A Week In Toronto, Canada, On A $55,000 Income

Photo: Getty Images.
Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.
Today: a freelance copywriter working in advertising who makes $55,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a one-piece swimsuit. Below, we asked the OP some questions about her career. Editor's note: All prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.
How did you get into your line of work?
"I worked in marketing and copywriting at large companies for five years before making the leap to freelancing full-time. I left my last job shortly after a round of layoffs left me doing the work of two people. I was unhappy and anxious, so I left my job to freelance. In hindsight, I probably should have taken more time to freelance as a side hustle and build up a client base before quitting, but luckily it's worked out for me in the long run."
What are the challenges of being a freelancer?
"The biggest challenge for me is the isolation of working freelance. I typically work from home, so it's been really important for me to make an effort to get out and meet with friends and family frequently to make up for the lack of human interaction during the day. Another big challenge for me has been managing the business side of being a freelancer. I've always worked in creative fields, and it took me a long time to get a handle on the skills needed to run a business. Managing my business finances, dealing with taxes, pitching new business — it's all been a learning experience!"
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a freelancer?
"If possible, start freelancing part-time while you still have the security of a stable job to give yourself time to build up a roster of clients. Once you do go full-time, make sure you have savings set aside to help support you through the first year or so of business, because it can be tough getting a full-time freelance business off the ground. And make sure you take time to appreciate all the benefits and rewards of working for yourself, because freelancing can be stressful and tiring, but it helps to reflect on why you're doing it."
Occupation: Freelance Copywriter
Industry: Advertising
Age: 30
Location: Toronto, Canada
Income: ~$55,000 from my freelance business + ~$15,000 from a part-time bartending job
Paycheck Amount: ~$4,500 freelance income per month; ~$1,250 bartending income per month
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $658 for my half of a one-bedroom apartment with a backyard. (I split rent with my boyfriend.)
Student Loans: $0 (Tuition was ~$3,500 per year, and my parents had a government-sponsored education savings plan for me.)
Car Insurance: $99 for my half, split with my boyfriend
Cell Phone: $51
Internet/Cable: $27 for my half
Pilates Unlimited Monthly Pass: $117
Business Taxes/Canadian Pension Plan: I set aside ~$1,500 per month to cover business taxes and pension contributions.
Netflix: $10
Spotify: $0 (My boyfriend pays.)
Health Insurance: $0 (I'm covered by my boyfriend's work plan.)
Savings: I try to save ~$1,000 per month across a tax-free savings account, Registered Retirement Savings Plan, and a shorter-term savings account for travel and other big expenses.
The Globe And Mail Digital Subscription: $23
The New York Times Digital Subscription: $19.80
Donations: $27 to Doctors Without Borders and $12 to the local women's shelter
Annual Expenses
New Yorker Print Subscription: $165
Annual Donations: $50 to UNHCR, $50 to MOAS, $50 to an animal rescue organization

Day One

7 a.m. — I awake to stinky-breath kisses from my dog, who is standing next to my bed, tail wagging, chipper as anything. This is her signal that she's ready to go outside, subtle as a kick in the pants. I roll out of bed and open the back door for her. When she's done her morning business, I let her back in and crawl back into bed with her for a morning snuggle. My boyfriend, L., got into the shower while I was up with the dog, so the two of us take full advantage and spread out.
7:30 a.m. — L. kisses us both goodbye and heads to work. I get up, wash my face with Cosrx Good Morning cleanser, then apply the Ordinary Buffet serum and Tatcha Water Cream. I brush my teeth, drink a glass of water, and take the dog for our morning excursion. We're lucky enough to live near a huge urban park with lots of off-leash dog trails, so I get to start my day surrounded by nature while the dog runs around like a maniac terrorizing the local squirrel population. I try to just enjoy the warm morning, but I'm already making a mental to-do list.
8:30 a.m. — I feed the dog and then feed myself — a pot of Earl Grey tea to fuel my morning and pair it with a piece of sourdough toast drizzled with honey. I recently switched to tea on weekdays because my anxiety has been off the charts and coffee tends to make it worse. I have a general anxiety disorder and experience panic attacks, so I try my best to keep them at bay when possible. But tea will never fill the same void my morning coffee usually does.
8:45 a.m. — I'm at my desk in my home office, where I put my mental to-do list on paper and get started checking off items. I spend the morning sending emails and chatting with my biggest client about ad direction for an upcoming campaign.
11 a.m. — I take a quick break to walk to the bookstore around the corner from my house. I pick up three books — two novels by Canadian authors Esi Edugyan and Catherine Hernandez, and a nonfiction book The Secret Wisdom of Nature by Peter Wohlleben. Then it's back to work on ad copy. $54.77
1 p.m. — I break for lunch. We have a mishmash of assorted leftovers from a dinner party, so I graze on those while I heat up some sad tomato soup that's probably close to its expiration date. I soup it up (sorry for the pun) by adding leftover quinoa from the fridge, some spinach leaves, and leftover roasted potatoes that I chop up and throw in the pot. Then it's back to work, where I invoice a client for a project I wrapped up on Friday and get back to a writing project. I'm at my desk for the rest of the day, with a few procrastination snuggles and chats with the dog thrown in for good measure.
6:30 p.m. — L. comes home and asks if I want to go out for wings at our local pub. I'm in, but have a bit more work to finish. He takes the dog for her nighttime walk (I take her in the morning, he takes her in the evening), and we make plans to meet a friend at the pub a bit later.
8 p.m. — After finishing as much work as I can, L. and I walk over to our local. Our friend is already there, and we catch up over wings and nachos. I also have a pint of a local APA. We all trade off on who pays for these meals, and today it's our friend's turn.
10 p.m. — We catch up for a couple hours about work, travel plans, politics, and more. Then L. and I walk home. I let the dog out for one final pee of the night. Then I make myself a cup of Sleepy Time tea and read the latest issue of The New Yorker.
11 p.m. — I do my nighttime skin routine: Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Oil Cleanser, Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate, The Ordinary serum, and Dermalogica Sound Sleep Cocoon night cream. It seems over the top, I know. But my skin in winter is like a ragged piece of sandpaper, so I pay good money to make it not look and feel quite so terrible. I head to sleep right after.
Daily Total: $54.77

Day Two

6 a.m. — I'm getting up early today to get a jumpstart on work that I'm stressed about. I'm cursed with being most productive first thing in the morning while also being terrible at getting up early. I creep out of the bedroom so as not to disturb L. and get to work at the dining room table finishing an article.
8:45 a.m. — Complete the article and send it to my client. Hopefully there won't be too many revisions; I've already spent way more time than I expected to on this project, and I'm billing a fixed rate, not by the hour. I do my morning routine and then head out with the dog. On the way to the park, we stop to get her nails clipped at a local shop. It costs $13 and I tip $4 because the groomer is always so patient and kind with my dog, who is quite the chicken shit with her nails. $17
10:30 a.m. — I'm back after a very slippery walk. There was a flash freeze overnight, so I shuffled awkwardly like a penguin to avoid falling while my dog took no such precautions and careened around with more than a few Bambi-on-ice moments. I make myself a breakfast taco with egg, cheddar, avocado, and a local brand of fermented hot sauce. While I'm waiting for the egg to cook, I snack on quick-pickled cucumber from the fridge. I realize pickles are a weird thing to start the day with, but it just feels right. Then I'm back to my desk responding to a flood of emails.
12 p.m. — I take a break to shower, which is something I do far too infrequently as a person who works primarily at home. Self-employment has turned me into a bit of a hermit-gremlin. Then it's back to work. I picked up a shift at the bar I work at tonight to help a sick coworker out, though I usually only work one weekend shift per week. As a result, I'm stressed about getting all my work done before I have to leave.
4 p.m. — I put on more makeup for work than I wear on a typical day: concealer for that under-eye baggage, eyebrow gel, eyeliner, mascara, and blush. Then I'm out the door walking to the subway. I swipe my Presto card to get into the station. My Presto card is tied to my credit card and autoloads $50 whenever my balance drops below $10. A single ride in Toronto is $3.
5 p.m. — I arrive at the bar, where I say hi to everyone working and then snack on the staff meal, which today is tacos. Nothing wrong with a double taco day. I got this part-time bartending gig when I first started freelancing in 2016, back when I had few clients and not enough money coming in to support myself. I can afford to quit the job now, but I love the people that I work with, and I love that it's so different from my normal workdays. I'm on my feet rushing around and constantly interacting with new people. So for now, I'm happy to keep up one shift per week.
11:30 p.m. — The bar was slammed tonight, considering it's a random Tuesday in the dead of winter. Good for tips, bad for my sleep schedule. I have a quick pint of IPA as my staff drink and chat with another bartender, and then it's time to hustle home. I made $140 in tips tonight, but I end up spending $19.01 on a cab ride home, plus a $4 tip. I justify it by telling myself my tips are practically free money, since I don't normally work Tuesday nights. I can find a justification for spending in almost any situation. It's one of my hidden talents. $23.01
12 a.m. — I get home and am greeted by pitiful cries and many face licks from the dog, who I pet and wrestle for a couple minutes. I chat with L. for awhile, who has tried to stay up to wait for me, although I suspect he was actually passed out on the couch until I opened the front door. Then I do my nighttime skincare routine, brush my teeth, get in my PJs, and get to bed by 12:45.
Daily Total: $40.01

Day Three

7 a.m. — My alarm is blaring, and I wish it would just stop being so rude. I bundle the dog up in her coat before we head out on our walk. The trails are just as slippery as yesterday, with the added complication that there are ice pellets falling from the sky that feel like itty bitty daggers stabbing your eyeballs. Although, in all honesty, I'm glad owning a dog forces me to get out and interact with the world in some little way every day. As someone who has long had anxiety and occasional bouts of depression, it has helped my mental health immensely. So has just having her around as a buddy. I'm so grateful for her. Dogs are the greatest.
8:15 a.m. — I feed the dog when we get home and make myself toast with honey for breakfast. I can't resist the siren song of the coffee cupboard after such a late night. I brew up a pot in the Bodum, knowing I will regret this decision soon. Then I settle in at my desk and respond to emails I missed while I was at the bar last night. I also work on a few projects for a client in the tech industry.
11:15 a.m. — I change into workout gear and head out early for my Pilates class. It usually only takes me about half an hour to get there by subway, but I don't want to take my chances in the terrible weather. The streets are pretty much abandoned and I start to wonder why I'm the only weirdo braving the storm — maybe everyone else knows something I don't? But I make it on the subway just fine (swiping my preloaded Presto card again) and make it to the studio without incident.
12 p.m. — Our class is small because the storm has scared people off — there are only four of us. I've been coming to this studio for four years, and it's like a warm, supportive home away from home. Everyone is so encouraging and kind, and the classes are challenging but grounded in mindfulness, which I find really helpful for my anxiety. I don't pay, because I have a monthly unlimited pass.
1 p.m. — After a challenging, uplifting class, I reward myself for coming in this shitty weather. I head around the corner to my favorite Vietnamese spot in the city, and order a small rare beef pho. “Small” is a misnomer — it's a big bowl brimming with rich broth, a huge tangle of rice noodles, and paper-thin slices of rare beef that cooks in the broth. I load my bowl up with Thai basil, bean sprouts, chili, and hoisin sauce and demolish the whole thing, along with complimentary Jasmine tea. I run into two friends while I'm at the restaurant and chat with them for a few minutes before I leave. $10.01
1:30 p.m. — I've had a nice, long mid-day break, but I have to get back to work. I walk down the street to a coffee shop, buy an Earl Grey tea ($2.13 + $1 tip), and take advantage of the wifi. I work on an article for a client for a few hours and respond to work emails. After my first mug runs out, I order a peppermint tea ($2.13 + $1 tip). $6.26
3:30 p.m. — I pop over to my favorite local brewery in this neighborhood, where I stock up on a mix of their beers because we're having people over tonight ($38). Then it's back on the subway with my preloaded Presto card. $28.91
4 p.m. — Back in my neighborhood, I stop off at our local butcher shop for chicken thighs for the chicken tacos we're making tonight. I also pick up flour tortillas, salsa, limes, and an onion. We have the rest of the ingredients at home. L. and I have a joint account for our rent and money for shared expenses like groceries and pet costs, and I use this account to pay. It comes to $24.34, so $12.17 for my half. $12.17
4:15 p.m. — After checking that nothing urgent has come in by email, I get back to working on the article I started earlier today.
5:30 p.m. — I pour myself a glass of wine from an open bottle in the fridge and get started on the chicken for our tacos. I cook the chicken thighs in a spicy chipotle and tomato sauce, and let it simmer and thicken for quite awhile on the stovetop. While the chicken is pretty much taking care of itself, I prep some of the accompaniments: I make a garlic-cilantro-lime crema to top the tacos, slice up some avocado, and prep cotija cheese. I also pull a jar of quick-pickled onions L. made a week ago from the fridge so I don't forget about them.
6 p.m. — L. comes home and heads out on a walk with the dog. Dinner is in good shape, so I head back to my desk to get more work done.
7:30 p.m. — My brother and his partner come over for a game night. We consume many tacos, drink many beers, and play many rounds of board games.
10 p.m. — Our guests head out, L. gets to work cleaning up, and I get to sit down on the couch because I cooked. I love this arrangement because I enjoy cooking but hate cleaning up. Also, I'm a messy cook. The kitchen looks like it was hit by a tiny, isolated tornado when I'm done with it. L. deals with all that while I watch an episode of Killing Eve and drink a glass of wine. I head to bed around 11.
Daily Total: $57.35

Day Four

7 a.m. — Before I'm fully cognizant, I hear tires screeching on my street and realize we had freezing rain last night. This changes my dog-walking plans because the trails will just be too treacherous. I do my morning routine and the dog and I head to a local schoolyard instead, where she romps around with another dog and chases poor unsuspecting squirrels.
7:45 a.m. — Back home, I feed the dog and make myself a pot of Earl Grey and a smoothie with banana, cashew milk, cinnamon, peanut butter, spinach, and chia seeds. Then I'm at my computer sending emails. I work on media pitches for one of my clients, which isn't something I've done in a while, although I worked as a publicist back in the day. Although most of my work is copywriting, I do get pulled into communications and marketing work for clients because I have experience there, too. I just prefer the writing side of the biz.
9:45 a.m. — I break for a quick shower, then hop on the subway using my Presto pass. I'm meeting a friend who also works freelance for a work date. We have free admission to a new coworking space because it's our first visit. I get an Earl Grey tea and get back to work.
1 p.m. — My friend and I break for lunch. I have a lentil, beet, and mushroom salad. Then we continue working, with a bit of gossip and procrastination sprinkled in, of course.
3:30 p.m. — We settle our bills for our drinks and lunch ($16.73 + $3.80 tip). We then walk out to hop on a streetcar home, but there's tons of construction outside and traffic is a mess, so we decide to start walking. $20.53
4:15 p.m. — We're still walking. To reward our parched selves, we stop in at a local brewery. We end up getting two rounds and each pay for one ($10.65 + $2.30 tip). I have the nitro stout and then the English-style bitter. We catch up on relationships, friends, travel, family, and everything under the sun. She's one of my best friends, and it's great to spend a whole day with her. $12.95
7 p.m. — I realize the dog is probably crossing her little legs back home with no pee breaks throughout the day, so I call it an evening and take the subway a couple stops. I grab a bottle of wine ($11.41) and a frozen pizza ($4.56) on the walk home from the station, because the smoothie and salad aren't cutting it after two beers. $15.97
7:30 p.m. — The dog loses her shit when she hears me come home and I let her in the backyard. L. texts to let me know he's on his way home soon after a work event. I give the dog dinner and then pop my dinner in the oven. While I wait, I pour a glass of wine and turn on an episode of Killing Eve.
8:30 p.m. — L. gets home and takes the dog for a walk right away. Then we chat about our respective days over wine. L. mentions that some coworkers were asking when we were going to get married and have kids. Awkward — it's weird how people who don't know you all that well can be rather nosy about your personal life. After we chat for a bit, I go through my evening routine and head to bed around 10:30.
Daily Total: $49.45

Day Five

7 a.m. — I wake up and am surprised to not have even a whisper of a hangover. I chalk it up to the pizza. I do my morning routine and take the dog for a walk in the off-leash park.
8 p.m. — Back home, I feed the dog breakfast, make myself a pot of tea, and boil an egg before sitting down at my computer to send a bunch of emails and start working on social media copy for a client.
12 p.m. — I finish up what I'm working on and break for the day. Since I pretty much always work one weekend day at the bar, I try to take a half day off on Fridays. I take the subway to the Art Gallery of Ontario, where I'm meeting my parents to see the new “Impressionism in the Age of Industry” exhibit. We all have gallery memberships, so admission is free.
2:30 p.m. — We're famished after a few hours of art appreciation, so we go to a ramen restaurant that's close to the gallery. I get a bowl of ramen and a beer. My parents pay.
3:30 p.m. — I get back on the subway and head home. I see an email that I've been charged $50 Canadian to reload my Presto pass ($38.03 USD). $38.03
4 p.m. — On my walk home, I stop in at the drugstore where I buy concealer, mascara, Pepcid AC (for the dog, who gets frequent upset stomachs from eating weird shit she finds on walks), and the latest issue of Vogue. $54.08
4:15 p.m. — Back home I burrow into some blankets on the couch and read my new book, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, with a dog snout resting on my foot.
6 p.m. — L. gets home early from work and takes the dog for a walk. While they're gone, I get started making a simple stir-fry for dinner with veggies we have to use up: mushrooms, zucchini, bok choy, onion, and peppers. I make a sauce of soy sauce, chili paste, mirin, ginger, and sesame oil, and serve the dish on rice.
7:30 p.m. — We were going to meet friends at a pub in our neighborhood, but the weather is crappy, and we're both beat after a long week. We open a bottle of cabernet sauvignon that L. brought home, eat our stir-fry, and watch Roma on Netflix. We both head to bed around midnight.
Daily Total: $92.11

Day Six

8 a.m. — L. is out the door early because he's helping a friend with some home renovations today. I have a slower start to the day, cuddling in bed with the dog until she gets too antsy to stay still any longer, at which point I take her for a walk. We head to a new location today. I drive us to a river trail, and we spend over an hour walking the frozen banks. One of us daydreams about vacation plans, and the other chases field mice.
10 a.m. — Back at home I give the dog breakfast, make myself a cup of coffee and some soft scrambled eggs, which I eat with a piece of sourdough toast and an orange.
11 a.m. — I hop in the shower and get myself ready for a busy day: I'm working a double shift at the bar. This is very unusual for me — I usually work one six-ish hour shift per week. On my way to the subway, I stop at a juice shop and buy a bougie green juice so I can get those nutrients in while I'm at work. I get a blend of kale, celery, apple, lemon, romaine, cucumber, parsley, and dandelion greens. $9.89
6 p.m. — The bar has been busy all day, and I take a quick break for dinner before getting back to it. I order a salad so I can get my protein and veggie fix without getting overly full. I hate being stuffed when I have to run around on my feet all night. I get 50% off the price of my meal. $5.71
11 p.m. — The chaos continues through the evening, and I finally get cut around 11. I'm supposed to go to a friend's house party after, but I'm exhausted, and I didn't think I'd be working this late. I text my regrets and then have a staff pint at the bar. It's nice to get off my feet. Between tips and wages, I made around $380 today, so I again justify taking a cab home ($19.01 + $4 tip). $23.01
12:45 a.m. — I'm back home and plan to go to sleep, but my mind is still racing from my busy night. I watch a couple episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine until my eyelids get heavy. I head to bed around 2 a.m.
Daily Total: $38.61

Day Seven

8 a.m. — I wake up earlier than expected, and I can hear L. getting ready for his basketball game. I'm not the greatest sleeper, so I figure I'm probably up for the day. I take the dog to our local schoolyard for a run because it's rainy and there's a wind warning in effect.
9 a.m. — I give the dog breakfast and make myself a pot of Earl Grey and scrambled eggs. Then I sit down to work on some personal writing projects. I went to school for journalism, and while I don't work in hard news anymore, I do still write essays and short fiction. My income from it is unpredictable, so I don't factor that money into my earnings. I usually spend a lot more time on these projects, but it was tough this week because of my extra shifts at the bar.
11 a.m. — I'm not being as productive as I'd like and decide to put my work away instead of pushing through. Today is my only day off this week, so I try to be a bit more forgiving of how I'm feeling, which is tired and unmotivated. Instead, I read more of my book with some Vogue breaks for variety.
12:30 p.m. — I decide to go shopping before the wind really picks up this afternoon. For some reason, I find wind storms terrifying. I go to the liquor store and buy a bottle of bubbly, because the Oscars are tonight and they demand a bit of luxury ($22.82). I see a man asking for change who is frequently in the neighborhood. Whenever I see him I give him change, but I don't have any on me today so I give him a $5 bill, and we chat a bit. $27.82
12:45 p.m. — I go to the butcher shop, where I get chicken breast on sale and trout ($15.91). Then I stop at a cheese shop for brie that's on special and a baguette ($7.61). Next, I head to a fruit and veggie store to pick up broccoli, tomato, cucumber, bok choy, mushrooms, avocados, grapefruit, banana, grapes, eggs, and almond milk ($29.51). And lastly, I go to a Polish deli for a big package of pierogies ($5.32). $58.35
2 p.m. — Back home, I unload the groceries. For lunch, I fix a little plate of baguette slices, a hunk of brie, grapes, and cucumber slices. I also have a wee thimbleful of leftover red wine to accompany it, so I can imagine I'm picnicking in France instead of holed up in my apartment. Then I get back to reading my book.
3 p.m. — L. texts to say that his team is going out for a pint after today's games, and I'm secretly happy for more alone time. I love living with my boyfriend, but I'm an introvert at heart and sometimes miss the reliable solitude of living alone. I run a bath, light a bunch of candles, and select a classical music playlist on Spotify. I hang out in the tub for a while and wash my hair while I'm in there so I won't need to do it tomorrow before a party in the evening.
5 p.m. — L. gets home and cleans the apartment while I read more of my book. I also place an online order for household items that are running low. I get dish soap, hand soap, dog poop bags, probiotics, and Palo Santo sticks. $72.26
5:15 p.m. — After browsing the internet for a bit, I decide to finally buy a one-piece bathing suit from a local designer that I've been eyeing for some time. I'd like to start swimming at the local community center pool for exercise, and I need a one-piece suit to do that. $144.53
7 p.m. — We had originally planned to have friends over for an Oscars viewing shindig, but we realized earlier today that we forgot to invite them over. Oops! It's a party of two instead, so we make a salad and caramelize some onions to go with the pierogies we heat up and serve with dollops of sour cream. We pop some popcorn, then pop the bubbly and shamelessly judge the outfits of famous people while we sit in our sweatpants, stuffing our faces. I head to bed around 12:30 a.m. after watching the full show.
Daily Total: $302.96
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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