A Week In Chicago, IL, On A $230,961 Salary

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.

Today: an Associate General Counsel who makes $230,961 per year spends some of her money this week on a palm plant.
Occupation: Associate General Counsel
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 36
Location: Chicago, IL
Salary: $230,961.28 (plus $23,000-$46,000 annual bonus)
Net Worth: approx. $455,000, which includes investments (i.e., IRA, 403(b), and additional investment accounts), savings, and real estate and no debt
Debt: $0 (thanks to scholarships for college and law school and aggressive repayment of comparatively low law school debt)
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $5,225 (after taxes and other payroll deductions)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $3,390 for a two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartment for me and my robot vacuum
Loans: $0
Cable & Internet: $176
Medical (PPO, Dental, Eye + FSA): $299.50 pre-tax payroll deduction (switching to to a HDHP + HSA soon)
Utilities: $140
Charities: $101.25
Verizon: $80 (I've paid this bill since I was a student, and I'm too lazy to switch to the family plan)
Spa: $74
Transportation: $20 pre-tax payroll deduction for CTA card (typically, $80)
Netflix: $19.60 (shared with my immediate family and includes a DVD option for my mom)
Apple: $9.99
Hulu: $0 (Thanks sis)
Disney+: $0 (Mom's treat)
Annual Expenses:
Insurance (life, renter's, and homeowner's): approx. $2,550
Property Taxes: approx. $450
Amazon Prime: $119
The Art Institute of Chicago: $105
Savings: $2,435 every two weeks (recently increased; transfer funds to investment accounts quarterly)
403(b): $735 (plus, employer contributes additional 7.5% of my salary)

Day One

7:30 a.m. — There's my alarm. I read my daily devotional and skim a bathroom renovation feature on Domino's website before I collect myself for a Sunday morning run.
8:45 a.m. — My friends and I have a FaceTime brunch scheduled for this afternoon, so I place some puff pastry on my cabinet to thaw while I get ready for the day. I decide to give my skin and hair a little extra love, so I apply an Origins rose clay mask on my face and a homemade conditioning mix to my hair. I secure a printed turban over my conditioning cap and step into a black jumpsuit so that I can prepare my brunch and sauces for my meals this week. I'll need basil pesto (using some sunflower seeds I need to finish), an herb battuto (using a blend of purchased and homegrown ingredients from my little garden), and green tahini.
12:30 p.m. — The oven timer sounds just in time and I drizzle thyme honey over my puff pastries (filled with the pesto, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, and burrata) as I start the FaceTime video. My friend, M., texts just before brunch to let us know that she isn't feeling well and won't be able to join. The three of us will try again next weekend, but B. and I still catch up. She's a mom of newborn twins, and we chat about the ongoing adjustment to parenthood, our plans for the rest of the day, and how we're both adjusting our habits in response to the pandemic and current state of the economy. Personally, I'm allocating more to my short-term savings (additional $235/paycheck) and emergency fund (additional $850/paycheck) and avoiding looking at the value of my investments too closely or too frequently. We're fortunate to be in the position to take either approach.
1:45 p.m. — We wrap up with brunch just before the babies go down for naps. I consider a post-brunch nap but do some chores instead. I eat a few handfuls of Haribo while I work.
5:50 p.m. — I eat some leftover queso fundido and esquites while I warm leftover enchiladas in the oven. Everything is just as delicious on the second take, but I wish I had left a sliver of the tres leches cake for today. I have a spoonful of Jeni's Splendid ice cream instead.
7:40 p.m. — I brew some night tea and sit down to paint my nails and attempt DIY nail art while I finish laundry. The experiment is mildly successful, but the night tea fully succeeds in knocking me out. I fall asleep on my couch while my laundry goes through the wash cycle.
10:50 p.m. — I wake up from my couch nap (arguably, the best type of nap) and move to my bedroom to complete my night routine. I try to keep this as simple as possible: teeth, face (Target brand version of Neutrogena cleansing wipes, two drops of a pricey Shiseido serum that probably does nothing but feels nice going on, a L'Oréal moisturizing night cream, and locally-sourced brow oil), and a daily reflection with entries in my gratitude and mood logs. Somehow, I manage to remember to toss everything in the dryer before I go to sleep. I realize I spent no money today and hope this diary doesn't end up being a food log.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

6 a.m. — Good morning, sunshine. I look at my weather app and see it's warm enough to venture outside. After my devotional reading and a few stretches, I grab a mask and head out for a loop around my neighborhood. On my way out, I realize that although I moved the laundry to the dryer last night, I didn't actually start the cycle. Let me try this again.
8:25 a.m. — Showered, dressed, and ready to work. My typical morning face routine consists of a Cetaphil cleanser in the shower, Thayers witch hazel toner, a couple of drops of hyaluronic acid (The Ordinary), and an Aveeno moisturizer/sunscreen combo. Stay-at-home and work-from-home directives have given me more grounds to really lean into my standard makeup routine, which is usually minimal to non-existent (at most, I'll add gloss to my lips for virtual hangouts). My work-from-home style is best described as late 80s fitness instructor meets early 90s mom on vacation — lots of cropped sweatshirts, off the shoulder tops, leggings, and no-wrinkle jumpsuits. Bras are optional in my home office, but as a member of the BTC, I often wear a sports bra (gravity is humbling for all of us).
9:05 a.m. — After I text M. to see if she's feeling better today (she is!), I remember to renew my Art Institute membership ($105 recurring, tax-deductible expense noted above). I also review a follow-up email from an organization soliciting donations to fund summer fellowships for law students and recent grads. During college and law school, I benefited from the generosity of donors who funded public interest opportunities that might have otherwise been impractical for me to pursue, so I try to pay it forward. I'm sad to see that this particular organization has questionable ratings on various charity accountability websites and databases, so I decide not to contribute in response to the request. I'll research other organizations that do similar work.
12:05 p.m. — Monday is usually the day of weekly standing meetings and I have a series of calls with various strategy/business development and operations teams to discuss upcoming and ongoing projects. We've been focused on all things related to COVID-19 for several weeks, and it has been taxing and alarming (though intellectually interesting) to witness the country's healthcare and public health frameworks morph so drastically in real-time. I'm really happy that we're getting to the point where I can focus more attention on my usual transactional work. I combine a handful of peanuts and with sun-dried tomatoes to carry me through meetings until I can eat my lunch of fusilli coated in the herb battuto. It's an upgrade over pasta with basil pesto and so good.
5:25 p.m. — I send my last work email of the day and leave work, which means I swap out my work-issued laptop for my personal laptop and various remote controls. I decompress by watching the first episode of Dispatches From Elsewhere and making a vegetarian twist on shawarma using cauliflower, chickpeas, and lots of spices. For me, the process of preparing a meal is really soothing, and I enjoy the mix of methodical movements (slicing, dicing, stirring) and improvisation (interesting spices, random pairings, ingredients not listed in the recipe). I add green tahini, Halloumi, hummus, and a bunch of raw veggies to make a bowl. I watch an episode of Beauty And The Baker while I drink golden milk for dessert.
9:40 p.m. — I “need” some baking supplies. After an hour of comparison shopping, I pick a new dough scraper, a french rolling pin, sheet pan, and some other things from Sur la Table ($63.58, I use the Rakuten browser extension, so I'll get a tiny portion back at the end of the quarter) and a pastry brush from Amazon Smile ($7.53). I watch Never Have I Ever and fold laundry until it's time to go through my bedtime routine. I'm asleep by 11. $71.03
Daily Total: $71.03

Day Three

6 a.m. — I wake up to humidity. I chug a ton of water while I read today's devotional. I warm up with sprints outside before a strength workout in my living room.
8:15 a.m. — After my workout, I go through my morning routine and spend an additional 15 minutes doing a guided, virtual meditation with my yoga studio (free) before I sit down to work.
12 p.m. — I reheat more herby fusilli with a generous serving of parmesan.
2:30 p.m. — I want chocolate chip cookies, so I make enough dough for a baker's dozen and bake a few for snacks/dessert that I'll eat over the next few days. I freeze most of the dough for use in the coming weeks.
5:10 p.m. — I catch up with F., a college friend who lives in New York City. We talk about Little Fires Everywhere (both the novel and the Hulu series) and how surreal it is to be cognizant that you're living through moments people will learn about in history classes. The September 11th attacks happened during our first few weeks of college classes, and she's one of the first people that checked in at the beginning of the declaration of the public health emergency. In a time when so many people are experiencing sudden loss and feeling extremely isolated, I'm really appreciative of our friendship and our shared experiences. While we chat, I eat cauliflower shawarma wrapped in warm garlic naan. I add “perfect naan recipe” to my list of things to try while in physical isolation.
6:20 p.m. — I head to my mailroom to grab a package (new cocktail books!) before I join a virtual 75-minute yoga session from my local studio. There's a line at the elevator bay, so I jog up numerous flights of stairs to get back to my floor in time for class. Several weeks ago, I decided the stairwell would be my new gym. So far, I've only seen one other resident use it in the same way, and I see him tossing a medicine ball between floors as I continue my trek up several more flights. The drop-in price for yoga is $25/class, but I bought the equivalent of a 55-pack of classes during a Cyber Monday sale for $640, which works out to significantly less per class. The studio has done a wonderful job fostering a virtual community during the pandemic.
7:55 p.m. — I brew chamomile tea and add a shot of bourbon. While I sip my tea toddy, I browse websites of Chicago-based businesses in search of a Mother's Day gift for my mother and a care package for my friend, R., who is recovering from surgery. I'm able to find a starter palm and a gift set (a lavender plant, candle, spray, and sleep mask) from Modern Sprout. It goes well with the group gift that my siblings and I are sending her ($80.60, after the younger sibs Venmo me their contributions to the group gift). I get R. a self-care kit from Scratch Goods ($43). $123.60
9:40 p.m. — Since I've been spending all of this time at home, I've identified a ton of little things I want to do to my apartment. Last month, I ordered a bunch of plants from a Portland nursery that I love and I need stands. I find NewMade LA's website by chance and order a stand and some pink plant holders that I want for my indoor herbs. I add a bit of Vitamin C 30% suspension from The Ordinary to the bedtime routine (this step is a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday thing). $94
Daily Total: $217.60

Day Four

6 a.m. — Awake and dragging. Through bleary eyes, I see that it's damp and gray outside. I take a few extra minutes to look at things on my phone before I get up to face the day.
8:20 a.m. — After finishing a HIIT workout and 20 minutes of dancing around my apartment, I go through the morning routine and settle into my chair for the workday. I exchange a few text messages with my aunt and uncle to see how they're doing with sheltering-in-place. My dad didn't mention them during our last conversation, but they both confirm that they are doing well and still happy at home.
10:40 a.m. — I get a few trade alerts, which reminds me that I need to email my financial advisor. We spoke last week, and I mentioned that I wanted someone to review the current state of my 403(b) investments and allocations. I pull the information and send it along for input. Sometimes, I wonder if I should learn more about these things, but I don't have much interest at the granular level. Within a few years of graduating from law school and starting the Big Law period of my career, I decided that I'd rather just pay someone else to do it for me. I met with a few advisors to discuss my long- and short-term financial goals, the realities of my lifestyle and spending habits (frugal/practical for the most part, but I'll indulge a bit when it comes to having a nice living space and my love of travel), and my tolerance for risk (moderate). I picked the one whose experience and expertise aligned with my needs as a client and who also seemed like a decent human being.
12:15 p.m. — I eat prosciutto caprese puff pastry with an arugula and cucumber side salad while I'm on a call to discuss a work plan for a joint venture. During my weekly one-on-one with a colleague, she mentions that she just bought some items from the Flare sample sale and suggests I take a look to see if I want anything. I resist the temptation but make a mental note.
5:40 p.m. — I reheat another serving of pasta. I dress it up with a few sun-dried tomatoes and a dollop of leftover burrata. I stream a class on shooting landscape photography (free courtesy of Nikon) and take notes while I eat. I finish the lesson just in time for a virtual trash TV watch party with a few close friends. I grab a cookie, pour myself some red wine, and settle in for a wild ride.
9 p.m. — After the episode is over, I take a few minutes to update my account information for the automatic withdrawals for my recurring donations and spa membership (amounts noted above). I consider increasing the monthly amounts, but then I remember there are a few virtual charity events next week and decide to hold off for those. Usually, anonymous donors will match certain amounts raised at fundraising events, so I want to hold off and maximize their potential to get more money. Another night, same nighttime routine. I'm asleep by 10:20.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

5:55 a.m. — I open my eyes a few minutes before my alarm. Today's workout is all about the booty. Sitting later should be fun...
8:20 a.m. — Ready to work.
9:20 a.m. — I've been stalking a sweater from All Saints, and it's finally available in my size and at the right price. While I'm shopping, I make my way over to the Frame sample sale and add a pair of jeans and a silk dress to my cart to sit while I work. $72.70
12:05 p.m. — I'm hungry, but I'm on a call that requires me to converse and remain unmuted. I have some peanuts and a piece of cheese to hold me over until I'm able to prepare my cauliflower shawarma bowl for lunch. I have a cookie for dessert.
5:05 p.m. — The sunshine has emerged, so I head out for a walk around the neighborhood before dinner.
6:10 p.m. — I eat pasta and stream another photography class before calling M. for our last joint class of the month. Tonight, we'll learn about macro photography. During class, I exchange a few text messages my friend, K. We also joke about love (dating) in the time of coronavirus. It sounds like K. has a pandemic penpal paramour.
8:40 p.m. — I consult a friend about the items in my Flare sample sale cart. She loves the dress, but somehow her thoughts on purchasing jeans leads me down a path that involves watching Jeff Goldblum excavate denim on Disney+ and a further detour into extensive research on raw denim. By 10:10 p.m., I've talked myself out of the jeans (for now), but I still want the dress. I checkout on the way to my bed. $127.50
10:10 p.m. — At checkout, there's an option to donate a nominal amount to Feeding America, so I do that as well ($5). After my bedtime routine, I thumb through one of my new cocktail books until I fall asleep. $5
Daily Total: $205.20

Day Six

5:40 a.m. — I wake up and realize I fell asleep before I could turn off my bedside lamp. I'm thrilled to see that it's warm-ish this morning, and so I head out for a long walk and plan to get in some serious stretching after work and before catching up with my family this evening. I'm at my work laptop by 8:05 a.m.
10:10 a.m. — I pay my rent (recurring monthly expense noted above) before joining an all-attorney status meeting. I report out on various pandemic-related issues that I've been tracking.
11:05 a.m. — I need to restock my food, so I survey my collection of recipes for inspiration (usual online sources include Healthyish by Bon Appetit, Half-Baked Harvest, The Kitchenista, Smitten Kitchen, FitMen Cook, and Furthermore by Equinox). I make my list, mask-up, grab my granny cart, and walk to the store for my grocery run. I buy the things I need to make chicken tinga (to eat right away and freeze for later), ramen dishes, brunches (avocados, cheese, bacon), and veggie bowls. I also get ingredients for this weekend's quarantine baking experiment. $96.66
11:05 a.m. — As I rush up an arrow-up aisle to get to the arrow-down aisle that has things on my list, I find paper towels (it's a valuable tick on my pandemic scavenger hunt list since I've recently resorted to using half a sheet in an attempt to ration the only roll I've been able to find in nearly two months) ($8.81). At self-checkout, I always test my recollection of codes from the years I worked as a cashier in high school. I remember how it felt like I was constantly exposed to so many germs back then and I really hope people are being kind to cashiers right now. As I head out of the store to walk home, I pass the card section and remember I need to get Mother's Day card to mail to my mom. I grab some eucalyptus from the floral department, too. Back in line, I go ($20.40). I have cauliflower shawarma in a naan blanket once I get back home. $29.21
4:40 p.m. — I end my work week with a quick meeting with one of my favorite sets of internal clients. After I finish a half-hour of quality stretching, I join my family for 6:30 p.m. Friday FaceTime “drinkies” like Robert and Sol on Grace and Frankie. We usually go for three or more hours, so happy hour seems like an understatement. It is something we've been doing since our first week of physical isolation. My immediate family is spread across the country in five cities/four states, so it's not uncommon for us to go a few months without being physically together. Our weekly get together is one of my favorite sheltering-in-place activities. I try out a cocktail recipe (Old Pal) from one of my new books and eat the last bit of fusilli and random cheese plate remnants while we talk and laugh for hours. We disconnect right after I finish a glass of red wine.
10 p.m. — Before I head to bed, I spend some time working on a gorgeous puzzle from a new woman-founded puzzle company that's sharing a modest portion of its proceeds with Feeding America and the Women's Center for Advancement.
Daily Total: $125.87

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — It's Chicago's first Saturday of spring weather and I feel like a kid on the first day of summer vacation. For the majority of my run, I have my route entirely to myself. I discover a nursery pop-up on my cool-down walk home (Pritzker recently allowed nurseries/plant shops to reopen). I don't buy anything, but I know I'll be back sooner or later. It's nearby and too tempting.
12:05 p.m. — Normally, this would be one of those Saturdays when I'd grab brunch on a patio with friends, spend the day roaming the streets, and drink cocktails on a rooftop in the evening. Instead, I flat twist my hair into a halo and pull out a printed green jumpsuit. I make a sour cream and onion biscuit sandwich with avocado and a side salad for brunch. I listen to one of my favorite Spotify playlists, apply some extra sunscreen, and spend the rest of the day on my little balcony. I sit there for hours reading a library book and looking at home renovation features and doing research on income properties. After my grandmother died last spring, I inherited a modest house in another state. My sister and I had planned to travel back and forth this spring to go through things and get rolling with some home improvement projects, with the hope of being able to rent it out. Everything is stalled right now, but I want to have a plan once it's safe to move forward.
5:40 p.m. — I finish the last bit of my veggie shawarma and start this week's quarantine baking experiment. A few friends and I are supposed to make shortcake in honor of the beginning of strawberry season. We send each other pictures, tips, and encouragement as we go (only one of us is an active baker, and it's not me). Everything turns out really well! I eat two servings just before sundown.
9 p.m. — Once inside, I finish the puzzle. I have some tea before I run through my usual routine. Earlier in the day, I felt a bit wistful about not getting to do the things that I'd normally do on a day like today, but I really enjoyed my day. Usually, I'm all over the place and in constant motion, so it's great that I had an entire day to be still and enjoy my space. It's a luxury to have it all to myself. It was a zero-spend day.
Daily Total: $0
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
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