A Week In Saint Louis, MO, On A $29,500 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 research technician working in biomedical research who makes $29,500 per year and spends part of her paycheck this week on floral-printed sneakers.
Occupation: Research Technician
Industry: Biomedical Research
Age: 23
Location: Saint Louis, MO
Salary: $29,500
Paycheck (Biweekly): $826
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $704, which includes monthly pet fee, water, garage parking, and renter's insurance.
Student Loan Payment: $175
Health Insurance: ~$45, taken out of my paycheck pre-tax
403(b): $50, taken out of my paycheck pre-tax and matched by my employer
Utilities: ~$30
Phone Bill: $35
Internet: $45
Netflix: $7.99
Amazon Prime: $11.99
Additional Expenses
Car Insurance: $163, every three months

Day One

8 a.m. — After waking up and feeding the cat, I brew coffee and head to work. (I've been brewing at home more often lately in an attempt to avoid purchasing the overpriced coffee at the café in my building.) It's chilly out but nice enough to walk; the university I work at gives me a free yearly bus and Metro pass, but since it's less than a mile away, I usually travel on foot.
12:30 p.m. — Most days, I eat in the lunch room with my coworkers, but today, we have a presentation on women's reproductive health. A vulvovaginal dermatologist presents some of the diseases she specializes in treating; the subject matter might gross people out (especially while eating lunch) but I've been working with this lab for years and it doesn't faze me.
3 p.m. — Feeling the late-afternoon slump hard, I take a short break and grab a granola bar from the vending machine, as well as a cup of free hot chocolate from the department's stock. Most of my actual lab work is done for the day, so I take the treats back to my desk and catch up on documentation for the few projects I'm working on. $1.25
7 p.m. — After a long day in the lab, I walk home. For dinner, I haphazardly throw together a meal of frozen veggies and boxed mac and cheese before I visit my parents. They live about 20 minutes away from me, so I try to make an effort to visit them at least once a week, if not more. I'm in the process of applying to graduate programs and I know that if I get in, I'll move across the country and won't be able to see them as often, so I'm trying to make the most of living in the same town as them for now. (Plus, they let me do laundry at their house for free!)
Daily Total: $1.25

Day Two

8:30 a.m. — It's Friday! I wake up a bit earlier today and head out for a jog. (I've been slacking on running lately because it's been below freezing most days.) Then I make a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast along with some coffee. Our lab doesn't have a dress code because we're wearing lab coats most of the day (besides long pants and closed-toe shoes for safety reasons), but on Fridays, I tend to wear leggings and a hoodie, which is far more casual than what I wear the rest of the week. It saves me time in the morning and is a lot more comfortable. I pack my bag, walk to work, and begin the day.
12 p.m. — Our department has regular lunch seminars where labs can present what they've been working on lately. They always provide free pizza (which is pretty much my main motivation to go to these things). I get two slices of cheese and a cup of coffee. The seminar today is about tuberculosis and it's pretty interesting.
4 p.m. — After a long day working on isolating DNA from samples and culturing plates of bacteria for future experiments, I finally get a chance to sit down and catch up on documentation. I try to write in my lab notebook every day, and if I do something different than normal, I note that. I grab a hot tea and get to work.
6 p.m. — After work, I head home and pack. I'm driving to see my boyfriend for the weekend. He lives an hour and a half away in the town we both went to college in, so we try to see each other every weekend or at least every other weekend. I fill my tank for less than $20 (love those Midwest gas prices!), grab a snack from the gas station, and hit the road. I recently got my first credit card, and I've been using it to pay for gas because I earn 5% back on gas station purchases during this quarter. I'm still new to the whole credit card thing, so I try to be cautious with how much I use it. So far it's been working out. I have a pretty decent credit score already because I make my student loan payments on time, but I know I need to build it up more. $23
9 p.m. — My partner isn't much of a cook, but he attempts to make grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for dinner. It's not too bad, and we're all about saving money by cooking at home as often as possible. We spend the evening catching up and watching Amazon's new show, Electric Dream. We're both pretty big sci-fi nerds, so a series based on the stories of Philip K. Dick is right up our alley!
Daily Total: $23

Day Three

10:30 a.m. — Thankful to be able to sleep in this morning. After I wake up, I go for a quick jog, shower, and do my skincare routine. My partner has to work from 12 to 5 today, so I've called up a few of my old college friends to see if anyone wants to hang out. One friend is free and we decide to walk to a coffee shop. I get a dirty iced chai tea latte, my favorite! It's pricey, but I know the owners of the shop and I'm happy to support a local business. $5.30
2 p.m. — My friend has Kohl's Cash that he wants to spend, so we go to the local shopping center. It's a small town so having Kohl's is a big deal. We spend a bit of time browsing, and I find a blue button-up top that actually fits over my bust (!) and is on sale! I find a cute pair of shoes on sale, too. I have a shoe problem, I'll admit, but these sneakers have a pretty embroidered floral design and they'll be great for spring. $45
5 p.m. — When my boyfriend gets off work, my friend and I pick him up and we all go out to dinner. Shakes and burgers for them and chili for me. We each pay for our own meals and spend a few hours chatting before we drop off my friend. I text my brother, who is watching my cat while I'm away. She's pretty independent and does fine on her own for a day or two, but he lets me know he's been over to feed her. $10.88
8:30 p.m. — My friend and I decide to meet for beers at our local craft brewery. I've been trying to do Dry January and it has been going well so far, but I really miss the local beer, so I get one and pay for one of hers, too. I have cash, which I use instead of my card. She buys us a charcuterie platter and we talk the night away. $12
11 p.m. — After my friend goes home, my boyfriend and I head to a local dive bar to catch up with other old friends and play pool. I'm not drinking the rest of the night, so he buys me a Sprite and I agree to be the designated driver. We close out the bar and head home around 1 a.m.
Daily Total: $73.18

Day Four

11 a.m. — Ugh. I didn't drink a lot last night, but I've overslept enough that I get that icky, groggy feeling of too much sleep and not enough water. I do some yoga to try and shake it before making coffee. Boyfriend's mom is coming over for lunch today, so we go to the grocery store for ingredients. He pays.
1 p.m. — We whip up spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce, brussels sprouts, garlic bread, and red wine. His mom and younger brother come over with their dog, and we have a nice time catching up. After lunch, we walk to the park and play catch with the dog. It's brisk out but not as cold as it's been lately, which is nice.
7 p.m. — Boyfriend packs me leftovers to take home. It'll make a nice lunch tomorrow. I say my goodbyes, fill up my tank and hit the road. $22
10 p.m. — I like to take long, hot baths on Sunday evenings and then cozy up with a book and a cup of tea. Before going to bed, I program the coffee maker to brew in the morning.
Daily Total: $22

Day Five

8 a.m. — I wake up, after snoozing my alarm twice, to my cat pawing at my face. My apartment is freezing. The temperature dropped at least 20 degrees overnight and it's near torture to drag myself out from under my heated blanket. I feed the cat breakfast and pour myself coffee. I consider going for a jog this morning, but I really hate running in freezing temps because I don't have the proper gear. I do some light stretching instead. Today is cold, but I don't feel like waiting for the bus, so I just walk.
12 p.m. — One of my coworkers presents a paper she's working on and hoping to submit soon. We give feedback on her work, and after the meeting is over, it's back to the lab. I eat the leftover spaghetti I brought and an apple.
6 p.m. — After I get home from work, I take a look in my fridge and realize it's time to go grocery shopping. I grab my reusable bags and head to the Trader Joe's about 20 minutes away. I usually go to Schnucks (a local supermarket chain) but I specifically want a few Trader Joe's items. I pick up plenty of fresh veggies, a loaf of bread, cheese, beans, rice, almond butter, hummus, coffee, oranges, chickpeas, granola bars, a bottle of merlot, a few tins of cat food, and other odds and ends. This will last me about two weeks. I have a system: eat all the produce and perishables first, then subsist on beans and rice for the last week until I get paid and can go shopping again. $90.15
8 p.m. — When I get home, I listen to Sango while I cook dal with rice for my dinner. I've come to really love cooking in the past year. There's something romantic and beautiful about filling my tiny kitchen with the aroma of garlic, ginger, and onions, and then creating a dish out of individual ingredients. A coworker gifted me a box of garam masala seasoning, which brings the dal to a whole new level. I put aside enough for my lunch tomorrow before digging in.
11 p.m. — I try out a new face mask that makes my skin so bright and clear! Then I play with my cat for a little bit before crawling into bed. She plays by herself for a while, but around midnight she usually crawls on top of my feet and sleeps there for the rest of the night. Cats are so weird.
Daily Total: $90.15

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — It's so cold in my apartment, once again. Luckily a hot cup of coffee is a good incentive to get out of bed. I drink a cup, then shower, drink another, have a piece of toast, pack up my stuff, and head out. My impatience gets the best of me, and I walk in the cold rather than wait for the bus.
12:30 p.m. — A few of my coworkers also brought lunch from home today, so we all hang out and eat. We end up sitting and chatting for a while before going back to the lab. I've been working on getting samples ready for sequencing for about a week now, so I'm really excited to finally get it done.
6 p.m. — With the samples submitted, I finish up some documentation and walk home. I spend my evening Skyping with a long-distance friend while snacking on red peppers and hummus. After we say our goodbyes, I relax in a hot bubble bath and make it through a chunk of the book I checked out from the library.
11 p.m. — Bedtime! I set my alarm, prep the coffee machine, and browse Reddit for a little while before falling asleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8 a.m. — I follow my usual morning routine. The weather is a little nicer today, so I go for a quick run. Then, it's shower and skincare, pack my lunch, and out the door!
1 p.m. — Over lunch (red peppers, hummus, a granola bar, and an apple, I text with the mom of a potential tutoring client. (I tutor on and off during the semesters. It's a nice way to make a bit of extra cash when I have the time.) I usually tutor high-school students because I'm more familiar with their math level; it's been a while since I worked with any elementary schoolers, but how hard can it be, right? We set up a time to meet. I charge $30 per hour, but the first consultation is free.
3 p.m. — My student loan bill is on auto-pay, and I get a notification that this month's transaction was successful. Yay! Chipping away at that debt piece by piece. Around this same time, I start to get a migraine aura. I suffer from migraines a few times a month. They happen less in the winter, but I think this one was triggered by the big temperature jump today. For me, aura includes scintillating scotoma, which basically looks like an oscillating, shimmering fractal pattern disturbing my normal vision in one eye. Luckily, my job offers really great paid sick time (and my boss is very understanding about migraines), so I am able to go home early and take my medication. Then it's just a matter of laying in my room in the dark and waiting for it to go away.
8 p.m. — Migraines always throw off the rest of my day a little bit. Once this one subsides enough, I force myself to eat toast and drink plenty of water. The medication gives me side effects (brain fog, exhaustion, and a decreased appetite), but they usually wear off in a few hours. I read more of my book, play with my cat, and browse the Internet for a bit before heading to bed.
Daily Total: $0
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