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A Week In Silicon Valley, CA, On A $147,000 Salary

Photo: REI
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: an engineer who makes $147,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a backpacking backpack.
Occupation: Engineer
Industry: Robotics
Age: 25
Location: Silicon Valley, CA
Salary: $147,000 ($132,000 base and $15,000 RSUs, with bonus historically between $10,000 and $20,000).
Net Worth: ~$205,000 (checking/savings: $6,174, HYSA: $5,024, investments: $96,077, individual stocks: $1,694, Roth IRA: $25,032, 401(k): $62,870, HSA: $8,520).
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $2,896
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,280 (I have a small room in a three-bed apartment that I share with two friends and a dog).
Utilities: ~$60-$80
Internet: $25
Spotify: $5
Phone: $25
Parents' Electricity/Gas Bills: ~$100-$150
Health/Dental/Vision Insurance: $57.06 (pre-tax).
HSA Contribution: $242.30 (pre-tax).
401(k): $1,576.76 (pre-tax).

Annual Expenses
Costco Membership: $30 (my share with my roommates).
Donations: ~$1,500 (I donate in chunks to make better use of matching funds from my employer/fundraising campaigns. Last year, I donated to the local food bank and an all-girls robotics team).
Renter's Insurance: $96
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?
There was no question about going to college — I didn't even realize that there were other options. My parents fit the "tiger parent" stereotype pretty well — nothing but exceptional was acceptable and our studies were paramount over all else. I definitely worked myself hard in high school, to an unhealthy degree — I remember falling asleep at my desk and feeling constantly stressed and tired. Overall though, I excelled in academics and ended up attending a private university on a full-ride scholarship, which covered full tuition, room and board, and a stipend. I was able to graduate with no debt and about $25,000 in savings from summer internships, which has been a huge head start financially. I am considering going back to school part-time to get my master's in the next few years.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We only talked about the importance of saving and the difference between needs and wants. We were always comfortable enough and I was told that money wasn't a thing that kids should be concerned about. We never had things like allowances and I didn't learn to create a budget for myself until university. Since then, I've taught myself a fair bit about personal finance — my parents have a more conservative approach towards their savings but I've been convinced by the math of compound interest to invest while I'm young. My parents encouraged me to start funding my retirement accounts from my very first summer job, which felt excessive but in hindsight was very good advice.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My parents very much had the mindset of "school is your job" and I wasn't allowed to get a part-time job growing up. I did occasionally tutor math in the summers in high school, mostly for my friends' younger siblings. All of that went into savings per an agreement with my parents, other than about $30 put aside per month for my "fun" money. My first real job was a summer internship after my first year of university — it was a great learning opportunity and gave me a lot of hands-on experience. I lived at home and drove my parents' car that summer and was able to save basically everything other than gas for the commute.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Not at all. My parents sheltered their kids from as much as possible, in every sense. I know my father lost his job in the 2008 financial crisis but not much was explained besides that he was "taking a break" and gardening more than usual. My parents were pretty frugal — I grew up with a lot of hand-me-downs and we didn't go on vacations but I never worried about getting what I needed. My mother would cut coupons and taught me how to shop sales when meal planning. However, we were also able to do some extracurriculars that weren't cheap, like piano lessons and weekend Chinese school. Only in the last few years have my parents been willing to tell me more about their youth — both of them grew up in poverty and were the first in their families to go to college. They have stories of having a single plain bowl of rice for a whole day's worth of food and not having electricity at night. I understand why they wanted to keep financial worries away from us, given their own childhoods.
Do you worry about money now?
Not on a day-to-day basis. I wouldn't say worried but I am definitely mindful about long-term financials — my parents are helping provide for my grandparents in our home country and I would like to be able to support my parents in their retirement. As it stands, we're not sure if they'll be able to retire in California, especially since they've been having to cover my grandparents' rising medical costs. I'm hoping they can stay nearby (at least weekend-visiting range) since I really want to be able to keep visiting regularly as they get older, and I am doing my best to save to help support them in that if needed. I would also like to give my potential children the financial stability I experienced growing up, but it's difficult in a place like the Bay. For now, my recurring costs are relatively low and I'm doing my best to save aggressively while I'm still young.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I'd say after graduating and starting my current job when I was 22. I know that if something happened and I lost my job, I'd definitely be allowed to head home to my parents and stay with them till things stabilized again, but I do have my own financial cushion to fall back on before that.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents put $2,000 towards my first car as a graduation gift after college. I also received approximately $1,000 throughout childhood in red envelopes from relatives and family friends, which my parents held onto while I was young and gave to me when I first went to college.

Day One

8:30 a.m. — My roommate, T., knocks on the door, telling me to get up. We went to a birthday party last night and got home just shy of 3 a.m., so I have no idea why I agreed to go hiking with her or how she's actually awake enough and willing to follow through on our decisions. Guess I'm getting up! Get ready quickly and apply my extra strong sunscreen. I have a habit of not eating in the mornings but that doesn't go well with long hikes, so I pack a protein bar and banana for the hike. We check up on our roommate's dog to see if he wants to come along but he's thoroughly asleep.
9:15 a.m. — We're there! One of my favorite things about where we live is the proximity to so many beautiful hikes. Today's hike is a partially shaded hill hike with nice views of the valley and a reservoir. We meant to do about a seven-mile hike but we get a little lost and end up going about nine miles. The protein bar is truly not delicious and I wonder again why I bother with them.
2:30 p.m. — Well, we're both super hungry after our longer than expected hike. We stop at T.'s favorite ice cream place on the way home. I get my favorite flavor, honey lavender, and tip to an even number. $7
3 p.m. — Home! Time for lunch. We make chicken wraps with avocado, tomato, pesto, lettuce and onion. Catch up with our other roommate, L., and her dog. We both wash up and I end up being a potato in the sunshine as my hair dries. Moisturize with what I usually put on at night: Laneige Water Bank Moisture Cream all over, then Neutrogena Hydro Boost Serum around my eyes and mouth area.
5 p.m. — Get up from semi-nap time — it's time to actually do something productive today! I get cooking, tonight's meal prep will be red Thai curry and cauliflower rice. While the curry simmers, I call home and check in with my parents/siblings. They recently got a really sweet cat, who I adore and get pictures of basically every day. They also show off their massive haul of fruit from the backyard. My mom tells me she left some on the tree for when I visit home.
8 p.m. — Eat some of the food with T. before we both clean up. We usually split our food costs evenly and share whatever we end up cooking. In general, I like to cook a lot and she's more on top of actually grabbing the groceries on our list, so it works out really well!
10 p.m. — Call my partner, B. He's in grad school in another state, so we end up talking right before he goes to sleep. We've been together since meeting in university and we're planning to have him move to California after he finishes grad school next year. Until then, long distance! We catch up on our days and call it a night but I stay up a little longer reading. Tonight's book is The Midnight Library and I'm really enjoying it so far. Get back up to brush my teeth, then lights out around midnight.
Daily Total: $7

Day Two

8:20 a.m. — I had a strange dream and slept kind of poorly so my alarm goes off three times before I get up. I'm definitely not much of a morning person but do try to be consistent to make it easier. I start a pot of tea (roasted oolong today) as I do my short morning routine — wash face, brush teeth, brush hair, and sunscreen (Bioré UV Aqua Rich) — then pour some of the tea into a thermos to take along. I hop on my bike by 8:40 and arrive at work by 9:15. I like to bike to work and since I only go in a few times a week, it's pretty doable.
10 a.m. — I get an urgent message that one of our systems is throwing faults out of the blue that can't be dismissed. I end up skipping a meeting so I can spend more time debugging some misbehaving hardware. Guess that'll be the rest of my morning. My coworker and I write up some recommendations on how to avoid this particular issue in the future.

12:15 p.m. — Lunchtime! We get subsidized lunch at work. I get a sandwich and a salad today and eat with some coworkers in the sunshine. Back at work around 1 for a meeting.

2:30 p.m. — Snack break. I finish the last of my morning tea with an apple. I check on a few other systems to make sure they won't fault out in the same way and flag one that seems like it'll end up with problems. I feel like the robot whisperer today. With the hardware hopefully working properly, I work on calculations for the rest of the day.

6:30 p.m. — Head out on my bike ride home. Call B. for a bit, but it's extra windy today and the noise makes it hard to hear him well. We decide to just call again later so I listen to some podcasts for the rest of the ride. I recently started listening to This American Life and it's been really great for my commute. People have some crazy stories.

7:30 p.m. — I prep some pasta sauce for later this week and eat dumplings and veggies for dinner. After, I message B. a bit while shopping an REI sale because I have a gift card. I end up buying a backpacking backpack that's 40% off. After my gift card the total is only $26.83. $26.83

10 p.m. — Wish the roommates goodnight before washing up, putting on a face mask and heading to my room. B. and I have a short call before he goes to bed. Asleep by just after midnight, after a bit of phone scrolling and washing off the mask.

Daily Total: $26.83

Day Three

8:30 a.m. — I wake up and make green tea. I pack a yogurt to bring to work then head to the office. I bike in while listening to NPR.
10:30 a.m. — My coworker offers me a bunch of lemons from her backyard. I accept happily, sounds like lemon bars this weekend! I also remember to Venmo my brother my portion of a robot vacuum that he got for our parents. $60
12 p.m. — Today I grab tacos and soup and split a huge cookie with a friend for dessert. B. sends me a picture of a beautiful cat he met on a walk and I return that with a video of the aggressive goose that lives near work. It hates people and I've learned to keep a very, very healthy distance away from it when biking. Afterward, I work on calculations and then stop by the manufacturing line to check on hardware. I get looped into helping run some tests and somehow time really flies, so I have to run right at 2:25 to make it in time for my next appointment.
2:29 p.m. — Arrive at the conference room with a minute to spare and compose myself before entering. I'm helping interview a candidate and I want to hide that I'm breathing hard from my dash up the stairs. I take some notes while they present and write up my review afterward. Then I head back to calculation work.
5:30 p.m. — I'm feeling pretty tired so take the train most of the way home ($2.50). On the way back from the station, I stop by the nearby Mexican grocery store for some produce: pomegranates, bean sprouts, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, cauliflower, cilantro, avocados, zucchini and sweet potato (split with T., so $17.96 for my half). The produce here is super cheap for the area so we try to get our groceries here the majority of the time. Bike back the rest of the way home. $20.46
6 p.m. — I take some chicken out of the freezer to defrost. I cook bean sprouts and we have them with curry for dinner.
8:30 p.m. — Message B. and then play some piano. L. starts singing along so I end up playing Disney ballads for about half an hour. I honestly love living with my roommates, little moments like these really remind me how much I appreciate them. I've tried living on my own before and it just didn't do it for me. I didn't like being alone at night and I also didn't like how expensive it was. Living together, we always have each other to hang out with. I call it a night by 11:30.
Daily Total: $80.46

Day Four

6:30 a.m. — It is EARLY. We have a meeting at 7 a.m. with an overseas manufacturer of ours and the time difference is brutal. I go through the motions of getting ready and then sit down at my desk with a big mug of my favorite oolong tea.
7:45 a.m. — After the meeting, I get back in bed for a nap.
8:15 a.m. — Much better! Get started on my work for the morning — I'll be working from home today, working on a document to make sure we won't be frying any electronics. I have some cucumber slices while I work.
11:30 a.m. — Lunchtime! I prep some bread for a first rise and throw some bones and veggie bits into my pressure cooker to make stock. I keep a plastic bag in the freezer to fill with bones and veggie ends/peels, and whenever it gets too full, I make a batch of stock. Finish off the curry for lunch before heading back to work.
2:05 p.m. — I have a headache and the afternoon is going really slowly. Prep the dough for a second rise and make some green tea to help me focus a bit.
2:10 p.m. — Just kidding, my eyes are sore and I feel like going for a walk. I walk about a mile and then reluctantly get back to my 17-page document.
5:15 p.m. — Done for the day. Time for another walk, since I've been mostly glued to my chair today. L. decides to join me, so we take the dog out to get some good sniffs in.
5:27 p.m. — We get flashed while out on our walk. Never a dull moment, I guess.
6 p.m. — Cooking time! I make soup with the stock I made — a nice classic egg drop soup with extra veggies and chicken. T. and I have soup and roasted cauliflower for dinner. It's a lovely evening so I sit out in the backyard during a call with some of my best friends from college. I pop the bread I prepped earlier in the oven and T. bakes a loaf of banana bread after that's done. I also peel a bunch of pomegranates and section them off into little containers for later in the week.
9:30 p.m. — It's been a nice, peaceful kind of evening after a bit of an off day. I wrap up the bread and banana bread once they're fully cooled in cute beeswax wraps. Call B. and show him all the yummy things we made before wishing him goodnight. Wash up and head to bed at 11.

Daily Total: $0

Day Five

7:45 a.m. — Wake up, very groggy. Try to go back to sleep but the neighbors are mowing their lawn. I make jasmine tea this morning with a touch of honey.
8:15 a.m. — Another work-from-home day. The morning passes by in a flash with meetings and emails. I'm working on a redesign of an area that's giving our assembly technicians a lot of trouble.
11:50 a.m. — It's lunchtime already? I jump briefly in the shower — my hair needs a wash and I didn't get around to it yesterday. I'm not super big on brands, but this one is worth a mention — I recently started using the Daeng Gi Meo Ri Ki shampoo and conditioner and my hair feels amazing. It is way more expensive than the stuff I used to use but it's absolutely worth it. I get out and make some avocado toast on yesterday's bread (drizzled with a bit of balsamic, a pinch of salt, and crushed red pepper), then sit out in the sun to dry my hair and listen to the birds. Head back to work just before 1.
2 p.m. — Have some of yesterday's roasted sweet potato while working. My sweet tooth isn't satisfied, so I also have a bowl of pomegranate seeds.
4:30 p.m. — Time for a stretching break then back to work.
6:30 p.m. — I close my laptop then go for a walk while calling home. My dad and I discuss whether I should get a car again. I got in a pretty bad accident two years ago where a speeding driver pushed me into a barrier on the highway. My car was totaled and I'm just starting to warm up to the idea of driving again. I was pretty lucky and didn't get too hurt besides a couple of broken bones and whiplash but I have been nervous about being in cars in general ever since. For now, I just bike everywhere.
7:45 p.m. — T. grabs a few things from the grocery store: bananas, pasta, cabbage, tomato, chickpeas and tortillas. I Venmo her $12.66 for my half. It's finally time to use that pasta sauce! We make spaghetti with chicken and lots of veggies. I also make some garlic bread on the side. We clean up together and I head to my room to do some stretches. $12.66

9:45 p.m. — Chat with B. He tells me about some cool progress on his research. Wash up, then sleep time just after midnight.

Daily Total: $12.66

Day Six

9 a.m. — It's Friday! It's a work-from-home day so I get set up at my desk with mint tea. It's a quiet morning and I feel pretty peppy while working through some emails. I get a load of laundry started.
12:30 p.m. — I have cheese, bread and leftover sweet potatoes for lunch. Not the most balanced meal but it's delicious! It's a nice day again so I hang up my clothes to line-dry outside and then take some calls outside.
2:45 p.m. — I take a break with T. and have a small bowl of pasta, then get back to it. I settle in at my desk to do some design work for the rest of the afternoon.
6:30 p.m. — Finish up! The roommates and I go to the climbing gym and top rope for a while. I used to be much more into bouldering but ever since the accident, I've had to avoid potential impact and I never got back into it. I'm happy I can still climb, even if it means having to use a harness. I prepaid for a pack of seven visits here a few weeks back, which works out to about $27/visit. If I start going more regularly again in the future, I'll go back to the monthly membership, which is about $100/month. In between walls, we chat and watch the lead climbers do crazy things.
8 p.m. — My roommates and I stop for udon on the way home and I order tonkatsu udon, which comes with shrimp tempura and an onsen egg. I end up taking some home because they have enormous portions. $25
9:40 p.m. — We get home and toast up some banana bread for dessert while doing stretches in the living room, then call it a night. I shower and message back and forth with B., who's up a bit later than usual working. I read a bit before it's lights out.
12:15 a.m. — I'm having trouble sleeping and really want to read a bit more of my book so lights back on!
2:24 a.m. — Oops. Time to sleep, for real this time.
Daily Total: $25

Day Seven

9:30 a.m. — Wake up very slowly and do some stretches before starting my morning routine.
10:15 a.m. — My roommates and I go out to get boba for breakfast. I get a Tie Guan Yin tea with crystal boba, half sweet. $6.14
10:45 a.m. — The three of us are caffeinated and sugared up, so we decide to go for a short hike nearby. We get home to scoop up the pup, hop into T.'s car, and are off to a nearby open space preserve.
1:20 p.m. — After our hike, we stop by a thrift store that L. wants to check out. I'm tempted to get an absolutely massive floppy hat that would be great for the beach, but decide against it in the end.
2:30 p.m. — Home! I'm ravenous at this point so I heartily enjoy my leftover udon. That doesn't end up being enough food so I also have a small bowl of spaghetti and some pomegranate. Satiated for now, I head for the shower. Afterward, I'm amazed at how sore I am from climbing and decide to pull out my handy-dandy massager (a tennis ball) to roll out my back a bit. I accidentally fall asleep on the floor.
4:15 p.m. — Groggily re-awaken. T. is knocking on my door — we're headed to a friend's potluck party this evening and she wants help preparing the filling for the dumplings we'll be bringing. I mix that up while she prepares our dumpling folding setup and we get started folding a big batch. We stop the production line once we fill up two baking trays full of them. In the meantime, L. runs out to grab a tray of egg rolls from a nearby takeout place. We split the cost between the three of us. $11.25
5:15 p.m. — I call my family back in my home country. My grandma seems to be doing well and asks when I'll be visiting again. I tell her that I'm hoping I'll be able to come visit in the next year. She also lets me know that my Chinese is getting worse. No one can put me in my place like Granny can! I tell her I love her and she tells me I'm getting "too sentimental, so American" as we finish up the call.
6:30 p.m. — We get dressed and call an Uber to head over. I Venmo L. for a third of the cost. $8.92
6:50 p.m. — Once at the party, we settle in and I get cooking the first batch of dumplings, pot-sticker style. The ravenous hordes gobble up the first plate before it makes it to the potluck food line so I accept my self-imposed fate to be cooking them for a while. T. comes to swap out with me after three batches, thankfully. I join the party and get a heaping plate of food. Once I'm stuffed, I go around chatting and playing some games.
8:30 p.m. — I text B. goodnight and he sends me pictures of the hot pot he and his friends made.
11:45 p.m. — We head into the backyard and play with sparklers. People are getting rowdy and it seems like we'll be partying for a while! Goodnight, world.
Daily Total: $26.31
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