Money Diaries

A Week In Madison, WI, On $21.50 An Hour

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 public records assistant who makes $21.50 an hour and spends some of her money this week on a milk frother.
Occupation: Public Records Assistant
Industry: Government
Age: 23
Location: Madison, WI
Salary: $21.50/hour
Net Worth: ~$3,500 (savings, 403(b), and employee trust fund. I also have a car, but it's so old that I don't think it's worth much.)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,278
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $852.50 (This includes my half of a two-bedroom apartment that I share with my roommate and my parking spot.)
Internet: $15
Car Insurance: $85
Spotify: $15.99 (I share this with my sister)
Meowbox: $25.27 (every other month)
Chewy Autoship Food/Litter: $56 every six weeks
403(b): $30
Savings: ~$250-$300
Employee Trust Fund: $223.60 (mandatory, straight from my paycheck)
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?
Absolutely. I never considered another path. I am very lucky that my grandma and dad covered all of my school expenses and housing my first two years of school.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn't talk much about money. I talked more about it with my mom because I know she was financially stressed after the divorce. My dad never talks about his own finances, but he is a lawyer and does just fine. He started talking to me more about money once I was in college.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I was a nanny in high school for a summer to make some extra spending money.
Did you worry about money growing up?
I know that my mom struggled on her own, so I was worried about her, but I always knew we would be okay because of my dad. She had been a stay-at-home mom and never finished college, so she was left without a real plan in place after the divorce. She had to go through school as an adult with two children and now has her own small business. I know she still worries, but I am very proud of her.
Do you worry about money now?
Of course. I used up a lot of my savings during COVID and am now basically starting from scratch. I am so grateful I have no debt because that would make my situation that much more stressful. The cost of everything is going up and I know that I am going to have to pay a much steeper price for rent when I leave this place next year. I am already nervous even though it's over a year away.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
At age 20. I paid for all of my rent and bills during my last year of college. I did move back in with my mom for a few months during COVID, so she was a huge financial help then, but I am back to being independent now.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I received a few thousand dollars from my grandma for my 21st birthday. I kick myself every day for not using it responsibly or investing it and wasting it away instead. My dad still has about $13,000 waiting for me if I go to grad school, which might cover a semester or so, depending on where I get in. I am hoping to do this soon, but I still need to get a couple of things in order, and I would like to have more money set aside for tuition.

Day One

5:45 a.m. — Monday morning! I scroll through Yik Yak while I cuddle my cat then get up for the day. It looks like a beautiful morning, so I'm excited to get through my morning routine and take some time to drink my coffee on my balcony before work. Get the Wordle in three. I tend to have a really light makeup, skin, and hair routine, because who really cares?
7:20 a.m. — I put my Airpods in and listen to Taylor Swift while I walk to work. I get to the office a little early today!
1 p.m. — Work is pretty slow. I work on wrapping up some of my older requests, send out reports, listen to some work drama, and count down the minutes until I can go home. I really don't mind my job, but I'm extra hungry and my office is cold, so I definitely won't be sad when I am done for the day. Leave work at 3:30!
4 p.m. — Get home, squish my cat, and make a big spinach salad. Trader Joe's has this awesome dill dressing and it's made me really want salads lately. I add nuts and garbanzo beans. I try to do quick little workouts, so I do a short ab routine I found on Pinterest, as well as some squats, leg lifts, and a few stretches.
7:30 p.m. — My roommate, N., and I are bored and it's a beautiful evening, so we decide to go sit at the lake to watch the sunset. On the way home, we stop at Target to get snacks. $11.67
8:30 p.m. — We watch Riverdale, eat snacks, and then I am in bed, lights out by 10:15.
Daily Total: $11.67

Day Two

5:45 a.m. — I'm up! Shower, moisturize, and put in hair oil. Then I eat some yogurt and make my coffee, which I drink outside on my balcony again. Get the Wordle in six. I just started using a collagen creamer, but I can't get it to mix into my coffee very well, so I buy a frother on Amazon that I think might help, which should get here tomorrow. $13.70
7:20 a.m. — Out the door and get to work a few minutes early! It's a really nice walk this morning. I grab Starbucks on my way ($5.01). I just have one meeting this morning, and then spend the rest of the day in a virtual training. I eat some sour gummies from Trader Joe's that I got on a whim. I'm not a huge candy person, but these are so good! I am running low on eye drops, so I place another order on Amazon for a couple of tubes, which will hopefully last a while ($44.16). I am opting in to my work health plan in January, which includes an FSA, which my employer will put a generous amount into each month. I'm super excited for this because I buy these drops all the time and they aren't cheap. $49.17
4 p.m. — I leave work and head home for a snack. I make an egg sandwich and eat some cucumbers that I quick-pickled the other day as well. I turn on Manifest on TV and do another quick workout: some arms, back, and a glute burnout I found on Pinterest. Then, I change and see if N. wants me to wait for her to grocery shop. I'm tired and really don't feel like shopping, but I own literally no food and I'd like to eat dinner tonight.
7 p.m. — I get a couple of juices, pluots, a red onion, a lemon, salmon, canned beans and corn, candy for work, tortilla chips, vegan nuggets, and yogurts. I have a rewards card for my grocery store, and I save $10 today! $74.98
9 p.m. — N. and I watch Riverdale and I have some popcorn and vegan nuggets for dinner. In bed by 10.
Daily Total: $137.85

Day Three

6 a.m. — Get out of bed after snoozing, take a quick shower, then head to the kitchen to squish my cat, make coffee, and eat a yogurt. I put a juice in my bag to have when I get to work. Get the Wordle in six. I feel like all of my work clothes are either ugly or boring and I really need to go shopping, so I put on the same shirt I wore yesterday, but at least I'm wearing different pants! Out the door by 7:25.
8 a.m. —I realize that I left my Apple Watch at home, so it's gonna be a weird day. I work on my daily morning reports and do random tasks until my online training starts at 10.
11:45 a.m. — My online training breaks for lunch. It's my supervisor's last day today, so she comes by my office and we chat a bit. I'll really miss her. This guy, D., texts me. I've been dating/talking to/seeing (???) D., for two months now, and I like him, but I am confused about what we are and what we're doing. I feel like I should just bring it up, but I don't want to seem like I'm rushing it or putting pressure on him. My main source of confusion is that he hasn't initiated making plans since the beginning, but I know he has a good time when we are together, and he texts me every single morning and checks in throughout the day. I'm not sure if he just doesn't really care or if he just feels comfortable with where we are or he just assumes I'll make plans or something else entirely. I'm probably thinking about this wayyy harder than him. Long story short, I don't know what to do.
1:30 p.m. — This training is getting too boring, so I go upstairs to make coffee, chat with the rest of my team for a minute, and have a Clif bar.
4 p.m. — Home! I change out of my work clothes and put a bag of popcorn in the microwave. I do a quick ab workout and put Manifest on while I eat my snack. After the popcorn has revived me, I do some really simple arm moves with my weights and do some leg lifts. Like I said, I enjoy doing small activities often instead of taking up time on longer, harder workouts. It makes it easier for me to easily incorporate movement into my days. I take my Kindle out on my balcony and read for a little bit.
6 p.m. — I start a small load of laundry then make a dinner of blackened salmon and quinoa with cherry tomatoes and kale. The salmon is good, but the quinoa could have been better. I watch more Manifest while I eat. I have no idea why it took me so long to watch this show, but I'm really liking it and glad there's another season coming out!
9 p.m. — I putter around the rest of the evening — wash dishes, fold laundry, watch Manifest, etc., and then get in bed early. Asleep by 9:30.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

6 a.m. — I get up and accidentally elbow my cat in the face rolling over. Poor guy. Shower and get out a few minutes earlier than normal, so I decide to put on a butt mask that soaks in really quickly (it's for my buttne and I swear it actually helps), as well as some boob butter on my chest. The cat is clingy this morning, so I hold him for a few extra minutes before I make coffee. He's a pretty spicy cat, so I really love when he just wants to cuddle and be sweet. The frother makes a world of difference with the collagen. I come to the conclusion the texture doesn't matter; collagen is just gross. Oh well. I eat my yogurt, drink my juice, and get the Wordle in five. Leave by 7:20.
8 a.m. — I get to work early, which means I get to leave a little early. Love that! Work on my morning report, update some spreadsheets, and prep for my meeting with my new supervisor and the director of my department. It's payday today, so I transfer 10% into my savings account and pay off my credit card balance so far this month. I put half of my savings into my regular savings account and half into my HYSA, but I am going to start putting it all into my HYSA next month. I know I don't have much in the way of savings — I had some really bizarre life events the last two years, like everyone — but I am trying to figure out how to build that up again.
4 p.m. — Home! I fall asleep on the couch right after I get home, lol. I wake up annoyed, chug some water, and get in the shower. N. has a date tonight, so I spend some time making the apartment look nice in case they come back here later. I know it's not necessary, but she gets off work later than me and won't have time and it's nice to do nice things.
7 p.m. — I hang out with N. while she gets ready and my regular hookup texts to see if he can come over. Yeah, why not?
9 p.m. — He leaves and I get ready for bed. N. still isn't home, so I'm assuming the date is going well. Asleep a little after 10.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

6:15 a.m. — I sleep in a little bit, so I decide to skip the shower. I was tossing and turning all night and had some pretty intense dreams, so I'm not feeling super rested. Cat is being sweet, so I spend some time with him and then make coffee, eat yogurt, and take my daily vitamins. I drink my coffee out on the balcony and get the Wordle in four. This has been the most gorgeous week and I am absolutely living for it. Out the door around 7:20.
8 a.m. — Get to work only to find that my computer won't turn on. I google some ways to fix it and I get it working! My daily morning duties go faster than ever, so I dive right into the bigger stuff.
2 p.m. — I snack on the rest of the sour gummies and have a Jolly Rancher. I was going to make coffee, but now it's so late that I leave in about an hour anyway. My fave coworker comes down and we get a little work done, but mostly just chat about life.
3:30 p.m. — I leave work and call my mom. I make it home and it is another gorgeous walk! I squish my cat, chug some water, and change into comfier clothes. I have some leftovers as a snack and then do a quick workout. I take a quick shower just to wash my hair and feel a little cleaner.
7 p.m. — N. and I watch The Bachelorette and I have some popcorn, wine, and olives for dinner. I'm in bed by 10. Goodnight!
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — I'm up! I like getting to sleep in on the weekends, but I don't like wasting the day so I try to get up at a decent time. I drink water and take some vitamin C because my throat is feeling a little weird and I really don't want to be sick. Make coffee and read on the balcony for a bit. I'm currently reading Find Me, the sequel to Call Me by Your Name, and it's alright, although I forgot that this writer's style isn't my favorite and he continues to lean heavily into significant age gaps in romantic relationships, which is weird to me. Get the Wordle in three.
10 a.m. — I've showered and gotten ready, and now N. and I are going to the farmers' market with her mom and another friend, K. I'm not planning on getting anything at the market, but I do request that we stop for coffee first. I get an iced caramel macchiato with almond milk and leave a good tip. I like the workers here and want smaller shops to stay open and thriving around here ($8). We walk around the market for a long time and K. gets two gorgeous bouquets of flowers. N. also gets a really pretty bouquet for our living room! I swear I wasn't going to get anything, but we pass a popcorn stand I always say I'll stop at next time. This time I have enough cash on me, so I get a five-pound bag of kernels for $12. N.'s mom wants to buy a basil plant, but is out of cash, so I throw in $2 and the others scrounge up some coins to make up the rest. $22
12 p.m. — We get brunch at a nearby outdoor place and immediately order bottomless mimosas. I also get a veggie scrambler and try some of K.'s scone. N.'s mom is a wonderful human and covers the bill. After we eat we go shopping around a bit, but I don't get anything.
5:30 p.m. — I'm getting a little tired and cranky as my back starts to hurt and the bubbly wears off, and I don't want to bring the vibe down, but I am so glad when they drop me at home. N. is going home with her mom for the weekend, so I'm alone. I order Middle Eastern food for dinner. I watch Manifest while I eat and chat with D. a bit. $20.66
9:30 p.m. — I get in bed and play games until I fall asleep around 10.
Daily Total: $42.66

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — My alarm goes off, but I stay in bed until closer to 8. I get up and do my usual morning activities of water, coffee, and vitamins. I switch between reading and playing on my phone. I make a quick smoothie with frozen fruit, water, and vegan protein powder. I try to eat more berries when I spend time in the sun, so I make a smoothie most weekends. Quick workout and long, nice shower.
11:45 a.m. — I put on my bikini and sunscreen, throw on a sundress, and walk to a nearby park. I lay in the sun and read more of Find Me on my Kindle. I get catcalled on my walk, but then also get a compliment on my sunglasses at the park, so it all evens out, I guess.
2 p.m. — Home. Get the Wordle in four. I read more and waste some time on TikTok until I want to cook. I make cumin chickpeas over rice from @scheckeats, which is one of my favorite easy meals. I watch college YouTubers while I eat. I'm not in college anymore, but these types of videos are so cozy to me. I had been hoping to see D. this weekend, as we had talked about it on Wednesday, but he never brought it up again, so I'm a little bummed. I like him and I was hoping to get a chance to just talk about where we might be going in person, but I guess maybe we're going nowhere if he doesn't want to put in any effort to even see me.
8 p.m. — I do two loads of laundry, wash the dishes, and talk on the phone with my dad for quite some time. I sit down with more cumin chickpeas and watch Manifest. I end up also doing some online browsing and ordering some hemming tape and a foldable drying rack on Amazon. $35.56
Daily Total: $35.56
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