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A Week In Brooklyn, NY, On A $45,000 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 receptionist who makes $45,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on the Benefit Hoola bronzer.
Trigger Warning: This diary references a subway shooting.
Occupation: Reception
Industry: Real Estate
Age: 28
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Salary: $45,000
Net Worth: Definitely in the negative, but not entirely sure. I only started contributing to my 401(k) a year ago and I have a lot of debt.
Debt: $45,000 in student loans, $2,000 in credit card debt from when I got my master's degree in England
Paycheck Amount (1x/week): $591
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $875 for my room in a three bedroom — looking at it now with prices in New York as bad as they are, this is a steal.
Student Loans: $0 (on pause)
Credit Cards: $410
Gym: $260
Money Sent To Parents: $200 (I usually try to pay their utility bill)
Utilities/Internet: $100
Apple Music: $5
Hulu, Netflix, and Disney+: $0, between my sister and her friends I have been spoiled
HBO Max: $30 annually (my share, split with my sister who got a special offer)
Vision Insurance: $8
Health Insurance: $0 (I still have another few months of free health insurance because I qualified for free health insurance through the city of New York during last open enrollment period. In a few months I will join my work's health insurance plan.)
401(k): not currently contributing, but will start again soon
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 and no. My parents never got the chance to attend college and wanted my sister and me to be able to go. I understood that the promise of a better life for them meant college and maybe even more school after that and I appreciate everything they have done for me. That being said, I hated school. In New York, you apply to high school in eighth grade and get acceptance letters and all of that at 13 years old. We have specialized high schools in everything from performing arts to aviation. I got into one of my top picks and realized my freshman year that while I was smart enough to be there, I hated everything about it. I ended up transferring to a zoned school and actually got to enjoy the rest of high school, but I was never concerned about grades as long as I passed (though I did have to retake gym and chemistry). When it came time for it, my parents said that if I had a solid plan, I didn't have to go to college. I had no such plan so off I went kicking and screaming. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity and experiences I got to have while there. I paid for school with loans and financial aid.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn't really have conversations about money at all. We just went along with everything that was happening. When we got a little older, my sister and I began to realize why certain things were happening. My first real conversation about money with my parents came when I had to fill out FAFSA. That was a rudest awakening.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I was 15 and it was an internship with the Boys & Girls Club. Truly and honestly, after-school programs changed my life. Not only did I get some work experience, but they would take us on trips that my family never could have afforded. I was placed at a local theater and got to run errands, put together playbooks, and receive phone calls. I got a stipend of a $300 for the summer and felt rich.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes and no. Growing up where I did, we were all in the same boat. No one had fancy toys or gadgets, everyone was just trying to make ends meet how they could. There were definitely times when we would eat a bowl of beans as dinner or had the lights off for a few nights, but I never questioned it. Being the youngest, I truly had no concept of money for a long time. I just knew not to ask for anything that I did not need. If I wanted something, I would bargain with my parents to let me go without something else for a while so I could have it. I remember wanting something to listen to music on and my mom got me a portable cassette player for a few bucks at a garage sale because they were almost obsolete at that point. I treasured that thing for years and would listen to every cassette of old random music my mom had. For most of my childhood, we lived in a building that honestly looks like a jail from the outside — the walls were dirty and there was graffiti everywhere. We lived in a tiny studio that we put up temporary walls to divide. It never bothered me though because I didn't know anything else. It wasn't until middle school that I started to have friends outside of our neighborhood and I saw that other kids lived in very different places. In reality, I should have been more worried than I was.
Do you worry about money now?
Every single day. Not so much for myself, but for my parents. I don't judge them at all because I can't even begin to imagine what leaving your country at 19 and fending for yourself in a country where you don't speak the language is like. But trying to just survive didn't leave them with much room to plan for retirement or the future. I hope I'm able to make more in the future so I can support them.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I don't think I'm fully responsible, even now. My dad still pays for my phone — he offered to pay for it during the pandemic and I am very grateful. I do pay for everything else relating to myself and contribute what I can to my mom's bills every month. I don't think I have a financial safety net at the moment, but my dad has a decent amount of savings and is happy to help, but I try to not ask. My sister has also gotten me out of sticky money situations on more occasions than I'd like to admit. She is my saving grace in my attempt to be an adult. She's genuinely the smartest person I know and the most generous, I would not be standing on my own two feet without her.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I always think of Princess Mia when I think of inheritance. I have no Julie Andrews.

Day One

7 a.m. — Pay day! I get up at 7 and immediately check that money is there. It has been there every week since I started my new job but thus is life with anxiety. I make a mental note to pay my rent later. I get out of bed at 7:25 and sign up for a cycling class this evening — comped by work. I pack my lunch and clothes for my class and I'm out the door at 8:15.
8:20 a.m. — I load up my Starbucks card with $10 on my walk to the subway and pick up a spinach feta wrap. $10
9:30 a.m. — Work is pretty slow so I take this time to pay my rent! I have to pay an extra $2 to pay online, but it's worth the convenience (included in my total rent).
12:50 p.m. — I start to get some mild cramps and a trip to the bathroom confirms the inevitable. Thankfully my periods are much lighter and less painful than they used to be. I know birth control can be polarizing and I refrained for 26 years because I had my own concerns, but it's been life-changing for my period pain. I find some ibuprofen in the first aid kit.
1 p.m. — I walk over to a sandwich place even though I brought leftovers today. I try to bring lunch from home every day but I allow myself one day of the week to have lunch from somewhere near the office. I'm determined to make it to my SoulCycle class later but often times I'm so hungry after work, all I want to do is get home and make dinner, so I grab a chicken hero, a bag of chips, and a pre-workout drink to have right before I leave the office. $17
6:30 p.m. — I recently got out of a situationship that left me more hurt than I'd like to admit, so doing a SoulCycle workout to Taylor Swift with 30 other people really gets me in my feels. I somehow lose my mask in all the excitement and purchase a seven-pack they sell at the front desk. $12
6:45 p.m. — Still on my Taylor high, I stop by Trader Joe's to pick up just a few things I'll need for dinner as I am a terrible planner and ran out of chicken for the burrito bowl I plan on making. I grab cooked chicken, frozen Brazilian cheese bread, spinach and cheese ravioli, guac, and two ginger shots. $23
8 p.m. — I'm finally home and ready for dinner. I don't really cook as much as I warm up and assemble most of my meals. Today I heat some chicken on the stove along with a can of beans. I take the easy route and microwave my last bag of Trader Joe's brown rice, throw everything together in a bowl, and add shredded mozzarella, a dollop of sour cream, and Cholula. I eat dinner and am in bed by 10.
Daily Total: $62

Day Two

8:20 a.m. — Off to the train after running out the door. I order a donut and a bagel on my Dunkin' app because it's Friday and that's a good enough reason for me. $5
8:50 a.m. — Also because it's Friday, I stop and treat myself to a cold brew from a pretty bougie coffee shop because life is too short for coffee that isn't delicious. The rest of the week I either get Starbucks or have some from the office. I usually get an iced espresso and keep oat milk in the office fridge, but I ran out a few days ago and keep forgetting to get more. It's a dollar extra for oat and then a bit more for a vanilla shot. With a dollar tip it comes out to $7. Yes, we do actually pay that much for coffee in New York sometimes. But I promise I only do it once maybe twice a week. $7
1 p.m. — I take my lunch which today consists of half a bagel (the half I didn't have time to eat this morning) and the leftovers I didn't eat yesterday. Weird combo but it's good enough. I also brought some kombucha I had purchased earlier in the week so today's lunch is $0.
5 p.m. — Time to head home! I stop by my part-time job to say hi to some coworkers for a few minutes. I had plans to go out with a friend, but I'm still not feeling up to much because of my period. I call and ask if they want to come over for wine instead. They say they'll let me know where they're at later in the evening. I stop by Goodwill on the way home because a package of more suitable work clothes either got stolen (has happened before unfortunately) or lost in the mail. Either way, I can't keep disguising my sweater and legging combo as office wear, so I go check out their stash. I find a decent pair of grey trousers, a black denim Madewell skirt, and a grey turtleneck sweater. Very happy with this alternative since ASOS agreed to refund me for my order and this was way cheaper! $24
6:30 p.m. — I get home and immediately place a Domino's order. Yes, I am aware that this is a blasphemous thing to do in New York City, however, the only pizza place near my house that I trust is cash only and not on any of the delivery apps. I have never been precious about what I eat if I'm being honest. Pre-pandemic I regularly ate from the taco cart under the train. However, I did get food poisoning once during the pandemic, so I'm more cautious now. I order a little extra in case my friend comes over later. $25
10 p.m. — I call it a night after my friend says it might be too late to come over. Wild how you can live in the same borough as someone and still be about 45 minutes away.
Daily Total: $61

Day Three

11 a.m. — I wake up later than I wanted to. I walk into the bathroom and decide that I at least have to clean my bathroom and do the dishes before I go to my doctor's appointment. I get the tub all prepared with Ajax and soap and let it soak while I do the dishes. Then I go back and scrub the tub and rest of the bathroom. I make myself a smoothie. I head out the door a little later than I had hoped and don't have time to reload my MetroCard so I pay using Apple Pay on the bus. $2.75
1:30 p.m. — I have to take two buses and a train ride and since my card is still not refilled, I tap again. $2.75
3 p.m. — Done with my appointment and I decide to go to the mall and check a few things out since I'm in that part of town and I have nowhere to be. I stop by a few clothing stores but am entirely too overwhelmed to actually buy anything. I've genuinely forgotten how to dress myself after nearly two years of leggings. I stop by Sephora to grab a mini version of the Benefit Hoola bronzer and a mini duo of an Ole Henriksen eye cream. I've had my current bronzer for about three years and I figure that can't be good for my skin. I've also started to notice that the blue under my eyes is getting pretty bad. $38
5 p.m. — I go into Target and am pleasantly surprised that the Saturday crowd isn't quite as terrible as I thought it'd be. I'm even able to find a cart. I go straight to the makeup aisle. I grab an e.l.f. concealer that I saw in a Trixie Mattel video — if it's good enough for her, it's more than good enough for me. I stock up on cheap face masks for my pores, a new loofa, deodorant, setting powder, a Real Techniques makeup sponge, and a baby blue nail polish. Then I head over to the grocery section and grab a few essentials. Oat milk, Haagen Dazs ice cream, turkey deli meat for sandwiches, string cheese, Crystal Light, ground beef, and a seltzer water. $88
6 p.m. — Tap one more time because I'm taking the bus and don't want to stop by the subway to refill my card. $2.75
7 p.m. — Home and ready to make dinner. I use half of the ground beef and make burgers. I catch up on WeCrashed, it's awful but I can't stop watching. I'm asleep and in bed by 11 because I am a wild woman.
Daily Total: $134.25

Day Four

9 a.m. — I have a slow morning because it's Sunday and I don't have to be anywhere until 2. I'm having lunch at my mom's house so I whip up a light breakfast of a leftover slice of pizza.
1:30 p.m. — I get a text from a friend that they've tested positive for COVID. I saw them briefly on Friday and decide it's not worth the risk to expose my mom even though it was only for a few minutes. I get tested in the office every Monday and we get the results the same day, so I tell my mom that I'll stop by for dinner tomorrow instead. She's bummed because she was in full cooking mode but we've both had it before and know it's no joke and it's better to be safe than sorry.
3:30 p.m. — I start to get hungry and had already been looking forward to not having to cook today so I order some Chinese food. I order chicken lo mein and a side order of fried shrimp. $22
7 p.m. — I spend the rest of the day doing laundry and baking. We have a washer and dryer in the basement of the building. It's kind of expensive and the washer barely fits my duvet cover but it's convenient and I am nothing if not a sucker for convenience. I pay through an app on my phone and only use about half of what I preload. $10
10 p.m. — I take a long shower because it's hair washing day. I dye my hair (well I don't personally do it but my hair is dyed) and I've found that washing it only two times a week has helped keep its longevity the most! I get to go to sleep in freshly washed bedding with the sheets still warm and I'm telling you, that is peak comfort.
Daily Total: $32

Day Five

7 a.m. — Another Monday. I have my banana oat muffins I made last night and a glass of water in anticipation of my coffee later.
8:20 a.m. — Stop by Starbucks to grab an espresso. My card still has some money left so nothing spent today.
8:25 a.m. — Finally refill my Metrocard for the week. $33
1 p.m. — Lunchtime! I ate quite a few foods that made my stomach not feel the best this weekend, so today is a vegetable day. I order Dig — it's ridiculously overpriced but it's so good. I have a coupon for $5 off for signing up for their emails so it comes out to $9. I also use the last of my Starbucks credit and get a tango iced tea. $9
5 p.m. — I head out and start the trek to my mom's house. It takes me a little over an hour to get there. We have dinner and hang for a bit and she sends me home with what I'm sure will be at least two days worth of lunches. I am very grateful because try as I might, my food never ever tastes as good even though I use her recipes.
Daily Total: $42

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — Day starts off with some rain and I am already looking forward to my coffee! I pack my muffins since I only left myself enough time to get ready and pack my gym clothes for after work.
8:20 a.m. — Add another $10 to my Starbucks card, pick up my espresso, and head to work! $10
9:30 a.m. — I get to the office and after settling down and answering a few emails, I go to check the news. There's been a shooting on a Brooklyn subway car and it takes everything in me not cry at my desk. I text everyone I know that could've possibly been anywhere near the accident and try to focus on work. Thankfully everyone is okay.
1 p.m. — It's lunchtime and I still can't stop thinking about what happened this morning. My sister calls and we talk through some of what I'm feeling. I eat the entirety of my leftovers from my mom.
5 p.m. — Time to go home and I don't feel safe taking the subway today. I always think of the worst-case scenario and I'm always on high alert, so today's events are making me a nervous mess. I decide to bike home instead and skip the gym. I find a CitiBike post and pay $15 for the journey home. I have to stop every 30 minutes to not accrue any additional charges so I ride until I hit the bridge and dock for a minute. $15
6 p.m. — I get to Williamsburg and dock my bike. I dilly dally by the water for a bit because it's been a long day and I'm trying to figure out if I want to bike the rest of the way home or take the bus. I sit and stare at the dogs for a while and one comes right up to me and lets me cuddle him for a minute. He knew I needed that. I'm convinced that I would not give a flying turd about boys if I could afford to have a dog of my own. I decide that my legs have had enough today and take the bus home. It adds another half hour to my commute but I'd rather that than get on the subway.
6:30 p.m. — I get home, shower, and make sandwiches for dinner because that is all I have the capacity to make right now. The physical exhaustion feels good though and I'm asleep by 9.
Daily Total: $25

Day Seven

8:20 a.m. — Once again I get up as late as possible and don't leave myself time to eat breakfast at home. I curl random pieces of hair, do my makeup, and pack my water bottle. I'm out a little later than usual but should be only two minutes late if that. Switching things up with a Dunkin' order today. Their lattes are cheap and they get the job done in a pinch. I order a small latte and a bagel with cream cheese. $8
1 p.m. — Time for lunch! It's a true spring day and after being inside all day I'm glad to have lunch outside. I go to a nearby deli with outdoor seating. I get a chicken Caesar wrap and a can of Coke Zero. $11
5 p.m. — Time to hit the gym for the first time this week. I feel bad about that because it's my biggest monthly expense after rent and I justified it in part by promising myself I'd go at least three times a week. I've stuck to that since I joined but this week has been a weird one. I stay for about an hour and head home.
7 p.m. — Showered and ready for dinner. I make a burrito bowl with all the random stuff I have in the fridge. It's a weird flavor combo as the only rice I have is a packet of garlic rice that is meant to pair with curry. I eat it anyway and tell myself I will definitely make a grocery trip tomorrow after work.
Daily Total: $19
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