital.
4:30 p.m. — At home, I take the dog on a jog. F. picked up red wine and poké for dinner. It’s delicious, and we have a very fun time until his mom calls about some family drama. We decide to do a date-night redo. I start brainstorming ideas and reach out to an old babysitting client who has season tickets to the Nuggets but almost never goes this time of year. They call me and let me know that two of their club seats are available for tomorrow. I decide to surprise F.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

8:30 a.m. — F. sleeps late while I take the dog out for a walk with my mom, who brings her dogs along. It’s a barky, pully, dogs-going-crazy mess. I’m very frustrated by the time I get back. F. tells me to get cleaned up and takes me out for breakfast, his treat! We end up at a diner-ish place, and I get a breakfast burrito and coffee. He gets an omelette and a latte.
11 a.m. — I run by a Target pharmacy to pick up a prescription for eye drops. Then we stop by F.’s bank, and he pays off his car. I’m so proud of him! $4.59
2 p.m. — I go to the gym and then make Rice Krispies treats for my Secret Santa gift bag.
4:30 p.m. — F. and I walk over to the train, which is actually running today —  what a miracle. We’re heading to the Nuggets game, but I haven’t told him where we’re going yet. Of course, as soon as we get on the train (I have a transit pass included in my parking pass for work), he asks if date night is the Nuggets game. He’s too good! Our tickets are club seats and include a meal and drink before the game. We have braised short ribs, chicken taquitos, waffle fries, a spinach and pear salad, and the best lemon cake I’ve ever had. F. gets a beer, and I get a glass of wine. The people I’m seated next to have also been season ticket holders for years, and we recognize each other. The Nuggets lead the whole game, then lose by ONE POINT. We tip the bartender and bus boy. $10
11: p.m. — We debate meeting up with our friends, but F. is exhausted. We head home, take the dog out, then go to bed.
Daily Total: $14.59

Day Seven

8:30 a.m. — I’m exhausted but get up and take the dog out.
10 a.m. — I have avocado toast for breakfast, then we head out to the grocery store for chicken, veggies, almond milk, garbage bags, dog food, a dog toy, lotion, face wash, and frozen fruit. The total is $151, and I venmo F. half. $75
1 p.m. — My friend comes over, and we walk the dog. It’s great to see her. We grab sandwiches, lemonade, and a slice of cake at a bakery and try not to gossip about a girl we know, but we both really want to know the details of her recent breakup. $17.52
3:30 p.m. — I start making lamb and venison bolognese. All the meat is from my family (there are lots of hunters and farmers). F. vacuums, does laundry, and takes out the recycling. The sauce comes out absolutely incredible.
8:30 p.m. — F. and I watch some football, and it’s definitely not as exciting as the game last night. We discuss our wedding plans and start working on save the dates. We’re hoping to spend less than $30,000 for around 150 guests (I have a big family), but the budget will depend on how much our families want to chip in. I believe both sides are planning to contribute $10,000, but we’ll talk to them about it over the holidays. I’m all for eloping, but I know our families want this and want to help us have a big wedding, so it feels weird to say no!

10 p.m. — I write a thank-you card for the Nuggets tickets, then head to bed.
Daily Total: $92.52
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