Money Diaries logo

A Week In Wisconsin On A $39,000 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 copywriter who makes $39,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Chobani yogurt.
Occupation: Copywriter
Industry: E-commerce
Age: 25
Location: Wisconsin
Salary: $39,000
Net Worth: -$31,780 (Retirement Balance: $1,100 in a Simple IRA. I contribute 3% from each check and my company matches that 3%, savings account balance: $1,120 (for moving to Chicago), minus debt.)
Debt: credit card: $7,000 student loans: $25,000 medical debt: $2,000
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,100
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $430 (My boyfriend and I split rent 40/60 because he makes $17,000 more than me per year. I'm hoping to get a new job soon so we can split it 50/50. Our rent is $1,000 a month for a two-bed one-bath.)
Credit Card: $400
Student Loans: currently paused (will be $170)
Health Insurance: $0 because I'm on my dad's plan. The insurance at my current job would be $230 a month when I turn 26 in June. This is one of the reasons I'm looking for a new job.
Spotify: $10
Internet: $35 (split with my boyfriend)
Renter's Insurance: $15
Cell Phone: $70
Gym: $10 (I need to cancel this. I joined in June and I have not gone once because I'm afraid of getting COVID there.)
Energy: $50 (split with my boyfriend)
YNAB: $15
Meal Delivery Service: $50/week (split with my boyfriend)
Who? Weekly Patreon: $5
iCloud Storage: $3
Car Insurance: $0 (Dad pays)
Amazon: $0 (Boyfriend pays, but I will split this with him when I get a new job.)
Streaming Services: $0 (Boyfriend pays)
Advertisement
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, definitely. My immediate and extended family had to scrape together money for me to attend a private Catholic high school after my mom made the (regretful) decision to send me there. The school was very focused on getting kids into college and I know my parents and extended family always wanted me to go to college. From my understanding, any college fund I had was spent on paying for high school tuition. Hindsight is always 20/20 and today, I wish I hadn't gone there — but it's hard to convince a 15-year-old to switch schools. I went to the public four-year university in my city and lived at home until I moved in with my boyfriend. I did everything I could to keep costs as low as possible. I worked several service industry and retail jobs throughout college — sometimes two or three at a time. It was awful! I even took a year off school to save money, but I still left with $25,000 in federal loans. The remaining balance (roughly $1,000-$2,000 per semester) was either paid for by me or my dad. My dad refused to co-sign on any private loans and I was not approved for federal Parent Plus loans. Even though my college experience was challenging, I'm extremely grateful I didn't take out any private loans. I have two bachelor's degrees because I pursued two majors and it took me five and a half years to finish.
Advertisement
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I didn't talk about money much with either parent when I was a child and I wasn't educated about money. They never talked to me about credit cards, saving, investing, or retirement. My parents divorced when I was seven and both of them have complicated relationships with money. My dad never remarried and my mom remarried a wealthy, much older man when I was 11. My mom was a huge spender and blew tons of money on clothes, jewelry, makeup, and salon visits. She has always been a very money-obsessed, materialistic person. I started living with only my dad when I was 15 and did not receive any significant financial support from my mom. In fact, she received child support for me even though I wasn't living with her. I have been no contact with my mom since I was 17. On the other hand, my dad always paid in cash for everything and very rarely, if ever, used credit cards. I know he has money saved for retirement, but other than that, his finances remain a mystery to me.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was as a receptionist at a campground five minutes from my dad's house. I started a few weeks before turning sixteen. I got the job for spending money so my dad didn't have to pay for as many things for me. I've been working ever since.
Advertisement
Did you worry about money growing up?
As a child, no. My dad had a well-paying job and we lived comfortably on his income. We took vacations and had nice things. Things changed when my dad lost his job when I was 16. Around this time, I became more cognizant of my dad's financial stress. We were able to live off his savings while he found a new job. I'm thankful he did everything he could to make my brother and I feel like everything was normal during that time.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes, every day. My biggest stressor right now is definitely my credit card debt. I carry a pretty high balance and with that, an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. My credit card debt makes me feel like such a failure. I just want the debt to go away and I dream of making enough money so that I don't have to use credit cards. I made a career change last summer and left a very stressful TV news job for my current copywriting job. I took a 12.5% pay cut because I really wanted to leave my previous job — it was so bad for my mental and physical health. That pay cut combined with 8.5% inflation means I pretty much took a 21% pay cut and I can definitely feel it. I did not rely on credit cards as much before quitting my TV job. Right now, I'm worried about turning 26 and having to pay for my own health insurance because an extra $200+ a month is really going to sting. That, along with student loan payments restarting, is going to be extremely challenging for me financially. I'll be honest: I'm very bitter that I “did everything right” to keep the cost of college as low as possible and get two degrees. I thought I'd be in a much better financial place than I am currently. I sometimes think going to college was a huge waste of money.
Advertisement
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
It was a gradual process. My dad “cut me off” from certain things over time. I never had to pay rent when I lived at home, but I had to pay for nearly everything else (gas, groceries, clothes, other essentials). I was kicked off the family phone plan when I was 21. Today, my dad pays for my car insurance, health insurance, and will help me pay for expensive car repairs or medical bills if I can't afford them. I know my dad would let me move back home if I needed to. I'm extremely blessed to have him in my life.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
No.

Day One

6:45 a.m. — My alarm goes off, and I start my day with NPR's Morning Edition. It's kind of a bummer way to wake up because most of the stories they air lately are about the war in Ukraine. I'm glad I left TV news because I'd be covering these stories, too.
7:20 a.m. — I finally get out of bed and get to work. I'm seriously exhausted! On Saturday night, I went dancing with my friends for the first time since the pandemic started and I partied a bit too hard. (We went to a “Taylor Swift Dance Party” where they had themed Taylor Swift drinks… can you really blame me?) This is day two of my hangover, which is very annoying. I think I'm a little young for a two-day hangover.
Advertisement
12:15 p.m. — I've been feeling groggy all day and now I'm hungry. My boyfriend, T., ate the lasagna I was planning on eating for lunch so I order some food from a bakery. I get a BLT, broccoli cheddar soup, and an iced tea lemonade. I'm hoping the carb + grease + caffeine trio will help soothe my hangover a bit. $16.92
1:55 p.m. — I clock out for the day. I've been on the job hunt for over a month because my current salary isn't working for me. I have a Zoom interview scheduled for 4 p.m. and I'm also expecting a call from a recruiter at another potential employer. I made it to the final round of interviews last week, so I'm really hoping I get an offer. I've interviewed with several companies, but this one is my top choice because the pay and benefits are really, really good. I'm literally shaking with nervousness as I walk to my car. Maybe I shouldn't have had that iced tea…
2:10 p.m. — I receive a call from the recruiter… and I GOT THE JOB!!!!!!!! The job is fully remote and pays double what I'm making now. It also has 100% company-paid health insurance and unlimited PTO. I am so excited I could cry, but it also feels too good to be true. I immediately start feeling anxious that the job offer is going to be rescinded for some reason. I hate my anxiety-ridden brain.
2:45 p.m. — I get home from work and start getting ready for my Zoom interview. Even though I'm going to accept the other job offer, everyone I've met from this company has been very friendly and I don't want to burn a bridge. I just hope they can't tell I'm nursing a hangover.
Advertisement
4 p.m. — Interview time! I'm pretty nervous about this one because it's with a six-person panel. I just had my first-ever panel interview last week and it was definitely intimidating.
5:15 p.m. — That interview is surprisingly stressful! I don't think I'm going to get this offer because I flubbed some of the questions. I close Zoom and order groceries. I get deodorant, body soap, toothpaste, extra-strength Tylenol, KIND Bars, and Chobani yogurt. $29.79
6:45 p.m. — I still feel kind of sick to my stomach so I take a COVID test to ease my mind. Thankfully, it's negative. I wait for my stomach to settle a bit. For dinner, I have half a frozen pizza with hot honey (my latest condiment obsession) while T. and I watch The Batman on HBO.
9 p.m. — I hop in the shower and get ready for bed, ending my night with a TikTok scroll. I'm asleep by 10:30.
Daily Total: $46.71

Day Two

6:45 a.m. — My alarm goes off. I check my phone and have an alert from the Ring app that someone was checking car doors right in our neighborhood overnight. Ugh. I have nothing worth stealing in my car but this kind of stuff still gives me major anxiety. T. and I moved to this neighborhood last February because of a horrible crime streak in our previous neighborhood. Within a matter of months at our old place, there was a fire across the alley from us, his car was broken into and nearly stolen, and someone was murdered in the alley outside our bedroom — literally 15 feet from where we slept. It was terrifying. We broke our lease to get out of there after that, and thankfully the landlord was accommodating. We haven't had a ton of issues here yet, though just last week, someone in our lot had their car broken into.
Advertisement
6:55 a.m. — Morning Edition again. I actually get out of bed “early” today because I have to get gas on the way to work. One of the main reasons we want to move to Chicago is the city's robust public transit system. I loathe driving and always have. I can't wait to have access to a train! I usually budget $50 per pay period for gas, but I've recently upped it to $70 because of the crazy high gas prices. I spend $35 on gas, which gets me half a tank. I start the latest episode of Who? Weekly on the way to work. $35
7:39 a.m. — Somehow, I make it to work 21 minutes early. While I'm waiting for someone to open the door, a parking checker pulls up behind me and tries to give me a ticket for my expired plates. The joke's on him because I got a ticket for that last week! I show him the ticket and he drives off. I then place my ticket in the dashboard (hiding all personal info) in case a different parking checker comes back.
12 p.m. — Time for lunch! This morning, I grabbed a bunch of random items because I still need to pick up my groceries. Today's lunch includes the other half of the frozen pizza I ate last night (with hot honey, of course), some Noosa yogurt and a bag of Tiny Tate's cookies. I longingly look over at my work bestie, C., while he eats the Jimmy John's he ordered. God, I wish that were me…
Advertisement
3 p.m. — I remember I have some Afterpay purchases to pay for. (Yes, I know, this is bad.) I use my credit card to make the payments. I only have a few payments left, and once I get my new job and start making more money, my goal is to stop using Afterpay because they are so predatory. I am in a hell of my own making. $160.61
5:15 p.m. — I stop at Target to pick up my groceries. They are out of Oscar-Mayer Snack Plates (or as I call them, Adult Lunchables), which is what I was planning on eating for lunch the rest of the week. I stop at Pick 'n Save to grab some. They were two for $5, so I grab four. $10
5:30 p.m. — I'm having an early dinner because I'm going to see Olivia Rodrigo tonight! Dinner is some leftover lasagna and garlic bread. I'll probably be having this for the rest of the week, which is fine with me.
7 p.m. — It's almost time to leave for the gig. I don't see the point in putting on a full face of makeup for this concert. There's no hiding the fact that I am going to be one of the oldest people in the crowd. I put my hair in a tiger-print jaw clip from CHUNKS, curl my front pieces, and dab on some Cloud Paint. I'm going to be wearing a mask, so no one is going to see my (old) face anyway.
Advertisement
7:30 p.m. — My Lyft is here! I pre-booked this earlier to avoid surge pricing. The ride is $15.89 and I leave a $3 tip. $18.89
8:30 p.m. — I'm one of those people who always runs hot, and standing in a sold-out crowd is not helping me stay cool. I order a Coke at the bar for $4 and leave a $1 tip. I assumed a soda would be cheaper than water at this venue. $5
10:30 p.m. — I get home from the show and get ready for bed, ending my night with yet another TikTok scroll.
Daily Total: $229.50

Day Three

7:20 a.m. — Unsurprisingly, I'm tired from last night and I'm anxious about quitting my job today. I work for a really small company and I'm worried they're not going to take my resignation well. I'm also worried that if I quit, I'm somehow going to jinx the new job… or something else is going to go wrong. It still feels too good to be true.
10 a.m. — I get to work and quickly click “send” on my resignation email. (I know this isn't the most professional way to quit a job, but my boss works from home.)
12 p.m. — Lunchtime! Today I have a turkey and cheese adult Lunchable with Noosa yogurt.
5 p.m. — I get home from work and reheat another serving of lasagna. I'm not sick of it yet! I spend the rest of my night doing laundry, scrolling TikTok, and playing with my cats. In my building, laundry is $2.50 per load to wash and dry. I do four loads. $10
Advertisement
10:30 p.m. — I fall asleep scrolling TikTok. Again. I need a hobby.
Daily Total: $10

Day Four

7:25 a.m. — Whoops, I forgot to set my alarm last night and I overslept. I'm running late the day after I put in my resignation! Oh well. What are they gonna do, fire me?
8 a.m. — On my way to work, I realize I left my lunch on my couch. UGH. I don't want to get a sandwich from the bakery again, so I stop at an organic foods co-op on the way to work. I order a turkey and goat cheese sandwich with chips. $8.57
8:10 a.m. — While I'm waiting for my sandwich, I notice a cookie I haven't seen before. (I used to work at this co-op, albeit at a different location. I'm very familiar with their offerings.) I grab one along with a bottle of ginger ale. $5.80
12 p.m. — Time to eat lunch! The food I grabbed this morning really hits the spot.
3:15 p.m. — I get an email from Airbnb saying my second payment is complete. T. is in a band and they're playing in Chicago in just over two weeks. I booked the Airbnb with my credit card, and he's going to pay me for his half when he gets paid on Monday. $210.56
5:30 p.m. — Speaking of T. and his band, I took photos of them on my 35mm camera two weeks ago and the photos are finally ready for pickup! I stop by the camera store after work to get the prints.
Advertisement
6 p.m. — I get home and I'm greeted with a pile of cat puke. Great. I clean up the puke, do a load of dishes, and get dinner ready. I'm having — you guessed it! — leftover lasagna and garlic bread.
10:30 p.m. — I fall asleep watching Trixie Mattel's latest video on YouTube. I'm glad I don't like makeup because if I did, I would probably want to buy all of her products.
Daily Total: $224.93

Day Five

7:10 a.m. — I get out of bed a little bit early so I can curl the front pieces of my hair. I haven't washed it since Monday night and I'm running low on dry shampoo. It really needs a little extra oomph today. I put on a blouse and skirt and listen to Who? Weekly on the way to work. One of my calls was played on the show, which is always exciting.
12:10 p.m. — Time for lunch. Today I have an adult Lunchable, Chobani yogurt, and a KIND bar.
2:20 p.m. — The day is dragging. I don't miss working in TV, but I do miss the fast-paced nature of the job. My current job can be so unbelievably boring sometimes. I can't believe I have to do this (work, exist) for at least another 40 years.
4:45 p.m. — I get home from work and want a snack. I throw some frozen sweet potato fries in the air fryer. When they're done, I sprinkle some Maldon salt on them and dip them in pesto aioli. This is a very glamorous and delicious snack. While I'm snacking, I look around the house and feel defeated. I know my weekend is gonna be dedicated to cleaning this mess.
Advertisement
7 p.m. — T. makes mac and cheese with meatballs for dinner. We don't have milk, so the mac tastes a little funky. I fall asleep on the couch around 9:30 and move to the bed around 11:30.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

9:30 a.m. — Unless I have plans, I sleep 12 hours pretty much every Friday night. I love sleeping… maybe a little too much. I get out of bed around 9:30 and wait for T. to wake up. I'm seeing my favorite comedian/celebrity crush tonight, Joe Pera, do a standup set. I'm really excited!
11 a.m. — I make my favorite weekend breakfast: a sesame seed bagel from Trader Joe's with onion cream cheese and a bit of chili crisp. So. Good.
11:30 a.m. — I get to work on cleaning the house. I clean out the fridge, do a load of dishes, and tidy up the living room a bit. It's definitely not as clean as I would like it to be, but I have the whole day tomorrow to clean, too.
12 p.m. — I place a grocery pick-up order at Pick 'n Save. I order ingredients to make Budget Bytes' curry chicken salad (chicken, green onions, raisins, sliced almonds, and plain yogurt), goat cheese, apples, generic Wheat Thins, breadsticks, Chobani lime yogurt, and ginger ale. My weekly grocery budget is spent on food for breakfast and lunch. Each week, T. and I order meal delivery from a local meal prep chef. The entrees are about $11 per serving, and they're healthy, delicious, and locally made. I hate cooking, so this is a luxury that is 100% worth the money to me. The chef was on vacation this week, so we didn't get meals delivered. Thank God for that lasagna. $42.62
Advertisement
4 p.m. — I start getting ready for the comedy show. Doors open at six, and the show is sold out. We want to be close to the front so we can actually see! S. and I grab Jimmy John's on the way. $11.65
6:30 p.m. — T. and I get to the show before my friends and save them four seats. We're in the third row, woo! We each order a drink and buy some merch. He gets a hat, I get a (signed!) poster, a sticker, and a magnet. He pays for the drinks and merch and I tell him I'll Venmo him for my portion tomorrow morning.
9 p.m. — After the show, my friends and I head to a nearby barcade and meet up with another friend. I really don't want to be hungover again, so I only have a few drinks (with a glass of water in between each one). T. pays for the drinks and, again, I tell him I'll Venmo him for mine tomorrow. I spend $12 on the TouchTunes jukebox and play some songs from ABBA, Orville Peck, Beyonce, Prince, Taylor Swift, Gwen Stefani, Mitski, and Olivia Rodrigo. I still have some credits left over for next time. $12
11:45 p.m. — After we have a few drinks, we walk over to a pizza-by-the-slice place. It's packed! T. and I each get one slice and split three breadsticks. He pays and I will Venmo him tomorrow.
1 a.m. — I snuggle with my cats and fall asleep.
Advertisement
Daily Total: $66.27

Day Seven

9:30 a.m. — I wake up and I'm not hungover! Yay! I didn't have a great night's sleep because my cats were being loud and annoying. They like to sleep on the bed with us, which is cute, but they take up a lot of room.
10 a.m. — I do the math to figure out how much money I owe T. from last night. I end up Venmo-ing him $65… whoops! I was not planning on spending that much. I've only recently become comfortable going out again, and I honestly feel like I'm making up for lost time. Even though going out is a bit hard on my wallet, I can't buy these memories. I really, really missed going out with my friends. $65
12:15 p.m. — T. and I go to pick up our grocery orders. When I get home, I meal prep curry chicken salad and clean the kitchen.
5 p.m. — I'm starting to feel super hungry. T. ordered a French baguette with his groceries, so I cut up half of it, toast it and eat it with some of the goat cheese I bought.
7 p.m. — Time to clean the bedroom. I change the sheets, tidy up some clothes, and measure the space where I'm going to put a desk when I start working from home in a few weeks. I also clean off a shelf to sell on Facebook Marketplace and measure some clothes that don't fit me anymore. I'll probably sell these on Instagram.
Advertisement
8 p.m. — T. orders Jimmy John's and offers to buy me a sandwich. Thank you! I eat ⅔ of the sandwich and save the rest for tomorrow.
9 p.m. — I hop in the shower, brush my teeth and get ready for bed.
Daily Total: $65
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

Advertisement