A Week In Baton Rouge, LA, On A $23,000 Income

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 graduate research assistant and PhD student who makes $23,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Spicy Nacho Doritos.
Occupation: Graduate Research Assistant and PhD Student
Industry: Academia
Age: 30
Location: Baton Rouge, LA
Salary: $23,000
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $475 (I live with one roommate in a two-bedroom house that we rent.)
Student Loan Payment: Currently $0. I have $30,000 in debt from my previous degree, but payments are deferred while I'm in school.
Netflix: $5.50 (I split Netflix with my sister and her husband.)
Spotify Premium: $4.99 for students!
Utilities: I split these with my roommate, and it normally comes to $60.
Phone: $90/month for a two-year plan I got roped into at my last job.
Community Supported Agriculture Subscription: $60/month for a weekly delivery of fresh, local veggies
Dog Food: $35/month, but she donates blood at the vet school twice a year in exchange for free veterinary care and vaccines.

Day One

8:30 a.m. — It's time to get up, but the dog is still asleep and cuddling, so I hit snooze two more times before dragging myself out of bed.
9 a.m. — I rush out the door after the world's quickest shower and head to church — late as always — and listen to Mumford & Sons new album, Delta, on the way.
10:05 a.m. — Church is almost over, and it's time for communion. I walk up to the front of the church and take the communion bread and wine. It's not a meal per se, but it's the first food I've had all day. This just makes me hungrier, and I spend the rest of the service thinking about brunch.
10:35 a.m. — Brunch just got bumped to noon, and I'm STARVING. I head into the office to get some writing done, and I drink coffee left over from yesterday's pot to get rid of my caffeine headache.
12 p.m. — Brunch (FINALLY) at Overpass Merchant with an old classmate. I order a Bloody Mary that's perfectly spicy and fries loaded with cheese, fried eggs, and onions. All that topped with good conversation makes for an excellent morning. $23.70
1:50 p.m. — Back to the office for more writing and more coffee to kick that leftover brunch buzz.
4:15 p.m. — The weather is fabulous outside and 1,000 words feels like enough writing for a Sunday afternoon. I head out to catch the last few hours of light and kayak on the University Lakes with my friend. There are pelicans, mallards, blue herons, ibis, and egrets out this afternoon, so we paddle around til the sun sets and most of the birds come in to roost.
6:30 p.m. — When we're done kayaking, my friend and I head back to the house. He comes in to help move the Christmas tree to a different corner of the living room, and then I start dinner: curried butternut squash soup with squash from our CSA.
8:15 p.m. — Dinner is finally ready, so I sit down on the couch with a hot bowl of soup and some crackers to watch Netflix in the glow of the Christmas tree lights. The dog gets dinner and toy filled with peanut butter.
9:45 p.m. — It's time to start winding down for the evening, so I make honey lavender tea and sit back down on the couch to read East of Eden (one my all-time favorite books). At some point I fall asleep and don't wake up until the wee hours, when I finally make it into my actual bed.
Daily Total: $23.70

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — The alarm goes off, so I get up and let the dog out. After she's done in the yard, I crawl back into bed and hit snooze. Not an unusual move, but always a mistake.
9:25 a.m. — I wake up to the dog standing over me, licking my face. There are worse ways to wake up, but it's past 9 and I'm still in bed. I get up, rush to get ready, and grab a glass of orange juice on the way out the door.
10:10 a.m. — It's a late start to my Monday morning, but surprisingly no one else is in the lab yet. I make coffee and settle down to work and start writing. I'm pushing to get my dissertation proposal finished this month, and it's taking longer than I expected.
12:50 p.m. — Finally time to take a break from writing. I grab peanuts from the snack drawer in my office, sip on my now-cold coffee, and heat up leftover chicken pot pie. The pot pie is homemade, but I've been eating it for six days, so I'm definitely ready for something new. As soon as I eat, I get back to writing.
2:45 p.m. — Stop working to walk over and take advantage of the university's FREE mental health services. Grad school is stressful, y'all.
4 p.m. — I get back to the office, and I'm feeling much better about life. I fix a new pot of coffee to power through the last few hours of writing.
5:45 p.m. — Work is going smoothly, but I remember I told my labmate I would meet her to walk our 5:45. Oops. I rush out of the office, run by the house to grab the dog, and head to the park. It's totally dark when I get there, but the moon is out, so we let the dogs run while we walk and chat.
7:15 p.m. — On the way back from the park, I stop by the new neighborhood grocery to grab food for tomorrow. I buy gluten-free crackers for tonight's soup, coffee filters for the office, a frozen gluten-free pizza, and a pack of grapefruit LaCroix. Once I get home I bake the pizza for tomorrow's lunch along with some fresh pumpkin bread. $22.20
8:45 p.m. — Everything is ready for tomorrow, so I sit down with a bowl of leftover curried butternut squash soup and a grapefruit LaCroix to watch a little Netflix. Shortly after I sit down, the pumpkin bread is finished. As soon as it's cool enough, I grab a fresh slice and make a cup of hot maple icewine tea.
11:30 p.m. — I make it into bed after far too much Netflix and fall asleep while reading a compilation of poetry by Mary Oliver — another of my favorites!
Daily Total: $22.20

Day Three

6 a.m. — The alarm goes off, and I get up on the first buzz — today is fieldwork, and I need to be on time. I make coffee, grab my field bag, and head to the office to meet my advisors.
6:30 a.m. — We get the truck and boat loaded up and head to a remote coastal town in the southwest part of the state. The drive takes three hours, and I nurse my coffee and chat for most of the ride.
9:45 a.m. — We make it to the boat launch and head out. It's cold, windy, and a little miserable, but there are birds EVERYWHERE. Pelicans, ibises, stilts, avocets, coots, ducks, kingfishers, and terns fly around the marsh in the hundreds.
1:15 p.m. — After several cold hours of boating, I'm pretty hangry, so we stop and eat before getting back on the road. I have three slices of cold pizza, a fruit strip, a grapefruit LaCroix, and more coffee. It's not enough, but it'll do until we get back to Baton Rouge. On the way, we see a murmuration of starlings over a flooded rice field. I've never seen this many of them before, and it's fascinating.
4:15 p.m. — Our long day ends back at the office, so I unload our supplies and then head back home. I take a quick shower and then nap on the couch until it gets dark.
6:15 p.m. — Dinner and Netflix again after throwing the frisbee for the pup. I eat the last piece of chicken pot pie, some pumpkin bread, and another grapefruit LaCroix. Sparkling water has really helped me limit the number of Cokes I drink, but it doesn't help my wallet at all. I try to only buy them when they're on sale, as I'll drink several in a day.
10:30 p.m. — Tomorrow's going to be another day of fieldwork and an early morning, so I pack my field bag before getting in bed. I read a little more Mary Oliver then fall asleep pretty quickly.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

4 a.m. — Five hours of sleep isn't enough, but I have another day of fieldwork, so I can't be late. I get up, brush my teeth, and head out the door. Once I make it to the office, I grab my supplies and pack up the truck.
4:40 a.m. — We're heading to Texas today, and my two helpers, R. and T., are carpooling in a separate truck. We only get a mile from the office before realizing the last person to use their truck didn't fill up the tank. We stop at a gas station to fill up, and I grab a coffee. Though I have to pay for everything up front, work reimburses me for travel costs and provides a per diem when doing fieldwork at this site. ($30.37 expensed)
6 a.m. — It's still dark out, but I can tell some of the supplies in the truck bed are moving around too much. We stop on the side of the road to move things around and then get back on the road. After an hour, T. realizes he doesn't have his phone anymore. When we got out to secure supplies, it fell out of his pocket and is now sitting on the side of the interstate. I call a friend who lives near the exit we stopped at, and she drives out and finds it! The field gods are on our side today.
8 a.m. — We're running a little behind, but we make it to the boat launch on time. We load up the boat and head out into the marsh. It's a 45-minute drive, and it's pretty chilly. By the time we make it to our sites, I'm crying from the wind and cold. Once we're there, I put on chest waders and get out into the water. Time to get to work digging up roots and downloading data from equipment I had left out in the marsh.
12:45 p.m. — We are at a levee in the middle of the marsh to dig up cattail roots. Then we sit down in the sun to picnic. It's marsh, so we're sitting in mud and have to prop our lunch bags in tufts of grass to keep them out of the water. I have a few mandarin oranges, pumpkin bread, fruit jerky, and some water. We dig up a few more cattail roots to eat the stalks and roots. It sounds a little gross, but nearly every part of this plant is edible, and they taste like hearts of palm or slightly richer celery. We snack on those and watch birds fly in and out of the pond nearby.
4:35 p.m. — It'll be dark soon, so even though we didn't get everything done today, we head back to the boat launch. I decide to stay the night and go back out in the morning. We stop at a gas station and I fill up their truck. ($30.90 expensed)
5:15 p.m. — Thankfully the closest hotel is only a mile from my field site, so I drag my exhausted self in and check to see if they have a room available. They do, so I pay up front and head upstairs. ($78.19 expensed)
6:30 p.m. — I'm starving, but the idea of driving anywhere to get food is unbearable, so I download Waitr. I order Mexican food to the hotel and take a shower while I'm waiting for the food to arrive. I get guacamole, two beef enchiladas, rice, beans, and a sweet tea. Sadly, I forget that the place I ordered from is the one Mexican restaurant in town I don't actually like. The food is subpar, but at least I'll be reimbursed for the cost with my per diem! ($32.36 expensed)
7:45 p.m. — It's been a long day and I'm exhausted, so I fall asleep as soon as I'm done eating.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

6:30 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm, so I lay in bed responding to texts I missed, scrolling through social media, and dealing with a few issues at the office.
7:15 a.m. — Once I've packed everything up, I check out of the hotel. I head to the gas station next door to grab snacks for lunch: dill pickle sunflower seeds, a king-size Snickers, and Doritos Spicy Nacho chips. Gluten-free selections in gas stations are...not amazing. $5.60
7:45 a.m. — We're back on the water and headed back to our field sites.
1:20 p.m. — Downloading data has taken a lot longer than I expected, and now it's starting to rain. On top of the cold temps, having to get in the water, and the east wind, it's too cold to stay out much longer. I decide to call it a day and come back next month to finish On the ride back, I eat the Snickers and some Doritos.
2:15 p.m. — Once we're back on dry ground, I pack up my supplies and then stop to fill up the truck. Now, it's back on the road to Baton Rouge! ($57.87 expensed)
3:05 p.m. — The Snickers didn't cut it for lunch, so I stop at Waffle House on the way back to the interstate. I get grits, two eggs over medium, sausage, and a coffee. $11.74
6:20 p.m. — It has been a LONG week, and I'm ready for a little break. I stop by the grocery store as soon as I get back in town and grab a bottle of red wine and one of the Christmas wreaths they have sitting by the door. $19.68
7 p.m. — My dog has been at a friend's house since I left yesterday morning, so she's happy to see me when I get home. I let her out in the yard to play and pour myself a glass of wine.
8:30 p.m. — I don't make it long before I start getting sleepy, so I head to bed and fall asleep almost immediately.
Daily Total: $37.02

Day Six

8:30 a.m. — I wake up without an alarm feeling much better than I have the last few days. I let the dog out and take a shower before heading off to work.
9:15 a.m. — I make it into the office and start a fresh pot of coffee. While it's brewing, I chat with my labmates. Then I head back to my office and start writing. That is, if writing means staring at the computer screen wishing it was Saturday.
10:30 a.m. — I head back into the lab for more coffee just as my advisor is opening a bottle of wine. I write off being productive for the rest of the day, grab a glass of wine, and sit down to chat.
12:05 p.m. — Our department party is happening today, so I head downstairs with the rest of my lab and grab a plate. Fried turkey, ham, green beans, salad, potatoes, gourmet cheese, and several dishes of bananas foster make their way onto my plate. I'm stuffed and have been drinking wine all morning, so I'm definitely feeling the Christmas spirit.
1 p.m. — I piddle around the office a little more, unloading the truck and prepping supplies for my student workers before I head home.
3:45 p.m. — I made the poor choice of scheduling a Christmas party at my house at the end of a long week of fieldwork. But people are coming whether I want them or not, so I run to the store and grab supplies: potatoes for dinner, baking supplies for gingerbread cookies, and art supplies for making Christmas ornaments. $45.78
4:25 p.m. — I start making gingerbread cookies, only to realize I'm out of parchment paper. I run to the grocery and grab parchment paper while I'm in between batches. As soon as I'm home, I get the potatoes in the oven and start working on more gingerbread cookies. $5.46
6:30 p.m. — The baked potatoes are done, and I'm working on cutting out the rest of the cookies when people start to arrive. I never expect many people to come, but soon the house is full and toasty and loud. There is gingerbread decorating, Christmas ornament-making, and good conversation happening all around. At one point my dog comes in and jumps on the couch, spilling red wine everywhere. But otherwise, it's an uneventful evening. I manage to eat a baked potato with cheese and butter, way too many gingerbread cookies, and several glasses of wine.
12:20 a.m. — The last few people finally trickle out, and I turn off the lights before heading to bed. The party was fun, and it was great to see everyone, but I'm exhausted. I fall asleep as soon as I hit the pillow.
Daily Total: $51.24

Day Seven

9 a.m. — The dog lets me know she is hungry, so I feed her and let her out. It's pouring outside, so I plug in the Christmas tree lights, and I snuggle up on the couch with the dog once she comes back inside. I fall asleep again pretty quickly.
2:45 p.m. — Clearly my body needed the rest, because it's been ages since I slept in this late. I grab a few gingerbread cookies and then heat up some leftover curried butternut squash soup. It's still raining out, and the dog seems content, so I lay back down on the couch and read East of Eden.
6 p.m. — While I'm cleaning up from last night's party, my friend texts to ask about going out this evening. We make plans to meet downtown at 7 to watch a local band play.
7:30 p.m. — I leave the house later than I expected and meet him and four other friends downtown. It's pretty quiet out, so we sit and drink a few pitchers (they pay) while waiting for the band to start.
10:30 p.m. — The band is finally playing, and the venue is getting busier. I've had two more beers, and my friends have paid for both. While I'm watching people dance, a random man and his very drunk girlfriend come and sit next to us. He asks if we can watch her while he's in the bathroom, but while he's gone, she pukes. We take her to the bathroom, but when we come back, the boyfriend is nowhere to be found. The girl tells me she's staying nearby, so my friend and I carry her home. We get her inside, change her clothes, and hold her hair while she continues to puke. I manage to get into her phone and call a friend who meets us. When she's more coherent, and we're able to get her in bed, we leave her with her friend. It's been a stressful end to the night, so some of my friends head home. The rest of them are fairly drunk, and since I stopped drinking a few hours ago, I stay out to drive them home.
2:30 a.m. — The bars are closing, so we walk back to the car, and I drop everyone off at their houses. I make it back home to the pup, but I'm wide awake, so I turn on Netflix and cuddle with the dog on the couch.
3:45 a.m. — I'm finally tired, so I crawl in bed and fall asleep almost immediately. What a night!
Daily Total: $0
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