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A Week In Philadelphia, PA, On A $87,000 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: an assistant professor who makes $87,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a CSA box.
Content Warning: This diary mentions a COVID death.
Occupation: Assistant Professor
Industry: Academia
Age: 33
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Salary: $87,000
Net Worth: $117,700 ($8,000 in checking account, $7,000 in car value, $25,000 in retirement account(s), $4,700 and $20,000 in separate high-interest savings accounts, $345,000 home value minus mortgage debt)
Debt: $292,000 (mortgage)
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $4,736.59
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,620 (My partner pays $500 of this and covers utilities. We pay proportionate to our incomes and debt.)
Phone, Internet, Gas, Electric & Pet Insurance: $0 (covered by partner)
Monthly Loan Payments: $0 (I received full income-based aid during undergrad and fellowships during graduate school.)
Water: $45
HSA: $230
Retirement: $360 (split between 401(k) and Roth IRA with employer match)
Union Dues: $20
Arts & Political Memberships: $40
Gym Membership: $10
Health Insurance: covered by my partner's work
Monthly Donations: $50
Annual Expenses
Costco Membership: $60
Criterion Collection Membership: $90
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 was generally an expectation that I would attend college, but the prestigious college I attended was definitely outside of my family's range of possibility or even comprehension. Although I got a full ride to my dream college without loans (due to my household income being exceptionally low for the institution, not based on merit), I had to work very hard to convince my parents to sign the paperwork to even allow me to go. My mother received an associate's degree in our country of origin, but I am the first in my family to graduate from college with a bachelor's degree, let alone get a PhD. It was expected that I would attend a local public college or community college, but because I grew up poor/working class, there was no possibility to pay for college out of pocket. I was tremendously lucky that I avoided loans.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
There were many conversations around money, but mostly around the need to save. There was profound skepticism about credit cards. Anything related to the stock market was a moot point. My parents and grandparents had small savings accounts but in true immigrant fashion, would hide bundles of cash around the house. The quantities were actually small and the act of hiding them derived from trauma experience and paranoia more than from anything else!
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I worked under the table at a local bank at age 13. I got the job through a family friend and continued to work there during a few high school summers. I've been employed since then, usually working two to four jobs simultaneously, including during grad school.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Definitely, mostly because my family worried about it.
Do you worry about money now?
I worry less about money every year, but I only joined the ranks of the middle class three years ago when I accepted my current position. So, this lack of worry (more or less) is very new! I learned to be frugal in childhood and early adulthood so I feel that the money I make is plenty for my lifestyle and preferences. Although, hey, more is always better, I guess!
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
With the exception of a phone plan (which my parents covered until I turned 25), I became financially responsible for myself when I went to college at 17. Room and board were covered by my financial aid. I did live at home one summer in college and I received some money to cover living expenses when I studied abroad. Otherwise, everything was covered by my school's financial aid plan, and I worked many jobs to cover any other costs. I am my own safety net.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I received $5,000 as a one-time gift from my family when I studied abroad. I received $4,000 as an inheritance from a very close relative who passed away. I do not expect to receive any inheritance from any other relatives in the future.

Day One

9 a.m. — I grumpily get up with an alarm. I grab my phone and spend a good 45 to 50 minutes waking up with TikTok and social media. I hate on the habit, but I get a nice, slow wake-up with funny or educational videos while I wait for the cortisol to naturally do its thing.
10 a.m. — Brush my teeth, take my meds, and put on some clothes: a faux shearling tan sweater and white corduroy wide-leg pants with tights underneath for added warmth, plus an extra pair of sparkly gold socks. I put on makeup (BB cream, tan eyeshadow, eyebrow pencil) because we have friends coming over later and I hate putting on makeup midway through the day. I empty the dishwasher, make tea, and set up my workstation, then start diving into emails and class prep.
12 p.m. — Break to make an omelet with everything that needs to be used up in the fridge; today that's ham, cheddar, and pea shoots with Everything But the Bagel seasoning. It's… not great, and falls apart in the pan, so it's more like mediocre scrambled eggs. I have it with pumpernickel toast, which I smother with fancy butter (if you know, you know), and it almost makes up for the lackluster eggs. While I eat, I watch the last 15 minutes of a film I didn't finish last night. I also have an email argument with some of my colleagues about university bureaucracy. Oh, academia.
12:30 p.m. — Feed and take out the pup (my partner, J., had first walk duties today, as he does every day). I wrap myself in a long scarf and old puffer coat and look like the kid from A Christmas Story. Of course, when I get outside it's not as cold as I thought. (Maybe because the air is actually dry?? What is this magic???) On the walk, I pick up items from my amazing Buy Nothing neighbors. I get a desktop lamp (for endless evening Zoom meetings) and non-perishable foods. I make more tea and get back into work mode.
4 p.m. — Break from work to have a slightly shortened therapy session via Zoom ($85), then go back to work. I usually have my weekly therapy session on a different date, but yesterday didn't work for her, so we had to reschedule. At some point, I reheat homemade chicken soup from yesterday and snack on chocolate. $85
7 p.m. — Finally stop working for the day and take out the pup. As soon as he squats down a few blocks away, I realize that I forgot to replenish his poop bags. Horror of horrors! I rifle through my pockets to see if there is anything I can use as a poop bag and find…a face mask and a receipt. Nope. The offensive content is in a relatively deserted area and pretty tiny, so I look both ways and sprint outta there. I feel extraordinarily guilty and tell myself I'm going to pick it up later today on the pup's last walk.
7:30 p.m. — I sauté mushrooms and reheat dumplings. Our friends, H. and F., come over with a cabbage slaw and J. finally comes home from work with donuts in tow. We feast for a few hours and watch a deeply strange cult film while drinking home-brewed beer. At some point, F. and I decide we are starting a coven?
11:30 p.m. — Friends leave and J. takes out the pup. Out of immense guilt, I give him extremely precise directions to the forgotten poop.
12 a.m. — The (poop) bag is secured! We run the dishwasher and clean up, then I brush my teeth and get ready for bed. I've gotten into the habit of writing down three things I'm grateful for and three affirmations right before bed, so I do that, then read a bit from a book on folklore and psychology. Lights out at 12:30.
Daily Total: $85

Day Two

9 a.m. — I wake up from stone-cold sleep, in the middle of a very vivid and long dream, so I scribble down the dream and start the process of getting ready (i.e. staring at my phone). After half an hour, I nudge J. awake, who goes downstairs to make himself coffee while I brush my teeth.
10 a.m. — I make sunny-side-up eggs with pumpernickel toast and have that with black tea. I put on a somewhat absurd outfit because I'll be outside for a while today: burgundy sweatpants on top of leggings, Uniqlo HEATTECH under a Bernie sweatshirt, Timberlands, dark green J. Crew beanie, and a very colorful Farm Rio puffer. I look like a chic but confused parrot, but these just happen to be my warmest items of clothing. Makeup is just BB cream, brow pencil, and a few swipes of blue mascara.
11 a.m. — We head out with pup for a hike with two relatively new friends, S. and K., who join with their pup as well. We see some beautiful half-frozen ponds, and I take photos of the cool semi-thawed ice crystals.
1:30 p.m. — S. and K. treat us to hot chocolate and pastries at a cute nearby coffee shop. I get a tiny size and no pastries because I feel uncomfortable getting treated and assume I should always get the smallest size so I'm not a bother! J. does not have this problem and happily orders a very complicated coffee and a giant pastry. We stop at a pet store to use the bathroom (no other shops on the street have bathrooms available because of COVID), and I buy dog food there because we're running low ($16.19). On the drive back, I eat one of yesterday's leftover donuts. $16.19
2 p.m. — J. drops me off at a meeting outdoors. I bring the pup, and we walk for a few miles with my crew. I'm meeting some of these people in person for the first time! There are a few babies and two other dogs. Zoom doesn't hold a candle to in-person events, and I'm left feeling excited and inspired. After about an hour and a half of walking and working, I peel off and walk home with the pup. I've walked about seven miles today, and my legs are absolutely dying!
4 p.m. — Shower, change into comfy sweats, and get started on this evening's workload.
6 p.m. — J. and I collaborate to make fish tacos! I make the fish, he makes handmade corn tortillas (so much more impressive and time-intensive than my fish), and we have them with cabbage, salsa verde, cilantro, and lime. I have chocolate and herbal tea and go back to work. Discussion board posts aren't going to read themselves! At some point, I snack on crackers.
9 p.m. — At some point, I realize that fish tacos didn't quite cut it so I have a snack of dried sausage, manchego cheese, crackers, and apple slices. I also make myself a rose tea latte as I barrel through the last bit of lesson planning for tomorrow's on-campus school day.
10:30 p.m. — Decide I need to stop what I'm doing and decompress immediately, so J. and I watch an episode of Queer Eye. OF COURSE, the episode we're on is the one on high schoolers and Zoom teaching! I contemplate switching to the next one because I am EXTREMELY TRIGGERED but end up sticking with it. This was a mistake, and I cry because I am immediately brought back to March 2020 and navigating teaching during a pandemic, trying to hold it together for my students while I'm furious at the world and terrified at the same time.
11:30 p.m. — J. goes out to walk the pup, and I decide to try on the KN95 I need to use tomorrow. Despite these being well-reviewed online, I… absolutely hate them. J. (who works in a hospital and has to wear them) assures me they're the right size and are as uncomfortable for him as they are for me. Great. Instructors are allowed to switch to surgical masks when teaching, and I will definitely be doing that!
12:15 a.m. — Write down gratitude notes and affirmations, read in bed, and lights out.
Daily Total: $16.19

Day Three

8:45 a.m. — Wake up and scroll through my phone, and after a few minutes on social media I stupidly sign into my work email and find… extremely anger-inducing words from the university administration. I immediately break out into a cold sweat. I am shocked and fuming and stagger out of bed.
9:30 a.m. — I stagger around the house in a perpetual state of shock while I do my morning routine (much slower and more scattered); somehow, in survival mode, I remember to brush my teeth, put on makeup (tan eyeshadow, mascara, BB cream) and clothes — a tan cardigan, vintage plaid wool pants, and brown leather lace-up boots. I can't imagine eating food at the moment so I put together an onion bagel with cream cheese and hope I feel like eating it later in the day.
10:45 a.m. — Walk the dog and take the bus ($2) to campus, then have a full day of teaching. I continue to be in a state of shock, and my anxiety is absolutely through the roof. Somehow this makes me a very performative lecturer today — I can barely hold it together psychologically but keep cracking jokes and gesticulating wildly. Sad clown vibes are on point. I am too frazzled to remember to replace my KN95 with a surgical mask, and the KN95 actually ends up being fine enough, though my ears hurt intensely from the straps after several hours. $2
3 p.m. — Take a quick break to eat half of the bagel. I feel and taste nothing and am running on pure, unfiltered adrenaline.
5 p.m. — Teaching day finally ends, and I am beyond spent. I finish the onion bagel in my office and furiously text my friends about my morning email situation. Everyone is extremely supportive but I still feel awful.
6 p.m. — Finally pry myself out of my office chair and brave the bus to go home. $2
7 p.m. — J. walks the pup to the train stop and meets me there to try to cheer me up. I spend hours analyzing the situation and strategizing; I will definitely be applying to other jobs next year. At some point, J. and I work together to make a southwest salad with lettuce, TJ's Cowboy Caviar salsa, avocado, black beans, and tortilla chips. It's absolutely delicious, and I finally remember what food tastes like again.
9 p.m. — We watch two episodes of Euphoria. I drink my favorite locally brewed beer (Single Coil from Cartesian Brewery), and we also have a shot of amaro in a scoop of ice cream. The alcohol does make me feel significantly better, as does cuddling on the couch with our dog. Witnessing Jules's beautiful makeup for two hours also doesn't hurt.
11 p.m. — I'm frazzled and anxious about work again, especially because I have a stressful meeting first thing in the morning. I do a Tarot reading to try to figure out my mess of a brain. Do I try to find another job next year or join the Great Resignation? Honestly, the second option seems more and more appealing by the minute. I remember that I pulled the Death card recently and think, Wow, how eerily fitting.
12 a.m. — I take the dog out. Lights out at 1 a.m. after my nighttime routine.
Daily Total: $4

Day Four

8:15 a.m. — Wake up and, after a few moments of confusion, immediately start dreading the day. I scroll for just a few minutes (mostly to try to adjust my mood) and drag my body into the shower. I put on light Zoom-appropriate makeup (eyebrow pencil, mascara, BB cream) because it'll be a day of meetings, and try to lift my mood by dressing like a stick of butter: cozy cream-colored V-neck sweater and white wide-leg cords.
9:30 a.m. — Sign into my much-dreaded meeting and it is…frustrating. Not terrible, not fine, just frustrating. I choke up once from the sheer sadness of it all and hope my expression isn't visible on Zoom. I close my laptop and finally cry out of frustration. J. left for work already so I cuddle my dog on his bed, and he is more than happy to oblige. Then, more Zoom meetings with colleagues (less frustrating this time).
12 p.m. — Break for a quick bowl of cereal while I lesson plan and answer student emails. I walk the dog and pick up a beach bag from a Buy Nothing neighbor on the way. A little while later, I'm still hungry so I have a small bowl of leftover chicken soup and chocolate.
2 p.m. — Student meetings start and last until 4:30. I have a short break in between meetings so I walk two blocks to get groceries. I get egg noodles, red pepper, cherry tomatoes, diced tomatoes, canned corn, OJ, ultra-filtered milk, cheese, and wet dog food. I Venmo request J. for half. $14.54
4:30 p.m. — Student meetings end, but my Zoom time is nowhere near over for the day! I get hungry so I have some leftover fish tacos with avocado, cabbage, cilantro, and salsa verde with a side of tortilla chips. While I eat, I watch half an episode of Schitt's Creek, which I've been microdosing for the past few months. I return to my "home office" (couch corner) for a lecture. Honestly, seeing my colleagues on Zoom after the stress of the last few days is too much, so I turn off my camera and start haphazardly scrolling on social media while listening. I decide to buy a very cool secondhand jacket from a local leftist seller on Instagram for some retail therapy ($77). I then hop on an organizing Zoom call for a political org I volunteer with. I decide to relinquish some of my tasks for this organization while work is so rough. I feel awful about it but know it's the right decision for the time. $77
7 p.m. — I have a short break and then log into a Zoom rehearsal for a choir I sing with. It cheers me up a little to sing, but I'm still exhausted and melancholy. After the choir ends, I count that I had seven hours of Zoom today.
9 p.m. — I hop on a phone call with my therapist that ends up taking an hour. I usually only speak to her once a week, but this is an exception, and she calms me down quite a bit and is extremely encouraging. Having a good therapist truly feels like a superpower! I've been seeing her for a year and a half and am so thankful to have found her after a few not-so-great therapists in Philly. She is based in another state but thanks to Zoom we can make it work.
10:30 p.m. — Walk the pup while J. puts out the trash. I am feeling snackish so I have chocolate. I unload and load the dishwasher, then paint my nails (this week, an opaque white) and do a bit of organizing work on Slack while it's on my mind, just to get it out of the way.
12:15 a.m. — Gratitude phrases, affirmations, book, and lights out.
Daily Total: $91.54

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — Wake up before my alarm after a vivid dream about Princess Di? Generally feel a lot better today. After a significant amount of time letting TikTok do its awakening thing, I put on sweats then answer a few emails while drinking black tea. After I'm sufficiently caffeinated, I go to my local gym (safely masked, obviously) and spend time on the elliptical. Exercise always does the trick! I feel refreshed.
12 p.m. — Get home, shower, and put on a little more makeup than usual because today is a teaching day: BB cream, black liquid liner, and mascara. I wear a white turtleneck and green COS cardigan with black high-waisted velvet pants tucked into black riding boots. It's been a while since I washed my hair, so I pull it back in an LSG white claw clip and put on silver hoop earrings.
12:30 p.m. — I make two sunny-side-up eggs and eat them with a slice of avocado toast with Everything But the Bagel seasoning, and another slice with pesto. I won't have time to eat for a while today so I try to get my nutrients and protein in sooner rather than later. While I eat, I microdose more Schitt's Creek, then go back to answering emails and lesson planning for later today.
2 p.m. — Walk the dog then take the bus to campus ($2). Upon getting to campus, I spit in a tube. I'm old hat at this COVID-test situation by this point. $2
3 p.m. — I pick up and return a few books at the campus library, then it's teaching time! It's… fine. Not my best, not my worst. I find out, unfortunately, right before the class begins, that an organizer acquaintance of mine from a previous city died of COVID. She was in her 60s but vaxxed and boosted. This is probably the closest person to me so far who has died of COVID. I take time poring over pictures and posts from her friends and family on social media, and add my own tribute. I respected and admired her so, so much. What a strange time we live in.
5:30 p.m. — Take the bus ($2) back home. I'm freezing yet again, but at least it comes… eventually. $2
6 p.m. — I make a quick meal of dumplings and snack on cookies and a sliced apple before facilitating an organizing call over Zoom. It goes swimmingly, although longer than I planned. I'm in charge of planning a big event next month, so today was spent going over logistics with the organizing committee.
7:30 p.m. — I walk over to my friend T.'s place and have a good, long kvetch session about our work. He is a colleague in a different department, and we have a LOT to complain about! It feels so dang good to strategize and unabashedly shit-talk the tenure track life. I leave feeling so much better! I don't intend on eating, but T. is an amazing cook and he feeds me shrimp bisque with rice, a lemon scone, and several hazy IPAs. I walk the few blocks home.
11 p.m. — Get home and walk the pup; I'm still a bit tipsy and play with him by running around the living room and pretending to jump on him. He still has a lot of energy and practically spins in circles!
12:15 a.m. — Start bedtime routine, brush teeth, and wash face. I suddenly remember my friend who died of COVID and spend time looking through our memories together. We didn't know each other extremely well, but we saw one another all the time through political organizing and had so many overlapping interests. It feels so strange; I can't believe she's gone.
Daily Total: $4

Day Six

9 a.m. — Wake up after a weird, fitful sleep. I write down a vivid dream then stay in bed for even longer than usual, waiting for energy to arrive. It doesn't; I'm just plain exhausted. I remember that this happens every post-teaching day. Unable to move, I stay in bed and make a TikTok, and get annoyed at the app for constantly glitching. At some point, J. brings the pup upstairs to greet me, and we play with him for a while.
10 a.m. — Finally peel myself out of bed to shower. My skin does not look great; it's probably the alcohol. I wear a subtle Canadian tuxedo — a denim oxford shirt and a gray speckled sweater with balloon jeans. I put on a bit of BB cream, concealer, and brow pencil with a swipe of silver-blue eyeliner. I pull my hair into a ponytail with a silver scrunchie and put on jade hoops.
11:30 a.m. — Finally settle down to work properly. Today is a research day rather than a teaching day (I'm trying to separate the two so I'm more efficient with my time). I'm still completely exhausted and decide to make a chai tea with Tazo concentrate I've never tried before. It comes out totally delicious, and I'm hooked!
12 p.m. — Feeling melancholy again, thinking about my acquaintance who passed away. I listen to Fleet Foxes while I make comfort food: oatmeal with peanut butter, sprinkled with bee pollen and maple clusters. I then spend a few hours planning publications and conference talks before jumping into writing.
3 p.m. — A balaclava I ordered from Etsy comes in the mail! I look a bit ridiculous — not unlike a medieval knight — but am excited to try it out with a different outfit. I head out for a long walk with the pup, stopping to pick up a library book on the way.
4:30 p.m. — Return home and watch a department lecture on Zoom. While I'm listening to the lecture, J. picks up our weekly CSA box, and my credit card gets charged; I Venmo request him half. $18.60
6:30 p.m. — J. brought home chicken fajitas from work so we eat those with corn tortillas that he made. J. decides to make a key lime pie and I contemplate going back to work, but decide that it's too late for serious translation business so I read (a book only *slightly* related to work) cuddled up next to the dog for a while.
8:30 p.m. — J. finishes the key lime pie, and we watch an Australian film from the early 1980s. I snack on crackers and dried persimmon, and we each have a small slice of key lime pie. The film ends up being kind of disappointing. J. walks the dog in the middle of the movie, and I read a bit more of my book. I pack the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen.
12:15 a.m. — Start getting ready for bed. I brush my teeth and write my gratitude notes and affirmations, read a bit more, and it's lights out at 12:45.
Daily Total: $18.60

Day Seven

9 a.m. — Wake up grumpily, annoyed I went to sleep so late. J. is at home and he starts making bread in the kitchen and walks the dog. Since he usually has a much more difficult week, he is using this week to do a lot of baking, and I'm not complaining! That said, the kitchen is a complete mess and is stressing me out quite a bit. I scroll through TikTok and some other apps and finally get up and put on sweats.
10 a.m. — Start working on emails and drink another chai latte (so dang good!). J. works alongside me in the kitchen.
11:30 a.m. — I give away a penny board to a neighbor on Buy Nothing and do a quick Chrissy Ting workout because I have little time today to go to the gym. I shower and change into a relaxed outfit: Bernie sweatshirt and black velvet high-waisted pants. Put on the barest of makeup: BB cream and brow pencil. I join an organizing meeting I used to co-lead and go off-camera to eat a slice of J.'s freshly baked bread with pesto. During the meeting, I also order books from a university press, most of which I'll need for work ($105.84, expensed). After the meeting ends, I eat a grapefruit and go back to lesson planning. ($105.84 expensed)
3 p.m. — I make a spicy turkey chili and snack on the last of the slaw. I walk the pup and then have my weekly therapy session. $120
6 p.m. — J. comes home, and we eat the chili with cheese and sour cream. It's delicious and hits the cold wintry spot. J. gets awful news right after he comes home from work and needs to head back to the hospital for an overnight shift. I knew his relatively easy schedule this week was too good to be true!
7 p.m. — J. and I have tickets to an art film at our local theater so J. somehow convinces his boss that he can come in at 8:30. The film is whimsical and so much fun all around! Definitely not what I was expecting. We part ways for the night, and I head home while he takes the train back to the hospital.
9 p.m. — Get home and cozy up with yet another movie and a pup. I take a break for coffee-flavored ice cream.
11 p.m. — I take out the dog, and it's snowing! It is perfect and fluffy and packable, so I run around with the pup in the snow. He was rescued from Texas, so seeing him interact with actual snowballs is such a treat. He keeps catching them in his mouth and getting confused when they disintegrate. Comedy gold!
12:15 a.m. — Get cozy inside and go upstairs to read with my book. J. is gone for the night, so the pup lies down next to me. I always go to bed much later than I should when J. is on his night shift. Gratitude statements, affirmations, and I'm asleep pretty quickly. Night, folks!
Daily Total: $120
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