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A Week In Chicago, IL, On A $61,000 Salary

Photo: Courtesy of REI.
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 media manager who makes $61,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on compression socks.
Occupation: Media Manager
Industry: Media
Age: 36
Location: Chicago, IL
Salary: $61,000
Net Worth: ~$230,500 (my house is worth $350,000 and I owe $125,000. My car is worth $30,000 and I owe $20,000. I have $3,000 in checking, $6,000 in an emergency fund, $5,000 in fun savings, $500 in a HYSA I opened last week, $2,000 in an Acorns investment account, $10,000 in I-bonds. I have $20,000 in my 401(k). I also owe $50,000 on my student loans. My husband, W., and I don't have combined finances. We split bills in proportion to our incomes. He makes roughly 30% more than me. He usually picks up the larger and more expensive purchases in our lives since I still have student loan debt and a car loan. His grad school loans were forgiven because of his years in public service. I keep a running tally of our rough household budget each month and W. sends me his portion of it on the first of the month. We find this easier than trying to Zelle each other exactly 64% of whatever the electric bill is this month).
Debt: $125,000 mortgage, $20,000 car, $50,000 student loans.
Paycheck Amount (2x month): $1,600 (after health insurance, dental, 401(k)).
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,070 (I picked up my fixer-upper when the market was low in 2009 and I have no regrets. W. lived in a small condo so he sold it and moved into my house with the yard. He used some of the money from the sale of his condo to pay for our wedding ($20,000) and he bought us each an I-bond valued at $10,000 with the rest).
Car Payment: $500
Student Loan Payment: $550 (I overpay).
Savings: $300
Acorns: $5
Water: $70
Electric: $100-$200
Gas: $50-$150
Cell Phone: $165 (I pay for my dad and me).
HBO Max: free with my cell phone plan.
Paramount+: $5 (W. subscribes to Hulu, Netflix and Disney+, and we trade).
Newspapers: $25
Internet: $70
Gym: $80
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 was good at school. However my parents didn't go to college, so they would have been open to me pursuing something different if that was what I wanted. I didn't have any better ideas and I got a scholarship to cover my undergrad so I went. I did have to take out a student loan my senior year because my dad lost his job and I gave my parents my scholarship money ($3,000) to live on.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents rarely talked to me about money. We got to go to the movies once a month and we'd order pizza every Friday. We didn't take extravagant vacations but we'd always rent a cabin in Wisconsin or Michigan in the summer. My parents shared a car for the longest time. We lived in a pretty rough neighborhood so I was always aware of how much we had, even though we were just lower-to-middle middle class. My dad lost his job in the Great Recession and my parents burned through their savings over the next year. I moved back in with them for grad school and started contributing to their household expenses. I bought their groceries and I tried to pay half their mortgage.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started working summers at a bank when I was 16. I was mostly just saving up for gas money and fun money. I also worked on the maintenance and cleaning crew at my high school. I got my first full-time job after college as a data analyst and I used it to support myself and my parents when I was in grad school.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Nope. I knew my parents weren't going to be able to pay for me to go to college and the car they bought me when I turned 16 was probably less than $2,000 but all my needs and some of my wants were met, and I didn't worry.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes. When my parents hit that rough financial patch, it took out their savings. Then my mom had some health problems and had to stop working, and her medical bills were terrible. They spent their 401(k)s on medical debt. I opened credit cards and gave them to my parents to use for daily expenses. It took me until I was 32 to pay it all off.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
In some ways, at age 20. But I was living in my parents' house and they were still shouldering the bulk of the household expenses. When I became a homeowner myself was when I became fully responsible for everything. I do have a safety net now: my husband, who makes more than me and has a lot of savings and has been very diligent about building his 401(k). My dad would also let me live with him or do anything he could to help me, though he's retired and has little savings.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Day One

8:15 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm. My husband, W., gets up around 7. His vibrating wristwatch alarm was $20 on Amazon, a small price to pay for saving our marriage. I scroll through social media before my want for coffee compels me to get up. W. hears me coming and meets me in the kitchen. If he isn't in a meeting, he will usually make me coffee, since he's been awake and functioning for some time when I show up and I'm usually extremely not awake and very nonfunctional. I ask for an almond milk latte and he whips it up while I do my bathroom routine and change into my workout clothes.
8:45 a.m. — I hit the treadmill and catch up on work emails and Slack. I have a meeting with my old department today. I recently took a promotion in another department to escape a toxic manager. I miss my coworkers but I got a raise and no one throws shade at me in emails. I've noticed ways our departments could work together way more efficiently so I called a meeting last week to explore that. I walk two miles and then get dressed for work. I eat a banana while I prep for the meeting.
11:45 a.m. — The meeting went well! My ideas were well received and my colleagues had other great ideas. I heat up a leftover turkey meatloaf muffin. I call them meatloaf cupcakes when I frost them with mashed potatoes but this time I just made roasted potatoes on the side. W. spidey-senses food and shows up so I heat him up a plate too. While I eat, I start researching a biography subject for the script I'm writing.
5 p.m. — Done for the day! I want to get dinner going because I have a freelance assignment due tomorrow. I throw together a Southwest-inspired chopped salad. I add a bag of spinach to a bag of mixed greens, throw in shredded carrots and heat up frozen fire-roasted corn, black beans and brown rice. I divide everything between two bowls and top it with cherry tomatoes, avocado, crumbled tortilla chips and cheddar. W. takes his to play a video game and I eat while watching the White Sox lose. After dinner, W. cleans the kitchen. I start editing medical journal articles. I make an additional $300 to $500 per month as a freelance editor and writer.
9:15 p.m. — W. brings me a mug of green tea and some water. I am halfway through a terrifying article on deep vein thrombosis and I fall down a rabbit hole about the merits of compression socks. We're flying to Switzerland next summer because W. is presenting at a conference. I'm tagging along because it's a mostly free European vacation (we just had to pay for my flight and the two nights in the hotel we added on at the end. W paid for this). I finish the articles and turn them in! I also send an invoice to cover today's work and the hours I did earlier in the week. I'll probably set aside some of these earnings to throw at my quarterly estimated tax payments. I did not do this last year and I owed $1,200 at tax time, ouch.
11:15 p.m. — W. and I cuddle on the couch and watch an episode of The Flash. I order us each a pair of compression socks from REI ($56). I use my dad's REI account so I get free shipping and he gets rewards points. Lights out after the episode ends. $56
Daily Total: $56

Day Two

8 a.m. — It's Friday! Why am I awake so early? My job is deadline-oriented so no one cares when I start, within reason. I stumble downstairs. W. pops out of his office to kiss me. I request a pot of coffee; it's going to be a long day! I head for the shower while it brews. I decide I don't have enough energy to dry my hair so I add some curl cream and hope for the best as I settle into work.
11 a.m. — My dad comes over and brings me coffee and a blueberry muffin from Dunkin'! He stops by for lunch or coffee a few times a week. We drink our coffees and catch up, and he tells me he liked the meatloaf muffins I sent home with him. Yay! Since my mom died, I try to make my dad some meals like meatloaf that he'd never bother to make for himself. My dad eats a lot of simple meals — think scrambled eggs and toast, pancakes from a mix, canned soups and sandwiches. He is also very active: he wanders out to my yard to fill my bird feeders and the next thing I know, he's up a ladder trimming my apple trees and raking up the leaves in my garden.
1 p.m. — I make a smoothie bowl: frozen banana, raspberries and cauliflower (undetectable but great for bulking the bowl up), plus spinach, almond milk and collagen powder. I top it with more berries and granola. W. makes himself two turkey sandwiches and polishes off the last of the hummus and carrots so I add that to the grocery list I keep on my phone. I go back to staring at this script and hoping it will write itself. I grab a piece of a Dove dark chocolate bar. My dad waves at me when he leaves.
4 p.m. — My script did not, in fact, write itself. I eat the rest of the chocolate bar and give up on work for the week. W., who is usually done with work around 4, is unloading the dishwasher. He sweeps the kitchen and then heads to the gym. I'm making pork piccata and fettuccine with roasted cauliflower tonight, which is one of his favorite things.
6 p.m. — W. is home, dinner is ready. We watch the Cubs lose while we eat. We open a bottle of wine. After dinner, W. loads the dishwasher and then we snuggle on the couch with the wine and watch two episodes of The Old Man. We pause so W. can google spoilers regarding the welfare of the dogs before we decide to proceed.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

9 a.m. — I wake up feeling great. W. is already awake so we cuddle and discuss our plans for the day. My friend and her daughter are coming over to make cookies this afternoon. W. is going to dinner with some of our other friends later. I declined because I have some freelance work to do. Also, I just want some downtime. W. makes us each an espresso and once we're done with them, we head to the gym. I lift weights, use the rowing machine and elliptical a few miles. I like to listen to podcasts while I work out and I'm obsessed with The Coldest Case in Laramie. I've been to that part of Wyoming and I think the host does a great job of capturing the slightly Wild West aspects of the town.
11:30 a.m. — We get home from the gym and my dad arrives so I make us all scrambled eggs, toast and turkey sausages before I jump in the shower. W. loads the dishwasher. I set out all the ingredients and equipment for the cookies before my friend and her daughter arrive. My dad and W. greet them and then flee from the giggling to the garage. The first batch of peanut butter cookies goes in an hour later.
4 p.m. — We have made and eaten many, many cookies. My friends leave and I load the dishwasher, wipe the counters and sweep up the flour, then I settle on the couch to watch the baseball game.
6 p.m. — I start prepping minestrone soup. I fish a parmesan rind and some turkey meatballs out of my freezer — yum! I chop all the veg and leave it to simmer. I make a serving of pasta separately. W. has a gluten allergy and I know he'll want leftover soup. The pasta just absorbs all the broth anyway. W. kisses me goodbye and heads out to the brewery for dinner. I eat two bowls of soup and decide I will have a glass of wine with my freelance work.
10 p.m. — I'm done with work! I start an episode of The Blacklist. W. gets home and skedaddles to play some video games while I finish my episode, then he comes back and catches me up on what's going on with our friends before we call it a night.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

8:20 a.m. — My alarm wakes us for yoga. I get up to do my hair and put together snacks while W. snoozes. I realize we're running low on cat supplies so I place an order for food for our cats, my dad's cat and the stray cats my dad feeds (we work with the local humane society). I spend $408 and I hope it will last the month. I make a matcha almond milk latte for myself and an espresso for W. when he wakes up. We leave for yoga with snacks, mats and water. $408
9:20 a.m. — We do yoga at a brewery. The cost ($20) includes a beer after class. We have a great group of yoga friends. We all bring snacks. Today we bring plantain chips and salsa. After the yoga class I get a wheat beer, W. gets a fruit sour and we each tip $1. Our friends bring fruit and cheese. They even remember GF crackers for W.! He orders a second beer and he buys me a second one. We end up at the pizza place next door and each get a small pizza. W. pays for this too. He usually buys our "outside food" and I buy our groceries. He was spending a lot on groceries and takeout when we met because he doesn't like to cook but he likes to eat. I worked as a chef and I love to cook so this works for us. I also buy my dad's groceries. I spend $500 on groceries each month for the three of us. I'm lucky that W. doesn't blink if I make a quiche one night and dan dan noodles the next. $21
2:45 p.m. — I stop for gas ($36) on the way home. I basically only drive to the grocery store and to yoga so I probably only fill up once a month. $36
4 p.m. — I write another few hundred words of that article. Mostly I mess around on my phone. I heat up leftover minestrone and toast some bread (sourdough for me, GF for W.) for dinner. I heap a mound of parmesan on top. W. takes his and heads to his weekly video game meet with his friends. I watch a few episodes of The Blacklist and we go to bed together when he's done playing around 11.
Daily Total: $465

Day Five

7 a.m. — I wake up when W. wakes up. The silent vibrating alarm does not help when I am sleeping with my face on his arm, haha. Since I am awake, I am feeling bad about some work things I didn't get done Friday so I dive right in. W. makes us each an espresso. I add a generous amount of toasted marshmallow creamer to mine because Monday.
9:15 a.m. — Okay, that's better. I've sent drafts to the right people and I feel like I'm caught up. I change into my workout clothes and I go for a three-mile run because the sun is actually shining. After, I hop in the shower and emerge hungry. W. walks by eating leftover pizza from his Saturday night and I resist the urge to jump him and steal his leftovers. I eat a banana while I try to figure out what to eat for real. I slice up some cheese and crackers and an apple and a pear.
10:30 a.m. — I dry my hair and put on nice work clothes (green sweater, dark jeans, earrings) and even swipe on some lipstick for my afternoon of meetings. I make a second cup of coffee and send a lot of emails. I ask three different people how to best go about starting my new project, which I'm totally unfamiliar with from a technical perspective, and I receive three wildly different answers. Great. I make another cup of coffee and sulk while checking my personal email and my bank accounts and my dad's bank accounts. My mom used to manage their finances so I took it over. I taught my dad how to access everything online but he has no interest so instead I just tell him his balances weekly.
12 p.m. — I attempt the project following my boss's instructions, even though they're the most complex. Because hey, she's my boss, right? But after an hour, I email a fourth person and she offers to walk me through how to do this thing on Zoom. It turns out the simple way is fine and I get into a groove that my next meeting interrupts. After the meetings are finally done, I take my water bottle and go sit on the patio for a while to decompress.
4:15 p.m. — I start chopping carrots, potatoes, peppers and onions for dinner. I'm making tofu jalfrezi later. I find chopping giant piles of vegetables relaxing. Don't even get me started on pulling leaves off herb stems. I throw the vegetables in a bowl in the fridge and dive back into the project. I look up long enough to wave at W. as he heads to the gym and then comes back from the gym. At that point, my new project is more than 10% complete! I feel good about it. I am not feeling good about the tofu I forgot to thaw, so now dinner is chickpea jalfrezi, which, honestly, I'm not mad at.
7:30 p.m. — I pour myself a glass of rosé while I cook. W. unloads the dishwasher. I microwave a bag of cauliflower rice and stir in some chopped parsley and peas to go with it. (W. is cilantro-averse. I find this more inconvenient than his gluten intolerance.) We eat in the living room and discuss our workdays, both of which were very Monday-y.
9 p.m. — W. goes to buy dirt and mulch and grass seed for the yard. The total is $42 and he pays. I clean the kitchen and pretend to do some freelance writing but mostly I just watch a Cubs game. They win! I order some hair dye on Amazon ($14). I fall for an Eddie Bauer marketing email offering me free shipping and I check the clearance section and find a nice lightweight hoodie in my size, in a color I don't despise, for $20, so I buy it immediately. Then I actually do an hour of freelance work before W. and I watch an hour of Hulu. Lights out at midnight and I have trouble falling asleep. I open the window and the fresh air and street noise help calm me down. $34
Daily Total: $34

Day Six

8 a.m. — I am awake on purpose. I have an orthopedic appointment in the 'burbs. My job lets me take an hour of sick time for doctors' appointments, which I'm grateful for, especially since my old job at the same company does not allow that. W. makes me an almond milk latte while I get dressed and I take it in my to-go mug to my appointment. I check in, pay the copay ($40) and fill out paperwork. They start with X-rays of my knee and the doctor pokes around a bit. She tells me that I have cartilage damage (expected) and a tilted kneecap (unexpected). She prescribes me a knee brace, muscle relaxants and six weeks of physical therapy. I spy a Starbucks next door and I get a grande iced shaken espresso (free, I have a gift card) and drive home with the windows down. The sun is shining and I'm feeling good. $40
10:30 a.m. — I eat a banana and yogurt and granola and catch up on work. I warn my boss that I'll be using my lunch hour twice a week for physical therapy for the next few weeks. I call my insurance company and I'm happy to find out it will only cost me $13 a session after insurance, phew! I schedule the first appointment for next Thursday afternoon. I see W. has cleaned the kitchen and started the laundry on his lunch and I am grateful.
1 p.m. — Work is going great today. I think the coffee and sunshine helped my motivation. I take my laptop onto the patio for a while and I eat a PB&J for lunch. I make it on some sunflower seed honey whole wheat bread I baked and froze a while ago, yum.
5 p.m. — Today is easy sheet-pan dinner day. I toss jalapeño cheddar sausages and brussels sprouts and cauliflower on a sheet pan with oil and throw it in the oven on low so it will be ready around the time W. gets home from the gym in an hour. After we eat, we sit outside and plan our garden for the year. I have already started our tomato and pepper seedlings and I'm getting really excited.
Daily Total: $40

Day Seven

9:15 a.m. — Yay, I finally sleep in! I immediately change into my workout clothes. I make a quick espresso and drink it before W. even realizes I'm awake and then I go run three miles. When I'm home and showered, I dive into work with a protein smoothie with mango, carrots, shredded coconut, protein powder, cauliflower and almond milk.
12:15 p.m. — On Wednesdays I go to the grocery store on my lunch hour because the week's sales start on Wednesdays here and I plan our meals based on what's on sale that week, usually. For my dad, I get bread, milk, eggs, ice cream, soup and crackers. W. and I are going to a picnic tomorrow evening and a tapas party this weekend so our list is geared toward that: several cheeses, crackers, tortilla chips, salsas, bean dip, grapes, berries, sliced turkey, prosciutto, carrots and hummus. I also grab beets, cauliflower, rice, soup, a frozen pizza, yogurt, almond milk, berries, spinach, peanut butter cups, sparkling water and a giant spiral-cut ham on clearance that I'm very excited about (the total is $126 for our stuff and my dad's stuff, which I pay for). I drop my dad's groceries off, he gives me a cup of coffee in a to-go mug and I head home with it. W. meets me and helps me unload and put everything away. $126
2:45 p.m. — I make a turkey sandwich and a cup of baked potato soup I just bought from the deli. I have a video script I want to finish today.
6 p.m. — Almost done! I grab a beer to enjoy with my final edits and send this thing off to my boss for comments. She's usually gone by 5 so I don't expect feedback today and I'm going to try not to check my email obsessively. W. makes us boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner, a thing we both still totally love. He adds some frozen broccoli to his portion because he's better at being an adult. He sees me making faces at it and leaves my bowl plain because he understands me.
7:30 p.m. — Movie night! I catch up with my grad school friends once a week for a virtual movie night, a tradition we started at the beginning of the pandemic. We've watched more than 100 movies together. We take turns choosing a movie. I make a bag of popcorn. W. disappears to play video games. He comes back to mooch popcorn and grab a beer from the fridge. After the movie, W. and I vent about work for a while and call it a night early.
Daily Total: $126
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