A Week In Montana On A $28,000 Salary

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Today: a horse rancher who makes $28,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on beets.
Content warning: this diary contains a graphic animal injury.
Occupation: Horse Rancher
Industry: Cowgirl
Age: 25
Location: Montana
Salary: $28,000 plus tips
Paycheck Amount (1x/week): $600
Gender: Woman

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0 (I work about 50 hours week for free rent and utilities)
Car Payment: $189
Phone: $0 (family plan) 
Car Insurance: mom helps to pay for this (very grateful)
Netflix: don't really use this to be honest, but have access to my sister's husband's account
Retirements: $0 (Don't make enough money for this) 
Health Insurance: Not 26 yet, thankfully I am on my dad's plan. 
Savings: I try to put in as much as possible a month.
WiFi: free public wifi 
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Day One

6 a.m. — Today is Sunday. I get one day off a week from my ranching duties and that is when I try to be social. I live in a town of fewer than 50 people, BUT I went to college about two hours away so I drive there to meet with my bestie for a scone and tea at our favorite coffee shop. My body is so sore from riding horses so many hours a week...I try to rest my body on my off day but when you live in Montana, you try to soak up the beauty each and every day you can. Off to go hiking. Maybe fly fishing too. $7.46
9 a.m. — Gas fill up. Something to make note of, living in a small town, I don't have a gas station within 15 miles of me, so I have to plan this wisely and be smart about never going to the ranch on empty. $32
3 p.m. — Head to the local co-op in town for random items. Veggies, bread, wine, snacks, and, of course, beets. When I have my days off, I typically spend a lot of money on useless things but the six days I am ranching, I typically don't spend any money.... or very little. The grocery store near the ranch is crazy expensive so I shop when I am in the "city." $46
6 p.m. — Top off the gas before heading back to the ranch. $7
7:15 p.m. — I pick up a snack for the horses, some apples and carrots. $6.50
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8:30 p.m. — Get back to the ranch. I run into a moose and her baby while I'm walking up the driveway with my groceries. They can be extremely aggressive so I quickly go into the cabin and watch from the window. I know I am so blessed for this life, I try to remind myself every day. I make dinner. I have to be up early tomorrow, so I catch up with the other ranch hands, talk shit about bad horses, and get into bed around 8:45.
Daily Total: $98.96

Day Two

6 a.m. — Wake up comes a little early for me. Currently 13 degrees, brr. The ranch hands and I throw on our warm clothes, bitch about the weather, and head out the door. We walk down to the horses, catch about 13 horses and one mule and bring them to the barn. The ranch I live on is public, we do trail maintenance and we also do public tours since we live close to a national park.
12 p.m. — I ride all morning and my butt is so sore. I am new to this "lifestyle" of ranching so it's been a huge adjustment for my body. Anyways, I make lunch since I am burning a crazy amount of calories each day. For lunch, I have peanut butter and jelly and an apple. Typical ranch girl lunch. Head back out to ride more horses and clear some trails.
3 p.m. — Take a 15-minute break because I know this will be a 12-15 hour day. Eat some chips and watch the horses out the window.
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4 p.m. — CW: graphic animal injury. We have a horse break through the barbwire and cut a main artery in her leg. I have never seen anything like this happen...... The ranch hand (my boss) tells me to grab the gun (in case we need to put her down), a towel, and a rope to help stop the bleeding. We run to the barn and try to stop the bleeding. Sorry if this is TMI but this is ranch life. We calm the horse down and put a couple of ropes and a towel around the leg and load her into the trailer. We drive an hour to the vet ER and I start praying while crying. You can see the blood from the trailer door as we opened it. She is in total shock from blood loss but she's doing great. She is one of my favorite horses on the ranch. It's normal in the ranching world to have loss, hurt, and death, but seeing it first hand is really heartbreaking.
7 p.m. — I grab snacks at a gas station while we waited for the horse to get stitches. I believe the bill will be about $450 but thank god I won't be paying that. $7
10 p.m. — I drive back to the ranch, unload the horse, and give her medicine. I am exhausted, but the day is never finished until the horses are happy. I walk back to the barn to make sure the horses are safe and fed. I take the sick horse to her own pasture and gave her some carrots. I kiss her goodnight and walk home. Today I crushed about 23,000 steps and very little money ;)
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Daily Total: $7

Day Three

5:45 a.m. — I wake up and eat some breakfast. I do the normal horse stuff in the morning. Ranching can get a little tiring but I get to call my office the outdoors and for that, I am a lucky chick.
12 p.m. — My boss asks me to drive into town to get him something for lunch. I buy myself a salad and some snacks. Any excuse to get out of the saddle for a couple of hours is a good time. $11
12:15 p.m. — While I'm out, I cap my gas off, just in case. $12
7:30 p.m. — Today has been a long day. I didn't eat enough or drink enough water. The ranch ladies and I go out for a beer after work. Working in such a tough job has made me really bond with all the badass chicks around me. I buy myself two beers, a burger, and some fries. $34.11
9 p.m.— I get back to the ranch with a buzz, work on the sick horse, giggle at the mules, and walk home. I get in bed and watch some TV (no Netflix or anything because the wifi doesn't work out here). I have a degree in Public Health and I hope to get my masters. Sometimes, on slow days, I drive into town 25 minutes just for a wifi binge. I miss the social media scrolling but, everyone around me is so much happier not glued to their phone.
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Daily Total: $57.11

Day Four

6 a.m. — Wake up, make breakfast, catch 15 horses, and ask the ranch hands for help with saddling. I care for the sick horse, if anyone is still reading this..she is doing pretty good. Happy for her. I have a goal of spending no money today. I don't make a lot of money and I have been a little reckless with my spending.
1 p.m. — I spend five hours in the saddle this morning. I run inside for a quick lunch break of apples, chips, kale, and carrots. I eat weird things on the ranch.
2 p.m. — The weather really impacts our income, livelihood, and happiness..let me tell you! This afternoon, it rains for about three hours. It doesn't rain much in this valley so we do a rain dance and we are happy for the soil and the crops but not happy for wet saddles, no money being made, and wet trails. We take a break to discuss horses and the plan for next week.
5 p.m. — We call it an early day — wow this never happens. I head to the gym in town. It's the size of a bedroom, but I run a couple of miles. I am the only person there. After my workout, I sit in my car to call my parents. I miss them dearly as they live across the country. I talk about finances, life goals, and how much my body hurts. I decide to schedule a massage for next week to help with my back pain.
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7 p.m. — I drive up to the ranch and notice the local boys from the neighboring ranch came to visit. They are smokin' hot but they are our competition so we don't love them either. All the ranchhands at my ranch are women except our boss. We make a total of seven cowgirls who pretty much run this place. 52 horses, seven cowgirls, and too many dogs to count — life is good. I eat dinner made from the groceries I got the other day. I pretty much eat anything I can find. I didn't buy enough when I was in town.
9 p.m. — I call my college bestie, talk about guys, food, and how much we miss each other. The ranch can be tough on my mental health, but I chose this lifestyle and I am really happy about it. Eat some cookies from my ranch buddy and call it a night. Fall asleep around 9:50.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

7:15 a.m. — We get a late start as the weather has been crazy. It was 13 degrees earlier this week then it was 40 and raining. Today it's 45 degrees, cloudy and about to rain. We sleep in until 7:15 because we need a dang break. You might not know this, but ranching is a lifestyle, not just a job so anytime you can spend an extra 30 minutes in bed, you take it.
11 a.m. — I drive into town to get my cowboy boots fixed. Dang that was expensive. $75
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12:30 p.m. — Back to the ranch. I eat lunch, which is a salad with carrots, apple, kale, and some seeds. I also have leftover chicken so I heat that up.
4 p.m. — The day turns out to be okay. I ride for about three hours and do some barn chores.
6:30 p.m. — I help my boss fix the broken fence, which is a lot of work. My least favorite chore is "picking rocks" from the barn floor. I do that for a bit, bitch about some mules with the ranch girls, and have a good laugh. I eat more chicken and call my crush (who is a cowboy in the valley, I know he's bad news but YOLO).
9 p.m. — I go to sleep with a hungry belly so I need to drive into town soon for food.
Daily Total: $75

Day Six

6 a.m. — My boss asks me if I want to get tea in town, of course! When we get back I put my barn clothes on, do morning chores, catch some horses, and ride for about six hours today. Oofta. $2.50
2 p.m. — Quick lunch since it's a busy day! I have pasta and a kale smoothie. I check on the hurt horse and she is looking really good. I pull the drain out for her and she seems comfortable.
6 p.m. — I ask my boss if I can drive to the close (but expensive) grocery store for some quick food. I get bread, apples, mango, chicken, and veggies. $29
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7 p.m. — I fill up on gas, do you see the pattern here? $13
8 p.m. — I make a nice chicken dinner. My eating habits here on the ranch are very poor but honestly working 50 hours a week, I don't have time to meal prep.
9 p.m. — I talk horses with my boss, go out to the barn to fix some saddles, and wash my bridle. I call it a day around 10:45.
Daily Total: $44.50

Day Seven

7 a.m. — It's a typical morning — I roll out of bed, throw on warm clothes, walk to the horses, and catch about 18 for the day. I bring the sick horse to the barn to give her some TLC. For those that don't know much about horses, they heal very fast and are solid animals. I have a bagel while putting on saddles for the horses. If we are lucky, the rancher's wife will make us warm breakfast on special days like today. I ride for six hours and see grizzlies and a couple of deer. The grizzlies were a mama and her cub, I was quite nervous but being on a horse makes it better. :)
2 p.m. — I make lunch — veggies and rice. I put some ice on my back and lay down for 10 minutes. I go back outside to ride for a couple more hours. Today, we were called to clear a trail about 10 miles south, so we ride for the rest of the day clearing the trail and looking for bears.
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9 p.m. — After a long day, my body hurts but I am a happy girl. Saw no bears in the afternoon but lots of deer and a mountain lion track, which is nuts!!!!!!!! I have never seen a mountain lion, but I dream of it. Anyway, I have a smoothie and a couple of snacks and call my crush. He got bucked off his horse and hurt his arm. He's out for a couple days, so maybe I'll go into town tomorrow to see him, but I should really stay on the ranch to help out.
Daily Total: $0
Editor's Note: This diary was written before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic and current CDC guidelines about social distancing and travel restrictions were put into effect. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
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