Money Diaries logo

A Week In Central New Jersey On A $61,800 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 recipe editor who makes $61,800 per year and spends some of her money this week on a bike helmet.
Occupation: Recipe Editor
Industry: Food Media
Age: 27
Location: Central New Jersey
Salary: $61,800
Net Worth: Way too far in the negative for me to even calculate. I owe more than $130,000 in student loans (more on that later) and $13,000 on my car. I have $7,000 in my regular checking account, $8,000 in a HYSA, $3,000 in my childhood bank account (I keep meaning to close it and put it in the HYSA) and $14,000 in a Roth IRA.
Debt: ~$143,000
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,553.63
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0 (I live with my parents and they don't charge me rent.)
Student Loans: $340 (I've been paying it while in deferment)
Car Payment: $218.89
Car Insurance: $164.00
Patreon: $11 (for EmKFit and Watch What Crappens)
Cell Phone: $126.44
Spotify/Hulu: $10.65
Netflix: $14.92
HBO Max/Paramount Plus: I use my boyfriend's subscriptions
Disney+: I use my parent's subscription
Savings: ~$800-1,000
Health/Vision/Dental: $134
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. Neither of my parents went to college and it was very important to them that my brother and I both did. We were all naive about the payment process, and I can still remember my dad telling me that we would have student loans, but "everyone does." My dad took out loans to pay for everything with the expectation that we would pay our federal loans and he would pay our private ones. I went to an out-of-state college for two years, but dropped out after a traumatic event that gave me PTSD and bad anxiety. I took a year off and worked two jobs, but all of that money went to the housing payment I still had to make to the school. After that year was up, I transferred to a local private university where I graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism. I have about $21,000 left on my federal loan and about $130,000 on my private loan, which I plan to contribute to once I have finished paying off the federal loan. My dad isn't expecting me to contribute, but I don't want that massive debt attached to me for the rest of my life, since I would like to be a homeowner and one day live debt-free. I also know my parents don't have any extra money and I would like to relieve that burden as much as possible.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn't have many conversations about money. My mom let my dad handle the finances and didn't realize he had racked up hundreds of thousands in credit card debt, which she discovered when I was a teenager and almost led to divorce. My parents were very into keeping up with the rest of our upper-middle-class neighborhood, but they really could not afford it. They haven't taught me anything about money except what not to do it. I am terrified of accumulating more debt now and always make sure my credit cards are paid off and that I pay down loans as quickly as I can.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was working for my family when I was 13. I did not get paid except for what I made in tips, but I saved it all. My parents told my brother and me that we would want cars when we were older and they would match whatever we could pay for it, so I put most of my money into a car fund and the rest for spending money. When I was about 15, I started getting paid minimum wage at my family's business and got a second job at an ice cream shop to save more.
Did you worry about money growing up?
As a young child, no. As a teenager, yes. I didn't realize how poorly my dad handled money until I was about to leave for college, and since then, it's been a constant fear.
Do you worry about money now?
Every day. I have tons of debt and it petrifies me. I try to pay off my loans as aggressively as possible while making sure I'm building up savings for myself. My parents have no savings and I worry about what will happen to them. In a weird way, the pandemic was a gift. Without interest on my federal loans, I've been able to pay off $7,000 within the last year.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I don't consider myself completely financially responsible now because I don't pay rent. However, my parents like to say that every time I try to leave home, something keeps me back. When I graduated college, I got incredibly sick for a few years. I finally felt secure enough to move out in winter of 2020 and signed a lease to sublet an apartment from April-July. Obviously, no one expected the pandemic and I wound up staying home. I paid the rent on that apartment for those months, so I do have experience with paying rent, but it's not entirely the same. If I were to lose my job now, I know I could still live at home, but if I was out of money, I don't know anyone who could step in and help.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes. My parents split the cost for my first car when I turned 17, which meant I didn't need to make monthly car payments. I drove it up until this summer when I had no choice but to buy a new one. Recently, my aunt gave me $5,000 that she had set aside for when she died but decided to give it to me early since she's moving out of state. I haven't decided yet whether I should put it towards my federal student loan, where it would make a big impact, or my private student loan, where it wouldn't help as much but would start chipping down that massive amount.

Day One

7:15 a.m. — I don't start work until 9:30, but I have physical therapy at 8, so I apply Mad Hippie's vitamin C serum to my face, eat a Perfect Bar, throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and head out the door. My insurance covers the therapy but my copay is high and doesn't apply to my deductible, which sucks. $50
9 a.m. — Home from physical therapy and my knuckles are already sore. I started about three weeks ago for autoimmune arthritis in my hands and wrist, and it's definitely helping but I'm always sore afterward. It's pretty nice out, so I take my dog around the block and place an Instacart order when I get home. My mom and I trade off on paying for groceries — today is my turn. I order ground turkey, a pork loin, potatoes, eggs, broccoli, chickpea pasta, Greek yogurt, chocolate chips, popcorn, bananas, apples, distilled water, and a bunch of other odds and ends. $214.08
11:30 a.m. — I was supposed to have a meeting with one of the culinary editors, but she doesn't show. This happens at least 75% of the time and I don't have the energy to track her down today, so I just let it pass and make granola instead. Once it's done, I eat a few spoonfuls with a sliced peach and a cup of Greek yogurt. While I'm eating, I browse online for a bike helmet. I need one by Wednesday afternoon, so I wind up placing an order on Amazon and get some multivitamins, too. $66.31
4 p.m. — Today is DRAGGING. I had an allergic reaction to my arthritis medication last week, so I've been taking Benadryl around the clock until it fades. I work with Top Chef on in the background, but fall asleep upright in the chair for 10 minutes. When I wake up, I snack on a Babybel cheese with a handful of Simple Mills pita chips.
5:30 p.m. — Work is done for the day and I celebrate by going on another walk while listening to the Watch What Crappens podcast (my absolute favorite). I'm too tired to cook when I get back, so I heat up some leftover brown rice with mixed veggies and top it with two fried eggs. I watch an episode of Below Deck Sailing Yacht with my mom while I eat.
7:30 p.m. — Somehow, I'm not too tired to bake. I whip up a batch of RachL Mansfield's tahini brownies (seriously better than boxed and gluten-free/vegan!). I realize I never took my steroids today, so I take two after I eat a brownie. They're pretty hard on my stomach, so I dissolve the pills in water to make it easier to digest, even though it tastes disgusting. Once that's done, I wash my face with Cetaphil, apply Mad Hippie's vitamin A serum, and get into bed around 10.
Daily Total: $330.39

Day Two

7 a.m. — I don't actually need to be up early today but am startled awake by a woodpecker hammering on the siding of my house. He's been terrorizing me every spring/summer for at least seven years, but I don't have the heart to do anything about it. I did try taping up streamers a few years ago, but I felt too bad about scaring him and took them down (I'm pathetic, I know). Since I'm up early anyway, I head to LabCorp to get blood work before my rheumatologist appointment next week. I don't have a copay but will probably be billed later. I'm in and out in 15 minutes. When I get home, I take the dog for a walk, do EmKFit's new Dua Lipa-themed Hiit Hop video, and hop in the shower.
9:30 a.m. — All showered and dressed. I eat more granola with Greek yogurt and peaches and take a steroid pill and collagen. Most of the morning is spent chatting with the engineers who are supposed to be fixing an internal system. As per usual, the conversation ends up being wildly unhelpful and nothing is fixed today. I take a break at noon to eat a tomato, mozzarella, and arugula sandwich my mom grabbed from a local farmer's market. I normally try to eat gluten and dairy-free during the week, but I love these sandwiches and this is the first time they've been available this year. I take my second steroid and eat applesauce.
4:45 p.m. — No work is getting done today, so I sneak out early to head to my boyfriend, C.'s, apartment. I eat a bag of SkinnyPop popcorn and almond M&Ms on the way. C. lives 30 minutes away and doesn't have a car (he lives in a city with reliable public transportation), so a lot of the traveling falls on me. I stop to get gas on the way. $33.75
11 p.m. — Head home from C.'s after we eat dinner (he cooked arroz con pollo), catch up on 90 Day Fiancé, and fool around a little. When I get home, I see four sweet texts from C. I miss him already. Wash my face, apply vitamin A serum, and start re-reading The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty before falling asleep around 1.
Daily Total: $33.75

Day Three

7:15 a.m. — Same as Monday. Wake up, eat more granola with Greek yogurt and peaches, and head to physical therapy. When I get home, I take one steroid pill, do EmKFit's Hannah vs. Miley Hiit Hop, and take a body shower after. I'm pleasantly surprised to see that all the proper systems are up and running today, so I catch up on recipe processing while listening to more Watch What Crappens. I also get hungry pretty early, so I eat an apple with cheddar cheese and pita chips. $50
12 p.m. — My mom and I head to my grandpa's assisted living home for a visit. We didn't see him for an entire year due to the pandemic, but now that we're all vaccinated, we feel comfortable visiting with masks on. We stop and buy him a Happy Meal and a coffee on the way. Mom pays.
1:30 p.m. — That was quite a visit. He was in a cranky mood and my mom couldn't help but antagonize him, which resulted in a 15-minute argument about how much chocolate he's been eating lately. I'm exhausted afterward, so we swing by Starbucks on the way home and I grab a tall chocolate almond milk shaken espresso and leave a $1 tip. $5.62
4 p.m. — I had plans with my friend, L., to go on a bike ride after work, but she texts and asks if we can grab dinner instead. This will be the first time I'm spending time with anyone outside of my family (plus C.) in more than a year. My therapist wants me to start pushing myself socially, but even with the vaccine (L. is vaccinated, too), it still feels scary. However, the stress/anxiety of this past year is not doing me any favors, so I say yes as long as we can eat outside, and start applying makeup. I also change into shorts and a tank top, since it is an unusual 86 degrees outside today. In the meantime, I snack on a gluten-free banana muffin (my own recipe this time) and take my second steroid pill. I'm trying to take them earlier in the day to see if it helps with the stomach aches, and so far I feel okay.
5:30 p.m. — Meet L. at an outdoor restaurant. It feels so normal! I order a cobb salad without bacon (I hate bacon) and she orders a burger. We both stick to water. We spend about an hour and a half eating and catching up, then decide to head to a local park and walk for a while. We split the bill down the middle and split a 20% tip, too. $21
8:30 p.m. — Home from our walk and feeling sweaty and sore. I ice my hand and wrist for a bit, then jump in the shower. Apply vitamin A serum, moisturize, and text with C. before reading a little more and falling asleep around 1.
Daily Total: $76.62

Day Four

7:15 a.m. — Up early again. I can already tell my allergies will be awful today, so I pop a Claritin before getting out of bed. I throw some clothes in a bag, eat two banana muffins, take a steroid pill, and get in the car to head to my brother's house. He and his wife are going to a hotel for a night to celebrate their anniversary, so my mom and I will be watching my one-year-old niece, H.
10 a.m. — I have to be on a company-wide call, so I snag H. for some baby cuddles before setting up my laptop in my brother's home office. The meeting lasts for two hours, so I work on an article about Mother's Day brunch recipes while I listen.
12 p.m. — H. is down for her nap and I'm hungry, so I eat Greek yogurt with peaches and granola (I'm a creature of habit). I still feel peckish afterward, so I eat a scrambled egg and take my second steroid pill. Put on another episode of Below Deck Sailing Yacht while I work on some recipes. C. texts me that he's on his way to urgent care because he fell off his skateboard last night and his foot still hurts. He's not really dramatic when it comes to pain, so I'm concerned that he fractured it and tell him to keep me posted.
4 p.m. — C.'s x-rays are normal. The doctor tells him he sprained it and he walks out with a boot and crutches. Personally, I don't think either of those will last longer than a few days, but we'll see. I tell him to ice it and take some Advil, then get back to work. I take a break from recipes to feed H. then we play for a while before giving her a bath.
6:30 p.m. — My mom puts H. to bed while I order us two salads (one with chicken, one with shrimp), a cheese quesadilla, and a side of garlic bread from a nearby restaurant. $39.45
10:30 p.m. — After getting ready for bed, it hits me that Mother's Day is next week and I haven't even thought about a gift for my mom. She's been mentioning that it's hard for her to read in the bathtub, so I order her a bamboo bath tray and a jar of bath salts from Target. I read a little and pass out around 11:30. $70.97
Daily Total: $110.42

Day Five

5 a.m. — Wake up to H. crying. I make her a bottle and feed her in her room. I put her back in the crib while I use the bathroom, change, and brush my teeth, then we head downstairs to change her diaper and watch Sesame Street. I eat a banana muffin while H. plays, then we turn on The Little Mermaid and she falls back asleep for about 45 minutes.
9 a.m. — A bunch of bands/artists I like have concert ticket sales that start today, but I don't know if I'm ready to be in a crowd, even an outdoor one. I tell myself I went an entire year without concerts and can survive one more. I also get a notification that my paycheck was deposited, so I transfer $450 to my savings account and put $400 on my student loan (in monthly expenses).
2:30 p.m. — My brother and sister-in-law come home and my mom and I hightail it out of there and make the hour and a half drive home.
4 p.m. — I do EmKFit's Dirty Dancing Hiit Hop, ice my hand/wrist, and take a shower. Mom and I are too tired to cook (surprise), so I order us two chicken caesar salads, two Diet Cokes, and a chicken sandwich for my dad, who I legitimately have not seen all week (he works crazy hours). Mom pays, thankfully. My food budget has been out of control all week and there's no excuse for it, all I can say is that I checked that the groceries I ordered don't expire until next week and it's definitely not the norm for me.
8:30 p.m. — Take my meds, head up to bed, and read for a little before falling asleep. I haven't heard from C. basically all day and I feel annoyed, but not so much that I want to make an issue of it. He is my first serious relationship and we started dating three weeks before the shutdowns started, so we were completely virtual from mid-March until July. I also went into the shutdowns feeling normal and came out with an autoimmune disease, so that's been another roadblock that he's handled extremely well. I've been really lucky to have him, so I cut him some slack when he has quiet days.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

6:45 a.m. — Apparently, this is just when I wake up now. I read for a little, feed the dog, and get dressed to work out. Today is the first day of EmKFit's May challenge, and I'm nervous to participate and aggravate my arthritis. However, I am my own worst enemy, so I grab a resistance band and do her upper body workout, then follow it up with her Latin Hits Hiit Hop. Big mistake. My hand and wrist are painful by the time I'm done, so I instantly ice them before going to shower. I make a note to ask my physical therapist what I can do when I go back on Monday.
12 p.m. — Dry my hair, apply makeup, and change into flare jeans and a white t-shirt. My dog is right on my heels everywhere I go, so I take him for a walk before heading to C.'s. I love my dog to death but he is not friendly with other people or animals, so walking him doesn't happen as much as it probably should. Luckily, we don't see a single other person or dog this time and he behaves like a perfect gentleman.
6 p.m. — C.'s foot is still painful, so we don't do very much. I've never seen Step Brothers, so we order Thai food (C. pays) and watch it. I eat a cashew stir-fry with beef and veggies, her gets pad see ew, and we share an order of edamame. His friend, T., asks if he wants anything from the grocery store, so C. tells him to swing by and hang out for a little. T. is moving to California soon, so we talk about the move and play Among Us for a little. I see a super-cute jumpsuit on Color Me Courtney's Instagram and I buy it before I can even regret it. $48.49
11:30 p.m. — T. leaves and C. and I get ready for bed. I realize I didn't take either of my steroids today, so I take both (expecting a massive stomach ache tomorrow), we have sex, and fall asleep while watching Impractical Jokers.
Daily Total: $48.49

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — Wake up, use the bathroom, and read/mess around on my phone until C. wakes up at 10. It's a really nice day out and his foot is feeling better, so we head to brunch.
12 p.m. — Get to brunch and see T. with two of C.'s other friends sitting down at an outdoor table. They invite us to join them, and I feel wary but I know I need to keep doing normal things (we're all vaccinated and careful), so we sit. I get really shy in groups so I don't talk for a while and am sweating buckets through my jean jacket. I have on a tank dress underneath and I really don't want to show my arms (my least favorite area of my body), but eventually, I can't take it and have to take the jacket off. I order a mimosa and scrambled eggs on toast with a side of mixed greens. C. gets a cherry colada and a chicken and waffle.

2 p.m. — After a second round of drinks for everyone but me (I have to drive home later), we split the bill and head home. I pay for mine and C.'s share out of my Venmo balance. I never transfer funds from Venmo into my bank account, so it feels like I'm not spending money, even though I am. $73

5 p.m. — C.'s foot is killing him after we walk back to his apartment, so we just hang out for a while, and then I head home. I stop by Cava on the way and grab a bowl with a side of pita chips and a Spindrift, which I'll eat when I get home. I have a credit, so it doesn't cost too much. $8.28

6 p.m. — Home! I have a pounding headache and I'm sunburned from brunch, so I take a Tylenol and shower before sitting down to eat while watching the Summer House reunion. I'm craving ice cream, so I eat a few spoonfuls of dairy-free Phish Food from the freezer before heading to bed. Take my steroids, because I forgot to take them earlier (of course). I can barely keep my eyes open and realize this was by far the most active I've been in more than a year. I pass out by 8:30.

Daily Total: $81.28
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