A Week In Dallas, TX On A $35,000 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 graduate student who makes $35,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on gummy worms.
Occupation: Graduate Student
Industry: Biomedical Sciences
Age: 22
Location: Dallas, TX
Salary: $35,000
Net Worth: $138,500ish, according to Mint. I personally don't have any assets, but I have a decent amount in my checking and savings, and then two investment accounts, one of which I'm no longer adding to and a Roth IRA that I'm now making max contributions to.
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $2,621 (stipend after taxes)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,850 (My parents bought a two-bedroom condo when I started grad school, so I pay them "rent" to go towards the mortgage, HOA, which includes water, and electricity)
Loans: $0
Internet: $60
Medications: $7
Amazon Prime Student: $59 (yearly)
Savings: $200 (Sometimes I'll move more, but always at least $200)
Phone: $0 (still with my parents)
Insurance: $0 (Mom takes care of our health insurance and I'm on their car insurance still)
Streaming: $0 (Netflix from my parents, Disney+ from my boyfriend's parents)
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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?
Absolutely! My parents immigrated to the U.S. from developing countries when they were in their early 20s, and education was the only path for them to succeed, and thus the expected path for me. Higher education wasn't *an* option, it was *the* option. Their priority was always my education, over anything else, and they ultimately paid for me to attend a top ten private university.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn't have that many proper conversations, but I did observe a lot. My mom and I would go shopping often to hang out, but we always veered towards sales/clearances, and when we traveled, we'd pack our own food for at least a day or two. There was certainly enough money, especially with only one child, but having grown up extremely poor, my parents were much more mindful of money. I never didn't have something, but I also realize now that I rarely asked for anything (so when I did, I did usually get it). When my parents bought me a car, I was more involved in the process as we did our research into varying prices and saw that we bought the car outright, to avoid any sort of debt. As I've gotten older, my dad and I have started talking more about it.
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What was your first job and why did you get it?
Freshman or sophomore year of high school I started working at a tutoring center. I worked there all through high school, about three days a week. Part of me wanted to have the paychecks so I could buy things for myself without feeling guilty about asking my parents for frivolous money, but my parents' aim was really to get me working experience and to have that on my college applications. I loved the job, and it prompted me to do something similar during college so I could have my own fun money.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Nope! I was generally pretty unaware, and I never saw us having issues. I just knew that we were cautious. We traveled, I had the technology I needed/wanted, we ate out (though infrequently). I didn't *worry* about money, I just absorbed some of that frugality. I worried more in college when I understood the insane cost of that education.
Do you worry about money now?
I'm not worried about money at this current stage in my life because even though I'm not making much, I have very few expenses. Of course, I try to be mindful about how I spend my money, but I don't actively worry.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I can acknowledge that I'm not financially independent, and I might not be until I finish grad school. My parents are absolutely a financial safety net and always will be (which is partly cultural) but I try not to rely on them more than I need to.
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Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
This is tough to answer. I haven't received a formal inheritance or any sort of allowance, but I do know that one of my investment accounts is probably full of money that was given to me, whether from my grandmother (I'm the grandchild who lives the furthest, so I think this is how she compensates) or just the monetary gifts over my lifetime.

Day One

5:45 a.m. — I am really not a morning person, but this is the last day of a week-long early morning experiment, so I drag myself out of bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, and put contacts in. While I'm packing my backpack, I toss jeans and a sweater into the dryer to warm them up before I get dressed. I'm out the door in half an hour.
9:30 a.m. — I have a craving, so I run down to the snack stand to grab PopChips and gummy worms, munching while I hop on a quick Zoom call. I have a meeting with my advisor in half an hour and don't want my stomach grumbling through it. $3
11:30 a.m. — The rest of the day is Zoom only, so I head home. I parked in paid parking this morning because it was too cold and dark to walk from the free parking. $3
11:30 a.m. — My bank app notifies me that I got a paycheck from my side job (something I've been doing since college, and I get to choose when I work) for $264. My boyfriend, K., has been struggling a little, so I Venmo him some money to cover this month's pet insurance for his/our dog. Quickly microwave some leftover Chinese, which I ordered in with a friend on Friday night, then log into Zoom seminars/classes. $30
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4:45 p.m. — I lay in bed for about 20 minutes, but I'm up to try to finish the day strong. I microwave leftover chicken dumplings then prep a quick tofu/veggie stir-fry for a couple of days' worth of lunches.
7 p.m. — K. calls me while I'm cooking and I wait for his dinner to be ready before microwaving mine (Thanksgiving leftovers from my parents coming over last week). We're doing this long-distance thing while we're both in grad school, and it's been tough even before the pandemic made traveling impossible. Technology is amazing but Skype just doesn't hold up to the real thing. We're both so wiped that we just put on YouTube videos and half-heartedly work.
11 p.m. — I do my nighttime routine (face wash, floss/brush, toner, moisturizer, lip balm, lavender hand lotion, and a nightguard). All my skincare is from Innisfree — my college roommate introduced me to the brand and it's been an inexpensive gamechanger for my skin. Once I'm in bed, I'm out like a light.
Daily Total: $36

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — Not as early as yesterday, but still too early for my taste. I have lots to do but nothing time-sensitive, so I laze in bed a little longer. Seeing that my paycheck processed this morning, I transfer rent to my parents and money to savings (in my monthly expenses). I drink a glass of apple cider vinegar water, have some veggie breakfast sausages, and am out the door by 9:30.
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10 a.m. — Annoyingly munchy, I snack on a Cool Mint Clif Bar (the only valid flavor) while watching a Zoom seminar. As I'm prepping my experiments, I feel a headache coming on and take two Advil from the bottle stashed in my desk.
3 p.m. — Finally at a good stopping point in my work, I microwave lunch (tofu/veggies). I still have a ton more benchwork to do today and no idea how long it'll take. Since I have no self-control and probably several more hours to go, I run downstairs to buy some candy. Twenty-minute break, then it's back to the experiment. $4.62
8:15 p.m. — Done. As much as I hate this chore, I empty the biohazard trash can (I'm the one who filled it up, only seems fair) and call for a campus security escort to my car so I don't have to walk in the dark.
9 p.m. — The thought of cooking the chicken I defrosted all day is...bad. Instead, I boil some water and crack an egg into instant ramen. K. and I talk for a while, then I do more work after he says goodnight. I get really in the zone and don't go to sleep until 1 a.m.
Daily Total: $4.62

Day Three

9 a.m. — I have no memory of turning off my other alarms, oops. It's a slow morning (most of them are once the weather starts getting colder). I have a glass of acv water and breakfast sausage and make it to the lab by 10ish.
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12:30 p.m. — My chest is tight when I try to take a deep breath, a pretty good sign that anxiety and stress are hitting hard. I find a 15-minute break in the protocol and try to re-center myself. I text K. and he sends me a picture of the pup napping in his lap — it succeeds in making me smile, but also makes me miss him more.
1:30 p.m. — It feels like a good stopping point for lunch, so I microwave the stir-fry. My headache is coming back and my knee is starting to hurt (old sports injuries). For some reason, I hate sitting while doing benchwork, so I've been on my feet a lot the last few days.
4:30 p.m. — The Advil I took a few hours ago isn't kicking in, so I treat myself to some snacks. Is this a good use of money? No. Do I feel bad? Also no. $3.55
6:30 p.m. — Home I go! I take an extra-long, extra-hot shower and the idea of staying on my feet long enough to cook the chicken is unappealing. I end up making Annie's mac and cheese, watching YouTube with K. while I eat, then working on and submitting a manuscript.
10 p.m. — I'm feeling really fatigued and exhausted, which is frustrating because I have so much to work on. K. switches our videos over to Colbert (we often put videos on while we work) and I boil some milk and melt in Ghiradelli peppermint bark squares that are definitely leftover from last year, with a dash of vanilla.
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11:30 p.m. — Struggle through a little more work, but I'm wiped and am having a hard time focusing so I get ready for bed and conk out.
Daily Total: $3.55

Day Four

8:30 a.m. — I snooze in bed for a bit then get through the morning routine, drinking acv water while calling the pharmacy for a prescription refill (in monthly expenses). I'm out the door within an hour.
12:15 p.m. — We find out that one of the staff on our floor has tested positive for COVID. Even with all of our masking and social distancing, it's a little unnerving because we saw her yesterday and this morning (there needs to be a way for workers to be able to wait for test results without losing the money from not being at work...).
2 p.m. — This experiment is the big one (I've basically spent all week prepping what I need for it) but it's a lot of hurry up and wait. I take advantage of the downtime to eat lunch and then once again buy some candy. I justify this as my PMS and also that I want a snack for my (virtual) lab meeting. $2.55
6:20 p.m. — I start the overnight step of the experiment and head home. My dad calls on my way out and we chat until I'm home. Even though I live pretty close to them again, I talk on the phone to them most days. Not happy about it, but I make ramen with an egg again. K. reminds me that eating something is better than eating nothing.
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9:30 p.m. — My relationship with food and my body image has never been particularly good and this week has definitely been tough on that. I'm extremely unhappy with how I've been eating, so I slice an apple to at least get something healthy. I head to bed around midnight.
Daily Total: $2.55

Day Five

7:45 a.m. — I hate waking up. Breakfast sausage, then out the door. I swing by CVS on my way to the lab to pick up a prescription (free!).
2 p.m. — Finally getting a moment to sit down, I munch on a Clif Bar and contemplate picking up coffee on my way home. I rarely drink coffee, but my favorite local place released their winter menu and it looks awesome.
3:30 p.m. — Overnight step started and off I go. I still have work to do from home, but I go to Trader Joe's first. There's still plenty of chicken and turkey in my freezer, and lots of canned/frozen veggies, so I don't need much. I get vegetarian Italian sausage, firm tofu, an avocado, cremini mushrooms, Portobello mushrooms, a few green apples, a spaghetti squash, and brown eggs. $22
6 p.m. — The chicken in the fridge is very much defrosted so I throw one breast in the slow cooker with pepita salsa to shred for tacos tomorrow and cover the other breast in a brown sugar chili rub and bake it with a sweet potato and some broccoli. I'm not great at spontaneous cooking yet, so I have to plan specific recipes before doing groceries/cooking.
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10:45 p.m. — Work is going slowly (won't lie, K.'s hair looks great and I keep sneaking looks at his tiny Skype window) so I make a quick microwave chocolate mug cake. The guilt of not working out this week is shoved away by the grabby hands of my hormones.
11:45 p.m. — I send a draft off to my advisor, then open a paper she sent me to read. It's 68 pages. I consider bashing my head into a wall but put on a sheet mask instead to fit the PMS acne that my medications couldn't prevent. By 1, my brain stops processing so I crash.
Daily Total: $22

Day Six

8:30 a.m. — I wanted to be up earlier, but my brain and body are sluggish. Once I'm up, I scramble an egg, mix it with some of the salsa chicken and wrap it in a tortilla with sour cream. I'm off to the lab later than I hoped, at 10:30, but hopefully, things will go smoothly.
3:30 p.m. — The data doesn't seem like it's coming out great, which sucks because this experiment was a nightmare to set up, but such is the nature of science. Overnight step starts, and I head home. I throw sheets/towels and my cotton face mask into the washer, then grab my workout mask and go down to the gym for cardio. Even though the gym is empty, I come back to my living room for core and stretching.
7:30 p.m. — Last night's leftovers for dinner, but then I make the mistake of tackling a spaghetti squash noodle with turkey/spinach meatballs for tomorrow. It takes WAY too long and I'm frustrated with myself for taking this much time to cook when I have work.
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11:30 p.m. — I'm cranky and having a hard time focusing, so I pace around the living room. My stomach rumbles, so I make myself a cup of tea and tear the pantry apart in search of popcorn. I can't find any, so I pan fry a frozen Trader Joe's pa-jeon. My brain short circuits around 2:30 so I go to sleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

7:45 a.m. — Ugh. I turn my alarm off without even opening my eyes, but K. gives me a wake-up call (there's a time difference, I promise I'm not asking him to wake up early just to do this). Morning routine, scramble two eggs into a taco. I'm not tired yet, but I know I'll crash later, so I order a latte for curbside pickup on the way to the lab. It's pricey, but it's a local place that donates to good causes and the coffee is crazy sweet. $7.05
2:30 p.m. — The combo of caffeine and anxiety brings me near a panic attack, so I call K. to help talk me down. He texts me an hour later that the pup is demanding attention but there aren't any chew treats left, so he has to run to the store. I feel bad that I took time from him earlier when he was trying to work so I Venmo him for the treats. $20
5 p.m. — Things aren't working the way they should, and I'm exhausted, so I call it a day. I realize I have nothing prepped for lunches next week, and not enough time/energy to cook, so I swing by Kroger on the way home. I forgot how long grocery lines are on Sundays, but I get a tomato, loaf of bread, Miracle Whip, some candy, and a pound each of sliced turkey and Havarti. This has become a high spend week for me. $34.74
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6:30 p.m. — I sauté the fresh mushrooms and a half can of black olives (other half sliced and saved for sandwiches) and mix it into jarred red sauce with the turkey meatballs. Once it's hot, I scoop it over a heap of spaghetti squash noodles. K. and I watch some YouTube while I eat and then I get back to work around 8.
3 a.m. — Tomorrow is going to be a very rough start to the week. As I'm turning the lights out, I realize I forgot to buy microwave popcorn, and my dryer is still full of sheets. This is a problem for future me.
Daily Total: $61.79
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