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A Week In Phoenix On A $70,000 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: the founder and owner of a design studio who makes $70,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a broken silk dress.
Occupation: Founder and owner of a design studio
Industry: Marketing and design
Age: 23
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Salary: $70,000
Assets: $13,000 in Roth IRA; $47,300 in stocks; $8,700 in cash savings; $4,300 in checking (I need to move some more into savings).
Debt: $0
Paycheck amount: depends on my client and my project. Trying to get $2,000-$3,000 every two weeks.
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0 (I currently live at home with my parents and am saving as much as I can).
Utilities: $0
~ $60/month (I’m no longer commuting).
Loan payments: $0
Netflix: Family plan
Prime: Family plan
Spotify: $10.99
Cell phone: Family plan
Google One: $3.29
Roth IRA: I try to contribute $500 a month but since my income is unstable right now, I move it when I can.
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?
Definitely. Both of my parents were raised in families that stressed the importance of higher education and they began saving for my sister and I to go to college before we were born. My grandparents also contributed to our education so I was able to attend undergrad where I wanted and graduate without loans. It is one of the greatest gifts my family could have given me and I know I will only appreciate it more as I get older. I attended a private university out of state, with a small scholarship for my academic performance in high school.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I was always taught the importance of saving. My parents would give my sister and I lectures from time to time about saving, investing and money in general, and any questions I had about money I asked my parents. We had savings accounts when we were very little and I remember taking trips to the bank to pay in my saved up cash in exchange for a lollipop.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first “job” was making and selling jewelry in middle school. I would go to a few craft fairs and make some extra spending money. I also babysat in middle school but my first “job” job was at a shop during my senior year. I got it to have some extra money for gas, fun with friends and savings.
Did you worry about money growing up?
I definitely did, although I always knew we were financially okay. I remember my mom talking about the importance of being frugal, so much so that I thought about giving her the money I had saved in my piggy bank. At the same time, my parents sent my sister and I to private school through high school, took us on vacation and provided us with everything we needed (not wanted; we were definitely not spoiled). I think my parents’ attitudes surrounding finances and frugality were extreme at times. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve very much come to realize we were, and are, financially stable.
Do you worry about money now?
I am getting better about it but I do have anxiety and guilt about spending money (probably a result of my upbringing). The fact that I am living at home and have the opportunity to save has given me a great sense of relief but when I break down my finances and compare that to what expenses I’ll have in the future, I do feel anxious. I try to remind myself I am young and do not have to have it all figured out right now. If anything ever did happen, I know my family would be a safety net for me, which I feel incredibly thankful for.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Since I live at home, I am not financially responsible yet. I would love to be on my own in the next year or so but it all depends on how my business grows. I chose to take this step now as I have a financial safety net of not having rent and utility expenses, so we’ll see what happens.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I received $250 a month during college for groceries, gas, etc. I no longer receive that.

Day One

5:30 a.m. — Didn’t roll down my blackout curtains all the way and it shows. Arizona sun is awake and so am I! I slowly wake up, wash my face (Boscia Icy-Cold Cleanser), moisturize (Farmers' Market cream) and brush my teeth before heading into the kitchen at 6 a.m.
6:30 a.m. — It’s summer so my new breakfast is in full swing. Greens, frozen banana and avocado, blueberries, Greek yogurt, protein powder, mint! And a medjool date to make my favorite thick and creamy bowl. Top with a drizzle of almond butter, sip some coffee and scroll through Pinterest for morning inspo.
7:20 a.m. — Do my daily workout. Since I stopped my office job in March, I’ve been able to dedicate my previous commute time to exercise: 40 minutes and working by 8 a.m. Winning!
8 a.m. — At my computer, catching up on emails, bopping around different tasks. Since I began running my own design studio full time, it’s been an adjustment of learning how to time-manage, get new clients while balancing relationships with existing ones... Keeps my head properly spinning.
12 p.m. — My self-designated lunch break. However, since my friend called me on her lunch break two hours ago (she’s two hours ahead), I decide to work through this one as I am trying to nail down some animations on a client site I’m working on.
2 p.m. — Leave the house to go to a new client meeting. Luckily, the meeting is a mere 10-minute drive away. Goes well! I head home, prep a contract and first invoice, and the ball is rolling. I love it when things flow easily.
5 p.m. — Go for an afternoon walk to shake out my legs. I love going for a walk without listening to music or podcasts and just listening to my brain. Often, when I am stuck on a design or concept, walking helps me visualize everything so I can get back to my computer with an idea.
6 p.m. — I convince my boyfriend, M., to come over to swim. He comes over but he is so tired that we ultimately do not swim. We sit in the kitchen, catching up with my sister, E., who has been cooking chicken tikka masala all day. It’s so nice to have the three of us together. I live with my parents right now and my dad is away on a business trip while my mom is away visiting friends, so my sister and I are playing house for the week.
8 p.m. — M. is dead on his feet so he goes home and I curl up in my bed, scroll the interwebs for a bit, and then off to an early and restful slumber.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

5:30 a.m. — Same old, same old. Up and at ’em, morning routine, prepping my favorite breakfast, sitting and watching the morning light turn to day. Get in a workout, 30 minutes later my arms are noodles.
8 a.m. — Back to “work.” Even though I did not love my old job, I feel so lucky to have been exposed to the in-office rigidness of the company because it has helped me to have structure and discipline in my days. Hop on a call with one woman I work with and we chat for a bit about her upcoming collection.
10:30 a.m. — In my spare time, I make jewelry. I made one set of earrings for a girl’s wedding and they turned out so cool but to our dismay, the package got lost. I’ve been weighing my options, worried that I may be running out of time to make and ship a whole new set. I find a supply store in Phoenix that I haven’t been to before, call them and discover they have what I need. I halt my computer work and scurry downtown, grab my supplies, stop at another place to grab remaining supplies, and make it back home in time for lunch. $32
12 p.m. — Sit outside and eat my lunch: a wrap with hummus, cucumber, turkey, cheese and spinach with watermelon and chips. Yumm. Listen to a podcast about the power of positive self-talk, which is so good.
1 p.m. — Back to my computer. Prep designs for a concept review at 2 p.m., then finish up working on a site for a client. Schedule one new client meeting for Thursday and have a potential client respond positively. Yay! It has been so satisfying to watch my business grow and I am so excited for where it will lead.
5:30 p.m. — Take a brain break outside and prep to go meet M. for an impromptu date night. We walk from his apartment to a new dinner spot we haven’t tried. M. pays for dinner. Summer nights are so long and lovely, and as long as I don’t walk too fast, I can maintain a comfortable body temperature in a cute outfit. I've been trying not to eat dessert (three days so far, lol) but I cave because I love frozen yogurt and we stop and get some on the walk back. I pay for dessert. $10.17
6 p.m. — My film roll came back. It’s painfully expensive ($20 to develop, $20 for a new roll, paid this past weekend) but it feels so nostalgic to see the pictures come in, full and vibrant, from almost a year ago. I show M. and we reminisce. We haven’t been dating that long but these pics remind us of when we first started talking.
9 p.m. — M. introduces me to The Roast of Tom Brady. We watch for a bit, then go to sleep.
Daily Total: $42.17

Day Three

5:40 a.m. — Wake up to my alarm, give M. a kiss and go home. Luckily I only live 10 minutes away. I love my mornings too much so being home early helps me set up for the day. Get home, brush my teeth and wash my face, make my breakfast.
7:20 a.m. — You know the drill. This time, the workout is butt, hamstrings and abs, 30 minutes and I am sweating. Finish, wash my face and put on my blue light glasses. Time to zone in. I guess I should also note my WFH wardrobe of the day: Free People Movement shorts and a white tank top. Fashion! On my lunch break I will go out in the sun and sometimes I’ll just strip to my undies for 20 minutes instead of putting on a bathing suit. WFH vibes.
10 a.m. — Major win of the day is that I figured out how to make my iPad into a monitor for my laptop. Now I can hold off purchasing a monitor until I really need one. How fabulous!
12 p.m. — After deep diving into site mockups and fine-tuning a draft site, I make my lunch (wrap, chips, plum, watermelon, La Croix) and sit outside in the shade for a brain break. It is exhausting using my brain so intensely for so much of the day, especially coming from my salaried job with So. Much. Downtime. Feels good to look at nature for a second.
5 p.m. — Leave for my afternoon cactus-viewing sunshine walk. Discover a cactus has schlumped over in our yard — it looks so sad all hunched over like that. Hopefully it lived a good long life.
6:30 p.m. — Come home and end up having a sister fight with my sister. Not fun. I leave for M.’s house because we’re going to play pickleball with some friends and I want to shake myself into a better mood.
9 p.m. — Pickleball was fun! We go to a local park so it’s free to play, you just have to put your paddles in the queue and wait. Leaves time for socializing and whatnot. My skills need improving but I leave feeling sunnier.
9:45 p.m. — At M.’s and pass out. A bit drained from the day.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

5:40 a.m. — Wake up and bop over to my house with tired eyes. I’m zonked. Wash my face, brush my teeth, make my coffee and smoothie bowl.
7:20 a.m. — Workout of the day is full-body HIIT. It starts raining during my workout. It's so rare that we get clouds in Arizona so I soak it in for the few minutes I can.
10 a.m. — Hop on a call with a potential new client looking for a portfolio. It goes really well; I think we are going to work together. Building my business one project at a time.
12 p.m. — Wrap up another concept review with a client that goes well (yay!) and prep lunch. A friend calls me while I am sitting outside on my break so I catch up with her for a bit. Most of my friends live all over the country so I value any time I get to spend with them, on the phone or IRL. Put on some SPF and move myself to the sunshine for 20 minutes. Feeling sunned, I return to my “desk” aka the kitchen.
4 p.m. — Wrap my second review call of the day that ALSO goes well. It’s so validating for my clients to give me positive feedback, especially while I am getting my feet on the ground. My best friend calls me at 4 p.m. so I leave for my walk early to debrief a date she went on. I don’t think there will be a second date…
6 p.m. — My dad got back into town today so we make dinner together. I make a Greek salad with toasted pita and hummus, and some red wine to accompany. I also have chocolate again. My willpower needs work. My sister’s friends come over to have drinks before going to dinner so I chat with them for a bit.
6:30 p.m. — A check from a project a while ago comes in the mail. Feels like free money. An extra $275, woohoo! Take the wins where I can get them these days, lol.
9 p.m. — Drink some tea (I always feel so full of ~wellness~ when I drink tea) and retire to my room. M. FaceTimes me to show me his new haircut — it’s cute! And then off to sleep I go.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

6 a.m. — Sleep in an extra 20 minutes because I am in my own bed. Ah, the back and forth of a new relationship. Cue morning routine.
6:30 a.m. — Every morning I also play the NYT games as I eat my breakfast. The mini is hard today but I send my score to my grandma anyway. We send scores every day.
7 a.m. — I remember I wanted to buy M.’s birthday present. Since I’ve tended to make him things for past gifts, I wanted to get him something ACTUALLY nice. I decide on a $200 gift card to J.Hilburn, where he can get a shirt or a pair of pants custom-made with a local stylist. I buy the gift card, girl-mathing it since I deposited my check yesterday, so it’s basically free. $200
8 a.m. — Just finished my workout, actually dripping sweat. I used to just find free workouts but I finally caved and paid for FORM by Sami Clarke and it is so, so worth it. My mom got an inversion table recently so I let the blood rush to my head by hanging upside down for a few minutes each day. I feel like it gets everything moving before I sit down to work.
1 p.m. — I had a website review this morning and I'm working on a book design this afternoon. Talked with the jewelry designer and have some collages to work on. Love bopping around on these different projects.
6 p.m. — Close my computer, go on a walk, come back and rinse off. Get my stuff together to head over to M.’s house for a comedy show tonight with his brother and his brother’s girlfriend. Am I the hugest fan of comedy shows? Probably not but I actually have an enjoyable time outside my usual realm of activity. I contemplate getting a beer but M. doesn’t drink, which has honestly been a good influence on me. We order parmesan fries for the table and I get a sparkling water. (It was $8. The tickets were free but you have to buy two drinks so were they really free?) M. pays for my ticket and our food.
9:30 p.m. — Show’s over. We walk around for a bit in the cool 90 degree weather of the Arizona evening. Back to M.’s to go to sleep.
Daily Total: $200

Day Six

5:30 a.m. — Ahhh, Saturday morning sleep-ins. Or a 5:30 a.m. sun in the face. Lie around for 45 minutes or so, then M. is out to play in a golf tournament and I head back to my house. If you haven’t gathered, I live a very transitional, out-of-a-bag lifestyle, haha.
8 a.m. — Drink coffee with my sister, my dad and our golden doodle, B. I am very close with my family and I really enjoy hanging out together in the mornings. I would love to move out but also I am not sure why I would spend so much money to live with a rando, 15 minutes from my house with my own bed. My eternal conflict. Also feeling relieved because our sister fight was pretty big but as of this morning the tension seems to have dissipated and our regular dynamic has been restored.
9:30 a.m. — Workout complete, I have some cottage cheese to fuel me before my dad, sister and I go on our morning adventure: the Nordstrom Last Chance. One of two in the country, it’s a deep discount digging situation. Must be well-nourished to go into that store.
11:50 a.m. — Made it out alive…with a bargain! I was looking for beach clothes and swimmies (going to Mexico with M.’s family in June) and ended up getting a beautiful Free People silk, lacy dress for $11.91. Since it’s the discount store, of course it’s partially broken, but once I fix it up it will be a cool cover-up, or maybe even shirt tucked into pants. $11.91
1 p.m. — My Saturdays at home in the summer consist of eating my lunch outside in the shade and then floating until I get bored (about one hour), listening to a podcast. I listen to Emma Chamberlain today, alternating between a dip, a dry, a flip and back.
3 p.m. — Feeling crisp and showered and moisturized and B O R E D. Trying to think of something to do. Wish I could hang out with my new friends here but one is sick, one is out of town and one is hungover. The struggles of moving to a new city (my family moved here when I went to college so I’ve never really acclimated until recently). M. calls and invites me to watch a basketball game with his friends. I initially think otherwise but decide making friends wins and say yes. Quickly assemble myself and head out.
8:30 p.m. — Game over, end up at a pizza spot since we’re all starving. I love M.’s friends and really enjoy hanging out with them. I am craving a crisp BGS (big Greek salad!) and it is fabulous. I have some cheesy bread and a slice of M.’s pizza, too, and end up satisfied and tired. M. pays for both our shares of dinner.
9:30 p.m. — Back to M.’s house exhausted, and quickly fall asleep.
Daily Total: $11.91

Day Seven

5:45 a.m. — Sun is shining bright and M. and I decide today is the day to go skiing. Middle of May! Snowbowl is still open in Flagstaff so I quickly run home at 6 a.m. while M. preps his stuff. I grab my skis, make coffee and a smoothie (way thinner than my usual, sad, but has to be straw-practical). M. picks me back up and we head out.
8:30 a.m. — Stop in Sedona at my favorite coffee shop, hidden a bit outside of the town alongside a creek and backing up to the red rocks. I order scrambled eggs on toast with a matcha latte, and M. orders a black coffee with eggs, toast and potatoes. I pay and we eat outside in the cool breeze of the morning. $39.41
9:45 a.m. — Make it to the mountain. There is little snow but just enough for two runs to be open with short lines and sun shining overhead. We spend the day running up and down, enjoying the blue skies and spring skiing energy. Since we already purchased season passes for next winter, the day passes are complimentary. Yay!
2:30 p.m. — Wiped. Head back to the truck and start the two-and-a-half-hour drive home. Stop for food in Flagstaff, as is the ritual. Normally, I would absolutely lay into Chipotle but it is 3 p.m. at this point and my sister, aka an aspiring TikTok-famous chef, is making something delish so I opt for an apple and popcorn at Safeway to hold me over until dinner. I bring my outsider food to Chipotle and eat while M. eats a steak and rice bowl. Kind of jelly but reminding myself how good my dinner will be in a few hours. $6.03
5:30 p.m. — Back at home in the 100 degree heat. Unload my gear and say bye to M. after such a fun day. Rinse off and catch up with my dad and sister about their days. My sister makes us a summer salad with heirloom tomatoes, roasted pine nuts, greens and grilled corn and zucchini with grilled salmon on top. Immediately grateful for my earlier non-Chipotle decision. I have some wine and decide I definitely need some dessert for this day. Hang out with my dad after dinner and hit the hay early after a BDE (best day ever!).
Daily Total: $45.44
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