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A Week In Iowa On A $56,000 Salary

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 specialist who makes $56,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Hamm's beer.
Occupation: Marketing Specialist & Bartender
Industry: Health Care
Age: 28
Location: Iowa
Salary: $56,000
Net Worth: ~$29,862 (home value: $150,000, car value: $18,512, HYSA: $5,932, savings: $200, checking: $142.75, Simple IRA: $15,010.32, retirement account: $3,851.17, bonds: $1,100, HSA: $500 minus debt).
Debt: Mortgage: $119,199, solar panels: $11,000, car loan: $22,187, student loans: $13,000.
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $3,350
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $772
Car Payment: $416.66
Solar Panels: $78
Electric: $20-$50
Roth IRA: $50
Savings: $300
Retirement: $220.83 pre-tax and my employer matches $441.66 (it's really nice, I know).
HSA: $100 (pre-tax).
Gym: $20 (taken out of my paycheck).
Peloton: $47.08
Iowa Public Radio: $10
Internet: $63.89
Google Drive: $2.13
Apple Storage: $1.06
Water/Sewer/Trash: $75
Spotify: $10.69
Car/Camera Insurance: $62.62
Bus Tickets: $30

Annual Expenses
Headspace: $69.99
Media Subscriptions: $179
Donations: $500
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 parents were both the first ones in their families to finish college and they were very firm about their expectations that I go as well. My parents helped me pay for 25% of my undergraduate degree, and I paid for the other 75% with scholarships, nannying and waitressing, and $30,000 in student loans.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We talked a lot about money but I didn't understand that my parents were wealthy until I was in high school. They taught me about retirement accounts, budgeting and more. My parents spend a lot of money helping out their siblings and nieces and nephews, and a lot of our conversations about money are around how *not* having eight (or more) children was a smart financial move.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I grew up in a devout Catholic family so my first job was working Catholic funerals in middle and high school. I was paid ~$15 per funeral and I did it mostly for spending money but partially for holy obligation.
Did you worry about money growing up?
In hindsight, absolutely not. My parents talked about how expensive everything was all the time and I felt like I was concerned about money, but we never had to worry about paying for food, housing or medical bills, and we had plenty of nice vacations and things.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes. All the time. In 2019, I developed a severe post-viral condition and had a string of bad luck that landed me in the hospital a few times and those bills drained my savings. I switched careers for better health insurance, but I still have a nagging fear that I'm one accident or illness away from financial disaster. I'm rebuilding my savings but I now have a mortgage and a car payment that make me feel like I need a much larger emergency fund than I had previously.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
At 21 when I graduated college. I know my parents would take me in if I was desperate but, well, I'm queer and they're very conservative and Catholic, so that's really not a healthy option. Instead, my friends and I act as a safety net for each other. We've moved in with each other at times and help each other with emergencies when needed.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes. After I bought my house, my parents told me that my godparents had bought some savings bonds for me when I was born. They're almost done collecting interest and are worth about $1,100.

Day One

8:30 a.m. — I wake up to my alarm and lie in bed looking at Instagram and emails for an hour. I struggle to get out of bed on my work-from-home days because I have no urgency to get up and catch the bus. Eventually, I make it out of bed, turn up my thermostat to 66 (I turn it down to 60 at night to save on energy), and make breakfast (two pieces of toast, two scrambled eggs, and sautéed frozen peppers and kale) and a French press of half-caf coffee. I eat this in front of my SAD lamp for half an hour and listen to the NPR One app.
1:30 p.m. — I realize I haven't eaten lunch yet. I'm not super hungry, and I want to get my training run done before it gets to be too dark, so I have more water and a cookie my grandma made. I'm trying to do a marathon this year and my Garmin watch gives me a training plan to follow for a half-marathon. Today's workout is sprints and if I eat a full meal now, I'll probably puke and that sounds terrible.
2 p.m. — I get an email from the small music venue I bartend at with my pay stub. I made $49.65 in credit card tips and my hourly wage this pay cycle. It's not much, but it's great for how little I work there.
2:30 p.m. — A reminder on my phone pops up, telling me to change my air filter for my furnace. I do and I notice that this is the last of the big pack I bought when I moved in. I bought the last set on Amazon and I want to see if I can get a pack somewhere else. I set a reminder to research this on the bus tomorrow.
3:15 p.m. — Postponing lunch was a smart move. I finish my 45-minute sprint workout and immediately feel a bit nauseous. I used this run to think about how to structure a piece I'm writing for work, so it feels like a good use of the workday. I clean up and make a packet of butternut squash ravioli from Trader Joe's for my meal.
8:30 p.m. — After finishing work, I text my friends and read Under the Banner of Heaven for an hour. I'm hungry enough for dinner now and I need to make enough to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. I make some rice and roast broccoli, kale, chickpeas and sweet potato to make a grain bowl. I top things off with shredded radishes and carrots that I got from one of my friend's farms in their CSA program and a tahini lime dressing.
10:30 p.m. — I spend too much time on Instagram reels until I notice how late it's getting. I take a real shower and pack my work bag, gym bag, and set up my French press for tomorrow's coffee. After cleaning up the kitchen and sweeping the floor, I do the rest of my nighttime routine — fill up the humidifier, skincare (oil cleanser and hyaluronic acid from Trader Joe's, night cream and healing ointment from CeraVe), floss and brush my teeth, and take my probiotic, multivitamin, and allergy pill. I also put acne lotion on my arms. I'm in bed by 11:30.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — Wake up tired and spend 20 minutes lying in bed before rushing to get ready for work. I make my coffee and set up my SAD lamp in my bathroom as I try to fix my hair. I'm trying to let my curls be natural but I have the sort of curly hair that looks messy, not cute. I fix what I can and I'm out the door by 7:15.
8 a.m. — My bus commute on the days I go into the office is pretty long so I have time to meditate, catch the news on the NPR One app, and search for air filters. Unfortunately, I have now learned TOO much about air filters so I am unable to make a choice about what to buy. I also eat a breakfast of champions: coffee with protein powder and two cookies.
10:30 a.m. — I realize that I have meetings booked for the next few hours and if I don't eat lunch now, I won't be able to until after 2. Normally my office mate and I lift weights together over the lunch hour, so I'm sad about missing that AND my lunch. I reheat my grain bowl in the office microwave and eat lunch at my desk.
5 p.m. — I debate going to the work gym but it's dark out already and I just want to go home. I swipe onto the bus (tickets counted in monthly expenses) and start texting back some friends and family. I confirm drink plans with a friend for later in the week and talk with one of my aunts about her upcoming week. I also break out Under the Banner of Heaven and get a few more chapters in.
6:15 p.m. — It's so cold and dark when I finally get home, and all I want to do is be warm. I immediately put on old sweats and wrap a blanket around myself. I still have some beets and a ton of garlic from my CSA that I need to use up, and I want to make a beet pasta I saw on TikTok. Roasting the beets is going to take some time, so I toast some naan to dip in olive oil and vinegar for a snack while I wait. While the veggies are roasting, I hop on the Peloton for a 20-minute ride to flush my legs out from yesterday's sprints. I feel calmer and better immediately.
7 p.m. — I turn the beets and garlic into a sauce and pour it over pasta with arugula. It's a perfect meal and I post it on Instagram. While I'm eating, I text with a friend about their ongoing breakup. Between this and several group chats, I text a lot.
10 p.m. — While scrolling social media, I see that one of my mutuals posted that her next book is available to pre-order. This one looks exciting so I immediately place an order. $29.96
11:30 p.m. — I continue scrolling and chatting with friends until I realize it has gotten to be way too late. I clean up the kitchen, sweep, do my skincare routine, fill up the humidifier, turn down the heat, take my meds and go to bed by 12:15.
Daily Total: $29.96

Day Three

6:30 a.m. — I forgot to turn off my bus alarm, so I hit snooze and go back to bed.
8 a.m. — I actually get up to these alarms after checking my emails in bed. I make coffee and go to my physical medicine appointment. A while ago, I found out that my combination of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a hypermobility disorder) and a nervous system disorder was causing me to clench my teeth hard enough to dislocate my jaw. The treatment for this is Botox! I've been pretty nervous about getting Botox, but I'm excited to potentially not be in so much pain anymore. I get 200 units of Botox injected in my masseters, scalp, traps and forehead. Because of my conditions, this is covered by insurance ($215) and I pay for it using my HSA card.
1 p.m. — Lunchtime rolls around but I'm not really hungry yet, so I grab a bag of roasted almonds and make a cup of steeped coffee. I realize I haven't paid for my share of a baby shower gift for a cousin, so I send my mom $25 on Zelle. $25
2 p.m. — Finally hungry so I heat up last night's beet pasta leftovers.
5:30 p.m. — I wrap up work, and my friend picks me up to go to queer trivia. I buy a whiskey on the rocks and a pickleback ($7), and someone brings cupcakes for the whole bar to celebrate their friend's birthday. $7
9 p.m. — It's time for a late, easy dinner when I get home. I sauté some frozen green beans and pork potstickers from Trader Joe's and I make a salad for tomorrow's lunch. I top it off with more shredded carrots from my friend's farm. I settle in with dinner, my book, and a can of Kirkland sparkling water.
11 p.m. — After scrolling for too long on social media, I realize that it's way too late and I still need to get my sheets in the dryer and shower. I do my bedtime routine and get prepared for the next day. I'm in bed, with fresh sheets, by midnight.
Daily Total: $32

Day Four

6:30 a.m. — I wake up pretty refreshed but I still don't get out of bed until 7. I rush through my morning routine and barely make it to the bus on time. Fortunately, one of my favorite bus drivers is working today and he's really nice about me cutting it close. I meditate, catch the news, and struggle with Wordle while drinking my coffee.
8:30 a.m. — I get to the office and toast a bagel for breakfast.
9 a.m. — I check my bank accounts (I do this at least once a day but usually more) and I see that my HYSA collected $14.12 in interest this month. I can't believe I didn't switch to an HYSA earlier.
11:30 a.m. — While eating lunch and scrolling Instagram, I see that a friend of a friend's farm had enough produce for a winter CSA share. It's $100 for two deliveries of food that will include potatoes, daikon radishes, turnips, bok choy, cabbage, kale, squashes, and garlic. I can also add on a few sourdough bread loaves from my favorite local baker for $12. I've never gotten food from this farm before so I'm not sure how big the share will be. I go back and forth on whether this is a smart purchase but I decide to get it because the first delivery is this week and that means I won't have to go grocery shopping, and supporting women-owned farms feels right. $112
5:30 p.m. — I go to the gym after work and pay $0.25 to use a locker. $0.25
6:30 p.m. — After the gym, I meet up with a friend for dinner. We both get a vodka sauce pasta with shrimp and an IPA. My half with tip is $24.99. $24.99
9:30 p.m. — After I get home on the bus, I remember that I promised a friend I'd try to make it to his band's show. It's cold and dark and I just want to be at home, but I go to not let him down. I buy a Hamm's beer and tip and end up having a great time. $5.16
11:30 p.m. — I make it home and feel immediately ready for bed. I fly through my bedtime routine and fall asleep immediately.
Daily Total: $142.40

Day Five

8 a.m. — I wake up refreshed and check emails in bed for an hour.
10:30 a.m. — I make a late brunch of two eggs, broccoli, green beans and peppers that I eat while drinking coffee in front of my SAD lamp.
11:30 a.m. — I swipe onto the bus to get to work. This is normally a work-from-home day for me but I'm managing an event in the afternoon, so I need to be on site.
4 p.m. — I end work early after the event and head on down to the dive bar up the street to hang out with some friends. I have a burger, two ciders and a shot of whiskey over four hours of laughter and conversation together. With tip, my total is $26.54. $26.54
8 p.m. — I get on the bus, still reveling in how much fun I had hanging out with my people. Once home, I read my book with a can of sparkling water until I fall asleep on the couch.
Daily Total: $26.54

Day Six

9 a.m. — I wake up a bit confused on the couch. I make some coffee and a scramble of edamame, peppers, green beans, eggs, and two pieces of toast, which I eat while sitting in front of my SAD lamp.
12:30 p.m. — I head to my bartending gig for the first of two shows I'm working today. I drink some coffee and use my employee discount to buy a packet of chocolate-covered Oreos. $2.50
5 p.m. — I have a dinner break between shows so I go to a Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood and read my book at the bar. I'm just about finished with it now! I have two al pastor tacos, rice and beans, and a blueberry tamarind margarita. With tip, my total is $29.50. $29.50
6:15 p.m. — I work the second show and use my employee discount to buy a bag of popcorn for a snack. $3
11:30 p.m. — I clock out — it was a low bar sale day, so I made $47 in tips plus my $10/hour wage. When I get home, I notice a missed call from my dad. Turns out, my mom needed to go to the ER for complications with the flu. I live in a different state than them, so there's not much I can do practically. I stay up till 5 a.m. talking on and off with them until she's okay back at home.
Daily Total: $35

Day Seven

12 p.m. — I wake up, confirm that my mom is still doing okay, and doze for another two hours. Eventually, I get out of bed, and go pick up my CSA share. I get one loaf of sourdough bread, one acorn squash, five baby bok choy heads, three Brussels sprout stalks, three red lettuce heads, one green cabbage, a big bag of daikon radishes, a big bag of turnips, potatoes, a bunch of garlic, and a massive bag of kale leaves. Total is $56, paid for earlier.
3 p.m. — I finally make a pot of half-caf coffee and make a meal. I sauté kale, bok choy and turnips in ginger, garlic and gochujang with two eggs and two fresh pieces of sourdough toast. Farm-fresh vegetables really do taste so much better.
4:30 p.m. — I drop off a bag of kale and some potatoes from my CSA share at a friend's house (there's too much for me to eat alone!) and chat for a bit. I then drive down to the gym to run for my half-marathon training plan. I run for an hour and 20 minutes.
7:30 p.m. — I get home and make one of my all-time favorite comfort meals: kale pesto pasta with a bunch of CSA greens. It's perfect.
11:30 p.m. — Maybe my sleep schedule isn't as doomed as I thought it was going to be! I'm pretty tired, so I work through my bedtime routine, and fall asleep almost immediately.
Daily Total: $0
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