A Week In North Carolina On A $51,593 Salary

Photo: Courtesy of Wendy's.
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Today: an occupational therapist working in healthcare and the public school system who makes $51,593 per year and spends some of her money this week on a cheeseburger from Wendy's.
Occupation: Occupational Therapist
Industry: Healthcare/Public School System
Age: 24
Location: North Carolina
Salary: $51,593 for my 10-month full-time job, plus $50/hour for my PRN job
Paycheck Amount: $3,000 monthly from full-time job, and $400-$700 2x/month from my PRN job
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,300 for the two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment I live in with my boyfriend, N. This includes laundry, water/sewer, cable/wifi, valet trash, and a pool. N. and I split bills proportionate to our incomes. I'm able to contribute more and cover a majority of the bills, while N. covers his car payment and our furniture credit card. (We had a little too much fun during Memorial Day sales.) We split all gas, groceries, shopping, and entertainment expenses.
Student Loan Payment: $330 for private loans and $0 for federal, as I'm on an income-based repayment plan and was in school last year
Electric: $100-$150
Car Payment: $335
Car Insurance: $225
Cell Phones: $150
Health Insurance: $0 (I'm still on my parent's medical but I pay all copays, prescriptions, etc.)
Renters Insurance: $10
Lincare: $15-$50 (I have sleep apnea and use a CPAP.)
Apple Music: $10
Hulu: $7.99 (Our parents use our account.)
Netflix: $0 (We use N.'s parents' account.)
Amazon Prime: $0 (We use my parents' account.)
Savings: ~$500-$1,000, depending on my PRN income

Day One

8 a.m. — I wake up to N. leaving for a short shift at work, and our two dogs (we recently rescued two pugs, who are the CUTEST!) snuggled next to me. One has taken over my pillow and the other is nestled under the covers. I pet them for a few minutes and then roll out of bed to take them for a morning walk.
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11 a.m. — I'm easing into my day off by watching reruns of reality TV and snuggling the pugs. I scroll through social media and an advertisement for the Carolina Ballet pops up on my screen. I've been debating buying tickets to see Swan Lake in May. (I danced ballet throughout my childhood, and Swan Lake is the one ballet still left on my bucket list!) I decide to go for it and buy two tickets for N. and me! $97.61
1 p.m. — N. gets home from work and we decide to get our weekly grocery shopping out of the way. We stop by Wendy's first to use some coupons we got in the mail and avoid the pitfalls of shopping hungry. We both get cheeseburger meals and chicken tenders to share. I pay. $12.97
1:30 p.m. — We stop at Trader Joe's to buy our favorite green curry sauce and also pick up apples, oranges, and sugar cookies. Then we pick up the rest of our supplies at Harris Teeter: berries, lettuce, bell peppers, onion, sandwich thins, ground beef, steak, chicken, shredded cheese, milk, juice, frozen pizza, chips, cereal, a taco kit, dryer sheets, toilet paper, dish soap, Coke, and deli meat. N. and I split the total at the register. $61.42
3 p.m. — We watch football (more like N. watches and I play on my phone) with the pugs and take them for a walk at halftime. We've been looking forward to our first Halloween with them and are talking about possible pug costumes. We decide to go shopping tomorrow after work!
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7:30 p.m. — I set the rice cooker to cook brown rice (best invention ever!) and then quickly cook chicken breasts. N. and I eat green curry bowls and end the evening with our respective leisure pursuits. For N., it's more football (and yelling at the TV), while I tune in for new episodes of my favorite reality TV shows. I gather all my supplies for work tomorrow morning and call it a night around 10 p.m.
Daily Total: $172

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — I wake up to the puggos licking my face since they know the alarm means it's walking time! I roll out of bed, attach their leashes, and take them for a quick walk. They love it.
7 a.m. — I start the Keurig to fill my travel mug as I hop in the shower. Then, I get dressed and apply face lotion and makeup (eyeliner, mascara, eyebrow pencil, and sometimes eyeshadow). Lastly, I pack my lunch of leftover green curry from last night's dinner, an apple, and a granola bar.
7:40 a.m. — I put the dogs back in bed with N. (since he usually works a later morning/early afternoon shift) and head to my designated school for the day. I'm responsible for three schools all together, but my schedule is organized nicely to limit my going back and forth each day.
8 a.m. — I arrive at the school and settle into my office to plan my day before the kiddos arrive. As an occupational therapist in a school system, I treat kids during the school day and fit in department meetings, treatment planning, and SO MUCH PAPERWORK. I spend some time planning my treatment sessions for the day, printing worksheets, and gathering supplies.
10:30 a.m. — After a few treatment sessions, I quickly clean my office and set up for my next kiddo. As a pediatric OT, my sessions are centered around achieving goals to promote the students' access to their education and participation in meaningful daily tasks and routines. In the school setting, this typically involves increasing fine motor coordination, handwriting and scissor skills, activities of daily living (self-feeding, putting on/taking off jackets and clothing), and sensory strategies. I quickly review the goals of my next student and head off to facilitate self-feeding skills and strategies.
12:45 p.m. — I complete my sessions for the morning and head off to the district office for an afternoon of department meetings. Then I eat my lunch once I get to the office and complete my documentation from my morning sessions. I signed up to check out supplies and gather weighted vests, body socks, pencil grips, adapted scissors, a sensory brush, and adapted lined paper. But I forgot to bring an extra bag to carry everything, so I lug everything around in my messenger bag. Oof.
4:30 p.m. — Finally done for the day, so I run home to pick up N. so we can go to Spirit Halloween for pug Halloween costumes. We are very excited and talk the whole way about how adorable they will look.
5 p.m. — Spirit is complete craziness — we are warned of a unsavory customer speaking to children, and the police are called to intervene. N. and I don't want to get caught in the middle of it all, and the store doesn't carry animal costumes, so we leave. I remember seeing some costumes recently at PetSmart, so we drive back across town to the store. On the way, I drive by my three schools and proudly show N. where I work now. He "oohs" and "ahhs" and we discover a new lake/park near our house that we didn't know existed. We plan to come back and explore it with the pugs.
6 p.m. — We buy the cutest dinosaur and bumblebee costumes from PetSmart. (N. buys one and I buy the other.) But when we get home, we realize we bought one in the wrong size, so we decide to walk from our apartment back to the pet store with the pugs so they can stretch their legs. (We love living so close to everything.) We pick out an adorable skunk costume in place of the dinosaur costume and spend the next hour taking pictures and crying about how cute they are. $18.22
8 p.m. — We forgot to take meat out of the freezer for dinner, so we settle on frozen pizza. When we lived in upstate NY last year, we loved making homemade pizza with dough from Wegmans, but the dough down here doesn't taste as good. N. rents a movie (The First Purge — it's terrible) and we snuggle until I go to bed around 10 p.m.
Daily Total: $18.22

Day Three

5:45 a.m. — I have two schools to see today and the first one starts early at 7:15! I roll out of bed and complete my morning routine quickly. I almost forget to make coffee in my Keurig, so I wait for my travel mug to fill up before heading out. I'm going to need it today.
6:45 a.m. — I arrive at my first school and quickly send a text to N. to tell him I didn't take the dogs out this morning, so that he remembers to when he wakes up. I log into my email and check my schedule for this school. Then I review goals and head to a classroom.
7:30 a.m. — I spend an hour in one of my special education classrooms working with various students and addressing teacher concerns.
8:45 a.m. — I head over to my second school for the day, which is luckily right down the road and doesn't start until 9:15! I go over my schedule and plan a few treatment ideas to be used with several students. One way occupational therapists address various goals is to plan one main activity, and then upgrade or downgrade it when students have different needs. This way, we can compare progress, save time planning, and utilize various approaches at the drop of a hat.
9:30 a.m. — But of course, when I take the time to plan an activity, my students exhibit needs for other tasks and I end up adapting on the fly. It is important to be flexible in the therapy world, as nothing ever goes perfectly to plan. I save my planned activity for another day and provide my students with different tasks to complete. They love my tennis ball fine motor coordination activity to increase strength and dexterity in their hands as a warm up for handwriting. The tennis ball has a large slit in the side that looks like a mouth. Students use their hands to squeeze the ball to open the mouth and grasp/release small pegs to increase their hand strength, visual motor skills, and hand eye coordination. We affectionately name the tennis ball “Mr. Fuzz.”
12 p.m. — I am starving, and since we didn't have leftovers last night, I eat a simple turkey, cheddar, lettuce, and mustard sandwich with an apple and granola bar. I take an hour to catch up on notes and review goals for my afternoon kiddos.
3:30 p.m. — I finish my sessions and notes for day, and then head home to relax. N. has a short late shift tonight, so I decide to surprise him and bring home donuts from our favorite local shop. As I pull into our complex, I see him driving away and sadly miss him by a few minutes. I call him to let him know he a surprise waiting for him later, and he is grateful. $8.61
5 p.m. — I FaceTime my parents to have our weekly catch up, and it's so nice to see their faces. I haven't lived near them in years, but since my first year in college we've done our best to FaceTime weekly. Usually, they ask about life and I complain about adulting responsibilities. We always end with close-ups of the pugs and their cats and obsess over how cute they all are.
9 p.m. — N. is home and we enjoy a late dinner of steak tacos with brown rice, lettuce, cheese, salsa, and taco shells. I usually save some meat and rice to have a taco salad for lunch the next day, but we're hungry and there are no leftovers. Oh well! I sit up to digest for a little and then head to bed.
Daily Total: $8.61

Day Four

7 a.m. — Alarm is blaring after I snooze for an HOUR. Crap. I leap out of bed, complete my morning routine, and send N. a text since I definitely don't have time to take out the puggos.
8 a.m. — I get to my school at the worst time and get stuck in the carpool line. Ugh. Luckily a teacher recognizes me and lets me cut off the line to find a parking spot. I make it to my office in time to remember my first kiddo is absent this week and I don't have a therapy session until 9. This is definitely not my morning.
11:30 a.m. — I spend time reviewing a continuing education course that is coming up and decide to go. I need the credits for my licensure renewal and it'll be a great way to learn more about the pediatric world. Plus, my employer is trying to locate funding, so I may be reimbursed. I recently switched from geriatric to pediatric and am really enjoying the change. I was working in a skilled nursing facility (SNF) and the summer low census was causing me to have very low paychecks and consequently high stress. While the salary in the public school system is overall less, I am much happier (which was a huge deciding factor). I still get my geriatric fix on the weekends. (I usually pick up eight hours on Saturdays at a per diem rate, which is great money and easy work.) $60
12 p.m. — I eat my lunch (another turkey sandwich, apple, and granola bar) and steal a few pieces of candy from my “prize drawer.” Yes, a prize drawer…but if a small trinket or Starburst gets my kiddos to follow my directions and work on handwriting, then by all means I will buy their love.
3:30 p.m. — School's out but I have a parent/teacher meeting to attend this afternoon. The parent is so sweet, and I enjoy talking with her and collaborating on new approaches to assist in meeting her son's goals. I leave school today feeling fulfilled and professional in my newly acquired role.
6 p.m. — N. and I are hungry and I'm fighting the hump day blues. I refuse to cook, and N. happily suggests Chick-fil-A. I give in and convince him to pick it up if I pay. He obliges and picks up a few chicken sandwiches and nuggets to share. $27.83
9 p.m. — We take the puggos for a night walk and talk about our weeks. N. is hoping for good things to come from an upcoming interview, and I give him reassurance that he is the best! It would be a significant pay raise and in the field he got his degree in. I tell him funny stories from work and we enjoy the time together.
Daily Total: $87.83

Day Five

7:30 a.m. — I get to school early enough today to avoid the carpool line thankfully, and enjoy easing into the day with my coffee and emails. The speech pathologist stops by to ask if I'm attending a meeting this morning and I ask a few questions to ensure my documentation is correct. I finish my coffee and head to the meeting.
9:30 a.m. — Meeting is over and I have a few hours before another meeting at a different school. I prepare for a few treatments sessions and touch base with some teachers regarding any sensory or adaptive equipment concerns they may have. In the pediatric OT world, my services are either direct (treatment sessions with scheduled minutes and goals) or consultative-based (open-ended where I work with teachers to ensure there are no barriers to achieving academic work).
12:30 p.m. — I head to my other school and stop to get gas on the way. A full tank will usually last me a week and a half. Upon arrival, I prepare for my next meeting and discuss my thoughts on exiting a student. She agrees and we complete the necessary paperwork before the meeting starts. I quickly eat another turkey sandwich with an apple and a granola bar and fill up my water bottle. $26.78
3 p.m. — All done with my day, and it's time to head home. N. texted me earlier to say he bought us tickets to see Venom! We decide to eat a quick meal out before the movie. I get a chicken sandwich and N. gets chicken strips and a cup of chili. I pay for both of us. $27.55
7 p.m. — Movie was great! We love to discuss our favorite and not-so-favorite parts afterwards and give a rating out of 10. We both give it an 8/10 and head home to see the pugs. Then I call it an early night and head to bed around 9:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $54.33

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — Alarm goes off and I get out of bed in a timely manner today. N. has an early day as well, so I take the pugs for a quick walk and feed them breakfast while he catches a few extra zzz's. Then it's off to the school!
10 a.m. — A group treatment session goes awry. I pull out a fun cause and effect activity to calm things down. Whew! I consider it a success and transition them back to class.
1 p.m. — The PTA is providing free lunch for staff. Win! I get a salad, ham sandwich, chips, and a cookie. Free food is the best food.
3 p.m. — School is out for the weekend and so am I! I go home and take the pugs out for a walk around the complex. We recently moved to North Carolina and I still don't understand how it's 80+ degrees in October, but I'm looking forward to an easy winter.
5 p.m. — N. is home and we decide to have a scary movie night! I throw together shrimp scampi while N. selects Friday the 13th and Halloween from his movie shelves. We snuggle the pugs and watch the movies, laughing at how far special effects have come.
8 p.m. — My per diem job manager texts me that she has a little over seven hours for me tomorrow. Score! After the movies are over, N. and I call it a night, since we both have to work in the morning.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

7:45 a.m. — Alarm goes off and I quickly shower and throw on scrubs. N. agreed to take the dogs out this morning since he has a later shift, so I run out the door with my coffee in hand.
8:30 a.m. — My friend is having a housewarming party tonight, so I stop by Whole Foods to grab barbecue potato chips, various corn chips, guacamole, salsa, ranch, and carrots to bring later. Plus a small frozen meal to tide me over until the party. $46.03
9 a.m. — I check my schedule and see I have four patients and two evaluations today. My coworker who I haven't seen in forever is also working today, so we take a few minutes to catch up.
10:30 a.m. — I emerge dripping in sweat from a patient's room after a full session. In the geriatric setting, I focus on bathing, dressing, toileting, grooming, self-feeding, and toilet transfers. We assist patients in these tasks by providing safety techniques, energy conservations techniques, and adaptive equipment to promote a patient's independence with the tasks, along with physically assisting them with aspects they are unable to complete.
12 p.m. — My next patient is able to complete her tasks with supervision for safety, but I want to increase her upper body strength and endurance for these tasks, so we have our session in the therapy gym.
1 p.m. — I quickly eat my frozen meal while writing treatment notes. I have to maintain 85% productivity, which means 85% of my clocked-in time must be spent in direct treatment of patients. Today, that leaves me with around an hour of extra time to complete any and all documentation, communicate with nurses and other staff, find my patients in the building and transport them to the gym, and pee.
3:30 p.m. — I complete all treatments and evaluations, and then it's time to write up my evaluations. There's a lot more paperwork associated with this role than they prepare you for in school, but sometimes I don't mind this aspect, since it gives me a chance to collect my thoughts at the end of the day.
4:15 p.m. — I'm off for the day, but my coworker and I both forget to buy our other friend a housewarming gift. She still has 30 minutes left to her day, so I offer to buy a gift from both of us and meet her at the party. She agrees to reimburse me later.
4:30 p.m. — After getting lost (I think I know where I'm going…and then I end up on the other side of town), I find a cute little shop and buy a fireplace-scented soy candle and fall flower arrangement ($40.21). I text my coworker and she sends me $20 for her half. $20.21
5:45 p.m. — I finally get to our friend's new house with my snacks and gift. We eat burgers, hot dogs, and snacks, and enjoy a tour of the house. I have a beer and relax with friends as we catch up after a couple weeks apart.
9:30 p.m. — N. had to work late tonight and couldn't make it to the party. I had promised to bring him home a burger and snacks, but all the food is gone. I pick up food for him on my way home, and he is very grateful. $6.79
11:30 p.m. — After a long day and night, N. and I stay up to digest and relax from our days. He plays video games and I snuggle the pugs before heading to bed. I get to sleep in tomorrow!
Daily Total: $73.03
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