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A Week In Madison, WI, On A $53,000 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 grants manager who makes $53,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on an Aerie sweater.
Occupation: Grants Manager
Industry: Higher Education
Age: 23
Location: Madison, WI
Salary: $53,000
Net Worth: ~$20,000 ($5,000 across two checking accounts, $4,500 in a HYSA, $15,000 in a 36-month CD, $850 in a Roth IRA, $75 in a health savings account, and $1,500 in a pension minus debt that will hopefully be wiped)
Debt: $450 on my credit card, $7,000 in student loans that will hopefully be wiped by Biden
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,450
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $745 (for my half. My partner, B., and I split our one-bedroom apartment 50/50. He makes $83,000 a year so we split other things 60/40 and he picks up most miscellaneous purchases)
Utilities: ~$55 (I pay 40% of electric, water is included in rent)
Roth IRA: $50
HYSA: $871 (30% of my paycheck)
iCloud Storage: $2.99
HP Instant Ink: $0.99
Pet Insurance: $35.33
Gym: $145
Retirement Trust Fund: $265 (pre-tax)
HSA: $100 (pre-tax)
Health Insurance: $42.72 (pre-tax)
Internet: partner pays
Spotify: partner pays
New Yorker/NYT: partner pays
Streaming Services/Cell Phone: still on parents' accounts

Annual Expenses
AppleCare+: $94.94
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?
I would like to believe that my parents would have supported me had I not opted for a four-year degree, but it would've been “unusual” had I not attended. I went to a public university and my tuition was entirely covered through both merit-based and need-based scholarships. My father has a bachelor's degree and my mother has her GED. My mother's income was ~$40,000 and I lived with/was financially supported only by her, so I qualified for Pell Grants. I typically received a stipend after tuition that I applied towards housing. I took out $7,000 in loans my freshman year to cover the hefty cost of room and board.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents waited until I was 16 to get me a checking account so that they would not have to be tied to it, as they wanted me to have that independence and didn't feel comfortable tracking my purchases. Getting a job in high school was encouraged. My mom added me as an authorized user of one of her credit cards when I was younger so I could establish a credit score early on, which proved to be very helpful. Other than that, I don't recall any conversations about how to be smart with money.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started hostessing/waitressing at 15. I also babysat and sold clothes on Poshmark and Vinted. I was excited about getting a job and usually used my extra money to eat out with friends or to purchase my first car (which was $2,000).
Did you worry about money growing up?
My family worried about money, yes. We were never “well off” or went on vacations, but I felt I had all that I wanted and was only a bystander as they argued or stressed about finances. My full ride to college was a great weight lifted off my parents' shoulders. We never discussed a backup plan were I to not receive those funds, and I most likely would have had to fund my entire education with loans.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes. Constantly. I've always been frugal, but it's mainly anxiety-driven. I'm still adjusting to having a full-time salaried job and a financial safety net. I spent the past three months unemployed and job-searching after graduation, and I just went through the hefty expenses of moving to a new city. I wish I could allow myself some breathing room and I understand how fortunate I am to have what I do have saved, but money is a large point of anxiety for me and that anxiety definitely borders on irrational (but I'm trying to work on it)! My student loan debt being canceled will definitely help me grapple with my own financial situation a bit more.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
It was agreed upon between me and my parents prior to the start of college that I would be financially supported for things such as housing and dining and other expenses of moving across the country for school. However, due to familial reasons, when I got to school, that immediately changed and I was no longer being financially supported in any way aside from my phone bill and health insurance. This situation forced me to very quickly re-evaluate my spending, learn more about financial literacy, and take my finances into my own hands. All throughout college, I could no longer be claimed as a dependent on my parents' taxes and was working two jobs to support myself financially and save money. In case of an emergency, I believe that my partner, or even my parents now, would not hesitate to financially support me.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
No, I've never received any sort of passive or inherited income. However, last year, my mom helped me buy a car. There is still about $8,000 until it is paid off, which she plans on transferring to me, but I have not had to make any payments on it yet.

Day One

5:30 a.m. — Wake up to the alarm clock and roll over to tell my partner, B., to feed the cat. She typically wakes us up around 4 a.m. every morning to play, but this time I thankfully slept through it. I spend the next hour in and out of sleep. I eventually get out of bed to brush my teeth, reheat an old cup of coffee, clean the litter box, and put on some workout clothes. There is nothing better than a Lululemon Invigorate tank top!
8 a.m. — Workout class. I get my ass handed to me within the first five minutes but persist through the rest.
9 a.m. — Neither my partner nor I can handle the anxieties of going into the grocery store, so we place an online pick-up order. I pay $49.03 for the basics for the week: fruits, veggies, bagels, cream cheese, and probiotic yogurt. We then swing by Trader Joe's and pick up some extras: tahini, dips, dried mango, and a few frozen meals. B. pays and it comes out to $35.07. $49.03
11 a.m. — We get home, shower, and I pull out the “winter clothes” (sweaters) I've stored to put in the washing machine. I get frustrated we don't have enough hangers for clothes so I buy a 30-pack on Amazon. $19.77
12 p.m. — Two of our friends pick us up to go apple picking. We get a 10-pound bag to fill up and a small container for raspberries. B. pays the $24. After picking for a few hours, I go into the little shop and buy pumpkin butter for $5.95. $5.95
3 p.m. — All four of us head to our apartment where we watch football, snack, and chat. About halfway through the evening we find out a comedian we love is coming to the area, so we all buy tickets. I Venmo my friend for mine. $29
6 p.m. — Our friends head out and we tidy the apartment a bit. I meal prep my lunches for the week (arugula and spinach salads with mushroom, cauliflower, corn, tomatoes, and cucumber). We snacked so much this afternoon that the salmon I thawed for dinner doesn't sound appealing in the slightest, so we make a small plate of nachos in the microwave and split them. I also slice up an apple and air fry it with cinnamon and brown sugar for dessert.
9:30 p.m. — I'm in bed by 9:30 and asleep by 10! Our cat comes and lays on top of my head right before bedtime, which leads to lots of giggles.
Daily Total: $103.75

Day Two

5:30 a.m. — Good morning! I get out of bed and make coffee and two pieces of toast with my new pumpkin butter (worth it). I wash my face and apply moisturizer, sunscreen, and mascara. Cetaphil is the extent of my skin-care routine. I log into CoinKeeper, my expense-tracking app, and update it for the previous week. I have been using it consistently since October 2017 and it's great for visualizing my finances. It helps me see how much my net worth is, and helps me be more conscious of how much I'm spending.
7 a.m. — I walk to work. It's getting colder which makes me so happy! I love fall in Wisconsin. I spend the first few hours checking up on emails I missed over the weekend (seriously, who sends a late Friday afternoon email?) and take a break for coffee and the NYT crossword. Solved in 14:24. Over the past year I've deleted my TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, so crosswords are… my life.
11 a.m. — I break for lunch and wander aimlessly around looking for somewhere to sit. I refuse to eat lunch in my office. I find a new audiobook to listen to and chomp on my salad. When I get back, my coworker offers for me to tag along on their walk. We walk and chat about our weekends, and I return to my desk by 12:30.
3:30 p.m. — I finish out the afternoon (a drag) and walk home. I sit and read for a bit until my partner gets home and then we prep dinner: salmon, sautéed zucchini, and sweet potato fries.
6:30 p.m. — B. leaves for the gym after dinner, so I go for a walk around our neighborhood and then go home to journal.
9:30 p.m. — I fall asleep on the couch while we're filling out tattoo consult forms until B. tells me to get up and brush my teeth. Oops!
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

5 a.m. — I'm out of bed fairly easily this morning and head to my workout class at 6. It's not where I typically go but I fell for a discounted deal on ten classes for $100 a few weeks ago. The workout makes me feel great but the music choices are pretty terrible.
7:30 a.m. — I'm remote today so I log in while I'm making coffee and toast. I am surprised at how accomplished I feel after finally knocking out tiny things I've put off on the to-do list.
12:30 p.m. — Nursing a headache, I walk to a coffee shop down the street, thinking both caffeine and fresh air couldn't hurt. I get a small black coffee for $2.48. When I get home, I hop on a webinar and take half-assed notes while I eat my salad. $2.48
3:30 p.m. — Time for therapy… I'm dreading it. I really like my therapist and the work we are doing, but I can never shake the feeling in my gut for the entire day leading up to a session. It's particularly emotional this session and I feel a little volatile afterward. I pay the $170 for the session using my HSA.
5 p.m. — B. comes home and we make dinner: BBQ jackfruit tacos with avocado and pickled red onion. Afterward, he heads to the gym and I spend two hours reading on the couch, unmotivated to do much else and really captivated by my book. I'm reading a really lovely book I can't put down: All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Matthews. Maybe I'm biased because it takes place in Wisconsin, but I think it's a really personable, intimate book. When B. gets home we watch an episode of The Great British Baking Show.
10 p.m. — Lights out!
Daily Total: $2.48

Day Four

5:30 a.m. — It's a good morning indeed. I wake up to an extra $1,078 in my checking account: The Department of Education has refunded me the student loan payments I've made since 2020! It took about four weeks after I phoned them but YAY! I get up, make coffee, and get to work.
2:30 p.m. — An artist I love is coming to Chicago in February! I don't hesitate to get two tickets. $68.88
5:30 p.m. — Well, pasta WAS the plan for dinner, but B. comes home with a $25 off Uber Eats coupon so we fall for it! We order veggie burgers and sweet potato fries, B. pays the leftover $24.
8 p.m. — We chat on the couch about our days, watch a bit of The Great British Baking Show, and go to bed by 9:30.
Daily Total: $68.88

Day Five

4:20 a.m. — Damn it's cold!!! And early!! And I'm tired! But I put on my workout clothes for class and by 5:01 a.m. I'm holding a plank like my life depends on it.
7:30 a.m. — Okay, it's still cold out, but I feel amazing on my way to work. Once I sit down and read through some emails, I scroll through Aerie and pick out a waffle knit sweater and six new pairs of underwear. I've been putting off buying new underwear FOREVER but since I just got my student loan refund I'm feeling okay about shopping! $78.37
12:30 p.m. — Honestly, I couldn't tell you a single thing I did today. Just on autopilot: fulfill request, send email, troubleshoot, repeat. Half of us are working remotely today, and it is pretty slow, so I spend some time in the afternoon crossword-ing my little heart out.
3:30 p.m. — I go home and check the mail: My second credit card just arrived! I signed up for this because I felt good about where I was at with the first one, and I wanted a travel/flight-oriented card to start collecting points. I read for a bit afterward and doze off.
5:30 p.m. — I wake up from my nap to B. coming home. For dinner, we make a lentil salad: lentils, cucumbers, tomato, parsley, spinach, feta, red onion, and mustard/lemon dressing.
7 p.m. — We head out for an evening walk! I love how active and engaged the community is in Madison; it's something I really value about where I live. People always walking about, greeting one another. We finish the night with… another episode of The Great British Baking Show.
Daily Total: $78.37

Day Six

5:30 a.m. — Good morning! B. complains that I hogged the bed all night…Oops!
8:30 a.m. — At work, I sit in on a meeting about upcoming changes to health insurance. It's all still new and foreign to me so I feel like my head is swimming. I just went through the hassle of enrolling when I first got my job and now I feel like I have to re-think it all again.
1 p.m. — Everyone else in the office is busy so I have time to do more online shopping: I spend $83.63 at Lululemon. The We Made Too Much section has some great deals. I swear I need to be more occupied so I stop buying clothes. Again, I tell myself it's okay because I just got my student loan refund. Breathe, girl!!! You need more workout bras!!! $83.63
6 p.m.— It's date night! We're carving out some intentional time to spend together by… stuffing our faces with sushi. We thought we had a BOGO deal on rolls but the restaurant told us our coupon was a scam (mortifying). The bill is $69.03 and B. pays. Afterward, we take a short walk around nearby shops (just browsing) and head home.
Daily Total: $83.63

Day Seven

6:30 a.m. — Good morning! I head to a workout class after waking up, B. comes with. Afterward, we pick up açaí bowls (delicious, and $10.96) and go into Lush. I want a Halloween-themed bath bomb so badly... but I pass it up. $10.96
11 a.m. — We head back home to do some cleaning and get ready for our day. We attempt to go to a street festival, but the lines for food are so long we pass it up and go back home to make lunch instead.
3 p.m. — I read on the couch for a bit before B. and I play a game of Scrabble. I want to get more small table games to play that ideally take less time, but we love playing all the same.
7:30 p.m. — I meet up with a few friends for a beer because one of them is moving out of town. B. drops me off and picks me up. My friend says it's on him.
10:30 p.m. — I'm back at home and in bed by 10!
Daily Total: $10.96
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