A Week In San Francisco, CA, On $16 An Hour

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 host who makes $16 an hour and spends some of her money this week on an Artizia sweater.
Occupation: Host
Industry: Food (previously in Education)
Age: 25
Location: San Francisco
Salary: $16.07 hourly
Net Worth: $80,000 ($20,000 is designated for my dad's retirement expenses so I don't technically consider it mine. The majority of this money held in investments in my retirement accounts (Roth IRA and traditional IRA).)
Debt: $0
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Cost: $500 (I live at home with my dad, but he doesn't actually ask for any money from me. I know it's not much, but I put away this amount each month since I've moved back in from college in a savings account designated for him. He doesn't know about this, but I feel it's necessary because he doesn't have much retirement savings built up and I want him to have this money when he needs it. I don't tell him about the money because he's the type of person who would take this and use it to spoil my little sisters instead.)
Loans: $0
Insurance: On my dad's
Phone: $20 (I pay for my two little sisters and I. The monthly bill is usually $100, but I since we've been sheltering in place for the last few months, I've paused our service.)
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 a first-generation immigrant whose parents never received an education beyond middle school, higher education was stressed throughout my childhood as the key to success. I was not only expected to pursue higher education, my parents all but handpicked the schools that I would apply to based on prestige. That being said, my family could not afford to help me pay for college. I relied heavily on financial aid, which was a godsend, but even with that, I ended up graduating with $20,000 in debt. I worked throughout college and I took on extra “side” jobs even after graduating so I could aggressively pay down my school loans within half a year of graduating.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents had four children (I have three sisters) and my dad was the sole breadwinner, despite working low-paying manual labor jobs, so our household was always well below the federal poverty line. My parents never had explicit money conversations with us, but growing up in that environment, where we were constantly being told that we couldn't afford anything beyond the basic necessities, instilled a strong sense of scarcity in me. I know this might sound kind of sad, but I honestly appreciate this scarcity mindset because it continues to influence how I manage my money today — it's given me perspective on the difference between my wants and needs, which has been a good foundation for me to build off of for my financial literacy. Beyond that, I've been able to educate myself further with books, classes, and the internet. It's funny because every now and then, I'll read a personal finance book and the advice they give (i.e. only using cash so that you can't get into credit card debt) is simply the reality of living in poverty. It's times like that when I'll realize how much I benefitted, in terms of the knowledge gained and mindset developed, from the financial struggles in my childhood. The problem that I have now is allowing myself to spend (and live) a little more freely. I've been working on this since I first received any disposable income, but I still believe that this problem is still better than the other way around and overspending.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I got my first job at 14 working summers at a senior center. I wanted my own money to buy the things I knew I would never ask my parents for — snack money, clothing money, etc. I was always aware that my parents couldn't contribute anything for college so I also had to start saving on my own.
Did you worry about money growing up?
All the time. We were always struggling, but the Great Recession was especially bad because my dad worked in construction and the work completely dried up for years. At the same time, my parents were going through a very nasty divorce that was centered around my mom's gambling addiction. There was a lot of instability at that time in all facets of my life so I always tried my best not to be a financial or emotional burden. I worked so I could take care of myself, but, looking back, I also indulged in some very stupid and unhealthy actions in the name of saving money (like only eating one meal a day. I was severely underweight in high school and only stopped because I started developing health problems).
Do you worry about money now?
I still have some financial fear from my past, but I know I've worked hard and that, objectively, I'm in a good place. I'm still trying to manage my worries, but I think the biggest change is having control over my money. Knowing that gives me relief when I start stressing about money for no reason.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I still live with my dad so I wouldn't say I'm fully financially responsible for myself yet. He covers rent, utilities, and insurance so those are expenses that I've been able save on. I've been paying for everything else since my teenage years.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Day One

11 a.m. — My little sister's alarm goes off because she has Zoom classes (she's in college), but I don't have anything of importance to do (and I also went to bed at 5 a.m. last night), so I set my alarm for 11:30 and fall back asleep.
11:30 a.m. — Wake up and spend some time scrolling through social media.
12 p.m. — Finally get out of bed because of the screaming baby upstairs. While I get ready in the bathroom, I think about what I want to accomplish this week. For today, I'm going to dedicate my time to making sikhye (a Korean rice drink) and pain au chocolat from scratch.
12:30 p.m. — Take stock of what's in the kitchen and make a grocery list. I'm not hungry, but I eat a peach yogurt so that I won't feel bad later. Before I head out, I check the air quality. It's not great, but the store is only five blocks away and I've already committed to this project. I want to preface that any time I leave the house, I wear my mask and try to stay as far away from others as possible. I don't want to keep repeating this and I don't want anyone coming for me.
1:30 p.m. — I drop off two Poshmark packages at the post office and pick up flour, butter, milk, instant dry yeast, baking chocolate bars, kiwis, and green beans. The grocery cashier is so nice that I'm in a great mood and ready to start on my recipes as soon as I get home. $31.63
6:30 p.m. — I definitely overextended myself trying to make two new recipes in one day. There's a lot of sitting around and waiting with these recipes. I eat some leftover shepherd's pie with my sister during her break, but for the most part, I end up puttering around the house doing some light cleaning, taking out the trash, hand washing my masks, stretching, and showering. The entire time, I try to listen to the Bigger Pockets podcast, but I keep zoning out. I can't get into the podcast at all. I'm not sure if I just don't like the material or if I've changed as a person. I'm definitely not as fanatical about money as I used to be, but who knows? To each their own.
7 p.m. — My little sister is finally done with classes so we make mushroom cream pasta and green beans together and sit down to eat. The pasta is sooo good and exactly what I've been craving all day. My dad gets home as we're eating so I ask if he can take a look at the toilet in my bathroom. I think it's been getting clogged over the weekend because the water level keeps rising higher and higher. He fixes it in five minutes and I'm so relieved I don't have to call a plumber.
9:30 p.m. — I see I got a letter that I think is about my unemployment claim (I filed a few weeks ago after leaving my main job), but I don't want to deal with that right now. Instead, I read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. This is the first book for an impromptu book club I'm trying to form with my friends.
11 p.m. — Peel and slice up some kiwis to snack on with my sister. We also try some of the sikhye, but the floury taste is slightly off-putting. Hopefully, it'll taste better after it cools down more and the malt settles to the bottom. I finish the night by watching Raven's Home because I'm feeling nostalgic. I work on making cross stitch patterns as I'm watching. The patterns are for future projects, but I'm debating whether or not I should also open an Etsy store and sell them. I start getting ready for bed at 2:30.
Daily Total: $31.63

Day Two

10:30 a.m. — Wake up after snoozing for half an hour and get ready.
11:20 a.m. — I log into my online class. I already graduated from university, but community college is free in SF for residents so I always try to take a “fun” class every semester or two. Classes I've taken in the past include Japanese and baking, but this semester I'm taking a business math class. Yes, I consider this class “fun.” I'm not sure why either.
12:30 p.m. — Class has ended! This week, we're working on payroll and it's so interesting to learn all these new things about different types of pay schedules, taxes, and deductions.
3 p.m. — I arrive at work, ready to start a six-hour shift. My primary job was at a private tutoring company (which I quit recently), but I also have a part-time job at a local restaurant. I only work about ten hours a week, but because the air quality has been bad for the last week, those hours have been cut.
3:30 p.m. — Have staff meal at work and look for new tutoring positions online. Ideally, I would like for the position to be remote or in small groups. I am NOT interested in “learning pods” with families that have been “sheltering in place” together.
10 p.m. — Home! I get my sister and then we eat pizza and strawberry cheesecake I got from the restaurant. $16.68
10:30 p.m. — Soak in a nice warm bath, deep condition my hair, and put on a face mask. I continue reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn until my feet become too pruney. Although the book is filled with so much grief, I can't help but feel content in my own little bubble.
11:30 p.m. — That aside, I make a cup of green tea and swaddle myself in bed. I watch some YouTube videos and finally decide to buy a blouse (one that I will wear in my day-to-day, but can also dress up to be more formal should I ever work in a professional setting again) and a sweater from Aritzia. I usually feel some semblance of guilt with online shopping, but I feel okay about this one because I've had these two items in my cart for weeks already, I have a gift card that covers 60% of the cost, and I've been picking up extra shifts at the restaurant and I might have unemployment benefits approved soon. The fact that I have to write this all out makes me feel like I still feel guilty about this. It's a work in progress. $71.62
Daily Total: $88.30

Day Three

10:30 a.m. — Wake up, but stay in bed scrolling through Instagram. I feel so tired today. I fell asleep around 3 a.m. again, but I had such vivid dreams that I kept waking up throughout the night.
11:30 a.m. — Get up to brush my teeth and wash my face in the bathroom. I put on the latest The Read podcast and start my stretching routine. I'm unbelievably inflexible so my goal is to be able to touch my toes by the end of the year. I hate feeling the stiffness of my body when I lay in bed. I'm only 25! I feel like I'm much too young to be feeling this way. The good thing is that I've been showing a lot of progress in the last few months.
12:45 p.m. — Wash up and head to the kitchen to eat the leftover croissants and some strawberry yogurt. I read my unemployment letter, which just ends up being a confirmation of my claim being filed. On the online UI system, they ask me to certify for the last two weeks so I go ahead and submit those forms. While I'm on my laptop, I send off some job applications as well.
3 p.m. — I picked up an extra shift this week so I head off to work.
10 p.m. — Get home from work. My little sister is still in an online chem study group so she refuses to eat with me. Boo. I eat the leftover pizza and mushroom cream pasta (I add some bacon to the pasta for an extra lil some some) while listening to The Read podcast I started earlier.
10:15 p.m. — Another long soak in the tub is needed after six hours of sweating and interacting with the general public. I sink into the bubbles, put on some music, and close my eyes.
11 p.m. — Finish up the night watching Raven's Home again. I update my finance spreadsheet on the side, but it doesn't take too long. I fall asleep at 1:30 am because I am exhausted.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

10 a.m. — Although I don't feel rested at all, I can't fall back asleep so I scroll through Instagram in bed. One of my friends says that MasterClass is offering $1 for a year for students (offer only available today). Why not. I took at their classes and they seem to be interesting, albeit vague. $1
11 a.m. — I'm early for class for once?! We wait for a couple more minutes before starting so I schedule a long overdue haircut next week.
12:30 p.m. — Have some oatmeal with honey as a late (late) breakfast. I get ready in the bathroom afterward.
3:30 p.m. — I can't believe it's so late already. I spent way too much time getting sucked into social media (but I did send out some more job applications!). I'm not up for doing anything today so I get back in bed and curl up with a cup of tea to finish reading my book. Sneak out for some pistachio gelato when I get a little hungry.
5 p.m. — I finish my book! I love these slice of life stories and I think the characters are so well written. I don't want to say that I romanticize poverty because I don't, but I do appreciate the elements of resourcefulness, connection, and hope that are part of that struggle. My poor eyes cannot stay open anymore so put myself down for a nap.
6 p.m. — Wake up with a soul-draining thirst. I chug some cold tea. Nice. And by that, I mean disgusting. Now that I'm up, I need to stretch. I listen to the Afford Anything podcast while my nonexistent muscles scream.
7:30 p.m. — Hop in the shower, followed by a meal of reheated meatballs, green beans, and fresh rice. Is this a weird combination? Possibly, but that's the beauty of leftovers and they're delicious. I go back for seconds, but leave enough food for my sister when she decides to eat later.
9 p.m. — Back in bed. Don't know what to do so I decide on brushing up on my Japanese. I was hoping to move to Japan this year, but that's obviously been pushed back now to an undetermined date. On the bright side, I have more time to study! I know it's a bad habit, but I always watch shows when I study so Raven's Home plays in the background. The show isn't that good so I don't need to pay too much attention, but I still like it because of the chemistry between Raven and Chelsea.
10:30 p.m. — Enough studying. My mind starts to wander so I'm done for the day. Pivoting to trying out MasterClass with a lesson from David Sedaris. I've read a few of his books and like the class so far, but I'm not really in the mood so I switch to watching wholesome farming and cooking videos on YouTube instead. Fall asleep around 1:30 a.m.
Daily Total: $1

Day Five

9:30 a.m. — Finally, a good night's rest. I get ready in the bathroom and pack a backpack and an extra tote with some books I want to sell today.
10 a.m. — Drop off a Poshmark package at the post office. My favorite bookstore is 20 blocks away, but I'm willing to make the trip today. I'm trying to downsize my closet and personal library because I want to limit the possessions I need to bring with me when I'm able to move abroad. Although I love my books dearly, I keep three books with the most sentimental value and know that I can read the others on Libby when I want to. Since the bookstore is by some Chinese supermarkets, I also pick up groceries. I buy limes, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, nectarines, raspberries, kiwis, pork tenderloin, vermicelli, and some Asian snacks (grass jelly drinks, strawberry Pocky, rice crackers, and what I like to call MSG chips). I buy some drain strainer replacements and a watermelon bowl at the kitchenware store next door. $33.01 for groceries, $7.02 for kitchenware. $40.03
12:30 p.m. — I take a different route back so I can look at some new houses and see a Free Little Library to donate the books I wasn't able to sell. I put the groceries away and wash up.
1 p.m. — Eat leftover meatballs, green beans, and rice again. I drink the grass jelly drink and almost tear up because I haven't had it since elementary school. I bring a drink to my little sister and she asks me for help on her organic chemistry lab. I'm surprised that I remember the material. She doesn't believe in me at first, but after Google backs me up, she stops arguing and concedes to my explanations.
2 p.m. — Going to skip stretching for today so I take a bath and deep condition my hair again. I start reading Howl's Moving Castle. I rewatched the movie recently so I'm curious to see how the book compares.
3:30 p.m. — Start a load of laundry and peel and cut up some fruit into two bowls to share with my sister. I settle into bed to continue reading.
6 p.m. — My little sister is done with class so we make Vietnamese vermicelli salad with pork and lumpia (Filipino spring rolls). The lumpia was pre-made months ago with our other little sister (she's away for in-person college classes now), so most of the our time is spent marinating the pork and cutting up all the veggies.
8:45 p.m. — I curl up into the fetal position and watch Raven's Home. I start to drift off, but I wake up with a start when I remember my laundry.
10:15 p.m. — Sort and put away the laundry. It's back to bed afterward to scroll through Instagram and finish binging Raven's Home.
11:30 p.m. — My period arrives and, suddenly, everything makes sense. I should have known with how tired I've been all week, but my period is highly irregular and catches me off guard all the time. I spend the rest of the night watching random YouTube videos. Get ready for sleep around 2:30.
Daily Total: $40.03

Day Six

10 a.m. — Wake up and wash up in the bathroom.
10:30 a.m. — Listen to a ChooseFi podcast while I eat breakfast (Cinnamon Toast Crunch with soy milk).
11 a.m. — Try to watch David Sedaris on MasterClass again.
12:30 p.m. — I like the class much more than I expected. I can really appreciate and connect with David's approach to finding humor in life and he gives some great insight into how he's able to translate that into his writing. That being said, I don't enjoy all of his writing, but when it hits, it hits. I can't continue watching without the threat of falling asleep again (through no fault of the class itself, I just have an insane aptitude to sleep anytime and anywhere when I'm not moving). I change and head out for a walk through Golden Gate Park.
1:30 p.m. — It's such a beautiful day! I sit down in a shady area to eat the snacks I brought with me and have fun people watching from afar. I also FaceTime with my friend for a few hours. Finish up my walk by picking up boba for my sister and me. I haven't visited this neighborhood in a while, so I walk around and make a list of restaurants to try for take out. $9.50
5 p.m. — Arrive home and put together another vermicelli salad from yesterday's leftovers. After being refrigerated, the veggies and noodles are so refreshing, given how warm the weather has been. I had such a great time outside today that I immediately start making plans to hike and bike by the beach next week.
6 p.m. — FaceTime with another friend. Most of my friends live in different cities and countries from me so we don't see each other often. We all live pretty different lives, but try to check in every few months or so.
11 p.m. — Finish up my call. My little sister is Zooming with the youngest one in the other room so I stop in and say hi before I head into the kitchen for more leftovers. The leftovers can probably for another two days.
11:30 p.m. — Showered and in bed. Finish the night with reading Howl's Moving Castle and snacking on fruit. I finish around 1. This may be my favorite book that I've read this year. I love the fantasy involved and the characters are so beautifully flawed, yet lovable, in their own ways. The movie versions of the characters were much more toned down and the plot lines were more mixed up. I'm excited to see that there are two other books in this trilogy so I add both to my reading list. I can't fall asleep until 3.
Daily Total: $9.50

Day Seven

10:30 a.m. — Wake up, but stay in bed for another hour scrolling through Instagram.
11:30 a.m. — Eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes. I wash some raspberries and cut up a rogue kiwi found in the fridge to snack on.
12:00 p.m. — Put on Kiki's Delivery Service in the background while I study Japanese. Studio Ghibli movies always motivate me to study! I'm fading quickly after an hour and a half so I take a nap.
3 p.m. — Head out for work at the restaurant.
10 p.m. — Arrive home and eat the rest of the leftovers in the fridge with my little sister.
11 p.m. — Shower and get comfortable in bed. I watch some YouTube videos online while I update my finance spreadsheet on the side and journal about my week and the things I hope to accomplish for the next one.
Daily Total: $0
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