A Week In San Luis Obispo, CA, On A $65,000 Salary

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Today: a Project Engineer who makes $65,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on bubble bath.
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Occupation: Project Engineer
Industry: Construction
Age: 29
Location: San Luis Obispo, CA
Salary: $65,000
Net Worth: $-5,000 (My husband, L., and I do not share finances. We have a joint savings account that we recently opened, but I track and manage all of our money and he contributes his agreed-upon portion in cash. I have about $2,000 in savings and $7,000 in credit card debt from my early 20s that I am trying to pay off.)
Debt: $7,000
Paycheck Amount (1x/week): $846.55 (pocketed take-home amount)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,300 (My portion of our rent. L. pays less since he makes less.)
Auto Loan: $300
Credit Cards: $245
Cell Phone: $105
Internet: $99.99
Hulu: $5.99
Stash Investments: $80
CSA: $40
Car Insurance: $160.12
Life Insurance: $37 (for my son, T., and me)
Health/Dental/Vision Insurance: $348.40 (covers my son and me, deducted from my paycheck)
401(k): $203.46 deducted from paycheck (no employer match)
Car Wash Subscription: $25

Annual Expenses
Amazon Prime: $119
Costco: $120
AAA: $70
StitchFix: $49
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?
Neither of my parents has a four-year degree and both did exceptionally well where they ended up. They both kind of "fell into" their careers by chance. My sister and I were always encouraged to go to college, but my family didn't feel it was 100% necessary to have successful jobs and careers. After high school, I did one semester at the community college and hated it. I was so done with academics, even though I was always a devoted A-B student. I ended up dropping out and attending a six-month international community service program that I paid for through savings from a part-time job, my parents' help, and fundraisers.
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Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We never had conversations devoted to finances, but both of my parents were good savers, and even after their divorce, I knew things were tight but not desperate. The only discussions we had were to not spend money if we did not have it. If you can't afford it, don't buy it. Though it seemed simple at the time, as a young 20-something that is easier said than done. Money wasn't discussed so much as integrity of character and the value of working hard for what you earn. I was taught to be responsible for all of my work and my actions and that is where fulfillment will be achieved, not in dollar value.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was at a sandwich shop, after school and on weekends. I got it because I needed to pay for gas and insurance and I wanted spending money. My parents bought my first car but the deal was I had to pay for the gas and insurance myself. I ended up loving it and worked there until I graduated high school.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No, I did not worry about money growing up. I grew up in an average middle-class family. I had everything I needed and most of what I wanted. I knew my parents worked hard for what we had and I was expected to help around the house and be a good student in return. I was never given an allowance but I always had to work for anything extra that I felt was important enough that I wanted beyond what my parents considered reasonable. If I wanted THAT brand of shoes, I had to make up the monetary difference or the equivalent in household chores. Stuff like that.
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Do you worry about money now?
Yes, I do worry about money now. More than ever, actually. I don't worry that the bills will be paid or food will be on the table, but I worry about large unexpected expenses like medical bills or car repairs, etc. My husband and I don't have much in savings. Living in a location with such a high cost of living means cutting out on little luxuries to save more — small road trips instead of big vacations, cooking instead of eating out. I feel like we are getting there, but only pennies at a time. If something drastic happened, we could only survive for a short while before getting stuck in a huge hole that would set us back even further.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I'd say I was financially responsible for myself at 21. I was living on my own, with multiple jobs, and paid for all my own expenses. I was still on my dad's insurance and mom's phone plan at the time but they slowly "weaned" me off as I became more secure financially. Although that didn't stop me from making credit mistakes during that time that they aren't aware of and I am still paying off those collections to this day. My safety net would be my husband and my mom. My mom has helped us out a few times when things were tight/desperate and I know that she would rather help us out than let us go into more debt.
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Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Recently, I was upside down in an auto loan with a car that was a lemon. It was costing me anywhere from $600-$900 every few months to fix another broken something that wasn't covered by the warranty. Anything I had managed to save ended up getting spent on repairs. My husband, L., and my mother gave me the down payment on a new-to-me car and my mom co-signed the loan for a better interest rate. My credit isn't good and I am focusing on making good credit decisions and paying off existing debt. Without their help, I know I'd be worse off now than I was last year. Because of this, I've taken on more of the family finances while L. is out of work.

Day One

4:15 a.m. — I am woken up by "critters" running around inside the wall/on the roof. We live in the country and though this is expected to an extent, we need an exterminator and I make a mental note to reset the traps. Errg. Back to sleep.
5:45 a.m. — Alarm goes off. After snoozing for 15 minutes, I have to start Monday. Shower, make earl gray tea in a travel mug, pack breakfast for the week, and make lunch for today. Kiss my husband, L., and I'm out the door.
7:50 a.m. — After a three-day weekend, our work fridge smells like putrid death. Since I am one of the first ones in, I make the happy discovery of way too many science experiments and leftovers people have left behind. I quickly clean out old half-eaten leftovers and tell HR the issue in case someone takes grievance on their missing experiment.
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9:30 a.m. — Breakfast of yogurt and granola at my desk. I spend a couple of minutes job hunting for L. He has been out of work since the beginning of the pandemic and unemployment ended 12/26 for him, along with other millions of Americans. He has been searching for work for months, but everything is sparse due to the holidays and California going back into lockdown.
12 p.m. — I run an errand to the bank to deposit some Christmas cash and my bonus. Back at work, I reheat leftover mashed sweet potatoes and spiral ham from this weekend.
2:30 p.m. — I get a text that confirms my grandpa has tested positive for COVID. He will be 90 this week and now we have to cancel the small family dinner we were planning for this weekend (after having to cancel the originally planned big party due to COVID when the whole family was going to come into town). I am super bummed.
5 p.m. — I get home and find L. asleep on the couch and my son, T., asleep in his bedroom. What happened today that they both are wiped out!? I debate waking T. up, but since I don't know how long he has been asleep, I leave him be. I feed the dog and call my dad. Every time I talk to him it makes me miss being close by him. When I get off the phone, I spend a few minutes doing my crochet. Even if I only get one row in, I have to do it every day.
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7:30 p.m. — I made a Hello Fresh for dinner that we didn't use last week — parmesan-crusted chicken with roasted tomatoes in spaghetti. Feeling kind of cranky and icky so L. pours me a large glass of wine and makes me a bubble bath, he's the best. I read in the bath. I am currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo. Up to bed, fall asleep around 9:30.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

6:44 a.m. — !!! I do not recall my alarm going off an hour ago at all! Fly out of bed and take a quick body shower. Ah, I started my period. That explains why I slept so late, I am always totally wiped out the first day or two. Obviously, this also means I am not pregnant — again. We've been trying for almost 1.5 years now and it's becoming quite defeating. I should take a minute to explain that T. is not biologically mine; he's the product of a previous relationship of L.'s. That being said, he calls me mom, and we have had sole custody of him since he was a toddler. I am a FIRM believer that blood does not make you a mother but that nature/relationships do. Quickly dress in jeans, a company logo hoodie, and white mule sneakers.
7:20 a.m. — Coffee into the travel mug from the Keurig KPlus mini (Christmas present! I am in love) and then I do my skincare and makeup, which consists of Aveeno daily brightening scrub done in the shower, Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, Origins No Puffery eye roll-on, and Glossier Moisturizing Primer Balance. Followed by Naked Weightless foundation, Urban Decay eyeliner, and Glossier Boy Brow. Grab packed lunch and out the door by 7:30 miraculously.
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9:15 a.m. — T. told me he was out of body wash/shampoo the other day, so I take a minute to add some things to my digital Target basket. This kid has the driest skin ever, he literally feels like a lizard most of the time. Of course, being a nine-year-old boy, his correct use of soap is questionable at best and that certainly doesn't help. I add Suave Kids Purely Fun Moisturizing 3-1 Shampoo+Conditioner+Body Wash, Thayer's Rose toner, and moisturizing eye drops. I eat yogurt and granola for breakfast before a virtual meeting.
12:30 p.m. — Break for lunch and eat leftover Hello Fresh at the picnic table in the parking lot. I scroll Instagram and Facebook while I eat and add to my running list of Costco items. I always have a list of groceries and meal plan ideas at my desk. Since I am in one place all day, I keep track of my thoughts on a revolving note pad. At the end of each week or when I have a comprehensive plan, I take that sheet home to finalize and cross-reference with my pantry and fridge/deep freezer before I shop. Pop some Pamprin, refill my water bottle, and back to my desk I go.
2:45 p.m. — Slice up an apple for a snack. I wish I had some peanut butter to go with it, mental note to pack peanut butter tomorrow.
4:35 p.m. — L. texts and asks me to bring beer home since it's on my way. I stop at the gas station to grab a couple of tall cans and a mango White Claw for myself $14.78
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4:55 p.m. — As I pull down our dirt road, T. pops up from behind the grill with an excited look on his face. He's been target practicing with his BB gun and must immediately show me how good his skills are knocking cans over across the yard.
7:15 p.m. — Dinner tonight is baked potatoes with various leftover toppings, accompanied by a small bowl of Panera's ready-made broccoli cheese soup. After dinner, T. has a tantrum about dishes and is sent straight to bed after the consequences are determined and he expresses his extreme displeasure at us.
8:30 p.m. — After T.'s blow up, I fill the glass of wine up and do my nightly skincare routine: Glossier milk jelly cleanser, Thayer's witch hazel rose toner, the Ordinary Buffet Serum, Glow Recipe Avocado melt eye mask, and Laneige Water Sleeping mask. Watch TV in bed with L. and debrief on our days. He is so done being at home. It's been a year and the stay-at-home parent/teacher role has been very tough on him. He did have a phone interview today that sounds hopeful! Asleep by 10.
Daily Total: $14.78

Day Three

5:45 a.m. — Alarm goes off and I don't let myself go back to sleep. Up, shower, shave, and today is a hair wash and blowdry day. Regular morning routine but with earl gray tea as I get ready. Today I am wearing girlfriend cut skinny jeans with a mauve striped top from StitchFix, brown Rothy loafers, and an oatmeal longline cardigan. Kiss and squeeze L. as I head out the door and he gets ready for another thrilling day at home with T.
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7:45 a.m. — It's payday so I stop at the ATM and withdraw $80. $75 of it is owed to a coworker from last week. I get paid weekly, which is a blessing and annoyance at the same time — my bank account fluctuates greatly, especially since I have been paying 100% of most of our monthly costs since the pandemic hit. Next, I stop at the gas station and fill my tank up. I am only at half a tank but since my car gets much better mileage than L.'s truck, we tend to use my car for more and conserve his costly gas guzzler with a giant gas tank, especially now with only my income for an indefinite amount of time ($25.52). I break a twenty from the ATM with the gas station cashier and she seems confused that people are still using cash let alone requesting to break a bill! $100.52
8 a.m. — Arrive at work and spend 15 minutes going through personal finances and paying this week's bills. I pay the internet bill manually (listed above), I see that the CSA box deduction came out ($20 listed above), and review the other auto-pay bills that will be coming out this week. After that, the amount left over for groceries and other miscellaneous expenses until next week is tight. Hopefully, L. gets a job soon! We've only recently made really good progress at paying down our individual debt and financial mistakes of our early 20s. We never want to end up in that same position again.
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10:12 a.m. — Granola and yogurt for breakfast while processing contract change orders and coordinating color selections for materials for one of my projects. I also request a return for some material where the manufacturer sent us the wrong model number.
11:03 a.m. — L. calls to discuss us researching new phone plans. Currently, he is on a family plan with a couple of his family members but wants to leave that. He has a different carrier than I do and we've been talking about getting T. a basic phone for emergencies for whenever life goes back to normal, so we need to figure that out.
12:5 p.m. — I leave work to run some errands. First up is the Dollar Tree to get my grandpa a birthday card. Today is his 90th birthday and we can't be together because he has COVID so I want to put together a little birthday package to leave on his doorstep. I also get a small can of disinfectant spray. I then go to the hardware store to pick up the CSA box at my drop location. Every two weeks, I get a locally sourced produce box of various in-season fruits and veggies. I love supporting this business and some of the items that arrive challenge my culinary skills as I try not to let anything go to waste. Finally, Target for T.'s body wash; it's on the other side of town but there is nowhere else that I can get it. I forego the other things I had in my virtual cart earlier this week since I don't absolutely need them yet but I do grab a salami and cheese snack and impulse buy some watermelon Sour Patch Kids in addition to the Suave Kids wash ($9.36). $10.98
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1 p.m. — Back at my desk, I have leftovers for lunch. And the Sour Patch Kids.
4:30 p.m. — I go to the eyeglasses shop where I got my new glasses a week ago to adjust an earpiece that is pinching me. Vons is in the same plaza so I run in and grab a birthday balloon on a stick and a cupcake for my grandpa ($5.72). At home, I pack up his gift and have the rest of the family sign his card. I drive over to his house and drop everything off on the porch and ring the doorbell. I wait at the end of his driveway to make sure he gets his goodies and shout happy birthday in person. He has fully recovered and has no symptoms anymore but is still within the quarantine period. $5.72
6:15 — Pick up a 12-pack of beer on the way home. $10.92
7 p.m. — I make the last HelloFresh meal for dinner while we watch the updates of what happened at the Capitol today. Because of last night's behavior, T. gets enlisted for dish duty again, and begrudgingly accepts it. He even does a good job! I return a few texts about possible plans for later in this week with my sister (in my bubble) and another mom friend about a park playdate with her boys.
8:30 — Read in the bathtub for awhile. This book is long! I've been working on it for a few months, but the only times I get to read are in the tub and I usually only get a chapter to two of progress. Skincare tonight is Milk Jelly cleanser, Thayers toner, Buffet Serum, and Murad Collagen. I swap the last steps out and do each the collagen and the Laneige mask with the Glow Recipe retinol eye cream a few times a week each. My skin is on the thinner side and can't accept a ton of product absorption. I unpack the produce box and the bounty this week includes baby red potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, two types of oranges, kiwi, golden beets, and two types of lettuce. In bed with L. by 10.
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Daily Total: $128.14

Day Four

5:40 a.m. — Wake up just before the alarm goes off. Same routine as every weekday but add in some quality husband time ;). I grab an apple but don't pack a lunch because there isn't anything enticing to take. Today's outfit is a gray graphic tee, skinny jeans, Rothy loafers, and a green cardigan.
7:30 a.m. — Stop by Vons again and get a small jar of peanut butter for my desk stash and some pre-made salads for lunches. $13.37
7:45 a.m. — My bank ATM is across the street, so I deposit a $500 check from L. (we don't have shared finances other than a joint savings account). He was able to pull the last of his money from his unemployment account that we didn't know was there and contribute to the family finances (which I manage from my accounts). This will definitely help the grocery budget/misc. expenses this week.
2:40 p.m. — It has been a DAY! Our company has a big bid due today and the person who coordinates all the backend work for the estimator is on vacation and I am on deck. I spend the morning at a different desk working with the estimator for this potential project, using software I have never used before. Sometime during the morning, I eat my yogurt and granola and have a cup of coffee. Around 3, I eat a salad.
4:45 p.m. — I finish up some of my regular work that I ignored most of the day. I put in a solid nine hours today before leaving to meet up with some family that is in town. I stop at Bath & Body Works because they are having a sale and I need some things that I am hoping are included in their blowout. I get two candles and two bubble baths all on sale. $32.22
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5 p.m. — I meet up with my sister and other family at one of our favorite places. We all have our masks and order inside but eat at an outside table. I can't stay long so I only have a margarita to-go, COVID-style (soup bowl with a lid and straw). Family member treats, I throw $5 in the tip jar. I call my dad on the drive home and debrief on the meetup. This meetup was mentally and emotionally exhausting. There's been lots of drama around this particular person and I have been very conflicted about it. $5
6 p.m. — L. has a fire going in our fire pit in the front yard. That's always a cozy and welcoming sight to come home to. Dinner is instant pot spaghetti, which is super simple and quick. I take pride in everything I put in front of my family to eat, even if it's fast food or a frozen pizza. Dinnertime is very important to us and I've discovered that feeding my family is my primary love language and I want them to enjoy what they're eating. I feel that the more enjoyable the food the better quality time we get together.
7 p.m. — Another bath, another glass of wine, another chapter of The Count of Monte Cristo. This has become an evening solace for me. I used to not be a bath person, but COVID has changed a lot about our current lifestyle. I wash my face with a Makeup Eraser cloth, toner, Laneige Sleeping mask, and eye cream. In bed by 9 tonight, totally exhausted from the day.
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Daily Total: $50.59

Day Five

5:45 a.m. — Not feeling the alarm today; snooze until 6:15. It's supposed to be a hair wash day but I skip it, just body shower, and instead spend a quiet 15 minutes on my crochet with a cup of coffee before the rest of the house wakes up. Today's outfit is leggings, a gray tunic style stop, and knee-high Ralph Lauren boots. Same makeup and dry shampoo my hair before pulling the top half of it up. I just barely remember to take the stuff out of the freezer for dinner before leaving.
2:40 p.m. — I come up for air after another busy morning filling multiple positions. Yogurt and granola with more coffee at some point. Lunch a couple of hours ago was leftover spaghetti, eaten while working at the other desk again. I attend a few meetings and finish up the work in the other position that needs to get done and finally get to sit down in my own workspace with an apple and peanut butter. I should note that I furiously wiped and sanitized both the other workspace and my own multiple times during this week to hopefully reduce cross-contamination just in case there are any angry germs out there searching for a host. I realize that I've been charged for an Amazon Video channel subscription we have not been using, so I cancel it and request a refund. There's also still coffee in my mug from this morning so I finish that.
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4:40 p.m. — I am free! Man, it's been a mentally exhausting week. I cruise through the carwash since it's up the street. I go usually once a week; dirt roads make for dirty cars, and as long as I use the membership twice a month, it pays for itself. A quick towel dry to get the spots the blowers don't get, wipe down all the dash and hard surfaces with a free dash wipe, and vacuum the floor mats. She's sparkly and clean! I can't stop yawning on the drive home and L. puts me in the bath almost as soon as I am through the door.
5:45 — Refreshed and more awake after my bath, I reheat some pulled Italian pork for hoagie sandwiches for dinner. Toasted with provolone and diced giardiniera and frozen fries on the side.
9 p.m. — Family movie while I crochet then bed. Exhausted.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

9 a.m. — Slept in but did not sleep great. Saturdays are for family chores but we always spend at least a few hours on the couch together watching TV and/or reading. T. makes himself some cereal. L. and I aren't big on weekend breakfasts, mostly because I don't feel like cooking in the mornings and reserve all my cooking energy for dinners and meal planning.
11 a.m. — Every weekend, I meal plan all of our dinners for the next week. I started doing this for budgetary reasons years ago. It's become a habit but also security for myself; I feel lost and something is always still frozen if I don't know what I am making for dinner. Plus, food delivery services won't come out to our house, it's too far out in the country and the closest drive-through is a 30-minute round trip. There is always a frozen pizza for backup, just in case, though. I inventory the chest freezer, pantry, and fridge, ask if there are any requests, and then thumb through my cookbooks for inspiration.
11:30 a.m. — Grocery list in hand, I leave L. and T. to their chores. Shopping goes faster without them and fewer impulse purchases end up in the cart. I head to the post office to check our PO box first. I am hungry and I am a terrible impulse shopper when hungry so I hit up the McDonald's drive-through for a McChicken sandwich. $3.23
11:40 a.m. — I go to Grocery Outlet first to do the bulk of the shopping since they have all basic items at a lower price than most other stores. However, you have to know your prices across the board, not everything is better priced. I get mushrooms, ground beef, milk, tortillas, four bottles of wine (they have excellent wine selections at a discount), eggs, mozzarella, mozzarella balls, shredded taco cheese, parmesan, dog treats, marinara sauce, granola, and a couple of other things. $70.41
12:10 p.m. — Next is Walmart, just up the road. At Walmart, I buy two refrigerated pizza crusts, eye drops, and I check the cleaning aisle since some items are occasionally back in stock. I'm in luck! They have plenty of the big aerosol cans of Lysol spray. I grab two — one for the house and one for work. $24.15
12:40 p.m. — Last stop is Food4Less which is in the same plaza. I top off anything on my list that the other stores didn't have or don't usually stock. I get a red onion, cherry tomatoes, sourdough hoagie rolls, vanilla greek yogurt, beer, tortilla chips, salsa, pita chips, baked beans, spicy shrimp cup o' noodles (L.'s favorite quick lunch), and bowtie pasta. I text an old friend congratulating them on their new baby. We start talking and catching up on life etc. which opens a discussion about my crochet/side hustle/hobby, and I might have a new commissioned project in my future! $34.82
1:30 p.m. — Home and unpack the groceries. While I was gone, L. did some of his laundry and supervised T.'s chores — cleaning his room, dog poop duty, and cleaning the bathroom. We only have one bathroom and when T. started potty training years ago (naturally it was a mess!) we started having him use the cleaning wipes to clean up his own potty training messes and that task has stuck throughout the years. Everyone in the household has their tasks and responsibilities to help keep up the house — L. and I believe that we all live here, so we all need to participate in keeping it maintained. We don't expect perfection from each other, but we do expect participation.
2 p.m. — Plop on the couch with hummus, pita chips, and a White Claw. I finally devote a few hours to my crochet and make some good progress. A perfect Saturday afternoon.
5:30 p.m. — T. got a kids cookbook for Christmas and tonight he's in charge (mostly). On the menu is a three-cheese bacon pizza. My job as sous chef is to keep him focused while preventing injury or catastrophe. He rolls out the refrigerated crust, cooks bacon with help, and mixes plain tomato sauce with seasonings. While the crust bakes, he grates two kinds of cheese. Then the best part, toppings! Spread the sauce, sprinkle cheese, distribute toppings, bake, and eat! It actually comes out pretty darn delicious. He might just have a future in the culinary world one day.
9 p.m. — Who cares that it's Saturday night? After a movie, bed! We are not night owls by any means and we are people of routine.
Daily Total: $132.61

Day Seven

8:45 a.m. — The sun wakes L. and me up. T. has already been up for a while and eaten some cereal. I make some tea and laze on the couch with my new Food Network magazine. I decide I want to make one of the recipes in it and of course I have everything needed with the exception of a couple of key ingredients. I make a super short list and take the protein out to defrost. I also bake some Pillsbury cinnamon rolls from the tube and take a bath.
12:30 p.m. — I go get the remaining ingredients for tonight — plum tomatoes, cashews, and cilantro. At home I keep crocheting while snacking on chips and salsa, then pita crackers and hummus with a White Claw. I like quiet Sundays. $7.19
5 p.m. — Dinner is butter chicken from scratch. I spend about an hour and a half making it. We eat it over rice. Damn, it's good. Cozy comfort food. Back to school and work tomorrow, so I tidy up a little more, do nighttime skincare, and more crochet before normal bedtime. Asleep by 10.
Daily Total: $7.19
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