Money Diaries logo

A Week In Washington, D.C., On A $52,500 Salary

Photo: Getty Images.
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 project coordinator who makes $52,500 per year and spends some of her money this week on boba iced tea.
Occupation: Project Coordinator and Graduate Student
Industry: Environmental
Age: 26
Location: Washington, D.C.
Salary: $52,500
Net Worth: -$19,148 ($10,000 in general investing, $10,000 in retirement, $5,000 in my emergency saving fund, $2,500 in a down payment on home fund minus student loans).
Debt: $47,288 in student loans ($12,440 from undergrad and $34,847 for graduate loans).
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,376
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $800 (including utilities, I split a basement apartment with one roommate).
Student Loans: $0 (I have student loans but they are in deferment while I'm still in school).
Phone: $30
Netflix/Hulu/HBO: I use my mom's/friend's logins.
Spotify: $5.29
Health/Dental/Eye Insurance: $53.12
Savings: $500-$1,000
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?
Not really. My mom just wanted us to do what made us happy. My mom went to school for a while and then dropped out and my dad went to community college but also dropped out. I went to undergrad at a small state school. I received a scholarship that covered almost all of my tuition, a Pell Grant, and did work-study for 20 hours a week while in school. I took out federal loans my first two years, mostly for student housing and the meal plan, and none the last two. I started graduate school last fall and received a scholarship, but have also been taking out federal loans.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Growing up, money conversations were about how we didn't have any. Money was precious and something that you couldn't waste. I didn't learn anything about personal finance. My mom is horrible with money and currently doesn't have any savings. My father passed away when I was young so my mom was my only role model for finances.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started babysitting when I was around 13 or so but my first official job was when I was 16 and worked as a hostess at a restaurant. I got it because there was an expectation from my family to help out once I turned 16. I also wanted my own money to buy food and clothes, and see movies with my friends.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Every day. My dad was the sole earner in my family and died when I was young. We had to declare bankruptcy and sell our house as he had unknown debts when he died. My mom had few marketable skills and a strong belief that women should stay at home to raise their children. So we lived off social security and my dad's pension while she stayed at home. She was a reckless spender and I had to be the voice of reason. We were a coupon, roll of coins, sometimes go-to-bed-hungry type of home growing up. It really affects my view of money now.
Do you worry about money now?
No, I have more money than I thought imaginable growing up. I currently make more than our family of four did growing up. I have emergency savings, money in the stock market, and have achieved goals I previously thought were unattainable. I know I will be able to survive no matter what because I already survived poverty growing up. I am living very comfortably now and know I can cut back whenever I need to.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I started buying my own food and clothes when I was 16 and became fully financially independent at 18. My financial safety net now is my emergency fund and my general investments. I could also probably stay at my mom's or brothers' for a while if I ever fell hard.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My grandma gave me her old car when I turned 16, for which I am forever grateful. When my dad died, my uncle set aside some money we received from the funeral for my education and my two brothers. I received a total of $8,000, which I used for undergrad expenses.

Day One

8:30 a.m. — Wake up at my boyfriend, C.'s, house, brush my teeth, wash my face and put in my contacts. I also take my birth control, which I will take every morning this week. I stay there until 11, working from home. I have a banana and some tea for breakfast.
11:30 a.m. — I'm going into the office today! I have a student metro card from school so I do not pay for the metro/bus system. I steal some popcorn and tea from the office cafeteria.
1:30 p.m. — Lunchtime. I eat my packed lunch of a turkey sandwich, orange, grapes and half a Sprite.
4:45 p.m. — Time to go to the store and then home. We have a pretty flexible schedule and as long as you get your work done, you can pretty much leave and come as you want.
5:30 p.m. — I make it to the store by my house and the line is insane. I only need to buy rice for dinner. $3.50
6 p.m. — Finally home. Chat with my roommate, B., for a bit and marinate my salmon for tonight. B. and I have been living together for around a year and a half now and it has been a solid living situation.
6:20 p.m. — I start to study for some tests and work on a paper.
8:20 p.m. — C. comes over for dinner and we have rice, salmon and broccoli while chatting about our days. We have been together six months now and try to see each other every day.
9 p.m. — We finish up dinner and I study more while C. makes us some cookies and does the dishes.
10 p.m. — I finish studying, we take our showers, and go to bed. My average night routine is normally shower, put lotion on my body and face, and fall asleep within five minutes of hitting the mattress.
Daily Total: $3.50

Day Two

8:20 a.m. — I roll out of bed and start to get ready for the day. C. stays in bed until 8:30 and then heads home to work.
9:10 a.m. — I log into work a few minutes late (or if you are my boss and seeing this, perfectly on time). I make toast with butter and strawberry jam, black tea, and banana. I take my supplements.
1:30 p.m. — Work, work, work and now it is lunchtime! I have leftover mac and cheese and Brussels sprouts. I am feeling super stressed about my upcoming exam so my stomach is not feeling well and this lunch doesn't settle it. I have a Coke to see if that will help.
3 p.m. — I log off work a bit early and study for my exam. I also take a midday shower to attempt to relax.
4:20 p.m. — Time to commute to school. It takes me about an hour and I study on the train. I only have class two days a week so the commute isn't horrible.
5 p.m. — I have to stop by Target to get AAA batteries for my calculator. I also grab some kitchen sponges. $13.86
5:30 p.m. — I decide to have dinner at a burger joint near my school. I get a spicy chicken sandwich and fries. $14.51
6:30 p.m. — Last-minute study time at the library.
8:20 p.m. — It is finally exam time. I feel like it goes alright, but not great. I understand I am at my max capacity and am proud of what I'm able to do. My professor pulls me aside about my group project (which has been a nightmare to organize) to tell me that we didn't incorporate feedback from before when we submitted our draft. I do not have the capacity to care about this now and file it away for later. I read my book on the commute home.

11:20 p.m. — Finally make it home and get ready for bed. Take a shower and then take some off-brand Nyquil.

1 a.m. — I pass out so fast.

Daily Total: $28.37

Day Three

8:20 a.m. — I wake up with drool on my pillow. I obviously slept super hard, but I feel like hot garbage. Sickness is coming and I don't like it.
9 a.m. — I log in to work and thankfully I only have one meeting today.
10 a.m. — My friend M. to the rescue! She got in line for Noah Kahan tickets, and I had completely forgotten about them. She calls me and we chat for a second to confirm everything and then I send her money for my ticket. $53
10:30 a.m. — I realize I haven't eaten yet. I make tea and eat a banana, then take my vitamins like a good adult.
2 p.m. — It is time to eat lunch. I have spicy ramen and an apple.
5:10 p.m. — I log off and run a bath. While in the bath I start my new book, a memoir by a trans man called Sorted. A few friends and family members have come out as trans and non-binary recently. As a cis woman from a rural area, I don't really understand a lot about the trans experience or trans history, so I'm trying to read about it to better understand.
8 p.m. — I pick up some pizza and wings for dinner, then play Sims for a while. $22.43
9 p.m. — FaceTime with C. We are both sick and he has his first show with his new band on Saturday so we are trying to be smart and stay away from each other, but it is hard.
11 p.m. — My roommate comes back a little sauced from her work happy hour. I gather bits and pieces of the story, get her some water, and put her to bed.
11:30 p.m. — I play more Sims, then scroll the internet. I see a cute gift I think C. will like so I buy it. $21.19
1 a.m. — Finally fall asleep after staring at the wall for like an hour.
Daily Total: $96.62

Day Four

7 a.m. — I wake up and get ready for the day.
7:30 a.m. — I have an early meeting so the day starts now. My boss wants me to take over this responsibility so I have to pay attention.
10 a.m. — I make my tea and have an orange and a piece of banana bread.
12 p.m. — I read my book during my lunch break instead of actually eating lunch.
1:30 p.m. — I'm still feeling sick so I cancel my plans for tonight. Then I heat up leftover rice, make broccoli, and try to make cod. The cod tastes horrible and I think I am cursed. I make a hot turkey and cheese instead. I pick some mold off of the cheese because that is who I am as a person.
3:30 p.m. — Log off for the day and read more of my book.
4:30 p.m. — Nap time! I normally don't take naps but being sick means sleeping forever and hoping for a fast recovery.
5 p.m. — I help my roommate get ready for her date and then play more Sims. I heat up leftover pizza for dinner.
8:30 p.m. — I take a bath and read more of my book. Then I get in bed.
11 p.m. — I read some of my old journals. I started journaling in earnest senior year of undergrad and I love it. It helps me process some hard emotions and remember what has happened. I fall asleep around midnight.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

9 a.m. — I get up and immediately open my laptop. I text C. and ask if he wants to hang out still and he says yes. We make plans to make dinner together and watch a movie, which is something we have yet to do in our six months together.
11 a.m. — I look up from work to have some toast and orange juice.
2 p.m. — I eat the last of my pizza leftovers while watching The Great British Baking Show.
4:30 p.m. — I log off a bit early and get my things together. I am so excited to see C.
6 p.m. — Make it to C.'s place. He bought all of the things to make this creamy mushroom pasta so we make it together and it turns out delicious.
9 p.m. — We take forever to make dinner so we decide not to watch anything. We catch up until 11 when we go to sleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

9:30 a.m. — Time to snuggle then get up. We drink our desired beverages — coffee for him and tea for me. C. makes some pre-breakfast before we go to a local coffee shop and get croissants and coffee. C. pays. We sit and eat and talk about the day. C. has his show tonight.
12 p.m. — We make our way to the botanical gardens. Being in a city, I sometimes miss being constantly surrounded by nature, but I love all of the free museums and events available in D.C.
3 p.m. — Quick stop at C.'s house for him to play and practice a bit before heading out for coffee and a boba tea for me. I buy his coffee and a cupcake at a vegan place then I get my own boba as well. We take a walk while we have our drinks. $15.22

5 p.m. — Make it back and the nerves have started to get him. I try to distract him but there is only so much to be done. C. gets anxious more than I do, so I don't fully understand, but I try to be as supportive as I can.

5:45 p.m. — I drop him off at the venue, run home to change and grab my roommate, and then take the bus back to the venue.

10 p.m. — His set starts. He is amazing! I am so proud, he has practiced so much and put so much work into it. He comes back into the crowd once he is done, receives a million well-deserved congrats, and we dance to the other bands.

11:30 p.m. —We take an Uber back to his place to drop off the guitar and then head to the after party. I pay for the Uber. $22.13

12:30 a.m. — We spend the night dancing away. I buy us two beer-and-a-shot combos. My roommate gets us shots as well. $26.91

2:30 a.m. — We make it home. I force C. to eat some leftovers as he is much more toasted than I am. We drink a bunch of water and then pass out.

Daily Total: $64.26

Day Seven

9:30 a.m. — Uggggh why are we up so early? C. and I shower and go upstairs. His roommate is upstairs with a friend who went to the show. We caffeinate and nurse C.'s hangover. We spend most of the day on the couch.
2 p.m. — We take a walk to try to clear our heads and then I head to my DnD group. We have such a good time!
6:30 p.m. — I make it back to C.'s house to collect my things and then we go to the grocery store. I buy chicken thighs, asparagus, pasta, heavy cream and parmesan. $23.46
7 p.m. — We go back to my place and make dinner. We are both finally recovered and promise to only do this once every six months.
9 p.m. — C. and I chat and hang out after dinner. We go to sleep around 10.
Daily Total: $23.46
Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual's experience and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.

Do you have a Money Diary you'd like to share? Submit it with us here.

Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here or email us here.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series