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A Week In Madison, WI, On A $52,800 Salary

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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: a marketing professional who makes $52,800 per year and spends some of her money this week on a stand up paddleboard.
Occupation: Marketing
Industry: Engineering
Age: 23
Location: Madison, WI
Salary: $52,800
Net Worth: -$2,205.63 ($10,343.84 in savings, $6,414.11 balance on my SoFi Roth IRA, $4,199.64 between my checking account, cash, and Venmo, balance minus car loan and student loans)
Debt: $15,155.54 left on my car loan and $8,007.68 in student loans
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,583
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $500 my third of rent for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom I share with my boyfriend, N., and our friend, T.
Car Payment: $291.74
Student Loans: Currently in forbearance
Car Insurance: On my parents' plan
Health/Dental/Vision Insurance: My employer pays the full premium!
Phone: Ditto to car insurance
Electricity/Gas: Varies, but usually around $120 (I pay N.'s portion, too)
Internet: Account is in T.'s name and he has not made us pay yet even though we have lived here for over a year
New York Times Digital Subscription: $4
Spotify Premium Duo: $13.70
Book of the Month Club: $15.81
Wizard 101 Membership: $10.50 (N. and I got really into playing this again a few months ago and I keep forgetting to cancel…)
Netflix/Hulu/Disney+: On my parents' accounts
Donation to World Wildlife Foundation: $10 for my virtual polar bear adoption
Donation to Planned Parenthood: $5 is deducted from each paycheck, so $10-$15 depending on the month
YNAB Subscription (yearly): My dad graciously pays for this as a gift.
AmEx Gold Card Annual Fee (yearly): $250
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?
There was an expectation for me to attend higher education because I really enjoyed and excelled at school. If I had struggled, or if I had decided to go a different path, my parents would have supported me in whatever I wanted to do. I took out student loans for two out of the four years and was blessed to receive $10,000 each year for tuition from my grandfather as part of my late grandmother's will. My parents covered the rest. I chose to attend a small state school to help keep costs low.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn't talk about money much until I was a teenager and even then most conversations were pretty simple. We discussed college and what money was available to me and how much I would need to pay myself depending on the type of school I attended. These conversations ultimately led me to choose a smaller state school so I could graduate with less debt. Another lesson instilled in me was to never use a credit card unless you can pay off the balance in full every month. I think they partially stayed away from money conversations because we lived well below our means and they didn't want my brothers and I to know how "rich" we actually were, so they didn't initiate many conversations. They were always willing to answer my questions about finances and money, though!
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started babysitting for families in my neighborhood when I was 11, but my first real job was working at Panera when I was 16. I got the job because I wanted extra spending money.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No, and I realize that I am very privileged to be able to say that. My dad is a doctor and my mom stayed at home until I was in high school and now works part-time as an event planner for our town to stay busy. We were always pretty well off, but my dad switched jobs during my junior year of high school and his salary increased significantly, so I have been very lucky.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes, all the time even though I am doing really well, especially compared to a lot of my peers (thanks, COVID). However, my boyfriend is unemployed and running out of money very fast. I currently pay for all of our shared expenses (excluding rent), but if he doesn't find a job soon, I will have to start paying for his bills, too. I know we could make it work, but I would have to cut back on saving/investing and it would set us back even further from where I thought we would be by now.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible for myself (besides car insurance and my phone payment) when I started my full-time job at age 22, a month after I graduated college. I have a healthy savings account, which would be my first safety net, and I know I could always move back in with or get help from my parents if I needed to.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Again, I am very privileged to be able to answer yes to this question. As noted above, my grandmother wanted to provide each of us grandchildren with $10,000 a year for college, and set up a "Grandkid Scholarship." Each year, I had to participate in community service and write a letter to my grandfather about what I learned in order to receive the money. My parents put a $2,000 down payment on my car last year as a graduation present. My parents also gave me $550/month throughout college for rent/utilities.

Day One

7:30 a.m. — Wake up at my parents' house in the Milwaukee burbs. The AC was off, so N. and I slept in my brother's room in the basement because it's cooler. I roll over to grab my phone and notice a pair of women's underwear behind the nightstand; now I am rethinking our choice.
8:45 a.m. — After watching TikToks in bed with N. for over an hour, I start to get hungry so get up to put my contacts in and do my morning skincare. I wash my face with Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser, use the CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion, and slather on Neutrogena SPF 60 mineral sunscreen. Then head upstairs to make breakfast: scrambled eggs, a slice of toast with butter, and some strawberries.
9:30 a.m. — Head out to sit by the pool. I drink a cup of chai tea and read my book for a glorious hour out in the sunshine. I'm currently reading Dune by Frank Herbert. I used to be really into sci-fi/fantasy as a kid, but haven't read much as an adult. So far I am enjoying it!
10:30 a.m. — My mom and I head out to a specialty paddleboard shop. I've been planning on buying a paddleboard since last summer and put money from my end-of-the-year bonus aside for this purchase. I end up with an inflatable board, a paddle, and straps that lock to attach it to the top of my car. It's an expensive purchase, and I feel anxious handing over my AmEx, but my excitement is at like a $10,000 level so that (and those sweet rewards points) makes it easier. $1,117.18
12:30 p.m. — We get back home and I eat a quick lunch (turkey sandwich with shredded cheddar, mustard, and mayo on wheat with green grapes) and then drag N. outside to help me inflate my board. It came with a pump and takes roughly 10 minutes to get up to the correct PSI. I test it out in my parents' pool and regret inviting my friends over to swim this afternoon because I immediately want to test it in open water.
1:30 p.m. — I read more Dune by the pool until my friend, C., arrives. She and I drink Smirnoff seltzers and catch up; we switch off between lounging by the pool and floating inside of it.
3 p.m. — More friends arrive! We listen to the Songs that Excite White People playlist on Spotify, hang out by the pool, and drink more seltzers.
6 p.m. — Everyone has left by now, but we have plans to meet back up at the bowling alley in our hometown at 8. We are one of those rare groups that has stuck together since high school with some newer additions from our college years mixed in. N. and I eat pulled pork and mac and cheese that my mom made and watch YouTube videos until it's time to get ready to go to the bowling alley.
8 p.m. — I get a vodka soda for myself and a Mountain Dew for N. because he left his ID in Madison. The total is $8 and I leave a $2 tip. $10
8:30 p.m. — The boys all want to play the slot machines, so I give N. the $20 bill I have in my wallet and let him go nuts. As they lose their money one by one, our group slowly trickles over into the pool hall until just N. and I are left. He's still riding that initial $20! $20
9 p.m. — After hearing an excruciating rendition of "Cowboy" by Kid Rock sung by a middle-aged man on the karaoke machine, N. finally hits $0 and we make our way over to the pool hall.
10 p.m. — We leave the bowling alley and head to my roommate T.'s parents' house for some bonfire/hot tub time. T.'s mom passes around brownie bites, bless her!
11:45 p.m. — N. and I head back to my parents' house for the night. Take off my makeup, take out my contacts, wash and moisturize my face, brush my teeth, then pass out just after midnight.
Daily Total: $1,147.18

Day Two

9 a.m. — Wake up. Lay in bed and scroll for a while.
9:45 a.m. — Finally get up and do my morning contacts/skincare, then head up to make breakfast. Same as yesterday, but with two pieces of toast and add some green grapes in with the strawberries.
10:15 a.m. — Change into a swimsuit, lather on the sunscreen, and head out to lay by the pool, drink tea, and read. My mom joins me and we switch off between reading and chatting.
11:30 a.m. — Deflate my paddleboard and pack it back into the bag. I break out a sweat trying to accomplish this in the 90-degree heat, so I jump into the pool when I'm finished. As a former swimmer and synchronized swimmer, having the pool all to myself is such a luxury so I do a few laps and spend some time messing around with old synchro moves.
12 p.m. — Reluctantly drag myself out of the water and inside to pack up. My mom sends me home with a huge container full of pulled pork!
1 p.m. — N. and I stop at the Culver's in town for lunch. He gets a chicken tender value basket and a root beer and I get a butter burger with cheese kids meal and a Diet Pepsi. The flavor of the day is Devil's Food Cake, which is dark chocolate custard, devil's food cake pieces, and chocolate shell, so I use my free scoop coupon for that. It is so good and I am SO full! $14.89
2:30 p.m. — Stop at HyVee on the way home to pick up Celsius. T. and I are both obsessed, so I stock up every few weeks. I get two four-packs of watermelon, two four-packs of berry, a four-pack of grape, and four solo fuji apple pear cans because it is my favorite flavor. I Venmo request T. for half. $25.81
3 p.m. — Get home and unpack, throw a load of laundry in the washer, then N. and I have sex. I also place an order on Amazon for the rest of the paddleboard equipment I need: a sporty life jacket, an ankle strap with a 10' cord, a set of four foam floating keychains, and some bungee cords. $73.88
3:45 p.m. — Grocery store time! I buy Gatorade, 12-grain bread, a whole watermelon, green grapes, gala apples, spring mix, cherry tomatoes, a red pepper, a yellow pepper, bananas, old fashioned oats, zesty Italian salad dressing, croutons, goldfish, turkey slices, peas, spicy Cheez-Its, sour cream and onion chips, barbecue chips, chicken and cheese taquitos, oat milk (the Chobani plain oat milk is my ride or die!), string cheese, baby swiss slices, and cups of Italian ice. I use the app, and with my rewards card and pre-saved coupons, I save $12.09. $77.58
4:30 p.m. — After I put away the groceries, I meal prep some lunches for this week, cut up the watermelon, and make a bowl of peanut butter overnight oats for breakfast tomorrow. I also scan the receipt in Fetch and Ibotta apps; I get 100 points back on Fetch, and $1.05 back on Ibotta. It's not much, but it adds up quickly. I usually use my earnings to get gift cards for when I travel, so thanks to COVID, my balance is super high right now.
5:30 p.m. — T., his girlfriend, H., N., and I leave to go to Texas Roadhouse for dinner. It's 25 minutes away, on the other side of the city and when we get there we are told it is going to be an hour wait. We decide to stick it out and walk over to a nearby Best Buy to kill time. N. and I don't get anything.
7:10 p.m. — We are finally seated! I eat two rolls slathered in cinnamon butter and order a strawberry lemonade and chicken tenders with a Caesar salad and vegetables. N. gets surf and turf: a 12oz ribeye steak with grilled shrimp, steak fries, and corn. He ends up taking the fries, my two leftover tenders, and half of T.'s steak home for lunch tomorrow. Our total is $44.27 and I tip $10.73. $55
9:15 p.m. — After getting stuck in traffic (thanks, construction), we are finally home. I quickly throw our laundry into the dryer, do my nightly skincare, brush my teeth, and am curled up in bed by 9:30. N. and T. stay up to watch the Floyd Mayweather/Logan Paul fight.
11 p.m. — I'm barely awake when N. comes to bed. I ask him about the fight. I think he says it was boring? I immediately fall asleep.
Daily Total: $247.16

Day Three

5:20 a.m. — I wake up to my alarm and grab my phone. It is confirmed in the group chat that the fight was indeed boring.
5:30 a.m. — Drag myself out of bed and change into workout clothes. Stretch, drink half of a fuji apple pear Celsius (my IBS does not like the caffeine/exercise combo), and head to the fitness center in my apartment complex. I run two miles on the treadmill and then walk one, while watching Below Deck on the TV.

6:25 a.m. — My stomach starts to cramp up while I'm walking back to my apartment so I start to speed walk (waddle) and barely make it to the bathroom in time. IBS sucks. I then stretch, shower, throw on some clothes, and get ready for the day. Contacts, skincare, fill in my eyebrows with a Covergirl eyebrow pencil, and swipe on some L'Oreal Lash Paradise mascara. Before COVID, I used to do a full face of makeup every day and I was super into it! Now, the thought of wearing foundation all day makes my skin itch.

7 a.m. — I take my meds and add a banana to my heated up overnight oats. While I eat, I watch TikToks. I have a few extra minutes so I put away the laundry from last night.

7:40 a.m. — After brushing my teeth and hair and spraying on some perfume, I grab my lunch and the rest of my Celsius and head out the door.

8 a.m. — Get to work and as I am walking across the parking lot, my coworker, P., pulls in. We walk in together.

8:30 a.m. — Weekly marketing meeting with P. and our boss.

9:15 a.m. — P. and I grab coffee (for her) and chai (for me). Throughout the morning, I work on various small tasks and respond to emails.

10 a.m. — Take a little break to post a TikTok I edited yesterday and eat green grapes that I brought from home. I also start working on editing a PowerPoint for a group of engineers who have an interview for a job tonight.

12 p.m. — Lunch! P. and I head into our lunchroom and sit with a few other coworkers, discussing our weekends. My pulled pork burrito bowl is a 10/10!

1 p.m. — Back at it! P. gets a sketchy email from one of our engineers talking about how the CDC is not a valid source based on their pandemic response. Yikes. She forwards it to our boss, and she will take it from here. On days like this, I'm glad I'm not the boss!

1:30 p.m. — Take a mini-break to import my purchases from the weekend into YNAB and see that our Spotify subscription went through yesterday (noted in monthly expenses above).

2:30 p.m. — I. Hate. Afternoons. Eat a gala apple, a bag of Boom Chicka Pop, and a string cheese to try to re-energize. I also take a few minutes to respond to comments on my TikTok, it's already up to 1,900 views!

5 p.m. — After spending my afternoon working on the interview slides and our company newsletter, I am finally done for the day!

6 p.m. — Sit down to watch some Real Housewives of Beverly Hills with a plate of apricot dijon chicken legs, couscous, and roasted carrots (thanks, Everyplate!). When I'm done eating, I grab my Nintendo Switch and play through a few days on Stardew Valley. N. plays video games online with some friends.

8 p.m. — Grab a bowl of watermelon and a string cheese for a night snack.

9 p.m. — Finally tear myself away from reality TV and do my nighttime routine. Settle into bed and read a few more chapters of Dune. N. comes to bed around 9:15 and tells me that he signed up to drive with DoorDash and is going to start tomorrow. I am so proud of him for coming to this decision on his own! I give him a little pep talk before returning to my book.

9:45 p.m. — Lights out, bedtime!

Daily Total: $0

Day Four

6 a.m. — Alarm goes off, but I lay in bed and scroll for 15 minutes before getting up and getting ready.
6:45 a.m. — Make breakfast — scrambled eggs, half a bagel with cream cheese, and some watermelon. I eat it out on our balcony because the counter is full of random crap and I don't feel like moving it.
7:10 a.m. — Leave a little early for work because I have a dermatologist appointment later this morning.
8 a.m. — Coffee and tea time with P.!
10 a.m. — Break for another cup of chai, a banana, and a peanut butter Nature Valley bar.
11:10 a.m. — Leave for my derm appointment. She tells me that my acne is most likely hormonal, which is why nothing over the counter has worked, and prescribes me a pill and a topical gel. My copay is $20. $20
12:15 p.m. — Stop for gas on the way back to work; my AmEx card is connected to my BP rewards account and I get five cents off per gallon for some reason. Score! I head back to work and straight back to my desk to eat a salad with mixed greens, tomatoes, croutons, and leftover pulled pork while I get back into my tasks for the day. $36.04
2:30 p.m. — Green grapes, a string cheese, and a quick Instagram scroll.
5 p.m. — I am free! My Aerie/American Eagle order from a few weeks ago has arrived. They were having a big sale so I bought a pair of their crossover bike shorts with a matching sports bra and scrunchie, a cute pink crop top, and a gray waffle knit henley. I try on the workout set and it is so cute and flattering!
6 p.m. — Tonight's EveryPlate meal is Tuscan Chicken Pasta, which is my favorite. N. does most of the work and I jump in at the end to make the sauce which comes together in about five minutes. We watch random YouTube videos while we eat.
6:45 p.m. — N. was too nervous for DoorDash today so I offer to go out with him tonight for moral support. I make him stop at Walgreens first so I can pick up my new prescriptions. My anxiety meds are ready, too. The anxiety meds are $11.18, the new acne cream is $25, and the new acne pills are free with insurance. $36.18
9 p.m. — After three successful deliveries and a stop for gas, I am getting tired and hungry so we head home for the night. N. feels a lot more confident about DoorDashing and plans to go out from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow! I devour a container full of watermelon.
9:45 p.m. — Skincare, brush teeth, and lights out!
Daily Total: $92.22

Day Five

5:20 a.m. — My alarm goes off and I jump out of bed, excited to wear my new workout set! I stretch and drink half of a mixed berry Celsius before hitting the fitness center for a repeat of Monday's workout. I so badly want to run outside but it is 70 degrees and 90% humidity so no thank you.
6:30 a.m. — Back at my apartment to stretch, shower, and get ready.
7 a.m. — Eat peanut butter overnight oats with a sliced banana on top and finish my Celsius before leaving for work at 7:40.
8 a.m. — I don't have a lot on my plate for today, so I take a few minutes to place a Boxed order. I get a 10-pack of Clorox toilet wand refills, a box of chocolate protein shakes, and a box of mini RXBARS. I recently discovered that I do not eat enough protein for my activity level and am trying to increase my protein intake, so hopefully, these things will help! I get a free box of quart-sized Ziploc bags since I spent over $49. My total is $51.25 but I get $10 back for using my AmEx card. I also get 1,300 Fetch rewards points for this order! $41.23
9 a.m. — Check my phone quickly before a meeting, and N.'s best friend is giving him DoorDash advice in the group chat. He has been doing it for about a year in addition to teaching full-time. It is so wholesome and makes my heart happy.
9:30 a.m. — Post-meeting coffee/tea time with P.! I also have a string cheese and some green grapes for a snack. I am a creature of habit, I know! I see that I was charged for next week's EveryPlate box. $32.93
10:30 a.m. — I cannot focus this morning and get distracted looking for a father's day gift for my dad. He is my favorite concert buddy, so I scroll through concerts coming up in the Milwaukee area and find out that Dawes is playing on December 5! I purchase two tickets and a parking pass. I feel like I am spending a lot of money lately, but it all fits within my budget, so I try not to be anxious about it. $94.12
12 p.m. — Lunch! I eat the rest of the pulled pork from the weekend with rice, peppers, and onions. P. and I talk to the interns about the party scenes at their respective colleges. I am surprised how many mention that dorm parties are a big thing! My school was really strict about those.
2:30 p.m. — Today's afternoon snack: a gala apple and a dark chocolate Belvita biscuit.
3 p.m. — I start to get antsy (have I mentioned how much I hate afternoons?) so I get up and do a lap around the office.
5 p.m. — Time to go! N. and I watch the first episode of Loki when I get home — it is so good! According to a website I visited once, Loki and I have the same Meyers-Briggs type (INFJ) and Enneagram type (4w3). Jury's still out on that one, but he is pretty self-aware which definitely gives me type 4 vibes.
6:30 p.m. — Make some Trader Joe's orange chicken with rice and broccoli for dinner and eat while we watch random YouTube videos. After we finish eating, we have sex.
7:45 p.m. — Throw a load of laundry in the dryer and settle into bed to watch an episode of RHOBH while snacking on a can of peas.
9 p.m. — Drag myself out of bed to brush my teeth and do my nighttime skincare.
9:30 p.m. — Manage to read a few chapters of Dune before falling asleep.
Daily Total: $168.28

Day Six

6:15 a.m. — My alarm goes off and I scroll for 10 minutes before getting up and getting ready. I am annoyed to see two new zits popped up last night, but remind myself that it will take more than just a day for my new acne meds to start working.
6:45 a.m. — Make myself some breakfast of half a bagel with cream cheese, scrambled eggs, and some watermelon.
7:10 a.m. — Leave for work early again. N. and I have a wedding next Friday so I will need to take a half-day and I am trying to bank enough overtime before then so I don't have to use any vacation time for it!
9 a.m. — P. apparently almost passed out from dehydration yesterday and is taking a day off from coffee, so solo tea time today.
10 a.m. — Snack on a banana and a string cheese. I get sent a baby picture for our company newsletter and P. and I spend a solid five minutes cooing over it. Cheers to having baby fever but not being financially or emotionally ready for a child lol.

12 p.m. — Lunch is a turkey sandwich with on whole wheat with baby swiss and mustard and some green grapes.

2:30 p.m. — My boss gives me comments on a presentation that she has already reviewed multiple times and that I thought was almost complete. I am absolutely losing my mind. I get up to take a lap and then eat an apple and some peanut butter for a snack.

5 p.m. — Finally time to leave! I am super tired and grumpy so we just cut up the rest of a block of sharp cheddar and add salami, prosciutto, and crackers to make a cheese plate for dinner. I also make myself a salad to go with it. Watch more RHOBH while I eat then play some Stardew Valley.

7:30 p.m. — I go out onto our balcony and read a few chapters of Dune.

8:15 p.m. — Head back inside to watch another episode of RHOBH and eat some peas.

9 p.m. — Nighttime routine, then read a few more chapters before falling asleep around 9:30.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

5:20 a.m. — Wake up to my alarm. Can someone please tell me why I love getting up this early? Today's Celsius is watermelon flavored. I stretch and head to the gym to do my usual run/walk. The cable box on the TV won't turn on so no reality TV accompaniment today.
6:30 a.m. — Shower and get ready for the day.
7 a.m. — Peanut butter overnight oats for breakfast! I leave around 7:40 today.
8 a.m. — Coffee and tea time with P.! It's also payday so I log into YNAB and distribute the money into my budget.
9:45 a.m. — I order a pair of rainbow earrings from Shein. Happy pride month to me! I am bisexual, but since I am straight-passing and in a heterosexual relationship, I have a hard time letting myself fully claim that identity, but I'm working on it. These earrings are a baby step! $6.84
10:15 a.m. — Take a break to eat some grapes and a string cheese. I also treat myself to the nail polishes I have had in my cart on Lights Lacquer for like three weeks now. For those of you that care I got the colors Bikini Bottom, Skip It, Jefa, Lilac Wine, and 99% Angel. Each polish is $9.50 but I have a 10% off coupon code. $49.88
12 p.m. — A group of 20-somethings at my company have a standing Friday lunch appointment. Today we get curry. I get sweet potato yellow curry with chicken and white rice. It is so good but it is 94 degrees out and the restaurant isn't air-conditioned so it is sweltering ($11.63 with tip). A local, small-batch ice cream business releases new flavors on Friday at noon and this week it is Fruity Pebbles, so I place an order for a pint that I can pick up tomorrow ($12). $23.63
2:45 p.m. — Gala apple and dark chocolate Belvita biscuit for a snack. I am feeling super tired this afternoon and realize I never finished the other half of my Celsius from this morning. RIP.
5 p.m. — Leave for the weekend! N. wants to DoorDash again tonight so I go with him. I bring my Nintendo Switch so I can play some Stardew Valley and…it's dead.
7 p.m. — I "invest" in N.'s DoorDash business by buying him gas. He says I get a hug in return, lol. $18.32
8 p.m. — We go to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. I get the brisket sandwich with fries and it isn't that great, but I am so hungry so I don't care. N. gets boneless wings and eats some of my fries. I tip a standard 20%. $34.54
9:15 a.m. — We are finally home! Nighttime routine, then we watch a YouTube video about five men that went missing in California in the '70s and fall asleep soon after.
Daily Total: $133.21
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