A Week In The Bay Area On A $44,000 Salary

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennial women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar. (Thanks, New York mag, for the inspiration.)

Today, a single mom, working as a substitute teacher, making flower crowns on the side, and consuming quite a lot of hot sauce.
Industry: Education and floral. I'm in school to eventually become a guidance counselor, and recently got a long-term sub gig. On the side, I do freelance floral work for a group of pretty loyal clients.
Age: 24
Location: San Mateo County
Salary: $44K plus about $10k for freelance floral and other side/summer jobs
Paycheck (every two weeks): I technically get paid a daily rate, so sometimes there are holidays or three-day weekends that I don't get paid for. On average, my checks end up being about $1,300 after taxes.
# of roommates: one (my kid: a 1-and-a-half-year-old)

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $2,400. I live in a three-bedroom house that has a pretty low rent compared to the rest of my town; according to my recent search on Zillow, my rent is about $1k under the going rate.
Utilities (gas, electric, water, garbage): $250
Cable & Internet: $60
Car Insurance: $53
Phone Bill: $120
Health Insurance: $165
Childcare: $400 a month (The total is $800/month, split evenly with my son's dad)
Savings: Anywhere from $500 to $2,000, depending on the month

Day One

4 a.m. — I've been picking up extra floral work because I didn't have work this week due to spring break, which for normal teachers on salary isn't as big of a deal, but I'm a long-term sub paid a daily rate. I go to the flower market to pick up material for some flower crowns I'm making for a birthday party, to make up for my losses. I have specific vendors I go to, with whom I've developed relationships, so I get some freebie bundles of greens to go with flowers I buy. $115 10 a.m. — Thanks to the day off, I can get my grocery shopping done early. I always shop on Fridays because Safeway has more deals on Fridays. I try to buy essentials that can last through the month as well as dinners for the week. Most of what I buy is on sale or store-brand to save money. I end up buying: bagels, 1 gallon of milk, 1 carton of eggs, a small container of cream cheese, string cheese, cran-mango juice and cran-apple juice (two for $4), 2 cans of frozen lemonade, 1 rotisserie chicken (on sale for $5), 1 bag of potatoes, 3 zucchinis, 4 large carrots (cheaper to cut up than buying baby carrots!), a large pre-washed container of baby arugula, 3 apples, a bundle of bananas, 1 package bacon, 1 tube chorizo, a value pack of chicken breasts (these usually last about a month), a value pack of ground beef (this lasts about 2 weeks), the cheapest (and subsequently the smallest) package of flank steak, corn tortillas, pasta, Safeway brand pasta sauce (garlic and herb is the best-tasting one), a liter of Tapatío (I go through so much, it's cheaper to buy the biggest bottle, which usually lasts about a month), Cheerios, 1 family-size box of Cheez-Its, and "Tuxedos" (off-brand Oreos). Total: $135 12 p.m. — I split a bagel with my 1-year-old. We also share some cut-up carrots and Cheez-Its with peanut butter. I drink tap water; he has milk. 4 p.m. — I rip a hole in the thigh of my last pair of leggings. A great reason to go to the mall, where I can get a soft pretzel I've been craving. At the mall I buy: 2 pairs of leggings, 1 pack of socks, 5 pairs of underwear, a small lemonade, a soft pretzel, and a pack of gum (food was $10, including tip). Total: $85 7 p.m. — For dinner I have chorizo, scrambled eggs, and potatoes with avocado slices. I make a big pan full that lasts the two of us a good three days of leftovers. 10 p.m. — I watch Wild on HBO and eat popcorn. I always have a couple bags of kernels that I can air-pop at home, which is much cheaper than microwave and lasts way longer! I also drink some merlot that I have had in my kitchen for awhile.

Daily Total: $335

Day Two

7 a.m. — For breakfast I have leftover dinner with a piece of toast and water. Breakfast for dinner is great because leftovers become literal breakfast. 1 p.m. — I've been making flower crowns all morning, so I'm craving a burger. I go to my local greasy spoon and pick up a burger, fries, and iced tea to recharge. $13

5 p.m. — I can't tell if I'm breaking out more this week because of stress, hormones, or the fact that I started taking Biotin (an $8 bottle bought the week before this), but I flee to Rite Aid and grab my favorite spot treatment (Neutrogena Rapid Gel), a macadamia-oil hair mask, and a pack of hair ties. $17 7 p.m. — For dinner, I make lime chicken tacos. I make tacos a lot because they're versatile and cheap. 9 p.m. — I buy a book I needed for school (I work in schools full-time and then also go to school part-time) that I forgot to buy earlier this month. $75 Daily Total: $105

Day Three

6 a.m. — We finish off our chorizo-egg-potato leftovers in mini breakfast burritos. 8 a.m. — I pack my car with flower crowns and extra flowers to head towards the party I'm delivering them to. I have to stop to get gas. I get enough to last through the first few days of work after the weekend ends, too. I hate stopping for gas before work in weekday traffic. $15 10 a.m. — I teach my client how to fix any flower crowns that could break. She gives me a piece of cake, which I pretend to not really want but then scarf down in my car (oops). She also pays me $375 for the flower crowns and delivery. 12 p.m. — Making up for that cake by eating a salad made with ingredients at home. 3 p.m. — I stop at the liquor store and buy a can of Coke after "Mommy and Me Storytime" at the library. Cold cokes are my favorite migraine cure. $1 5 p.m. — I eat a granola bar and some cashews at home. 7 p.m. — For dinner, I make some Cuban mojo steak, a recipe from a new cookbook I got. I had to run to the store to pick up oranges, limes, lemons, and black beans. $11 10 p.m. — I impulsively rent Celine Dion's concert movie on-demand and eat off-brand Oreos while I watch it. $5

Daily Total: $32

Day Four

6 a.m. — Spring break is over, which means I'm back to a more steady income via my long-term sub gig. I go to my favorite deli and pick up their morning special: a bagel with butter and a small hot chocolate. $3 10 a.m. — It's my prep period. Unfortunately, now that I don't work in tech* I also don't get my snacks for free. I buy a bag of pretzels from the vending machine. $2
12 p.m. — For lunch, I brought leftover steak sliced up in a salad. I buy an apple juice from the vending machine. $2 4 p.m. — I pick up diapers and St. Ives apricot scrub (my forever ride-or-die holy grail since sixth grade) at Rite Aid. I use my Plenti points, which give me a discount plus $2 off. Since the St. Ives was on sale (buy one, get one half-off), I stock up and buy two. I know in a couple months I'll be glad I did. $19 7 p.m. — For dinner, I cook some ground beef and baby arugula with the store-brand pasta sauce I bought. I cut it with water to make a jar last for two dinners. I top it all with various seasonings and throw in some pasta water from the pasta I'm boiling to thicken it up. 11 p.m. — I eat half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while making my to-do list for the week. Daily Total: $26

Day Five

7 a.m. — I eat a toast, scrambled egg, and Tapatío sandwich, and iced tea I made at home. 10 a.m. — I eat my lunch (leftover pasta from last night, plus a salad) during my prep period because I'm starving. I know I'll be paying for that when actual lunchtime comes around. 12 p.m. — Yep, paying for it. I buy a bag of pretzels, a bag of Sun Chips, and an apple juice from the vending machines. $6 2 p.m. — The baseball team at the school is selling candy. I have two players in my last class. I buy a bar from each of them. $6 4 p.m. — My white-board markers constantly disappear, so I have to go to Target and buy some more. I technically don't have to buy my own teacher supplies, but I work in a low-funded school district that often doesn't have the best things readily available. I re-up on white-board markers and pens, plus some extra "incentive" things, like pencils and sticker sheets, to keep the kids motivated. I also buy a ball (for the baby, not for my students). $38

5 p.m. — I go to my favorite farm stand and pick up 2 avocados, an apple, 6 limes, and 6 flavored honey sticks. I try to buy produce at farm stands as much as I can because they're so close and way cheaper, plus support local farms. $9 + $1 donation to the farm. Total $10

7 p.m. — I go to the weekly all-you-can-eat salad-and-pizza buffet with friends. A friend pays for me, but I pay for my three glasses of wine and $5 worth of arcade games (I won a prize for my baby out of the claw machine, so totally worth it.) $20

Daily Total: $80

Day Six

6 a.m. — I re-up on gas. Again, I only go to the place that gives you a 10-cent-per-gallon discount when you go in and pay cash. 10 cents adds up! $18 10 a.m. — I eat a scrambled egg, avocado, and Tapatío taco that I packed from home. 12 p.m. — For lunch, I have a bowl of chicken, zucchini, brown rice, arugula, avocado, and yes, obviously, Tapatío that I bring from home. 3 p.m. — I buy Nancy Jo Sales' book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. I've loved Nancy Jo Sales since she wrote the Vanity Fair piece on the Bling Ring in the 2000s, and social media and the minds of teen girls have always been so fascinating to me. $13 7 p.m. — Sometimes, a girl doesn't want to cook — even though she has a house full of groceries. I pick up a three-item combo plate at my favorite cash-only Chinese spot. I get chow mein, honey garlic chicken, steamed veggies, and spicy beef. This is so much food, I can split with the baby and still have leftovers. I also get a 7-Up. $9
7:30 p.m. — I go to my local wine store that specializes in great wines that don't break the bank. I go with a recommendation from the owner and get a bottle of Russian River Pinot noir. $22 9 p.m. — I eat the rest of my Chinese, drink some of the wine, and watch Scandal while I do a pearl sheet mask I got a couple weeks ago.

Daily Total: $62

Day Seven

6 a.m. — I smush some avocado and scrambled egg into a tortilla for breakfast. 10 a.m. — I make use of my birthday-month free gift from Sephora online (Marc Jacobs lipstick and eyeliner minis!) and buy the Belif moisturizer I’ve been wanting since I tried a sample six months ago. I wish I could get more products, but resist the urge to splurge. $30 12 p.m. — I eat cold chow mein leftovers (my favorite) for lunch. Chow mein gets so much better after it’s been in the fridge for awhile. 4 p.m. — Starbucks is not a normal thing for me, but I've had a long week, so grabbing a green tea lemonade and a marshmallow dream bar is totally justifiable. $7 6 p.m. — I break my spatula. It was bound to happen, since I got it from a thrift store years ago. I go to Ross and buy a new one so I can finish making dinner. $8 7 p.m. — I don’t feel like cooking a lot after that impromptu trip, so I just whip up some pasta with pesto, chicken, and zucchini. 11 p.m. — I unwind with wine while I read Nancy Jo Sales’ book and eat an ice cream sandwich I found in my freezer. Daily Total: $45
*I landed in marketing in tech right out of high school, doing primarily social, email, and copywriting. I decided to change industries because it wasn't something I ever planned on doing for a career — the promise of above-minimum wage and free snacks got me! Eventually, it wasn't fulfilling for me. I was bored and didn't find it to be challenging anymore. The straw that broke the camel's back for me, though, was the "culture" — particularly after having my son. As a mom, I can't commit to doing a job I don't even like and staying in the office until 10 p.m. like everyone else. A lot of guilt was thrown around when I would leave work at 6 p.m. I've always wanted to help kids, so substitute-teaching is a stepping stone for that!
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