A Week In Washington, D.C., On A $40,000 Salary

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Today: a program assistant at a nonprofit who makes $40,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a Guinness beer.
Occupation: Program Assistant
Industry: Nonprofit
Age: 22
Location: Washington, D.C.
Salary: $40,000
Paycheck Amount (Biweekly): $1,204.67
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $733 for a tiny bedroom that is basically a shoebox, but at least it's cheap rent!
Student Loan Payment: $0 (I come from a low-income family and am a first-gen student who was lucky enough to have received full financial aid.)
Utilities: ~$100
Cell Phone: $0 (I'm still on my parents' plan.)
Spotify/Hulu: $12.99 for an account that my parents also use
Transportation: $90 for a monthly rail SelectPass
Health Insurance: $0 (I'm still on my parents' plan — that early 20s life!)
403(b): My employer puts 3% of each paycheck into an account no matter how much I contribute, but I chose to put in 3% as well.
Roth IRA: I currently have $12,000 in a Roth IRA after saving aggressively throughout college and working several jobs since I was 16. I add the money each year from my savings — not sure if this is the best method, but I figure it's better than nothing.
Savings: I try to put about 20-30% of each paycheck into my savings account, and at the end of the month I transfer it all into a high-yield account. The amount varies depending on how much I have left in my checking after paying off my credit card bill.

Day One

6 a.m. — It's way too early to be up (for me, anyway), but I signed up for the breakfast shift at the women's shelter I volunteer at. I shower, get dressed, pack a lunch, and head out the door to get on the Metro.
9 a.m. — After my shift, I'm starving, so I walk to Slipstream nearby and get a latte and a breakfast sandwich with pancetta, arugula, cheese, egg, and habanero jam — all the good stuff. $14.30
12:30 p.m.— Eat lunch at my desk — it's a busy day at work. A few weeks ago, we had a work event and ordered way too much food, and we had a bunch of large tins of white rice leftover. I took one home and tossed it in my freezer, and here I am a couple weeks later still trying to finish it off. I have a batch of fried rice with bok choy, peas, and tempeh.
7 p.m. — I'm helping out with several reports that have immovable deadlines, so I stay a little late at work. I head out and take the Metro back home.
7:30 p.m. — I watch Jeopardy! while cooking dinner. I pan fry onions and pancetta, add Trader Joe's cauliflower gnocchi, diced tomatoes, and chopped kale, and top with toasted pine nuts and cheese. I save half for another meal sometime this week.
8:30 p.m. — My roommate and I battle a giant hopping bug in our kitchen. Afterwards, I call my boyfriend, C., who lives in Baltimore, to tell him about our bug adventure and catch up on our days.
Daily Total: $14.30

Day Two

8 a.m. — Rise and shine! I get up, shower, get dressed, and head to the Metro. I'm at work by 9:30.
9:30 a.m. — I eat breakfast at my desk. I'm a creature of habit, and every day I have Chobani peach yogurt and a piece of fruit. Today, I'm polishing off the last of my honeycrisp apple collection.
1 p.m. — After eating lunch (fried rice again), a coworker and I head out to take pictures for a report we are writing about a specific issue in D.C. We take a Lyft there and back ($21.23, expensed). Before we head back to the office, we realize we're next to a brewery and decide to play hooky for 20 minutes to indulge in their happy hour. As an extreme lightweight who ordered a beer with almost a 9% ABV, it's a little thrilling to come back to the office slightly tipsy. $5
6:30 p.m. — I meet up with my book club. We discuss this month's pick, which is Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. I am a sucker for any work of historical fiction, and I'm an immigrant myself, so when immigration is weaved in, I'm even more on board. I loved it, and it's a great book to discuss.
8 p.m. — A few girls from book club want to check out the D.C. Design Week pop-up shop at Cherry Blossom Creative in Shaw, and I join in. We split a Lyft there. $2.52
9 p.m. — The pop-up shop is so cool! I love supporting local artists, so I can't resist buying two pieces. I get a gorgeous abstract piece by LA Johnson and a beautiful print of D.C. row houses by Lunch City Studio. $61.34
9:30 p.m. — The other girls Lyft home, but I decide to catch the bus to save some money, since I have a pretty sizable balance on my MetroCard for when my SelectPass doesn't apply (since I use the $2.50 price point for just rail). Plus, I really love riding the bus. I get home, heat up leftover cauliflower gnocchi for dinner, chat with my roommates, and head to bed.
Daily Total: $68.86

Day Three

6 a.m. — I'm up early again. I received a free one-month ClassPass trial, and this morning I'm signed up for a class at a gym nearby. The class is a mix of dance and strength training. When I show up, there are only two other people there, both of whom are regulars. I'm a little nervous, but the instructor is super encouraging and patient. I will definitely be back before my trial expires! I also haven't worked out in a while…and oh boy, my muscles are SORE afterwards.
9:30 a.m. — I get to work and have my usual yogurt, this time with a banana. #SwitchingItUp
1 p.m. — I was pretty much in meetings all morning, and am getting increasingly nervous about this report deadline. I eat lunch at my desk while working. For some lunches I like to buy the bagged salad kits at the grocery store, split it into two, and add my own toppings. Today, I have a chopped Asian salad to which I added edamame and cashews.
6:30 p.m. — My friends and I are seeing Phoebe Robinson's show at the Lincoln Theater. U Street is about a 30-minute walk from my office, and it's a relatively nice day, so I pop in some earbuds and listen to the Binge Mode: Harry Potter episode.
9 p.m. — Wow, the show was so good and so funny! Tig Notaro and Phoebe were both hilarious, and I add Phoebe's new book to my Goodreads “to read” list. I check my transit app and see that it's a 30-minute wait for the next bus, so I take the Metro home instead. I'm weirdly not hungry when I get home, so I snack on yogurt and kettle corn while chatting with my roommates. Not exactly the pinnacle of health, but oh well.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

9 a.m. — I swing by my local community center to vote early! It sounds cheesy, but I really do get a thrill from voting. I just became a U.S. citizen six years ago, so it's really important to me. (Side note: Being a D.C. resident can be discouraging because we have no voting representation on a national level, but I'm very passionate about local seats — like D.C. Council and ANCs.)
12 p.m. — It's an extremely slow day at the office. Due to a combination of vacations, illnesses, and conferences, there is only one other person in. Woof. I eat my lunch at my desk — the other half of the Asian chopped salad.
1 p.m. — I ordered a rollneck sweater from J.Crew online last week while they were having a 40% off sale and had it shipped to a nearby store to save on cost. I love that I can do that! I walk to J.Crew to pick it up. It was supposed to come with a free tote bag as part of the promotion, but the store seems to have lost it. I don't really mind, though — the tote wasn't particularly amazing and I have plenty of bags at home anyway.
2:30 p.m. — My coworker tells me about an app called Ritual where you can order lunch ahead of time while at work. She sends me a referral link and we both get $5 credit. It's also “Eats Week” on the app, which means they are running special promotions, including 50 cent cappuccinos at a nearby cafe! Um, heck yes. I order one to tide me over on this sleepy and slow Friday afternoon, and keep the $5 credit for when I want to order something more substantial. $0.50
5:30 p.m. — I head back home on the Metro and clean my room a little bit before C. shows up for the weekend.
6:30 p.m. — We decide on Lucky Buns for dinner and head over there. I've never had any of their non-burger menu items, so I order a katsu-style chicken sandwich with nori, pickled daikon, and karashi slaw. We also split an order of fries. It's all so good! C. pays.
8 p.m. — C. and I have both been listening to Binge Mode: Harry Potter, so we're in a very HP mood today. C. brought some of the movies with him, and we make it through the entirety of Sorcerer's Stone and about half an hour of Chamber of Secrets before we get sleepy and call it a night.
Daily Total: $0.50

Day Five

8 a.m. — I have a hair appointment at 9 today, so I get up a little early to shower and get dressed. I booked a cut and a full balayage. I want to go lighter but am not sure what direction I should go in, so I give a vague description to my amazing colorist (who I trust completely), and she takes the wheel. It turns out amazing! Getting hair done in D.C. is not cheap, but I only go to the salon every three or four months. I've set aside some money from earlier paychecks to pay for this. $245.04
11:30 a.m. — C. picks me up from the salon and we drive to Maryland to his parents' house to hang out with them and his little brother. I haven't eaten all day, and his mom graciously warms up a bowl of leftover chili for me.
1:30 p.m. — All of us pile into a car and drive to the new Guinness Brewery in Baltimore County. It's the first Guinness brewery in the U.S. in over 60 years, and damn, it's huge. We put our name in for a table at the restaurant upstairs, but hang out downstairs when they tell us it'll be a couple hours. C.'s parents get us all beer and some crab poutine while we talk, watch the band, and hang out for the entire afternoon. I end up getting four beers and only paying for one. (God bless this family.) For our meal at the restaurant, I get French onion soup and split a salad with C.'s mom. $7
7 p.m. — We drive back to C.'s parents' house and watch Ant-Man and the Wasp. It doesn't take long before I pass out — I've seen this movie already and beer makes me sleepy. Also, I'm notorious for falling asleep everywhere I go. I basically miss the entire film.
10 p.m. — C. drives us both back to my place. All this family time has me really missing my parents. They are both out of the country right now, and sending only sporadic updates through WhatsApp. I can't wait until they come back.
Daily Total: $252.04

Day Six

9:30 a.m. — Happy Sunday! C. and I walk to a bakery in my neighborhood and both get breakfast sandwiches and coffee. I pay, since he picked up dinner on Friday. $16.81
10:30 a.m. — Back in July, I was able to snag some us tickets to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, so we go today. This will be my second time going and C.'s first time. It's such a fantastic museum and rich with so much information that this could be my twentieth time and I'd still learn something new.
2:15 p.m. — We're wiped after walking over five miles in the museum. We go back to my place and C. gets his stuff together to head back to Baltimore. After he leaves, I eat some yogurt with peanut butter and honey and try to catch up on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, but end up napping.
4 p.m. — Boring Sunday activities include: cleaning the bathroom, washing dishes, doing laundry.
6 p.m. — I head to the grocery store and pick up some ingredients for meals this week. I get eggs, kielbasa, cabbage, peppers, onion, and yogurt. I figure it'll last me half the week — I live really close to the store and like to do short trips throughout the week rather than one big haul.
7 p.m. — For dinner tonight, I make shakshuka. I heat up the last of my frozen white rice (thank God!) and eat that as a side as well, saving a little over half of the shakshuka for lunch tomorrow.
8:30 p.m. — Fighting off the Sunday scaries by lighting a candle, doing a face mask, and starting a new book: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
Daily Total: $16.81

Day Seven

9:30 a.m. — I haven't bought the newest issue of Street Sense yet. There's a vendor outside the Metro station by my office, so I pick one up. Street Sense is a biweekly newspaper that elevates the voices of D.C. residents experiencing homelessness. They write articles about everything, from District politics and local issues to pop culture and personal poetry. It's a truly great newspaper that aims to break down stereotypes and educate the community. Vendors distribute them for a voluntary donation of $2, but I always tip. $4
12:30 p.m. — There was an event this morning at our office and they have tons of leftover bagels that the manager tells us to help ourselves to. I get a plain bagel and toast it, using it as sort of a makeshift bread for my shakshuka. It actually kind of works!
6 p.m. — I take the bus to Georgetown to attend a yoga class through my free ClassPass trial. I meet a friend there, who also has a free trial. It's my first time doing yoga and…well, I don't hate it. Maybe it was just the instructor, but I felt pretty lost the whole time. I'm not sure if I would go back to this particular studio, and I decide to dedicate the remainder of my free ClassPass credits to non-yoga classes.
7:30 p.m. — My friend wants to go out for dinner, but I don't feel like spending money, so I decline. I take the bus home and make dinner (and several lunches) from my grocery store ingredients instead. I chop up the peppers, onion, and cabbage, and add garlic, a little olive oil, smoked paprika, and red wine vinegar. I add the kielbasa at the end. It's pretty good!
9 p.m. — I don't really feel like reading or watching TV tonight, so instead I call a friend from college to catch up. We end up talking for hours. I'm still trying to navigate friendship in the post-college diaspora, and calls like this always make me feel really good! I make a mental note to call more of my friends more often.
Daily Total: $4
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