A Week In Montana On A $50,000 Income

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.
Today: a managing editor working in digital media who makes about $50,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Baked Lays.
Occupation: Managing Editor
Industry: Digital Media
Age: 30
Location: Montana
Salary: $30,000 (I am the content manager of a high-traffic outdoors website. I also receive bonuses fairly frequently based on site traffic.)
Paycheck Amount (Monthly): $2,200
Freelance Writing/Editing Income (Monthly): Between $600 and $1,700 per month total...incredibly varied! (I get paid throughout the month on a net 30 basis.) I have several consistent clients, mostly in the outdoor industry. I also run a training program for an outdoor apparel brand. I bill them hourly and am paid weekly, which is nice. This income is not taxed, so I usually owe money in taxes at the end of the year.
Coffee Shop Job (Biweekly): $320 on average. (I make $200 every two weeks in my paycheck for two shifts a week at $10/hour. I usually walk out with $30-$45 in tips in cash after each shift, not reflected in the paycheck amount.)
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I track all of my expenses and income (yay Google Docs!), so I know I made $49,155 in 2018.
Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $2,052 (I bought a house over the summer, and I have a friend who rents the upstairs — she pays me $700 per month.)
Loans: $0 (I paid off my truck last spring, and my parents generously paid for my college.)
Water: $69
Trash: $23
Electric/Heat: $75 on average
Health Insurance: $144 (I pay out of pocket for a low-end, catastrophic plan...it's awful.)
Dental Insurance: $30
Phone: $70 (I pay my parents to stay on the family plan...they're never getting rid of me, muahaha.)
Climbing Gym Membership: $80 (I work most of this off by teaching climbing clinics for membership credit most months)
Spotify: $10
New York Times Digital Subscription: $16
Netflix: $0 (I still use my ex's...we're on good terms!)
Donation To Local NPR Station: $25
Roth IRA: $200
Investment Contribution: $500 (I hope to pay off another 10% on my house in five years in a lump sum, so I'm building my higher-risk portfolio back up for that.)

Day One

6:40 a.m. — Up before my alarm...well, five minutes before. Meeting my friend A. at the gym for a morning workout. She is a routesetter at the climbing gym, and they just set on my favorite lead wall. I have coffee I snagged from the coffee shop after my shift yesterday, and I'll nuke it at the gym.
7 a.m. — I'm getting over a nasty sinus infection and still not feeling up to my full strength. We climb most of the new routes, but then I take a low fall on a 5.12 and hit my ankle weirdly on the wall. I fractured it and got a level four sprain over the summer, which means I tore ligaments, and it's still pretty weak. I shake the ankle out, and it feels okay, but I decide not to finish the route. I hate being injured or sick, and I'm sort of both right now.
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8:40 a.m. — A. and I stretch and do a quick core workout upstairs before she has to start working the front desk. We have a really good talk about some tough family issues. Subjects are sometimes easier when you're both struggling to hold a plank and can't make weird eye contact.
9:05 a.m. — I get home, pour a bowl of cereal, and plop onto my favorite corner of the couch to do some work. A retailer sent us sale items to write up on the day the sale started, so I have to bust this out before 12. Brands will pay for sponsored content on the site I work for (always disclosed, don't worry!), and it's part of my job to write up the items and link back to them. I listen to music and get it done by 11:57.
12 p.m. — I microwave a bowl of plain pasta with butter for lunch. Depressing, right? I can't really taste anything from this cold, and my appetite is dumb right now, too, but I worked out hard this morning and need calories. I tell myself I'll eat vegetables later.
2:15 p.m. — Feeling restless and I have a few errands to run, so I shut the laptop and clean up the pile of tissues I've accumulated. Working alone from home can make you pretty socially inept.
2:40 p.m. — I'm hosting a white elephant Christmas party on Saturday, and the food theme is "a favorite dish your parents used to make," so I'm making my mom's mac and cheese. I buy milk, two boxes of macaroni, a bag of cheddar, and butter. I need to do a full grocery trip soon, but I'll just pick up this food for now. $8.60
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3 p.m. — Against my better judgement, I go into TJ Maxx, which is in the same plaza as the grocery store. This store is my crack. I never leave without a candle, some weird animal-shaped kitchen implement, or another workout top. I want to buy A. a planner for Christmas, since she'll be working full-time next year, and when I started working remotely full-time I felt like it grounded me to have a written planner. I find a cute one for $10 with lots of flowers and quotes and places to write goals. I also splurge on a pair of seriously discounted Bluetooth headphones for $16. They are big and puffy and rose gold. Basic? Oh well. My ex had my expensive ones when we broke up, and I don't care enough to bug him for them back. $26
3:45 p.m. — My electric mixer kicked the bucket last month, and B., my friend/roommate/tenant, needs one for Christmas cookies. She offered to buy it, but I always feel bad because she lives in my house, and I don't want to have her buying home stuff. Plus I make more money with my side hustles than she does. I go into Bed Bath & Beyond for the first and hopefully last time ever and find a $20 mixer, download a 20% off coupon while I wait in an excruciatingly long line, and then bolt home. $16
4:15 p.m. — My friend shot a buffalo on a special tag this year, and he gave me a bunch of meat last week. I was out of town for most of archery season, and I don't usually buy meat at the grocery store, so I haven't had any this fall. I cook a pound of ground buffalo with onions and garlic, then use the stupid mixer to make mashed potatoes. Then I dump in frozen corn and carrots, bake it, and have shepherd's pie for B. when she gets back from work.
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6 p.m. — B. and I make the executive decision to skip yoga. It's cold and dark, and the house is cozy. We read our books in the living room for almost two hours after dinner, and then I head into my room to shower and knock out. This cold needs to end NOW.
Daily Total: $50.60

Day Two

6:54 a.m. — I didn't set an alarm today. B., A., and I are planning to go to yoga tonight and then climb after, so I'm not doing a morning workout. I make coffee with my cute little stovetop espresso maker, then add a splash of hot water for an Americano. It's my favorite way to make coffee. Sit down on my couch to start working. My workload is light this week. Some revisions for a freelance client, maintenance stuff for another client, and normal website content. Some video edits, too. All fun stuff.
8:30 a.m. — I go to make eggs and toast, and a loose knob on my stove pops off when I try to turn it. Being a single homeowner is wonderful in so many ways, but can also be stressful. If something worse than this happened, would I be able to figure it out? I briefly panic, tell myself I have no skills, consider calling a man to help me, and then examine the components and figure out there's a metal plate behind the cover that separated. I grab a screwdriver, pull the plate back to the front, screw it in, and replace the knob. It's fixed! It's a minor victory, but also gives me a) knowledge, and b) confidence for bigger things.
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11:15 a.m. — Wooo! Best day of the month when my mortgage automatically withdraws from my bank account. Love that notification. It's worth it, though. I bought this house over the summer, and it was the best decision of my life. I was still with my ex at the time, and his plan was to live with me and pay half the bills/mortgage, etc. He owns a construction company, and I felt confident knowing that if something went wrong, he would be able to fix it. Two days after I closed, he decided he was having commitment issues, and we broke up. It's been a roller coaster this year, that's for sure, but B. moved in after her own breakup, and we have the best time! I love my house, and I've proven to myself that I can figure out minor repairs, afford to live here, and be an Independent Woman.
12 p.m. — I join a conference call with a media company I freelance for. They're expanding and are starting to ask for feedback from some of their consistent contributors about what's working and what's not working with the process. I write a lot for them, and I have a lot of opinions. I really appreciate that they're opening the conversation to their contributors. Makes for happier writers and happier editors. The call lasts for an hour, and it feels pretty productive.
1:30 p.m. — My friend M. comes over for an afternoon Work Club session. I have a few friends who work remotely, and we get together a few times a week to work together, usually from my house. I make tea, and we chat about our work weeks. My motivation increases, and I take care of some client work and some content flow stuff for the website I manage while pointedly continuing to ignore emails I've been ignoring all week.
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4 p.m. — M. heads to the gym. B. gets home from work, and we also head there. We all meet A. there and have a good two-hour climbing session followed by some dynamic strength work, and a one-hour yoga class. I've never had this yoga teacher before, and she's rad. Not too feelings-y, which I appreciate.
7:35 p.m. — I've had a craving for Baked Lays for four days now, and I drive us to the grocery store after the gym. We go to the expensive grocery store because it's closer. I buy Baked Lays, a kombucha, and a dark chocolate bar for a total of $8.16 because I can't go to this store without buying shit like that. $8.16
8 p.m. — The cat got into my pumpkin scones and made a huge mess all over the kitchen with crumbs. We change the whiteboard to 0 Days Since Last Bad Behavior, and take his mugshot. This cat is a nightmare, but I love him. He destroys everything. B. and I sit around and chat, and I eat my chips (and a carrot so I can hit my goal of eating a vegetable today). We chat for an hour, then split into our rooms to read.
10:30 p.m. — Waste time on my phone, then read my book. Early gym tomorrow!
Daily Total: $8.16

Day Three

6:40 a.m. — Up with my alarm, feed the screaming cat. B. staggers downstairs, and we head to the gym for a morning workout with A. and M. I will get online later and take care of website stuff and answer emails all day from my phone. I feel like I rarely work a full eight-hour sit down day, but I also am never not really working?
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7:10 a.m. — The new boulder problems are fun. A. and the setting crew put up 20 new problems yesterday, and we get worked on them for a solid two hours before heading upstairs for core.
9:15 a.m. — Errand day! B. and I have a list of places we need to hit, coffee being the first stop. We stop at one of the locations of the shop I work at, and I duck behind the counter to fill my travel mug, which doesn't cost anything. The library is right across the street, so we walk over and I return the book I finished the other day, and check out another Richard Ford book, Canada. He is my favorite author. I'll bring it on the plane on Monday. I answer a few emails from my phone while B. browses.
10:30 a.m. — We go to the grocery store so B. can stock up on Christmas cookie ingredients, then to TJ Maxx next door so she can find a white elephant gift for the party we're hosting tomorrow. I make it out of both stores without buying anything. Shocking. Our next stop is this amazing antique store on Main Street. I browse shelves of incredible antique books, and I can't resist buying an animal anatomy book for drawing references, a Roy Rogers novel from the 1960s, and a vintage copy of My Friend Flicka. I'll give it to my mom for Christmas, since she has a horse and loves horse books. The three books come to $18, which isn't bad considering we spend more than an hour in the store. $18
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12:15 p.m. — I wait in the truck while B. goes into the auto parts store for oil so she can work on her car this weekend, and I wipe down the inside of the cab. It's gotten gross this winter. I also call the off-road shop for a quote on a leveling kit to raise the front of my truck for more clearance to get to trailheads. $675! Whew. It'll wait until spring. Our final stop is the Dollar Tree, and I get snowman cups and a matching tablecloth for our party tomorrow. SO CUTE. $3
1:30 p.m. — Back home. B. gets to work on Christmas cookies, and I make a sandwich with turkey, arugula, cheese, and hummus. I'm trying to use everything in the fridge before we both leave for a week. I hop online to put out a minor fire and answer a few quick emails while I'm on.
3:15 p.m. — B. and I leave to pick up A. We are going to a museum to see a photography exhibit, then staying for a medical school transition ceremony for one of our friends. The photography exhibit is amazing, but also distressing, as it focuses on the Arctic and the undeniable impact of climate change. We sit for the hour-long ceremony in the museum auditorium, then eat appetizers and chat after finding our friend to take pictures and give her a big ol' hug.
7:45 p.m. — Drop off A. and then head home. I ate enough at the reception that I'm not hungry for dinner, and B. and I wrap gifts and chat. I head into my room around 9:30 and put on Friday Night Lights for a minute. Asleep by 10:30.
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Daily Total: $21

Day Four

5:50 a.m. — Happy Saturday to me! Awake two hours before the sun. I scroll through National Geographic and The Atlantic and read a few articles, then get up to feed the cat and make coffee.
6:30 a.m. — I wrap the gift for my white elephant party and clean the downstairs bathroom. And the litter box. The pumpkin scones clearly weren't sitting well in my cat's stomach and the box is....unpleasant.
8 a.m. — I was planning to go for a skate ski this morning, but my lungs are still feeling crappy from this stupid cold. I decide to join my friends at the gym instead. We stretch, mess around on the boulders, and chat. This reasonably attractive guy who I know through friends sits down near us while he waits for his ice climbing partner to arrive. I immediately stalk him on social media after he leaves to see if he has a girlfriend. I am not actively looking to date right now, but it never hurts to keep tabs on eligible climbers.
10:10 a.m. — Get home, pop a bagel in the toaster, and scramble some eggs. I usually work out on an empty stomach, but I'm super hungry by the time I'm done. I check the mail and my electric bill is here. $110.07! Holy shit! Guess I've been going HAM on the heat this month. I like to be comfortable when I'm at home, but yikes. I write a check immediately and tell myself I'll set up my online account *next month.*
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11 a.m. — Format a quick news article for the site I work for, answer a few emails, send an invoice for a freelance piece, schedule weekend social posts, vacuum, clean the kitchen, and start the mac and cheese for the party tonight. Feeling productive as heck. That's what waking up before 6 a.m. on a Saturday does!
1:30 p.m. — Pick up A. to start an afternoon of funtivities. First we exchange Christmas gifts. She's made me a watercolor painting of a climbing area we visited on a girls' trip last year. It's beautiful, and I can't wait to get it framed. We have our sketchbooks and art supplies and head back to the museum for a few hours of drawing dinosaur skeletons.
4 p.m. — We spend more time than I anticipated at the museum, and we have to rush downtown to park and grab food at the co-op before our friend's ballet performance. We change in the truck into dresses and heels, and I park at the library to avoid dealing with two-hour parking. I make a salad bar salad, get some peanut butter cups to eat during intermission, and a can of seltzer. $9.10
4:30 p.m. — We show up at the wrong theater right as the show is about to start, and end up running one-third of a mile to the right auditorium in our ridiculous heels. Should have read the tickets. My bad. The show is great though, and our friend has several solos.
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6:15 p.m. — We're parked exactly one mile from the theater, and I'm going to be late to my own party. It's 18 degrees out, and we decide to run the mile back to the truck. I end up with a pretty efficient stride, and we run the mile in our heels in nine minutes and 30 seconds. We decide to make The Heel Mile a Christmas tradition.
6:45 p.m. — White elephant party! It's super fun and really nice to have all of my friends in the same place. The food is great, the gifts are a hit, and everyone is so fun and positive. One of the gifts is a jigsaw puzzle, and a handful of people end up staying till almost 11 p.m. working on it. This is my kind of party. B. and I clean up, and I am asleep around midnight.
Daily Total: $9.10

Day Five

6 a.m. — I usually close the coffee shop on Sundays, but I agreed to switch with another barista, so I'll be the second one on today, working with my favorite coworker. I put on leggings and a skirt and head out the door. I don't have a makeup or beauty routine, so it take me five to 10 minutes to get out the door in the morning. I admire the hell out of girls who wear beautiful makeup and do their hair every day, but I've never been able to put forth the energy.
6:30 a.m. — Pick up pastries at the Main Street location to bring to the shop I work at, and I make myself a double espresso over ice as soon as I get there. There were a few cows loose in the road near the highway entrance, so I show up a few minutes late. I make a bagel from the day-old bin.
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12 p.m. — The shift had some good rushes. I love this job so much, and two shifts a week is the perfect amount to get me out of the house and on some sort of schedule. We make over $30 a piece in tips, not bad.
12:15 p.m. — I have a pretty good Friends With Benefits situation going on, and he lives right near the coffee shop. I give him a call after my shift, and he's home, so I grab a day-old muffin (for breakfast at the airport tomorrow) and burrito (for him because I'm nice) and head over.
2 p.m. — The d*ck appointment (can I say that?) was just what I needed before I head home for 10 days. I give him a hug and a high five and tell him I'll give him a call if I need a ride back from the airport (also near his house) when I get back.
2:30 p.m. — B. and I read (I'm now reading Canada), shoot Nerf darts (B.'s gift from the white elephant) for the cat to chase for a few hours, and then we pack him up to take him to boarding, since I fly out super early tomorrow. My ex texts me to give my family a hug for him, and I respond affirmatively.
5 p.m. — My cat is all set up in Kitty City. He has a five-room "cat condo," and they play soothing music and let him out into the big room on a schedule each day. He looks happy enough, and he rode really well in the truck. $176
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6 p.m. — We meet our entire crew at the climbing gym. I kind of wish I'd gone bouldering outside today...it was sunny and 36 degrees. But I'm happy to be here and get one last burnout workout in before heading out of town. B. and I do an endurance workout that takes an hour and blows a callous off my palm. The rest of our friends do their own thing on the other side of the gym, then we all head upstairs for a Yin yoga class.
8:45 p.m. — Yin was just what I needed! Got some great stretches, got to see my friends. B. and I heat up leftover mac and cheese at the house, and I'm sad my cat isn't here to scream and try to steal food from our plates. We watch the Burl Ives Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie, and then I head to bed around 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $176

Day Six

5:10 a.m. — TIRED. B. works near the airport, and she drops me off on her way to work. I'm sad to leave my friends and my house, but really excited to see my family. I see them twice a year, and my dad had cancer last year, so it was pretty stressful. He's in remission now, and back to being a total badass.
5:45 a.m. — One of my bags gets stopped in security, which happens to me every time. This time it's really embarrassing...a pocketful of live 10mm ammo. I hadn't worn that jacket since I took a handgun class, and I guess I had rounds left in my pocket. They are super nice about it, but I feel like I'm about to go to jail. It's Montana though...they've seen worse. Once I'm through security, I get a double shot of espresso over ice and add a splash of half and half. It's $2.90, and I tip $1. PSA: Always tip your barista, thanks! I do the planeside check with my carry-on to avoid lugging it around, then work from the airport until we board. $3.90
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8:45 a.m. — Land in Denver, and my next gate is right across the aisle. If I land in Boston on time and my bag doesn't get lost, this will be the easiest day of travel I've ever had. I get online and do some work, then read the news about the nonsense our circus-peanut-in-chief tweeted last night.
3:45 p.m. — Landed! I watched Crazy Rich Asians on the flight...SO GOOD. Can't believe I haven't seen it before. I snacked on stale Gardetos and gummy worms that I found in my backpack, but I haven't eaten much and by the time I collect my bag and meet my parents outside, I'm super hungry.
6 p.m. — My dad has homemade bread and soup ready at the house when we get back, and it is SO GOOD. I chat with my parents, show them pictures of my life in Montana, and then watch the PBS News Hour. Really nice to see them, and I'm looking forward to seeing my siblings in the next few days. They all live around here — I'm the only one who bounced.
9:40 p.m. — Work a bit to stay caught up, send a few texts to friends who still live in the northeast, do my Duolingo French lesson, and then hit the sack early. It's been a busy week and traveling makes me tired.
Daily Total: $3.90

Day Seven

8:45 a.m. — Wake up absurdly late, but I'm a few hours behind Montana time. Waste a few minutes scrolling through my phone, then go downstairs to say hello to the parents, and make coffee before jumping online for a bit.
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11 a.m. — I get a notification that I have $360 direct depositing from a client tomorrow. My freelance is really quiet right now, and I'm getting down to my last few pending invoices. I send an email letting editors know I'm available for more work, and brainstorm some publications and pitches. It's feast or famine in freelancing — I feel like I'm either stressed because I have too much work, or worried because I don't have enough. It definitely comes in waves. I'm enjoying the low workload, but I know in 30 days when I don't have payments coming in, I'll wish I'd worked more. Time to start hustlin'.
11:30 a.m. — My dad and I set up yoga mats in the living room and do an hour-long vinyasa session on Apple TV. Even though he's in remission, there are a few places he still can't go into thanks to being immunocompromised, including gyms. So yoga in the house it is! We also set out our packs for tomorrow's 5 a.m. departure for a winter peak-bagging excursion, and I eat a banana. My appetite has been conspicuously absent.
1 p.m. — Head out to the local indoor pool with my mom to do a swimming workout. She swims every single day, and despite my illustrious tenure as a competitive swimmer throughout high school, I'm winded and out of swimming shape and can't keep up to save my life. It costs $8 to get in. $8
2:45 p.m. — Run errands downtown with my mom, and swing into a coffee shop to get a $20 gift card in case my brother's fiancé gets me a Christmas present this year. I was caught off guard last year and felt really bad. I buy a hot chocolate for $2.50 to replenish calories from the swimming workout and tip the rude barista $1 because I can't not tip, even if the service is horrid. $23.50
4 p.m. — Visit my mom's friend, who's more like a family member. They gossip and try to set me up with her son's friend who randomly lives near me in Montana. I name-check him with my girlfriends and get a panicky ABORT MISSION text back. Apparently he dated someone's sister and does a lot of drugs. Passsssss. My mom and her friend are disappointed, but I promise to keep them abreast of whatever dating adventures lie in my future.
6:15 p.m. — Pick up Chinese takeout from my favorite restaurant in town. My mom pays, and we take it back to eat with my dad. I text my sister to pick up a dress I'm borrowing for the ballet in a few days. I love my siblings, and even though we aren't especially close, I'm kind of bummed neither of the ones who live in town have come over to my parent's house to say hi yet. I know they have their own lives here, but eh. I dunno.
7:30 p.m. — Fit my winter boots with crampons and get the snowshoe straps all set for the morning. I'm excited and nervous. My dad has a big day planned. We put on the Springsteen on Broadway Netflix special, and I answer a few more emails, since I'll be offline most of the day tomorrow.
9:30 p.m. — Crashing early, big day in the mountains tomorrow!
Daily Total: $31.50
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