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A Week In A Van In Western Colorado On A $60,000 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 data analyst who makes $60,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a PBR.
Editor's Note: This is a follow-up Money Diary. You can read the original diary here.
Occupation: Data Analyst
Industry: Natural Resources
Age: 26
Location: Western Colorado
Salary: $60,000
Net Worth: -$35,550 ($10,750 in multiple high-yield savings accounts, $3,000 in an HSA, $9,700 split between a Wealthfront Roth IRA and a separate Roth IRA to which my employer contributes, minus $59,000 in student loan debt.)
Debt: $59,000 in student loans
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,650 ($1,400 from full-time position, average of $250 from part-time position.)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0 (I live in a van so I pay for gas and repairs, but nothing monthly.)
Student Loans: currently deferred
Spotify: $7 (I split a $14 “couples” plan with my sister.)
Planet Fitness Black Card: $23 (Unfortunately there isn't a PF where I live, but I bought this to have a place to take showers when I was on the road full-time.)
High Country News Subscription: $25
Donations: $35 (Split across different environmental organizations.)
Car Insurance: $65
Savings: $100
Cell Phone/Hot Spot Device: $110
Health Insurance: $125 (my company contributes to an HSA for me as well.)
Roth IRA: $200
Employer IRA: $200, matched by employer.
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 sister and I both did well in school so there was an assumption we would attend college. My mother took out loans in her name to contribute to my education and paid for my rent after I moved from the dorms to an apartment. I have about $29,000 in loans from my undergraduate degree and $30,000 from my graduate degree, both of which have been in forbearance since I received them. The decision to attend graduate school was completely my own (related to my decision to pursue a career that is difficult to break into without a master's degree). When student loan payments resume, I will begin an income-based repayment plan.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My elementary school had a program that taught us about saving, so I learned to save from an early age. I can't remember many explicit conversations with my family about money, but am sure they influenced my frugality and budgeting skills. I often saved money I received as gifts, kept track of my spending, and asked for chores to receive extra money. In high school, I was allowed to take out a credit card and knew I would pay the balance in full each month.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first source of income was babysitting, which I did to build up my savings. I knew that in high school I would have the opportunity to go on trips abroad, and began to save with this idea in mind. My mom ultimately gifted me my first trip abroad during my sophomore year of high school and I used what I had saved as spending money. When I was 16, I began my first real job as a lifeguard at a summer camp and used that money for another trip abroad during my senior year of high school. My parents wanted me to prioritize schoolwork and enjoy myself, so they wouldn't allow me to work during the school year unless I quit sports (which I didn't). I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to travel before college and to have grown up in a family in which I didn't need to contribute to family bills.
Did you worry about money growing up?
If my parents ever had money trouble, I didn't know. I've always been frugal and certainly thought about money a fair amount, but I grew up solidly middle-class and never had to worry about having enough, plus extras such as yearly vacations.
Do you worry about money now?
I do not worry about money but do think about it quite a bit, particularly when it comes to my work/life balance. Years of juggling full-time responsibilities and side hustles while making very little overall (first as an AmeriCorps member, then as a graduate student) have made it hard for me to feel comfortable only working full-time. Also, while I've gotten more comfortable spending the money I earn, I sometimes worry that I've over-corrected and lost some of the thriftiness that I've always liked about myself.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I only became truly financially responsible for myself at 24 or 25. My mother paid for two years of my rent in undergrad and paid my cell phone bill until about a year ago. My father paid for my car insurance until about a year ago as well. While I offered to pay these bills, it was my parents' way of helping me as a grad student. If I ever needed it, my parents would certainly help me financially, although I have an emergency fund and hope things never come to that point.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I have not and do not expect to receive an inheritance. I have received large monetary gifts that have helped me out quite a bit, including the high school trip mentioned above and about $4,000 total from my parents after my undergrad and master's graduations. My father paid for the used car I previously owned and allowed me to keep the $2,000 I sold it for, which I used towards the $8,000 I spent on my van about a year ago.

Day One

6 a.m. — I wake up... in my van! A lot has changed since my last Money Diary! Last winter, after I completed my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (followed by some stagnant weeks applying for jobs and living at a parent's place), I was offered my current position. It's not my dream job, but it is a good foot-in-the-door role and one of the best parts has been that it is fully remote. Within weeks of accepting my position and learning it would be remote, I bought my van and headed out on a months-long road trip while working full-time. As I may have hinted in my last diary, alternative living situations and travel have both been interests of mine for quite a while, and so it felt serendipitous to find a remote job and van that fit my budget (and that was already converted, which would have been a tough project to complete in the winter) in such a short time frame.
7 a.m. — After hitting snooze a few times, I head to a local coffee shop and order avocado toast. I'm working by 7:30, slightly later than when I aim to begin, but I don't have any meetings for a while so I will just work later into the afternoon. $13.30
9 a.m. — I use a break from meetings and work to schedule an appointment for a hearing exam later this week. A stranger scolded me yesterday for being "incredibly loud and distracting" and while I know he was probably just being an old grump, I was quite embarrassed by how upset I became in public. After reflecting for quite a while yesterday and talking to friends and family, I realized I have had difficulty modulating my voice level for quite a while. While I could have a challenge with voice control combined with an auditory processing delay, it seems more straightforward to rule out hearing loss first. As I'm still getting used to a full-time job with benefits, I tell myself that it's okay to use my sick leave — something I've never had before — along with my health insurance and savings.
2 p.m. — I walk to my van and make a quick lunch of ramen before getting back to work for the day. It's warmed up quite a bit this afternoon and my van is so nice and toasty! Despite temperatures dropping at night, it can get quite warm when sitting in the sun, so it feels perfect right now.
4 p.m. — I wrap up work, scroll on TikTok for a bit, and end up taking a nap. I rarely take naps and more but after a super busy weekend followed by a stressful workweek, it feels well-deserved.
5:30 p.m. — I wake up and consider heading to the library to write for a bit, but my friend, K., texts me asking if I want to go for a walk. I say yes, and go to her place to take a shower while she's running errands. The sun already seems to be setting, so we decide to stay inside instead. She suggests going out for dinner and a drink or two to celebrate applying for jobs, and I don't want to say no! We go to a local gas station that also has a bar and grill (lol). I order a PBR (I later get a second drink for free) and veggie burger and we start eating while waiting for another friend to join. In the meantime, we each run into friends and colleagues, which is almost always the case in this smaller town (amazing for making you feel ingrained in the community, but tough when you do something embarrassing in public like, ahem, crying in a coffee shop...). $20.41
8 p.m. — We call it early since my friends have to work in the morning. I use the bathroom at my friend's place before walking back to my van, getting ready for bed, and snuggling in. I text B., who I started seeing a little over a month ago. It feels really good and I'm struggling to have the patience to not rush things. After this weekend, I'll be out of town for a couple of weeks and while we'll miss each other, it will be important to see how that impacts our seemingly soon-to-be relationship.
9:30 p.m. — I read a bit of The Night Watchman and then fall asleep.
Daily Total: $33.71

Day Two

6 a.m. — I wake up in the van, still super warm and cozy! After half an hour of scrolling, I finally get up, get ready, and start up the van. I eat some pumpkin bread given to me the other day while watching the snow fall outside. How lovely! I'm reminded that as winter is approaching I should get better about getting up on time to heat up my van, melt any ice on my windshield, and account for lower visibility and slower driving.
7 a.m. — I get to the coffee shop, buy my coffee (it's still not too cold for an iced Americano!), and settle into work. I have a light morning, so I watch a recorded panel discussion given by women in my field. They share their experiences including balancing relationships and families in this career, which can often involve frequent traveling or even moving across the country. That aspect of the field has never bothered me before and is in fact part of why I purchased my van. However, it has been on my mind quite a bit now that B. and I are getting closer. Just a couple of days ago, I interviewed for a position that feels like a dream opportunity but would bring me a few hours away from B. Again, it's hard to not get too far ahead of myself! $3.47
3:30 p.m. — I wrap up and get ready to go to my part-time job at a restaurant. After getting a new job and moving into the van last winter, I had an amazing time traveling across the country, working from coffee shops all day, driving a couple of hours each night, and spending each weekend skiing or hiking. I eventually felt a bit burned out from living super fast-paced, spending tons on food and gas, and feeling lonely. In the spring, I returned to western Colorado and picked up a few shifts at this restaurant.
5:30 p.m. — Work is super slow, so I take a break to eat my shift meal — a pizza loaded with veggies and vegan cheese. Last year while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and then traveling, I spent so much on food that I told myself despite whatever I was doing full-time, I would work part-time at a restaurant partially for the free food. I do get tired of eating the same thing, but can't complain about free pizza and beer a couple of times a week!
10 p.m. — I finish cleaning, clock out, and use the restroom before heading back to the van. I assume I'll just head to bed, but I get a text from B. asking if he can stop by and chat before bed. I haven't seen him too much this week, so I respond that I would love to see him. It's really funny to invite someone over when living in a van, especially when I'm in town rather than somewhere scenic, but I understand the novelty of spending time in a van (I always thought it was fun to "camp" in a previous boyfriend's van when I had been living in an apartment). B. and I catch up on our ridiculous weeks and after things get a bit steamy (literally, condensation in the van makes it like the scene from Titanic in here), we end driving over to his place. We're bad at going to sleep early whenever we spend the night together, but finally do so around 1 a.m.
Daily Total: $3.47

Day Three

6 a.m. — Wake up at B.'s and hit snooze a couple of times, but ultimately need to get to a coffee shop and get my laptop up and running in time for a 7 a.m. meeting. I would stay here, but my Friday mornings consist of back-to-back meetings and I don't want to disturb B. or his housemates. After getting ready, I take the icy walk to my van and drive super slowly, but make it with plenty of time. I order an Americano with oat milk and a bagel with vegan butter. $5
1 p.m. — After my last meeting for the day, I quickly stop by a health food store. I buy pre-made falafel along with some vegan provolone, chili, soup, crunchy mung beans, and Hippeas chickpea snacks. I drop off the groceries in my van before walking over to the medical center. I don't know what to expect but am actually excited to learn if I have any degree of hearing loss before considering other options. Well, maybe I'm most excited about getting out of my main job early on a Friday afternoon… $29.86
2 p.m. — Well, looks like my hearing is completely fine after all! I still wonder whether I have a social difference that could be affecting my volume control, but am likely just a bit of a hypochondriac. Either way, I'm glad to have an answer. I've already taken sick leave for the afternoon, so am not quite sure what I'm “supposed" to do. I've already submitted my timesheet and don't have any other meetings today, so I suppose I can consider the rest of my time a mental health afternoon. I head over to my friend's house, eat the pre-made falafel which is incredibly dry, and we drive together to a walking trail. It's super cold and windy, so we cut it short, and hang out at her apartment for a bit before I head to my second job.
3:30 p.m. — I park in town but have a bit of time before I need to clock in for my shift, so I stop at a local/organic food store to buy an energy drink (pear-flavored, yum!) along with some other things including my favorite toaster pastries and a Honey Mama's lavender rose truffle bar. $18.11
5:30 p.m. — Again, the night starts out slow, so I eat my shift meal fairly early before getting back to work. I have some great conversations with coworkers who I've enjoyed bonding with over the past months.
10:30 p.m. — We finish cleaning and close at a decent time for a weekend, and I text B. that I'm finished with work. He says to come over and that he has a couple of friends over for a game night. We snack on tater tots and I share the Honey Mama's chocolate I bought earlier. We each have a beer from a random assortment left over from last weekend's partying.
12 a.m. — B.'s friends head out for the night, so we take a shower and get ready for bed. We end up in deep conversation, sharing some things from our pasts that we've been wanting to discuss for a while. We then have an incredible time having sex and fall asleep around 2.
Daily Total: $52.97

Day Four

10:30 a.m. — B. and I wake up and lay in bed for a little bit. We talk about the things we want/need to get done today and consider walking to a coffee shop, but end up having sex again.
1 p.m. — Once we finally get out of bed, we make vegan omelets, which turn out more like scrambled eggs but still taste good! We both seem to be getting contacted by friends and family all day, but make time to eat and chat a bit before going to our respective phone calls.
5:30 p.m. — B. and I consult on our respective commitments — he'll be going to a birthday party, which I would love to join, especially as I want to maximize the time I see him before I head out of town for two weeks, but my friend, K., who's going through a bit of a rough time has asked me to come over. I know I should spend time with her instead, so I eat a quick dinner of pasta and beet pesto with B. before heading over to K.'s place. We chat a bit and then our friend, T., comes over and we make a campfire.
10:30 p.m. — T. heads out and K. asks if I can stay over to continue keeping her company. I happily agree. We get ready for bed and are both asleep in about half an hour. I try to be mindful of not asking friends for a place to stay, knowing I made the choice to live in a van rather than rent an apartment despite having the resources to do so, but I don't mind taking advantage of couch surfing when it's offered.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

7 a.m. — I wake up as K. leaves to take care of some dogs she'll be watching, and chill out on her couch reading and scrolling on my phone. After an hour or so, K. texts to ask whether I can bring her over some breakfast. I go to the grocery store and buy a breakfast burrito for her, a Bai energy drink, and some things for myself (blueberries, sweet potato soup, frozen cauliflower wings, and baby wipes). We eat our breakfast together (I love soup at any time of day!) and hang out. $27.85
11 a.m. — I make cauliflower wings for lunch before finishing up some work, which I do on my laptop while chatting with K. I was planning to go to the library to write, but she asks if I want to join her on a walk along with her new coworker, V. We're in the same field and I would enjoy meeting a potential new friend, so I agree to join.
2 p.m. — After a great walk, we head back to K.'s place and keep chatting. Eventually, she asks if we'd like to go grab a beer. Again, I'm almost always down for fries, and it's been great to meet someone new, so I say yes. Reading and writing will have to wait for another time. I order curly fries and a beer.! V. joins us and we hang out for an hour or two before K. and I need to head out. At that point, I round up all my things from K.'s place and get ready for hockey! I learned how to play when I was a graduate student and missed being on a team while traveling last year, so was excited to join one after I decided to stay in this town for a little longer. $10.36
7 p.m. — Our game is so much fun! While each shift is tiring, I always leave our games wishing I had more time out on the ice. I change out of my gear and text B. Normally we would have had a lazy Sunday together, but he needed to get quite a bit of schoolwork done today. I head to his place, take a shower, and we catch up. Neither of us is sure what we should make for dinner, so we head to the grocery store and figure it out. We end up with soba noodles, teriyaki sauce, veggies, and oat milk ice cream for dessert. He paid for a slightly pricey dinner out last weekend, so I cover groceries this time. Plus, since he's a graduate student and not making much and because I've been spending many nights at his place, I plan to ask him whether he would be comfortable with me paying a larger share of the food we split moving forward. $24.11
9 p.m. — After eating dinner, B. and I finally get a chance to do what we've been wanting to do for Love Is Blind! We watch a couple of episodes while eating ice cream. I'm really, really happy with how our connection is going, but scared that I might need to make a big decision between our relationship and a prospective career opportunity. For now, though, we have another great night of sex and go to sleep around 2.
Daily Total: $62.32

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — I wake up and power up my laptop to see how much time I have before my first meeting. As it turns out, my first meeting isn't for an hour, so we get a bit of cuddling in before I need to get dressed and pack my things. As usual, B. and I both dilly-dally, so I end up taking my meeting from the front seat of my van. B. brings me out an espresso, which I have along with a toaster pastry. After my meeting I say a proper goodbye to B. since I'll be heading out on a road trip today to meet my dad.
10 a.m. — I have an appointment coming up, just a routine STI screening, so I take my lunch way early to get gas beforehand and head over to the medical center. It takes a bit longer than I expect to be seen, but otherwise goes fine! After I'm done, I head towards the center of town. $45.76
11:40 a.m. — I'm not sure what to do for lunch, so I end up buying avocado toast again (oops) and work from a coffee shop. I catch up on some emails I missed earlier in the day before jumping back into meetings. $7.32
3:30 p.m. — I wrap up work and return a library book. I get a call from my mom with some unfortunate health news about a family member, who I'll reach out to this week. Afterward, I start making my way southwest! I listen to a playlist that makes me reminisce about last winter and spring when I was traveling full-time. "Ketchum" by boygenius is always the perfect song for when I'm feeling melancholy, going on long drives by myself, followed by the Soccer Mommy cover of "Wide Open Spaces" as a pick-me-up. The sun starts setting fairly early into my drive, so I have beautiful views at the very beginning of my trip. Later, slowing down for deer and winding down sketchy mountain passes reminds me why I prefer to not drive at night, but at least there's no snow or ice on the roads.
5:30 p.m. — I stop for some more gas, which is sadly only slightly cheaper than what I paid for earlier today. I put on an episode of the Sea Moss Girlies podcast, which I recently discovered through their Instagram meme page. $42.06
7:30 p.m. — I roll into a small town, or more accurately, into the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant I looked up beforehand. I order a veggie burrito, which I eat along with chips and salsa while checking my phone and finalizing where to stay for the night. After paying and using the restroom one last time, I head to a gravel lot that allows for overnight parking. There are a couple of other vans here, so I feel quite comfortable. Not knowing where I would sleep each night was probably the most stressful part about full-time travel for me, but I spent lots of time honing my skills, and know to find somewhere new if a spot feels "off" (even if that means driving further than originally intended before stopping for the night). I'm super sleepy, so while I had hoped to read a bit, I don't have the attention span to do so. After getting ready for bed, I scroll on TikTok and fall asleep by 9:30. $17.96
Daily Total: $113.10

Day Seven

6 a.m. — I wake up after a great night of sleep and stay snuggled in my bed for a bit. I'll be going to a coffee shop that doesn't open until 7, so I don't feel any rush. I finally get up, get ready, start my van, and scroll a bit while waiting for my windshield to defrost.
7 a.m. — I arrive at the coffee shop. It's a super cute store full of lots of cliche outdoorsy things. If I wasn't averse to spending money (and using limited space) on physical things, I would eat it right up. I order an Americano and an energy bite. $4.44
7:15 a.m. — After setting up my laptop, I end up walking around the store and see a deck of conversation-sparking cards for sale. B. and I are very good at having deep conversations on our own, but I've always been curious about card decks like this, so I buy the deck as a gift to give him when I'm back. I begin work by 7:30. $11.22
12:15 p.m. — I finally get a chance to pull myself away from work and leave the coffee shop to eat vegan chili for lunch. It's nice and sunny outside, so I work from the shop's patio rather than going back inside. I hop back on my computer and snack on crunchy, balsamic-flavored mung beans — these things are so good!
4 p.m. — Once I'm finished with work, I take a walk around town, hoping (to no avail) to find a birthday present for my father. Fortunately, I still have some time, as I won't be meeting up with him until the day after tomorrow. Before returning to my van, I look for a place to get an early dinner before I get back on the road. I come across another Mexican restaurant that seems a bit pricey, but I'm already sitting so feel like I can't leave now. I snack on chips and salsa, and order an iced tea (because they apparently charge for water here) and a veggie burrito. Just as the sun starts to set, I plan out where I'll stop for the night and get back on the road! $23.72
8:30 p.m. — I reach my destination, a Walmart parking lot! Say what you want about Walmart, but they can be very helpful for RVers and people living in vehicles as most are fine with overnight camping. I go inside to use the restroom and finish getting ready for bed in my van. I go on social media and then read for a bit. I'm asleep by 10, looking forward to working from another coffee shop tomorrow before finishing out my long drive!
Daily Total: $39.38
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