A Week At A University In Massachusetts That Costs $56,000 A Year

Welcome to Money Diaries—College Edition where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We're asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.

Today: a Music and Education double major at a university that costs $56,000 a year spends some of her money this week on coasters.
Major: Music and Education
University Size: 6,000
University Location: Massachusetts
Age: 20
Salary/Allowance: Depends on the hours I work (and the music directing/theater gigs I can pick up), but usually $12,000-$15,000 a year. I do not receive an allowance. I work at a grocery store, a pizza restaurant, and as a music teacher.
Yearly Tuition Cost: $56,382 (Covered by financial aid and a little from my own income. Also, see below the cost of lessons that isn't covered by tuition but is required for my major.)
Student Loans Total: $11,000 (two unsubsidized federal loans in my own name)
Pronouns: She/her
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,000 (for my share of an apartment with three other roommates)
Utilities: ~$50
Piano Lessons: $300 (not covered by financial aid but required for my major)
Voice Lessons: $70 (I get a partial scholarship from the department since it's my primary instrument)
Conducting Lessons: $120 (see above)
WiFi: $15
Appcompanist: $15 (my voice teacher requires this while we can't meet and sing in person with a live pianist)
T Pass: $90 (on pause due to the pandemic)
Hulu/Spotify: use my family's
Amazon Prime: my mother pays and uses my student email for the discount!
Cell Phone: $15 (on a plan with my family)

Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
I always expected to go to college but my dad didn't, and if I had come up with a different career path I think they would have been fine with it. I'm currently a senior at a private liberal arts college and I have most/all of my tuition paid for through grant aid. Last year I took out a $5,500 loan (unsubsidized) to cover some housing expenses and various music lessons. I anticipate having to take out a slightly smaller one this year as well.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents struggled with money a lot — my dad probably had ten different jobs that I can remember. When I was REALLY little they tried to impart the importance of saving which was sort of useless because the two of them didn't make enough money to save. My mom definitely taught me how to frugally grocery shop/clip coupons/make food last, though!

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I got my first job when I was twelve (you could get a work permit in my state to work that young) at a construction firm answering phones and doing data entry. I got it to help with family bills a little and because I was starting to take music seriously and knew my parents didn't have money for an instrument of my own or lessons.

Did you worry about money growing up?
I'm the oldest of five siblings and only my dad had a job when I was growing up. He worked mostly as a salesman making nowhere near enough to support five kids. He was a very traditional Catholic, so he expected my mom to keep house and not get a job. My parents frequently couldn't afford groceries and were noticeably (even to me as a child) buried in debt. My siblings and I always worried about money — sometimes our friends' families would surreptitiously leave boxes of food on our doorstep or mail my parents checks. I always knew I'd be responsible for financing my own education and living expenses once I turned eighteen, and I've been doing so since then.

Do you worry about money now?
I do worry about money now, especially since the music and theater industries have really suffered from COVID-19 (and the fact that unlike large cultural organizations in Europe, American orchestras, operas, and theaters aren't state-funded). I'm not sure when I'll be able to make money from gigs again or teach music in a classroom safely, my two largest sources of income in normal times. I'm also concerned about further education budget cuts making my career path even less viable. Right now, my grocery store job combined with a student loan should pay my expenses for this year but I don't have enough to save or invest money, and I don't know how I'll afford to move after graduation.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I moved out of my parents' house to go to college a month before my 18th birthday and I've been financially responsible for myself since then. If I lost my housing I could probably bounce around between friends' houses for a while, but I don't see my parents stepping in, and I don't have a financial safety net.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Day One

8:30 a.m. — I wake up, get ready (I'm not going anywhere, so no need for makeup or anything), and eat a piece of Trader Joe's pancake bread for breakfast (I bought it for a "party" my housemates and I had last week... don't worry, we were the only ones there, we just dressed up and ate appetizers).
12 p.m. — I spend the morning practicing my piano and catching up with a friend, then eat leftover lentil soup and mozzarella sticks (from the aforementioned "party") for lunch! For dessert, I eat a tiny ice cream cone (from Trader Joe's). After lunch, I work on some lesson plans for a class I'm teaching later this summer, take a walk, and practice my conducting and singing once my housemate is done working from home for the day (I'm trying to be a respectful opera singer but it's hard).
3 p.m. — I'm shopping for a birthday present for a close friend from high school who turns 21 next week. I find some gorgeous coasters and a wall print from two Black artists on Society6 that I know she'll love and order them to be sent to her! This is kind of a lot of money to spend on a "nonessential" purchase for me, but she's one of my dearest friends and I got paid today, so I justify it to myself that way. While I'm thinking of her, I also put a stamp (that I've had for a while) on her birthday card and stick it in our mailbox. $34.24
6 p.m. — I apparently cannot get enough lentils, so I attempt toor dal for dinner. I'm sure I did it wrong because my lentils are way too mushy, but it's my first time! It still tastes good, and I eat it with rice and a little lime juice.
10 p.m. — I've got a tiny bit left in a bag of TJ's movie theater popcorn that I finish on a social Zoom call with some of my friends. I also eat a dark chocolate peanut butter cup and two tablespoons of homemade frozen cookie dough from last week. It's good to socialize and pretend things are normal, even if they're definitely not.
Daily Total: $34.24

Day Two

8 a.m. — I eat a slice of homemade bread, toasted, with 1/3 of an avocado, and Everything But The Bagel seasoning. I spend the morning working on lesson plans.
12 p.m. — I eat leftover pizza from work for lunch (I have a very part-time job at a pizza place right now, too, since I was supposed to work at an arts program for kids this summer that would have paid me well and I'm trying to recoup the financial losses if not career/social). I follow this up with ice cream because I'm feeling like a child today and it's 91 degrees outside.
2 p.m. — I leave my house to head to work at the grocery store. I fully intend to walk the two miles, but in the first ten minutes, I realize I'm way too hot and tired for this today, so I walk to the nearest T (subway) stop and refill my CharlieCard to take the train instead. $24
5 p.m. — After a short shift, I pick up chocolate-covered frozen bananas, eggs, and granola bites ($4.94, I get a discount). I take the train home (prepaid, above) and make sautéed veggies (carrots, peppers, broccoli, and chickpeas) with harissa over rice for dinner. My housemate, H., and I watch Schitt's Creek and bake peanut butter sandwich cookies (the LA Times recipe is AMAZING and we're obsessed with it. Look it up!) We both intend to head to bed around 11, but our other housemate, V., gets home and we end up talking to him till 12:30. So much for an early night! $4.94
Daily Total: $28.94

Day Three

9:30 a.m. — It's Saturday! I wake up and eat the last piece of homemade bread toasted with butter and realize that I REALLY need to go grocery shopping since I have no fruit at all. I'm working night shifts this weekend, so I won't be able to shop after I get off work.
10 a.m. — I Venmo my conducting teacher for this week's lesson and money I owe her from when I was unemployed (my three arts jobs shut down due to COVID-19 in March). She kindly let me pay half of her normal fee for a while until I got a new job. (This is accounted for in my monthly expenses above!)
12 p.m. — After a morning of lesson planning, I have a student organization board meeting to talk about what (if anything) we can do in the fall. It's also lunchtime, and I'm trying to eat all random bits of food in my fridge, so I eat ten carrots, some very broken chips, and about a tablespoon and a half of peach salsa while we discuss. I'm on the board of a Gilbert & Sullivan group that puts on operettas each year, so our options without in-person interactions are slim (virtual music isn't possible in real-time due to the delays of wireless connection and physical distances).
1:30 p.m. — I talk on the phone with my friend M. and eat a giant cone of cookie butter ice cream. I then pack a lunch of leftover toor dal and rice to take to work along with peanut butter sandwich cookies and plantain crisps.
3 p.m. — I set off on my two-mile walk to my grocery job! I'm working from 4-11 today and am excited to be in the air-conditioning for the hottest part of the day.
7 p.m. — I have a dinner break at work and eat the lunch I packed in our break room while I read on the Kindle app on my phone. The assistant managers have been working hard to ensure there are no more than three people on a meal break at once so we can stay six feet apart.
11 p.m. — I get off work and take the T home, where I take a quick shower and call my friend, D., who tried to call me earlier when I was busy. I talk to him for about an hour and then fall into bed, exhausted!
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

8:30 a.m. — I eat leftover crepes with lemon and sugar for breakfast (we made them last week). They're delicious. I spend the morning working on lesson plans and cramming in a conducting practice session and a singing practice session.
12 p.m. — Lunchtime! I make peanut sesame noodles and I add all of the veggies left in my fridge. I also pack dinner for later in a lunchbox.
1:15 p.m. — Off to work on foot! I listen to Dear Sugars as I walk.
6:30 p.m. — Meal break! I eat the last of the toor dal, watermelon, and plantain crisps, plus two tiny peanut butter sandwich cookies, and continue to read my book from yesterday.
10 p.m. — I head home on the train with my CharlieCard that still has money on it. I get home at about 10:30 and wash my dishes (and my hair) before climbing into bed with a book.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

9 a.m. — I have the day off, which is thrilling. I eat honey nut Chex for breakfast and long for fruit, so I make a grocery list and plan to do my actual shopping tomorrow. I spend the morning reading a book and practicing my conducting. Around 11, I decide to forgo piano for today since it's getting quite humid in my room.
12 p.m. — It starts raining and cools down! Yay! In celebration, I heat up lentil soup and then eat TJ's cookies with a spoonful of cookie butter.
6 p.m. — I make Fettuccini Alfredo using a recipe that claims to be traditional (no cream?). I make no claims about its authenticity, but it tastes good! After dinner, I practice singing and eat a piece of dark chocolate and a couple of frozen bananas slices covered with chocolate before watching Schitt's Creek with my housemate. We head to bed around 10:30, but my friend, B., calls me to debrief about a guy she's talking to. While we're talking, my friend, D., calls me four times, which I take as an emergency, but he really just heard a great string quartet he wants to discuss. I finally get to bed close to 1.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

8 a.m. — I'm up early to go grocery shopping! I eat honey nut Chex for breakfast and head off to the grocery store where I work. I grab squash, zucchini, apples, blueberries, hummus, carrots, eggs, butter ice cream, frozen peanut butter blondies, frozen chocolate-covered strawberries, vanilla, chocolate chips, masala sauce, black summer truffle ketchup, an onion, a lime, a lemon, green beans, peppers, new hatch chile popcorn, sweet plantain chips, bananas, corn and burrata ravioli, and dried carrots of many colors. With my employee discount, it's only $60.11. I take the train home with my groceries. $60.11
12 p.m. — I make tacos for lunch with squash, chickpeas, tortillas, and onions, and then I settle down to practice before a work meeting. I eat Cat Cookies For People from Trader Joe's for dessert.
3 p.m. — I have a work meeting then a voice lesson.
6 p.m. — I make cornbread because it's finally cool enough to turn on the oven and eat it for dinner with lentil soup. After dinner, I watch a bootleg of Sondheim's A Little Night Music and then read while listening to the original Broadway cast recording. I eat ice cream for dessert while I watch. In bed by midnight!
Daily Total: $60.11

Day Seven

8:30 a.m. — I eat honey nut Chex and a banana for breakfast, then settle down to read a novella, practice piano, and warm up my voice for the day.
11:45 a.m. — I have a webinar about social-emotional learning to attend today, and I multitask by warming up lentil soup and cornbread for lunch, followed by the last of the Cat Cookies for People. After lunch, I read for a little bit.
2:15 p.m. — I teach a cello lesson to one of my semi-committed students over FaceTime.
4:30 p.m. — I walk 10 minutes to my pizza job, where I have a short shift tonight.

9 p.m. — After work, I head home, pizza in hand (for dinner!), to take part in a social call with some friends! I'm in bed by midnight.

Daily Total: $0
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