A Week In Western South Carolina On A $34,000 Salary

Photo: Getty Images.
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Today: a Photojournalist who makes $34,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on beer.
Occupation: Photojournalist
Industry: Media
Age: 26
Location: Western South Carolina
Salary: $34,000
Net Worth: I have a few thousand in my savings account, but my net worth is very much in the negative. That's what I get for running up my credit card and taking out private student loans when I was younger!
Debt: $100,000
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $958 plus gas reimbursement. I also have a second job as a server so anywhere from $200-$400 depending on tips!
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $400
Loans: $520 for private student loans (again, I know this is crazy!), federal loans are currently in deferment
Credit Card: $250
Spotify/Netflix: $20
Health Insurance: $188 (pre-tax taken out from my paycheck)
Pet Insurance: $39
Car: $227

Day One

7:30 a.m. — I wake up and promptly hit the snooze button to try and get an extra 15 minutes of sleep, but to no avail. I feel too anxious that I will oversleep so I drag myself out of my bed. Since it's an early day for me, I decide to skip putting on makeup and run a brush through my hair before grabbing my photo gear and laptop. I arrive at my assignment where I will be taking photos of people getting their haircut for the first time coronavirus started. I wear my mask inside. After finishing my assignment, I stop at a gas station to get a bottle of water and a ONE blueberry cobbler protein bar. $4.57
12 p.m. — As I'm working on editing photos for publication, I get a notification from TurboTax that my credit score has changed by more than 10 points. Ugh, what?! I check to see that my score has gone down 40 points for no reason. This is extremely frustrating as I have been working hard to try and pay down my debt and increase my credit score so I can refinance my incredibly expensive private student loan. To be honest, I was terrified to submit a Money Diary because of what commenters would say about my finances. I made a lot of poor financial decisions in my late teens/early 20s and my finances are something I am incredibly ashamed of because I feel like most everyone my age has it together. Even though it's often discouraging, I am slowly working on becoming financially healthy. I know it will take some time, but little blows like this credit score thing definitely do not help. I didn't bring lunch with me, so I skip it because I feel too bad about spending money now.
4 p.m. — After photographing a few more assignments and turning in my edited photos, I head home. I am greeted by my pups W. and A., which always brightens my day! I kiss my fiancé, V., and collapse on the couch to watch an episode of the newest season of Working Moms on Netflix. I finally force myself off the couch to start making dinner. I need to use up the veggies that are about to expire in my fridge so I make a gluten-free lasagna with zucchini and onions as well as gluten-free buffalo cauliflower. It's a weird combination, but it tastes so good and we have plenty of leftovers.
9 p.m. — After dinner, we watch the documentary, A Secret Love, which is incredibly powerful. I sip on a Press Seltzer while trying to hold back tears. Once it's over, we head upstairs to get ready for bed. I brush my teeth, wash my face with Eminence coconut milk cleanser and moisturizer, and take daily supplements of sovereign silver, wellness pills, and elderberry. V. and I cuddle in bed with the pups and listen to the thunder outside before passing out. Goodnight!
Daily Total: $4.57

Day Two

8:30 a.m. — Good morning! I wake up before my alarm to the calming sound of rain outside and decide to take it easier this morning. V. is still sleeping so I take a long shower to try to wake up. I decide I want to put on makeup today so I use my Smashbox Studio Skin foundation (so good for dry skin), Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Kit, Tarte Tarteist Eyeshadow Palette, and Covergirl mascara. The pups and I head downstairs and I make a breakfast of avocado toast on Simple Kneads Sourdough GF bread with Trader Joe's everything bagel seasoning and feta.
10 a.m. — I arrive at work and there's nothing on my photo assignment calendar. With the virus shutting down so many things, the number of assignments I've been covering has gone down significantly (normally this time is slammed with spring sports). I read the newest Money Diary and talk with one of my co-workers to try to burn some time. I hope things pick up soon because sitting at a desk for most of the day is not my jam.
1 p.m. — I heat up my leftover lasagna and wash it down with a lime La Croix while browsing through different articles on CNN. After I'm done, I upload photos from an assignment I covered last week to my photography Instagram and then browse through other photojournalist's work. Spending time looking at these amazing photos makes me so proud to be a photojournalist. The power of an image never ceases to amaze me.
4:30 p.m. — When I get home, V. and I decide to go out for a run. We go to one of our favorite running spots and I do a guided 5k through the Nike Run app which I find highly motivating. We high-five each other when we finish our workout and stop by Publix to pick up a few groceries. We put on our masks and avoid people as much as possible. We pick up a frozen Daiya pizza, apple cider vinegar, and oat milk. $16.03
7 p.m. — I make a dairy-free kale caesar for dinner with shredded chicken on top. We binge watch some Below Deck Sailing Yacht while eating and agree that Adam the chef is definitely the worst. I also treat myself to a homemade Ding Dong that my mom sent me earlier this week. Hostess eat your heart out!
10:30 p.m. — Since I went running, I take a quick body shower and do my nightly skincare routine of cleanser and moisturizer. After some convincing, I get V. to rub my back while in bed and I quickly pass out. Goodnight!
Daily Total: $16.03

Day Three

8 a.m. — This morning I don't feel like doing anything so I reach for my phone and watch TikTok videos for 30 minutes. We head downstairs with the dogs and make a breakfast of sweet potato hash, scrambled eggs, and Bulletproof coffee with coconut oil and collagen. I spend some time playing and snuggling with the dogs before heading out since I won't be back until late tonight.
11 a.m. — I arrive at my photo assignment where I will be taking photos of a local church giving away fresh produce. The town I work in was hit by a tornado a month ago so the community is really pulling together to help those in need. Before I leave, the group offers me a box of veggies and I can't pass up the free produce. I thank them for the box and head back to the office to edit for my deadline.
1:30 p.m. — When I am at the office for long periods of time, I try to go for a walk to break up the day, but it's pouring outside so I decide to do some online surveys. I have been trying to do them in my spare time so I can purchase gift cards with my points, which helps cut back grocery expenses. This weather is making me extremely homesick. I am from the Pacific Northwest and it's been nearly a year since I've been home. I was planning on visiting this summer, but with the virus changing the travel industry, I am not sure when that's going to happen.
4:30 p.m. — I gather up my stuff at the office and change clothes in my car for my server job that I work at three nights a week. I picked up a second job as a waitress to help with my monthly expenses and to cut down on my debt. The restaurant just recently opened back up with stringent safety guidelines, and I am required to wear a mask and gloves during my shift.
10:30 p.m. — I clock out at the restaurant and take off my mask once I'm back in my car. Taking off your mask is definitely the equivalent of taking off your bra after a long day! It was a pretty slow night so I only made $50 in tips after tipping out the hosts and bartenders. It's disappointing, but I try not to dwell on it too much. I lather up my hands and arms with sanitizer and rock out to Metallica on my way home.
12 a.m. — After showering off the day, I no longer smell like a french fry — yay! I do my nightly routine and then snuggle up with V. and my dogs. We watch an episode of Below Deck Sailing Yacht to decompress from the day. How is there this much drama on a boat?! I look down at my phone and realize it's past 1 a.m. so I need to go to sleep. Night!
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

9:30 a.m. — I decide to let myself sleep in a little bit today since I had a long workday yesterday and I have another one today. I grab the dogs out of their kennels and take them out to go potty. V. and I make breakfast together and watch the season finale of Little People, Big World, which makes me think about home again — sigh. I get a text from two reporters telling me about assignments they want me to photograph. I throw on some clothes and skip the makeup since I am going to be wearing a mask later today. I give the dogs and V. a kiss before heading out the door with my cameras and server attire.
12 p.m. — Both of my photo assignments are on busy roads with tiny shoulders so I have to wear my bright yellow vest so that drivers wouldn't hit me. I swear there is never a dull day when you're a photojournalist! I am grateful to have a few assignments that get me out of the office for a while and I enjoy driving around listening to podcasts. Maybe it's weird, but for some reason I love murder podcasts — they're so interesting! My current obsessions are Sword and Scale and Serial Killers.
3 p.m. — After turning in my assignments, I decide to take a break. I log on to my church's website and give a $40 tithe. I wish I could give more right now, but in the future, I definitely plan on working a larger amount into my budget. Everyone in the office is getting food delivered, but I resist the urge to spend! Instead, I head to the fridge and heat up leftover lasagna for the fourth day in a row. I pair that with a Health-Ade Tropical Punch Kombucha I bought last week for a little added razzle-dazzle. $40
4:45 p.m. — I'm headed back to the restaurant so I do a quick change in the car and drive over. I pop on my mask and tie my apron before going inside. I'm hoping tonight will be busier so that I can bring home a little more moolah than last night. Who knows, maybe I'll tell a joke to my tables to liven the mood. Fingers crossed!
10:45 p.m. — Tonight was a bit busier and I lucked out with a big party that tipped me well and loved my joke and even told me one of their own! I walk away with $95 after tipping out so I'm pretty happy. I check my phone and see an email from my work saying there is an employee lunch tomorrow. Honestly, being in a building with this many people is already hard enough for me so a communal lunch function is a hard no. Luckily, I have an assignment scheduled at the same time so I'll easily be able to get out of it. Phew! Time to head home and see my doggos.
11:30 p.m. — After visiting with V. and my dogs for a little bit, I hop in the shower to decompress for the day. I do a face scrub using the Acure brightening facial scrub and top it off with moisturizer. V. and I climb into bed, and I turn on the newest episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (dramatic reality shows are my guilty pleasure lol) while V. plays games on his phone to try and tune out the sounds of Kyle and Dorit bickering. I fall asleep shortly after the episode ends. Goodnight!
Daily Total: $40

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — I wake slightly annoyed to the sound of construction crews banging on the roof of our townhouse building. I won't be able to snooze, so I grab my phone and open Facebook to see several articles posted by a variety of news sources I follow and it's nothing but bad and sad news. I forgot I have an assignment at 10 so I better get going! It's Friday, but I still have to wear a mask most I places so I only put on some mascara for makeup and head out the door.
11 a.m. — After finishing two of my photo assignments, I check my phone to see a message from one of my freelance photo clients. She needs someone to take graduation photos tonight, and I have time so I happily accept. I drive by the blood donation center on the way back to the office and remind myself to give blood today since they have been asking for more donations due to the pandemic. I haven't eaten anything yet, so I will go this afternoon after I've eaten lunch. I have a paid shoot at noon with a marketing client and I am excited to put the money I get into my savings.
1:30 p.m. — After photographing a class for my client, she offers me a few slices of pizza while she pays me for my services via Cash App. I grab a bottle of water and eat my pizza because I am going to head over to donate blood after this and I don't want to feel woozy while giving.
3 p.m. — I don't like to brag, but I have super veins (lol) and I am able to fill up my bags quickly. The nurse comes over with an orange juice, a bag of Teddy Grahams, and an unexpected $10 Visa card for donating. She tells me they are offering free antibody tests to all of their donors and I can check on my results seven days after donating.
5 p.m. — After checking back in at the office, I head back home to relax before my graduation photoshoot at 6. V. and the pups are waiting up for me on the couch and I soak in a little bit of cuddle time before I'm on the move again.
7:30 p.m. — The photoshoot goes longer than expected, but I had a lot of fun. I head back home and realize what a busy day this has been! V. and I take the dogs on a long walk and when we get back home, I realize it's almost 8:30 so we decide to snack instead of eating a full meal. I grab a turkey stick, TJ's salt and vinegar chips, PB toast, and a homemade Ding Dong — obviously, I am the pillar of health today!
12 a.m. — V. and I get sucked into a miniseries on Netflix called Unorthodox, and it is so good that we end up watching the entire thing. My goal was to go to bed early tonight since I have to wake up at 6 tomorrow to shoot a marathon. Oh well, looks like I'm going to be a little tired, but it was worth it. Goodnight!
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

6 a.m. — Ugh it's too early to be up on a Saturday, but I wake before my alarm clock and quietly sneak out of the bedroom so I don't disturb V. and the pups. I wear an oversized long sleeve t-shirt and leggings so I'm comfortable while shooting and head off to the race since it's about 30 minutes away.
11 a.m. — I probably take about 700 photos, but I have fun shooting the marathon. While waiting for the last runners to finish, I decide to check out Nike.com to see if they have my favorite pair of running shoes (Nike Free RN Flyknits) in stock. Just my luck, they have them in stock and they're half off so my total with free shipping is $72.10. I've been using my current running shoes for nearly three years and they need to be replaced. I decide to treat myself after holding off for a long time, plus I am getting paid for this shoot today so I don't feel bad spending the money. I grab smoothies for V. and I on the way back from the race at Smoothie King for $10. $82.10
1 p.m. — I pass out watching an episode of The Office. I wake and V. suggests we hang out and enjoy the sunshine before it's back to rain and thunderstorms. South Carolina is slowly re-opening, but we are choosing to only visit places that have large outdoor areas and strictly enforce social distancing rules. We end up going to a brewery with a large patio and sit at a corner table away from everyone. I get a raspberry wheat beer and V. gets a hard cider for a total of $14 with tip. We talk about my antibody test since we are both curious about what the results will be. $14
4:30 p.m. — On the way back from the brewery, V. and I decide to grab food to go. We order sushi burritos and V. pays for mine. When we get home we watch more of The Office and devour our burritos.
8 p.m. — Since we ate a late lunch, we resort to just snacking for dinner instead of eating another meal. We make tater tots and watch more of The Office. We take the pups for a walk around our complex to take a break from the TV, and it's so muggy outside. I feel like I'm one of the few people that dread summertime. I am not a fan of the heat at all and would take cold any day, lol.
11 p.m. — V. makes us ginger tea before bedtime. We brush our teeth together, and I cleanse my face and moisturizer a little more intensely today since my face feels extra dry. I shut off the lights, but neither of us feel like sleeping yet so V. plays a game on his phone while I watch the newest Ru Paul's Drag Race episode. I begin to drift off towards the end of the episode so I shut it off and fall asleep.
Daily Total: $96.10

Day Seven

9:30 a.m. — I am so happy I let myself sleep in a little bit this morning. V. is already downstairs with the dogs so I grab my phone and watch church at home. They announce that they will be opening up for in-person services starting mid-June. I'm still pretty on the fence about large crowds right now, so I might continue watching online until things cool down more. I head downstairs and make gluten-free waffles with peanut butter, eggs, and Bulletproof coffee for breakfast.
11 a.m. — Since today is Sunday that means it's grocery day. I drive us to Costco and notice they have stopped monitoring how many people come inside. They still require everyone to wear a mask, which is good, but it still feels a little too early to stop crowd control. I am on my dad's Costco membership so I am thankful I don't have to pay for that. We grab strawberries, a new summertime La Croix pack, water, two new towels, tortilla chips, and tampons. The total is $61.25, but V. pays me back for half of the total. $31.25
1 p.m. — We finish our shopping trip at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Those two stores are still maintaining crowds so we have to wait in a short line to get into both stores. We get a ton of stuff at Trader Joe's including avocado, spring mix, asparagus, turkey, honey, GF oats, organic eggs, GF bread, plantain chips, and kombucha. At Whole Foods, we get cassava Siete tortillas, Bob's Red Mill GF flour, dairy-free yogurt, garlic, and GF crackers. V. and I split everything down the middle when paying. $68.48
2 p.m. — As we head home, V. suggests grabbing Greek bowls before my shift tonight at the restaurant. I get a greens and grains bowl with tzatziki and roasted vegetables. With tip, the total is less than $20 for the two of us. We have been trying to eat out less so this definitely makes me appreciate getting takeout a lot more. $18.34
4 p.m. — I have no desire to get ready for my shift at 5, but alas I summon the strength to put on my uniform and head to work. As I reach for my apron, I realize one of my pens exploded and my hands are now covered in ink. Hopefully, this isn't an indication of how my shift will go!
5 p.m. — I walk into my shift and it is a total mess. I have to jump right to help. The night eventually mellows out, but my last table makes me feel awful. They complain about everything, snap and whistle at me, and even comment about my butt as I'm bending over to clean a table. On top of that, they tipped me about 2% so it makes me feel a bit defeated. I take a moment to decompress in my car after my shift and shake off the negativity.
11 p.m. — My dad calls me on my drive back home to catch up. He says the beaches opened back up so he and his girlfriend are going to spend next weekend at the coast. I tell him about my week and we talk about when I should come and visit. I realize it's nearly 12 and I have work in the morning so I grab a quick shower to rinse off and get ready for bed. V. and I cuddle in bed and talk about our day before drifting off. Goodnight!
Daily Total: $118.07
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