Money Diaries Logo

A Week In Ottawa, Canada, On A $57,258 Salary

Photo: Courtesy of McDonald'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 communications advisor working in politics who makes $57,258 per year and spends some of her money this week on chicken McNuggets.

All totals have been converted to USD.
Occupation: Communications advisor
Industry: Politics
Age: 23
Location: Ottawa, ON, Canada
Salary: $57,258
Net Worth: $4,856 (investments: $11,504; savings and checking accounts: $4,818; RRSP: $951, minus debt)
Debt: $12,417 (This is entirely federal student loans, which I will begin repaying interest-free in 2024.)
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,435 (I pay a lot of taxes and have several automatic deductions listed below.)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,062 (I live alone in a one-bedroom rental.)
Hydro: ~$40 (This varies depending on the season.)
Internet: $49
Phone: $0 (I have two phones: Work covers one, and my dad is paying for the other until the end of the year.)
Netflix: $8.18
Spotify: $8.18
Health Insurance: $0 (My employer pays.)
Barre & Spin Membership: $81
Retirement: $634.91 (This and the rest of the expenses listed below are automatically deducted from my paycheck.)
Union Dues: $36.78
Disability Insurance: $21.48
Supplementary Death Benefit: $9.27 (This is essentially life insurance.)
Canadian Pension Plan: $249
Employment Insurance: $72.48

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. I come from a long line of teachers, so education has always been prioritized. There was no question that my siblings and I would obtain bachelor’s degrees. My parents began contributing to an RESP (Registered Education Savings Plan) when I was a child, so I had about $20,000 set aside for school. Along with scholarships and bursaries, that money covered my tuition for the first two years of my undergraduate degree, including living on campus. My grandmother also helped by covering a portion of my rent for three years, and I relied on loans and full-time summer jobs to cover the rest.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
As a kid and teenager, I was more privy to arguments about money than I was to constructive conversations. My mother grew up fairly wealthy, whereas my father grew up incredibly poor, and they didn’t navigate that dynamic as well as they could have in the early years of their marriage. My parents were stretched quite thin financially while I was growing up, so saving was always emphasized, and I got my own bank account to do so when I was 14. I was mainly left to my own devices when it came to my money, but I saved as much as I could and educated myself on financial independence as I got older.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was working in a bakery at age 15 because my parents were adamant that I keep myself occupied over the summer. Once that job ended, I was wary about no longer having an income so I got a part-time job at a chain retail company and worked there throughout high school and some of university.

Did you worry about money growing up?
As a kid, I assumed we were financially well off because we had a nice house, played lots of sports, and always had food on the table. However, I was always confused as to why we never took big vacations and were deterred from buying brand-name clothing. I felt that I had a lot less than my friends’ families. Now, I’m able to recognize that my family relied on a single income for most of my childhood. My mother became a stay-at-home parent once my sister was diagnosed with diabetes, and the residual effects of that decision led to some financial strain. While I wasn’t worried about it as a kid, I started to feel the pinch during high school and university when my parents couldn’t help me out as much as they would have liked to.

Do you worry about money now?
Very much so. I’m empathetic to my parents’ situation, but their money arguments led to the internalization of some pretty severe financial anxiety that I continue to work through in therapy. I try to remain realistic about my goals and save as much as I can while still enjoying my current life stage, but I check my bank account religiously, track my spending down to the very last cent, and am always thinking of ways I can increase my income. I know I’m doing well for my age, especially for being only a few months out of school, but there is always the lingering sense that I could be doing better.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Becoming financially independent happened gradually. When I moved out for university at 17, I became responsible for my day-to-day expenses but still benefited from the RESP my parents had set up for me. Once that ran out, I became responsible for my tuition and living expenses, but with some help from relatives. I’d say I became largely financially independent at 19 when I paid for everything myself, but I did still benefit from my parents’ health coverage until recently. Now, at 23, I’m on my own, except for my father paying for my cell phone bill. If needed, my parents would be able to help me out, and I could likely ask my grandmother for help, too, but that would be an absolute last resort.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes. The previously mentioned RESP set up by my parents. And, in addition to helping with rent, my grandmother gave me $1,000 when I finished my master’s degree as a graduation gift. Now that my parents have less financial strain, they slip me money for groceries or trips here and there, and my siblings and I will eventually inherit the family farm.

Day One

7:10 a.m. — My alarm goes off, and I immediately start getting ready for the day. I do my morning skincare (Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops, Tatcha The Dewy Skin Cream, and Fenty Beauty SPF moisturizer), then apply light makeup, get dressed, and head to the kitchen. I feed my hangry cat, T., make an iced latte to go, and am out the door by 7:35 a.m. I realize it’s snowing so I run back in to grab a toque (a wool hat, for those who don’t speak Canadian). I’ve become quite efficient at getting ready at record speed to maximize my time in bed.
7:50 a.m. — Once settled at my desk, I say good morning to my coworkers and begin to clear out the few hundred emails that accumulated over the weekend.
8:45 a.m. — I’ve been chipping away at my largest task for the day, so I pause to eat chia pudding and update my personal budget spreadsheet to reflect a cider tasting I did with friends yesterday.
9:30 a.m. — I take a scroll break and notice that my friend, who is a tattoo artist, is raffling off four hours of tattoo time with donations going to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. I send her $15 and share the post on an Instagram story. $15
12 p.m. — A coworker and I say goodbye to a colleague who is starting a new job tomorrow. After that, I make a taco in the kitchen with chicken, avocado, and lettuce. I eat at my desk and scroll on TikTok.
4 p.m. — Done for the day! I shut my laptop and am out the door. I stop at a grocery store on my walk home to grab a package of fresh strawberries and fill a container of corn, cauliflower, and diced sweet potatoes from the hot bar. $12.07
4:35 p.m. — I race around my apartment, washing dishes, cuddling T., and cleaning up as I go. I won’t be home until late tonight so I do my future self a favour and pack a lunch and choose my clothes for work. It’s Halloween tomorrow, so I pack a tennis racket and visor in my work bag for a makeshift tennis-player costume. I quickly scarf down leftover chicken and the veggies from the hot bar.
6:15 p.m. — My best friend, B., lives a few blocks away and wants to hit up a thrift store to finish her Miley Stewart costume. I walk over, feeling grateful for the millionth time this year that my favourite person lives less than a four-minute walk away. She drives us to the store.
7:30 p.m. — I take a break from looking for Miley Stewart-esque accessories to peruse the book section and find The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which is on my to-read list. There is no better feeling than thrifting a book you’ve been wanting to read, especially when it’s in perfect condition. $3.79
8:15 p.m. — We go back to B.’s place, and I start the book while she finishes work on her laptop. I’ve come to immensely value friendships where we can share comfortable silence.
9 p.m. — Time for our weekly volleyball game. B.’s roommate drives, and we pick up my brother on the way. I wasn’t overly interested in sports growing up, so joining a recreational league now has been... Interesting. We play on a team with various friends from our hometown and other friends of friends, so it’s always lots of fun.
10 p.m. — We win! And I’m exhausted. B.’s roommate drives us back to their place, and I walk home. I starfish in bed.
10:45 p.m — I drag myself to the bathroom to brush my teeth and do my nighttime skincare (First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydra-Firm Night Cream, Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide, LANEIGE Water Sleeping Mask) then take my medications and pop a melatonin gummy. I scroll through my phone, turn on white noise, then pass out within minutes.
Daily Total: $30.86

Day Two

7:10 a.m — My Apple Watch wakes me up. I do the usual daytime skincare and light makeup, then get dressed in my tennis outfit. It’s cold out, so I wear yoga pants and pack the skirt in my bag. I make an iced latte to go using my Nespresso machine and give T. wet cat food. I’m out the door and walking to the office by 7:40 a.m.
7:55 a.m. — I log in, and a coworker immediately gives me Halloween candy, a stellar breakfast.
8:30 a.m. — After completing a few minor tasks, I respond to a guy I’ve been chatting with and confirm a virtual date for tonight. We’ve been trying to make dinner plans for a week, but I’ve been ridiculously busy, so I proposed that we have a FaceTime date tonight before my on-call shift for work starts at 6 p.m. Dating makes me anxious, so I feel good about assessing the situation virtually before taking the time to meet up in person.
12 p.m. — I take a break to attend a Halloween party with my coworkers. The candy is flowing, and I’m content.
4 p.m. — Done for the day... Until tonight, that is. My job involves creating social media content for high-profile political figures, so our team provides standby coverage on evenings and weekends. The additional money is nice, in theory, but my file is still being transferred from my last job, so I’m not actually seeing any of this income yet and likely won’t for a long time. I pack up my things and begin the trek home.
5 p.m. — I’ve barely had time to relax at home for the past few days so I pick up miscellaneous cards still lying around from a games night I hosted on Saturday. I give T. cuddles, then hop on the FaceTime “date” from my living room couch and snack on guac and crackers at the same time.
5:55 p.m. — I hang up FaceTime and immediately log back in to work. The “date” went okay, but I think I can make conversation with a brick wall so I’m not sure what that says about my rating. Nothing is moving at work, so I plant myself on the couch and continue to read the book I thrifted yesterday.
7:20 p.m. — Things are picking up quickly and the emails are flying. There’s always a mad dash at the end of the day to get approvals and prep content for the next morning. Luckily, this counts as overtime pay. Amid the chaos, one of our volleyball teammates asks B. out on a date. We celebrate over text.
9 p.m. — There are still a few time-sensitive tasks to complete at work, so I make myself a cup of chamomile tea and snack on popcorn while I wrap things up.
9:30 p.m. — I log off and get ready for bed (usual skincare, brush teeth, take meds). I’m feeling a tad anxious so I lay in bed and cuddle T. before he gets the zoomies and is ultimately exiled to the living room. I toss and turn for a few hours before falling asleep shortly after midnight.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

7:55 a.m. — I'm working from home today so I log in from bed and address an urgent task on my to-do list before doing my skincare.
8:35 a.m — It’s the first of the month, so I’m feeling motivated to get my life together. I transfer my rent to my landlord and haul my laundry down to the basement of my building to run a few loads ($3.62). In between work tasks, I take out the recycling, take my winter jackets out of storage, and throw two hash browns in the oven for breakfast. $3.62
9:20 a.m. — My cousin is having a produce box delivered to my apartment because she lives outside city limits, so I put a cooler out in the lobby for the delivery and retrieve my washed clothes. I’m truly my father’s daughter in that I absolutely refuse to pay for the dryer so I spend the next 20 minutes hanging my clothes haphazardly around my apartment to dry on various hooks, backs of chairs, and racks. I finally take the hash browns out of the oven and top them with half an avocado, slice strawberries, make an iced maple latte, and eat at my desk.
12:15 p.m. — I put my workout clothes on and head to a lunchtime spin class at my local studio with an Alani Nu energy drink in tow. I haven’t been to a class in a few days, and it kicks my ass. There’s a challenge going on that lets you enter a draw for a free month if you complete 21 classes in 31 days, so I join the waitlist for a barre class this evening.
4:15 p.m. — I log off for the day and make a quesadilla/wrap with leftover chicken, bacon, lettuce, and chipotle mayo while catching up on YouTube videos. I snack on pistachios for dessert.
5 p.m. — A notification pops up that I’ve made it into tonight’s barre class, so I quickly change, mix some Alani Nu BCAA powder with water, and walk back over. The class is with my favourite instructor, and I’m shaking by the end of the hour.
6:15 p.m. — Back at home, I cut up potatoes and season them to make homemade fries. As they’re cooking, I take a long shower and do my nighttime skincare routine.
7 p.m. — While my hair dries, I boil corn and chat with B. A local university bar is having a Halloween-themed karaoke night, and she invites me to tag along with her and some friends. Though I agreed to attend when we talked about it yesterday, I’m feeling so tired and am craving a night on the couch with One Tree Hill. She understands as the karaoke won’t begin until close to midnight, and I work tomorrow. I make a mental note to tell my therapist that I took her advice to heart and am working on listening to my body and setting boundaries accordingly.
7:30 p.m. — I eat my dinner of leftover chicken, corn, and homemade fries on the couch and resume season 6 of One Tree Hill. I briefly call my other best friend, L., and we discuss our weekend plans.
10:30 p.m. — Brush teeth, do a little extra skincare since the air is getting dry, take meds, and head to bed. I toss and turn before taking a melatonin gummy and finally falling asleep after midnight.
Daily Total: $3.62

Day Four

7:55 a.m — My alarm goes off, and I log in to work before brushing my teeth and doing my morning skincare. I slowly get ready for the day while waiting on a live stream for work to begin, packing egg bites and snacks, then getting dressed. By 9:30 a.m, the live stream has ended, so I pack up my laptop and walk to the office.
10 a.m. — I arrive at my desk and start working on HR tasks, wrapping up my monthly spreadsheet from October and snacking on leftover Halloween candy.
12 p.m. — A member of a team adjacent to ours is leaving, so we have a pizza party. I chip in $3.62 for my slices, but I pay in spare change I had lying around my apartment so it doesn’t really count. Girl math! $3.62
4 p.m. — Done for the day, I grab my things and stop at Farm Boy, a store I would classify as the Ontario version of a Trader Joe’s. I definitely can’t afford to do my regular groceries here, but it’s great for a few specialty items. I pick up the store’s name-brand chicken strips, dumplings, sweetened cashew milk, eggs, Italian sausages, and two avocados. $32.21
5 p.m. — I unpack my groceries, change quickly, and head out to my barre class.
6 p.m. — Back at home, I place frozen French fries in the oven while I put away my dried clothes from their miscellaneous hanging spots. Once the fries are cooked, I eat them with leftover corn and the last of my grilled chicken while watching a few episodes of One Tree Hill.
8 p.m. — I clean up the kitchen and do my nighttime skincare, then FaceTime my mom. We haven’t spoken since the weekend, so I fill her in on the cidery, volleyball, and my FaceTime date. B. is out on her date with our volleyball teammate, so I check her location and tell her to give me the rundown as soon as she gets home.
10 p.m. — B. informs me that the date went well, and they will be seeing each other again this weekend. I scroll on TikTok in bed for a while before turning on a sleep meditation podcast and passing out by 11 p.m.
Daily Total: $35.83

Day Five

8 a.m. — My Apple Watch wakes me up. I log into work from my phone and cuddle T. in bed. Friday afternoons are usually crazy at my job, so I take the WFH morning easy in preparation.
9:30 a.m. — I put two hash browns in the oven and browse spa packages online. L., who has been one of my best friends since undergrad, is moving to Australia at the end of the month, and I’m workshopping a few different going-away gifts for her that I can also benefit from. I price a few different places before returning to the kitchen to warm up egg bites and cut up strawberries. I top the cooked hash browns with avocado and make an iced vanilla latte to have at my desk.
11:30 a.m. — I finish prepping posts for this afternoon before logging into my virtual therapy appointment. I’ve been seeing the same therapist for almost three years, originally to help me cope with a traumatizing breakup and a severely anxious attachment style. Now, we tend to focus more on helping me navigate my panic disorder and maintaining healthy relationships with both people and money. My job covers 80% of the appointment, so I pay $29 out of pocket. $29
2:30 p.m. — I throw sausages in the oven to cook while waiting on a live stream.
3:30 p.m. — I realize I’m starving and take a break from work to assemble a snack plate. I snag a few fresh carrots from my cousin’s produce box, cut up cucumbers and the cooked sausage, and finish it off with raw cashews.
4:15 p.m. — Done for the day, I watch a few YouTube videos from the couch and play with T.
5 p.m. — I get changed and head out to my spin class. B. works at our studio a few nights a week, and I go over early, so we can hang out and talk more about her date last night. An instructor is handing out cupcakes for their birthday, so I take one.
6:15 p.m. — Class is done, and I feel amazing. I stick around to help B. clean and close the studio, so we can keep chatting. I won’t see her this weekend, which is a rarity for us. Once we’re done, I head home and take a shower.
7:35 p.m. — L. FaceTimes me, and I can tell immediately that the sleepover we had planned for tonight is off. She had a crazy day at work and doesn’t have the energy to brave the 40-minute-long bus ride. I tell her I completely understand but now am stumped on what to do for dinner. I’m considering a McDonald’s McNugget meal (thank you, period cravings) but I just exercised and don't want to “ruin it.” I hate that I’ve internalized the way of thinking my mother grew up with: That eating something unhealthy immediately cancels out the calories you just burned. L. reminds me that I’m allowed to exercise and still treat myself to McDonald’s. Besides, it’s a Friday. I place a delivery order for 10 McNuggets, fries, and a McFlurry. $19.88
8:35 p.m. — I spend the rest of the evening rotating between finishing my book, eating my dinner, watching YouTube, and picking up my apartment because L. will be staying over tomorrow night while I’m out of town. I pass out early around 11 p.m.
Daily Total: $48.88

Day Six

8 a.m. — Happy Saturday! I’m on-call this weekend, so I log into work from bed and make sure that nothing urgent needs my attention. It doesn’t, but I get up anyway to pack my overnight bag. My parents and I are heading to Montreal for my uncle’s 60th birthday party tonight.
9:30 a.m. — With nothing happening at work, I get changed and head to the studio for a spin class. I check my work phone sporadically but so far it seems like this morning will be pretty quiet.
10:45 a.m. — Back from class, I take a shower and wash my hair. Since we’re going to be on the road, I do my makeup and put on a nice outfit for the party tonight. I eat a few strawberries and a granola bar while I wait for my parents to pick me up.
12:45 p.m. — My parents arrive! We lug my cousin’s produce box, my overnight bag, and my blowup mattress to my mom’s new car. She was recently in a car accident and had to purchase a new vehicle, but the dealership wasn’t able to go over its features when we picked it up last week, so we stop at the dealership on our way out of the city. I do some work on my laptop from the backseat while my parents get a detailed tour of the car.
2:35 p.m. — After what feels like forever, we are finally on the road. My dad convinces my mom to stop at a McDonald’s off the highway to get a snack because we didn’t eat lunch. I regret my dinner choices from last night. I order French fries and a Diet Coke, and my dad pays. We also pop into a liquor store to get my uncle a bottle of wine and drinks for the party tonight. I get two tall gin cocktails, and my dad also pays. I do some more work, and we discuss the trip we’re taking to Sorrento next summer. We’ve never been out of the country as a family, and this trip is to celebrate my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, so my two younger siblings and I are very excited. I’m contemplating going a bit early by myself to backpack.
5:05 p.m. — We arrive in Montreal! I hand the produce box over to my cousin, and we mingle. I check my work phone occasionally, noting that tonight might get busy.
7:35 p.m. — I dip into my cousin’s room and do some work at her desk before sitting down for dinner with my extended family. My sister, who lives in Montreal, arrives, and we catch up.
9 p.m. — I’m off the clock. I open one of the gin cocktails I got earlier and get pulled into a lengthy conversation with my cousins and aunts about food waste. I text back and forth with L., who is staying at my place for the night. She currently lives with her ex-boyfriend, and I don’t like leaving T. alone overnight, so her cat-sitting for me is a win-win.
11:30 p.m. — We wind down for the night, and I inflate my blow-up mattress because my parents and other guests are taking the spare rooms. I get ready for bed and fall asleep after midnight. At some point during the night, one of the cats bites my feet before settling next to me to sleep. Turns out, he also chews my dad’s hearing aid.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

7 a.m. — I’m up bright and early with the sounds of the early risers and the coffee machine. I pull my sleeping bag over my head and doze.
8 a.m. — I log into work and prep a post that’s going out in an hour, then return to the blowup mattress.
9 a.m. — My parents and I pack up our things and leave. We hit the Tim Hortons drive-through on our way out of the city, and I get a breakfast sandwich. Real ones know that you get breakfast from Tim’s but your drink from Starbucks. My mom gladly obliges because I’m the only one who can properly order her favourite drink (it’s an iced vanilla latte with sweet cream cold foam and blonde espresso). My mom pays for the sandwich and my Starbucks drink (an iced white peppermint mocha — it’s Christmas in a cup).
10 a.m. — My mom and I browse a few websites for an area rug for my living room. I moved into my apartment in April but have yet to fully furnish it. I find one that I like and save the link for later. I exchange a few texts with the FaceTime boy from earlier this week and agree to meet up for drinks in a few days.
11:30 a.m. — My mom asks if I need groceries for the week, and I gratefully say yes. We pick up my younger brother from his apartment and head to a grocery store near my place. Something about grocery shopping with your mom hits so differently than shopping alone. I grab hot chocolate, protein pancake mix, eggs, milk, French fries, hash browns, cauliflower, frozen green beans, white mushrooms, lettuce, carrots, strawberries, bacon, popcorn, shaving cream, and new razors. It comes to $129.36, and my dad very kindly pays. My parents like helping in this way, and I definitely do not take it for granted.
12:30 p.m. — My parents help me bring my things up to my apartment, and we measure the space to see if the area rug could work. We agree it would, but I note that it’s a lot of money. My mom points out that I just saved money on groceries. More girl math! They leave, and I put my things away.
1 p.m. — I get started on meal prep for the week: I make my homemade egg bites, chicken souvlaki, seasoned cauliflower, and chicken strips. While everything is cooking, I cut up and wash lettuce, strawberries, carrots, and cucumbers and make two batches of chia pudding. I must prepare things for the week on Sundays, otherwise I have no time to eat well, especially on days I’m in the office and come home exhausted.
4:30 p.m. — I lay out my outfit for the office tomorrow and do some work on my laptop. During a lull, I snack on popcorn and research flights to Australia. I’m hoping that I can make it there to visit L. sometime this winter and have been saving with this goal in mind, but the thought of sitting in an airplane seat for 12-plus hours is not overly appealing.
5:30 p.m. — I clean the kitchen and take the compost and garbage out, then bite the bullet and order the rug. B. texts me to inform me that we are going to start training for a three-mile run together. I tell her I would rather eat glass, and she sends a paragraph-long pep talk about challenging ourselves in 2024. I reluctantly agree, though I have not voluntarily run since gym class in high school. I do more work from the couch. $114.64
7:30 p.m. — I make myself a chicken salad for dinner with matcha ice cream for dessert before taking a quick shower.
9:30 p.m. — Skincare is done, pajamas are on, and I’m waiting on one final product before I can finally shut my laptop down for the day.
10 p.m. — The product is approved, and I physically jump from my desk into bed. I set my alarm for the morning, turn on a white-noise podcast, and promptly fall asleep.
Daily Total: $114.64
If you are experiencing anxiety or depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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