A Week In Columbus, OH, On A $56,000 Salary

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Today: a human services administrator working in government who makes $56,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Clif bars.
Occupation: Human Services Administrator
Industry: Government
Age: 26
Location: Columbus, OH
Salary: $56,000
Paycheck Amount (Biweekly): $1,825
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $775 for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment (rent, rental insurance, water, sewage, and trash pickup included)
Student Loan Payment: $0 (I have about $80,000 in student loans that I will begin paying after I finish my MBA.)
Car Payment: $516.79
Cell Phones : $242 (mine and my boyfriend's)
Car Insurance: $140
Electric: ~$80
Health Insurance: $100
Internet: $60
Netflix: $0 (I use my parents' account.)
Hulu: $0 (I get it for free through my cell phone provider.)
Donations: $10 to the Salvation Army anti-trafficking program and $10 to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. (Beginning in January, these amounts will increase to $25 each.)
Savings: $200
Pension: $430 (I pay 10% of my gross income, and the state pays 14%.)
Additional IRA: $100

Day One

6:50 a.m. — May or may not have snoozed for a solid hour this morning. Jump in the shower, cover my hair in dry shampoo, and use a little Estée Lauder Double Wear to hide that good ol' period acne on my chin. Good to go! (I'll do the rest of my makeup routine at work — is that weird?)
8:15 a.m. — I work downtown, where parking is an unavoidable expense. I try to find meters to park at as often as possible, and today I find one right in front of my building! I do a little happy dance in my car and use my debit card to max out the meter, which gets me three hours of parking. $2.25
8:45 a.m. — Mornings are always the most productive part of my day. For breakfast, I eat a Chocolate Brownie Clif bar from home and drink some water while replying to emails. One responsibility of my job is to ensure supportive care for sexually exploited youth across the state, so I respond to some emails regarding an external counseling agency.
11:20 a.m. — I'm a few minutes late reloading my meter, but praise the gods, no ticket! When I get back inside, I decide I'm suddenly STARVING. I heat up some spaghetti with meatballs I brought from home and drink a can of Coke. Like a small child, I tuck a napkin into my collar because I suddenly realize red sauce and a new sweater aren't the most brilliant combination. $2.25
2:20 p.m. — Take a break from reviewing training materials to feed the meter again. This time, I don't have to fill it up all the way, so it's a little cheaper. $2
4:15 p.m. — I head down to the convenience store to grab some gum and a pack of hummus with crackers to hold me over until dinner. I have a therapy appointment right after work, so I'll be eating dinner a little later than usual. Each pay period, I set aside a certain amount of money for eating out and other random bullshit. For this pay period, I set aside $200 in cash. I pay for my purchases from this discretionary fund. $8.75
7:15 p.m. — Home from therapy. I'm working through complex PTSD and some resulting depression and anxiety. I function okay without medication for now, and even though it's painful sometimes, I'm really glad I'm going to therapy. I'm incredibly thankful for a health insurance plan that absorbs the entire cost of my weekly sessions. I throw together a salad for dinner (spinach, corn, and leftover crabmeat), and wait for my cousin to come over. She's going through a rough breakup right now (her former fiancé is objectively THE WORST), so she needs some girl time. We watch 90 Day Fiancé for way too long before calling it a night. I also CashApp her for the movie we plan to see on Friday. $12
11 p.m. — I use Garnier micellar water to clear the gunk off my face before turning in. I turn on my fan (I can't ever sleep without the sound of a fan!) and crawl into bed before setting my alarms for the morning.
Daily Total: $27.25

Day Two

6 a.m. — I'm up bright and early today because I need to retire the dry shampoo for the week. I jump in the shower, wash my hair with Maui shampoo and conditioner, and then get out and wrap it in a towel while I complete the rest of my morning routine. I make a smoothie with spinach, a frozen tropical fruit mix, and almond milk to take on the road. Then I grab the crab salad and spinach wrap I made last night and toss it in my bag with a Clif bar and some water for later. I throw some mousse and hairspray in my hair, camouflage my pimples, and get dressed. I'm out the door by 7.
7:55 a.m. — I arrive at our office just before 8 so I can pick up an agency vehicle. I'm heading to a city in a different part of the state today to talk with some of the kids we serve about whether they're receiving adequate treatment for their previous traumas. It'll take about three hours to get there, and my first meeting is at 11, so I need to hit the road.
12:30 p.m. — Spending time with these kids is by far the best part of my job. I head back to Columbus and stop to fill up on gas with the agency credit card. I eat my wrap and drink some water in the car on the way back. ($23 expensed)
4:30 p.m. — My work day is over! A former client from my nonprofit social work days reached out recently and said she's been having a hard time. She asks if we can meet up, so I offer to pick her up and take her out for coffee. She agrees, and we head to Tim Hortons. (Not my favorite, but here in Columbus, there's one on every corner, so it's the quickest option.) I'm nothing if not basic, and order a pumpkin spice iced cappuccino. She orders something loaded with chocolate and extra whipped cream. We get to talking, and my heart aches for her. Life has dealt so many blows to someone so young. Over coffee, I provide her with some potential resources that may help with some of the challenges she's been facing, but it never feels like enough. $7.80
6:30 p.m. — After I drop my client off, I call my mom. She's literally my favorite person on the planet, and we talk pretty much every day. I get home and make the same salad as last night, then curl up on my couch to finish a Gillian Flynn novel I find equal parts terrifying and engrossing. I also indulge in a brownie I made over the weekend because life is short, man.
9 p.m. — My boyfriend, G., calls! We've been together for over two years now, and we lived together for about a year of that time. After a shoulder replacement surgery last year, G. was prescribed prescription pain pills. I'll spare you all the sordid details, but eventually, he became dependent on opiates. Earlier this year, he realized he was struggling with a full-blown addiction, so he made the brave decision to check himself into an inpatient rehabilitation facility. I am overwhelmingly proud of his progress and excited to share he will be graduating next week! He has been such a supportive part of my PTSD recovery, so it feels natural to be here for him while he fights his own demons.
Daily Total: $7.80

Day Three

6:50 a.m. — Some mornings, in a half dream state, I come up with some really compelling reasons to turn off my alarm. Sleepy me is quite conniving, and awake me is perturbed to now be running late. I shower, mess around with my hair until it is halfway presentable, and do my full makeup routine today. Then I grab the lunch and smoothie I prepped last night and head out the door.
8:20 a.m. — Arrive at work a little later than I planned and can only find parking in a surface lot. Pricier, but at least I don't have to keep running outside to fill up my meter! Settle in with my smoothie to catch up on emails after a day away from the office. $9
10 a.m. — I do most of my grocery shopping online. It helps me better plan my weekly budget, and it saves me from those grocery store impulse buys. I place an order at Walmart that I'll pick up on Sunday: salmon, asparagus, rice, spinach, Clif bars, tortilla chips, sour cream, chicken taquitos, Coke, toilet paper, paper towels, and tampons. $47.50
12:30 p.m. — I wrap up a conference call before I get my lunch from the fridge: spinach salad with corn and Saltines (I realize how disgusting this sounds, but it weirdly tastes great!), a Clif bar, and a can of Coke. During lunch, I fall into the trap of social media scrolling and then read about the current administration's attempts to exclude non-binary people from legal protections. I feel sick. I quickly sign up for an email list from a local LGBTQ+ activism organization that will let me know of upcoming volunteer opportunities, and I also send an advocacy email to my local congress representatives through the organization's website. It's not much, but sometimes it eases my mind to know that there are small things I can do to help.
4:30 p.m. — Leave work for the day and call my grandma to check in. I wish I could just carry her around in my pocket. She is bold and loving and a little mean and feisty, and just perfection.
6:30 p.m. — At the dine-in theater with my cousin and our friend. I order a chipotle chicken flatbread and fries, which are overpriced but not bad. The movie, A Simple Favor, is campy in a way that feels really modern. It's a couple of hours well spent! I pay for both my meal and tip from my discretionary cash fund. The three of us spend a little time dilly-dallying around the massive outdoor shopping complex where the theater is. Then it's home to work on a little homework and do pilates. $21
Daily Total: $77.50

Day Four

8:15 a.m. — I live for sleeping in. Once I finally wake up, I do some cleaning and change my bed linens. Then I take a long shower, use this awesome tingly lemon mint face mask I scored at Ulta, dry and flat iron my hair, put on makeup, and lay in my bed watching Law & Order: SVU, basking in the very rare luxury that I am running ahead of schedule.
12:30 p.m. — I fill up on gas on the way to pick up my boyfriend. Each week, he gets a home pass, and I am SO looking forward to spending the day with him. Sometimes, we use parts of his home passes to visit my family (he's really close to my parents and sisters), but today I get him all to myself! $30
1 p.m. — All the hugs and kisses the second I see him! He is literally the cutest thing in the whole wide world. We decide to pick up lunch from our favorite neighborhood Jamaican restaurant and spend the day relaxing at home. He gets spicy jerk chicken, rice and peas, and a beef patty, while I get oxtails, cabbage, and macaroni and cheese. I pay from my discretionary fund. We go home to eat and watch Seinfeld on Hulu. We talk about how his program is going and how I'm feeling about therapy. Lots of laughing, snuggling, and some other stuff… $34.50
5 p.m. — Saying goodbye is never easy, but I put on a brave face because I want G. to know I believe he's doing the right thing by being in treatment. After I drop him off, my mom calls and says she's going to my grandma's. I agree to meet her over there because family time is my favorite. One of my sisters and my cousin are also there, and they end up ordering pizza from a local spot. Yay for free dinner! They ask how G. is, and we also talk about my cousin's breakup. Then we spend way too much time laughing as we swap embarrassing stories about our love lives. (My grandma has some really wild ones!)
Daily Total: $64.50

Day Five

12 a.m. — Just got to my part-time job at a social services agency. One of my closest friends is working tonight, so I'm thrilled to catch up with her. We have dinner plans with our other friend tomorrow, so we spend some time researching where we want to go. Our friend is newly pregnant (!!!!!!!!!) and craving cheesecake, so we're on a mission to find a good spot. Work is slow, but I do some background checks and case reviews for a few new referrals before my shift ends at 8 a.m.
2:30 p.m. — I wake up to my third alarm and get ready to meet my friends. We decided on an Italian restaurant that is currently serving a pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake. We meet at around 4 and have a great time catching up. My lasagna entrée is subpar, but the cheesecake is pretty good. Our service is excellent, which is surprising on a busy Sunday night. I pay for my meal and tip 25% from my discretionary fund. $24.25
6 p.m. — After dinner, I swing by Walmart to pick up the groceries I ordered earlier in the week. The man delivering the groceries is really flirty, and I try to shake the fear that he will somehow follow me home. It's completely illogical, and he's not aggressive or scary, but my PTSD symptoms just creep up at the strangest times. I work on grounding myself and am able to calm down more quickly than usual. (Therapy really works!)
8:30 p.m. — At home, I start meal prepping my lunches for the week: seared salmon, steamed asparagus, and herbed rice. I also prepare a smoothie for breakfast: frozen pineapple, spinach, chia seeds, honey, and vanilla almond milk. I spend the rest of the night watching 90 Day Fiancé and texting my friend about the show. Then it's micellar water, fan, and bed.
Daily Total: $24.25

Day Six

815 a.m. — Back to the grind! I find a meter right in front of my building (yasssssss!) and pay $2.25 for three hours of parking. I settle in to catch up on emails and work on a project my boss assigned me last week. I also see a notification that an expense report I submitted for the per diem rates on previous travel days was approved, so $140 will be deposited in my bank tomorrow! $2.25
11:15 a.m. — Take a break from curriculum design to refill the meter. $2.25
2:30 p.m. — Meter time again. It's a gorgeous day, so I linger for a few extra minutes outside! $2.25
5:30 p.m. — I end the day by finishing up an agenda for the teleconference I arranged for tomorrow. Then I head home where my cousin (the one struggling to survive her breakup) is waiting for me. We scheduled a “study party” tonight. (She's working toward her bachelor's degree.) She orders pizza for herself, but I neither want to freeload nor spend money, so I pull some wheat bread out of the freezer and make myself a tuna melt for dinner. Then I settle into one of my assignments for this week. She heads home around 8.
8:30 p.m. — I eat my weight in chocolate-covered pretzels while I catch up on The Good Place and text my best friend, who recently moved across the country. She catches me up on her recent travels, we send a lot of good memes back and forth, and we take a minute to get sentimental about how different daily life is without living down the street from one another. Before bed, I spend about half an hour doing some low-key pilates because my back has felt really tight today. Then my nightly routine: micellar water, crank that fan, and hit the hay.
Daily Total: $6.75

Day Seven

8:10 a.m. — I swear this is the luckiest week ever because once again, I find a super close parking meter! I'm leaving the office for some offsite meetings, so I only pay for an hour. $0.75
9 a.m. — I head to another state agency for a meeting we have scheduled with community partners.
11 a.m. — I dial into a conference call I scheduled with a community activist in northern Ohio. We learn more about how her county is using new legislation to serve youth, and we plan a date to meet with their working group to gain a better understanding.
12:15 p.m. — On the way back to the office, I work really hard to convince myself I don't need Starbucks. For the last few months, I've been really focused on cutting out extra spending where I can. It takes every ounce of willpower I have, but I do refrain. I find another conveniently located meter and fork over the money for a full three hours. $2.25
4:45 p.m. — Super stoked to be off work and on my way to vote! I'm one of those incredibly obnoxious people who gets really excited to engage in the civic process. It also helps that my polling location is within walking distance of my apartment, and the line is really manageable. At home, I throw together a massive salad of spinach, tuna, cheese, and tomato before I settle in with my homework. Tonight, I'm writing a paper on how companies use segmentation to their marketing advantage.
9:30 p.m. — G. calls just before I decide to call it a night. We talk about our days and our plans for his weekend visit. His addiction has been hard to cope with for me some days, but I am amazed at how much more connected and in sync we are now than we were before. I fall asleep feeling hopeful. Life has had a way of working itself out.
Daily Total: $3
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, please call the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
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