A Week In Chicago On A $42,000 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, an academic events coordinator with a sweet tooth, planning a new tattoo.
Industry: Higher Education. I work at a prestigious university’s business school as an Academic Events Coordinator, full time. It’s only pretty recently that I’ve felt secure in my career and we’ve started to own nicer things, like decent furniture! My husband and I met teaching English in South Korea in 2010, and spent a year after that living in Australia working low-skill jobs due to the circumstances. This delayed getting on the career ladder right after college, although I graduated in 2009 so there was not much available (especially in a Media and Communications degree).
Age: 29
Location: Lakeview, Chicago
Salary: $42,000. My husband and I keep our finances separate, since he is trying to pay off the last few thousand of his student loans. His salary is around $45,000 base with commission. We split most joint costs.
Paycheck Amount (2x a month): $1133, minus taxes, health care, 403b, and commuter benefits.
# of roommates: 2, a husband, and a cat
Monthly Expenses
Rent: We are renting a one bedroom apartment. It’s $1435 per month (I pay $718).
Loan Payments: ~$400/month. I save $300 to cover tuition fees every month. I go to grad school part time and I receive a 75% tuition discount for working at the same school, up to $12,000 a year. Each course is approx. $3000, and my work covers 75% of that, so I pay around $750 every quarter out of pocket to avoid taking out loans. I also pay $100 per month towards my UK student loans, which are income assessed. I’ll never pay off these loans ($25,000) so I pay the minimum. After 25 years the UK government will clear the debt. I also currently have about $2,600 in credit card debt, which I'm trying to pay off every month whatever I can. I’ve been trying to reduce this for about a year but the debt kept increasing instead!
Utilities: Internet $60 per month (I pay $30). Electricity $30 (I pay $15)
Transportation: $100 per month unlimited subway card. Comes out of my paycheck pre-tax.
Phone Bill: $30 a month to my father-in-law – I’m on the family plan.
Health Insurance: Medical $41, Dental $21, Vision $9, Retirement Match $160
Savings: $7,000 in my 403b. The university pays 5% of eligible earnings (funded entirely by the university) and they match my contributions up to 5%, which is a pretty sweet deal. So I put 5% of the salary into my plan every month to get the most out of this benefit, and the university pays 10%.
Pet Insurance: $24 per month (I pay $12)
Archie.co: $9 per month. I'm trying to generate traffic to my travel/lifestyle website
Netflix: $10 per month
Spotify: $5 per month (student discount price)
Amazon Prime membership: $50 per year (my half $25)
HBO: free (father-in-law's account)
Renter’s Insurance: free (husband pays this $12 per month)

Day One

7:40 a.m. — I wake up late (again) so I dash out the door with a Kind Bar for breakfast to eat on the commute. I take the bus to the subway station because I’m running late; usually I’d walk the 15 minutes there for some exercise. 8:20 a.m. — Arrive at work and head downstairs to the coffee cart. I get a small drip coffee and an orange juice. Since I work at a university, the food here is pretty reasonably priced and tax free. $3.50 11:30 a.m. — I’m getting peckish so I eat a Reese’s Cup someone sent me in the campus mail! 12:10 p.m. — My husband transfers me $33 for his share of the tickets to see Hall and Oates in July, but then he also requests $30 from me to pay his Dad for my monthly phone bill. 12:40 p.m. — Head out for lunch. I should bring lunch from home to save money, but my schedule is so busy at the moment I don’t feel like I have the time to prepare, cook, and clean. I’m in-between classes at the moment though so I don’t really have a good excuse this week! I walk ten minutes to Whole Foods and get the hot bar – mac and cheese, tofu, and Moroccan chickpea salad. It’s a weird mix but it’s good! I also get a Stevia cream soda. I usually eat a “paleo-esque” diet 80% of the time but sometimes I relax the rules – I love mac and cheese! I also try to only eat fish and chicken because I feel terrible about the treatment of farm animals. It’s not perfect, but I feel it’s a step in the right direction. $9.12

2:20 p.m. — Coffee time. I need a pick me up. I keep a jar of instant coffee granules at my desk to save money. I just use hot water from the break room. 3:15 p.m. — Buy a book for my summer quarter class that starts next week. I find a second hand copy on Amazon. $12.95

5:30 p.m. — Take the CTA a few stops further than home to go to Trader Joe's. I buy dried mango slices, pastrami-style smoked salmon, gummy penguins, two pre-packaged salads, cherries, gluten free granola, cocoa almond butter spread, four Think Thin bars, and four Spindrift seltzer water sodas. I walk home for more exercise and eat some gummy penguins on the way. $43.38

6:30 p.m. — Eat dinner. Gluten free toasted rye bread with smoked salmon and seltzer water. 7 p.m. — Time for laundry. It’s in the building but I have to go down to the basement. One wash and dry costs $2.50; I use quarters from the jar that my husband filled recently so no cost to me there. 8:00 p.m. — Chill evening watching Netflix and reading. I didn’t go for a run tonight since I did a lot of walking today. Daily Total: $68.95

Day Two

6:40 a.m. — Get out of bed and have a bowl of gluten free granola with soy milk. Eat some more gummy penguins. I need to control this sugar addiction! 8:35 a.m. — Arrive at work and grab a small drip coffee from the coffee cart downstairs. $1.50

10:30 a.m. — Every week we have a treat morning in the office where we take turns to bring goodies in. This week isn’t my turn to bring in treats, and I have a free Cinnabon. 11:50 a.m. — But a new domain name for my website, which is a little side project I have going on. A one-off expense. $20

1:30 p.m. — Lunch time. I eat the roasted butternut squash, red quinoa, and wheat berry salad I bought from Trader Joe’s yesterday. 5:15 p.m. — Meeting a friend at 6 p.m. in an area of town that’s hard to get to via public transport... take an Uber. $25.31

6:20 p.m. — Meet my friend at the coffee shop. I have an iced soy milk, coconut, and cinnamon latte, and a banana. My friend works at the coffee shop so I get it with an extreme discount. $1.20

8:45 p.m. — Walk home from seeing friends at an AA meeting. Popped into Walgreens to get cat treats. I have some credit on my Walgreens card so it only cost me 31 cents. $0.31

9:40 p.m. — Snack on some smoked salmon. Daily Total: $48.32

Day Three

8:30 a.m. — Wake up and eat gluten free granola with soy milk. 9:30 a.m. — Attend an AA meeting and get a free coffee. 2 p.m. — Go to Blaze pizza with my husband for lunch. I have a simple pie (cheese and red sauce) with a gluten free crust. My husband pays so I’ll get the next meal out. 4 p.m. — Preparing to go round to a friend’s rooftop for a barbecue. We stop at Mariano’s and I buy some soda, La Croix sparkling water, and a brownie tray for dessert. $7.96

4:30 p.m. — Arrive at our friend’s place for the barbecue. They have an apartment in the city with a beautiful rooftop space with amazing city views! We have some drinks and grill out; I eat chicken, different salads, cherries, chips and dip, and some brownie. The brownie tray goes down really well! Daily Total: $7.96

Day Four

10 a.m. — Wake up and eat gluten free granola with soy milk. I’m really into this particular breakfast at the moment! 11 a.m. — Go for a run. I live right by Lake Michigan so I try to make the most of the lake-front trails in the summer and save on gym membership by running outside and doing workouts at home. In the winter I use the university gym for free after work. 1 p.m. — We rent a Zipcar to go Home Depot and buy some moving boxes, since we are moving apartments next month. We’re staying in the same neighborhood, but are moving into a bigger place since we’ve outgrown our current pad. The Zipcar membership is registered to my husband’s credit card, so he’ll ask me for some money later when it gets charged. We get the boxes and some packing paper. $9.86

1:30 p.m. — Since we have the car until 2:30 p.m., we also make a stop at Trader Joe’s to pick up a few bits and pieces. I get some smoked salmon, gummy penguins (!), seltzer waters, dried mango slices, salad, and cold-pressed cantaloupe juice. $23.03

2:15 p.m. — Have a light lunch of smoked salmon on toasted “ryeless” rye bread with ghee, seltzer water, cantaloupe juice, and gummy penguins. 2:45 p.m. — Call my tattoo studio to put a deposit down to secure my appointment in August. I’m planning to get an olive branch design on my inner arm to add to my growing tattoo collection. I’ve been using the same tattoo artist for a few years now. She’s really talented and her waitlist is a few months long. $50

6 p.m. — We’re on our way to see Flight of the Conchords play a concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in the Loop. We stop by Walgreens where I buy a tuna baguette to eat at the concert. $6.62

6:15 p.m. — We also get coffee from Starbucks. I get a small coffee Frappuccino, no whip. $3.85

7 p.m. — Rock out to Flight of the Conchords on the pavilion lawn. They’re awesome and funny; the crowd is so happy. Stop by the merch tent but the line is long so I don’t buy anything. 10:15 p.m. — On our way home I pop into Walgreens to get clean up bags for the cat, hair conditioner (I get two with their "buy one get one half off" deal), and a disposable e-cigarette. I’ve been craving a cigarette all day but I really don’t want to smoke because I know it’s so bad for me. $33.65

10:30 p.m. — I’m a snacker. I eat some dried mango slices, smoked salmon, and drink some flavored seltzer water while we continue watching the series OJ: Made in America before bed.

Daily Total: $127.01

Day Five

6:45 a.m. — Eat a Think Thin bar while I’m waking up slowly. 7:45 a.m. — Walk to the CTA Station. Stop by Starbucks and buy a grande unsweetened iced coffee. $2.93

9 a.m. — My husband has requested through Chase Quickpay my share of the Zipcar rental from yesterday. $11.21

1:10 p.m. — Walk to Whole Foods during my lunch hour because I want to see if they have a particular face cream I’m looking for. They don’t have it, but I buy a Stevia cream soda (and get $5 cash back just to have some cash on me). $1.31

1:40 p.m. — It’s a beautiful day so I eat the salad I brought from home al fresco. It’s a Trader Joe’s Salad Palette with mango, watermelon radish, sugar snap peas, goat cheese, spring mix, and mango-ginger vinaigrette. 5 p.m. — Left work a little early and so got home an hour early. Snacked on some dried mango slices and had (another) bowl of gluten free granola and soy milk, and a seltzer water. 7 p.m. — Go for a run along the lakefront. It’s so hot outside I only manage about 2 miles. 8:15 p.m. — Snack on some almond cocoa butter. Yes, straight from the jar. 8:30 p.m. — Spend the rest of the evening watching Game of Thrones, OJ: Made in America, painting my nails, reading, and calling friends.

Daily Total: $25.45

Day Six

7 a.m. — Wake up and have the remaining dregs of the gluten free granola with soy milk, and half a white chocolate Think Thin bar which I started eating last night… 7:40 a.m. — Bus and CTA to work because I’m running too late too walk. 8:20 a.m. — Get a grande iced coffee from the coffee cart at work. $1.75

10:30 a.m. — Eat two mini Crunch bars from the office candy bowl. 10:50 a.m. — Buy that face cream I was looking for on Amazon. I’ve done some research on acne treatment, mine's flaring up at the moment, so I also put some vitamins in my cart to buy on Friday when I get paid. $12.69

12:40 p.m. — Take my lunch break outside on the lawn. I keep a picnic blanket at my desk for nice days like today! I eat a salad I brought from home, another mix of roasted butternut squash, red quinoa, and wheat berry salad. I only eat half of it though; I’m not really feeling it today and I’m not hungry when it’s hot. 2 p.m. — Make a coffee using the instant coffee granules I keep at my desk. Eat another mini Crunch bar. 4 p.m. — Go to a debriefing meeting for an event we had recently and there are snacks. I eat a piece of chocolate cake, some pineapple chunks, and have some Diet Coke. 6 p.m. — Pick up a prescription from Walgreens and chomp down a Think Thin bar on the way to an AA meeting. $9.75

8 p.m. — Buy a book I need at the meeting, and make my donation to cover expenses. $11

8:15 p.m. — Arrive home from the meeting and make a snack of almond cocoa spread on “ryeless” rye bread toast. Snack on some cherries. 8:30 p.m. — Spend the rest of the evening cleaning the apartment and packing some boxes for the move, reading for my upcoming class on Thursday, and browsing the Internet.

Daily Total: $35.19

Day Seven

7 a.m. — Contemplate life while I eat a Think Thin bar for breakfast. 8 a.m. — I’m desperate for the bathroom so I stop by Chicago Bagel Authority. There are signs everywhere saying the facilities are only for paying customers so I buy a 16-ounce regular coffee. $2.76

8:10 a.m. — Somehow I have minus $9 on my CTA pass, even though it’s an unlimited monthly pass? Annoying. Pay the debt at the machine. $9

11:20 a.m. – Eat three mini Crunch bars of the office candy bowl. Whoops. 2 p.m. — Grab a late lunch from Whole Foods. I get mac and cheese (yum), some kind of chicken and black bean stew, and a potato-quiche thing — it wasn’t labelled so I have no idea what it is but it's so good! Shovel all that down back at my desk and have a grapefruit La Croix. $9.91

5:45 p.m. — Pop into a Korean beauty store to pick up some COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patches. As mentioned, my skin has broken out like crazy recently and it’s driving me nuts. It probably has something to do with all the sugar I’ve been eating recently… $6.60

6 p.m. — Take a shower as soon as I get home and get into pajamas. Eat a big bowl of oatmeal for dinner. Breakfast food for dinner is my favorite. 7 p.m. — Get a load of laundry going. We still have quarters left in the spare change jar so no extra expense there today. 8:30 p.m. – Spend the rest of the evening packing boxes, listening to music, and reading for my summer class, which starts tomorrow. Daily Total: $28.27
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