A Week In Arlington, VA, On A $57,000 Salary

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.
We're going on book tour for our new book, Money Diaries: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Your Finances... and Everyone Else's. Next stop: Brooklyn on Thursday, October 18! This event is free, but you can RSVP here!
Calling all entrepreneurs: We want to hear from you! If you’re a freelancer or self-employed, we’d love to feature your Money Diary. Submit here.
Advertisement
Today: an administrative assistant working in law who makes $57,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on candles for her daughter's birthday cupcakes.
Occupation: Administrative Assistant
Industry: Law
Age: 32
Location: Arlington, VA
Salary: $57,000
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,952
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,600 for a two-bedroom apartment I share with my daughter
Student Loan Payment: $207 (I was the first of eight kids to graduate from college and had zero financial support.)
Car Payment: $324 (I chose a shorter term loan so I could pay it off quicker, hence the high monthly payment.)
Credit Cards: $900 (I'm working on aggressively paying down credit card debt!)
Phone Bill: $40-$45
Internet: $40
Car Insurance: $101
After-School Care: $80 (I split the cost with M.'s dad.)
Hulu: $12 (I share my account with my cousin, who shares her Netflix with me.)
401(k): 3% (I'm trying to pay down debt before I save more aggressively.)
Dental Insurance: $48 (for my daughter and me)
Health Insurance: $36 (This is just for me — my daughter is on her dad's cheaper plan.)
Additional Expenses
Beachbody Annual Subscription: $99

Day One

7 a.m. — My daughter, M., and I roll out of bed and get ready. I slept absolutely terribly last night, mostly due to my child hogging my bed. We roll out the door and drive to her school, where her class is showcasing games they made. We play some rounds, and then I duck out to head to work. When I park in my office garage, it's $12 for the entire day. $12
9 a.m. — My boss is out, so I put out small fires in her absence. I make a free coffee in the office kitchen and eat my overnight oats — steel cut oats, frozen berries, chia seeds, a little maple syrup, and rice milk.
Advertisement
12 p.m. — I'm in love with this particular salad from Sweetgreen, and yesterday I had the epiphany that I could make it at home for much less money. Last night I bought all the ingredients (arugula, fake chicken strips, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, quinoa, parmesan, and pesto) and prepped the salads for the rest of the week. It tastes the same and is honestly better than the other gross things I tend to prep for lunches (and then don't eat). I finish lunch with a hot green tea from the office kitchen.
5 p.m. — I fly out of work and fight traffic to pick up M. from extended care by the 6 p.m. deadline. We stop by Giant Food and pick up the lentils and curry powder I forgot to get yesterday. I make red lentil dal and Bombay potatoes for dinner. She does chores and her homework while I make dinner, and then showers and reads while I clean up. $5.42
8 p.m. — M. is tucked in her bed, and I am completely beat from lack of sleep last night. I take a quick bath, do my skin routine (hyaluronic acid serum, Curology, eye cream), and read for a bit before I knock TF out.
Daily Total: $17.42

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — Wake up pretty rested! M. brushes her teeth and gets dressed and then we're out the door to catch her bus — she'll eat breakfast at school today. I walk back to our apartment and snooze on the couch for 20 minutes before getting ready for work. Traffic is light today and I get to work in no time. I park in the garage. $12
Advertisement
9:30 a.m. — Enjoy office coffee and my overnight oats — same standard recipe that I eat every damn day. It fills me up and tastes good, so I don't try to fix what's not broken.
12 p.m. — Same salad as yesterday!
1:30 p.m. — Finally head to my office building's gym. I had food poisoning last weekend and haven't felt up to working out this week yet. The gym has great equipment and is free to building tenants! I do a few minutes on the bike and then a new workout that just came out from Beachbody.
2:30 p.m. — Return to my desk and snack on edamame I keep in the office freezer. Then I order a pair of Spanx and leggings on my Nordstrom card. $50.28
5 p.m. — Out of work. My daughter is having dinner with her dad tonight, so I head straight home. I heat up leftovers from last night's dinner and watch a few episode of Shameless. Someone from Freecycle stops by to pick up the records my aunt bequeathed me when she moved recently. My mom and I both picked out what we wanted and there were still three crates leftover! I'm happy someone is picking them up from my front door so I don't have to break my back lugging them downstairs to my car and then the thrift store. I'm even more happy to have the floor space back.
8 p.m. — M. is home from her dad's. She takes a quick shower and gets ready for bed. I finish unpacking the Ziploc Space Bag of winter clothes that's been on her floor all week, and sort out the summer items from her closet to store. I wash dishes and pick up, make overnight oats for tomorrow, and zone out on my phone before bed.
Daily Total: $62.28

Day Three

7 a.m. — It's Friday! M. is presenting her board game at her weekly school-wide meeting, so we pick out a cute outfit and get ready for the day.
8:30 a.m. — She did so well! She was really nonchalant about the whole thing, but I could tell she was nervous once she was up there. I am so proud of her! I give her a quick hug and tell her so before I head to work.
9:15 a.m. — Office coffee and overnight oats, yum! I pay my phone bill and send M.'s dad the video from her presentation while getting caffeinated. Work is slow, so I make a list of items I need to buy for my daughter's sleepover birthday party tomorrow night. I ask her dad to help and pick up balloons, but his communication and planning skills are zero, so we'll see.
12 p.m. — Same salad! I mixed all the ingredients in meal prep containers, except for the arugula until it's time to eat, so it still tastes fresh.
1:30 p.m. — Head to the gym and do a quick 30 minutes on the bike.
5 p.m. — Leave work, pay for parking ($12), and pick my daughter up from school. We head to Target and get cleaning supplies, MadLibs, and popcorn ($26.52), then Aldi for baking supplies, cheap wine, ice cream, eggs, blueberries, oranges, carrots, broccoli, celery, ranch dressing, cheese, and crackers ($29.57), plus cash back for laundry quarters. $68.09
6:45 p.m. — I make pasta and heat up frozen broccoli for a quick, easy dinner, and then pop open wine, and we get cozy on the couch for Friday movie night. After she goes to bed I hang up the cute Happy Birthday banners I got — she'll be surprised in the morning!
Daily Total: $68.09

Day Four

8 a.m. — Cereal and coffee and more coffee — lots to do today! I throw ingredients for split pea soup in the Crock-Pot for lunch, and get started baking carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. My daughter helps and gets to lick the frosting beaters. I sort laundry and clean the kitchen while they bake.
10:30 a.m. — Throw the laundry in the car, along with items to donate that have been crowding my closet. Swing through the Goodwill donation line and then head over to the laundromat. I buy quarters with the $10 cash I got yesterday. The laundromat is crowded, but it beats using my apartment complex's laundry room. Beating my clothes on rocks in the Potomac River would be better than using my apartment complex's laundry room. $10
11:45 a.m. — Laundry is done, and we are hangry! I don't think the soup will be ready when we get home, so we go for the rare treat and stop by McDonald's for junk food ($8.02). Then we stop by Giant on our way home for maple syrup, which I couldn't find yesterday, and birthday candles ($8.92). $16.94
12:30 p.m. — Home and time to get ready for the party! We put laundry away, clean the bathroom, vacuum, decorate with streamers, and frost the cupcakes. I only half-cry because my baby is now turning nine. Her dad texts that he isn't going to make it; whatever. I find balloons in my party supply stash and blow them up.
6 p.m. — Sleepover begins! Five eight- and nine-year-olds! What was I thinking!
12:30 a.m. — Girls are finally asleep. I cannot hang, and pass out immediately.
Daily Total: $26.94

Day Five

6 a.m. — I'm awaken to giggles and the pitter patter of elephant feet. Sigh. I tell them it's too early and go back to sleep.
7 a.m. — Girls are up for good. I make blueberry pancakes and eggs for breakfast while they watch a Planet Earth episode. After breakfast, we pack up all their sleeping bags and overnight bags, and they plan a talent show while we wait for their parents. They are all picked up by 9:30 a.m., after which I put on a movie for my daughter and lay down with her on the couch. We both immediately fall asleep.
1 p.m. — Heat up the soup we didn't eat yesterday, and make a couple tomato sandwiches for lunch. I do dishes and clean up while she writes thank you notes for her presents. Then I start cutting out the fabric pieces for her Halloween costume — my mom has an entire craft room and tons of fabric, and mailed me most of the fabric I needed for the costume. Cutting out the pattern pieces is the easy part — hopefully I'll find the motivation to start assembling it later this week!
5 p.m. — Freezer pizza and leftover cupcakes for dinner!
8:30 p.m. — M.'s dad picks her up to go to his house for the week. I text with my brother, do more dishes, and zone out on Instagram before going to bed at midnight.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

7:45 a.m. — Hit snooze for about an hour before finally getting out of bed. I am still exhausted from Saturday night. I take a quick shower, iron my hair, put on makeup, and pack my gym bag. Since I don't have to pick my daughter up from school, I take the Metro, which is considerably cheaper than driving and parking, using my prepaid transit card.
9:30 a.m. — Get to work and sip cold brew from the kitchen. I brought overnight oats but I don't eat them, and instead have a V8 from the kitchen.
11 a.m. — A recruiter reached out to me last week about a position I'm interested in. I have a phone screening with the firm this morning, and I think it goes well. It's similar to what I'm currently doing, but more specified and a higher salary. Hopefully I'll hear something about next steps soon.
1 p.m. — I didn't bring anything for lunch today, so I grab leftovers from a catered lunch meeting.
2 p.m. — I hear from the recruiter — they liked me and want me to come for an in-person later this week! I hope my interview suit still fits, since I definitely don't have the funds to by a new one right now.
5 p.m. — Head home on the Metro. I heat up leftover pizza for dinner and prep a quinoa salad (quinoa, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, dill, , olives) and snacks for tomorrow. I have an Airbnb guest checking in on Wednesday, but I have plans tomorrow night, so I get the place ready tonight. I deep clean my bedroom and bathroom and move all my stuff into my daughter's bedroom, where I'll sleep.
9 p.m. — Start reading one of the five library books on my nightstand, Killers of the Flower Moon. I have a hard time falling asleep, and toss and turn until about 12:30 a.m.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — Up and at ‘em. I do my hair and makeup while listening to My Favorite Murder. I really should have washed my hair last night.
9 a.m. — It's warm and humid, and I arrive to work looking like a sweaty mess. I have iced cold brew and my overnight oats.
12 p.m. — I have some of the quinoa salad I made last night along with hummus and carrots that I brought from home. I check my budgeting spreadsheet and stress about upcoming finances, which will be tight now that tourism season is over, and my Airbnb reservations have slowed down. I feel like I'm stuck in a never-ending loop of paying debt and getting nowhere.
1:30 p.m. — Head to the gym for a few miles of HIIT on the bike and strength training.
6 p.m. — Going to see the play Born Yesterday at Ford's Theater with my work bestie — I won the tickets earlier this year at a charity event. She understands I'm tight on money right now, so we brought dinner to eat on the office building rooftop instead of going out before the show. I have some more of my quinoa salad, with clementines and cheese and crackers. We take the Metro to the theater, and she buys me a glass of wine before the show.
10 p.m. — Play is done — it was really good! It was written in the '40s, so I think it was more politically relevant then. But the actors and stage set were amazing, and we really enjoyed it. Plus, it's always cool to visit such a historic building. My coworker takes an Uber home, while I get on the Metro. It takes forever to get home. I immediately shower and get into bed — I'm exhausted!
Daily Total: $0
Money Diaries are meant to reflect individual women's experiences and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.
The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.
Have a Money Diary you'd like to share? Right now, in addition to our ongoing diaries, we're looking for potential diarists along the following theme:
Your Spending In Your State: We want to run one Money Diary from a different state each week. Want to rep your state? Submit here! In particular, we're looking for diaries from Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Mississippi.
Have you been working for at least 8 years and seen your salary increase or fluctuate? If so, fill out this form for a chance to be featured on our Salary Story series!
Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here: r29.co/mdfaqs

More from Work & Money

Watch

R29 Original Series