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A Week In St. Paul, MN, On A $87,000 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 government employee working in public service who makes $87,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a mochi doughnut.
Occupation: Government employee
Industry: Public service
Age: 27
Location: St. Paul, MN
Salary: $87,000
Net Worth: -$102,193 (Roth IRA: $6,585; deferred compensation: $4,899; public employees retirement account: $7,937; healthcare savings plan: $581; HSA: $3,188; HYSA: $16,946; checking: $2,500, minus debt)
Debt: $144,829 (This is a combination of student loans: $40,664 in my name, plus $104,165 in my parents’ names that I will mostly pay back.)
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $2,200
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $982 (I live alone in a studio apartment.)
Electricity: $30–$50
iPhone: $8
Phone Bill: $0 (I pay for the phone, but my parents pay my monthly bill.)
Internet: $25
Student Loan Payment: $1,000
Car Insurance: $84
Roth IRA: $150
Savings Account: $150
Deferred Compensation: $250 (deducted from my paycheck)
Dental Insurance & Short-Term & Long-Term Disability Insurance: $65 (automatically deducted from my paycheck)
Public Employee Retirement Account: $440 (automatically deducted from my paycheck)
Healthcare Savings Plan: $170 (automatically deducted from my paycheck)
Health Insurance: $0 (covered by my employer)
Amazon Prime: $0 (I use my parents’ account.)
Annual Expenses
Renter’s Insurance: $112
American Express Fee: $99
Super Duolingo: $84

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, my parents expected my brother and I to pursue higher education. In my situation, it made sense because I was academically focused and wanted to go to college. I changed my mind several times in terms of the career I wanted, but I was always confident that I would be able to find a job, and that college would pay off for me. I went to a private out-of-state university with a hefty price tag: $60,000 a year. I was mildly delusional and didn’t seriously consider the cost of college. I didn’t let the price of schools deter me when applying because I thought I would receive financial aid. My parents were secretive about their income, so it turns out they made much more money than I thought, and we mostly didn’t qualify for financial aid until their financial situation changed. To pay for school, I took out a $25,000 loan in my own name, and my parents took out approximately $150,000 in their names. During the pandemic, I went to graduate school, and while I probably could have afforded to pay for tuition, I took out another $40,000 in loans so I could put money towards my undergraduate debt.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents were, as many well-off families are, unusually awkward and secretive about money. They were always vague about their income and didn’t provide any formal financial education. I would say each of my parents has a different financial style. My mom handles the finances, but she also likes to shop and would often hide purchases from my dad. My dad is more frugal and likes to save. I must’ve picked up some knowledge along the way because I would always save part of my birthday money.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
Growing up, I was very privileged and did not need to get a job to support my family. My parents supported me with money for gas, clothes, food, movies, and so on. I worked a few odd jobs for neighbors, like babysitting, but I got my first official job the summer after junior year, scanning medical records at the clinic where my mom worked. The medical clinic was in the process of converting from a paper to a digital system and hired many children of employees. The position paid more than minimum wage, and I carpooled with my mom, so it was a pretty sweet gig! I got the job for extra fun money and I used it to pay for some summer activities and trips for clubs. During the school year, my parents didn’t expect me to have a job because my main focus was school and clubs and activities.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No, my parents were very well-off, and I never felt any pressure. I usually got what I wanted, and we would take a family trip once a year. My parents’ financial situation changed, however, when I went away to college. My father was laid off, and my mother ended up leaving two different jobs while I was in college, so there was a period of time when both were unemployed. Being an out-of-state student at an expensive private school, I was very worried about money. I had only just met my college friends so I didn’t feel comfortable talking to them about my financial situation, which only made my anxiety worse. It seemed that half of my friends were wealthy enough to afford the school without worry, and the other half had financial aid. I was awkwardly in between, where my parents were wealthy enough that I didn’t qualify for financial aid but not wealthy enough to actually pay for my tuition. I didn’t understand until later, after speaking to my brother, the severity of my parents’ situation at that time. Eventually, my mom was able to get another high-paying job, but my dad only worked in much lower-paying jobs after he was laid off and is now semi-retired.

Do you worry about money now?
I did worry about money and my student debt until I started working a well-paying job two years ago. Previously, I was unsure if or when I would be able to pay off my student loans. I lived with my parents to save money until a few months ago, paying roughly 50% of my income towards student debt since graduating. My parents are currently paying for part of my loans, and we haven’t had a frank conversation about whose responsibility they will be, but I’m anticipating paying for most of it. I’m using the snowball method to pay off my debt: I pay the minimum monthly amount, then put extra money each month towards the smallest loan. After that one is paid off, I put the extra money towards the next loan, paying them off one by one. So far, I’ve paid off one of three. Now that I have a plan and a good income, my goal is to be debt free in 10 years. Even though I can afford to pay for my debts and monthly expenses, I still can’t fathom paying for a house or a child at this point in my life (or honestly ever).

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I’m still dependent on my parents: There’s the loan repayment explained above, plus they pay for my monthly phone bill. That said, they weaned me off other expenses, including car insurance, when I moved out. If something happened, I could definitely move back in with them, and while I haven’t asked, I think I could also rely upon my brother, cousin, and aunt for assistance or a temporary living situation.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Not in large sums, but I have received a lot of financial support. My parents paid for everything for me growing up and into college, and they also gave me my mom’s old car for free. My mom also recently mentioned that I have a bond in my name worth about $1,000, but I haven’t received it yet.

Day One

7:30 a.m. — I wake up, play on my phone (social media, email, and so on), and finally get up to make coffee. I wash my face with water, First Aid Beauty toner, Maelove Vitamin C serum, make p:rem moisturizer, and Beauty of Joseon sunscreen. The FAB toner hasn’t made much of a difference since I started using it, and it doesn’t bring me joy, so I’m trying to use it up. I multitask for two hours while studying for an upcoming exam for a professional certification. The certification isn’t essential, but I just started a new job, and work is paying for it, plus I want the credentials to establish myself in the field. My goal is to study 100 hours in preparation, which was recommended by an exam-prep course.
11 a.m. — I’m hungry and finally make a packet of instant oatmeal for breakfast. I change my bedsheets, then try on pants that I had ordered online. My weight has gone up and down, so I’ve had a tough time with clothes. I’ve decided to buy things that fit me instead of being uncomfortable in clothes that are too small. One pair of pants is going back, and the other three are too long, so I’ll take them to a nearby tailor.
1 p.m. — I drive to my parents’ house where I put in a load of laundry (because laundry in my apartment building costs money). I go with them to a winery. In the car, we discuss my new health insurance options and I ask my mom for her advice. At the winery, I order one glass of wine (my parents pay), and my mom orders pizza for everyone to share.
4 p.m. — I drive to a poetry reading I had helped set up at my old job. I’m probably the youngest one in the room. I’ve never been to a poetry reading before, but it’s enjoyable. Afterwards, an old coworker and I go to a local sports bar to catch up. Her husband joins us to watch a baseball game. I order pizza fries to share and get a rum and coke on special ($21 with tip). After a few hours, I go to my favorite Mexican restaurant and get three veggie tacos ($11.88 with tip). $32.88
9 p.m. — I drive back to my parents’ house to pick up my laundry, then drive home. I put my laundry away and watch some YouTube, then take my vitamins. I had a mild health scare recently in which some bloodwork was abnormal. After a specialist visit and $400 in bills, the doctor told me to take a prenatal vitamin with iron. I’m relieved that it wasn’t anything serious, but it’s funny to be taking a prenatal vitamin while I have no intention of becoming pregnant. I’m in bed by 11 p.m.
Daily Total: $32.88

Day Two

7:15 a.m. — I wake up, snooze my alarm, and get up to pee. I play on my phone for about an hour (per usual), then make coffee, organize my apartment, and listen to another study recording.
10:30 a.m. — My gas tank needs filling, so I stop to do that. $20.11
10:45 a.m. — For breakfast, I buy a bagel and cream cheese ($4.32). Then I head to the grocery store where I get almond milk, sour cream, a block of cheddar cheese, almond coffee creamer, vegetable oil, garlic, an onion, cilantro, canned tomatoes, and mushrooms ($26.94). $31.26
11:30 a.m. — My parents received a box of vegetables from their neighbors, but they don’t know how to (and don’t want to) cook most of it, so they gave it to me. I roast a delicata squash for an orzo dish, as well as yellow pepper that will go into blender salsa. The salsa is good, but I wish I had picked up a jalapeño to make it hotter. I take my vitamins and look up hotel options for a vacation I have planned for next month.
4 p.m. — I’m considering getting a cat, so I visit a foster cat and chat with the foster parents. I pass because I want a cat that’s a bit cuddlier, plus I don’t want to adopt before I go on vacation next month.
5 p.m. — I eat chips and salsa and a blondie. While watching a recorded study session, I light a candle and paint my nails. For dinner, I make a cup of tea and eat my squash orzo. Afterwards, I shower, use Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid Exfoliant, and moisturize my face. I also use some of the exfoliant on my feet and put on socks. I watch some YouTube while I enrol in my benefits and insurance plans, then prep pumpkin pie overnight oats for tomorrow. Bedtime is 10:45 p.m.
Daily Total: $51.37

Day Three

6:15 a.m. — After snoozing and playing on my phone, I do my morning skincare. When I get dressed, I boldly choose a pair of loafers that I have been scared to wear. Last year, they gave me blisters, so I haven’t worn them since.
7:45 a.m. — I realize as I’m driving to work that I forgot to bring my coffee creamer from home. I stop at the grocery store and pick up another one. $4.85
8 a.m. — This is my second week at my new job, so I’m still getting settled. I chat with my coworkers to bond and read some of the notes my predecessor left. I submit an expense report to get reimbursed for a couple of conferences I paid for out of pocket. It’ll be nice to get that $1500 back! Around 10 a.m., I eat my overnight oats for breakfast.
12 p.m. — I eat my squash orzo for lunch.
4:30 p.m. — I get cramps during the afternoon and don’t feel well. On my drive home, I stop at Chipotle for a tofu burrito and use my free guac reward, then drive home. $10.68
6 p.m. — The heat is now on in my apartment building, so I quickly remove the clothes I left sitting on the radiator. Thankfully, nothing is on fire! It’s really warm in my apartment, so I open a window. My feet are sore, but I’m surprised and impressed that I don’t have any blisters. I change into sweats, take Tylenol, eat my burrito while watching YouTube, and take my vitamins.
7 p.m. — I go to a nearby café, order a pot of tea, and pay using a gift card. I study there for one hour but don’t feel well so head home.
8:30 p.m. — Pepto-Bismol helps my stomach while I play on my phone for a while. I prepare overnight oats and put orzo in a container for my lunch tomorrow. Bedtime is at 10 p.m.
Daily Total: $15.53

Day Four

6:15 a.m. — Last night was miserable with the heat. It was the warmest night I’ve had so far in my apartment, and I didn’t have AC this summer! I wake up, snooze, play on my phone, and snooze some more until I finally get up at 7:20 a.m. and do my morning routine before going to work.
8:30 a.m. — Technically, the office opens at 8 a.m., but our hours are flexible. I haven’t decided what I want my schedule to be and I’m trying to assess the traffic. Since it’s only my second week, I feel like I should arrive on time. I eat my oats for breakfast around 10 a.m. and my orzo for lunch at noon.
2 p.m. — My tummy hurts again, and I’m wondering if it’s because I’ve been eating a lot of fiber recently and not drinking enough water.
5 p.m. — I drive home and stop to pick up a veggie sandwich even though I have food at home ($9.30). My apartment isn’t too hot. I eat my sandwich, chips and salsa, and a blondie, then take my vitamins and watch YouTube while I prep my lunch for tomorrow. $9.30
7 p.m. — I put on another recording to study. I make a note on my phone to get my flu shot and COVID-19 booster next month. My new health insurance plan doesn’t start for a few weeks. I could pay for the vaccines out of pocket, but I’m relatively healthy and don’t see the point. I brush my teeth and floss. I double cleanse with Íunik cleansing oil and Peach & Lily cleanser, then put on Naturium mandelic acid serum and moisturize. I use nail oil on my toenails and head to bed by 10 p.m.
Daily Total: $9.30

Day Five

6 a.m. — My alarm goes off. I snooze, play on my phone — you know the drill. I make it to work on time at 8 a.m.
9:30 a.m. — I eat cereal that’s in the break room for breakfast, then go to a coffee shop with my boss and order a vanilla latte. We drive around to look at a mural, and she gives me a tour of the city. $6.70
12 p.m. — I eat my orzo for lunch. These leftovers are getting old, but they’re still good.
4:30 p.m. — On my drive home, I get confused about which lane is for turning and end up accidentally cutting someone off, oops. I’m still learning which lanes I should be in for my drive to and from work.
5:15 p.m. — I make mac ’n’ cheese for dinner, take my vitamins, and watch YouTube. I don’t pay for any streaming services at the moment, which has been fine because I’ve been busy studying. I will probably end up paying for Hulu or something, but I want to hold off for now.
6:30 p.m. — I shower and use toner and moisturizer on my face. Today’s recorded study session lasts for three hours. While listening, I transfer $2,000 to my Roth IRA from my savings (I have tentatively decided to max out my Roth this year). Then I eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and schedule a student loan payment to be taken out after my next paycheck. I don’t technically have to pay my grad-school loans yet, but I want to keep paying off the interest in the meantime. I brush and floss my teeth and head to bed at 10:15 p.m.
Daily Total: $6.70

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — My second alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. I’m surprised that I’m not super tired. I get up before 7 a.m. and do my routine. I debate if I have enough time to grab a coffee on my drive to work.
7:45 a.m. — I do! I get a miel from the local coffee shop ($6.97 with tip) and text my boss to see if she wants a drink, but she says no. I head to a work meeting outside of the office and arrive too early. I end up standing outside awkwardly. I’m meeting with a group of people I don’t know, but luckily my boss joins, too. $6.97
10 a.m. — Back at the office, I order a work-branded T-shirt and a quarter-zip sweatshirt. $58
11 a.m. — My boss and I talk for two hours, and I leave feeling better. I was a bit lost in terms of what I should be doing, but she gives me a long list of things to learn.
1:30 p.m. — I go to the grocery store for lunch. I get a green salad and potato salad and pick up a bag of coffee for work ($17.01). There’s a coffee pot at work that you can use if you provide your own beans. They’re not paid for, which is slightly confusing and annoying. $17.01
2:30 p.m. — My boss, my coworker, and I discuss a grant application. I end up giving a few good ideas and feel happy with myself!
4:30 p.m. — The work fridge has a bad odor, so I throw out expired food before I go home. I noticed the smell earlier in the week and asked a coworker if there’s a fridge-cleaning schedule; they laughed in response.
6 p.m. — I hit traffic. At home, I take the two recycling bins for my building to the curb. I eat chips and salsa and mac ’n’ cheese for dinner, then take my vitamins and prep my breakfast for tomorrow by adding almond milk to overnight oats. I study by watching another recorded session and make an Aperol spritz. I double cleanse, use the Paula’s Choice exfoliant, and apply moisturizer. I brush my teeth, floss, and decide to be really ambitious and put in my retainer. I haven’t worn my retainer in over a year and am surprised it doesn’t hurt too bad. I order some wall decor for above my bed on Etsy that I’ve been eyeing for a few weeks. $80.77
8 p.m. — My best friend’s birthday is coming up in less than two weeks, and I have been procrastinating on ordering her a gift. I decide to get her a flower-themed present with a bookmark, ring holder, and assorted spa items from Etsy. She lives in another state so I have it shipped to her apartment. $84.73
Daily Total: $247.48

Day Seven

6:30 a.m. — I woke up over an hour ago and am finally getting out of bed now. My teeth are a little sore from my retainer but overall not too bad! I’m grateful that my teeth haven’t moved very much since getting my braces off nine years ago. I get dressed, put away my dishes, and take my recycling out to the bin. I try a new route to get to work and make it before 7:30 a.m.
8 a.m. — The previous person in my position left a drawer full of documents that I start scanning so I can get rid of the hard copies. I break to eat overnight oats for breakfast.
11 a.m. — My department leaves to go on a field trip. My new coworkers all seem very friendly and close. I felt welcomed into the team almost immediately. We stop for lunch, and I order a vegetable egg roll rice bowl. I like the rice bowl but the egg roll has a curry seasoning that isn’t my favorite. It’s pouring rain, but my boss offers to drive the car up to the door when we leave and I’m eternally grateful. $18.19
12:30 p.m. — I see bubble tea and can’t resist so I order a roasted oolong tea with brown sugar boba, and it’s amazing! I also order my first mochi doughnut, which I’ll bring home to eat later. $12.36
5 p.m. — I make it home, watch some YouTube and order pizza and a salad for dinner using a $10 coupon (I pay $13.22 after the coupon). While waiting for my pizza, I return the pants I ordered online and a pair of shoes. $13.22
6 p.m. — I pick up my pizza and eat dinner, then study for an hour and a half. As I’m sitting on my futon, I hear a loud snap and realize the frame is broken. My parents gave it to me for free, so I’m not heartbroken, but the timing isn’t great. I’m bummed to spend money on a new couch but happy to get something that’s more comfortable. I start looking at new ones online and Google how to dispose of mine. I’ll need my parents to help with my dad’s truck. With his schedule, it’ll probably be a month before I can get rid of it. For now, it’s just going to sit in my living room, taking up space. I eat my mochi doughnut, and it’s much better than a traditional doughnut. I watch YouTube in bed before washing my face with cleanser and then with Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant. I moisturize and head to bed by 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $43.77
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