A Week In Forest Hills, NY, On A $88,000 Salary

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 Manager who makes $88,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Old Navy masks.
Occupation: Communications Manager
Industry: Education
Age: 30
Location: Forest Hills, NY
Salary: $88,000 (recently reduced by 5% due to COVID constraints)
Net Worth: $9,048
Debt: ~$20,000
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $2,200
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,950
Car Loan + Personal Loan: $491 (The personal loan I took out to cover credit card debt; careful in your early 20s, kids.)
Garage: $331.13
Every Plate: $152
Netflix/AppleTV: $17.98 (Mom pays for Amazon Prime/Hulu)
Electric: $100 (I'm averaging, it's as low as $50 in the winter, and as high as $150 in summer, apartment pays for water/gas.)
Internet: $55
Phone: $0 (Mom has a great retirement plan and nicely still pays it!)
Car Insurance: $121
Pet Insurance: $21.97
Acorns Investing: $1
FabFitFun Box: $49.99/quarter
Locast Donation: $5.50 (I give this to a program that supports free access to broadcast television stations over the internet, just like rabbit ears would have done in the old days. The donation also allows me access to their signal.)

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, it was never a question as everyone in my family has gone to college and what I wanted to do required a degree. I went to a private university. I gave up a full ride at a public school to attend my school because it has the one of the best communications schools in the country. I don't regret it because I definitely got opportunities and openings I don't believe I would have gotten otherwise. More than half of my costs were covered through scholarships and grants. I took out loans for the remaining. My mom (single-parent household) helped where she could, but didn't have much to contribute as we almost went bankrupt when I was in high school. I took out loans to cover the remaining costs and came out with about $35,000 in loans. I have been paying them since graduation, and as mentioned earlier, now that my mom is in a much better place, she has taken over the last $15,000 of my loan.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn't have outright conversations, but I was always taught to be a hard worker. As I grew up with a single parent, we didn't have a lot of extra money growing up and I had to get a job at 16 if I wanted to have any money of my own to do things with (I never had an allowance, etc). When I was young, my mom lost her high-paying job during a recession and couldn't find another one, so ended up in a close to entry-level job. I saw how much she struggled to make ends meet for us and never wanted to be in that position if I could afford not to be. I'm fairly conservative with my money and don't ever let my savings drop below $5,000.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My technical first job was two jobs — one as a receptionist at an assisted living facility and one at a movie theater. I worked at the movie theater after school and the assisted living facility on weekends. My first "real" job after college was a local news producer in my hometown (I only recently made the change to PR from journalism). I got it because I wanted to work in news and it's a stepping stone and good base to learn local news before going to network news.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes. We almost went bankrupt when I was in high school. I appreciate that my mother hid it very well and I didn't realize until after the fact how close we were to that happening. But I now want to make sure I'm never in that position if I can avoid it.

Do you worry about money now?
Occasionally, but it comes more from the fact that I'm so anxious about money and always having enough. My mother jokes when I say I'm broke, is it real broke or my version of broke? As an adult, I've never had less than $4,000 in the bank between checking and savings.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
22. I have some savings, but otherwise, I'm on my own. If I really needed major help, my mother is now in a situation that she could likely help some.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
No, not consistently/large sums. I received about $3,000 when my grandmother died that went toward a computer for college and my mother helped pay the last of my loans.

Day One

9:45 a.m. — Good morning! It's Sunday and I have a full day planned. Now that New York and the surrounding areas have been slowly coming out of quarantine, I've been trying to see friends/family in safe outdoor locations. Today, I'm off to New Jersey to first visit my aunt and then see one of my best friends. I wake up and spend 15 minutes of cuddling time with my cat, N., and then start getting ready.
11 a.m. — I'm on my way! The one nice thing about quarantine? Traffic is way lighter than normal. I stop at Dunkin' to get a coffee and wrap for the ride (actual meal is about $7, but I pay $15 to top up my DD card). Let me explain my car real quick: Pre-pandemic, I had it because I do community theater in deep Queens where there are no good transport options and it also makes it easier to visit my single mother who lives about two hours north of the city. I tried not having a car for five years in NYC and using Ubers to get around for theater and it cost me honestly about what a car would. It's also helpful during the pandemic to ensure I don't have to take public transportation and makes me feel safer. $15
12:15 p.m. — I get to my aunt's house and she lets me sit inside instead of out in the heat! I think part of the reason is because I actually recently found out that I likely had COVID back in March, so I'm now considered somewhat "safer" (more on that whole situation later). It's nice to see her, and we spend about 90 minutes catching up and chatting about the state of the world and then I drive to New Jersey.
2 p.m. — Get to my friend's house and it's so good to see her! K. and her husband moved out to live with her parents before quarantine to save money while they built their house and it worked out pretty well for them with all the lockdowns. I check my watch and all of a sudden it's 7! I wasn't planning on staying this long and rush out. My cat is going to be mad at me and pet guilt is the worst kind of guilt.
7:15 p.m. — I stop to get gas as I only have a quarter tank left. Gas is so cheap in Jersey still AND I don't have to pump it myself. Two birds, one stone. $14
7:20 p.m. — I stop at Burger King for dinner. I don't usually eat this much fast food, but it's been a long day. $9.84
9 p.m. — Finally home! I apologize profusely to my cat and give her some extra treats to assuage my guilt. Watch TV for an hour, and then head to bed. It's Monday tomorrow (ugh). Anyone else still get the Sunday scaries even when working from home?
Daily Total: $38.84

Day Two

9:30 a.m. — Phone alarm goes off. I've been playing with fire and waking up pretty late since I started working from home. Even though I technically start at 9, I rarely get emails before 10, which is also when I have a daily morning meeting. As usual, nothing exciting in my email so I get up, brush my teeth, take my vitamins, and then go snuggle on the couch with the cat for a few. I heat up a Trader Joe's Chicken Tikka Masala for lunch around noon.
4 p.m. — I have a dermatologist appointment. I found out that I have COVID antibodies. I'm pretty sure I was one of the original people sick in NYC in late Feb. For me, it was super mild, like a cold. At the time, no one thought it was coronavirus, I was just stuffed up, had a cough but it was wet (sorry, ew) and believed it to be from the nasal drip. Only weird thing was I had a few nights I woke up soaked in sweat (obviously had a fever), but otherwise just felt general cold crumminess. I'm fully recovered, but still have some things. The most concerning is my hair has been falling out. I'd bet I've lost about half my hair. I used to have super thick hair, so this is a really psychological mindf***. I know others who had COVID who have also been experiencing this. The doc first wants me to get a blood test to check things. I hate blood tests, but so be it. I pay my $60 copay at the front before I leave. $60
5 p.m. — I scheduled all my medical appointments in one day because they're close together. I head over to my chiropractor. I've had lower back issues for years now. I was managing it really well until quarantine started and I went through three months of not seeing anyone, paired with a bad work from home setup, and a move (I moved midway through quarantine, it was an overall good decision, but an ordeal to make happen). I've gotten my visits with him back up to about once every three weeks, which isn't too far from where I used to be. My copay for him is $45. $45
6 p.m. — I'm still in a bad mood from the dermatologist situation and decide to grab food. I get food from Chipotle (burrito bowl and free guac from a coupon) and a slice of tiramisu from one of the best bakeries in NYC! I then walk home and eat, a little frustrated because Chipotle put beans in my burrito bowl, which I hate and are hard to pick out. Oh well, not the end of the world. I eat around them, watch TV, and work on an embroidery project I've been working on. $16.50
Daily Total: $121.50

Day Three

9:30 a.m. — Up and at 'em. Same drill, check emails, cat cuddle, get to work.
11:30 a.m. — I run out to the CVS across the street to pick up a prescription from the dermatologist. She prescribed me a steroid cream for my scalp to start using until I see her again with blood test results. I also stop at Starbucks and grab an iced coffee, but it's paid for by money I have on my card. $15
4:45 p.m. — I have a social distance date tonight! My first one going back on the apps after removing myself during the quarantine months because I hate Zoom dates. I drive to Brooklyn to grab food and then walk to a park. We meet in front of a restaurant, he's not wearing a mask (I am, we don't know what antibodies do yet!), which is already strike one for me. He asks me if he needs one and I say it's his choice but mine's staying on. We get food and I pay for my own mediocre sandwich (not always a strike, but he's already one down, so strike two). We sit at a park bench and get to eating and he tells me he was in NASHVILLE recently. When I ask why he says because he was bored with NYC being in lockdown. I asked him how long ago, it was only a week and a half ago. NOPE. He should be self-quarantining. I quickly wrap it up and head home, frustrated by the complete lack of caring on his part. WEAR YOUR MASKS, GUYS. $13.45
Daily Total: $28.45

Day Four

4:30 a.m. — Hello, 4:30 a.m., my old friend. I've always had some issues sleeping through the night, but they've been worse during lockdown. Thanks, anxiety. I also think it may be related to having COVID. I've joined some support groups and other people have had similar issues with staying asleep. I start browsing my phone (I know it's bad to do but here we are). Old Navy gets me with an ad for masks. They have super cute cloth masks, and let's be real, we're going to need them for a while so might as well be cute and sustainable. I buy a pack of masks along with a few new t-shirts because I don't wear real clothes anymore now that I work from home indefinitely. $56.78
9:30 a.m. — Time to actually get up. Another blah day. I do PR for an education company. I'm lucky to have kept my job, albeit with a pay cut, during this time, as we had a lot of layoffs. Despite the layoffs, work has still been a bit lighter than normal, partially because schools are super wonky right now. I feel grateful that I work for our corporate company, not one of the units, which provides me a little more job security. I answer some emails and work on a PowerPoint I'm trying to make for an upcoming presentation for one of our c-suite members.
6 p.m. — I finish up my work and make my dinner. I'm making one of my meals from EveryPlate, blackened chicken penne. Yum. Let me explain the dinner box. They help me eat better and give me better portion sizes and also teach me to cook better. I've found if I cook myself, I only know how to make so many things and I can't rely on myself to find and try new things. This way I get some variation and fun meals. I also have found that it's not more expensive than me going to the grocery store. I finish, eat my meal (it's great!), and watch TV and continue my embroidery. Yes, I am actually 80 years old, thank you very much.
Daily Total: $56.78

Day Five

9:30 a.m. — Happy Friday eve! Thursdays are actually my busiest day at work. First I have a trivia tournament! My company is great about trying to keep us engaged even working from home, so we are doing a Zoom trivia tournament. My team kind of sucks, but it's still so much fun! This is our last game of the season and we... lose spectacularly. But it was still so much fun!
1 p.m. — I get caught by a Seamless deal and bad time management skills. I have a 90-minute LinkedIn Live show I work on (don't worry, I'm not the one who is live) every Thursday, and with the tournament, I realize I don't have time to actually make food. I have a $10 off coupon for my favorite sushi restaurant... the catch? It's $10 off when you spend $30 or more. I order food for today and a bento box to put in the fridge for tomorrow, so I feel slightly better about spending the money? I just wish sushi wasn't so expensive, because it is so good. Philadelphia rolls forever. I eat my food as I monitor live questions for the show. $32
6 p.m. — Wrap up my day and go to the kitchen to make another meal. Herbed steak with mashed potatoes and kale tonight. It's another great meal, so I'm satisfied. After this, I have a Zoom call with friends from school. One of the surprising good things from this lockdown is that it rekindled some old friendships. This group was always friendly, but we didn't talk a ton. Now we do a weekly catchup/game night/whatever we want to. We're all theater nerds, so last week we coordinated a Hamilton watch. It was ALMOST as good as being together. We chat for a few hours, and then I head to bed.
Daily Total: $32

Day Six

9:30 a.m. — It's Friday today! Yay! My Fridays are pretty easy at work and my boss tells me that I can sign off early. I decide not to, because due to poor time management skills, I'm not as far as I wanted to be with my PowerPoint presentation. Anyone else feel like they really can't focus when they're always working from home?
7 p.m. — Finally, a zero spend day for me! I make myself a sandwich and soup (I'm out of my meals), and log on to Zoom for a board meeting. I run PR/communications for a local community theater group (I told you guys I like theater), and we've been having weekly board meetings the last few months, both to touch in, and to rewrite our bylaws. The theater is very by the book, and we are planning to add two members to our board and need to amend everything to do this and then get it approved by our membership. It's a bit tedious to talk legalese, but we're getting there. I can't wait until we can get back to actual theater. We had to postpone our main fall show until November of next year.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

10 a.m. — It's Saturday! Finally! I sleep in a little, but my stomach wakes me up. I go to the bathroom and then actually put on real clothes because I'm going to meet friends for brunch! New York City has turned into a bevy of outdoor restaurants, and one of our favorite ones has finally opened up. I finish in the bathroom, do a full face of makeup (tinted moisturizer, eyeshadow palette, eyeliner, and mascara, all from Tarte), and wear a sundress (the first time in a dress this year!), because it's just so hot out.
12:15 p.m. — I'm running a little late, so I speed walk the half-mile to brunch. My friends are already there, oops. I'm usually the early one, but my body had other ideas today. It's still a bit weird to have everyone in masks, except for when eating, but it's nice to at least have a semblance of normalcy back. We get a round of piña coladas, and I get a dish with chicken, rice, and beans. It's HUGE. I wrap up half to take home for later. We stop at that bakery I mentioned earlier again for dessert. They have the best gelato too. We sit in a nearby park and catch up, before heading our separate ways. I walk back to my apartment. $53.51
6:30 p.m. — I warm up some food for dinner. I take leftover risotto (this was the third meal from my dinner box) and add in the chicken from earlier today. I heat it all up in a pot and it is a great decision, so good. I finish up and, you guessed it, back on the couch with the cat and my embroidery. I almost forgot to tell you guys what I'm watching. I've been watching the show, Greek, from the 2010s. My friends used to love it, but I never watched it. It's fun (I love Scott Michael Foster), but it's amazing what passed in 2007 that would not fly now. I wrap up and head to bed, getting ready to see a friend out on Long Island tomorrow, who I haven't seen since we went into quarantine and I can't wait!
Daily Total: $53.51
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