A Week In Houston, TX, On A $85,000 Salary

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.
This week: a process engineer working in the oil and gas industry who makes $85,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Q-tips.
Occupation: Process Engineer
Industry: Oil and Gas
Age: 23
Location: Houston, TX
Salary: $85,000
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,658
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $925 (for a bed and private bathroom in a 3-bed/3.5-bath house shared with a couple and another roommate, all utilities included)
Student Loans: $0 (thanks to a combination of scholarships and my hardworking and generous parents)
Spotify: $5 (on a family plan split with friends)
Investment: $650
Gym: $40
Personal Trainer: $400
Insurance: $0 (I'm on my parents' insurance)
Netflix: $0 (I use my brother's account)
Phone: $0 (still on my family plan)
Savings: $1,000 every few months when my checking-account balance gets too high. (I currently have $25,000 in savings and an additional $93,000 between a Roth IRA, Roth 401(k), and traditional 401(k). I got a job the day after I turned 14, and my mom invested all my earned money in a Roth IRA. I've maxed my Roth IRA this year, and I'm on track to do the same with my 401(k). My company matches 401(k) contributions up to 6%.)
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Day One

8:30 a.m. — Wake up and check the time and unsuccessfully attempt to go back to sleep. I miss being able to sleep in past 9 on weekends!
10 a.m. — I finally go downstairs to make breakfast. Today it's Honey Bunches of Oats with an egg on the side.
11:30 a.m. — Head to a local coffee shop and get an iced oat milk latte and a cookie. As soon as I order, it begins to pour outside and then quickly stops. I rush to my car before it rains again and realize I forgot to ask for decaf. I usually avoid coffee on weekends because I'm super sensitive to caffeine, but I just discovered oat milk lattes and can't get enough (I had five last weekend…). Hopefully, the caffeine doesn't keep me up late tonight. $6.68
12 p.m. — I park in a nearby garage and walk over to the Museum of Fine Arts just before it opens. It's the last weekend that the Van Gogh exhibit is on display, and I don't want to miss it. Apparently I wasn't the only one with the idea — the line for tickets is out the door! I get to the front and score student admission, even after telling the guy that I didn't have a student ID! I have some time before I can view the exhibit, so I explore the rest of the museum. $20
4 p.m. — The exhibit was incredible to see, even though it was super crowded. I'm tired from being on my feet all afternoon and call it a day. I walk back to my car and pay for parking ($10). I stop by the grocery store on my way home to pick up strawberries and Q-tips ($4.46). $14.46
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5 p.m. — When I get home, I realize all my roommates are gone, which is rare for a Sunday afternoon, so I prep my lunch for tomorrow (turkey and cheese sandwich, strawberries, and chips) and dinner for tonight. I'm not a great cook, so I keep it simple with pasta and turkey meatballs.
7:45 p.m. — I call my parents and send my mom some pictures I took at the museum, which don't do the actual paintings justice. She's recovering from a recent surgery, and it's hard being so far from home, especially because I didn't have enough vacation to fly up for her surgery. She's recovering well, though, which I'm glad to hear.
9 p.m. — Shower and get ready for bed and scroll through social media before finally falling asleep at midnight. I'm convinced the caffeine from this morning is partly to blame.
Daily Total: $41.14

Day Two

6:05 a.m. — Wake up to the sounds of rain and thunder. I had no idea it was going to storm, and tell myself to take my time getting ready, hoping the storm will lighten up before I go. My makeup routine is almost nonexistent, consisting of moisturizer and a brow pencil.
6:35 a.m. — I grab my lunch from the fridge and end up leaving at my normal time. I white-knuckle it to work through the rain, which eases up by the time I stop by a gas station near the office to fill up. $24.02
7:30 a.m. — I arrive at work a little later than usual. My boss doesn't get into the office until after 9, but I've been coming into work around this time since I started my first full-time job, and it's a habit I can't break.
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8 a.m. — A girl I studied abroad with just moved to Houston. She invites me to join a kickball league with her, but I decline. I don't have many friends in the area, since I recently moved here too, but my commute is long and I don't want to commit to a weekly activity (also I hate sports). I tell her we should still hang out once she's settled in.
9:15 a.m. — I head to a quick weekly meeting. The maintenance manager sounds impressed by how prepared I am, and I count it as a win, especially because I'm the only girl and the youngest one there. Back at my desk, I eat plain toast after realizing I don't have any avocado left in the work fridge. It's not as sad as I expect it to be, but it's not great.
10:30 a.m. — Work will be slow this week, since we aren't running experiments. I snack on dry roasted edamame to hold me over until lunch.
11:30 a.m. — I eat my sandwich and chips for lunch at my desk. I forgot to pack another snack, since I'm meeting with my personal trainer today, so I save the strawberries for later.
12:30 p.m. — I call my coworker at my old office to talk to him about my experience so far at my job and in Houston. I'm only here temporarily, and he's considering taking my spot when my time is up. He's on the fence about taking the position, and I doubt our conversation will persuade him to come. I don't dislike Houston, but I miss the coworkers I left at my previous office.
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2:15 p.m. — After the long call (I did most of the talking), I grab a yogurt and promptly spill it on my pants. Nice.
4 p.m. — I head out to meet with my personal trainer, who I've been working with for two months. Training sessions are by far my largest monthly expense ($50/hour) after rent, but until I moved to Houston, I had never been to the gym a day in my life. Eventually I'll stop meeting with him, but for now I'm still getting the hang of lifting. I prepaid for five sessions last week.
6:15 p.m. — There was no traffic, and I make it home in record time!! I'm confused but grateful nonetheless. I heat up some chicken nuggets and prep my lunch for tomorrow. It's surprisingly cool out from the morning storm, so I eat dinner on the balcony. I throw a load of laundry in the washer.
8:05 p.m. — Eat Swiss Cake Rolls in bed because I'm an adult and I can.
10 p.m. — I wanted to go to bed early, but a friend from home texts me. He's not always easy to reach, so I sacrifice some sleep to catch up with him. Asleep at 10:30.
Daily Total: $24.02

Day Three

6:05 a.m. — Try setting another five-minute alarm to sleep in a little more (every minute matters) and end up just falling asleep instead. I force myself out of bed. It's thundering loudly again, but there's no rain this time. Houston weather is wack.
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6:35 a.m. — Grab my lunch and an avocado from the fridge, make iced coffee, and head out. I wanted to cut back on caffeine, but I was exhausted driving home yesterday. I've got to find a middle ground.
7:30 a.m. — It's not raining, but there's traffic on my morning commute, which is a first.
8:00 a.m. — I make avocado toast with Everything but the Bagel seasoning. The bread is only half toasted, and the avocado is slightly stringy. This breakfast is extremely mediocre, but I'll try again tomorrow. I read some literature my boss sent me on research I'm tangentially involved in.
11:45 a.m. — I eat a sad desk salad while I “work through lunch.” It's one of those salads that come with all the dressings and mix-ins in progressively smaller bags, like a Russian doll. I add some chicken breast for protein and eat some strawberries on the side.
12:45 p.m. — My boss asks me to help model some data from one of the articles he sent yesterday. I haven't done this kind of work since college, and quickly do some research (Google and Wikipedia) to get started.
4:20 p.m. — I can't figure out this problem, and my boss said it should take me a day to finish it, which only stresses me out more. I leave before traffic gets worse and bring my notes home with me so I can try again at home.
5:30 p.m. — Most Tuesdays I skip the gym and eat out for dinner, but decide on take-out so I have more time to work. I nearly hit someone who blows through a stop sign on my way there. After being rear-ended at a light a few weeks ago, I'm on edge and tired of careless drivers. I get chicken tikka masala with extra chicken and contemplate stopping for ice cream, but decide against it. $12.99
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6 p.m. — I finally get home and break a bowl on the counter as I'm reaching into the cupboard. I want to cry. I shower to get my mind off things and eat dinner, saving half for another day. I get back to work.
9:20 p.m. — I think I've made some progress. It's not perfect, and the solution seems way less complicated than I was originally making it, but I give up and get ready for bed anyway. Hopefully a fresh mind will help tomorrow morning.
Daily Total: $12.99

Day Four

6:05 a.m. — Drag myself out of bed and quickly get ready for work. I love sleeping, so I keep my morning routine as short as possible, usually around 20 minutes. I didn't prep my lunch last night, so I do that quickly and make some cold brew.
9:30 a.m. — I make avocado toast with perfectly toasted bread this time. It's the little things! I wonder if I have enough information to complete the problem my boss gave me. I convince myself it's true, and feel like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls at the mathlete competition: the limit does not exist!
11 a.m. — I'll be busy this afternoon in meetings, so I eat my yogurt while I have the time.
12 p.m. — Another sad desk salad for lunch today. I know salad packaging uses a ton of plastic, but I also know I'll get bored of the same salad dressing and toppings every day. I try to reduce my plastic use elsewhere.
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2:30 p.m. — Between meetings, I ask my boss for help with my assignment and suggest there might not be enough information given, only to find out I've been thinking about the entire problem wrong. He gives me some guidance, and I'll revisit the problem tomorrow.
4:20 p.m. — Get to the gym. I'm not meeting with my trainer today, but he sent me a back and arm workout to do on my own. I'm more self-conscious lifting without him, but I manage.
5:45 p.m. — Stop by the HEB near my gym to pick up organic chicken breast, chips, salad, and strawberries (they're on sale, so I have to buy three pounds). $20.47
7 p.m. — Get home and make dinner right away: pasta with meatballs. I try to be extra efficient and get my lunch ready for tomorrow while the pasta cooks. I have a chocolate Hold the Cone from Trader Joe's for dessert.
8:30 p.m. — I finally put away the clean laundry that has been on my bed for the past two days. I pack my gym bag and then eat some peanut butter straight from the jar to hit my calorie goal for the day.
Daily Total: $20.47

Day Five

6:05 a.m. — I strongly consider snoozing my alarm again, but summon some willpower and get out of bed. I grab my lunch from the fridge, make coffee, and head out the door.
8:30 a.m. — Time for my daily avocado toast. I still haven't figured out this assignment, but I feel like I'm at least making progress.
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11:30 a.m. — Salad and strawberries for lunch. Look at my Mint account and see how my budget is looking. After spending a ton of money on concert and plane tickets last month, I'm glad to see I'm on track now. Automatic deductions and transfers help me save aggressively because I don't have to think about them, which gives me more leeway with the rest of my budget.
1:15 p.m. — I follow up on some work items and find out the parts we ordered last week haven't even been shipped yet. Ugh. As I'm leaving my coworker's office, I overhear her tell someone that she likes me, so at least there's that.
6:20 p.m. — I warm up leftover Indian food from the other day and make my lunch. Indian food might be my favorite comfort food. Have another Hold the Cone for dessert.
10 p.m. — I browse Amazon for more workout leggings, because I'm tired of washing mine every four days, but get overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices (analysis paralysis anyone??). Get ready for bed and pack my gym bag for tomorrow. I fall asleep around 11.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

6:05 a.m. — It's payday! I get ready for work, grab my lunch, and leave the house a little early to stop by a local coffee shop for an iced oat milk latte. I want to ask if they take reusable cups but chicken out at the last second. I will next time! This place uses compostable straws, which always get soggy, so I use my own metal one. I savor every single sip of my drink. $3
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7:20 a.m. — I get to work and check my paystub. My bank emails me every time money is deposited into my account, and the paycheck amount seems slightly lower than usual. It's always good practice to check periodically so you can catch any mistakes as soon as they happen. I forgot I changed my 401(k) and after-tax contributions last week, and I didn't expect them to go into effect so quickly. All is well!
9 a.m. — Avocado toast!
10:15 a.m. — My boss stops by to check on my progress (minimal). We work through the majority of the problem together. The approach he had in mind was different than the one I took, but makes more sense. I try not to feel dumb as I work on the rest of the problem.
11:45 a.m. — Today's lunch is a turkey and cheese sandwich with chips and strawberries. Most other people in the office go out on Fridays, but I don't really have anyone to go with, so I save a few bucks and bring my own. Since I work through lunch, I also leave a little early on Fridays, which helps keep me sane.
2:15 p.m. — I can hear thunder rumbling from my cubicle, and my car windows are cracked open. Even though the forecast isn't really calling for rain in the area, I go to my car and close them anyway.
3:15 p.m. — I can hear the rain hitting the roof of the building and am extremely glad I closed my windows. I've made a lot of progress on my assignment (didn't I say that before, though?), but have a few questions for my boss. He left early today, and I've reached a good stopping point, so I pack up and head to the gym.
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5 p.m. — We try barbell squats for the first time, and it goes well! Leg day always wipes me out, but this time I had to take extra breaks because I felt more nauseous than usual. I pick up an ice cream sandwich for some energy for the drive home. $2.15
6:20 p.m. — Home! I heat up chicken nuggets for dinner and practice my squat form while I wait. I'm too stubborn to admit it, but I notice my mood is always a little better after I meet with my trainer. Like last time, it's super nice outside, so I eat on the balcony.
10:20 p.m. — I browse Amazon for way too long while Gilmore Girls plays in the background. I order workout pants, a set of travel utensils for work, a food scale, a smart outlet, and nail polish topcoat. $54.89
Daily Total: $60.04

Day Seven

7:34 a.m. — I wake up, check my phone for the time, and cry a little inside. I try to sleep in a little longer, but end up on social media.
10 a.m. — I make some eggs and strawberries for breakfast. The friend who just moved to Houston texts me about a Segway tour she wants to do today. I decline (mostly because I don't think the tour sounds very interesting), but we make dinner plans for Tuesday!
1 p.m. — I spend waaay too long loafing around, figuring out what I want to eat for lunch. I decide to pick up sushi and then get ready for the gym.
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1:55 p.m. — As I'm leaving the house, my roommate warns me that the weather forecast is calling for storms very soon. I thank him for the warning and head out. My mom calls me as I get in the car, and I chat with her on my way to the gym. My parents are on their way to pick up my little cousin, who's staying with them for the next six weeks for a college-prep camp. I grab my umbrella from the car, just in case it starts to rain.
3:30 p.m. — I leave the gym, and it looks like it's already rained. Hopefully that's the last of it for the day! I head to pick up (very) late lunch. I stop at a nearby HEB on the way and get salmon, Skittles, milk, sliced turkey, and cold-brew concentrate ($24.77). Finally grab lunch ($12.99 for three rolls) and head home. $37.76
7:35 p.m. — I cook some chicken for my lunches this week. I sear some chicken breast on the stove, and miraculously, I think they come out okay! I don't do marinades or anything too fancy, since I only use the chicken in my salads, and basic seasoning goes with anything. I also make a quick chicken quesadilla from Trader Joe's, since I'm not too hungry.
8:10 p.m. — Put on some Gilmore Girls and paint my nails. I was obsessed with nail polish in high school and did my nails every week. I don't paint them nearly as often anymore, but it's an easy and cheap way to practice self-care.
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12 a.m. — After watching a ton of YouTube videos and Netflix, I call it a night.
Daily Total: $37.76
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