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A Week In Boston, MA, On A $51,400 Salary

Photo Courtesy of Old Navy.
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 registered nurse working in healthcare who makes $51,400 per year and spends some of their money this week on Old Navy swim trunks.
Occupation: Registered Nurse
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 35
Location: Boston, MA
Salary: $51,400
Net Worth: $108,403 (checking account: $1,099, savings account: $9,246, retirement account: $74,323, HYSA: $27,558, investment account: $4,089, minus debt).
Debt: $7,912 (student loans).
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,520
Pronouns: They/them

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,600 (this is for a one-bedroom apartment with heat and hot water included. I have lived alone since September 2020).
Student Loans: $0 (not currently paying).
Utilities: $35–50 (total depends on use; it's on the higher end in summer).
Internet: $50
Renter's Insurance: $21
Phone: $0 (my Christmas gift from my parents every year is not getting kicked off the family plan).
Netflix, Hulu & Disney+: $0 (one of my sisters shares her account with me because she gets a discount through work).
Health Insurance: $0 (covered by work).
Public Transportation Pass: $90
Investment Account: $125 (out of each paycheck).
Prescriptions: $45
Annual Expenses
Wyze: $40
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?
I was 150% expected to get an undergrad degree at least. I'm the oldest of three kids and my parents paid for 60% of our college costs. We were responsible for the rest. I was the only one with a significant amount of scholarship money to cover tuition; I also took out loans for housing and living expenses. When I went back to school for nursing in my mid-20s, I had a scholarship that covered a portion of my tuition and used loans and savings to pay for the rest.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I cannot stress how much my parents did not like to talk about money, especially in front of us kids. One year, our dad was out of work for almost a month before our parents told us. To this day, I don't know how much either of them earned at their jobs and only have a general idea of their current financial situation because I'm co-executor of their estate (there was SO much paperwork). The only real lessons I remember learning as a kid were that credit cards should be used sparingly and paid in full whenever possible, and that money does not grow on trees (confirmed).

What was your first job and why did you get it?
Right after my 15th birthday, my best friend and I took a lifeguarding class together, then got jobs at an outdoor pool. My parents wouldn't allow me to have a job beyond tutoring during the school year so I would save as much as I could in the summer for spending and gas money to tide me over until June.

Did you worry about money growing up?
We never had to worry about housing, food or bills. I grew up in the suburbs and it was understood that we weren't rich or poor but we had what we needed. I do remember feeling like I shouldn't be spending money on things unless they were important, and I was the most cautious spender out of the five of us.

Do you worry about money now?
Definitely more than I used to, since I'm the sole breadwinner in my household (the cat does not have a job beyond scaring mice). Until COVID, I always had a roommate, but in 2020 she was laid off and opted to move home with her parents. I work in healthcare and didn't feel safe bringing someone else into the apartment at the time. Now I know it would free up a lot of income but I've gotten so used to living alone. I would reconsider if a friend needed temporary housing or an urgent place to live.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I don't pay my own cell phone bill so maybe I'm not even there yet! Besides that, I would say around age 21 when I graduated college. About four times a year, my dad reminds me that I can ask him if I ever need money, but it would take a lot —like eviction-threat level — to get me to ask.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
When my grandma died, she left her estate to be split equally between her surviving kids, including my mom. Mom gave my sisters and I $4,000 each to put toward education and I used it to help pay tuition in nursing school.

Day One

10 a.m. — Today is Friday, my usual day off after working four in a row. This weekend is extra long (weekday holidays are the best) and it's also the last day of the month, which means I'm calculating my budget for the upcoming month. I'm a little more stressed about money than usual because I recently threw my budgeting rules out the window and used the $500 bonus I received as a deposit for a full-sleeve tattoo that's going to cost around $2,500. This is easily the most expensive thing I've ever bought but you really get what you pay for with tattoos, and the artist doing it is world-class. Breakfast of champions: cereal, beta blockers for my heart condition, string cheese, multivitamin and antidepressant, several glasses of water, rounded off an hour later with the last of the kettle corn for lunch. This is why I have stomach problems.
2 p.m. — I remember to put on sunscreen and Etude House lip tint before running errands, first to pick up a Ninja blender from someone in the local Buy Nothing group, then to the produce shop. The blender barely fits in my bag but I manage to squish it in. On my way to the shop, I pass an Irish grocery store I go to on occasion. I usually split my shopping between three or four different stores because I have a lot of dietary restrictions. Today's temperature is in the 80s and the sun is melting my sunscreen off so I go in to buy a fountain soda to cool down. I also buy water flavor drops and candy to hit the credit card minimum ($8.46). I have a brief moment of panic when I realize I don't have one of my credit cards but quickly deduce that it's probably in the pocket of the scrub pants I wore yesterday. Make it to the produce shop. They don't have a ton of fruit today so I buy peppers, basil and peaches and drop the extra change in the tip jar ($6). $14.46
5 p.m. — Back at home, I shower, find the missing credit card (pants pocket, as predicted) and sit in front of the fan, eating a popsicle and listening to a podcast. By the time it's over, it's practically dinnertime, so I start the rice cooker and rewatch a video to remember how to make basil tofu with peppers. I eat on the couch while watching TV, then play with the cat, read on the internet while texting, clip online coupons for the grocery store and reserve a free aquarium pass through the library.
Daily Total: $14.46

Day Two

8 a.m. — My repeat delivery for Petco that comes every five to six weeks is charged today. This time the order includes wet food, litter and treats ($58.25). I'm awake but stay in bed until the cat wakes up and we both have breakfast: tuna for him and leftover basil tofu with raspberry ice tea and all the vitamins and medications for me. I planned to go to the movies today, which is what finally gets me motivated to wash my hair, throw on sunscreen and lip tint, and take out the trash before leaving. $58.25
10 a.m. — I call my mom on the way to the grocery store and commiserate over the end-of-term SCOTUS rulings. I learn that she's been driving around on an expired registration for three or four months and she learns what FAFO means — a productive conversation! We hang up so I can grocery shop. Groceries are where I really feel inflation: iced tea, kiwis, popsicles, milk, two types of cheese, tortilla chips and a set of new ice trays costs $31.57. There's an in-store Starbucks and my coupon fails to go through so I end up paying full price for my frozen drink ($6.40). $37.97
1:30 p.m. — After taking the groceries home and setting up a couple of fans to cool the apartment, I head out to see Past Lives. I just barely miss my train downtown and I arrive five minutes late. Luckily, the machine still sells me a discount matinee ticket ($10.79) and I smuggle in a Diet Coke and a peach, which is good because there's no concession in this part of the building. Every review I read about this movie is overwhelmingly positive and it lives up to the hype. I would 100% recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind subtitles because the movie is in two languages. $10.79
4 p.m. — The weather is so much nicer (read: cooler) once I get out of the theater. The weekend market is only a few minutes away so I walk over and buy four boxes of berries and a bag of mushrooms for $5, plus a delicious slice of veggie pizza for a snack ($3). I take the train home, where I look up some basic smoothie recipes and unpack my newish blender. It's in good condition but pretty filthy. Smoothies will have to wait until tomorrow as both the gasket and blender top go in warm soapy water to soak. I have the last of the leftovers and a kiwi for dinner. $8
Daily Total: $115.01

Day Three

9 a.m. — It's raining and probably will be for several days. I start the laundry downstairs ($3.75), eat toast with peanut butter and jam for breakfast, take out the recycling and go for a quick walk between downpours. My watch starts beeping at me as I carry the clean laundry upstairs and I realize I forgot to take my meds this morning — that's why my heart is going bonkers. I correct this mistake with a couple of glasses of water. After doing chores on my to-do list, I take a break and watch Amazing Saturday while eating popcorn. It's a Korean game show that brings on guests to compete along with regular cast members in music-based games. The guests this week are from the same K-pop group as one of the cast members so everyone is on their worst behavior and it's excellent. I get restless watching TV in the daytime so I keep pausing to do housework or play with the cat. $3.75
5:30 p.m. — By now I've done most of the tasks on my rainy day to-do list, and even a couple that aren't on there (emptying the bathroom trash, rinsing and slicing mushrooms for dinner, cleaning cat hair off the living room furniture). The rain has let up and is supposed to hold off for a very short while so I go for a brief walk and end up at the pharmacy, where I pick up toilet paper and dish soap ($6.35). I make sautéed mushrooms in homemade teriyaki sauce with brown rice noodles for dinner. It's bland because I'm a terrible cook. (Also: I have teriyaki sauce. Why am I making my own?) I'm full from dinner but still want chocolate — my dentist despairs of me — so I have a chocolate candy bar from the fridge while I finish my show on the computer. In the time it takes me to watch the last bit, my best friend sends me 17 posts on Instagram. This is 50% of our friendship and I love her. I end up going to bed around 11. $6.35
Daily Total: $10.10

Day Four

8 a.m. — I slept badly and wake up to five emails from Petco and UPS repeatedly changing the delivery day of the cat supplies. I crawl out of bed about an hour later for a big bowl of cereal, blueberries and a spoonful of nut butter while I read the news. The weather is still foggy but warm with rain scheduled for the afternoon so I message a nearby friend about going to the pool early today. She and her wife are looking at cars so it'll be a solo adventure. While online, I see that my former common-law wife (wife less in the legally binding sense and more in the sense that we were roommates for seven years) will be in town next weekend and is hosting a get-together at a restaurant down the street. I RSVP and write it on my paper calendar because I am a dinosaur.
1 p.m. — I try to get dressed for the pool but between some gender dysphoria and recent physical changes (I was sick on and off for several months and all my muscles are gone), I can't stand any of my swimsuits and end up just wearing shorts and a tank top. I text M., one of my nonbinary friends, on the way to the pool. As expected, they have some suggestions for more gender-neutral swimwear. After all that, though, the pool isn't even open and I end up taking a second train to a bookstore. I find two books that I want and use a gift card to pay $34 for them.
5 p.m. — I go home to make a smoothie with chocolate milk, flax seed and frozen Fruits & Greens Smoothie Blend from Trader Joe's. I put it all in the World's Loudest Blender and drink it while spending about an hour shopping online for swimwear. The process is disheartening but I end up buying a pair of trunks and two tops for $31.72 from Old Navy. I also put in a first bid on another pair of trunks on eBay. $31.72
8:30 p.m. — I still feel unsettled so I read for a while before finishing off the mushrooms (with real teriyaki sauce this time). I text with friends and make peanut butter protein cookies. I get hungry while I'm waiting for them to bake so I have miso paste on sad, untoasted bread while I lazily do a lesson in Duolingo so I don't break my streak — today is day 700. I've started and given up on so many languages, including French and Mandarin (I can state in Mandarin that I have 1,500 cat photos on my phone, which seems necessary), and the only one I've managed to stick with is Spanish. My oven is tiny and the last batch of cookies finally goes in at 11. I taste-test two cookies for quality control purposes and stay up just long enough to cool and cover the last batch before going to bed around midnight.
Daily Total: $31.72

Day Five

7 a.m. — I wake up to dark skies and a cat sleeping on my bed. He wakes up around 8:15 and we both get up to clean and have breakfast (two protein cookies and a bowl of raspberries). I'm still unusually exhausted so I lounge on the couch reading and my watch shames me for not walking. My watch, incidentally, does not have feet and consequently does not get a vote. I do feel like I should get up, though, so I text a friend who has a broken collarbone to ask if she needs anything. She does not but texts me a picture of her dog (cute) and asks if I want to hang out later, before she goes to her BF's parents' place for dinner. I'm all about hangouts with a designated end time so I agree and we settle on a time this afternoon.
1 p.m. — The plans are enough to get me moving — at least to wash my hair and empty and reload the dishwasher. By now, the rain has gone from drizzling to pouring so I clean out the freezer and put the last of my mozzarella sticks in the oven, then use the basil I bought the other day to make another batch of pesto. Because my kitchen is small, I have to unplug the microwave to plug in the food processor. This kills the timer keeping track of the mozzarella sticks at some unknown point in the cooking process. I do this (or something like it) often enough that I know to shut the door between the oven and the smoke detector.
3 p.m. — While I'm eating, my phone alarm scares the crap out of me with a warning about imminent storms in the area. I text my friend to let her know this afternoon is up to her; she's still down. I have a little time to kill and spot an ad for Lush while reading online. I end up spending half an hour on the Lush website before moving to Etsy, where I buy most of my soaps and perfumes. I love having nice-smelling everything, so much so that my mom used to leave me in the candle or shampoo aisles while she got her shopping done. A perfume I haven't been able to get before is available so I buy a sample pack of three scents ($9.56) $9.56
4 p.m. — The rain has mostly stopped so I dash over to my friend's place with a few cookies. She offers me an edible in exchange, which I accept. We listen to music before her BF comes home and she has to get ready to go. It's dinnertime when I get home. I should make quinoa so that I'll have leftovers for lunch tomorrow but the weed has kicked in and all I want are veggie dumplings in chili oil with soy sauce and MSG. They are delicious. The cat takes a nap wrapped around my bicep; not mad about it. After taking a bath and getting in pajamas, I forgo trying to make the quinoa tonight and pack gluten-free miso ramen, blueberries and a cookie for work tomorrow.
Daily Total: $9.56

Day Six

5:45 a.m. — I sleep terribly, mostly due to several hours of fireworks outside, and end up waking for good before my alarm goes off. I have cramps and feel like garbage but menstruating isn't actually contagious so I get up and get ready for work: wash and moisturize, brush my teeth, feed the cat and myself (just cereal today), take my meds and pack my scrub top and check the train schedule before giving the cat treats and starting my commute. I buy my usual workday iced coffee from 7-Eleven on the way in ($1.38), which is extra necessary today because there's a problem with the phone system at work thanks to yesterday's storm. I eat a cookie and some blueberries in despair. $1.38
12:30 p.m. — I get over the despair and break for lunch between patients. I have received about six more emails about my Petco package in the five hours I've been at work; the location of this package is more heavily monitored than the nuclear football. The miso ramen I packed for lunch is okay but not amazing, which is sort of the best you can hope for when eating gluten-free food. By the time I finish eating, I'm seriously behind on hydration so I walk over to the grocery store to pick up a six-pack of Snapple on sale. $5
4:30 p.m. — The rest of the day goes by quickly. I end up assigning a new grad I'm training today to another nurse because one of my patients is struggling moderately with his mental health and needs extra privacy and support. Thankfully, we are able to work with him to establish a safety plan and his appointment ends on a positive note. I finish work early and the trains home are perfectly timed for once, reducing my commute to about half an hour. It's 90 degrees out. Upon getting home, I drink a ton of water, eat a popsicle and finish off the despair blueberries from this morning. My upstairs neighbor is doing jump squats like a lunatic and I pray for my ceiling.
8 p.m. — I lose a couple of hours on the internet (a near-daily occurrence, really) but I finally make the quinoa and mix it with some of the pesto I made over the weekend. There is enough to take for lunch tomorrow so the leftovers get packed up and I leave the pot to soak in the sink overnight. Tomorrow's weather is supposed to be similar to today's so I toss shorts and a towel in my work bag in case I get out of work early enough to swim.
Daily Total: $6.38

Day Seven

6 a.m. — This morning is almost identical to yesterday, except my menstrual cramps are bad enough that I pick up knockoff Midol with my iced coffee at 7-Eleven ($8.85). One of my coworkers is going on parental leave after this week so the whole department is ordering lunch from one of the restaurants in the neighborhood. I'd much rather have a raspberry smoothie instead of the quinoa I packed so I write it down on the order slip ($5.50 expensed). $8.85
3:30 p.m. — I end up working through lunch after one of my patients stands up and nearly passes out. I don't take a break until much later than usual. The day ends on time, though, and I clock out in time to go to the pool. Before I leave, my boss casually mentions that the past few days have been the hottest ones ever measured — great! Thank goodness the air-conditioning on the train is working so I have a brief chance to cool off in between boiling. Finally: the pool! It's extremely crowded but there are surprisingly few people in the water. The only shady spots on the edge are right beneath the lifeguard stand, where you are not allowed to sit, so I pick a mostly dry spot and dip my legs in (it's COLD!) and don't say a word when splashing kids get a little extra water on me. I can't wait for my swimsuit to arrive.
5:30 p.m. — I'm SO hungry but also gross so I eat an edible in the shower before polishing off all the leftover quinoa and a popsicle. I get two new emails while I'm eating. One is a reminder that the cat has a vet appointment on Saturday; I'm anticipating paying more than the usual $150–$200 because he's due for his shots. The second is a notification that my lone eBay bid won. I pay for the swimsuit and shipping ($9.94). I have work tomorrow but don't want to cook while I'm still high so I do Future Me a solid and put in a pre-order for Japanese food at the restaurant near my clinic ($17 with tip). Future Me will be so happy when I have sushi at 11:45 tomorrow! $26.94
Daily Total: $35.79
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