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A Week In Northern Virginia On A $105,000 Salary

Photo: Courtesy of Jeni's.
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 consultant working in education who makes $105,000 per year spends some of her money this week on Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.
Content Warning: This diary mentions weight loss and dieting.
Occupation: Consultant
Industry: Education
Age: 43
Location: Northern Virginia
Salary: $105,000
Net Worth: -$87,000 (retirement account: $5,000; timeshare equity: $25,000; car: $13,000. My partner and I have separate finances and share household bills equally.)
Debt: $130,000
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $3,000
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,120 (This is my half of the rent; my partner pays $1,000.)
Gas & Electric: $0 (My partner pays for this.)
Phone: $98
Internet: $75 (It’s $150, but my employer reimburses me for half.)
Loans: $2,700 (car, student loan, timeshare, credit cards, personal loan, retirement account repayment)
Life, Car & Renter’s Insurance: $200
Health Insurance: $300
Charitable Donation: $50
Support for a Relative: $200 (they’re in college)
Google Storage: $2.99
Hulu + Live TV, ESPN+ & Disney+: $80
Netflix: $19
Oura Ring: $6
HealthyWage: $150 (until April 2024)
The New York Times: $20
Audible: $15
Annual Expenses
Duolingo: $90

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, there was a definite expectation for me to attend college, which was a discussion that started when I was in early middle school. I actively worked to get good grades in the toughest classes in order to attend college. My parents gave me the greatest gift: They paid for all of my undergrad schooling outright. Their financial goal for me and my siblings was that we would graduate from college debt free.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Zero! We never talked about money, except for sporadic requests for an allowance (which were shot down), conversations about tithing at church (which I never did), and collecting spare change in a plastic Ewok bank. I had no idea what taxes were in a tangible sense or what budgeting actually meant, which set me up for poor money management for all of my adult life. Ironically, my parents are quite wise with money. They simply didn’t grow up in a time or with a model in which people openly discussed money.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I worked as a babysitter in my neighborhood and then at a childcare center. I got the childcare-center job so I could feel grown up and have a little spending money. It didn’t yield much because I worked the minimum hours each pay period and spent most of my time studying and being active in school organizations. I ended up quitting after about a year.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Not at all. My parents mostly gave me and my siblings anything we wanted and never made us feel like we were in financial straits (even when we were). They also never shared any money stresses with us.

Do you worry about money now?
Constantly! I don’t like to look at the details (like statements) because they make me feel like an incapable adult. It’s embarrassing to admit that I’m financially unskilled, especially because I possess several degrees and am academically educated. And that makes it hard to ask for help. It’s a damn vicious cycle.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially independent at 26. I have multiple savings accounts with nothing in them, but I do believe in using retirement accounts or life insurance to support your needs when necessary (though practically every financial adviser says pulling from these accounts is the worst choice you can make). So, I guess those are safety nets?

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents paid for my undergraduate education and gave me their cars to use throughout graduate school.

Day One

8:15 a.m. — My alarm goes off, though I’ve been awake for an hour and doing that thing where you lie in bed and force your eyes to stay closed. I would never be getting up to an alarm on a Sunday morning but I got a last-minute nail appointment. I do my bathroom routine — brush, moisturize, deodorize — and check my Oura Ring for last night’s sleep stats (yikes, 74, not awesome), then go to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher and make a protein coffee. I kiss my partner, Z., who is still in bed and swaddled like a baby, then jump in the car for my nail fill and pedicure. I pay in cash. $105
12 p.m. — I go home and make waffles for Z. She loved the ones I made yesterday and asks for a repeat. I end up using all the butter and syrup, which adds to the grocery list for later. We eat the waffles as we watch reruns of Family Matters. Episodes with Myrtle Urkel are the best.
3:30 p.m. — After a few hours, we have veggie dumplings from Trader Joe’s. We need to go grocery shopping, and I find — aligning with popular theory — that I buy much more food when shopping hungry. We go to the grocery store to shop alongside every other person in the county who is getting ready for the work week. I love our grocery store: It has spectacular prepared foods and baked goods. I get whipped butter (for spreading), stick butter (for baking), toilet paper, pasta, maple syrup, probiotic teas, parsley, applesauce, cheeses, fingerling potatoes, a prepared Peruvian chicken dish, a prepared squash-and-spinach dish, and a mousse cup. $110.03
8:30 p.m. — I scarf down the chicken and squash once we get home. I eat the mousse as we watch 90 Day Fiancé. We have lots of strong opinions, especially about the guy who has an apartment with an outhouse.
10:30 p.m. — I moisturize my face, put on my hair bonnet, and grab my mouth guard (to mitigate my aggressive tooth grinding) before jumping in bed for a long wind-down. Z. and I joke around and fall asleep with episodes of Living Single on TV.
Daily Total: $215.03

Day Two

7:45 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm. Z. is already at work (small-business owner). I make the bed and a protein coffee, read some articles, and play some NYTimes games (I can’t solve any of them until after 11 because my brain is dissolved). I discover that my only meeting of the day got moved, so I have no obligations other than my own projects. My morning Oura Ring report says my sleep was 88 last night — a huge improvement. I chug water before going down to the apartment complex gym for 20 minutes of intervals (walk flat, walk on an incline, run flat, repeat) followed by a walk around the neighborhood.
10:45 a.m. — I tackle a brief work project and prep for an upcoming meeting. I make Nutrisystem weight-loss mashed potatoes. I’ve probably been consciously trying to lose weight since I was about 15? Being heavy, based on hugely biased medical standards, is expensive. Based on my weight alone, I pay more than lighter people for life and health insurance, though by all other measures — cholesterol, blood pressure, glycemic index — I’m completely healthy and not at risk of anything. It’s 100% based on the number on the scale. It enrages me. But I also want my life-insurance costs to drop, so I’m hate-eating my weight-loss mashed potatoes and leftover squash. I then shower and smell delightful.
1:15 p.m. — Project and preparation dunzo. I take a break and eat weight-loss chili. In the midst of chomping, maintenance comes by and fixes the air conditioning. Bless the Lord! There’s been a warm wave for the past four days, and we are beyond grateful for the flow of cold air again. This is one of the things that makes me reluctant to ever become a homeowner: All maintenance issues are currently not my problem, nor do I have to pay for them. I looked through the record of maintenance requests we’ve put in over three years of living here and calculate that that repairs would easily have cost us thousands of dollars if we owned this place. I’d rather be free to do whatever I want and not be tied to my home just because it builds equity or is part of the hoax that is the “American Dream.” I take a break from existential contemplation to answer some Slack messages, shower, and purchase Shrek the Third to play in the background. I hydrate with water and munch on a dill pickle and almonds. $14.99
3:15 p.m. — I eat a tuna burger with cilantro sauce and start a Japanese zombie movie on Netflix, which is about a grinding corporate guy who is grateful for the start of the zombie apocalypse because it means he doesn’t have to go into work. Love it. I take a pause to be a little productive by loading the dishwasher and washing my mountain of dirty clothes. Ever since I switched to 100% remote work from a typical nine-to-five, brick-and-mortar job, my life has been a million times better. Work has become a part of my life rather than the center, and I’m able to rest, make my own schedule, do creative hobbies, watch TV whenever I want, and, most critically, bake and cook almost daily. It makes me feel more like a human. The wailing dog from one of my neighbors, though, makes it hard to focus. I decide to do my daily Duolingo instead.
5:30 p.m. — The day is done, and I log off. I turn over the laundry, hand wash a few dishes, and unload the dishwasher. I get started on my cookie batter for tomorrow: pumpkin spice with cream cheese frosting. I roast some broccoli and fingerling potatoes afterward and eat a bowl of weight-loss pasta.
9 p.m. — Whew. Finished all my baking and cooking just in time for Below Deck Mediterranean. Now it’s time to get in the bed for a lounge and some House Hunters. I hit the hay by 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $14.99

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — My alarm goes off. It’s HALLOWEEN! I'm so pumped for the day: two quick meetings and then on with the festivities. Ever since my niblings (my siblings’ kids) were born, Halloween has been a big deal in my family, so I’ll be spending the early afternoon with them. I pop up and do my morning routine — brush teeth, moisturize, deodorize — with the addition of leave-in conditioner today. It’s actually cold enough to wear my new fluffy sweater that I impulsively bought this summer — it wasn’t a waste of money after all. After getting dressed, I take out the garbage, scroll a few articles, play my NYTimes games, and make a protein coffee. I get paid today, so I venmo my partner my portion of rent. My check is a couple of hundred dollars higher than usual — not complaining but I’ll need to investigate so I know whether or not to expect the same amount going forward.
10 a.m. — I log on to Slack and Zoom so I can have my first (and hopefully productive) meeting. While I wait for my boss to arrive, I read an article about Angel Reese in The Athletic. We have a solid-yet-efficient meeting and end 45 minutes early. I’m given a new short-term project while also being the lone developer for a new product we’re launching, but it’s okay. I hold onto hope that the expansion of my role and responsibilities sets me up for a salary increase within the next year. When we’re done, I make another cup of coffee, wipe down the kitchen, and fold clean laundry. While I wait for my second meeting to start, I check my Oura Ring sleep stats from last night — 84, pretty good.
12:30 p.m. — Done for the day. Well, with formal meetings, at least. I’ll keep checking my Slack messages. I go to my parents’ house for Halloween shenanigans, listening to my creepy-yet-comedic haunted house novel on Audible (I’m trying to finish it today in honor of Halloween). My mom has given me a list of items to buy for her from Trader Joe’s (we are a Trader Joe’s family), and she reimburses me when I arrive.
8:30 p.m. — I’m back at my own home after a spooktacular (heh, heh) day. I bought pepperoni pizza from Costco ($10.55), and Z. got us candy. Halloween ain’t Halloween if Twizzlers ain’t involved. I shower, and we stream The Skeleton Key. Z. has never seen it before, and her mind is blown. We go to bed afterward. $10.55
Daily Total: $10.55

Day Four

8 a.m. — My alarm goes off, and it’s HARD getting up today. I do my bathroom routine — brush teeth, deodorize, moisturize — and get ready for the day. I scan some NYTimes articles but don’t deeply read anything because the news is more than depressing. I play my morning games and realize I forgot to do Duolingo yesterday. I see that I have a streak freeze that will prevent me from losing my record — 445 days straight now.
9:45 a.m. — I finish the last 10 minutes of my audiobook. My retirement account repayment has been automatically deducted from my checking. All my payments are automated, except for the ones going to my credit card. I tell Z. that I’m manifesting us winning the lottery. She doesn’t seem weirded out by that notion. I start working on a work project. It’s been a long schlep, and my boss is persnickety, so I’m hoping this is the final round of feedback and editing.
10:30 a.m. — I get a call to do a six-hour course presentation online because the main presenter is in the emergency room. I scramble to put on a button-down shirt and some earrings. This is about to be six hours of screen misery — not the way I imagined my day unfolding. Again: I’m hoping this kind of thing is leading to a salary increase.
2:15 p.m. — Lunch break. I heat up leftover pizza and some of my roasted potatoes and broccoli. I schedule a dinner pickup from Raising Cane’s tonight, for both me and Z., because I need comfort food today.
5:30 p.m. — EFFING DONE (insert melting emoji). Time to shoot off emails and a Slack note before picking up my Cane’s. $26.65.
7:30 p.m. — The Cane’s is unusually delicious, or maybe I’m just starving? Either way, Z. and I both agree this was the right call. We veg out on the sofa watching a parade of reality TV: 100 Day Dream Home and Married at First Sight. Afterward, we talk about manifesting the lottery win and make a sort of plan board that we put up in a visible place. We hit the hay around midnight.
Daily Total: $26.65

Day Five

8 a.m. — Alarm goes off, and Z. has rolled into the middle of the bed, leaving me with a tiny edge. I laugh heartily because she swears up and down that she absolutely does not creep over to my side while asleep. I do my morning routine: brush teeth, moisturize, deodorize. I get dressed for the day, read my NYTimes articles, play games, and make a protein coffee.
10 a.m. — I settle in to tackle the work projects that were bumped from yesterday. I also have to make a plan to workout today; I can almost hear my muscles creaking, and my Oura Ring has set a higher-than-typical calorie-burn goal. I will definitely be getting in some steps later on.
10:30 a.m. — Pizza slice break. Costco pizza continues to slap two days later.
12:30 p.m. — Lunch break. I heat up plant-based sausages (with mustard and relish) and roasted broccoli. I watch Disney+ programming before my afternoon meetings.
4:30 p.m. — I’m done with three consecutive meetings. Time for more roasted potatoes. Z. and I talk about our continued disappointment (or rage) over the cancellation of the show East New York. I have lost all desire to do anything with movement today, and my Oura Ring is mad. It’s gonna have to just be mad. I steam veggie dumplings, and we watch the latest episode of Found. Afterward, we dance around the house when we happen upon the theme song to the ’80s show Amen on YouTube. I steam the rest of the veggie dumplings before we start watching Black Cake, which is a total snooze. Z. commits to finishing the first episode while I do my Duolingo.
8 p.m. — Ice cream run! And when there’s a craving, there’s only one to get: Jeni’s. We drive to Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck) because they have the widest selection of Jeni’s flavors. It’s wildly expensive, but today pints are on sale for $2 off. It’s the best-quality ice cream of life, and I get three pints. We drive home and turn on the Milli Vanilli documentary. It’s stunningly good. I shower and go to bed by 11:30 p.m. $23.30
Daily Total: $23.30

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — My alarm goes off. I'm not ready. My stomach went through it last night after my ice cream. Yes, ice cream is bae and also yes, it wrecks my guts. So now the morning wake-up is a groggy one. Whatever. I make a protein coffee, do my morning routine (hygiene, reading, Oura Ring check), then jump into the work day. Thankfully, I have no meetings on the docket, so I should be able to get things checked off my list easily.
11:30 a.m. — Weight-loss pasta break.
1:15 p.m. — After a lengthy morning of continuous work, Z. and I take a break and go to our local soul food café for delicious catfish, grits, smothered chicken, biscuits, and two orders of wings to take home for dinner later on. $97.50
3:45 p.m. — FREAKING DONE with my project. I shut down my computer and prep for the weekend by taking a nap.
6:30 p.m. — Z. and I heat up the wings leftover from lunch and settle in to watch this week’s episode of The Golden Bachelor. Spoiler alert: Gerry doesn’t give away his two roses at the end of the episode! We now have to wait until next week to see whom he decides to kick to the curb. Team Faith all day every day. We watch the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in its entirety.
12:30 a.m. — What a long but excellent ceremony, with Missy Elliott’s ah-mazing performance capping it all off. We get in bed later than usual but, hey, it’s the weekend.
Daily Total: $97.50

Day Seven

8:45 a.m. — I wake up slightly before my alarm because I have a networking lunch for a possible new job today. “On the weekend?” you’re surely asking. I’m responding, “I know, right?” I quickly make a protein coffee, drink water, and go to the gym for cardio intervals because I’ve done nothing beyond stretching for three straight days. Afterward, I take the fastest shower in history so that I can leave home on time.
12 p.m. — Lunch is fun. We talk careers and organizational development. My food is paid for, so I insist on covering the tip. $20
4 p.m. — I make cacio e pepe, and it doesn’t turn out as well as when I’ve made it in the past. Womp womp.
6:30 p.m. — Goosebumps! A Haunting in Venice! Quiz Lady! Goosebumps feels about two episodes too long, and Venice is a semi-sleeper, but Quiz Lady is exceptionally good — highly recommend.
11:30 p.m. — Go to bed after this week’s episode of The Great British Baking Show. Z. and I have yet another giggling disagreement about who starfishes in the bed. Spoiler alert: it’s not me. I drift off to sleep.
Daily Total: $20
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