A Week In Denver, CO, On A $28,000 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 field organizer who makes $28,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on plant pots.
Occupation: Field Organizer
Industry: Political/Non-Profit
Age: 21
Location: Denver, Colorado
Salary: $28,000
Net Worth: $13,000 (savings & Roth IRA)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): ~$1,000 (technically I get paid hourly at minimum wage ($12.85) but, my employer must meet a minimum of $28,000 for the year)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0 (I live at home currently)
Loans: $0
New York Times (student) Subscription: $6
Roth IRA Contribution: $400
Headspace: $9.99 annually (I'm still on the student subscription)
Health/Car Insurance: On my parents'
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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, absolutely. Both my parents have graduate degrees — my mom has a master's degree and my dad has a JD. Three of my four grandparents have/had PhDs or MDs. I was definitely expected to attend college and ideally get at least a master's degree in the future. I attended a highly selective small liberal arts college in New England. I graduated in three years. I transferred a year of IB credits and did not particularly enjoy college. My first year of college, I paid almost full tuition using a 529 savings plan set up by my parents. The remaining two years, I qualified for 90% financial aid (with no loans). My grandparents paid for the rest of my tuition with a separate 529.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents didn't talk about money too much. They helped us set up bank accounts to save birthday money and such when we were young. Most of my financial literacy was acquired through online resources and more recently, my boyfriend.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My very first paid job was helping my dad organize files in his law office. I submitted formal timesheets to him.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Somewhat. My parents sheltered my brother and I from the finances. My dad has highly variable annual income (ranging from $30,000 to $150,000 depending on commission, etc). There were definitely times when we couldn't afford extras — like grabbing ice cream after soccer games. I never worried about having a place to live or food though. We shopped at the Goodwill for clothes — not in a trendy cool way, but simply because we couldn't afford new clothes. I've definitely seen my parents have credit cards declined in the grocery store, but it always seemed to work out. My mom was super resourceful and often found free tickets to art performances and museums.
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Do you worry about money now?
I'm very conscious of my money and spending habits. I receive notifications for every purchase I make. I try to stick to a pretty set budget. However, I'm not worried about money. I'm living at home right now and don't have any debt. So, I have very few expenses. I feel fairly confident in my financial choices.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I'm not entirely financially responsible for myself. Since I'm living at home right now, my parents provide a place for me to live rent-free and food. They also pay for my health and car insurance. I'm moving onto my company's health insurance in a couple of months. After my sophomore year of college, I pretty much stopped receiving money from my parents — although they obviously still support me financially. Yes, I have a financial safety net. My parents don't have a ton of extra cash but, they would try to help me. If it were a serious emergency, my grandparents would help.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
No.

Day One

7 a.m. — I wake up and check my phone. My boyfriend, P., is coming to visit for the week. He says he made it through security. I watch TikTok for entirely too long. While I'm on my phone, I check my bank account. I recently opened a High Yield Savings Account. The verification amounts cleared this morning. I transfer $8,000 from my traditional savings account. I run upstairs and snarf down some homemade pizza I made over the weekend.
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9 a.m. — I open my work computer and hop onto a Zoom call for morning announcements. I then move into my smaller work team to go over the day's agendas and goals. Due to the pandemic, we're working from home. Without the pandemic, my job would have required a lot of travel. It's been great to stay in one place and be with my family and support system.
11 a.m. — P. arrives. He takes a shower and throws all his travel clothes into the washer while I finish working for the morning. I'm not sure if this really reduces COVID risk, but it makes me feel better.
1 p.m. — I break for lunch. P. and I have pasta with shredded Mexican cheese and chicken nuggets.
6 p.m. — P. and I head upstairs for dinner. Both my parents and my brother and his girlfriend are here for dinner. My brother is still home from college. He'll be starting his semester online next week. Most of us have beef and turkey chili. My mom also made Doenjang Jjijage, a Korean soup, as a vegetarian option.
7 p.m. — P. and I catch up for a couple of hours in my room before heading to bed around 10.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

7 a.m. — P. is still asleep, so I scroll through Instagram and watch TikToks. When he wakes up we head upstairs for breakfast. I eat leftover chili from last night and P. eats leftover pasta.
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9 a.m. — I check in with my boss and teammates before heading into a morning of phone calls.
1 p.m. — It's lunchtime. I heat up a can of chicken noodle soup and make a plate of nut thins and cheddar cheese. P. makes himself a quesadilla. We sit outside on the patio because it's sunny out. Sometimes I feel so cooped up working in the basement.
2 p.m. — We have a quick team check-in and make phone calls for a couple of hours. Near the end of the day I do some research about the region I'm working in — it's a nice break from being on the phone.
6 p.m. — We head upstairs for dinner. My mom made baked beans and hot dogs for dinner. One of the best parts of living at home is having dinner made for me most nights. It's one less thing to worry about and a very gentle transition into adulthood. I have an apple for dessert.
7 p.m. — P. and I drive over to my friend's apartment to help her move a couch in. We all wear masks the entire time. My friend works at a hospital, so we want to be especially cautious and mitigate unnecessary exposure. It makes carrying the couch a bit more difficult, but it feels like the right thing to do.
8 p.m. — On the way home we stop at the grocery store. We decide we deserve a treat after our hard work. P. grabs some beers and I buy some cookie dough ice cream and fruit mentos. $6.33
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8:15 p.m. — At home, we fill up mugs with ice cream and head downstairs to watch a few episodes of Chopped. P. has his fantasy football draft at 9, so I finish the last episode by myself in bed.
10 p.m. — We brush our teeth and snuggle up for bed. I play the Pooch Palace Sleepcast from Headspace as we drift off.
Daily Total: $6.33

Day Three

7 a.m. — I wake up. P. is still sleeping so I check my social media and watch TikToks until he wakes up. Once he wakes up, we cuddle and watch each other's TikToks.
9 a.m. — I pop two pieces of Dave's Bread into the toaster. P. cooks two scrambled eggs for himself and two sunny side up eggs for me. I smash some avocado onto my toast and sprinkle everything bagel seasoning on top before topping each slice with an egg. P. and I are planning to move in together next summer after he graduates from college. I want to try to buy used things for our apartment. I think it will take a while to acquire high-quality items for our apartment so we've starting perusing thrift stores. Today we're going to check out a few local thrift stores.
9:30 a.m. — At the first Goodwill, we don't find anything for our apartment. I buy two planters with drainage holes. Since coming home from college in March, I've acquired a ton of new houseplants. $6.48
11 a.m. — P. is still feeling a bit groggy so we stop at the grocery store. He grabs an energy drink while I fill the car up with gas. I recently sold my car and have been sharing with my dad and brother. I feel like I've been spending more money on gas because I always fill up the cars when they're under a ¼ tank. $22.77
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12:10 p.m. — We score at the second Goodwill. We find seven white Pottery Barn salad plates in great condition. We also find seven white dinner plates with almost the exact same pattern. The plates seem nice enough and match so we buy them too. $45.33
12:30 p.m. — We drive a couple of minutes to a BBQ restaurant. We share a platter of turkey, ribs, burnt ends, pulled pork, Texas toast, mac and cheese, and coleslaw. I don't normally eat BBQ, but P. really likes it. He pays. It's about the same price as the plates so we call it even.
1:30 p.m. — We check out a couple of other thrift shops in a nice neighborhood. P. buys an Eddie Bauer zip up and a tripod.
3 p.m. — We get home and rest. P. eats our leftovers. I eat a big mug of ice cream.
6 p.m. — P. and I walk to the nearby park. We play Scrabble until it gets dark. Scrabble is one of my favorite games. However, my family isn't super into it so, I always make P. play when we're together. We snap a few pictures with our new tripod and my camera. Once it gets dark, P. tries a few different photography techniques with a flashlight. I struggle to stay still long enough for the longer exposure photos.
10 p.m. — Back at the house, we watch the first 45 minutes of Coneheads on Netflix. Then we pass out.
Daily Total: $74.58
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Day Four

7 a.m. — P. and I wake up early and make the bed. I pop two frozen waffles into the toaster. One of my coworkers recommended a nearby trail that we're going to check out today. I pack our hiking bag with the camera, snacks, water, and the first aid kit.
7:45 a.m. — We get to the trailhead and the parking lot is already packed. We find a spot alongside the road. P. and I wear our masks while we're anywhere near other people on the trail. Very few other people are wearing masks, which is frustrating, especially on a narrow trail.
10:30 a.m. — We're about two-thirds of the way done. The hike is down into a basin and back up. So now we have to hike back out. P. is getting a little hangry so we have a snack and some water.
11:15 a.m. — P. and I make it back to the parking lot. The trail is right next to a bison preserve, so we walk across the road to see the herd hanging out in the shade. At the car, I down a pack of trail mix and some water.
12 p.m. — P. and I both shower before heading upstairs to make lunch. We have pasta, cheese, and chicken nuggets again.
12:45 p.m. — We're both way more tired than expected. We cuddle in bed. P. falls asleep and I rest. I watch some TikToks and spend some time catching up on my favorite guilty pleasure show, Counting On. It's the spin-off of 19 Kids and Counting. Even though I don't actually want my life to be like that, there's something kind of wholesome about it.
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6 p.m. — We have a reservation at one of my favorite restaurants at 6:30. We end up finding free parking. It's raining ash from the wildfires ravaging the state. We ask for a table inside.
6:30 p.m. — P. and I order a plate of loaded fries to share. This restaurant specializes in dessert and we don't want to spend a ton of money, so we skip entrees. We order the dessert sampler that comes with three desserts. Our first dessert is a whipped cream with blackberry sorbet and oat crumble. P. and I devise a ranking strategy for each dessert on the basis of presentation, taste, and creativity. The second dessert is a gluten-free molten lava cake with raspberry compote. It's absolutely delicious. The final dessert is a lavender macaron, a PB&J bonbon, and a dark chocolate dessert. This is definitely our least favorite of the trio. P. and I split the check and I leave a 20% tip. $18.36
Daily Total: $18.36

Day Five

8 a.m. — P. and I have a pretty slow start to the morning. It's Labor Day so we don't have work or school. I eat leftover soup for breakfast and P. eats leftover pasta for breakfast. We hang out in bed for a while. We finally clean up my room a bit and make the bed.
11 a.m. — We drive my dad to his office so we can use the car for the afternoon. Since it's a holiday, parking is free downtown. We check out some of the shops on the 16th street mall. P. and I stop in the sock store. My favorites are the socks with the golden retrievers on them. I decide I've already spent a lot of money this weekend and don't buy anything.
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12:30 p.m. — P. and I go to Chili's for lunch. We opt for the two for $25 deal. P. is part of the rewards program so we get free chips and salsa. We share a blossoming onion for our appetizer. By the time my chicken fajitas arrive, I'm already starting to feel full. I end up putting most of it into a box. We share the chocolate chip skillet cookie with ice cream. P. pays.
2 p.m. — We head home, where we decide to rest for a while. P. takes a nap while I watch TikToks. As you can tell, I spend a LOT of my free time on TikTok.
4 p.m. — P. and I want to go camping this coming weekend. We book a campsite near Grand Lake for Saturday night. The app isn't very well designed so we have some issues booking it. I pay. $31
5 p.m. — P. and I play a few games of Mario Kart on the TV downstairs. Then we head upstairs for dinner. My mom made tuna noodle casserole. Afterward, I cube a watermelon and put it in the fridge for later.
5:30 p.m. — We cuddle into bed to watch 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After.
9:30 p.m. — P. and I get in bed. I play Pooch Palace again.
Daily Total: $31

Day Six

7 a.m. — Today is rainy and dreary. Hopefully, the rain will put out some of the wildfires. It's such a chilly, cozy day. I want to stay in bed all day.
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9 a.m. — I check in with my boss and work team. We find out that another person quit over the weekend. In the past month, four employees have left. Most of the staff in my department are recent college grads. For some people, the job doesn't end up being a good fit. However, the company also doesn't pay particularly well, and the pay and hour requirements vary a lot based on your physical location. The pandemic and WFH have exacerbated a lot of these pay differences.
9:30 a.m. — We get into making phone calls for the day. I'm feeling really unmotivated today. The weather is really bumming me out. It's also really hard to know that another person has quit. I like my job, but the workplace culture could definitely be better.
1 p.m. — Lunch! I eat leftover tuna noodle casserole and watermelon. It starts to snow a bit. P. is from Southern CA so he's super excited about the snow. We sit on the porch and watch it snow for a while.
2 p.m. — Back to making phone calls.
6 p.m. — I'm finally done with work. It's started to snow a lot more. I eat tuna noodle casserole and a kale salad. P. is really excited about the snow, so we decide to go sledding. I give him a bunch of my winter layers to wear.
6:30 p.m. — We drive to a nearby park with some good sledding hills. We're the only ones there. We get in a couple of good runs. P. is having a ball pelting me with snowballs. We construct a mini snowman. It starts to get dark and we're getting cold so we head out.
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7:30 p.m. — We stop at McDonald's on the way home for hot chocolate which ends up being too sweet. I order larges because I panic at the drive-thru window. They're too big — oh well. P. pays.
9:30 p.m. — P. and I go to bed early.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8:30 a.m. — I pop a frozen waffle into the toaster. I get out the blender and add a banana, milk, yogurt, and berries to make a smoothie. P. makes himself eggs with hot sauce. We eat together. I don't have time to finish my smoothie so, I bring it downstairs.
9 a.m. — It's still dreary and damp outside. I hop onto Zoom for some announcements with all the staff. I'm still feeling kind of unmotivated to work. I'm feeling a little burnt out from spending so much time on the phone at work. I have to make phone calls for most of the day.
11 a.m. — P. tells me our campsite got canceled because the wildfires are too close. I'm bummed, but better safe than sorry. I'm supposed to get a refund but, I don't see it yet.
1 p.m. — I'm so excited for lunch today. I finish the tuna noodle casserole in the fridge and eat a giant bowl of cubed watermelon. Watermelon is one of my favorite fruits. I take an hour for lunch and it's nice to have some time to decompress. Although, sometimes I wish we had a shorter lunch so I could get off a bit earlier.
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2 p.m. — I have a team check-in. These are the highlight of my workday. I've never met any of my team in person, but I feel like I know them pretty well. It's also great to have a break from making phone calls.
6 p.m. — Done with the workday! I'm so glad this is a short week. My mom made a salad and hamburgers and I sit with her and P. while I eat.
6:30 p.m. — P. and I cuddle for a while and watch our TikToks. I check on all my plants and water a few of them. My fiddle leaf fig has three new leaves! We play a few games of Mario Kart. Then, we finish Coneheads. It's a funny, light movie.
10:30 p.m. — I brush my teeth and change into my pajamas. P. and I cuddle up in bed. I play Pooch Palace to relax.
Daily Total: $0
It's a cliche, but this year was supposed to be our year — full of independence, opportunity, or at least a few weekend afternoons spent with more than 10 friends with fewer than six feet between us. But with COVID-necessary social distancing, a shitty job market, closed campuses, 2020 hasn't given us much to work with. Past generations have had to deal with a recession, social upheaval, and changing norms: We've had to deal with all of it at once.

So, what now? What do we do with our careers, our relationships, and our lives? How do we move forward when we're still stuck in our high school bedrooms? These stories are for us — filled with the resources, blueprints, and people who are finding ways to turn all this garbage into something like lemonade.
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