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A Week On O‘ahu, HI, On A $36,000 Salary

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: A preservation specialist working in emergency management who makes $36,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on gas.
Occupation: Preservation specialist
Industry: Emergency management
Age: 24
Location: O‘ahu, Hawai‘i
Salary: $36,000
Net Worth: $87,510.63 ($180.89 in checking; $131.74 in savings; $44,000 in investments; $21,698 in a Roth IRA; $21,500 for the value of my car)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,287
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $500 (which I pay to my parents)
Car Insurance: $97
Phone: $25
Healthcare: $0 (on my parent’s plan)
Mutual Aid Donation: ~$250 (10% of my monthly income)

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?
Yes, my parents both have graduate degrees and built college funds for my sister and me. I got my bachelor’s and master’s on the East Coast, where I lived for five years. My parents paid for my tuition and living expenses using those savings, and I also had academic scholarships for both degrees.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I remember my mom taking me to the bank to open my first savings account when I was a kid. When I got my first job, my parents offered to put most of my paychecks into investments and continued to do that for me until now.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
When I was 16, my mom told me that I was expected to get a part-time job to teach me about responsibility. I worked as a library student helper, then at an ice cream shop. My senior year of high school, I began working in food service, and I worked that job on my Christmas and summer breaks all through college and grad school until I got my current job.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No. I know now that my parents were very smart with their spending, but when I was growing up they never talked about it in front of me. They emphasized that my sister and I would always be taken care of no matter what.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes, even though I’m not technically in a place where I need to worry. After I finished grad school, I moved back to Hawai‘i to live with my parents while I looked for a job. Now that I have one, I worry that they will get sick of me living with them and kick me out, especially because they’ve become increasingly conservative and religious over the past few years, and we fight about those things. I’m very frugal and I know that I could technically afford to live on my own, but it would be stressful.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Because I still live at home, I’m not financially responsible yet. My parents paid for my housing and food through grad school, and I began paying them rent and for my phone bill when I got my job after I graduated. I know that they could assist me financially in an emergency.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
When I was growing up, I would receive $550 combined from two relatives for each birthday and Christmas. I expect that I will inherit something from my parents when they die, but we’ve never discussed it.

Day One

6:30 a.m. — I wake up and immediately get out of bed. I wash my face with CeraVe face wash and apply The Ordinary Multi-Peptides + HA Serum. My mom is really, really into the domestic, stay-at-home-mom role and makes my dad and I all our meals. Every day for breakfast I have fruit, Chobani yogurt, and a muffin. After breakfast, I apply The Ordinary B Oil, do a gua sha facial massage, and apply CeraVe moisturizer.

8 a.m. — At work, I check my emails, Teams messages, and my project queue. Nothing. My job basically consists of attending meetings where organizations apply for funding, then telling them which laws they have to follow, and reviewing the specific projects that our agency is funding. If I don’t have any projects, most days I just read random articles on my computer all day while listening to podcasts. Usually, I switch back and forth between news articles and papers I find browsing Right now, I’m reading someone’s thesis on the history of the Japanese here in Hawai‘i, and today’s podcast is episode after episode of Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Kardashian Simulacra: Why Is Female Power Synonymous with Tragedy?, a series by The Polyester Podcast.
9 a.m. — I eat a Reese’s shaped like a Christmas tree from the candy bowl on our table. The other tables have better snacks at them, but I feel super awkward walking over to other ones and having everyone sitting there look at me.
11 a.m. — I get my paycheck and send my mom the last $1,000 she loaned me for my car back in August. My parents gave me $9,000 towards the purchase and loaned me the rest. I also send her the remaining $74 I owed her from last month’s rent (included above in my monthly expenses). Now that I’ve paid off my car, I can finally start saving most of the money that I get from this job. $1,000.
1:30 p.m. — I get some comments back on the two projects I reviewed last week, fix them, and then fill out the official forms in the portal and send them out.
1:45 p.m. — Every day, I bring random leftovers from home for lunch. Today, it’s edamame, eggs, hummus, and Okinawan sweet potatoes.
2:14 p.m. — I realize that I filled out both forms with the same comments, and I’ll have to rework one. I wait for my supervisor to send it back to me.
2:30 p.m. — Reading the thesis about Japanese Hawai‘i history, I learn a new term, ha‘alele hana, which means “desertion from service” and refers to when the sugarcane farm workers who would leave their jobs. They sang a song that goes: “I hate ‘hole hole’ work / Let’s finish cutting cane / And go to Honolulu.” Wow, just like me for real!
4 p.m. — I get back the form that I messed up and fix it.
5:45 p.m. — When I get home, I make my lunch for the next day and do a short ab workout on my bedroom floor. My mom makes chicken masala for dinner. I love that it has capers in it. They’re an underrated ingredient, and I wish they were in more dishes.
7 p.m. — I do my daily elliptical workout while watching Blue Eye Samurai, an incredible animated series about a woman in Meiji-era Japan on a quest for revenge. The protagonist is mixed white/Japanese like me (slay).
8:30 p.m. — I shower, apply The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane and CeraVe moisturizer, and gua sha my face.
9 p.m. — I take a melatonin to help me sleep, and it kicks in fast, so I don’t have the energy to read my book.
Daily Total: $1,000

Day Two

7:45 a.m. — I arrive at work, and the only remaining spot in our parking lot is under a tree, which means that birds will poop on my car.
9 a.m. — I look over some public comments received for a project our agency proposed. My boss insists on calling a certain region here by what she says is its historic name. I tell her I’ve never heard anyone here call it that and can’t find it used in historic records, but she leaves it in the draft. The public comments say the same thing, so maybe she’ll listen to them.
11 a.m. — L., my best friend from grad school, texts me that she wanted to get me a George Santos Cameo for Christmas, but they’re too expensive. She tells me to watch compilations of ones he recorded for other people and pretend they are to me, from her. I tell her will do.
1:30 p.m. — I eat lunch, which is Okinawan sweet potato, chicken, edamame, broccoli, and hummus. I always try to wait as long as possible for lunch, so there are fewer hours left when I come back. I walk up and down the stairs in the building to try to counteract the eight and a half hours I spend sitting each day.
3 p.m. — Not one single project has come through today. I take a screenshot of a quote in the thesis about different groups in Hawai‘i fighting with military members stationed here in the 1920s and post it on my Instagram story with the caption, “Me and my friends at the club.” Many people think this is hilarious.
4 p.m. — Drama! My boss talks to my other two other coworkers about another employee who hasn’t been doing her job. This is the most exciting thing that’s happened at this job since I started. Apparently, this employee is getting a lecture tomorrow.
6:30 p.m. — Dinner with my parents: more of the chicken masala from yesterday plus butternut squash soup. I tell them about the coworker not doing her job and make my lunch for tomorrow. Now I’m on the penultimate episode of Blue Eye Samurai, and I finish it while I do my elliptical workout.
9 p.m. — I do my skincare routine and get into bed. I read some of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I know Harry Potter is so cheugy, but it’s been forever since I read a physical book because I mostly read library books on my phone. My copy is super old and has slight water damage because I used to read in the bathtub.
11:30 p.m. — I can’t sleep, but I don’t let myself look at the time on my phone because I know it will make me calculate how many hours I have left to sleep and feel worse.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

6:30 a.m. — I eat my standard breakfast and put on an all-red outfit because today we’re supposed to have a Zoom Christmas party with our colleagues on the neighbor islands.
7:50 a.m. — Walking into work, I see a kōlea (golden plover)! They migrate to Hawai‘i from Alaska in the winter months, then fly back in the spring. They are territorial, and one lives outside my office building.
10 a.m. — I eat my daily rice cakes and walk up and down the stairs in the building. I text my friend, N., and we strategize New Year’s Eve plans and outfits.
10:31 a.m. — I finally get my travel credit card approved so I can go to the neighbor islands for work. I’m not sure if I’ll ever need to, though, because I’m not qualified or needed for most of the work my coworkers do when they travel.
12 p.m. — I talk to the one other member of my group who’s here today about how long he’s been in this job. The more I learn about this position, the more I’m absolutely certain that this is not my career path. My graduate degree is in art history and museum studies, and I want to be a collections or cultural resource manager. But it’s also a priority that I keep living in Hawai‘i because it’s been my family’s home for five generations and it’s not like anywhere in America. When I was away for college, the continent never felt like somewhere I wanted to live permanently. However, that choice limits my job options.
2:30 p.m. — Lunch finally. Because I make it from whatever my mom has made for the week, I eat mostly the same thing for five days in a row. Today: edamame, broccoli, hummus, eggs, and the last of the chicken masala. Our group Zoom is canceled today so my red outfit is for nothing.
4:30 p.m. — I leave work and find that it has rained sometime in the past eight hours, which helps mitigate the bird poop on my car.
6 p.m. — I go on the elliptical. Since I only have one episode of Blue Eye Samurai, I want to save it. I watch the newest episode of The Curse instead.
8:45 p.m. — I go to bed after my normal skincare routine. I take two melatonin to avoid the insomnia of last night and feel my brain start melting, but I force myself to read some of Harry Potter before going to sleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

5:40 a.m. — I wake up and can’t go back to sleep.
7:45 p.m. — I mail out Christmas cards to my friends on the US continent to ensure that they get them in time for the holiday.
8 a.m. — I actually do have a work project to do today, but it’s just entering the same information over and over. I forgot my matcha with almond milk in my car, and I already feel tired.
9:04 a.m. — I discover that this office has regular Keurig pods, not just decaf, and I make a blueberry-flavored one with cream. Blueberry plus coffee is a bizarre combo but it doesn’t taste bad exactly. I’m still waiting on the project I volunteered for to be sent to me. I hate knowing that I have something to do and not being able to start it immediately.
9:23 a.m. — I decide that I like blueberry coffee and eat my snack (dates).
10 a.m. — I’m still reading the Japanese in Hawai‘i paper. The sugarcane farm that my great-great-grandparents worked on is mentioned. Today’s podcast is Evolution of a Snake: the Taylor Swift Podcast, which is a look into her history and persona. I’m not a Taylor fan, but I love deep dives and analysis of pop culture. I’ve listened to all the episodes already but I need to have something in my ears all day because the office setup increases the noise level.
10:33 a.m. — I go to a meeting and eat my rice cakes, then walk in the stairwell.
1:30 p.m. — My lunch is Okinawan sweet potatoes, broccoli, hummus, and part of a burger. I read The Guardian’s Gaza Diary feature written by Ziad, a Palestinian man, about his life over the past two months. It hasn’t been updated in two days, and I hope that the delay is just because he’s behind on entries or doesn’t have internet access.
5:45 p.m. — When I get home from work, my parents are out at a Christmas party. I eat chocolate chip cookie dough out of the refrigerator, then make myself mahi mahi, edamame, and peas and eat it standing up in the kitchen while watching The Curse.
6:30 p.m. — While working out, I finish the last episode of Blue Eye Samurai, then watch random YouTube videos.
8:30 p.m. — Shower, skincare, read, and sleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

4:30 a.m. — I wake up and can’t go back to sleep, so I lay in bed for two hours because partial rest is better than getting up fully.
7:35 a.m. — I get to work early and sit in my car, texting my sister and eating chia seed pudding with peanut butter and protein powder until it’s closer to eight.
9:42 a.m. — I work on finishing the project from yesterday while listening to a cultural awareness meeting. The local guy running it is doing a really great job. My coworkers from the US continent ask questions like if Hawaiians had their own spoken language before white contact. I know they’re not from here but COME ON. He really thinks it’s possible that people live for hundreds of years with no means of speaking to each other?
11:35 a.m. — How is it not even noon yet? Today’s podcast is Nymphet Alumni, which is about cultural and fashion trends. I need to start wearing better outfits. I haven’t been slaying clothes-wise because all I do is go to work and come home, and people don’t care how you dress at this job. I identify a potential work bestie in someone that my coworker introduces me to. We have a kiki on Teams about how no one thinks to mute their laptop sounds when meetings end, so the entire office is filled with chat notifications going off as everyone says “Thanks.”
12:17 p.m. — I applied to teach English abroad and I get a message from a program. I feel stress and anticipation as I open it, but it’s only a notification to all applicants that interviews will be conducted virtually this year. Only semifinalists get interviews, and I still don’t know if I’m one yet. I attend a meeting that has nothing to do with me. I start listening to Normal Gossip, then switch to Wench Bench.
1:30 p.m. — Lunch is Okinawan sweet potatoes, mahi mahi, and tomatoes. I start reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the new Hunger Games book, and I’m not a fan of the writing style. Was the writing always this simple? I read the originals a decade ago, and maybe I didn’t notice then. There’s still no update on the Gaza Diary, and I decide not to check it again until Monday.
3:15 p.m. — I pass the time looking at Indeed and All the jobs either pay far less than what I make now or require qualifications that are totally out of my skill set. I see a few places that I could afford, around $1,000 a month, but I can save way more by living at home so that has to be the plan for now. The blueberry coffee pods have not reappeared. Booo.
6 p.m. — Sriracha tofu, edamame, and broccoli for dinner, then the usual workout-and-YouTube-videos routine. I discover that I have a huge bruise of unknown origin above my knee.
9:30 p.m. — I set my alarm for one hour later than on weekdays and go to sleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — Most Saturdays, I volunteer at different fish pond/lo‘i (taro patch) sites that have community work days. Today, I’m going with N., who has been telling me all week that she’s excited for this. The drive to the site takes over an hour (this is considered a long driving time in Hawai‘i), but the scenery is really pretty.
9 a.m. — I arrive at the site. I tell N. happy belated birthday and give her a card and matcha cake. She wants to work in the fish pond, which means we have to get wet. I usually do work on land at these sites, but I say okay. For two hours, we use rakes and pickaxes to pull grass and vegetation back from the edge of the water. We don’t get in the water fully, but my feet and lower legs still get coated in mud.
11:30 a.m. — The organizers always prepare lunch for the volunteers, and today we have kalo (taro) chowder. I love kalo in all forms and want to start eating more of it.
2 p.m. — When I get home, I continue working on my latest oil painting. I started it when I was home from grad school sometime last year, and I’m still not finished with it. It has so many details, including tons of cloth folds to render. I hate painting clothing. I make some good progress on part of it, and then do a YouTube workout with weights.
6:10 p.m. — My parents go to another Christmas party, so I spend the evening making food for the next week at work: tofu with balsamic vinegar marinade, hard-boiled eggs, and edamame again.
8:30 p.m. — I fall asleep fast.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8:30 a.m. — My parents go to church, which usually takes around three hours, so I have more time at home by myself. I eat my same breakfast and do skincare. I’m planning on going hiking today, even though my legs are sore, either from the work yesterday or the weights workout. I make a pumpkin spice coffee, which I think would be better with oat milk instead of almond milk because the former is creamier.
11:26 a.m. — After working on my painting, I do a short hike to the top of a ridge by the ocean. It’s on a part of the island I don’t usually go to, but I love being over on that side.
2 p.m. — I finish the hike and start driving back. Usually, this side is hot and sunny, but today it’s totally overcast. As I come back, I stop for gas. Ugh, it feels like I just got gas last week. I guess it’s okay, though, because it’s one of my only expenses. I rarely buy anything other than paying for my living expenses. $37.25
4 p.m. — More working on my painting. I thought about giving it to my parents for Christmas, but I don’t think I’ll be done in time, and I don’t want to rush it. It’s raining a lot here, which makes sense because winter is our rainy season, but we’re still getting more than usual.
5:45 p.m. — Dinner is sriracha tofu, spinach, and edamame. I really need to vary my food choices but whatever.
6 p.m. — I finish the latest episode of The Curse. They’re really leaning into the horror element in this one. I’m already thinking about my work tasks for the upcoming week. One of my coworkers went home for the holiday mid week, and my supervisors are going to be gone tomorrow, so I’ll be the only one from our team. It could be possible for me to ditch work and go somewhere tomorrow as long as I keep an eye on my work phone, but honestly, I can’t think of anything else that I would want to do.
9:30 p.m. — After I do my skincare, I finish the Hunger Games book. I guess I sleep deeply because I have long, vivid dreams.
Daily Total: $37.25
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