A Week In Missoula, MT, On An $18,000 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.
Today, as part of Your Spending In Your State: a freelance graphic designer who makes about $18,000 per year and spends some of her paycheck this week on Juanita's tortilla chips.
Occupation: Freelance Graphic Designer
Industry: Design
Age: 29
Location: Missoula, MT
Salary: ~$18,000
Paycheck: ~$1,500 a month, pre-tax (varies, paid per project)
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $850, split with boyfriend
Student Loan Payments: $0. (My wonderful parents paid my in-state college tuition.)
Health Insurance: $212
Internet: $55
Cell Phone: $0. (Mom is still paying for now. Bless her.)
Electricity: $100
Spotify: $10.79
Netflix: $0. (I use my mom's account.)
Dropbox: $99
Car Insurance: $116 for our two cars. (Our van is still insured for Philadelphia, which makes it double the cost of our truck!)
Climbing Gym Membership: $0. (Boyfriend pays.)

Day One

8:30 a.m. — My boyfriend always gets up before me, which always wakes me up. I love it though: I get to roll around and scroll through the news and Instagram for a bit. It's Saturday so he's not working today. He makes us bacon, egg, and cheeses on everything bagels (which he made from scratch!) with arugula on the side. We watch The Daily Show while we eat on the couch; Ricky Martin is the guest and I didn't expect him to be super interesting but he has amazing energy that is actually lovely.
11 a.m. — I'm getting my period in a week, so this is always a hard time of the month for me emotionally, plus I'm stressed about a project I have. I almost want to go cry in bed but I know I'll feel way better if I work out, so I go to the climbing gym with my BF. He's paying for my membership fee as a sort of birthday present. (It's his way of trying to convince me to get back into climbing.) I climb a 5.10b-rated route that was really hard for me the other day, and today it comes more easily to me. I'm so stoked about the progress I'm making! It's my birthday tomorrow and crushing this route was a goal for me.
2 p.m. — Back home, we drink smoothies and eat leftover meatballs in a marsala cream sauce I made late last night. I also sneak in the last piece of leftover pizza while BF is outside spreading salt on our icy sidewalk. I've been joking forever that all I want for my birthday is Papa John's pizza because BF thinks it's so gross (and it is), but he finally let it happen the other day in a fit of hunger. He's the best. We hang out and nap before going out tonight.
6 p.m. — We Uber downtown to go to a cool distillery for cocktails before dinner. BF has a whiskey sour and I have gin with grapefruit, basil, honey, and probably some other stuff. We have a hilarious and awkward encounter when a larger group at a two-top table sizes up the spots around us at the communal table and we end up switching places with them. They offer to pay for our drinks but we politely decline. BF is paying anyway since it's my birthday celebration. I pay for the Uber though. $9.66
7 p.m. — Fine dining opportunities are limited here in Montana but we pick a place that at least has white tablecloths and looks decent. We enjoy the bread, soup, and salad courses, but we're underwhelmed by our entrées. My short rib is practically swimming in the red wine reduction and I can't even see my mashed potatoes! We get chocolate cake for dessert and it's pretty good. BF gets the Uber home.
9:30 p.m. — Our landlord's cat is waiting outside our house, so we let her in and pet her for a while. We can't have pets in our place, but we love to be with animals every chance we get. I wash my face, use my favorite Glossier serum, and watch bad TV in bed for an hour. (The Four is so stupid. They all sound and look like rejects from The Voice.)
Daily Total: $9.66

Day Two

9:30 a.m. — Happy birthday to me! I wake up to a few texts from friends and family. I didn't sleep great, so BF brings me tea and a buttered bagel in bed and I watch SNL clips from last night.
11 a.m. — It's nice outside, so we go for a walk and talk about our plans for this year. We are moving in May, and I might be going to Europe then also, so the logistics are nagging at me.
12 p.m. — I browse Craigslist for apartments and then end up on Brandless, where I buy organic cotton rounds, two packs of organic beef jerky, shave gel, and maple cinnamon twisty things. Shipping is $1 since it's my first order with them (and I'm a sucker for a promo code). I look at ladles on Amazon but can't make up my mind. I'm very particular about my kitchen things being good quality. $16
2 p.m. — We're watching football playoffs today. BF makes pizza dough and then we make a pie with garlic cream sauce, sausage, cherry tomatoes, red onion, and arugula — my favorite! Except we forgot to make mozzarella. (My BF makes mozzarella at home. He's such a crazy weirdo, I love it.) So we make a plain one with olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes.
3:30 p.m. — The Patriots are winning so we're cranky. I spot the landlord's cat when I'm taking out the trash, so we get some awesome cat therapy snuggles for a bit.
4 p.m. — I want to make cookies but we don't have enough butter so I walk to the corner store and get unsalted butter, eggs, and two bags of Juanita's Sweet Chili chips. Important side note: Juanita's are the best tortilla chips. (I've only seen them out West.) The flavored ones are what Dorito's should be. $14.19
5:30 p.m. — We watch the second playoff game and have cookies for dinner! We put a votive on top of one and BF sings a little "Happy Birthday" because I tell him to. I make a wish.
9 p.m. — Birds win! Not my wish but super awesome! BF is from the Philadelphia area so he's stoked his team is going to the Super Bowl. We met in Philly, so it's a second or third home for me, too. We head to bed early.
Daily Total: $30.19

Day Three

9 a.m. — BF works east coast hours so I hear him on a conference call when I wake up. We both work from home, which probably isn't ideal. (I work in bed and he gets the table.) We're still figuring out what we want to do long-term since we recently took a break to travel in a van we converted for about a year and a half. It's tricky at times to have an unconventional life, but we love the freedom.
10:30 a.m. — I make us smoothies with pineapple, frozen mangoes, strawberries, spinach, yogurt, milk, and juice, and cut up a kiwi to go on the side. It's a tropical morning inside while it snows outside!
1 p.m. — I've been struggling to come up with concepts for my current client. They've given me free reign, which is a good problem to have, but it makes it so hard for me to narrow down ideas. BF brings me little ham sandwiches on ciabatta he made (have I mentioned he's crazy and amazing?) and a LaCroix because he knows I'm cranky.
3 p.m. — Best part of my flexible work schedule: I can go to the grocery store during off hours! I get bananas, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, paper towels, vanilla extract, cheddar cheese, local organic butter, local flour, and local sliced bread. $42.31
4 p.m. — Score! Birthday cards from my best friend from back home and my mom, who gives me $250 without fail every birthday and Hanukkah. And packages arrived while I was out: a mid-thigh-length down coat from L.L.Bean that went on sale after I first ordered it. (I ordered it again and will return the first one, saving me $60!) I also got a throw pillow and a pack of cloth napkins from Target. We used to use paper towels with our meals and I'm so excited to switch to reusable napkins.
5:30 p.m. — BF is taking a nap so I start marinating chicken for dinner and make a yogurt sauce. I also set up the recurring payments on my health insurance for the year – one major downside of the freelance life. I'm very lucky that my family has been investing money for me all my life, but it does move me into a higher tax bracket. (Ergo, no subsidies on my health insurance and I have a crazy-high deductible.) Thankfully, I don't really use my insurance much. I got an IUD a couple years ago so I have no prescriptions.
6 p.m. — After BF gets up, I work out to a Yoga With Adriene video. Lots of repetitive vinyasas. Her videos always hit the spot. Then I cook the chicken, make rice, and chop up toppings for one of our favorite dinners: street cart chicken! As former East Coasters, it's a dish we're nostalgic for here in Montana where the ethnic food is limited. We use a recipe from the latest Smitten Kitchen cookbook and for once we manage to save a little for tomorrow.
7:30 p.m. — We hang out on the couch and look at houses and floor plans on Pinterest. We bought a piece of land last fall and hope to be able to build a house on it someday. For now it's just a field, but we'll hopefully plant a big garden there this spring. BF made early investments in Bitcoin and Ether, so he spends a lot of time tracking the charts since they're so volatile. We hope to make good use of his gains for our future.
9 p.m. — I'm super excited for season 3 of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars. When I try to set a recording, I realize I never watched the season 2 reunion. There goes my night.
Daily Total: $42.31

Day Four

9 a.m. — I drink mint tea in bed while BF makes us breakfast: bacon, fried eggs, arugula, and sesame-encrusted bread he baked early this morning. We're so lucky to live like this. Granted I'm not saving right now, but I'll get there. I dive into last night's Bachelor. So gross but I can't help myself.
11 a.m. — I smell another lazy day; I end up focusing more on my background TV than the work at hand, I can't seem to dig into this project. Maybe I should go to a coffee shop one of these days.
1 p.m. — I heat up my leftovers and make BF a sandwich since he's stuck on a call.
4 p.m. — Finally picked a ladle I like on Amazon, and get a new dishwashing brush, too. The brush is $10, which seems kind of ridiculous, but it's made of natural materials. I'm trying to minimize our use of plastic, so it's worth the extra money to me. I just wish I didn't have to order it online because I know they'll throw plastic filler in the box they ship it in, but the store doesn't have all-wood brushes. $19.98
5 p.m. — We have smoothies before we go to the climbing gym with apple, pineapple, banana, almond butter, frozen mangoes and strawberries, milk, yogurt, juice, and a sprinkle of bee pollen. I have no idea what the pollen does but we've had it sitting around, so what the heck.
5:30 p.m. — We met friends at the climbing gym, which was nice but meant we stayed a little longer than normal. I did climb a 5.10c route, though, so that was cool! I need to get stronger so I'm not exhausted after just a few routes.
8 p.m. — I whip up a Thai noodle dish (pad see ew, which I get at literally every Thai restaurant I go to) in a sweet soy sauce with bok choi, broccoli, and carrot. We wolf it down on the couch watching Black-ish, have cookies and milk for dessert, and pet the landlord's cat for a bit before bed.
Daily Total: $19.98

Day Five

9 a.m. — One of those mornings where I feel dead asleep like a rock but also very aware of what I'm dreaming about. BF pops in to wake me up for real. We're hopefully going snowboarding today after he does a few hours of work. This will be our second attempt this winter: Since we officially live in Montana now, we're trying to take advantage of all the outdoors things, and all our friends snowboard. The first lesson was brutal and I pray this time won't be as rough.
9:30 a.m. — I force down Cold-Eeze gummies because I woke up feeling a little sick. BF brings me tea to huff over while he makes breakfast. He probably does more than his fair share since I'm a bit of a princess, but I think it all shakes out sort of evenly because I do a lot to keep the house running, like making sure all our bills are paid and doing laundry. I want to stay in bed and watch figure skating videos (they always make me feel better and I'm looking forward to the Olympics) but I drag myself out to the couch so we can eat together. The plate of migas he gives me makes my stomach turn a little, but I still eat most of it hoping it will make me feel better while we watch The Daily Show.
11 a.m. — I can't make up my mind about whether we should go snowboard, but we're supposed to go to Big Sky in a couple of weeks with friends and I hope to be able to do some of the easiest runs when we're there. We suit up and I put on a thick layer of face moisturizer to prep for the outdoors.
11:30 a.m. — We get gas and start the half hour drive up to the hill. It's awesome to have all this great, inexpensive recreation nearby! It's been pretty warm so the road is wet and dirty and our car gets covered in a layer of grime. I kind of love it. Shows we've been out there! $47.76
12 p.m. — Our snowboard practice costs $21 each (I pay for us both), including the rope tow on the bunny hill. I'm still not as good as I'd like to be, and I know I should cut myself some slack, but I can't help but compare myself to my BF curving down the hill effortlessly. I'm sending up huge sprays of snow as I bail out of heel-edge turns. This shit is terrifying and I don't know how I'll manage on a real run with other people zooming around. A posse of little kids learning to ski on the bunny hill rolls around adorably in the snow. $42
2 p.m. — Despite my struggles (and one breakdown because I cry when I'm frustrated), it was a great afternoon. We stop at a deli I've been wanting to try and get an Italian sandwich, a turkey pesto one, a pickle from the barrel, and a blood orange San Pellegrino. Turns out the slaw on the Italian is mayo-based and BF won't touch it, but that's okay with me. $25.20
3 p.m. — I vent to BF about my current project a little. He tries to help but he's an engineer, so talking about design with him can be frustrating. I reply to an email from my client and try to slip in some of my issues. Hopefully she doesn't think I'm being a total pain in the ass!
4 p.m. — Lazy afternoon; BF takes a nap and I get into those skating videos. I tell myself I'm getting better at judging the performances but there are tons of people in the YouTube comments with insane knowledge so I just read what they say and pretend I thought it too. It's really fun seeing the ladies I watched in the Olympics from 1998-2006 when I was into ice skating. I remember all the outfits and Michelle Kwan's Chinese dragon necklace that I totally copied in middle school. #Fangirl.
7 p.m. — I watch Fixer Upper with my BF. They work on a tiny cabin, which is right up our alley. Then I catch the second episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. It feels like all other Ryan Murphy stuff in that I kind of hate it but I keep watching until I lose interest or something better comes along.
10 p.m. — I put on a charcoal mask because I feel a zit brewing on my cheek and get in bed, focusing in on a crossword puzzle.
Daily Total: $114.96

Day Six

9:30 a.m. — Wake up with a sore neck – I must've fallen harder than I realized yesterday. We have one bagel left so BF makes a bacon, egg, and cheese and we each eat half.
12 p.m. — I want to get out to see if working somewhere else can help me focus better, but I know the café at the grocery store will be super busy right now. I decide to wait it out and make a smoothie with milk, juice, yogurt, apple, pineapple, banana, almond butter, bee pollen, and frozen blueberries. It's kind of a weird mixture but comes out in a pretty color! I watch Riverdale while I wait for the lunch rush to ease up but then end up just walking to a coffee shop nearby. We don't really need much from the store anyway.
1:30 p.m. — Wow, this coffee shop is actually kind of cool. Go, Montana! It's also kind of tiny so I'm at the cramped bar with my cappuccino, but I manage to make good progress on this project. $3
3 p.m. — I hit a wall and buy a cardamom snickerdoodle cookie to help me along. It's pretty good but I only last 20 more minutes. $5.25
4 p.m. — BF baked ciabatta while I was gone. I truly live Oprah's bread dream. We snack and catch up — and my latest Glossier purchase arrives! I can't wait to cover my face in acid and also read and reread all the instructions and ingredients, probably while peeing.
5 p.m. — BF's dad and stepmom got us two Hello Fresh gift certificates for Christmas and our first box came yesterday; we're trying the first meal tonight. BF is most excited about the orange cashew chicken so I get the rice and sauce going. Before I finish, it's time for RuPaul's Drag Race. This is live TV, not a drill!
7 p.m. — The Hello Fresh was a really sweet gift idea and it's tasty, but the chicken has a funny texture. On TV, BenDeLaCreme comes with the shocking elimination selection! Even though I adore Aja, I've gotta give it up: DeLa definitely deserved to win this one.
9 p.m. — We're already getting ready for bed. We're such boring old people. I tried putting on my new face acid with toilet paper (still awaiting my new cotton rounds) and I get tons of little flakes of paper stuck to me. My face feels smooth though! BF helps me struggle with last night's crossword some more. He comes up with "peekable" for the clue, "see-through." So groan-inducing.
Daily Total: $8.25

Day Seven

6:45 a.m. — I can't get back to sleep after hearing BF get up. I dive into the RuPaul's Drag Race sub-Reddit. The fan theories and dirt on there is exceptional.
8:30 a.m. — Email from another client; I forgot this project would be starting so soon and I hope I can juggle both projects at once. This one is at least a recurring project I've been doing for a few years now, so I can kind of do it on autopilot if I want to. The style could really use a big refresh at this point but I don't know if I have the bandwidth to go there now. Maybe I'll devote time to inspiration and templating when things calm down with the larger project.
12 p.m. — I work on more concepts for the first client, and do that thing where you write an email, edit it a couple of times, look at something else for 10 minutes, and then hit send without looking at it. (Is that a thing?) She replies back quickly, very pleased. Holy farts, what a relief! We were thinking about going snowboarding again today because it's been snowing off and on the past couple days, but I feel like today might be better for working and running errands. (Even though the hill will be more crowded on the weekend.)
1 p.m. — I make mac and cheese with broccoli and ham and side salads. Turns out I was wrong about having a productive afternoon. Aunt Flo is here!
2 p.m. — Since I work at home, I make a point to go outside for just a little bit every day. I walk over to a UPS drop box to send my L.L.Bean coat back. I stop at CVS, too, to get a few boxes of tissues ($5), black nail polish (my favorite toe color — $3), and a mint Oreo candy bar ($1.22). It tastes like a crunchy Andes mint and I love it. As I walk up my street I see a deer cross the road, which is totally normal here. Sometimes I feel bad about being a transplant and inadvertently contributing to the growth and sprawl that is going on, but that's just the way it is I guess. $9.22
4 p.m. — Lie down with BF while he naps but I'm too wound up from my walk so I watch TV on my phone. I'm seriously craving carbs but BF talks me off the Domino's ledge and into spaghetti and meatballs.
5 p.m. — We watch The Good Place while we eat. We don't often watch shows together but we stumbled on this one and both really love it so it's nice to save it to watch together.
7 p.m. — I look at flights to Europe, and also home for a wedding this summer. It's so freaking expensive to fly anywhere from here, which kinda drives me nuts. I also really hate flying after two years of being able to drive everywhere in our van; there's nothing like being on the road and then being able to stop, make a nice lunch in the kitchen, and stretch your legs before continuing on your journey. I'm not making any decisions tonight, so my bank account is safe for now.
9 p.m. — I pop over to to see if anything good is on sale. I've been monitoring prices on Ibex stuff since they're going out of business. Do I need a third wool shirt? Probably not, but I wear them almost every day in the fall and winter, so yes ($68). I also need snowboarding lenses for sunny days and find some that fit my frames on sale for $33. I ogle a Patagonia duffel in bright violet as well, which I'd love to have for Europe this spring, but I've been on a spending bender lately so I'm just going to add that to my wish list. $101
10:30 p.m. — Definitely time to get off the computer. I hope I'm feeling up to doing physical activity tomorrow, especially since I think BF is going to make another batch of bagels…
Daily Total: $110.22
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