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A Week In Chicago, IL, On Sabbatical

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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: an IT project manager on sabbatical who spends some of her money this week on sushi.
Occupation: IT Project Manager (currently not working)
Industry: Software
Age: 34
Location: Chicago, IL
Salary: $0 (Before resigning, I made $154,000, plus a quarterly bonus of $2,000 to $3,000 when my team hit its utilization targets, plus an $85,000 equity payout in Fall 2021. My plan for my sabbatical was to live off of my equity payout and use it to contribute to our household finances the way I was when I was working. My husband, F., makes $105,000 per year, but we keep our finances completely separate except for one joint checking account that contains money we've received as gifts.)
Net Worth: $509,763 (Roth IRA: $68,523, regular IRA: $42,579, 401(k): $126,018, emergency fund: $35,642, HYSA: $143,000, my half of our joint checking account: $7,368, my checking account: ~$11,000, my half of the value of our house: $250,000, minus debt)
Debt: $174,367 ($334,352 for the mortgage, $10,928 for a bathroom remodel, and $3,455 for a kitchen remodel. That adds up to $348,735, which we divide by two.)
Paycheck Amount: $0
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,300 (Our mortgage is $2,324, and F. pays the rest, loosely based on income. This includes home insurance and property taxes.)
Phone: $75
Internet: $55 (my half)
Gas: $30–$60 (my half)
Electricity: ~$20–$50 (my half)
Water: $20–$32.50 (my half)
HOA: $75 (my half)
Gym Membership: $85 (for two different gyms, mine alone)
Health Insurance: $362 (F.'s firm covers me, but there is a charge to add a spouse.)
Car Insurance: $23.50 (my half)
HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, Disney+): $35 (my half, his brother also shares with us)

Annual Expenses
Amazon Prime: $69.50 (my half)
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, I have my undergrad degree from my local public university and my MBA from a prestigious private school. For my undergrad, my first “year” was essentially paid for by the state while I was still in high school because I was in the top 10% of my class. The rest of my tuition was paid for by a 529 my parents had for me. I paid for my housing and other bills during that time with part-time jobs and internships. All my internships were paid. For my MBA, I attended part-time so that I could cash flow the tuition and keep working while I was doing it. It took three and a half years to complete because of that. I never took out a school loan for either program.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My grandparents and great aunts were the ones that really drove us to learn about investing and financial planning. One side of the family was always buying us savings bonds for presents, and the other side bought us stocks. I essentially had a portfolio (albeit a small one) when I turned 18. My grandparents talked to us about how they made money on their home purchases, etc. My great aunts invested in everything, and they were always watching business news. We found bars of gold in a dresser drawer once while staying with them.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was around 13 years old, picking strawberries and answering phones at a farm. I also babysat and worked in restaurants in high school. I wanted money for a cell phone, which my mom refused to pay for because she thought I didn't need one. I also wanted spending money to do things with my friends and buy them birthday presents, etc. My mom insisted I get a newspaper route at one point to pay for a school trip to New York. I think she thought it would teach me a work ethic but having to get up at 5 a.m. to drive me on my route (I was 15) in the dead of winter each weekend changed her mind.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Finances were the main driver of my parent's divorce. My dad is very stubborn, pennywise, and often pound foolish, and this frustrated my mother. My parents didn't tell me specifics of our finances growing up, but I always had a sense there was enough for what we needed, and we had some vacations, but we also always had used cars and ate at home quite a bit to avoid spending. This history is part of why I doubt my husband and I will ever fully merge finances. I trust him, and we agree on most spending, saving, and investing activities, but we have both seen finances become a problem in a marriage, and doing it this way leads to very few (if any?) fights about money.
Do you worry about money now?
No, now I feel fairly insulated between my savings, owning my home, having my MBA, and my technology certifications. As long as those certifications remain active, employment is likely to remain easy to find.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became largely responsible for myself at 18, paying for my own rent, food, phone, etc. I became completely independent at 22 when I moved to Washington D.C. to look for a job after graduating. That was the most terrifying time financially because it was during the worst part of the Great Recession. It took me six months to receive a job offer. I had less than $500 in my savings when I started that job and had to take out an $18,000 loan to buy a car to get me to the job. Now I am living off of an $85,000 equity payout I received in the fall, in addition to my other savings accounts.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes, I received an inheritance when each of my great aunts passed and again when my grandfather passed. All in all, I think it was close to $60,000 across the three. I received this money all in adulthood and most of it has gone into the down payment for our house. Both F. and I received money to help pay for our wedding from our parents. I'm not sure if that counts, but it was substantial ($25,000) and was near the same time we bought our house, so it was greatly appreciated.

Day One

7 a.m. — I wake up to my cat wanting cuddles. I play on my phone while petting her. I get up when I hear her start making the puking noise — hairball time. After that, I make my daily cup of English breakfast tea, and feed her.
9 a.m. — Watch the Today show while I eat my breakfast: oatmeal with brown sugar and coffee with creamer. F. got me hooked on coffee when he started working from home at the start of the pandemic. During a commercial, I call to schedule a doctor physical appointment. I haven't had one in maybe three to four years? Figure I might as well do one now while I have time. I also pay off a bill for an X-ray I had last month. I have a pretty bad case of plantars fasciitis on my right foot and I wanted to make sure it wasn't actually a fracture. It started acting up right as I started my sabbatical, unfortunately. I use F.'s HSA account to pay. He doesn't add it to our Splitwise, since his company gives him $1,500 for it at the start of the year. I've never used or had an HSA before! Might pay more attention to that when I start my next job. The X-ray would have been $85, but it's covered completely by the HSA.
1 p.m. — Spend the rest of the morning cleaning the house, brushing my cat, showering, and reading my current book The Lincoln Highway. It's one of those rare sunny days in Chicago, so F. and I go for a 40-minute bike ride along the lakefront on his lunch break. Divvy Bikes are free for rides under 45 minutes with membership. We eat leftovers for lunch. Mine is a homemade grain bowl with Brussels sprouts, chicken sausage, farro, and goat cheese.
5 p.m. — After a little more reading and a nap, I head out to return an extra set of shoes I ordered on Amazon. During my last visit to the podiatrist, he stressed the importance of wearing supportive shoes around the house, not just outside. So I bought the same pair in two sizes to make sure the fit was right. From there, I go to the grocery store and get six bags for $157.68. I add to Splitwise and I will pay half. $78.84
6 p.m. — I snack on Goldfish crackers and an apple. F. is done with work, so we play Tetris. I ice my feet while we play. He's freakishly good at Tetris, and I'm super competitive so it drives me insane that I lose all the time, but it's that much sweeter when I finally beat him. I start my online Mandarin classes tonight, so F. is responsible for making dinner.
8:30 p.m. — Class is good! But it runs over a little, so we eat dinner later than usual. We have the last of the leftover Thanksgiving ham pulled from the freezer, mashed potatoes, and peas. We watch Winning Time on HBO and an episode of Inventing Anna on Netflix. That fake accent! Drives me crazy. I clean the kitchen in between shows and grab an herbal tea and a chocolate truffle. I hope my kitty is okay, she usually begs to play with the laser pointer while we watch TV, but tonight she's lethargic.
Daily Total: $78.84

Day Two

8 a.m. — Toss and turn most of the night. Could be the weather changing or my period starting, but it was not easy to wake up. It is grey and rainy out. My kitty cuddles me, and I listen to podcasts until I get the will to go downstairs and feed her, make my morning tea, and toast an English muffin. I mix it up with Irish breakfast flavor today and add some of the honey my neighbor gave me. I think there is a stereotype that you never know your neighbors in the city, but our little courtyard of townhomes has been so friendly, especially throughout the pandemic. I watch The Gilded Age while I eat.
10 a.m. — Call and email to see what is going on with mine and my husband's FOID (firearm owners ID) cards. We applied for them on New Year's Day when we went to a range with friends, and almost three months later, we still have nothing. You need one to own a gun or shoot at a range in Illinois. My brother and half of my uncles are veterans. One of my uncles gave me a gun from his collection about 10 years ago when I lived in Virginia. FOID cards weren't a thing there, and it's been on my to-do list since moving here. I can't seem to get a human to reply, so I move on and get my coffee and a banana and start my book again.
12 p.m. — Head to the kitchen to start lunch. With the rain and my cramps, I'm craving soup. I pull out squash, carrots, garlic, shallot, broth, mini spinach tortellini, and more of the leftover ham. F. comes down to help and persuades me to add in mushrooms, too. I add herbs. He adds a bay leaf. We let it simmer for 15 minutes. I notice this rain is helping my tulips poke out. We have a couple of Andes candies for dessert!
3 p.m. — I spend the afternoon practicing my Mandarin on Duolingo and skimming the book that was sent to accompany my evening classes. My husband's parents are native speakers. When they speak to him, it's usually in Mandarin, and he replies back in English. He doesn't call himself fluent, but he's light years ahead of me. I shower and after I'm dressed, I head to the gate to grab our HelloFresh box. I ordered four dinners this week instead of the usual three. I split this with F. and paid $85 when I ordered them the other day.
5:30 p.m. — I snack on goat cheese, crackers, and berries. I listen to a podcast and take a nap. It's longer than I thought it would be, and when I wake up, I have 20 minutes to play Tetris with F. before I head to yoga at the club and he goes to the city gym to run. The club is a little over a mile away and since it's still raining, I try to take the bus there and it cooperates by actually showing up when it should. The club is really nice and it costs about half of what our old CrossFit/circuit training gym did. I suspect that style of workout might have also been a contributing factor for my foot issues with all the jumping and hard landings, so I finally pulled the plug and made the switch permanent last month.
8 p.m. — I'm back from yoga, and F. has made one of our HelloFresh meals for dinner: Korean tacos! I watch This Is Us on YouTube TV while F. plays Halo upstairs. The cat meows at me to try and trick me into giving her a second dinner, but F. confirms he already fed her. Little con artist. Later, I ice my feet, eat a chocolate pudding cup, drink an orange spice herbal tea while I use up the last of my Instagram minutes (I finally set an app timer for it) and read the news. F. takes a weed gummy and watches more of Inventing Anna. We were big fans of weed getting legalized here at the start of COVID (coincidental timing) and usually have a couple if tins of gummies around.
11 p.m. — Get ready for bed and decide to do the full routine vs the basics. Brush, floss, mouthwash, retainer. Then, I use an alcohol wipe on my jawline, wash my face, and put on moisturizer and under-eye balm. Heating pad and foot splint and I'm ready to be tucked in. Yay for life in your 30s, where you feel like an old person and still have teenage problems like zits.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

8 a.m. — Normal wake-up routine, kitty cuddles, podcasts, tea, cereal for breakfast today.
10:30 a.m. — After a banana, coffee, and more reading, it's off to the club for arms and abs class! My husband's work desk is in our top-floor bedroom. It has the most natural light and space for him, but the downside is the paranoia of changing while he's on Zoom calls. I triple check the flap is over the camera and he gives me a thumbs up for reassurance, too. I Divvy Bike there through the foggy grey overcast. It takes less than 10 minutes, so no charge.
12:30 p.m. — Home from class and time for lunch! I'm making salads with romaine, shredded cabbage, black beans, corn, fajita-style bell pepper and onion, shredded cheddar, and Trader Joe's green goddess dressing (which is actually as good as everyone says). It was super rare that I would have time to put this much thought and effort into lunch while I was working. Normally, I would have calls nonstop, so I would grab something as fast as possible from the kitchen and chew between hitting the mute button.
2 p.m. — I spend the rest of the afternoon doing my regular things: shower, podcasts, Netflix, read, practice Mandarin, etc. I'm distracted, though, and a bit irritated because I see one of my past clients is in the news (again) for doing some unpleasant things. This was one of my biggest triggers for quitting — we had some truly awful clients. The tech product I implement is super popular, and there is more demand than supply, so I'm not sure why they put clients ahead of staff. I also see another two of my coworkers have moved on via LinkedIn. I do miss my coworkers. I message one. I make an Earl Grey tea and grab some Girl Scout cookies from the freezer.
8 p.m. — After F. is done working, we make one of the HelloFresh meals: apricot pork tenderloin with rice and green beans. We only eat half and save the rest for later, so we aren't too full because we have massages tonight! I love massages. They are better than Christmas. We usually go three to four times a year. My masseuse goes ham on my legs, and I'm wobbly after. She tells me to embrace my foam roller because my hamstrings and calves are clearly compensating for my foot. $162
10 p.m. — Afterwards, instead of eating our leftovers, F. talks me into getting sushi at my favorite place in the city. F. and I order four rolls and a couple of nigiri. The kitty demands laser game time when we get home. $46.50
Daily Total: $208.50

Day Four

10 a.m. — I am so tired today. F. and I fell asleep in the same bed, which we don't usually do. When we are sleeping, it's an unconscious battle of wills with snoring, cover hogging, and taking up space. I veg out with Netflix, cereal, tea, coffee, and kitty cuddles. I also message my ex-coworker a bit more and text my dad back.
2:30 p.m. — I eat the leftover HelloFresh from last night for lunch and a banana. I feel a little gross because it's now mid-afternoon and I'm still in my pajamas. However, it's worth it because I manage to plow through the last 150 pages of my book! It's due to the library today, and my next is ready for pickup. I should get some movement in today, even though I'm not feeling that motivated (it's another grey, rainy day, but now it's also getting cold again). I picture the club's hot tub and sauna and convince myself to pack up my swim gear and hop in the car to knock out the library and laps at the club in one go. I find parking easily because it's still before rush hour. $5
5:30 p.m. — Good thing I drove, because when I leave it's pouring! I munch on Goldfish crackers, apple slices, and peanut butter while I unload the dishwasher. We play a couple of rounds of Tetris. I clear out my emails, including a Home Depot credit card bill for our kitchen remodel. I overpay it ($1,000, added to Splitwise; I'll pay half). $500
11 p.m. — F. and I make our third HelloFresh for dinner — a cauliflower and chickpea curry. I have strawberry frozen yogurt with chocolate sauce for dessert. We watch TV and talk about our Friday night plans. We get in a stupid, bickery fight about who we want to invite to what and why and go to bed annoyed at each other.
Daily Total: $505

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — We get up and make peace. We text a couple of friends to hang out with later and then start the normal morning routines. Feed the cat, make tea, coffee, and a cinnamon-raisin English muffin for breakfast. It's finally sunny again, and I mix it up and get myself a ticket to the spring flower show across town for later in the afternoon. It's technically free, but I pay the suggested $10 donation. Then I start to watch the new season of Bridgerton. $10
1 p.m. — I get through two lovely episodes and make lunch. Today is salad with roasted sweet potato, chicken, Mandarin oranges, carrots, sunflower seeds, and toasted sesame dressing. After stretching and using the foam roller, it's off to the show!
4 p.m. — Back home again, the show was beautiful! I snack on some goldfish and squeeze in one more episode of Bridgerton.
10 p.m. — F. and I head to a new local brewery. We share crawfish dip, a pizza, a roast chicken platter, and lots of beer with our two friends. F. pays, and I send him half. F. and our friends are eager to bar hop, but it's getting cold, and my foot hurts, so I bow out. $60
Daily Total: $70

Day Six

9 a.m. — I might be tired, but the cat wants none of it. She crawls all over me and starts knocking over bottles until I get up to feed her. I see it's snowing outside. We are out of milk, so no cereal today. I decide to make banana bread from a mix and spice it up with cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and chocolate chips. F. is still asleep and his room smells like death. There is uneaten Taco Bell in the fridge. I get my tea and tuck under my blanket to finish Bridgerton, nice and cozy.
12 p.m. — F. has finally come to and is eating his gross Taco Bell leftovers with a coffee and Emergen-C while I text his brothers and our friends to make fun of his middle-aged hangover. I tidy up the kitchen and start thinking about making soup. There is a carton of miso-ginger broth from TJs sitting in the cupboard that I've been wanting to play with.
2:30 p.m. — The soup comes together alright! I end up adding onion, garlic, mushroom, chicken, carrots, noodles, spinach, and Asian seasonings and oils. I serve it up with a few dots of Sriracha and a Snapple tea. We watch The Dropout, after which F. crawls back into bed, and I shower. My hair still feels dried out from my swim day, so I use the last of my 3 Minute Miracle conditioner. I start a little list for my next big shopping trip and add that and milk to it.
5 p.m. — I spend the afternoon practicing my Mandarin and getting my friend a bridal shower gift. I loathe shower parties, especially bridal showers. It's the most pointless of the wedding events — the wedding and reception are obviously key, the bachelorette party is at least fun, but bridal showers are just redundant because you also get a wedding present for the actual wedding. Who wants to sit around watching someone open presents? Who wants to be watched? I remind myself to be less miserable because she's a COVID bride like me and also got screwed out of some of the normal things, like a bachelorette party. Her registry is almost all bought up already, so I send her a gift card. $50
10 p.m. — F. and I have a chill night in. We light the fireplace and turn on basketball. We eat little easy things: smoothies, ham and cheese sliders, and popcorn. We go to bed early.
Daily Total: $50

Day Seven

8:30 a.m. — I am up and more energetic today. We are supposed to meet one of F.'s friends from out of town that we haven't seen since our wedding, along with a group of other mutual friends. The sun is out, and I decide to flat iron my hair for the first time in months. I have my tea and leftover banana bread for breakfast.
11:30 a.m. — F. and I check into the restaurant for lunch, but our friends are running behind, and we are the only ones here. We wander around Chinatown while we wait, even though it's freezing out. I end up being the only woman at lunch today; all the other girlfriends and wives have bowed out. F.'s friend treats us all to lunch.
1:30 p.m. — I guess lunch is turning into day drinking? We head from lunch to a bar in a random neighborhood we never go to. The boys polish off three rounds of huge beers while I drink water. I'm not the biggest drinker, so I usually end up as the DD in these scenarios. The boys are getting pretty sauced, and one shares that he and his wife have been trying IVF and find out the next day if it worked or not. He clearly feels weird talking about it, but I tell him it's no big deal, women confide this stuff in their friends all the time. I know who of my friends has already frozen their eggs, done IVF, etc.
3:30 p.m. — We move the party over to our friend's hotel. We hang out the bar there. I order appetizers for everyone to chew on since they are starting to reach the stage of sloppy drunk. We hang out here until everyone is full, and they each have one last beer. We head home exhausted. $50
7 p.m. — I am so tired, I'm already laying in bed. I start channel surfing. I have tea and a banana bread for “dinner” because our eating schedule is out of whack now. We watch TV and I scroll on social media. I fall asleep around midnight.
Daily Total: $50
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