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A Week In The Bay Area, CA, On A $43,000 Salary

Photo: Courtesy of Spirit Halloween.
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 digital imaging specialist working in the arts who makes $43,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a Morticia Addams costume.
Editor’s Note: The writer submitted her first Money Diary in 2017. You can read the original one here.
Occupation: Digital imaging specialist
Industry: Arts
Age: 28
Location: Bay Area, CA
Salary: $43,000
Net Worth: -$335 (checking: $1,315; HYSA: $1,335; regular savings: $715; Roth IRA: $200. My small savings are not higher than my debt, despite my best efforts. I would rather have a bit of debt that I’m not completely paying off than zero cash for emergencies.)
Debt: $3,900 (credit card: $2,200; parent loan: $1,700. I’m currently on a self-imposed credit card ban, for obvious reasons.)
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): ~$1,300 (I’m paid hourly, so if I need to take an appointment or have an emergency, my paycheck is lower.)
Pronouns: She/they

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $850 (I have a sweet set up with a very generous roommate/friend who earns over double what I do. If I were truly paying half, my rent would be $1,200, but we have a notarized agreement that states I will pay a smaller portion unless I change jobs.)
Internet: ~$27 (my half)
Utilities: ~$27 (my half)
Phone: $0 (parents pay)
Health Insurance: $140
Renter’s Insurance: $25
Therapy: $180 (two appointments a month at a sliding-scale clinic, $90 per appointment)
Prescription Co-pay: $15 (I’m on meds for my mental health, one for a blood disorder, and another to stop my periods due to pain related to the blood disorder.)
Cat Food & Litter: $55
Amazon Prime: $23.99 (includes Prime Video)
Spotify: $9.99
Photoshop: $9.99
Netflix: $15

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?
My family never encouraged me to pursue higher education, but the schools I attended encouraged eager students like myself to aim for college. I wanted to go into the arts and auditioned for colleges. I completed a (relatively useless but highly enjoyable) liberal arts degree and have since attended free community college courses to further my graphic arts knowledge. I’m very privileged to have attended a college without going into debt — most students were not in my position, taking out loans and working harder than I needed to work. That experience taught me the importance of the opportunities I was given. I wish I had this perspective earlier, and it’s clear from my past diary that I wasn’t interested in saving much, which makes me cringe to this day.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents imparted zero financial education to me. The vibe was always: “We’re doing well financially, and you’re a smart kid, so don’t worry about money. You’ll figure it out. You’ll be fine.” I definitely don’t feel “fine” at this point in my life.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I had the odd babysitting or catering jobs in high school, but my first real job was working retail during the summers while at home from college. My parents encouraged me to start paying for more of my basic needs. During the school year, I assisted at the fine arts school and worked late nights at a minimart on campus. My parents paid my tuition, and I got my own groceries and basics during this time.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No, never. My parents absolutely made mistakes and even asked my older sister, who was a teen at the time, to help pay the mortgage. I was sheltered as the younger one and was never aware of any struggles. My perception was that we were all set for life with my dad’s great job and home ownership, but this is clearly not the case. They are struggling to remain employed and financially stable in their older ages.

Do you worry about money now?
Every day. It feels like no matter how hard I stick to a budget and save, something comes up with my health, or I slip and go over in one area of spending. I am considering leaving my position, and the biggest reason is the wage, which is extremely low for this area.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I’m not truly financially independent. My parents pay for my phone plan and helped me with an apartment deposit when I moved recently. I included the deposit in my debt above because I intend to pay it back in small chunks. I moved out of my parents place at 26 and have been paying most expenses since then but struggling. This area is HARD with the tech boom pushing the cost of living up and up. You could also argue that I am dependent on my community because my roommate, girlfriend, sister, and friends, who make more than me, pick up charges like meals we eat together, rides we take, and event tickets that I sometimes cannot afford. I’m endlessly grateful for that support and love. At this point, my parents aren’t doing well financially, so it’s time for me to get it together and create a safety net for myself. I could still move back in with them if things truly fell apart.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I have not inherited income, but as stated above, my parents have helped me immensely. The recent housing help was the largest sum they’ve given me, besides paying for my education. They also covered several large medical bills (~$1,000) and kept me on their insurance until I was 26.

Day One

7 a.m. — I wake up and read while cuddling my cat. For breakfast, I fry eggs, make toast, and sip a drip coffee with sugar and almond milk. I load up my bike, a hand-me-down from my sister.
8:45 a.m. — I ride to my work studio. I bike about 25 miles a week with my commute. I’m not interested in owning a car, but it would be nice to not feel stressed about Lyft prices on days when I’m sore or tired.
10 a.m. — After catching up on emails, checking on file transfers for quality, and invoicing clients to get their projects started, I make a drip coffee and have a slice of leftover chocolate cake. Coffee is the only perk my boss regularly provides for our small team, and we appreciate it!
1:30 p.m. — I clock out for lunch and heat up the veggie fried rice I meal-prepped over the weekend. I drink a seltzer while reading Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. This is my third read — I highly recommend it.
5:15 p.m. — I close down the studio and bike home, despite feeling exhausted. I didn’t get to sleep until quite late, and the ride feels intimidating, but I zip through the three miles, enjoying golden hour and dog spotting along the way.
6:30 p.m. — I cook up garlic-and-herb pierogies and have them with a Topo Chico. I also eat leftover charcuterie from the housewarming we held over the weekend. I watch Beckham and melt into the couch.
8:30 p.m. — I add new soil to a pot and plant cuttings my friend gave me — getting cuttings from friends is a great way to save on plants! I play my Switch until late, falling asleep at 11 p.m.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — Wake up, watch YouTube, read Fun Home, and make eggs, toast, and coffee. I also drink half a yerba mate that was leftover from the weekend. My eyelids are heavy, and I really didn’t sleep enough.
8:30 a.m. — Skincare isn’t an interest of mine, and I’m lucky that my face stays clear despite my low-maintenance attitude. This also means I spend very little on beauty products. I wash with Burt’s Bees cleanser and apply Trader Joe’s Daily Facial Sunscreen, then bike to work.
12:45 p.m. — During my break, I watch an Insta story in which a friend is eating Taco Bell, and it instigates a craving. I brought a packaged Trader Joe’s pasta salad from home, but I can eat that tomorrow. My boss wants food as well, so we use his rewards coupon for part of the order. Having a boss who doesn’t pay himself a million to run the business and leave us with pennies can be nice. It’s obvious this business exists out of his love for the arts, and that’s why I work here, too. I get a burrito, plus guac and chips. $15
4:30 p.m. — I work on scanning and color-matching artworks for a couple of client projects. My girlfriend, A.’s, gym is in the same complex as my job, and she surprises me by staying after her session to drive me home. I leave my bike at the studio.
5:15 p.m. — I sort laundry and take it to the laundry room in my building. I loaded $15 onto the laundry app last week — so much better than coins! The loads cost $2.25 each, so $4.50 total is charged to the app.
5:30 p.m. — I was too exhausted last night to shower and I realize it’s been three days — oof. I use Hask shampoo and conditioner, EO shower gel, Jergens body lotion, and CeraVe moisturizer on my face.
6:30 p.m. — A. comes back over after she’s had her shower and changed out of her gym clothes. She orders us Mendocino Farms because we both want something green, and I failed to get enough veggies in my grocery shop last week. My partner is extremely giving and works in finance, making almost quadruple what I do. My sandwich and half the salad would be about $20, but she pays. I’m infinitely grateful.
7 p.m. — I put one load of heavy laundry in the dryer. I’m spending about $30 a month on laundry, which doesn’t feel too bad. I hang my delicates in my apartment, which saves me a little coin while also preserving my small collection of Fabletics biking spandex. My cat enjoys playing with clothespins, so we have fun while I finish hanging everything.
7:30 p.m. — We watch Alien3 and cringe at the bad filmmaking. While watching, we eat our dinner (I have a few hard seltzers with mine), then cuddle until late. I want to go to sleep but connection is important to me! She leaves around 11 p.m., making jokes about what men say when they awkwardly leave one-night stands. “This was fun… I’ll text you for sure.”
Daily Total: $15

Day Three

8 a.m. — I sleep through multiple alarms. This is not my week. I dress in biking clothes, make and eat breakfast, and then process that my bike is at the studio, and I need to call a Lyft. I schedule one with a 15-minute window to save a couple of bucks and change into jeans and a T-shirt.
9 a.m. — My drive takes 15 minutes, and the driver gets a little lost in an industrial area. All good, I’m just happy to be sitting and not biking. I get to work and tip the driver well (there’s no excuse to use a gig service and deprive the worker of a living wage, even if it’s ultimately the company’s fault). $14
1 p.m. — For lunch, I eat a Trader Joe’s pasta salad with Cheez-Its, and drink half a Celsius and a seltzer I brought to work last week.
1:30 p.m. — Amazon informs me that my Halloween costume, ordered a good 10 days before I need it, has been delayed until after the holiday. I search for one that will arrive faster, and, of course, it’s uglier, not in my size, and $20 more. I order it and hope that Spirit Halloween will provide something better tonight, so I can do a return. $52.18 (refunded on Day Seven)
2:15 p.m. — Covered California healthcare calls me. It’s open enrollment, and I have decided to pay more for healthcare in order to have lower co-pays. As someone with chronic illnesses (bipolar 1, chronic pain, and an autoimmune blood platelet disorder), I can’t be paying $60 for a check-up or $40 each time I need blood tests. I’ve already done the math and know that paying $50 or 60 more per month will shake out better with lower co-pays.
3:30 p.m. — I package and ship a piece of art. I feel alienated from my labor, yet touching artworks that will last in museums for lifetimes does awaken a little awe in me and is part of the reason I stick around.
4:45 p.m. — I leave early to go to a COVID-19 booster appointment. The pharmacy is severely understaffed, and I wait 45 minutes while reading Fun Home. The jab is covered by insurance.
6:30 p.m. — A. picks me up from my place, and we drive to Spirit Halloween, but the line is around the block! She offers to come back tomorrow during the day to see if there’s any Morticia Addams dresses for me. It’s late, and we’re both tired and hungry. I offer to cook, but she has a specific craving from an Italian place we like: ravioli, gnocchi, and a salad. She pays, and my half would be about $30. She expresses that the value in her life grows when we share food and experiences together, even if she is the one paying for them the majority of the time.
7 p.m. — We watch Schitt’s Creek, play Dead by Daylight on our Switches, and drift off around midnight (I’m sleeping at her place).
Daily Total: $14

Day Four

7:45 a.m. — A.’s alarm goes off, and she takes an early Zoom call for her work. I play my Switch and pet her cat while she catches up with her team.
9 a.m. — We head to a primary-care appointment for me ($65 co-pay). I’ve been experiencing severe chronic pain in my shoulders and back, and my new psychiatrist can’t prescribe the anti-anxiety medication I’ve used for years because of parent company rules. I discuss these issues with my doc, and she prescribes muscle relaxers and gives me a physical therapy referral. We also discuss finding an accessible, in-person psychiatrist that can treat me with all my preferred meds, because her parent company has the same rule as my new psychiatrist. $65
10 a.m. — A. and I stop for bagels with lox cream cheese and chocolate malt ice coffees. We sit inside to watch the bagel line, and a mesmerizing robotic arm puts raw bagels on a pastry rack. I venmo her for my half of breakfast. $15
10:30 a.m. — She drives me to work, and I get stuck reading emails and packaging prints to ship.
1:30 p.m. — For lunch, I have veggie fried rice, a Kirkland protein snack pack, a seltzer, and Meiji chocolate candy.
4:30 p.m. — A. picks me up after her gym session, and I’m exhausted after little sleep and the COVID-19 vaccine aches so I let my team know that I’m leaving early. As we get to my place, A. hands me a Morticia dress from Spirit Halloween, and then my Amazon package is in my lobby. I try on the dresses, and the Amazon one is a significantly worse fit. I initiate the return and ask A. how much the one from Spirit Halloween cost. I venmo her. $33
6 p.m. — I make a bean and cheese quesadilla and eat it with salsa verde, and a Modelo beer. Finishing the Beckham doc on Netflix and chatting with my roommate fills some time.
7 p.m. — I’m feeling pretty low and exhausted. I shower, then get into bed, read Fun Home, and play my Switch, falling asleep very early at 9 p.m.
Daily Total: $113

Day Five

7 a.m. — I wake up after 10 hours of sleep still feeling rough and tired with swollen, achy lymph nodes. I shoot a text to my boss to let him know I’ll be home today. For once, there are tasks I can do from my laptop later. I feed my cat, then fall back asleep.
12 p.m. — I wake up and cuddle with my cat, stealing myself to get out of my warm bed. I’ve clearly worn myself down. The lack of sleep, forgetting to shower this week, and fatalist thoughts about my financial and career future, are all signs that I’m slipping into a depressive episode. I don’t currently adjust medication for these times but I’m thinking of ways to set myself up for better success in the next week.
1 p.m. — I eat toast and fried eggs and pour coffee and a Nuun hydration drink. My room is a mess, so I tidy up, put away all my dry laundry, complete some plant care, and set up my desk to work from home. One of the needs that I’ve let slide since moving two months ago is a solid, supportive desk chair. A dining chair with a lumbar pillow will suffice until Facebook Marketplace provides something worthwhile.
2 p.m. — I pour myself a mint yerba mate and mix it with lemonade and lime seltzer over ice. My coworkers are back online after their lunch across town, so I hop on as well. It’s time for emails, checking file transfers and outsourced restorations, then educating myself on the new CRM software.
4 p.m. — There isn’t much for me to complete from home, so I clock out. I scroll Facebook Marketplace and send a message to a seller with a green velvet desk chair. I’m hungry so I snack on Trader Joe’s pumpkin pancakes with peanut butter and maple syrup. They reheat surprisingly well.
5 p.m. — I steam the creases out of my Morticia dress, then line up all the parts of my costume: press-on nails from Amazon, nail glue, black wig, black thigh-high tights. The wig, dress, and nails came to about $70 — not the most responsible spending, but I really wanted to go all-out for a matching costume with my partner.
6:30 p.m. — A. and our friends come over to get ready together. I offer them all White Claws, hard kombucha, and Modelos from my fridge. A. orders two pizzas, and everyone has a slice or two. We take some shots of silver tequila from my cabinet and shoot polaroids of each other before one of my friends orders an Uber XL.
10:30 p.m. — We wait in a security line at the gay club. A. got us tickets a month ago, and I’m assuming everyone except me paid her back the $30. Once inside, she buys us all cocktails and gets cash for tipping performers, handing me 20 $1 bills. We head up to the rooftop for a spooky maze, then smoke American Spirits and watch an aerial show.
12:30 a.m. — My friend gets us all another drink at this point. We watch the drag numbers, and I tip generously from A.’s stash, getting rowdy with the crowd.
2 a.m. — As we finish our drinks on the rooftop, we smell the street hot dogs outside. We can’t resist each getting a dog, so we pile our cash together to pay for them. They’re $7 each, plus tip, but I only have one $5 bill. $5
2:30 a.m. — A. orders an Uber. It takes a while to come, but we get back to mine around 3 a.m., wash up, and fall into my bed.
Daily Total: $5

Day Six

10 a.m. — We slowly wake up together and gossip about last night and A.’s family. I cook us eggs and toast, and we eat it with coffee while watching Schitt’s Creek.
12 p.m. — A. packs up and heads off, so I can have alone time. I chill in bed and watch YouTube videos, play my Switch, and finish Fun Home. I also have a Nuun hydration drink (I buy the tabs in bulk on Amazon).
2 p.m. — I heat up pizza and eat a Caesar salad with a Mexican Coke. I shame myself for not being interested in job hunting or my hobbies. I’m tired.
5 p.m. — I receive a notification from my healthcare app, reminding me to make a payment toward my $169.79 bill from a recent video visit to discuss my autoimmune disorder. I can’t afford to make that payment right now, so I dismiss it. I can take six months to complete payments with this institution so I will complete it in small chunks.
5:30 p.m. — I feed my cat and fry up my own dinner: Trader Joe’s gnocchi with added cherry tomatoes, cheese, and seasoning. It’s a carb-y week. I wind down by 10 p.m.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8:45 a.m. — My muscle relaxant prescription is ready, so I order free delivery. The co-pay is $0.42. $0.42
9 a.m. — I cook the last egg in the carton and have it with toast and coffee. I put two returns in my bag to take to the Amazon drop-off at Whole Foods, and A. picks me up. The Marketplace seller of the chair could only meet between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, so we’re yawning and complaining together.
9:30 a.m. — The seller’s house is hectic, with two young kids running around. I was considering haggling, but the chair is in great condition and is less than half the original price, plus it’s super comfy. I venmo the seller her asking price, and we put the chair in the back seat of A.’s car. $65
10 a.m. — We head to Whole Foods to return the ill-fitting Morticia dress and a picture frame I ordered previously. They’re accepted as returns, putting $65 back in my account. I usually wouldn’t shop at Whole Paycheck but I’m out of basics, and the prices for those aren’t too ridiculous. I get 18 eggs, two shelf-stable almond milks, and treat myself to a fresh loaf of Acme olive bread. $20.87
12 p.m. — After various errands, we get back to mine, and I take some brie cheese and fig jam out of the fridge, then cut up half of the olive loaf to have along with it. We watch Schitt’s Creek, Juno, and Se7en with my roommate. We also have a little Mario Kart interlude.
6 p.m. — I offer to cook pasta, but A. is craving Indian food, so we order (A. pays). After dinner, she heads off, and I’m asleep by 10 p.m.
Daily Total: $86.29
If you are experiencing anxiety or depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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