A Week In Shanghai On A $44,000 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. (Thanks, New York mag, for the inspiration.)

This week, a freelance journalist in Shanghai with weekends consisting of dim sum and Cards Against Humanity.
Industry: Freelance journalist
Age: 28
Location: Shanghai, China
Salary: $44,000
Paycheck Amount: Between $3,000 and $4,000/month. I pay quarterly estimated taxes in the U.S. For projects in China, I am taxed before receiving payment and don't need to file anything.
# of roommates: 0 Monthly Expenses
Rent: $700
529 account: In January, I started putting $500/month in a 529.
Utilities: Between $20 and $50 depending on AC usage (most summer days it's over 100 degrees and extremely humid)
Housekeeper: $38 (once a week)
Transportation: $20; I cycle most of the time, with the occasional taxi (about $5), bus ($0.30) or metro ($0.45 to $0.90) trip.
Phone Bill: It's pay-as-you-go, and I top-up roughly $30 every six weeks.
Health Insurance: $149

Annual Expenses
: $500/year
Savings: I max out my IRA annually ($5,500)

Day One

6:30 a.m. — I work from home, but I get up early so I can take an hour out in the afternoon to run errands. 7 a.m. — I was in Taipei a few weeks ago and refreshed my stash of health food, so I add chia and flax seeds to a bowl of Greek yogurt with oats and a banana. I have two cups of green tea and, for good measure, drink a glass of water with a calcium effervescent tab. I have breakfast while reading the news. 8 a.m. — I ride my bike 15 minutes to the gym and practice reading Chinese characters while power-walking on the treadmill. 9:45 a.m. — Slather some almond butter on toast and get to work on an article on social enterprises in China. 12 p.m. — I need a break, and I need groceries. I grab a backpack and bike 15 minutes to a former open-air fruit stand that's now an expat grocery haven. It's run by a woman lovingly referred to as The Avocado Lady who stocks her stall with her namesake fruit and everything else Western expats desperately crave. I leave with avocados, fresh peas, a dozen eggs, an eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, kale, green beans, a bag of dried chickpeas, and a bag of lentils. I also get 1 kg (35 ounces) of Greek yogurt at a shocking almost $10 — I really need to make my own. The produce and dairy will last me 10 days, and the beans a month or so. $40
1 p.m. — My lovely retiree neighbors are chit-chatting in the hallway, as they do daily. And, as they do every time I come home with groceries, they ask what's in the bag and then laugh at "the strange things foreigners eat." I love chatting with them, and it's great Chinese practice. When my sweet and saintly next-door neighbor's son got married, I baked them some chocolate chip cookies, and now the neighbors regularly ask me if I'm baking them. I wish. Instead, I make a kale salad and then procrastinate writing by washing some sweaters.
3:15 p.m. — I finish the article and send it to an editor in Bangkok. 4 p.m. — My housekeeper arrives, and we chat a bit. I offer her some toast, which she's never had before. I tell her it's better with almond butter, and she agrees. I realize I'm out of detergent so I run down the block to get some and also pick up a new pack of sponges. $9.60

6:30 p.m. — I rarely eat out, but I have two friends visiting from the States. We go for Shanghainese food and share scallion-oil noodles, red-braised pork, some sautéed greens, shrimp, rice, and a couple of beers. Like a good Chinese hostess, I grab the bill before they can. $40 8 p.m. — We go down the block for drinks; my gin and tonic is $8, but my friends cover the round. Daily Total: $89.60

Day Two

7:40 a.m. — I was up late (for me) reading a book about the yakuza (Japanese crime syndicate), so I get up later than usual. Breakfast is kale with a fried egg and green tea. 8 a.m. — I'm on my way to the gym when I remember I need to soak some chickpeas. I go back to do that, but it's now pouring, so I take the bus instead of my bike. $0.30. 9:30 a.m. — I'm leaving the gym when my former colleague texts me to say she's working from home today and asks if I want to join her. 10 a.m. — Walking to her house, I pass a fruit stand and decide to spring for a pound of cherries. $5 1 p.m. — We take a break from clacking away at our keyboards and eat some of her leftover dumplings, stir-fried eggplant, and water greens. 3:15 p.m. — I'm still here, and we need a snack, so I run out for bananas. $0.30. 5 p.m. — Home and unusually tired. I run downstairs for some firm tofu and then make stir-fry, which I eat while watching Modern Family on Hulu. $1

Daily Total: $6.60

Day Three

6:30 a.m. — Wake up and it's pouring again. I decide to skip the gym and make coffee with grounds I brought back from Thailand. Getting wild over here. I eat an avocado with a spoon. 12:30 p.m. — After spending the morning writing about vegetarian restaurants, I make a salad with kale, chickpeas, and a tomato that was hiding in the crisper. I have this all with quinoa that I bought in Taiwan. 1 p.m. — I need to give my eyes a break from the screen. I listen to a learning-Chinese podcast while putting away clean laundry. 2 p.m. — I spend a couple of hours brainstorming article ideas and organizing photo contacts. 4 p.m. — Feeling bad about skipping the gym, and having not showered anyway, I go out on a long bike ride. 6:30 p.m. — Inhale two slices of toast with almond butter and banana. I'm still hungry so I run downstairs for two apples and two mandarin oranges. $1.50 Daily Total: $1.50

Day Four

7 a.m. — I make green tea and then decide I want scrambled eggs, so I run to the convenience store for a half-pint of milk $0.70. 7:15 a.m. — Making scrambled eggs with kale and zucchini and listening to Serial. 8 a.m. — I have loads of work today, so I skip the gym again, vowing to go over the weekend. I spend the morning sourcing photos for two articles, even picking up the phone to chase a photographer. 11 a.m. — Why am I so hungry? I eat some oats with almond butter. 12:30 p.m. — Lunch is a tofu, eggplant, lentil, and green bean stir-fry over quinoa. 2:45 p.m. — Losing my stamina, I make a cup of black tea. When I get the milk from the fridge, I discover two remaining squares of dark chocolate. I immediately stuff them in my mouth. 6 p.m. — I need to finish an article tonight and I try to cut out screen time at 8 p.m., so I eat the other half of yesterday's avocado with some chickpeas and then have a mandarin orange. 9:15 p.m. — I'm so close to being done... 10:15 p.m. — Now I'm really done. I read for 20 minutes; I'm finished with the yakuza and now I'm reading Nell Freudenberger's The Newlyweds. Daily Total: $0.70

Day Five

6:45 a.m. — I'm out of bananas and, even though the fruit stand is right downstairs, I do without and have oats and yogurt for breakfast. 7:45 a.m. — I'm already hungry, so I grab a banana and eat it with one hand while riding my bike to the gym. $0.20 9:30 a.m. — As I'm biking past a bakery, I remember I only have one slice of bread left in the freezer. I pick up a loaf of whole wheat and, since there's a sale on blueberries, buy two pints. $4.50 10:15 a.m. — I munch on toast with almond butter and blueberries while I read the newspaper. 11 a.m. — I need to get to work. I spend the next three hours writing about ruins across Southeast Asia 2 p.m. — I make stir-fry (bell pepper, eggplant, peas, tofu), pour it over quinoa, and save the leftovers for dinner. 5 p.m. — My downstairs neighbor invites me over for dinner. I'm thrilled, jumping at the chance to have someone else cook for me. Fortunately I have a bottle of sake from Taiwan in my closet, so I bring that down. My neighbor's husband has been practicing making pasta, and tonight's attempt is impressive. We have an arugula and fig salad and linguini with pesto from the basil they're growing on our communal balcony. 10:15 p.m. — I'm back in my apartment and cannot resist watching an episode of The Mindy Project.

Daily Total: $4.70

Day Six

7 a.m. — I'm making tea and an omelet, when my friend asks if I want to join him at cycling class. He has a guest pass, so that's an enthusiastic "Yes!" 11:30 a.m. — The locker room is too crowded, so we both shower at my place. I make some avocado toast, green tea for him, and black tea with milk for me. 12:45 p.m. — I have a dryer, rare in Shanghai, so my friend runs home to get his laundry and then does a load at my place. 2 p.m. — It's now really nice out, so with the clothes in the dryer, we head out for a walk, meandering through the French Concession. 3 p.m. — I stop to use the bathroom at Starbucks and we run into another friend. We decide to get ice cream, and I break from my usual cookies n' cream and go for black sesame. It's not bad, but I'm not a convert. $5 5 p.m. — My friend and I take the metro three stops back to my apartment so he can get his laundry. $0.45. 5:30 p.m. — Home and debating whether I want to meet friends for drinks or laze around. I run around the corner for a head of garlic to sauté with green beans. $0.35 7 p.m. — Eating and reading a magazine online. In my former-colleagues group chat, we're discussing getting dim sum tomorrow. Eating out two times in a week is unusual for me. We agree to meet at 11, and luckily it's only a block from my gym. 10 p.m. — Lights out. Daily Total: $5.80

Day Seven

7 a.m. — Think about my upcoming trip to Japan while I drink green tea and a glass of water with a vitamin C effervescent. 8 a.m. — I poach two eggs and then spread my last avocado on toast. Eat breakfast while reading the paper. 9:30: a.m. — I bike to the gym, run for 20 minutes, and then see that there's a cycling class at 10 a.m. that still has a few open slots. 10:45 a.m. – Sprint from class into the shower and I make it to dim sum just in time. We catch up over cha siu bao (barbecued pork buns), har gow (shrimp dumplings), chang fen (rice paper rolls), si ji dou (dry-fried green beans), and zongzi (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo leaves). $13 1:30 p.m. — We decide to play Cards Against Humanity and everyone comes back to my place. 3:45 p.m. — The game is going strong, but, unsurprisingly, we're hungry. I have some banana bread in my freezer, but it's not enough. I pop to the fruit stand and buy a pound of cherries. $6. 5:30 p.m. — Now alone, I marinate and then pan-fry some tofu and eat it with green beans with garlic and a sliced bell pepper. 7:30 p.m. — Craving something slightly sweet. I eat a spoonful of almond butter. 10 p.m — I go to bed after finishing The Newlyweds. Daily Total: $19
Editor's Note: All prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Money Diaries are meant to reflect individual women’s experiences and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29’s point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

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