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A Week In New York, NY, On $15.50 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 part-time in-store shopper who makes $15.50 an hour and spends some of her money this week on Manna Kadar shimmer.
Occupation: Part-Time In-Store Shopper
Industry: Grocery
Age: 32
Location: New York, NY
Salary: $15.50/hour
Net Worth: $5,500 ($8,500 in savings minus debt)
Debt: $3,000
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $350, I also receive weekly unemployment payments from the state (around $444 weekly)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $950 (for a two-bedroom shared with a couple)
Credit Card Debt: ~$50, more if I can afford it
Phone: $0 (my mom let me back on her plan after I lost my job last year and graciously doesn't ask me for money; once I'm back on my feet, I'll pay for my own)
AppleCare+: $8.70
Electric and Internet: ~$65-$70
Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime: $0 (thanks to friends and family)
HBO Max: $14.99
Spotify: $9.99
New York Times: $4
Little Wanderers (Cat Rescue): $30
Health Insurance: $43.55
Renters Insurance: $12.34
Pet Insurance: $27.15
Prescriptions: $17
Personal Savings: ~$200
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?
Yes. My dad went to college and my mom did not, but I never felt like not going was an option or even something I wanted. I was actually the first person on my mom's side of the family to go to college. The school I attended gave me more scholarships than any other school I'd been accepted to, and my dad is a financial wizard so I don't have student loans. I'm very grateful.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I can remember worrying about money from a young age, but I think I had just internalized something and was a generally anxious kid. My mom didn't really work for most of my childhood but my dad had a great career as a mechanical engineer and was able to support us, even after they got divorced when I was 14. I remember opening a bank account when I was in high school and I've been a fairly thrifty adult.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My very first job was at a pet store in my hometown. I think I was about 17 and wanted a summer job. I wound up quitting not too long after I started because all they made me do was scoop dead fish out of the tanks and I hated it.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes, but as I mentioned, I was a worried kid. I always felt incredibly guilty asking if I could buy this or that (usually clothes), but I'm not sure why.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes. I've never really been able to get fully on my feet in terms of full financial independence. I worry about it all the time.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I've been 75% responsible for myself for about seven or eight years since I got my first full-time position back in my home state. My dad is my safety net.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Not as such, but as I said, my college was completely paid for by my dad and scholarships. I was very fortunate.

Day One

9:30 a.m. — I wake up. This is much later than I normally sleep, but I tossed and turned last night. Yesterday I found out I didn't get into my dream grad school so there's been a lot on my mind. I eat a slice of leftover pizza for breakfast. It's a rainy day and I don't have to work or volunteer, so all I really have planned is laundry.
10:30 a.m. — I place an order online for a third pair of Thinx. These things are a lifesaver when I'm on my period. I also make a cup of coffee with oat milk and grab my kombucha from the fridge (it came in my Imperfect Foods box earlier in the week). $47
11 a.m. — While I'm sipping my coffee, I boot up my Nintendo Switch Lite (my biggest quarantine purchase from last year) and play Animal Crossing for a bit. I also mentally berate myself for not getting into grad school. What can I say, I'm a multitasker.
12 p.m. — I've been watching Netflix for an hour, just zoning out. Time to actually do something. I throw on leggings, a striped top, my jean jacket, and Docs then mask up and head to the laundromat a few doors up from my building. It's $5.25 for a medium-sized washer and $1.25 to dry for 30 minutes. When I get home, I make a sandwich with tofurky, vegan cheese, vegan mayo, and tomato with a pickle. $6.50
2:30 p.m. — I text with my boyfriend, F., for a bit. He was just here visiting me last weekend and I already miss him. I watch some more Netflix and look for jobs in Philadelphia. I've lived in New York for around six years but since the pandemic hit and I got laid off, it just hasn't been the same city. I can't see myself living here for very much longer and I've been thinking about moving to Philadelphia since even before F. and I started dating last year (he lives there, bonus!).
4:30 p.m. — I finally work up enough energy to put away my clean laundry and scoop out my cat's litter box. I adopted my cat about two years ago. She's a hot mess but I love her. I also compose and send an email to the professor I interviewed with to see what my options are as far as reapplying at a later date. I have no idea if I should even do that. This was my plan: get into grad school, find a part-time job, move to Philly. what?
5 p.m. — I have some water and a couple of slices of dried pineapple while watching Twin Peaks. I've already seen it at least four times but I find it comforting.
7 p.m. — I start to put together dinner but my best friend from high school calls me, so we spend about half an hour talking. She's very solution-oriented so she tries to think of ways she can help me get a job in the field I want. I can't wait until both of us are fully vaccinated so we can see each other safely.
7:30 p.m. — Back to dinner. I got this mix from Imperfect Foods that calls for a veggie or other protein source and it's supposed to make "meatballs." There's not much to bind them so they come out very lopsided, but they're delicious. I put half on top of pasta with sauce and save the rest for tomorrow.
9 p.m. — Shower time. I usually shower in the morning, but my shift at work tomorrow starts at 6 and I want as much sleep as I can get. I hope I'm not a zombie the whole time. I check my bank account and see I was charged for a repeat delivery from Petco. $18.60
9:30 p.m. — I watch more of a cartoon F. introduced me to as I get ready for bed. Skincare is simple, just some Ole Henriksen moisturizer and Glossier serum. I take my meds and go to bed. Wish me luck getting up at 4:45.
Daily Total: $72.10

Day Two

4:45 a.m. — Annnnnnd I'm up. I can tell this is going to be rough. I make a cup of coffee but I'm not hungry. I'll probably regret not eating later.
5:30 a.m. — I'm so tired that skincare falls by the wayside. I just slap on some Supergoop matte sunscreen. I'm dressed (old H&M dress over leggings with a cardigan on top, and Birdies flats I paid for over a long time, but they were worth the price because they're so comfy), backpack is packed, and I'm ready to go. It's just one stop on the express train. $2.75
12 p.m. — That shift actually goes by fairly fast. In-store shopping keeps you constantly moving and I already hit my step goal. After I clock out, I pick up a few things that caught my eye while I was walking around: frozen buffalo wings, jerky, croissants, ranch (all vegan), a package of Just Egg, watermelon kombucha, and toothpaste ($33.24). Love to get an employee discount. I also give in to a major caffeine craving and get Starbucks across the street. I load my card with $10 to order it. Then I have to swipe to get on the train home. $45.99
12:30 p.m. — I have basically the same lunch as yesterday — a sandwich and some chips. I check my email while I eat. I got a response from the professor and he mentions some kind of problem with my application essays. This bothers me since I worked really hard on them and I consider writing to be my strongest skill. I'm very bad at taking criticism if you couldn't tell. Time to nap.
3 p.m. — Well, I couldn't nap. Too much swirling around my brain. I keep sipping my iced coffee from earlier and look into getting a wildlife rehabber's license. Animals have always brought me so much joy.
5 p.m. — I spontaneously sign up for a New York Audubon Zoom event where we get to "meet" a screech owl. I absolutely love birds. There's also a trivia portion about owls and I do much worse than I thought I would.
6:30 p.m. — I warm up leftovers from last night for dinner and pour some vinaigrette on lettuce and call it a salad. Then I watch a bit more of the cartoon. It's going to be an early night for me.
8:30 p.m. — I snack on some blackberries and a jar of rice pudding from, you guessed it, my Imperfect box. Then I wash my face with Trader Joe's all-in-one cleanser, brush my teeth, and moisturize, then use Glossier Futuredew serum. Despite how tired I am, it takes me some time to fall asleep.
Daily Total: $48.74

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — It's nice to wake up and not have to immediately go anywhere. I just lounge in bed with my cat for a while.
8:30 a.m. — I drag myself up and make a pumpkin coffee (guilty pleasure even in April, don't come at me!) and put together a breakfast sandwich using a croissant, Just Egg, and some cheese, plus hot sauce. I'll take this opportunity to say that I have been vegan for about five years, so anything I mention in this diary is going to be vegan; I'll skip the quotation marks and extra apostrophes ("ch'ee'z"). After I eat, I read with my cat snuggled on my lap. I was reading something more "high brow," but for comfort, I downloaded a book of Stephen King short stories to my e-reader. Yes, I find horror stories comforting.
11 a.m. — Both roommates are up. They want to move back to Brooklyn. I'm not super enthused but I don't really have the right to object since I don't think I can make it a seventh year here. I have to fill out an application even though I won't be on the lease (so I'll have more freedom to leave when the time is right). I look it over and then jump in the shower. After, skincare is the usual moisturizer + serum, and Supergoop since I'll be going outside. I'm still feeling very down so to cheer myself up a bit, I put on a really lovely dress I thrifted from thredUP. It's black with birds and flowers all over it. Very me. #naturegoth
12 p.m. — I head out to drop off our compost. There's a community garden about 12 blocks away from our apartment that takes compost every Saturday. I sit on a bench for a while to read and feel like the main character. On the walk back I come across a "free" sign on the sidewalk and find two cute wine glasses, a little picture frame, a wooden tea box, and a fan with flowers on it. When I get home, I see there's a handwritten note inside the box that says: "Take the extra second to listen to others today...there is a very important message for you waiting to be heard."
2:30 p.m. — I get confirmation from my friend that we're on for (outdoor) dinner later. I'm a little nervous because this will be my first time going to eat at a restaurant in a year, but they're fully vaccinated and I'm halfway there, plus it's a newer vegan spot I'm excited to try. For lunch, I saute some mushrooms and tofu in a soy/peanut sauce and make rice in the Instant Pot (it belongs to my roommate but he lets me use it).
4:30 p.m. — The restaurant we plan to go to tonight calls to confirm the reservation and lets me know they don't have outdoor dining available (I guess that's first come, first serve), so our only option is to eat inside. This just got more nerve-wracking. After consulting with my roommate and with F., I ultimately decide I'm not comfy enough to do indoor dining yet. Maybe after my second shot. Luckily my friend is fine with it and says we can reschedule. I'm bummed because I really wanted to try this restaurant but it just isn't time yet. I make some peach oolong tea to sip on and browse YouTube and TikTok for a bit.
7 p.m. — I'm having one of those nights where I just can't fathom what to make for dinner, so I throw together a snack plate: carrot sticks, sliced apple and pear, pizza bites, and peanuts, with some dip on the side. My roommate K. and I watch The Danish Girl, which I enjoy aesthetically, but knowing they didn't cast a trans actor to play the main character makes it challenging.
10:30 p.m. — I have some of a chocolate bar my dad sent me for Easter. I don't know about other thirtysomethings, but I really get excited to go to bed at night. I'm tired 99.9% of the time.
11 p.m. — I fall into a Twitter hole but now it's lights out, post-bedtime routine.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

6 a.m. — I wake up because my roommate's cat is meowing outside my door. I let her in and she immediately goes for my cat's kibble.
8:15 a.m. — I'm up for real this time. I have to work today, but not until 1. My period ended, so I boil some water to sanitize my Diva Cup. Coffee's coffeeing and I make myself another Just Egg sandwich but add avocado this time. I realize I'm a day late paying my credit card, so I quickly log in and make a payment (in my monthly expenses).
9:30 a.m. — A neighbor I've catsat for before texts me to ask if I'll go pick up some meds for her cats today. I agree since she's fine with me dropping them off tonight after I get off work. I cut up and eat an orange and clean up my breakfast dishes.
10 a.m. — I shower, wash my hair, and choose my outfit: black Madewell jeans and a black and white striped tee I thrifted. I'm not sure what the store's stance is on tattoos so I pack my cardigan just in case. I have The Shining playing in the background. Shelley Duvall's wardrobe in this movie is a mood. I put a little bit of an Aveda sample in my hair and blow it dry. Day four of this diary and I'm finally putting on makeup too! I use Glossier concealer, Manna Kadar shimmer on my cheeks, Il Makiage eyeliner, and Glossier mascara. I'm running super low on my sample of the shimmer, which I love because it makes me look more human (I am EXTREMELY pale), so I find a 20% off coupon and buy a bottle online. $28.15
11:30 a.m. — Out the door. I want to give myself plenty of time in case there are train delays, which there always are. Today is no exception. $2.75
12:15 p.m. — I swing by the vet and pick up the medication my neighbor needs. Off to work. $2.75
7 p.m. — That shift felt somehow long and short at the same time. I'm starving and my feet are killing me. I head to my neighbor's to drop off the meds and she gives me $20. Then I stop at Duane Reade on the walk home and get Dr. Scholl's insoles, a watermelon kombucha, and two bags of watermelon Sour Patch Kids. $30.08
8 p.m. — Finally home. I heat up the leftover rice and tofu from yesterday for dinner. It's going to be another early night for me since I have yet another 6 a.m. shift that will make me question my entire existence.
9:30 p.m. — Nighttime routine done and good night.
Daily Total: $63.73

Day Five

4:45 a.m. — Why do I have to be up when the sun isn't even up? I make coffee and a bowl of cereal and throw together an outfit (same jeans as yesterday with a grey tee). I put on my beat-up sneakers in hopes they'll be comfier than my other shoes. I like to sip my coffee at a leisurely pace so I dump it into a tumbler and head to the train. $2.75
12 p.m. — Finally done. I take advantage of my discount and pick up some sesame noodles from the prepared food section. There was free fruit in the break room, too. Train it home as usual. $9.14
2 p.m. — Time for a well-deserved post-noodles nap.
5 p.m. — Whoops. I did not mean to nap for that long but what a treat. This job will probably mess up my sleep schedule. And now I'm only going to make it worse by making myself a coffee. Come what may.
7:30 p.m. — I decide to have breakfast for dinner with the last croissant, Just Egg, cheese, peppers, onions, and mushrooms from my Imperfect box. 10/10 would recommend. I hear back from the professor, who wants to do another Zoom call on Wednesday morning. As I mentioned, I really struggle with criticism, both from others and from myself, so this will be tough. I should be in therapy but my current insurance won't cover it #America. I watch Why Did You Kill Me? on Netflix as I eat.
8:30 p.m. — I jump in the shower and do a hair wash too. Before I got bangs, I used to wash my hair maybe every three days and hardly bothered to brush it, but now it's harder to get away with that. I still avoid blow-drying it when I can, so I'll sleep on it damp tonight. F. and I text and make a plan to watch The Godfather the next time I visit him. I've never seen it (I know!).
9:15 p.m. — I'm ready for bed and so is my sleepy cat. Hopefully, I can fall asleep after that extended nap earlier. I do tomorrow me a solid and prep my coffee in the Keurig and pick out my outfit (mom jeans from American Eagle and a tee my best friend gave me last Christmas).
Daily Total: $11.89

Day Six

4:45 a.m. — Nuh-uh.
5 a.m. — Fine, I'm up. Usual early morning routine, zero variation from yesterday except I don't have cereal. Dressed and on the train, coffee in hand, by 5:30. $2.75
9 a.m. — I'm dragging. I need caffeine but the coffee bar is closed because of the pandemic, so I go for the slightly healthier option and grab a yerba mate with my employee discount. There's some free watermelon in the break room too. P.S. One person I shopped for ordered beans. Just beans. Four cans of organic black beans and five cans of regular black beans. What? $2.39
12 p.m. — Annnnd I'm done. One of the perks of working here is I'm supposed to be able to cut the line and just go to whichever cashier is free, but I feel weirdly guilty doing that, so I still wait in line when I'm not on the clock. I get cold brew, lettuce, salsa, tortilla chips, vegan pesto, and vegan tortellini ($26.25). Working here is tough because I see all the good stuff on the shelves as I'm shopping for customers and make too many mental notes to buy later. Definitely need to curb that before it becomes a habit, so I promise myself I won't buy anything next shift. I swipe to get on the train too. $29
1 p.m. — Home. I have a glass of cold brew and throw vegan chicken nuggets in the oven because I've been craving them all day. I eat them with a little ranch and a handful of salt and vinegar chips. I wonder if we'll have enough space for an air fryer when we move. It's beautiful out and I wish I could take a walk but my feet feel like they're going to fall off. I settle for opening the window in my room to let the breeze in. I also sign up for a (virtual) yoga class using a previously-purchased 10-class pass.
4:30 p.m. — I notice quite a lot of cat hair has accumulated on my sheets so I strip the bed and change it over to fresh ones. Then I resist the urge to immediately take a nap in them.
5:10 p.m. — The Chauvin verdict is finally read. Guilty!
5:40 p.m. — I order a Clean Out Kit from thredUP. We're probably moving soon and it will be good to take the opportunity to do a major closet overhaul. There's so much I don't wear anymore. They donate anything they can't sell for you, which is awesome.
6:30 p.m. — Time for yoga! I used to volunteer at my favorite studio that's actually really close to where I work now, but they are just now starting to do in-person classes and I don't think I'm up for that yet.
7:30 p.m. — That class was amazing. I let my practice fall by the wayside as I got used to my work schedule and it feels really good to get back on the mat.
8 p.m. — I cook the tortellini I bought earlier and mix it with pesto. I also take greens and dress them with vinaigrette and Everything But the Bagel seasoning (life hack, trust me). It's all delicious. I also drink a hard kombucha my roommate bought me the night before. I watch This Is A Robbery on Netflix while I eat.
9:30 p.m. — Wash face, apply skincare, brush teeth, take meds. Bed.
Daily Total: $34.14

Day Seven

9:30 a.m. — I'm awake after snoozing my alarm a few times. I feel drained and decide to blame allergies. Pour a glass of cold brew and put a Just Egg patty in the oven. I'll eat it with the leftover peppers, onions, and mushrooms from the other day and some cheese and salsa. Love a savory breakfast.
10:30 a.m. — Quick shower and time to get dressed. I need to look presentable for my second Zoom call with the professor. It's very kind of him to offer to talk to me more considering I won't even be one of his students this year (fingers crossed for next year). I wear my usual uniform, black leggings and a top.
11 a.m. — I blow-dry my bangs since they look wonky and put on a light layer of makeup so I look less like a ghost on camera (Tarte BB cream and the usual suspects for the rest).
11:45 a.m. — Call done. He said he would go back to the committee tomorrow to see if they would reconsider, which is absolutely not what I was expecting him to say. I guess now all I can do is wait.
1 p.m. — I get changed into a more casual top and warm up leftover tortellini for lunch.
2 p.m. — I head out to volunteer at the wild bird rescue. It's a quick train ride ($2.75) and I buy an iced coffee with oat milk ($4.36) at a cafe on the way. $7.11
6 p.m. — Headed back home. That shift flew by (get it?). There were so many incoming patients and part of what I was doing today was helping out with intake. $2.75
7 p.m. — I put dried chickpeas in the Instant Pot. I'm planning on just having a big salad for dinner. I listen to Spotify's Discover Weekly playlist while I work on an embroidery project. I picked it up as a pandemic hobby and surprisingly, it stuck.
8 p.m. — My roommates and I have a Zoom meeting with the owners of the apartment they want. It goes well and we should have an answer tomorrow. Again, I'm not thrilled at the prospect of moving, but I know it will make my roommates happy.
8:30 p.m. — I put lettuce, olives, chickpeas, soy chicken, and corn in a bowl and call it a salad. I watch the first two episodes of Cruel Summer on Hulu while I eat. I'm a sucker for a teen drama.
10:15 p.m. — Skincare is done and teeth are brushed. Goodnight!
Daily Total: $9.86
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