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A Week In Rural Colorado On A $170,000 Salary

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Welcome to Money Diaries 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: An oil rig worker who makes $170,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on treatment for athlete’s foot.
Occupation: Rig worker
Industry: Oil and gas drilling
Age: 32
Location: Rural Colorado (I’m back home this week, but I work all over the world, including Wyoming, the Balkans, Romania, and the Gulf of Mexico in the past year.)
Salary: $40,000 (plus a variable bonus for every day worked, which was an additional $130,000 this year)
Net Worth: $505,000 (HYSA: $91,000 [I’m doing something with this, I swear. I really want an Airstream but probably need a house]; checking: $2,000; 401(k): $210,000; Roth IRA: $56,000; brokerage account: $98,000 [boo, market fluctuations — this was a lot higher]; value of truck: $48,000 if Kelley Blue Book can be trusted)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $~10,000 (This can vary from $800 to $18,000 depending on the number of days and types of jobs I work, but it’s usually around $10,000.)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,050 (I pay about half of the going rate in my area. My retired landlord is very choosy about renters. I was chosen because I’m drug tested regularly.)
Phone: $75 (I need to reduce this because I won’t be going overseas next year and don’t need an international plan.)
Gym: $45
The Wall Street Journal: $25 (I trade my parents for Netflix.)
Max: $35 (I trade friends for Hulu and Disney+.)
Amazon Prime: $15
Health Insurance: $0 (This is covered in full by my employer, along with dental and eye care. The flip side is that the healthcare providers in my area are out of network and don’t take my insurance.)
Supplemental Disability Insurance: $75

Semi-Annual Expenses
Truck Insurance: $650

Annual Expenses
United Club Infinite Credit Card Fee: $525

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?
There wasn’t an option B to college. I went because I didn’t know what else to do. I grew up in Georgia, which has the Zell Miller Scholarship, and as long as you kept a pulse in high school and a 3.3 in college, tuition was 100% covered by it (I think it’s more stringent now.) I picked chemical engineering and realized I viscerally hated the actual job during my first internship. I couldn’t afford to change my major and extend my school time because Zell Miller only covered a certain number of credit hours. My parents wouldn’t co-sign for loans and cut me off from any financial support during my first semester. I wound up taking an internship in the oil field just because it was different. Ironically, in this field, most people don’t go to college, and higher education is rarely a job requirement. My boy, B, who I met at work, dropped out of high school and didn’t get his GED until he wanted a job that required it.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents were the first generation in their families who didn’t live in poverty, so our conversations were centered around making a lot of money and spending less than you have. They pushed a lot of seemingly high-earning career paths on me (orthodontics, the law, actuarial science, et cetera). I had no interest in any of it and got cut off as a result. As far as any financial knowledge at the higher level, they still have no idea, and I’ve had to fumble through bigger investments on my own. My siblings and I are currently in a battle to make them aware that the short-term rental bubble has burst and that they shouldn’t invest in it. They’re terrified of the prospect of me going to independent 1099 contract work (my goal) because they firmly believe I won’t have health insurance or retirement options.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was as an altar server when I was 13. I was the oldest altar server at my church, so I got asked to do all the weddings (I’d get a $20 tip for each one). My first job that paid taxes was at a local ice cream parlor during my senior year of high school. The parlor was one of three establishments in my upper-middle-class town that hired people under 18. I was hired because I had a 4.0 GPA and honors classes. I’m not kidding — these were the criteria for scooping ice cream.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Constantly, and for no reason. I’m the eldest daughter. My mom took time off from the workforce to go to night graduate school for most of my elementary school years, so there was a lot of budgeting, coupon clipping, and “You can’t do that; it’s too expensive.” My parents were living in an extremely affluent area, and, in retrospect, most of their money was going to keep them there. Additionally, they were very strict, and they used cost as an excuse to avoid conversations about why they didn’t want us to have certain things or participate in certain activities. In hindsight, we were extremely well-off. My parents were both working engineers, and we lived in a large house in a metropolitan suburb with a low crime rate. I have colleagues now who didn’t know where their next meal would come from in childhood. Many had stints of homelessness. One of my work friends was in such a transient situation as a child, he didn’t build memories until he was nearly 10. I had it really, really good.

Do you worry about money now?
Aside from concerns that I will never be able to buy a house (the median home price in my town is over $500,000), no. I bought a truck in cash earlier this year.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
At age 19. My parents cut me off due to lifestyle and educational choices. We’ve made our peace with each other now, but I still refuse to take their money.  They were wrong and I’m successful in my own right. My financial safety net is of my own making. I can float for quite a while if something happens. I carry catastrophe insurance (long- and short-term disability), just in case.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
No. My grandparents have nothing, plus they are all thankfully still alive. I’m very fortunate.

Day One

7 a.m. — I’ve been working in the Gulf of Mexico for the past month, and it’s going-home day from the rig! After waking up at 4:30 a.m. and hitting the 5:30 a.m. safety meeting, I have nothing to do but wait on the chopper and do some online shopping: I need buttons for a cardigan I knit before I left. I find cute ones on Amazon while I wait around. My coworker catches me and scolds me (we have a pact to stop online shopping). I switch from potentially buying more things to checking the weather. There’s a snowstorm rolling in on my side of Colorado. I’m flying into Colorado Springs because I was visiting my brother and SIL before leaving for work, and my truck is still there. $14.17
10 a.m. — The chopper I’m scheduled on arrives at 8 a.m. I say my goodbyes to my team because I’m quitting once I get home. I absolutely hate helicopters, so I pray the rosary the entire time, even though I’m not really a Catholic anymore. Helicopters are a necessary evil of this job sometimes — and one I have to get used to, because my new job is exclusively for offshore work. Once I’m at the heliport in Houma, LA, I order an Uber to take me to the New Orleans airport (a little over an hour away). Work is paying for this one. My Uber driver is a retired oil field worker and, like most of them, assumes I’m much younger than I actually am (most women leave the field in their mid 20s). I say nothing about it. He gets a 25% tip anyway because work is paying. $91.57 (expensed)
11 a.m. — The United check-in desk gives me hell about being a priority customer. I actually have Premier status, but I appear to be about 21 without makeup on and I’m rolling up in a badly stained work uniform. The guy at the priority lane refuses to take my ID or read my ticket until I ask for his manager. As soon as I clear security, I beeline for the United lounge. I basically live in airports, so the expenses on the fancy United credit card are worth it for lounge access. After inhaling a plate of tortellini and four beers (can’t drink on the rig and it’s been four weeks), I very much need water. The closest kiosk outside the lounge has large bottles of Smartwater ($5.59). My flight to Denver boards and takes off on time, which is nice. $5.59
4:30 p.m. — The water doesn’t cut it. I feel like a raisin when I land and I’m slightly hungover and sweating through my shirt. As soon as I get to my next terminal, I buy an iced mango tea. I also pass the Denver International Airport (DIA) Voodoo Doughnut and immediately backtrack. My nephew’s favorite food is doughnuts. I can’t pass up the most famous doughnut shop in the country knowing I’ll see him later tonight (even if he’s three and doesn’t know the details on where they came from). I buy doughnuts for him, my brother, and myself (my SIL is out of town on a business trip). They’re at least cheaper than I expected. As I’m boarding, DIA decides that all planes need to de-ice before takeoff, delaying the flight by an hour and a half. I spam text my brother about our dinner options. His wife 100% takes care of him, so he doesn’t have dinner plans. I look at takeout options between the airport and his house. $21.13
9 p.m. — Our flight is only 21 minutes. This is an absolutely ridiculous leg of the journey, but my brother will not drive to DIA after dark, plus work paid for my flight, so here we are. I order two pizzas while I wait on my bags. The bags take half an hour. I finally trudge out to find my brother, who is about half a mile back in the pickup line. I’ve been in the heat for the last month, so the cold hits me like a ton of bricks (it’s 10°F). My nephew wakes up from a dead sleep when I tell him I’ve brought doughnuts. He proceeds to talk the entire way home to keep himself awake long enough to eat. The pizza is cold by the time we pick it up, but I’m too tired to care anymore. My journey started over 13 hours ago. After pizza and doughnuts with my brother and nephew, I read him a few books and fall asleep myself. $37.66
Daily Total: $78.55

Day Two

11 a.m. — The mountain passes are closed when I wake up at 9 a.m., so I’m not driving home today. My brother picks out a brunch spot with good reviews for the three of us. I drink four coffees because my nephew enjoys pouring the creamer into the coffee (and I find creamer disgusting, so I’m at a one-per-cup limit). My brother famously never reaches for checks, so I pay for breakfast for the three of us. I get crepes, my nephew gets a kids egg meal, and my brother gets eggs Benedict. Like most Colorado establishments, the reviews oversold it. The food in this state just isn’t great. $37.24
12 p.m. — We find a dinosaur museum to take my nephew to. He at least gets in for free (I pay for me and my brother). As it turns out, there are no casual dinosaur fans. We’re about the only ones in here, and the staff keep trying to talk to us, which is a deep hindrance to corralling my nephew. I make a joke about digging in the same formation most of their fossils are from and wind up explaining that I work in the oil field. This perturbs the main staff member enough for them to finally leave us alone. My nephew lasts a surprising hour in the actual exhibit, though his favorite dino is a blow-up stegosaurus in a Santa hat in the holiday display. $24
1 p.m. — The gift shop is unavoidable with a three year old. He goes ham in here. They have dino-themed cars, so I wind up buying him an overpriced set. I also get water bottle stickers for me and my brother. $31.41
3 p.m. — My nephew finally goes down for a nap after a few hours of us playing with monster trucks. I need a break. I’m childfree, and toddlers absolutely exhaust me, plus my brother used my visit as an excuse to get work done. I tell my brother I’m going shopping. My town is too rural to have actual stores: We’ve only got a Walmart, a Safeway, and a bunch of tourist gift shops. I spend too much money every time I visit my brother. I find an anime store and buy manga I didn’t exactly need but have been meaning to read. I feel bad walking into small stores and not making a purchase, plus I’m thankful to be mostly alone, so I loiter in here for over an hour. $35.68
5 p.m. — I go to Trader Joe’s, which is one of the stores I desperately miss. I buy too many snacks. B and I are meeting up next week, and since he’s born and raised in the middle of nowhere, he needs an introduction to the glory of Trader Joe’s snacks. I buy entirely too many groceries. This includes $6 burrata, which is completely unavailable in my town, and chocolate-covered cherries (which are festive). They don’t have the one grocery item I actually need, though, which is almond paste for Italian flag cookies I’m making this weekend. $57.12
6:30 p.m. — I drive to Safeway for the almond paste. The traffic is miserable, and my GPS goes on the fritz, so it takes forever. I get the almond paste, go straight home, eat some leftover pizza, and play more monster trucks with my nephew until it’s reading time. $16.08
Daily Total: $201.53

Day Three

5 a.m. — My nephew wakes me up because he can’t reach the light switch. After saying goodbye to him and my brother, I leave on the dot of 7 a.m. It’s finally time to go home! It’s about a five-hour drive, all of which is spent listening to podcasts (I’m a sucker for true crime). I make sure to stop for gas one town before mine. My town is (finally) being investigated for gas price gouging, but it’s still one dollar more per gallon to buy gas locally than literally anywhere else in Colorado. The pass is nice and clear, and even with a stop at the post office to get my mail (we have no mail delivery where I live), I manage to get home by noon. $37.54
5 p.m. — After unpacking, I hit the gym for two hours to blow off steam. Then I need to go to the grocery store because, despite my shopping spree at Trader Joe’s, I don’t have anything to cook an actual meal. I’m gone for at least four weeks at a time, so I always have to throw out the contents of my fridge before I leave for work (the soup kitchen won’t take perishables). I load up, mostly on veggies and protein bars. I hope the veggies stay good through the weekend. We’re the last stop on the delivery line for the Safeway, so most fresh foods go bad by the next day. I usually can’t buy vegetables more than a day in advance. Tonight, I make burst tomato pasta with a whole chunk of burrata. $40.59
Daily Total: $78.13

Day Four

3 p.m. — My entire day is laundry. I have six loads between work clothes, street clothes, delicates, towels, and sheets. I admittedly should have done the last two before I left. I can’t leave while the dryer is running, though, because it has no timer and the landlord is too cheap to upgrade it. Today is a Walmart day because I need hygiene products, including athlete’s foot treatments because, as I discovered this morning, there’s a colony likely growing in my work boots. Don’t get a fungal infection: It costs a lot of money to remediate. I also splurge on prosciutto to go with the eggplant caprese I’m making tonight. $80.83
6 p.m. — The rest of my day is the gym and knitting. I’m tired and don’t want to socialize. I make dinner and discover my eggplant is about six hours from spoiling, so I have to make four servings of it at once. I buy B access to a UFC fight tonight. He’s out of work right now because he had a major injury a few months ago and hasn’t been cleared to go back. Since he’s hourly, and this happened on his time off, there’s zero dollars coming in right now. Plus, he covers expenses for his mother, who finally retired from her minimum-wage job last year. So far, he’s refused any actual money from me, so I try to buy him stuff when I know he wants it and won’t get it for himself. $55
9 p.m. — My friend and I video chat. I tell her about my new job. She’s stressing out because she’s $500 short on textbooks for next semester (she’s a master’s student), and her husband just went to reduced hours to finish his own degree. It all sounds unpleasant right at Christmas time. She’s got like five step siblings under 18, so I know she’s expected to contribute to the gifting, too. I check my bank account, then Venmo her financial coverage right then and there. She promises to pay me back, but I know from experience I’m dreaming if I think that’ll happen. We then make loose plans to go hiking next spring in Appalachia, near where she lives. $500
11:30 p.m. — I’m out of retinol cream. The oil field doesn’t age you well, and I live in mild fear of looking 10 to 20 years older than my age, like most of my colleagues. After a melatonin gummy, I apparently order this and have it sent to B’s house. $62.87
Daily Total: $698.70

Day Five

11 a.m. — I thought I had almond extract to make these cookies, but I don’t. Once I get my act together, which takes hours in the morning on my days off, I go to the grocery store again. I plan to be good and just get the extract, but kombucha is on sale today. I wind up with three bottles because the lavender is my absolute favorite, and I haven’t tried the elderberry or the marine. I’m skipping the gym today because everything hurts. I spend the afternoon making cookies because they are a process. I consider inviting a friend to go for coffee but I’m honestly still not feeling social and don’t reach out. Since I’m quitting my job, I should have January free and can meet her then. $15.57
6:30 p.m. — I forget until the evening that I haven’t purchased my gift for the family Secret Santa. The (other... There’s quite a few) brother I drew is currently obsessed with indoor plants, so I find a plant shop near him and arrange for a $100 gift card to be mailed to his house. I also pay my credit card bill from the last few days. It’s painful, especially because in November and December, our paychecks are cut for payroll department reconciliation. I’m always dipping into long-term savings this time of year. I definitely won’t miss these cycles at this employer. $100
Daily Total: $115.57

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — I get up at stupid o’clock to make a drug testing appointment an hour and a half away in Durango. It’s the closest almost-city to me, though I usually hate going out there because the traffic is bad (it’s a major tourist town). I’m still raisin-like from sleeping, so I stop for a Gatorade on the way to ensure I have enough liquid in me to pee. It’s going to be hair, urine, and swab because it’s for pre-employment. The tester has never had to do a hair test before (not really a thing with most jobs in Colorado) and takes out a massive chunk that leaves my hair looking like crap. The hairstylist I usually go to is out of town until the new year, so I can’t get it fixed. $3.02
9:30 a.m. — Vapes are cheaper in Durango than my town, so it’s worth waiting for the vape shop to open. I plop down at a nearby coffee shop for a latte (with tip) and send off my three-week notice to the chain of management. They all know I’m leaving but they’ve requested I pick a date because they need to figure out the schedule for the holidays. My boss calls immediately to let me know he needs to send me out the day after Christmas until my last day. They’re always shorthanded around holidays because PTO priority is given to people with children (I can usually only snatch random days in April or October). I seethe because I have plans to see B, and I haven’t seen him since September, but then I do the math and realize I’ll take home $5,000 for 10 days of work. That’s tough to walk away from. I let my boss know he’ll have to fly me out of B’s town instead of mine, and he agrees. $7.14
10 a.m. — Vapes aren’t a ton cheaper, mind you, since CO taxes them to hell and back. I need to just quit smoking, but patches also have unique taxes and make me itch uncontrollably (excuses, excuses). I loiter in the parking lot for a while because a former coworker has heard of my new job and wants to offer me some contract work to tide me over until January. I kick myself for not quitting my current job on the spot. $84.71
12:30 — I get gas before I get back into town. I have noticed the prices in town have dropped again overnight, so the outrage is working.  $41.18
12:30 p.m. — I stop by the liquor store on the way home. B lives in Utah, and the beer selection is just better here. I usually bring a bunch before I go visit him. We’ve both cut down on drinking (minus my profuse airport beer habit — I’ll work on that in the new year), so I don’t buy as much as I would’ve in the past. This place doesn’t have one of the beers I want, a chili beer from a Colorado brewery, so I move on to another liquor store to find it. $38.14
1:30 p.m. — The second liquor store has the chili beer. $11.71
3 p.m. — Somebody I spoke with last week on Facebook Marketplace has another few dozen eggs for sale from her chickens. We meet in the town hall parking lot so I can pick them up. They do taste better. Two living arrangements ago, I lived with a woman with chickens and I miss the fresh eggs. The rest of the day is the gym, packing, and cleaning my apartment because I won’t return until mid January now. I run the next rent check to the landlord (he doesn’t trust anything but a direct bank transfer, which my bank doesn’t do, or a paper check). At least I can take the eggs and other food with me to B’s instead of throwing everything out. I have leftover pasta for dinner with tinned smoked mussels instead of burrata. I get some knitting time in after dinner, which is nice. $5
Daily Total: $190.90

Day Seven

11 a.m. — I’m finally leaving to see B! I take out the trash (due to bears, it’s illegal to put trash outside before actual trash day), pack the car, and get out the door for Utah by 8 a.m. I manage to make myself coffee, fill two water bottles, and stick a protein bar in my pocket, so I shouldn’t have to buy too much at gas stations. Traffic in Durango is miserable, and I can’t make it to the Utah border before I need gas and the bathroom. I wish I had made it because gas is $0.15 cheaper per gallon than in Colorado. $49.45
1:30 p.m. — I take the back road out of Moab so I can stop in Cisco. The back road is beautiful. It goes along the Colorado River through the absolute middle of nowhere and only adds about 10 minutes to my drive. Cisco is a former ghost town that’s turned into an artists’ residency, so it’s a really neat place. They don’t give you the bathroom keys at gas stations without buying something, though, so I get my grandma a postcard made by a local resident and grab myself a coffee. A few hours later, I manage to dash in and out of a gas station bathroom without buying anything. Sorry not sorry. $5.81
7 p.m. — I finally make it to B’s. We haven’t seen each other in so long that I cry a little bit. Our schedules don’t often line up because my job is call-out and his is rotational (when he’s at it). His injury is doing a lot better than the last time I saw him, so he’s likely going to go back to work in the spring, which is a huge positive. We spend an hour unpacking my car and catching up in person. He loosely mentions we need to live closer to each other now that we’re both on schedules. It’s definitely something we’re going to talk about at a later time. We’ve been together for two years, except with work keeping us apart, it’s more like four months. We go out for Mexican food with his mom and indulge in margaritas (his mom is driving) and celebrate his healing and my new job. I pick up the tab because I’m the employed one in the party, and I’m a little loaded so I overtip. Merry Christmas to all! $126.55
10:30 p.m. — We wind down our evening by drinking some of the beer and deciding where we’re going to spend Christmas. Another downside of my current job is that vacations have to be booked at the last minute. We don’t have a hotel booked yet because we (correctly) assumed I would be sent out on one last job. It’s astronomically expensive for me to go on personal trips, though I do it anyway. I’ve calculated that my new job will save me close to $4,000 a year on travel just by having a regular schedule. We find a desert resort for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which looks nice enough to entertain us and is close to the airport, so I can leave for work on the 26th. $691.04
11 p.m. — We’re also going to see a friend in Florida after I quit, and I’m drunk enough to book our tickets now because I have a confirmed date. I’ve got $100 in credits with United because my job constantly changes what day I’m actually going to work. I frequently change tickets as a result, and I generally keep any credits for myself. I blew most of them this past October, though, going to a wedding in West Virginia. I always handle plane tickets in this relationship. I have much better airline status, so we get better seats and free bags. We’ll figure out the hotels and the actual itinerary tomorrow. We’ve had too much to drink to come up with a cohesive plan. We fall asleep. $552.13
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