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A Week In Columbus, OH, On A $52,000 Salary

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 fundraising associate who makes $52,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a unicorn plush.
Editor's Note: This diary was written in December 2021.
Occupation: Fundraising
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 32
Location: Columbus, OH
Salary: $52,000
Net Worth: $30,000 (savings: $6,000, retirement accounts: $20,000, car: $4,000)
Debt: $0 (I just paid off my student loans and my car has been paid off for a few years.)
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $2,870
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,025 ($975 plus $50 for pet rent) for a two-bedroom duplex that I share with my dog, J. Water and trash included.
Health, Vision, and Dental Insurance: $63 (pre-tax deduction)
Parking: $26 (payroll deduction)
401(k): $433 (pre-tax deduction. I contribute 10% of my annual salary and my employer contributes 11.5%.)
Phone: $40 (My portion of the family plan with my parents and brother.)
Car Insurance:
$69 (Paid to the family insurance plan.)
Utilities: ~$120
Internet: $25
Amazon Prime: $119 annually (I share accounts with my family for all other streaming services.)
Renters' Insurance: $191 annually
Pet Insurance: $261 annually
Donations: $300-$500 annually to various causes I care about (education, arts and culture, animal rescue, women's rights, etc.). I often wait to donate until there are matching funds available from a donor to maximize my impact.
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, but I don't think my parents would have been upset if I wanted to go a “non-traditional” route. My mom has a BA and MA, and my dad went to a technical college, transferred to finish his BA, started his MA coursework but never finished, and works in a more blue-collar industry. I wanted an intimate, artsy college experience, so I went to a small liberal arts school about three hours away from home. I received significant scholarships and some parent/grandparent assistance, and l ended up with about $20,000 in loans that I just finished paying off (woo!). I also went to grad school after working for two years. I worked as a teaching assistant for my department to fund my degree and received a small stipend for living expenses, so I was able to graduate debt-free.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn't really talk about money, but I observed that we rarely bought name-brand items, used coupons, accepted hand-me-downs, and picked furniture off the curb and refinished it at home. I'd say that we were middle class, but thrifty. We took camping trips every year, had nice Christmases, did extracurriculars, occasionally ate out, etc. My paternal grandmother was quite wealthy and supported us in a lot of ways I'll probably never know about.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I worked in a print shop at my high school the summer after my freshman year. I really just wanted something to do and a little bit of spending money. Other summers, I focused on volunteer work for my resume/college applications. In college, I worked as a tutor and a tour guide.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Almost never. My mom was the main breadwinner in our household and was laid off from her job when I was about 13 and we had just moved into a new house. She collected unemployment for a few months and I remember cutting way back expenses during that time, but she was able to get a new job fairly quickly and things went back to normal.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes, but less than I did even two years ago. Now that I'm in a higher-paying job and have paid off my student loans, I feel like I have a little bit of breathing room for the first time. I do worry when I think about the things I want in life (a house, to adopt children, to travel, to have pretty things). It's hard to achieve those things as a single, 30-something woman with an average salary. I make enough to be comfortable and have a few luxuries, but not to make big contributions to my long-term goals.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
When I moved out of my parents' house at age 23. I was on their insurance until age 26 and am still on the family plans for car insurance and cell phones, but I pay my mom back for those expenses every month. I know they would support me in any type of financial crisis.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
In college, my grandma used to send me $100 of “fun money” every month. She continued this until she passed a few months ago. I also have savings bonds (not sure of the amount... maybe a couple of thousand dollars?) from her that I will be able to cash in someday.

Day One

6:30 a.m. — I wake up contorted in a weird position around my dog, J., who somehow worked his way up from near my feet up to my head overnight. BECAUSE HE LOVES ME. And the feeling is mutual! I adopted J. from a local rescue and it was the best decision I ever made. My level of obsession with him is most likely unhealthy. I don't have a fenced-in yard, so we start every morning with a walk around the neighborhood. Good for him, good for me, even when I complain about it in the winter.
7 a.m. — Back from our walk and J. gets breakfast while I get ready for the day. I'm pretty minimal in terms of skin/hair care, so I'm washed, brushed, and dressed in about 15 minutes. I grab my mask (fully vaccinated [as is everyone I associate with] and I wear a mask anytime I'm in public or at work, and outside if it's crowded) and bag and hit the road.
8 a.m. — I park in an on-campus parking lot and take the campus bus to my office. I walk into the office and am happy to see people at their desks. We're still hybrid, so you never know how many people will actually be in the office on any given day. I try to come into the office three days a week. I have coffee and yogurt at my desk as I check emails. I started this job two months ago, so I'm shadowing pretty much everything my team does to get a feel for how various teams and events work.
11 a.m. — No more meetings until after lunch, so I start working on preparing materials for an event coming up next week. I work in donor stewardship for a large university hospital system, so I work to plan events, create reports and marketing materials, and find creative ways to show donors the impact of their support. This week, I'm preparing for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. This job has been a huge adjustment. Prior to this, most of my professional experiences have been in museums and cultural institutions. Transitioning to both healthcare and a university environment has been intense. A few months in, I feel like I can speak with a bit of authority on the areas I cover, but I still can't spell “physician” right on the first try.
12:30 p.m. — Lunch break! I heat up creamy salsa chicken with corn and black beans over rice that I brought from home. I sit near the window and watch the construction and the students going to class.
4 p.m. — I log off and drive home. I change clothes once I get home and take the dog for a walk. J. and I go for a two- to three-mile walk every day. Today we walk in the fancy neighborhood and admire all their holiday decorations while listening to My Favorite Murder.
5:30 p.m. — I drive to the grocery to pick up an order I placed earlier. I'm baking a couple of desserts for a party with friends and needed to restock my baking ingredients and get some dinner ingredients for later in the week. I get molasses, dark and light brown sugar, cranberries, vanilla, sour cream, powdered sugar, heavy whipping cream, white chocolate, peppermint extract, bittersweet chocolate, pork shoulder, green beans, coffee creamer, and eggs. $52.74
6:30 p.m. — I don't feel like cooking tonight (even though I love to!), so I make myself a turkey sandwich with Havarti, cranberry mayo, and french-fried onions for crunch, and mix up a Caesar salad from a bag. The rest of the night is spent snuggling the pup and watching Gilmore Girls for the thousandth time.
10 p.m. — Bedtime! I take J. out for one last potty break, wash my face, brush my teeth, and read a few pages of my book, The Song of Achilles.
Daily Total: $52.74

Day Two

7 a.m. — Alarm, dog butt pressing into my spleen, roll out of bed, walk the dog, try not to trip over my own feet. I work from home on Mondays and Fridays, so “getting ready” today means putting on clean sweatpants and brushing my teeth sometime before 10. In between meetings, I make some toast and spread it with Irish butter and the most amazing red pear gingerbread jam that I picked up at a holiday market. And many coffees.
12 p.m. — Lunch break! I reheat some leftover pizza, smother it with ranch because MIDWEST, and slice up an apple. I place an Amazon order for a new cell phone case to replace an old cracked one, a zester and paring knife to give to my brother, and a coin sorter to finally cash out the big jar of coins I've moved from apartment to apartment to apartment. I refuse to give the automatic coin-sorter thing at the grocery a percentage of my hard-earned money (even though the coin-sorter thing probably costs as much as the automatic one? Whatever. I have principles). $29.40
5 p.m. — After wrapping up the workday and walking the dog, I investigate my second bedroom. My brother just moved out after living with me for about six months, so I'm revisiting all the things in his room that I haven't seen in half a year. Prior to him moving in, my second bedroom was my office and craft room and I'm ready to get the space back again. I had a small Etsy shop for a few years, but I think I'm ready to retire from that, so I need to go through all my supplies and see what I want to keep for personal projects. I start sorting into piles, but lose steam partway through and leave the mess all over the floor.
6:30 p.m. — I hear the front door open and the dog goes crazy — my brother (K.) is here! He just moved out two weeks ago into an apartment one street over. He still comes over to do laundry, have dinner, and play with the dog a couple of times a week. He puts a load of laundry in and we sit down for dinner —— pulled pork that I put in the slow-cooker earlier, mac and cheese, and roasted green beans.
7:30 p.m. — After K. leaves, I switch into baking mode. I'm bringing a gingerbread yule log to a party tomorrow and want to bake the cake tonight so it has time to cool. I mix up the cake and pour it into the pan, realize that I forgot to spray the pan, scrape the batter back out, get it all over myself and the counter, wash and spray the pan, refill, bake, and it (finally) comes out perfectly! The cake gets rolled up in a tea towel and refrigerated overnight. I also make the white chocolate bark and prep the sugared cranberries that I'll use for decoration.
9:45 p.m. — I halfheartedly clean the kitchen, take the dog out, and watch an episode of Downtown Abbey in bed before going to sleep.
Daily Total: $29.40

Day Three

8:30 a.m. — I'm half asleep, but I feel J. moving around open…I guess that means I'm up too. The second I open my eyes, he leaps off the bed and runs to the door. I'm coming, buddy! I bundle up and we do our morning patrol of the neighborhood.
9 a.m. — Weekends are for coffee, dog snuggles, and contemplating the world.
10 a.m. — Back to baking! I mix up the second dessert for tonight — a gluten-free chocolate yule log. While it bakes, I whip cream and fill and roll up the gingerbread cake I made last night and decorate it with the white chocolate bark and sugared cranberries. It's my first time making a roll cake and it came out so well! I take the chocolate cake out of the oven, roll it up, and fridge it. It's a more delicate cake, so I'll finish it right before I leave for the party. I take a quick shower since I'm covered in powdered sugar and cocoa powder, then wash the dishes and make lunch (turkey sandwich and the rest of my Caesar salad from the other night).
1 p.m. — Shopping time! My friend, A., and I adopted a local family for Christmas and we're going shopping for all their gifts. I pick her up and we go to BigLots and start checking items off their list. We try to make sure that each member of the family gets both essential and fun items. We get blankets for everyone, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, pads and tampons, deodorant, toothpaste and brushes, and some shelf-stable food and snacks. We also get a jacket and makeup palette for the mom, a big squishy unicorn plush and nail polish for the younger daughter, a shirt and socks for the son, and socks for the older daughter. A. pays $163.12 and we'll settle up later. I also grab some items I need at home — laundry detergent, nail polish, and candy for my mom's Christmas stocking. $28.32
2 p.m. — We drive to Target to get the last few items on their list. Plastic storage drawers to hold all the gifts and for them to use at the shelter, drawing supplies and a hoodie for the older daughter, a Bluetooth speaker for the son, UNO cards, and a $50 gift card to Panera. $126.32
3:30 p.m. — We take all the bags into A.'s apartment to sort and take off price tags. A. will drop off the gifts tomorrow. We do the math and settle up — we spent $289.44 total and I owe her $18.40 to even things out. I Venmo her. $18.40
4 p.m. — Back home to finish up the cakes for tonight! I take the chocolate cake out of the fridge to unroll and fill it and it breaks into a million pieces [insert swearing here]. Okay, the cake is now a trifle. I whip cream and take out my anger by smashing peppermints into oblivion with a rolling pin. I crumble the cake into even smaller pieces and layer it with whipped cream and crushed peppermints in a pretty bowl #starbaker.
4:45 p.m. — Walk the dog and change into a festive plaid top and jeans. Tonight's party is with my friends from my old job. I'm the self-appointed troop leader/class mom/activities director, so I order the pizza to be delivered ($65, but folks will Venmo me later), gather the paper plates, utensils, and decorations I bought last week, wrap my White Elephant gift (a cookbook my aunt gave me when I was a teenager from some Australian chef? It's autographed and says “Cook it up, baby!”), and grab the desserts. A. picks me up and we drive about 20 minutes to the party, which is at a brewery. $65
6 p.m. — The brewery reserved some tables for us, so A. helps me lay out the decorations and food. The brewery is relatively small and there are only two other tables of people here, so we feel comfortable taking off masks at the table. My friends start to arrive and the pizza does too! Everyone is suitably impressed by my desserts. We spend the rest of the night talking, eating, and exchanging our White Elephant gifts. I had my eye on a mug with an angry chicken on it, but end up with a “lovely” string art snowmobile. At least it didn't get the creepy baby doll that's been passed around our group for years and ends up with a new accessory each time. I drink two holiday beers and a cocktail (A. pays for one as a thank-you for planning). $15.99
10:30 p.m. — A. and I clean up the trash and mess from the party and she drops me off at home. Take the dog out, nighttime routine, and tumble into bed feeling warm and fuzzy.
Daily Total: $254.03

Day Four

9 a.m. — Lazy morning vibes. J. lets me sleep later than normal and I change back into PJs once we get home from our walk. I eat a slice of leftover cake for breakfast.
12 p.m. — I putz around all morning cleaning up the baking whirlwind I left in the kitchen, folding the clean laundry that's been sitting in my bedroom for days, watching Girl Meets Farm on the Food Network, and playing with J. I heat up some frozen veggie dumplings for lunch and eat an apple.
2 p.m. — I head to the grocery for some odds and ends. I usually am a better meal planner/prepper, but just don't feel like it this week. I end up with frozen salmon, chicken burgers, chickpeas, mac and cheese, tomato paste, sparkling water, yogurt, asparagus, blueberry sausage patties, and a salad kit. $43.58
3 p.m. — I go back to my second bedroom and keep cleaning and sorting my craft supplies. I have a bit of an existential crisis while deciding what supplies to keep and give away. I don't think that doing the Etsy shop “sparks joy” with me anymore, but it's hard to part with supplies that I spent good money on. I enjoyed the crafting part of the job, but all the shop management, social media, and financial/tax prep drove me absolutely crazy. I compromise by keeping a quarter of the supplies that I might need if I ever want to start my Etsy shop again and putting the rest in the donation box. I call my mom while I clean to catch up.
6 p.m. — I slice up some chicken sausage and saute it with asparagus while the water boils for some ravioli. I add some tomato sauce and parmesan and eat while watching The Great British Baking Show. Like everyone else in the world, I am deeply in love with Jurgen. I text my best friends from college and plan our next get-together. We all live in different states, so we have to be really thoughtful about getting together. We celebrate “Merry Birthday” (all our birthdays and Christmas) every year in February. This year, I think we're going to do a long weekend in Savannah, GA. I start researching Airbnbs.
7:30 p.m. — I switch to Gilmore Girls and cut strips of fleece from my craft stash to make braided dog toys to donate to my local humane society. The process is the same as those plastic boondoggle braids you learn at camp, but more fun because I can have a beer while I braid. I make eight toys before my fingers get tired. I continue my streak of 10 p.m. bedtimes because I love sleeping and routine. I'm super cold tonight for some reason so I convince the dog to be the little spoon and snuggle under the covers with me.
Daily Total: $43.58

Day Five

7 a.m. — Same old, same old. Today, my morning walk comes with the delightful experience of sharing the sidewalk with a pack of middle school boys walking to school. I am wearing the *glamorous* ensemble of sweatpants under my nightgown and a bright orange fleece jacket.
8 a.m. — Work from home day. I get ready quickly and start the coffee before I join a Zoom rehearsal for an upcoming virtual event. Then I make the final edits on a photobook for a donor to commemorate their ribbon-cutting event and order it ($28.74 expensed).
12:15 p.m. — I make myself some scrambled eggs and toast an English muffin for lunch. I catch up on YouTube videos while I eat. I got really into CosTube (historical costuming YouTube) during the pandemic. I watch videos from Bernadette Banner, Rachel Maksy, Sewstine, and Not Your Momma's History before jumping back into meetings.
5 p.m. — I wrap up for the day and walk the pup. I'm taking it easy this evening after a busy weekend. I chop up two sweet potatoes and a bell pepper, add chicken Italian sausage and asparagus, and roast the whole thing in the oven. I make this combo all the time and it always hits the spot.
10 p.m. — I flip between more Gilmore Girls, cross-stitching, and reading my book until bedtime. Usual routine and lights out.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

7 a.m. — Same morning routine.
8 a.m. — I spend *far* too long choosing an outfit that is festive but not too holiday-y to attend a holiday lunch meeting. I end up in a white and black plaid boucle top, a black A-line skirt, black tights, and ankle boots. I drive to the craft store to pick out a frame to give to a donor ($21.59 expensed).
9:45 a.m. — I have a little time to kill before a meeting, so I pop into the Ulta next door and grab a couple of travel-size hair products and a new concealer. $17.82
12 p.m. — the whole team gathers for an informal holiday lunch — pizza and salad from a campus classic. I don't have the same nostalgia for it that everyone else does, but I'm not one to turn down a free lunch! I grab a bowl of salad and a couple of slices of pizza and chat with folks I normally only see on Zoom. After, I head home to wrap up the day remotely.
5 p.m. — After walking J., I order sushi and go pick it up ($12). I eat quickly and then log on to Zoom. I'm assisting with a virtual event for work, so I get the briefing from the team. I'm supposed to share my screen and run the housekeeping slides and music before the event starts. $12
6:30 p.m. — Success! I only hit my keyboard and skipped a slide once. The event is still going on, but I have to get to choir practice, so I text the team to let them know and jump in the car.
7:04 p.m. — I slide into choir just a few minutes late…too bad I sit in the front row and have to crawl over everyone. Sorry, folks! I've been singing since I was a kid and even had a music scholarship in college. I've been singing with this group for about six years and it's a great mix of classical and contemporary works and a ton of lovely people. We practice until 9 and then I head out. I stop and get gas on the way home. $30
9:30 p.m. — Home, greet the dog, and eat Extra Toasty Cheez-its (the only type of Cheez-it that really matters) in bed while I watch Downton Abbey. Lights out around 10:30.
Daily Total: $59.82

Day Seven

6:30 a.m. — Office day, so I've gotta get moving! Do all the things and am out the door by 7:20. I walk by Starbucks on my way to the office and get a drip coffee. $2.50
8 a.m. — Yogurt and coffee at my desk as I check emails, then into meetings for the day. I was not in a meetings-heavy role before this, and now I'm in five to seven a day. I'm exhausted.
12 p.m. — I break for lunch and heat up the leftover sweet potatoes, peppers, asparagus, and chicken sausage from the other night.
3 p.m. — I head out of the office a little early because I have another virtual event tonight, so I want to get home and walk the dog before. I get home, change, and walk the dog.
5:30 p.m. — I log on to Zoom and get the briefing from the team. I don't have to do much this time, just keep an eye out for any technical malfunctions and watch the chat, so I make a quick snack plate for dinner — an apple, some cheddar cheese, an English muffin with butter, and a handful of almonds. Dinner of champions.
8 p.m. — The event is over and I celebrate with a glass of red wine. I turn on all the Christmas lights and cuddle with J. in the cozy dim lighting. I watch holiday baking shows until bedtime.
Daily Total: $2.50
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