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A Week In Southern California On A $135,000 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 data scientist working in research and development who makes $135,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a bowl of tonkotsu ramen.

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Occupation: Data scientist
Industry: Research and development
Age: 26
Location: Southern California
Salary: $135,000
Net Worth: $71,737 (savings: $11,000; HYSA: $20,000; foreign account: $5,477; Roth IRA: $22,000; 401(k): $31,000; car value: $28,000; minus debt)
Debt: $45,740 (car loan: $11,500; family loan: $20,000; student loan: $14,240. My family told me to pay back the bank and government loans first. That said, I’m set to pay off the car loan in a couple months, and I aim to pay $10,000 of the family loan back by December of this year, and the other $10,000 by August of next year, both in lump-sum payments.)
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $2,900 (after tax, 401(k), and medical and dental insurance)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $2,650 (one-bedroom apartment)
Internet & Technology Fee: $75 (mandatory with the apartment)
Water, Sewage & Trash: $95
Gas & Electricity: $65
Car Loan: $350
Phone: ~$99 (This is me and my mom, plus I’m paying for my phone in installments. The actual monthly bill is ~$150, but work reimburses my 66% at the end of the year.)
Medical Insurance: $98 (taken out of my paycheck)
Dental Insurance: $9 (taken out of my paycheck)
401(k): ~$1,912 (17% of pre-tax salary)
Savings: $1,500
Gym: $70

Annual Expenses
Renter’s Insurance: $88
Car Insurance: $2,050

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?
I always had an interest in science and engineering, so it was assumed I would go to college, and I’m eternally grateful to my parents for paying for my undergraduate education in full. I took part-time jobs on campus for spending and for room and board. I also took out a loan when I chose to go back for a graduate program.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Both of my parents grew up in households where money was very tight, so they emphasized saving and were clear about what daily things cost (they had me tally the grocery bill before we got to the register, for example and explained the cost of new after-school activities). I go to them frequently for advice on financial matters (how to rectify the 401(k) calculations I messed up when changing jobs, for example, or how and when to pay back my loans).

What was your first job and why did you get it?
In college, I started tutoring so I could have spending money. I also took a job on campus because I wanted to help offset tuition fees, even though my parents said they would take care of tuition.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Only when we first moved to California. Things were suddenly a lot more expensive, and that was the first time I heard my parents stress about the increased cost of housing, rather than just being mindful of it.

Do you worry about money now?
While I was working full-time abroad, my salary was nearly a quarter of what it is now ($37,000), and I was only able to save $200 per month for grad school, despite my best attempts at frugality. I was hyper-aware of what I could and couldn’t afford. I worried quite a bit when I first moved back to the US because I was starting from scratch and had to eat a lot of big costs in a short amount of time (new car, moving out, buying furniture, new professional shoes and clothing). A month ago, I forecasted my expenses for the next year and realized I could put away about $750 per paycheck. That majorly calmed me down.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
When I was 21. I graduated college, got a job, and moved to a foreign country. I knew I could always ask my parents for help if I needed it, but I wanted to prove to myself and to them that I could manage on my own.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents paid for my bachelor’s education in full. When I first moved abroad, my parents made sure I was set up and could start living there without stress by paying for my furniture, deposit, and first month’s rent, plus extra money to cover expenses before my first paycheck came in a month later.

Day One

6:15 a.m. — I didn’t set an alarm this morning so that I could catch up on sleep, but I still wake up around my usual time. I brew coffee, cook a veggie scramble, get ready for work, and head out the door within an hour.
7:35 a.m. — Today brings its usual sea of endless meetings. I frantically try to debug a project I’ve put on hold for the past week while I was drinking from the firehose on another project, but it’s too little, too late. The stand-up meeting comes and goes, and I’m feeling behind and kicking myself for it. The stand-up for another project comes, and I present my research from the previous two weeks. That goes okay at least.
1:15 p.m. — I have a small reprieve from meeting mayhem, and I run to have a makeshift lunch from the stockpiles I keep in the office: two apples, yogurt, nuts. Needless to say, I’m still hungry, so I grab a bag of Cheetos and an espresso from the communal kitchen. I frantically get back to debugging before my next — and thankfully last — meeting.
4:35 p.m. — Though not done, I’ve had enough of work for the day. I drive to the gym for a yoga class I signed up for and happily block work from my mind.
6:45 p.m. — The temperature in my apartment has somehow managed to drop to 63°F. Rather than turn on the heater, I start the oven while I shower (and while my cat screams at me that I’m not petting her right at this very moment). I have a craving for roasted carrots, so tonight’s menu consists of five matchsticked roasted carrots (they’re so damn good) and green chilaquiles with leftover take-out carnitas.
8 p.m. — I call my mom and invite her over for the weekend, then veg out with Persona 3 Portable on my Nintendo Switch, cat laying on my feet, until 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

5 a.m. — Unfortunately, I wake up more than an hour before my alarm, so I decide to make the most of the early morning. I make myself coffee and an open-faced cheese sandwich and crawl back into bed to play video games for the next hour. My cat seems happy with this decision as she curls up next to me.
6:15 a.m. — I finally get out of bed for real. I pull cooked ground beef out of the freezer for later and finish the applesauce that’s sitting in my fridge. There’s food at work today (part of a very successful initiative to get employees to come into the office on Fridays), so I only pack a couple of apples for lunch. I briefly wonder if I’m getting enough variety of fruits in my diet.
6:55 a.m. — I get to the office in record time and start my day early. Thankfully, it’s a meeting-free day, so I’m free to hunker down and type away, stopping only briefly at 11:30 a.m. for the aforementioned office-provided bagels. I know I shouldn’t work through lunch, but I really want to get a deliverable out today and leave early. I have flexibility as to when I work my 40 hours, so I make a concerted effort to front-load my weeks so I can leave early on Fridays.
2:45 p.m. — Deliverable accomplished, albeit later than expected! I pilfer a couple of leftover bagels to freeze for later as I head out the door. I need to go to the post office to ship a present to a friend. Unsurprisingly, my DIY packaging comes out nearly $2 more expensive than the flat-rate box (which actually fits better), so I move everything over and ship it out. $10.20
3:30 p.m. — My mom doesn’t like milk in her coffee, so I stop at the grocery store to pick up half and half. The fancy dry pasta and ravioli I like for lazy meals are both on sale, so, being the pasta fiend I am, I buy quite a bit of both, along with ham, spinach, cherry tomatoes, berries, grapefruits, cornstarch, bananas, and instant miso. $40.66
4 p.m. — I’m a hungry hungry hippo, so I start making dinner as soon as I walk in the door. I sauté zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach with ground beef, add sliced and de-seeded cherry tomatoes, and pair it all with couscous. It tastes heavenly. Thank god for cumin.
5 p.m. — I straighten up my apartment and do a load of laundry while I faff around on Reddit. Eventually, the laundry is done, and Reddit gets boring, so I finish reading The Shining and go to bed at a respectable 10 p.m.
Daily Total: $50.86

Day Three

6:15 a.m. — I text my mom good morning to let her know she’s welcome anytime, then I make myself coffee and an open-faced cheese sandwich. I also slice up a grapefruit, then crack open a new sci-fi book, House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds, that I picked up from the library. My mom texts me two hours later to say she’s on her way.
8:45 a.m. — I want to surprise my mom with cookies and coffee when she walks in, so I bake up a tray of homemade chocolate chip cookies with dough I keep in the freezer for precisely these sorts of occasions. The coffee beeps that it’s done as I’m pulling out the cookies, and I hear my mom’s car outside. I’m absurdly proud of myself for nailing the timing.
10:45 a.m. — My mom and I decided to skip the hike we had planned, so I treat her to brunch at a place that’s been recommended to me by just about every local I’ve spoken to. We have mimosas and split a fried chicken salad (mediocre) and a carnitas platter (quite decent), and we determine that we’ve become food snobs. $66.29
12 p.m. — The weather is wonderfully cooperative as we drive to a nearby beach town. We putz around and window shop for three hours, but nothing catches our fancy, so we eventually head back to my apartment.
3:30 p.m. — I rummage up enough dice from various board games and Dungeons and Dragons sets to bully my mom into a game of Yahtzee. She wins by a landslide each round, and I pretend to be upset.
6 p.m. — All three of my favorite local(ish) restaurants happen to be Thai, probably because I don’t know how to cook good curry and noodle dishes at home. For better or for worse on my wallet, one of them is within walking distance of my apartment. I treat my mom to dinner where we split egg rolls, pad see ew, and a pork and vegetable stir-fry. We also enjoy a couple of beers. I miiiiight have ordered the noodles a bit too spicy for her liking because she doesn’t eat much of them. There’s half a portion of the stir-fry left, so I take it to go. $79.08
Daily Total: $145.37

Day Four

6 a.m.-ish — We’re both up early so I start the coffee, opting for the nicer Starbucks beans over my usual Starbucks and Cafe La Llave mix. My coffee machine has one of its weird fluke days where it overflows the filter and brews weak coffee, so I have to re-make it. I try not to think about the fact that I just went through more than four days’ worth of coffee in 10 minutes. I fry up arepas with ham and cheese and serve them with grapefruit and blackberries.
9 a.m. — My mom leaves, and I drive to yoga.
11 a.m. — My miscellany list has gotten long enough to warrant a trip to Walmart. I spy a box of mini doughnuts on the way in and decided to splurge, nibbling on them as I do my shopping. Prices on pantry staples are good, so I call my mom to see if she needs anything and end up doubling my grocery purchases, feeling silly walking out with SIX cartons of broth and SIX cans of crushed tomatoes, plus four cans of beans, two jars of Better Than Bouillon, instant ramen for hangover snacking, almond meal, kitty litter, toilet paper, paper towels, dishwashing soap, bleach, and the damn mini doughnuts. $108.66
1:30 p.m. — I reheat last night’s leftovers and add a few more veggies. I really want to play Pokémon Snap but can’t justify spending $50 on a game I’ve already played, much less a digital copy I can’t even pass along or sell, so I scour Reddit for some indie alternatives. I buy one and play it for an hour or two, but it’s not my cup of tea. $6.36
8 p.m. — The pasta fiend returns: I’m in dire need of carbonara (spaghetti, egg, Parmesan, fresh pepper). I make some, but I’m too lazy to make a salad to go with it, so two fistfuls of arugula straight from the spinner it is.
Daily Total: $115.02

Day Five

5:45 a.m. — I’m up before my alarm. Again. I really wish this wouldn’t keep happening. I have coffee, an egg and cheese bagel (with a bagel pilfered from work, of course), and the last of the berries before I get another early start at work, getting to the office just before 7:30 a.m.
11:30 a.m. — My stomach grumbles, but I skip lunch because it’s the annual company dinner today.
12 p.m. — You’ve won, stomach. Two apples it is.
5:15 p.m. — The last meeting of the day runs long, but straight to dinner I go! It’s a bit asinine that we’re all driving separately, but it’s the only thing that makes sense when the restaurant is a bit far and totally in the opposite direction from half of our homes. Most of my colleagues are 10 to 15 years older than me, and everyone is talking about their kids. The group to my left is talking toddlers, while the group to my right is talking teenagers. I join the group on the right because at least I can semi-relate to teens. Dinner severely lacks salt, and the salt gremlin at the back of my brain is not happy.
9:30 p.m. — The salt gremlin is still nagging me when I get home, but I manage to silence it with a very large fistful of arugula.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — Oh my god, I managed to “sleep in” until 6:30 a.m. today! Ugh. I have the same breakfast as yesterday but with grapefruit in lieu of berries. I get to the office by 7:45 a.m.
1 p.m. — I make a mistake with Git [programming version control system], so today is turning out to be absolutely abysmal. I skip lunch while I try to reign the mess in.
2:45 p.m. — Nothing is going well, and I’m in a bad mood. The salt gremlin is demanding retribution for yesterday’s dinner, and I cave in this time. I quit work and treat myself to a large bowl of tonkotsu ramen, and it feels like the balance of the world is restored. $17.19
6:30 p.m. — I have an admissions interview (volunteer work) scheduled with a prospective student at my alma mater, and she’s an absolute riot. I can’t help but wonder if I’m being classist recommending her more highly than the last student I interviewed, when this one’s experiences are a direct result of her immensely privileged upbringing. I note that reflection at the bottom of my post-interview writeup and leave it up for someone else to decide.
Daily Total: $17.19

Day Seven

5:15 a.m. — I might as well call this my new wake-up time because my body is still refusing to sleep in until 6:30 a.m. I’m exhausted and I want to go back to sleep, but I’m also ravenous from accidentally skipping dinner yesterday. I make pasta carbonara again but for breakfast (10/10 recommend). I take homemade meatballs out of the freezer and pop them in the fridge to defrost for later (I stock up on ground beef for bolognese and meatballs any time I see it go for $2.99 a pound).
7:10 a.m. — I sit down at my desk and discover that what is supposed to be a boring, uneventful, blissfully meeting-free work day is not. Welp. At least the morning is still open for productivity.
3:45 p.m. — I’ve escaped my final meeting, and with it, the office. I have some craft supplies I need to pick up to finish a cosplay outfit so I quickly check the weekly promos for Michaels, Joann, and Hobby Lobby before I leave. Michaels has a coupon for 50% off one item, so that’s where I go. In the car on the way there, I realize I forgot to eat lunch so I scarf down two apples while at a stoplight. $16.76
4:30 p.m. — I try to stop for gas at my favorite gas station on my way to the gym, but as per usual, the stations are full and there’s a line. Is it weird to have a favorite gas station? I like this one because it’s independently owned and a whole dollar per gallon cheaper than the ones near work.
5:15 p.m. — I do a yoga/sculpt class with my favorite instructor, and I’m even sweatier than usual. My hands keep getting too slippery to hold even downward dog, but I feel good walking out of class, so mission accomplished, I guess? Thankfully, my favorite gas station is empty on the way out, so I fill up. $35.78
7 p.m. — I have too many vegetable odds and ends left in my refrigerator, so I make a large pot of vegetable-lentil soup for the next few days. I was supposed to get started on my costume after dinner, but I’m too exhausted and go back to reading my sci-fi book before bed.
Daily Total: $52.54
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