A Week In Oakland, CA, On A $52,500 Salary

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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: a project manager who makes $52,500 per year. This week, she spends some of her money on a large order of Jack in the Box curly fries.
Occupation: Project Manager
Industry: Science/Biotech
Age: 28
Location: Oakland, CA
Salary: $52,500 for working 30 hours per week. I requested a part-time schedule so that I could focus on my side project, Project Tater Tot.
Paycheck (2x/month): $1,198 after health insurance, HSA, and Roth are deducted
Monthly Expenses
Housing: $650. I rent the living room of a one-bedroom apartment. My one roommate uses the room and he pays for all the utilities and bills. I was worried about privacy, but it hasn't been an issue and I lucked out with this place.
Loan Payments: None. I'm grateful to have graduated with scholarships, grants, and my parents paying the remainder.
All Other Monthly Expenses
Cell Phone: $21
Gym Membership: $79
Car Insurance: $45. (I pay $270 every six months.)
Health Insurance: $24. I pay partial because I'm not full-time. I don't actually know how they got this number; my company puts $108 into my HSA because I chose the high-deductible plan which is cheaper for them, so they put the extra money into my HSA.
HSA: $83, my contribution
Roth: $939. The company matches 4% (or $375). I used to do a mix of 401(k) and Roth, but I'll be making more when I go full-time. (I don't know what I'm doing.)
Investments: $910. I auto-deposit this into pre-selected Vanguard funds, in two installments. I only started investing a few months ago and previously held all my savings in a savings account. I save a lot because I don't know what my future self will want, but I know I'll need money to make it happen. I plan to use some of it for Project Tater Tot. I have $97,000 in investments, $45,000 in retirement, and $7,000 in savings.

Day One

6:30 a.m. — It's been two days since the fires in Sonoma and Napa Counties started. I wake up and check the fire map. Some sections have grown but the largest ones have stalled a little. I'm a little relieved, there are also no new fires near us. I read all the news and check websites for volunteer needs. I know a lot of people who live in Santa Rosa and Napa, and my friends have a messaging group to update each other on our situations. I drove up last night to stay with my boyfriend in Petaluma. I check my work email, but everything is okay for now.
7:30 a.m. — My boyfriend gets back from work and surprises me with breakfast burritos in bed; he is so sweet. He starts work at 7, but came back because a bunch of jobs were canceled (construction) and he wanted to volunteer today.
8:40 a.m. — We get to the volunteer center early; they open at 9. We registered online yesterday, and now fill out a health form and sit around until we get called for an interview. They ask about our health, ability to work 12-hour shifts, and what kind of volunteering we'd like to do. Then we wait for a group training at 11. It's a long time to wait and I wish I'd brought a book! We see a bunch of staff from my boyfriend's climbing gym. All the younger folks in the room are trying to crack jokes and be silly, myself included. It's nice because otherwise we'd be sitting in a room worried about the fires. There is a good mix of people of all ages in the room waiting.
10:30 a.m. — We run out to get a veggie patty sub to split from Subway for lunch later. Everything goes in except pickles and pepperoncini. I love pickled things, but only in isolation. I pay, since he bought our burritos yesterday. $7.93
12 p.m. — I find the group training presentation useful but my boyfriend thinks it's pretty common sense. Oh well; we get laminated name tags at the end and a link to volunteering opportunities at different shelters. We sign up for the next shift at 12:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Santa Rosa.
12:50 p.m. — There has been an outpouring of donations and volunteers in the area, so they tell us we might be sitting around a bit. Undeterred, we go off to try to help. We bounce around helping serve food and cleaning chairs, doors, rails, etc., but everywhere is well staffed and we feel a bit useless. We do see the donation section overflowing, and decide to get to work helping to sort clothing into different sections. After wearing masks for a few hours (since we're working outside), I tell my boyfriend that I've gained an intimate understanding of how my breath smells now. He replies that he loves me. (I love him too.) A few people come by to get clothes and we help them out. We listen to their stories, as much or as little as they want to share. Interacting with the folks affected makes it feel so worthwhile. I used to want to be a counselor growing up, and this makes me think I should do more regular volunteering.
6:30 p.m. — We leave a little early; there seem to be plenty of volunteers and we've sorted the majority of the clothing donations, so we don't feel bad. My boyfriend tells me he wants to get chili from Amy's Drive-Thru and animal fries from In-N-Out (they are next door to each other) to combine into the ultimate chili cheese fries. We discuss it, but laziness wins out and he agrees to just get chili cheese fries from Amy's. $4.66
8 p.m. — When we get back to his place, we eat it with all the leftovers we have and watch American Dad. Leftovers include half a burrito, roasted veggies, black bean burger mash, and smoky baba ganoush with crackers. (I cooked the last three and he bought the burrito.)
9 p.m. — My boyfriend's parents tell us we'll be hosting evacuee friends tonight, and we help clean a little. They're bringing cats with them but there's already a refugee kitty in the computer room; the outdoor shed is prepped for the new cats though, so they won't need to be in the same space. I debate going home or staying over tonight. Instead of deciding, we cuddle up for the next few hours, and pass out early, before 10 p.m.
Daily Total: $12.59

Day Two

6:05 a.m. — I wake up feeling very tired, and check all the updates again: news, friends, fire map. I also check my work; nothing new. Everything is okay, the Napa fire has grown a lot, but thankfully not in the direction of town. I try to go back to sleep but I can't for the next hour. At some point, I fall asleep.
10 a.m. — Omg, I wake up and it's 10. How did that happen?! I decide not to volunteer today and focus on resting and getting a bunch of work done. Before leaving, I snack on tomatoes that are about to go bad and baba ganoush. Petaluma was sent a warning notice this morning, which wasn't an evacuation zone, but which we took to mean, “Get a bag ready in case a fire starts somewhere near you.”
11 a.m. — It's smoky everywhere, but as I stop for gas in Novato, I can see that the sky to the east is distinctly orange. $41
11:30 a.m. — A quick stop at the 99 Ranch Market (big Asian market) because it's on the way. I decide to grab some yam greens, small head of Napa cabbage, sesame mochi balls, and a big bag of Calbee seaweed chips. I've never tried the last two, but they're on sale and I like snacks when I'm stressed. Also, grab a fresh-baked pork sung and green onion bun ($1.75) from the bakery next to the store. I haven't had pork sung (I call it pork floss) in years and so I'm curious if I still like it. I do. It's nicely salty and savory and just what I want for my drive home. $9.04
12 p.m. — I check on the status of everything once I get home. (I am constantly checking so I'll stop mentioning it.) There's not much I can do right now, so I start working. I'm luckily at a bit of a lull in my main work project and nothing crazy or time sensitive is happening this week. My workplace, based in Petaluma, sent out a notice that they'll be paying full wages for this week while the site is closed because of safety and air quality concerns, which I think is nice. Work feels really weird, like I shouldn't be doing normal activities while the world is literally on fire around me. Email is eerily quiet, and it feels like I'm sending out emails into the void since some of the people I work with are not working right now. Why am I working? Should I be volunteering right now? I feel conflicted. I eat a lot of chips and then sesame mochi balls. I also submit 16 hours of sick time for this week, since I haven't been productive this week.
3 p.m. — I start texting my friends who are in the fire-affected cities to see if they want to come over for dinner this weekend. I've got a few takers, so I'm excited to see them and give them hugs.
6:30 p.m. — I am very tempted to make ramen for dinner. The things is, I love ramen, but my body doesn't. I do want greens, so I stick with the plan and make a soup with the yam greens and Napa cabbage. Something about the hot savory broth and silky green leaves is comforting and fills me up with goodness. I make a huge pot, and eat a huge bowl.
9 p.m. — Damn, I have missed the past two days of my pill; this is unfortunate. I must also report that I finished the bag of chips.
Daily Total: $50.04

Day Three

7 a.m. — I'm out and at the gym for climbing with my friend. My friend is very stressed about work, but venting and hard climbs make us both feel great. I also find out some good news about the fires, which have gone from being around 3% contained to 18%-24% contained. It's a relief to hear that there is progress.
9:30 a.m. — When I get home, I start work and eat breakfast: soup and an open-faced sandwich with black bean patty and vegan cheese melted all over it.
12:40 p.m. — I snack on a piece of toast with vegan butter. I'm planning to volunteer for the overnight shift tonight, but haven't decided on Napa or Petaluma. My boyfriend says he's down to help, so Petaluma it is. I read an article about a man and his wife surviving the fire in a pool, only to have his wife die in his arms. I burst into tears; the perks of working remotely.
2:15 p.m. — Lunchtime is the same leftovers. I don't mind.
5 p.m. — I'm done with work but I forgot about the rush hour traffic and need to wait it out a bit before I leave. I bring my sleeping bag just in case. $5 bridge toll on my FasTrak account. $5
7:10 p.m. — When I get to the shelter, most of the volunteer work is with donations. There are so many, it almost seems like too many. We make gigantic piles of diapers sorted by size; there's also work unloading donations from cars; and always work sorting and organizing donations. A supervisor tells me that since the Coast Guard is here, it's better for them to do the overnight shifts instead of volunteers. As it becomes dark, it's heartening to see so many folks hustling late. Some parents have brought their elementary school children, who are kicking butt.
9:15 p.m. — By this time, most of the work is done; I head to my boyfriend's place to crash.
Daily Total: $5

Day Four

9:15 a.m. — We sleep in because we're a little too tired to do the breakfast shift, 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
10:15 a.m. — So many more people volunteer when it's daytime! There is tons to do. It's mostly physical, moving stuff everywhere, but much better than staying in one spot folding clothes.
12:30 p.m. — We grab free food at the shelter that will go bad if people don't eat it: bagels, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, salad, and mashed potatoes.
3:30 p.m. — On the way back to Oakland, I grab groceries for the dinner tonight: two cans chickpeas, yogurt, parsley, cilantro, plums, lemon, limes, corn meal, onions, and wine. It's later than I anticipated when we start cooking; my roommate is also cooking for a party tonight so it's a lively scene. I take a shot of whisky because cooking while buzzed is really fun. The air seems good right now so we open the windows for fresh air. It's the first time we've opened the windows since the fire started. $24.93
6:15 p.m. — Some friends come over, and we have a good time chatting and eating dinner. I was expecting more people to show up but it works out well with a few people. We somehow manage to finish most of the food I made (probably because we all continue to munch at the dinner table as the night goes on). Dinner tonight is roasted spiced cauliflower, falafel with an herby yogurt sauce, and polenta.
9:45 p.m. — Our friends head home and there are hugs all around. We clean up and relax until it's time for bed.
Daily Total: $24.93

Day Five

9:15 a.m. — Sleeping in is so nice. I'm not sure why I'm sleeping so much these days.
11:30 a.m. — We're going for a hike in the Redwoods. One of the major perks of living in Oakland is that you're generally only a 10-minute drive away from hiking trails and serious forests. It smells like eucalyptus and redwoods so we hike without respirators.
1 p.m. — Back at the house, I start working on Project Tater Tot and eat a snack of yogurt with lemon curd.
2 p.m. — Time for a plum and reheated polenta. I add more bouillon, salt, and a bit of miso, then pour it into a cake pan so I can chill it for later.
3:30 p.m. — I find a group and conference for women in clean tech and sustainability — the membership costs about $150, and the conference is roughly $100. I don't go to any events, but I feel like I should start looking into professional and grassroots communities. I pass on buying anything for now.
4 p.m. — We take a stroll and grab slices of pizza at Arizmendi (fennel, bell peppers, feta, other deliciousness on top), and then decide to also try a slice at Lanesplitter (pesto, olives, tomatoes) before going to see Bladerunner. Boyfriend buys the tickets ($12) since I bought the pizza. $11
7:45 p.m. — Bladerunner was amazing! It's one of those movies that puts me in a contemplative and mischievous zone after. We walk around a bit in the area before we walk home. I read a little bit of a new book (A Personal Matter) and then pack up to go back to my boyfriend's place. I always feel like I carry too many bags for a simple overnight trip. I always bring work stuff, project work stuff, a change of clothes, and homemade food so I won't have to buy anything. Bridge toll again. $5
10:30 p.m. — We're both energized but can't stay out too late because there's work tomorrow, so we decide to go inhale junk food. He gets animal fries from In-N-Out and I get curly fries from Jack in the Box. I honestly don't like the In-N-Out fries very much and I haven't had curly fries in years. Sooo good. $3.23
Daily Total: $19.23

Day Six

9:30 a.m. — Head into the office, which feels very normal even though we've been out for a week. The water cooler talk, as expected, is all about the fire and how we've been affected. On the way to work, I take a longer look at my hair, which I thought was in good shape; in reality, it is dying at the ends. I'm seriously overdue for a haircut so I make an appointment when I get to work. It's been a year and a half, and I cringe about having to explain the state of my hair to my hairdresser later.
10:30 a.m. — I eat the yogurt and granola that I brought from home and a plum an hour later. There's also nut mix around the office. Mmm, cashews.
1:45 p.m. — For lunch, there's a bunch of leftover cheese pizza in the work fridge which I know will get thrown out if people don't partake. Free food! (Even though I do feel a bit of pizza overload coming on.) I get into a good groove after lunch and it's a productive day. I chat with a friend at the company about a new role I would possibly take on in a few months. I'm always conflicted between wanting to pursue my Tater Tot Project and my professional career at this company. For now, I feel lucky that I'm able to do both, but I know that if I don't push for career opportunities at my company, I won't get them (when you tell people you want to work part-time, they know you're half out the door).
5:15 p.m. — Head over to chop off some dead hair! It's $30 and I give $9 tip (exactly how much cash I have left). She's really nice and says my hair damage isn't too bad (phew), and proceeds to give me the quickest haircut I've ever had. I get in and out in under 20 minutes. $39
6:15 p.m. — Oh no, my hair is flaring out because it's about shoulder length, which I hate. When she asked if I want layers, I said, “Uh, sure. Why not?” Wrong choice. Why did I do this to myself? I visit my boyfriend before I head home. He does not understand why I'm grumpy about my hair or why I spend five minutes staring in the mirror.
7:20 p.m. — He offers me chicken curry to go with my polenta, which I happily eat for dinner. We listen to an interesting NPR Fresh Air episode about the importance of sleep. By this point, I'm done being upset about my hair. There's nothing I can do about it since my goal other than grow it out.
8:40 p.m. — My boyfriend convinces me to stay a bit longer instead of leaving, so I start working on Project Tater Tot while he reads and makes weird noises on the foam roller. I get in a good two hours of work, hang out a bit, then make the drive home. I am SO happy to be in my own bed, and look forward to staying put for a few days, having some alone time, and getting some work done.
Daily Total: $39

Day Seven

8:45 a.m. — I cannot make myself go to the gym in the morning unless I'm meeting someone. So I sleep in until my first meeting starts. I like my job, there's a lot of odds and ends I take care of today, before I do more technical work. It can be hard for people with a bachelor's degree in science to get more interesting jobs, and I think project management is something to keep in mind if it sounds interesting to you.
10:20 a.m. — I make crispy seasoned bean curd, a fried egg, yam greens and Hong Kong noodles with oyster sauce and sesame oil for breakfast. I drink the rest of my soup too. I eat a plum an hour later.
1:45 p.m. — For lunch, I add different seasonings to my polenta to change it up and eat a polenta bowl with garlic, parmesan, and a boatload of fresh parsley. My fridge is out of vegetables, so I'll have to make a trip later today. My friend left me a small green tea ice cream encased in chocolate waffle. I try it and it's really good. I've never had the chocolate and green tea combination before, I tentatively like it.
3 p.m. — Snack on yogurt with lemon curd.
5 p.m. — I do a 20-minute cardio kickboxing workout at home after work is done. I feel disproportionately proud of myself.
6:30 p.m. — I decide to walk to the closest grocery store because I only need veggies. It's nice to get out of the house and keeps me sane. As it turns out, this store is really expensive; I hone in on the sale stuff and grab three zucchinis, two carrots, and a pint of Straus cookies and cream ice cream, which is my current obsession. For dinner, I make pan-fried tofu slices with a Vietnamese marinade, a bunch of veggies (onions, carrot, zucchini), and use some leftover polenta. I share dinner with my roommate, and he shares the cherry kompot (Russian fruit drink) he made. It's really refreshing. I'm happy I've got enough leftovers for the next three meals. $7.84
9 p.m. — I read a few chapters of my new book and mess around on the internet for a while. I do a little bit of research on training classes that would be helpful for my project and might also be helpful for my job. I wonder if I can convince them to pay for it...
10 p.m. — Ice cream break. I wonder if someone who wanted some of the pint would be able to tell that I seek out the cookie bits.
Daily Total: $7.84
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