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A Week In Madison, WI, On A $92,500 Salary

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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 corporate communications manager who makes $92,500 per year and spends some of her money this week on a cabin rental.
Occupation: Corporate communications manager
Industry: Communications
Age: 25
Location: Madison, WI
Salary: $92,500
Net Worth: $51,774.09 ($24,040.23 in an HYSA, $24,775.24 in retirement accounts split between a Roth IRA and 401(k), $2,958.62 in a checking account).
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (monthly): $5,482
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $900, for the smaller bedroom in a two-bedroom apartment shared between three people. My roommates share the larger bedroom. Total is $2,400/month.
Loan: $300 to my parents for their old car
401(k): $385.43 (pre-tax, from my paycheck)
Health Insurance: $691 (pre-tax, from my paycheck)
Wi-Fi: $23.30
Electricity: ~$10
Cell Phone: on my parents’ plan
Car Insurance: on my parents’ plan
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. My parents are traditional Asian immigrants who came to America to give their children more opportunities. I feel fortunate that my parents never compared us to other kids in our academics, but they definitely expected my brother and me to do well and go to college. I ended up going to a school that covered 100% of my demonstrated need.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I received pocket money sporadically but had nothing consistent. I knew that my parents were occasionally worried about money, but I never stressed about food on the table or my basic needs. Once my brother and I hit college age, we started talking more about our family’s financial state, and now, I frequently check in with my parents and my brother about our individual financial states.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I worked in admin over my junior and senior year summers in high school. I saved what I earned to have as my spending money in college.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Not really. I grew up in a stable financial environment — just without a lot of extras — and was taught to save. I’ve only recently become more willing to spend on expensive items due to my job and career ambitions, and I often think that my middle school self who insisted on only wearing one hoodie and jacket with khaki pants would laugh at me now.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes, in the sense that I don’t know if I’m optimizing it. I make a very good salary and know I’m in good shape with my savings, but I worry that I’m not equipped to make big financial decisions. I don’t understand and am very intimidated by the idea of investing. Because of my work, I’m also surrounded by a lot of high-earners which makes me self-conscious about my own ability to handle money and what financial state I project. I’m not proud of it, but I’m very image-conscious.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I’m not sure if I would call myself financially responsible for myself, even now. I’m still on my parents’ phone plan, but that’s mostly out of convenience rather than me not being able to afford it. I’m also still on their car insurance. When I was 23, I had just started my full-time job and my part-time master’s program, which I paid for through a combination of scholarships and my own savings. During that time, my parents would occasionally venmo me if I was in the red at the end of the month. Now, I handle all my bills and payments myself, except the aforementioned phone plan and car insurance. I do also know that my parents and my brother would step in if I found myself without housing or a job. I would do the same for them.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My grandma gave me money a few times as a kid. I’m unsure of the exact amount, but my parents put it towards our college funds.

Day One

7:30 a.m. — I wake up and force myself out of bed. It’s always so hard for me to wake up during the winter, but I quickly get ready with some Biossance cleanser, toner, and moisturizer, and then top it off with Dr. Jart’s color corrector. I wear a nice suit set because we’re in the middle of hosting finalist interviews at our company, and it’s my job to shepherd the candidates throughout their day. After eating a piece of baguette, I head to work.
8:15 a.m. — I arrive at work a little early to set things up for our candidate today. Even though I’m in the corporate comms department, our chief of staff likes me and has, over the past year or so, been giving me more responsibility. I set up snacks, beverages, and a loaner laptop in our interview room and then double check the interview schedule for today.
8:45 a.m. — The candidate arrives. I greet them and walk them through their schedule and give them a brief office tour. I put on my best professional and friendly face and say yes to anything they ask.
9:15 a.m. — After settling the first interviewer in, I head back to my desk. I sit one floor above the interview room, so today will be a lot of running up and down the stairs. I try to get some of my own work done in between.
11:15 a.m. — I run out to pick up lunches for the candidate and their interviewers. The lunches are expensed, including the lemon tart I add for myself ($5.25). This is my favorite part about running these interviews — a little treat for myself.
12:30 p.m. — After delivering the lunches to the interview room, I scarf down my lunch. Today, I have leftover fried rice and tofu. I used to always take a walk during lunch to clear my head, but it’s winter, and my work has piled up since I spend most of my day managing the interviews. I eat at my desk.
5 p.m. — It’s a wrap! I check in with the candidate and then head home.
5:30 p.m. — I drive to my friend, K.’s, place and pick her up. We’re going for a grocery run at the Asian grocery store and stop to get dinner quickly first. I get Korean black bean noodles and she gets fried chicken. We each eat bites of each other’s food and decide to book a stress-relief cabin getaway in early spring. $18.35
6 p.m. — Grocery time! I pick up a 15-pound bag of rice (to share with my roommates), bok choy, enoki mushrooms, zucchini, kabocha squash, chicken drumstick, pork rib, smoked duck, Shin ramen, Chapagetti ramen, sesame oil, and some snacks. I’m really splurging today. $131.95
8 p.m. — Drop off K., head home, and put the groceries away. I quickly meal prep for tomorrow's lunch and make air-fried curry pork ribs, cook some rice, and stir fry bok choy with sesame and garlic. It makes enough for two servings, which is lunch for the next two work days.
10 p.m. — After doing the dishes, I shower and get ready for bed. I’m watching my favorite K-pop group Seventeen’s new reality show, Nana Tour, where they get kidnapped to go on vacation. I wish someone would kidnap me to go on vacation.
11:30 p.m. — I stay up later than I meant to, but now, it’s bedtime.
Daily Total: $150.30

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — Up and at ’em. I get ready, put on my nice tweed jacket, and eat another piece of baguette, then head to the office.
8:45 a.m. — The day begins with the candidate from yesterday. It’s going to be another day of smiling, greeting folks, and knocking on doors to give five-minute warnings.
11:30 a.m. — I run out to pick up lunch. Another lemon tart for me!
12 p.m. — Lunch at my desk again. These lemon tarts are so good.
3 p.m. — There’s some downtime and I’m feeling antsy. I go ahead and book that cabin getaway that K. and I agreed on yesterday. It’s $497.26 total for three nights, which isn’t cheap, but I’m desperate for some kind of escape. I venmo charge K. for half. $248.63
5:30 p.m. — The day ends a bit later than usual for me. I pack up and head to my favorite thrift store for some stress-relief browsing. I end up finding a Helmut Lang dress that’s marked half off (!!). I take it up front, and the cashier does a visible double-take. This is a score. $10
6:30 p.m. — I hurry home and make dinner. I host dinner and game night on Fridays with my friends, so I quickly make two types of fried rice. Friends arrive, each bearing their own dish. We eat, and then I proceed to win Unstable Unicorns through a combination of deceit and distraction. I then get promptly schooled in cards.
9:30 p.m. — People trickle out and I clean up. My roommates come back from their own night out and we chat before heading to our rooms.
10 p.m. — My favorite K-pop rookie group, EVNNE, is having a comeback, so I stream their music video while re-reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. I’ve liked K-pop since my brother’s friend introduced me to it when I was in fifth grade, and over 10 years later, I’m still here. Sometimes, you just need some pretty boys and girls to distract you from life.
11 p.m. — Lights out.
Daily Total: $258.63

Day Three

9 a.m. — It’s Saturday, so I sleep in. After lounging about in bed for a while, I get up and head to the kitchen and make myself an ube latte with some ube milk powder and an espresso shot. So good.
10 a.m. — My landlord brings a possible new roommate to see the apartment. Both of my roommates are moving out after our lease is up, so I’ve been worried about having to find a new roommate or having to move. This possible roommate seems nice, and we seem to have the same lifestyle. It’s promising.
10:30 a.m. — I make lemon poppyseed pancakes and feed my roommates who are also just now waking up. I love a lazy morning homemade brunch.
12 p.m. — After cleaning up, I go back to my room and hang around online for a bit before getting ready. Ugh, I’m nervous. One of my friends recently told me he liked me, and we’ve been seeing each other one-on-one for the past few months. Today, I’m going to tell him I think we’re better off as friends.
1:30 p.m. — I drive to meet him at the coffee shop we agreed on and spend the drive rehearsing what I’m going to say. This is the first time anyone has confessed to me, and I feel terrible about hurting his feelings and stressed about doing this wrong. I end up paying for parking so I have one less thing to worry about. $3.30
2 p.m. — We meet up and find a table in the coffee shop. I get a mocha and then proceed to tell him. He tells me he’s been expecting this and I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse. We wrap up and I tell him to let me know if he needs to set any boundaries. We have a small but tight friend group, so I’m worried this will affect our dynamic. $5.82
5 p.m. — Get home and change into something more casual before heading out once again to pick up my friend, E. We run a small Bible study for middle schoolers with our church.
5:30 p.m. — I step into chaos. The kids are so hyper today and I already have a headache. We eat dinner together — a potluck provided by their parents — then do some singing and read the Bible. The kids are all so sweet, even though they’re rambunctious, and have great questions and observations.
8:30 p.m. — I drop E. off and then head home. My headache hasn’t gone away, so I pop Tylenol and curl up in my bed to watch more YouTube. I end up down a rabbit hole about paying more for sustainable and well-made clothing and go through my closet. Most of my clothes are polyester and viscose. I think that’s bad.
11 p.m. — I rewatch some of my favorite cabin vlogs and go to bed. Good night!
Daily Total: $9.12

Day Four

9 a.m. — I wake up and get ready for church. I make myself a cup of coffee and eat a hunk of bread before heading to pick up K.
12 p.m. — The service ends and lunch is provided afterward. I sit with some of the middle schoolers and chat about video games with them. They try to persuade me to start playing, but I suck at video games. I end up promising to watch them stream at some point, which they seem satisfied with.
2 p.m. — Unexpectedly, there were some Too Good To Go bags left at a nice bakery nearby! K. and I decide to get one each and head over to pick them up. I get a loaf of honey wheat bread, two scones, and a cinnamon roll. Score. $6.60
3 p.m. — I go over to K.’s to loaf around (haha) and play with her cat while she cleans. We chat and I catch her up on rejecting our mutual friend. She thinks I handled it okay, which is a relief. I head home since she has to leave to run errands.
5:30 p.m. — Dinner time. I’m feeling lazy, so I just make some Shin ramen and add bok choy, enoki mushrooms, and an egg. Why is instant ramen so good? I browse YouTube Shorts while I eat, and an influencer is recommending an Aritzia trench coat while promising it’s well-made and sustainable. I look it up, and it’s on sale. Before I know it, I’m checking out. $190.60
8 p.m. — After cleaning up, I lie in bed and watch more of that influencer’s videos. Once in a while, I end up convinced I need to dress or act a certain way to show that I’ve “made it.” My job doesn’t help, especially when I want to climb the ladder. All the women executives are always so fashionable and put together, and while I know it shouldn’t, how I dress and present myself does matter.
10 p.m. — I eventually force myself to stop watching influencer videos and go out to the living room to chat with my roommates. They’re both much more frugal than me (hence why they share a room and pay lower rent) and don’t have any career plans beyond making enough money to get by. We talk through some of our differences in lifestyle and one of them tells me to stop spending so much money. Stress.
10:30 p.m. — Bedtime. I fall asleep feeling guilty about my purchase.
Daily Total: $197.20

Day Five

7:30 a.m. — Time for work and another candidate interview. I put on a nice green blazer I thrifted with an all-cream outfit and head to work.
11:30 a.m. — I go to pick up lunch, and you guessed it, get a lemon tart (expensed).
12 p.m. — Lunch is the curried ribs, rice, and bok choy from last week.
1:30 p.m. — I check in with the chief of staff about the interviews. I’ve been collecting feedback from the interviewers via survey and then summarizing it for the chief of staff. He asks me to look into one anonymous criticism of one of the candidates. Authorized snooping!
3 p.m. — My excitement at doing detective work has faded. Man, I’m exhausted. This job is fun, and I consider myself more extroverted than introverted, but greeting and hand-holding upwards of 20 people a day is draining me. The candidate asks for a Diet Coke. One Diet Coke, coming right up.
5:30 p.m. — Leave work after tying up some loose ends. Goodness, what a day. I don’t have time to make dinner before my friends K. and D. pick me up to go to Costco. I zonk out in the backseat immediately.
6 p.m. — We hit the food court for dinner, but I’m not feeling any of the usual options. I opt for an ice cream sundae instead, which I regret after about four bites. I don’t have a Costco membership, so K. will cover my purchases for tonight and then I’ll venmo her.
6:30 p.m. — We make the rounds. Everything looks so good, but I end up staying practical and splitting toilet paper and hand soap refills with K. and getting Clorox wipes and another baguette for myself. I heroically resist the urge to buy every snack I see.
8 p.m. — Costco run over. We tally up our purchases, and I venmo K. for my purchases. $41.69
9 p.m. — One of my roommates has friends over and some extra pie, so K. stays at our place while we eat pie and chat. K. and I are exhausted, so she leaves after finishing her pie, and I head to my room.
10:30 p.m. — It’s time for bed, but my roommate and her friends are being loud. I text my roommate to ask her to be quieter, and they settle down. Unfortunately, I still have a hard time falling asleep. I stay up until 1 a.m. when I finally take melatonin. Good night.
Daily Total: $41.69

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — You know the drill. Today, I wear a cropped tweed blazer with flared pants and a ribbed sweater. Here’s hoping today isn’t as tiring as yesterday.
8:30 a.m. — Today is just as tiring as yesterday already. The candidate arrives early while I’m still setting up, so I hurry to finish while making small talk. I haven’t had my coffee yet, so everything takes a little bit more effort.
11:30 a.m. — I head out to pick up lunch. While I’m there, the candidate calls me and asks to change their order. I add their new order to the lunch order on the spot.
12 p.m. — I eat the candidate’s original lunch order and a lemon tart. I’ll consider that compensation.
4 p.m. — I pull together a summary of feedback for the candidates we’ve had so far. There’s a very clear pattern of which executives prefer which candidate. Fascinating.
5:30 p.m. — After I wrap up with this candidate, they give me their papers and ask me to shred them. I realize they’ve just handed me their prep for these interviews. I scan the pages to learn a little bit about what it takes to be an executive and then shred them.
6 p.m. — I leave work, pretty late for my usual schedule. I’m thankful that, as busy as my job is, everyone is very understanding of the need to leave work on time.
6:30 p.m. — I get home and make dinner. Ramen again, this time with chicken nuggets on the side. My other roommate is home, so we chat and catch each other up while eating together. She finishes, and I meal prep for the rest of the week.
7:30 p.m. — Another episode of Nana Tour is out, hurray! This is a long one, so I settle in and watch my favorite boys frolic around Italy, drinking wine and playing games. I chat about it with some online friends I’ve made over the years, and we plan to watch the final episode together over Discord when it’s released.
10:30 p.m. — Time for bed. I take a melatonin gummy right away and knock out.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

7:50 a.m. — I sleep in a little bit this morning since we don’t have a candidate, so it’ll be a slower day at the office. I do the bare minimum in getting ready and wear a nice cardigan instead of a blouse and blazer, then head to work.
9 a.m. — As suspected, it’s a slow day, so I take the time to respond to emails and prepare for my one-on-one with the CEO tomorrow. It’s basically just an approval meeting as I walk him through the various pieces of communication that week with his name on them (thank-you notes, internal memos, et cetera), but I try to take it seriously. Being detailed is part of how I got such exposure to the C-suite in the first place.
11 a.m. — I finally focus on the communications part of my job and work on some letters to donors, government officials, and various other stakeholders. I look up someone on LinkedIn, am reminded of my previous manager who left for a promotion at another company, and shoot him a message asking to catch up over a Zoom call whenever convenient. Never hurts to stay in touch with a good manager.
12:30 p.m. — No lemon tart for lunch today, but I do eat a baked chicken drumstick, rice, and stir-fried cabbage.
1 p.m. — Womp, womp. I check the company inbox I manage, and there’s an email from a Very Important Person sitting up top. I pass it along to the chief of staff and brace for impact.
1:30 p.m. — It’s all hands on deck now, and things start moving very fast as our CEO, chief of staff, and various other VPs start to make calls. The interesting thing about my role is that, while it’s nominally in communications, the chief of staff likes and trusts me enough that he ends up sharing some more details about these high-level situations. I barely get involved in decision-making, but I learn a lot just from discussing with him. I try to repay this trust by working extra hard.
3 p.m. — Work, work, work, work, work. Basically all of the VPs and their directors’ daily work gets dropped in favor of handling this issue, so I end up taking over our team’s daily workload. Everything is moving so fast, I have to be careful not to let anything drop.
5:45 p.m. — End of the work day. The chief of staff is great at letting me know when I can’t help anymore, so I get to go home while all the VPs and executives stay behind. Phew, I’m tired. I stop by the thrift store again on the way home. I know that spending money isn’t the best stress relief, but I need the immediate dopamine hit right now. I find a 100% silk blouse in our company color and take it home with me. $8
7 p.m. — I video call my best friend while the soup cooks and then eat dinner as we chat. We end up talking for hours about work culture and whether or not we can be successful and ambitious without compromising our morals. I feel a bit dramatic for worrying so much about this, but she understands.
11:30 p.m. — I head to bed and get ready for another day. Good night!
Daily Total: $8
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