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A Week In Washington, D.C. On A $99k 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.

This week: a graphic designer who makes $99,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on cinema tickets for Dune 2.
Occupation: Graphic designer
Industry: Government
Age: 29
Location: Washington, D.C.
Salary: ~$99,000
Net Worth: ~$143,000 ($20,000 HYSA; $40,000 Roth IRA; $82,000 Thrift Savings Plan; $1,000 brokerage)
Debt: $0 (I paid off my student loans in 2023!)
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $4,800
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: $2,150
Monthly Loan Payments: $0
All Other Monthly Expenses:
Rental Insurance: $6
Utilities: ~$100
Phone & Internet: $120
TSP: $825

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?
As the daughter of Asian immigrants, there was definitely an expectation for me to excel academically and pursue higher education. I got into some dream schools but ultimately opted for a public state university (which was also a great school), due to cost. My parents never filed their taxes on time, and were going through a nasty separation, so I was unable to file for FAFSA for most of college. I did get a head start with credits from high school, and was able to receive some grants and aid my first year, but the rest was funded through co-signed private loans (*sobs*). Luckily, my job has a student loan repayment program that ultimately covered around $10,000 of federal loans, and I ultimately paid the last of the $60,000 in private loans all on my own last year!

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Despite appearing to be successful entrepreneurs, my parents were not financially responsible, often in debt with impulsive spending habits. There was a lot of money in but *way* more going out... Maxed-out credit cards, shopping sprees on designer goods, luxury vacations, you name it. And there were the debt collectors, foreclosure notices, garnishes... Again, you name it. I received zero education about finances — well, I learned what not to do!

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job (independent of working at the family businesses pro bono) was a temp position at a renowned magazine during a summer in college. I was very much wanting to go into the publishing industry at the time.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes, all the time. I was hyper-aware about finances from a really young age, often because I had to clean up a lot of my parents’ messes. From age 10 on, I recall lights going out from bills not being paid and having to write letters to the IRS on behalf of my parents.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes, and I think my upbringing has a lot to do with it. I am quite frugal now, even though I’m in a good place financially. I track all my spending down to the penny, and sometimes I feel guilty spending on non-essentials, so I fear the pendulum as swung too far the other way! I’m working on that...

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
At age 22, I moved out on my own, went limited contact with family, and became 100% financially independent. I don’t feel that I have a financial safety net (it is usually my family asking me for money...).

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I wish!

Day One

7:30 a.m. — I wake up earlier than usual for a Sunday, but I just got back from visiting my long-distance partner in Europe, so my sleep schedule is still out of whack. I make an oat milk latte with my Nespresso while I ponder breakfast. My fridge is pretty empty from being away, so I cook some rice, fry up some Spam and an egg, add furikake and soy sauce, and call it a breakfast.
1:30 p.m. — Grocery time! I walk to the local bagel joint as it’s closing to pick up my Too Good to Go order ($3.99 for a half dozen) and head to Trader Joe’s after. I stock up on essentials: veggies, eggs, bread, tofu, dumplings, meat and cheese, grains... Also, wine. $64.53
3 p.m. — A mile later, and I’m home. I unload groceries and start meal planning for the week. I fix a huge pearl couscous salad with tomato, cucumbers, feta, parsley, and lemon dressing for lunch and pack two portions for my days in the office.
7 p.m. — I’m craving some comfort food from traveling and jet lag, so kimchi jjigae and rice for dinner it is. I make a huge pot for dinners for the next few days. It hits the spot with a glass of wine. I go through photos from my trip and save my favorites, then end the night with some light reading (but mostly Instagram scrolling).
Daily Total: $64.53

Day Two

8 a.m. — First day back at work since vacation. Luckily, I’m working from home today, so I can ease into it. I shower and get ready for the day.
11 a.m. — I make a latte and attend our morning Zoom. For breakfast, I fix a bagel with cream cheese and eat at my desk while I catch up on emails and projects.
6 p.m. — As my workday winds down, I reheat some kimchi jjigae and rice for dinner and prep my outfit and bag for the office tomorrow. I spend the evening surfing the web with Barefoot Contessa in the background (because Ina is a goddess), then bedtime.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — My first day back in the office in person. I take a shower, and get dressed, make a latte, pack my lunch, and get ready to walk to work. It’s unseasonably warm, so the 1.5 miles go by quickly!
10 a.m. — It’s a very busy day in the office, and I’m feeling super productive (and super hungry). I end up eating the couscous salad earlier than expected (whoops), but have no fear, my coworker wants to catch up and grab lunch later.
12:30 p.m. — My coworker and I head to a nearby café for lunch, and I get a panino and soup combo. We eat al fresco since it’s warm. I catch her up on my trip, and she brings me up to speed on the office shenanigans while I was out. It starts to sprinkle, so back to the office we go. Think I’ll take the metro home this evening. $14
6 p.m. — I took the metro home to dodge the rain (it’s free as a benefit). I’m too lazy to cook, so I throw together a cheese and charcuterie plate (#girldinner). I also make a batch of cold brew for the rest of the week since I’m running low on Nespresso pods. I work from home a bit more since I’m still catching up, and then call it an early night.
Daily Total: $14

Day Four

8:30 a.m. — I’m working from home today, and my day is light on meetings — A great combination. I fix some cold brew and a bagel and leisurely start my workday.
12 p.m. — For lunch, I snack on some cheese and charcuterie and text with my partner who’s just getting off work. I also buy some things on Amazon (non-Prime) that I either can’t get at the store or can find cheaper on there (e.g. Asian ingredients, pantry items, household goods, et cetera). $49
4 p.m. — After my last Zoom meeting of the day, I start fixing dinner since it requires some prep. It’s gloomy and rainy out, so beef bourguignon sounds extra comforting. It takes a few hours, but it’s so worth it, and I have enough for three meals... Score!
Daily Total: $49

Day Five

7:30 a.m. — Today’s another office day, so I shower, fix some cold brew, and get ready. I look at the Weather app and peek outside to see if the weather is walkable — it looks sunny and promising. I pack my lunch and head out and immediately regret it... It’s windy and cold, but I am committed. I arrive at work with frozen ears.
12 p.m. — I brought my salad for lunch but turns out lunch is being catered, so I have two lunches! I enjoy the free sandwich and soda and plug away at my mountain of work that is slowly dwindling. I’ll bring home the lunch I brought to eat tomorrow.
5 p.m. — I take the metro home since I was fooled by this morning’s sunniness. I reheat some stew for dinner and log back in to finish up some work; I see the light at the end of the tunnel! I wind down with some chai and gaming.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

8:30 a.m. — Friday, at last. I’m working from home today, so I can take my time in the morning. I fix my oat milk cold brew and bagel and start my workday with a Zoom meeting.
1 p.m. — I eat the last of the couscous salad for lunch at my desk. The sun’s shining again, and it looks like good walking weather. Fridays are pretty chill, so I bring my work phone with me out for an afternoon walk. It’s a bit windy and brisk but still comfortable.
2:30 p.m. — My walk leads me to the grocery store (my happy place). I’m still restocking from being away, so I load up on more things: meat for the freezer, more veggies, pantry items, household products, et cetera. I pick up some ingredients for Moscow mules (because TGIF), and back home we go! $52
4 p.m. — The rest of the workday is quiet, so I start unwinding early. I’m a bit tired of beef stew at this point, so I make chicken noodle soup from scratch, fix some Moscow mules, and watch TV.
Daily Total: $52

Day Seven

10 a.m. — I can finally sleep in a bit more now that it’s the weekend. I drink the last of my cold brew and throw together a quick breakfast of eggs and toast and get ready for the day. It’s a bit gloomy out, but that’s no matter since I’m headed to the movie theater. It’s a ways out, so I take the metro there.
2:30 p.m. — I go see a movie I’ve been excited to see (Dune 2) with my brother. Since the movie’s so long, we opt for matinee so we have time to grab dinner after and discuss. Added bonus: discounted ticket price! $20
6 p.m. — The movie was amazing, and I’m debating seeing it again. We head to a steakhouse by the theater after the movie. I get a NY strip with two sides, and it’s a lot, but yay, leftovers. We also have a few cocktails. $70
9 p.m. — After hanging out at my brother’s place for a while, I take a Lyft home since it’s dark and a bit far from my place. Once I get home, it’s shower and bedtime. In the morning, I’ll gush to my partner about how good the movie was (he hasn’t seen it yet!). $15
Daily Total: $105

The Breakdown

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