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A Week In Salem, OR On A $214,000 Joint Salary

Photo: Courtesy of Farmacy.
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.

This week: a communications specialist who makes $214,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Honey Halo moisturizer.
Content Warning: This diary contains references to body image issues.
Occupation: Communications specialist
Industry: Labor
Age: 34
Location: Salem, OR
Salary: $214,000
Assets: I currently have about $150,000 in equity in the house I bought eight months ago, $85,000 in my 401(k), and $17,000 in two HYSAs.
Debt: $574,000 ($487,000 mortgage; $50,000 student loans; $28,000 car loan; $9,000 home renovation credit card)
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $2,850. My partner, who has two income streams, earns $2,000 biweekly, and $2,300 monthly.
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: $3,811
Monthly Loan Payments: $1,087 for two car payments; $219 in student loans.
All Other Monthly Expenses:
Cell Phones & Devices: $200
Gas/Electric: $300-400 (We bought a very old 3,300 square foot home for the charm, sigh.)
Water: $125
Internet: $90
Garbage: $35
Streaming Subs: $55
Donations: $50 (Oregon Food Bank and Planned Parenthood)
House reno credit card: $1,000
401(k): $700 per pay period
Annual Expenses:
Car insurance: $1,200
Chase Sapphire Reserve Fees: $650
Amazon Prime: $119

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 mom never pushed me to go to college, but I got good grades and school came easily to me so I always planned on it. I saw it as the only route out of poverty, which I now know isn’t totally true and I wish I had had more career guidance when I was a teen. I paid for school with some scholarships and mostly student loans.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I had very few conversations with my mom about money, and they were mostly about how we didn’t have any. It wasn’t until I moved in with my grandparents when I was 19 that I learned how to budget and balance my checkbook (lol), and my grandma taught me the old adage of “Pay yourself first.” I didn’t actually put that into practice until much later because I made so little, but it’s good advice and I do follow it now.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I babysat from the age of 12, but I got my first W-2 gig at a fast food restaurant when I was 15. I wasn’t even legally allowed to work, but no one seemed to care? I grew up with a single mom who had a severe mental illness so she was unable to work, so I got a job as soon as I could to be able to afford school clothes that weren’t donated to me and to make sure I could participate in school activities.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Constantly. And at far too young an age. I remember realizing we were poor when I was in elementary school and I wanted to pack my lunches so I could eat with the pack-lunch kids (looking back, separating the school-lunch and pack-lunch kids was a totally weird and messed up practice at my school...), but we didn’t really have enough food for me to bring. We also moved a lot because my mom was on Section 8 (housing) and it was hard to find housing, so we stayed with relatives and on friends’ couches for a few years. I think I worried less about the money piece and more about the instability of my life as a child, but as I got older, I realized how connected they were.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes and no. I know that I have enough saved to weather most situations, and my spending habits have become a lot less emotion-driven than they used to be. But I do worry a lot about retirement and long-term care for myself. I have a chronic illness and I don’t know how it will affect me in the next 20 years. I work pretty hard, but I am still constantly trying to figure out how to make extra money so that I can invest more and build up that safety net.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I would say as soon as I moved out of my mom’s house at 17, but my grandparents did let me move in with them for a few months before I started college at 19. I was homeless at the time, and they wanted to make sure I could save up enough to actually move to my college town.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My grandparents gave me an old car of theirs when I was 17 that got me almost all the way through college. It wasn’t nice, and it wasn’t really income, but it allowed me to find better job opportunities while I was in school so I could take out fewer loans and take care of myself.

Day One

8 a.m. — The second alarm goes off for the morning, and my partner D. and I make a pitiful attempt at morning sex, but we’re both exhausted. I slept horribly due to a gallbladder attack last night, and it’s still twinging a bit. I forgo the usual morning walk with the dogs and go straight to the kitchen to soak their food and let them outside. The kitchen is in shambles from yesterday because my brother came over to watch “the game” (football, I think?) and D. made a bunch of party food. I will deal with this mess fully later, but I unload the dishwasher and make myself a smoothie with frozen berries, a banana, Greek yogurt, and hemp seeds.
11 a.m. — I cannot get myself going today. I am going to LA this week for my birthday, and I have a few things that I need to tie up at work before I leave, but I am struggling. I decide to upgrade the seats for our flight because it’s my birthday and the cost is pretty insignificant, plus I have a travel credit through my credit card which covers it.
12 p.m. — I have made little progress on the work front today, and I realize I never made coffee. At the risk of screwing myself later, I take a break from my desk to brew some in the French press and snack on an apple and one jalapeño popper from yesterday. I am trying not to eat food with a high fat content because of the gallbladder, but we don’t have much in the house since we’re leaving in a few days. I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me.
3 p.m. — I’ve done as much work as I can manage today, which is not much. I need to make some returns and ship some boots I sold on Poshmark, so I search the house for packing tape for a full 30 minutes before I find it at eye level in the garage, next to all the other tapes. The struggle. I change out of my stained sweatshirt into a more acceptable sweatshirt so I can go out in public.
5 p.m. — D. gets home and starts making dinner. I am hungry, so I have a bit of Good Culture cottage cheese (IYKYK) and some of the French bread leftover from yesterday. We’re having chicken and wild rice soup. The chicken thighs we were going to use have gone bad, so D. runs to Fred Meyer to get a rotisserie chicken and some oat milk, and I ask for more tart cherry juice for my sleepy-time mocktails. He comes home with an unsanctioned pint of Häagen-Dazs that I can’t eat, earning him a deeply furrowed brow and some side eye. The soup is so good that I forgive him. $46
7 p.m. — I’m so tired and I’m feeling anxious and depressed about how my body feels and looks lately. I’ve been dealing with some more intense symptoms of a chronic illness I was diagnosed with a few years ago, and the gallbladder pain has gotten much worse over the past year. I’ve finally decided to have it removed after trying a lot of holistic remedies, and my surgery is in less than three weeks. I’ve gained about 30 pounds since we bought a house and moved out of the city seven months ago, and it has taken a toll on me emotionally and physically. Exercising is really tough right now because of all the illness, so I am working on accepting the body I’m in. I journal about it for an hour and then D. comes into the bedroom and we snuggle and talk for another hour. I make a magnesium and tart cherry juice mocktail, do my skincare routine, and then get into bed to play NYT games until it’s bedtime.
Daily Total: $46

Day Two

8 a.m. — I got much better sleep last night and I am feeling way more energetic today! D. had an early meeting, so he left before I got up. I take the dogs out for a 30-minute walk, then feed them and make myself some eggs with avocado. Plant-based fats tend not to mess with my gallbladder as badly, but it’s still a crap-shoot. I brew a French press and then sit down to work.
11 a.m. — Drink my second cup of coffee with oat milk and some coconut sugar. I have a bunch of little tasks to complete at work today and I know I have time to get them all done, so I am taking a break to look for something to wear for my birthday. I’m trying to buy only secondhand clothes this year, but the dresses I ordered on Poshmark for my vacation don’t fit as well as I wanted them to. I am trying (not very successfully) to feel okay with the size of my body right now, so I allow myself to buy a few dresses from brands that usually fit me at Nordstrom Rack. I have them delivered two-day shipping to my friend’s place in LA so I will get them on the day we arrive. I also place a second order for some new bras since the girls have given me a strike notice on account of the current working conditions. Cross my fingers at least one fits. $265
1 p.m. — I crank out the items on my to-do list for work, and then take 30 minutes to take measurements and photos for clothes I’m selling. I am sad to let a lot of these things go, but I don’t need a closet full of clothes that make me look like a busted can of biscuits. I eat some leftover soup and bread for lunch (still slaps). I spend the rest of the afternoon finishing up some interview transcripts and formatting them for a project. D. comes home early from work with stomach bug symptoms. I pray that it’s just all the Velveeta he ate yesterday and that he’s not getting sick right before this vacation that we desperately need.
4 p.m. — Time to close out the budget spreadsheet for the month. I check my banking app and my most-used credit card app and see that the electric bill was charged today (included in monthly expenses). My paycheck was deposited, along with some earnings from clothes I’ve sold recently. I pay off half the statement balance of my credit card and leave the rest in the checking account to cover the mortgage and a few other bills. I get a couple of last-minute requests from work, which I would normally ignore until tomorrow, but I’m feeling generous and focused. I eat a couple of blood oranges.
6 p.m. — The whole chicken that I put in the fridge to thaw almost 48 hours ago is still frozen solid. Plan B. D. goes to the bougie grocery store and gets another whole chicken and some veggies. He roasts it with some potatoes and carrots. I am so blessed that I don’t have to cook very often anymore, even if we do eat later a lot of the time because Mr. ADHD Iron Chef needs to marinate a chicken at 6 p.m. While the chicken cooks, I shower, then journal, then listen to my book. I’m listening to Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez. It’s pretty cringe (in the best way!). I just read Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan and I need a palate cleanser. $26
9:30 p.m. — Skincare, sleepytime mocktail, NYT games, sex, lights out.
Daily Total: $291

Day Three

8 a.m. — I have a LOT to get done today in preparation to leave tomorrow. I walk the dogs, feed them and myself (eggs and avocado again), and then work feverishly for a couple of hours so I can get my last few tasks out of the way. I chat on Marco Polo with my best friend in between tasks and she tells me that one of our mutual friends is struggling with their mental health and finances right now and needs help with groceries and a textbook for school. I ask her to find out how much they need so I can help cover. I don’t do a lot of donations to organizations, but I give mutual aid as often as I can.
10:45 a.m. — Time to throw on a semi-cute athleisure outfit and head out to my acupuncture appointment. I don’t know if acupuncture is really doing anything for me, but I like laying in a dimly lit room for an hour — it forces me to slow down. This is my first appointment with a new practitioner since we moved, and they don’t charge my co-pay today. Not sure why.
12 p.m. — D. texts that he’s feeling worse than yesterday and is going to come home early. I have a feeling that I might be going on this trip alone, which would be a bummer. I would still get to see my friend and have fun for my birthday, but we had a whole weekend of plans together and I know he’d be sad to miss it. I get home from acupuncture and eat some of the leftover soup from two nights ago. My brother texts me to ask for gas and grocery money for the two nights he’ll be house- and dog-sitting for us. He’s about to move in with me and pay a laughably small amount of rent so he can pay off debt and build his savings, and still expects me to pay him, lol. I give him a moderate amount of older sisterly shit before sending him $50. $50
2:30 p.m. — I get through a few last-minute tasks at work and do a quick check-in with my boss to make sure he has access to all my designs and documents. I have some leftover chicken soup at my desk.
4:30 p.m. — D. finds out that his boss has COVID-19. He takes a test, and it’s positive. I am devastated. He works in social services with high-risk populations and this is one of the hazards of the job. I test negative, but I decide it’s not worth the risk to get on a plane. I text my friend and tell her the situation. This is the second year in a row my birthday has been ruined by illness. At least I don’t have violent food poisoning in a D.C. hotel this time. Ugh... I tell my brother that D. has COVID-19 so he doesn’t need to house sit, and he sends me back the $50. I’m so sad.
6 p.m. — I mask up and head to the grocery store since we have no food in the house. I get chicken, a couple of BOGO chuck roasts, a bunch of veggies, a pineapple, some kiwis, oat milk, a French loaf and some seasonings. I also grab two more covid tests. $105
8 p.m. — D. feels so bad about the trip, but I tell him that I know it’s not his fault and we can always reschedule. The airline was surprisingly chill about refunding the tickets. We eat salads with the leftover chicken for dinner. I’m worried I already have COVID-19 and I’m going to have to reschedule my surgery.
11 p.m. — Skincare, mocktail, listen to a new book (The Happy Couple by Naoise Dolan), lights out.
Daily Total: $105

Day Four

8 a.m. — I think about working the rest of the week since my trip was canceled, but then I realize that’s the dumbest thought I have ever had. Still, I figure I should try not to rot the entire time. I take the dogs out and feed them, then I make some sausage English muffins with egg for D. and me. I take a shower and then lay back down for a little while.
1 p.m. — We’re out of ibuprofen, so I have to make another grocery store trip. I test for COVID-19 (negative), mask up and go to Fred Meyer. While I’m there, I get some pistachios, grapes, apples, bell peppers, ice cream, apple juice, pickles, cereal, and gummy candies ($56). On my way home, I place an order for pickup at our favorite smash burger truck and grab it to take home, gallbladder be damned ($32). $88
5:30 p.m. — We’ve been on the couch watching Royal Pains for the last several hours, eating gummy candies. No plans to change position.
8:45 p.m. — D. throws together a chicken salad with apples, grapes, celery, and mayonnaise, then toasts some French bread slices to make little sandwiches. We take a break from this cringey TV show to watch 45 minutes of trailers for movies, only to put the show back on until around midnight. I do a quick skincare routine, sleepy-time mocktail, and get into bed.
Daily Total: $88

Day Five

9:30 a.m. — After yesterday’s rot-a-thon, I’m going to be a tiny bit productive today. I let the dogs out in the backyard and prepare their food. I heat up one of the sausage muffins I made yesterday and douse it in Frank’s. I was planning to give the kitchen and bathrooms a good scrub on Wednesday night before we left, but now I have nothing but time. After I eat, I start on the kitchen. I listen to The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. I am about a third of the way through and I like it so far.
12 p.m. — My kitchen is sparkling. I throw the rest of the rotisserie chicken into a bowl and shred it for some more chicken salad. I know it’s a gamble to eat more mayo right now, but I am craving comfort food and feeling lucky, despite recent events... D. eats with me and we talk about dinner plans. He’s going to make birria in the instant pot, and I’m going to make corn tortillas. After we eat, I grab my fabric pens and a pair of printed white Vans I’ve been working on and finish coloring them in.
4:30 p.m. — I was planning to take the dogs on the trail today, but the day just really got away from me. We do our neighborhood route for 30 minutes. When we get home, I lay on the couch and journal for a while. D. starts dinner at around 6 p.m. and I make the dough for the tortillas and put it in the refrigerator. I have to drive to Portland tonight to pick up my other best friend and temporary roommate, F., from the airport. She’s moving across the country at the end of the month and is staying with us until then. She knows D. has COVID-19, but she doesn’t really have anywhere else to go, so we are just going to mask up and hope for the best. D. and I both test for COVID-19 and somehow we’re both negative? I order some more tests so we can retest tomorrow. $60
8:30 p.m. — Dinner is finally ready, and it’s so frickin’ delicious. I want to eat 14 tacos but I don’t want to be in pain later.
10:30 p.m. — I do my skincare routine and then head out the door to make the hour-ish drive to the airport. I grab some sour gummy watermelons on my way out.
1:30 a.m. — We finally get home and I crash immediately.
Daily Total: $60

Day Six

10:30 a.m. — Finally roll out of bed and take the dogs out for our morning walk. I make scrambled eggs with some of the avocado sauce from last night and a side of raspberries. Then I wash all the dishes and wipe down the counters. The COVID-19 tests have been delivered, but I’m going to wait for D. to take one before I do. No sense in wasting a test when I haven’t tested positive the last three days. My friend ships the dresses I sent to her house, which costs $15 on top of the express shipping I already paid to get them there in time for my trip, lollll. I venmo her $25 for her trouble, because she’s a fellow queer and oat milk lattes in LA are expensive as hell. $25
1:30 p.m. — D. apparently doesn’t have COVID-19 anymore, according to the second test. It doesn’t really change our plans for the day though. He plays video games while F. and I chat on the couch and work with her new tarot deck. We all eat leftover birria for lunch. D. and I finish a puzzle that we started yesterday.
4:30 p.m. — D. buys me a couple of things for my birthday with a credit he has on Amazon from the original present he bought me (a countertop ice maker that stopped working within two weeks). I have been wanting to try the Honey Halo moisturizer from Farmacy, and a sample perfume set from Imaginary Authors. According to girl math, this is free!
6 p.m. — No one wants to cook, so we order Thai. I get tom kha pho and potstickers, and they’re both surprisingly good. I’ve had a lot of shitty food since we moved here and it makes me regret the decision to move out of the city even more. I’m glad to find a good place in my neighborhood. I have a couple of glasses of sake with dinner. We all cozy up in the living room and play Trivia Murder Party 2 (it’s not actually trivia about murder, lol). $88
10:30 p.m. — F. puts on a dating show from a couple years ago called The One That Got Away, and we immediately become invested. We watch four episodes and suddenly it’s 2:30 a.m. I make a mocktail for me and D. and then quickly do my skincare routine and get into bed.
Daily Total: $113

Day Seven

10 a.m. — D. and I get some snuggling in, which leads to me giving him a back massage, which leads to sex. I get up after and walk the dogs, then feed them. It’s almost noon by the time we get back, so I just eat my leftover pho for brunch.
1:30 p.m. — I’m laying on the couch journaling while D. plays video games. We like doing our own stuff in the same room together. After an hour, I get ready and head to Costco. I get olive and avocado oil, chicken and beef bouillon, pistachios, soy sauce, hemp seeds, chicken, ground beef, salmon, toilet paper, wine, and a couple of snacks. Costco needs to chill the f out, because the total is $284. Luckily, we only come here about once every other month. $284
5:30 p.m. — I have started two audiobooks in the last week, but I have two real-life books that are already overdue at the library. I start Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang. I get through about 75 pages and I am definitely enjoying it. D. makes an Italian wild rice and veggie soup with some chicken thighs. We watch the last episode of the dating show while we eat. F. and I yell and groan at the TV.
8:30 p.m. — F. goes to Fred Meyer to get bread, sausage, and a few other things to make me a special crème brûlée French toast for my birthday tomorrow. I’ve done enough lounging this weekend; I think I might drive out to the hot springs or go check out some antique malls to celebrate. $54
Daily Total: $338.00

The Breakdown

Weekly Total $$ Spent: $1041.00
Food & Drink: $691.00
Entertainment: $0.00
Home & Health: $60.00
Clothes & Beauty $265.00
Transportation $0.00
Other $25.00
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