A Week In Phoenix, AZ, On A $57,000 Salary

PHoto: Getty Images.
Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.
Today: a researcher working in engineering/higher education who makes $57,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on ravioli.
Ed. note: This OP mentions that she lost a family member to suicide. If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
Occupation: Researcher
Industry: Engineering/Higher Education
Age: 25
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Salary: $57,000
Paycheck Amount (Biweekly): $1,511
Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: $1,013 for a one-bedroom apartment. I live alone. ($965 base, $25 for my cat, $23 rent tax)
Student Loans: $950 (This is the minimum payment.)
Water/Sewage/Trash: ~$60
Electric: $45-$180, depending on the time of year
Internet: $40
Car Insurance: $77
Renter's Insurance: $11
Package Locker Service: $4
Cell Phone: $0 (I'm still on my parents' plan. I assume I'll need to upgrade my iPhone 5S relatively soon, and at that point I'll get my own plan.)
Netflix, Hulu, & Amazon Prime: $0 (My parents pay and I am grateful.)
Work Parking: $54.80 (taken pretax)
Health, Dental & Vision Insurances: $48.80 (taken pretax)
Short-term Disability Insurance: $17.10 (taken post-tax)
Retirement: I contribute 7% to a 401(a), which is about $307/month (pretax). My employer will match the full 7%, although unfortunately it's only vested after five years (4.5 to go…).
Savings: I aim for $250-$350 into my high-yield savings account, depending on how much I have left over each month. I'm saving for a new (used) car, laptop, and phone right now, as well as building an emergency fund.

Day One

7:30 a.m. — My alarm goes off slightly earlier than usual because I have a doctor's appointment before work this morning. I spend 15 minutes on my phone and cuddling the cat before getting up. It's freezing — my thermostat says 59 degrees. I'm cheap and hate paying for heat in Phoenix, but I'm SO cold. Sixty-six degrees it is. While my apartment heats up, I get dressed, brush my teeth, deal with my hair, and grab the food I packed for breakfast and lunch today. I'm out the door by 8:25.
8:40 a.m. — At the doctor ($20 copay). I only moved here seven months ago, so this is my first time at this doctor. I'm relieved that I like her — I hate finding new doctors! She writes me the prescriptions I need and gives me a list of psychiatrist referrals. Under normal circumstances, a PCP could probably manage the anxiety med I've been on since I was 17. But my younger brother committed suicide six months ago, and I feel like this is a situation where a psychiatrist might be better — I was seriously concerned that I might have PTSD during the holidays, and if I ever feel that bad again, I want to have a psychiatrist around. $20
9:10 a.m. — Leave the doctor to go to work. I'm feeling kind of weird during the drive. I knew I'd have to mention my brother's suicide, but saying it out loud is still so hard. I get to work 10 minutes late to a meeting with my boss and some of her students, but it's fine because I gave her a heads up that I'd probably be late today.
10:15 a.m. — My first meeting of the day is over, so I head to my office for a little while before the next one. I eat the two bran muffins I packed for breakfast while reading emails. I have to eat lunch super early today, because I'll be in meetings from 12 to 3, so I heat up the corn and scallion strata I brought around 11:40. I made it last weekend and want to eat it every day, it's so good!
12 p.m. — Meeting number 2! I learn that my boss is putting me on an interesting project because she thinks I'll be good at it. It's a relief to hear — I got off to a really rough start at this job because of my brother's death one month after I moved cross country and started here. My boss was great, because she dealt with something similarly devastating and understood a lot of what I was going through. I'm glad I'm at the point where she trusts me to work on a big project.
2:30 p.m. — My friend/coworker and I grab coffee from Starbucks — I get a grande iced coffee and pay with the balance on my app. We also decide to go to a farmer's market on Sunday because the weather is so nice and we both need to get out of our apartments. After she goes to her next meeting, I head back to my office for the rest of my day.
4:30 p.m. — I end up crying while driving home. This hasn't happened in a while. After my brother died, I used to cry anytime my brain went on “autopilot” — whenever I was driving, showering, or trying to sleep. It sucks, but I'm glad the random crying is at least happening less frequently. I pull it together and stop by Target on my way home. I pick up the three prescriptions my doctor ordered earlier ($30.30) and get a box of trash bags because I'm running low ($10.85). I get seriously tempted by a clearance mug, but I need another mug like I need a punch to the face. Every time I go to Target, I feel like I need blinders to keep myself from buying anything unnecessary…does Target sell blinders? $41.15
5:30 p.m. — After Target, I head to PetSmart. I get cat litter, food, and a $1 toy. I also look at the cats they have for adoption because I think my cat needs a friend. He hates being left alone and has a lot of energy, so I think he'd benefit from having another cat around while I'm at work. Gotta make sure I can afford one first, though. The food is on sale and I have a coupon, yay. $42.03
6 p.m. — I get home and realize I now have a trunk full of stuff that needs to get dragged up to my third-floor apartment. I'm happy being single most of the time, except when I have tons of heavy groceries or bags to carry by myself. I'd rather split the bags with another person than have to make multiple trips or lug way too many bags by myself! Once I get inside, I disinfect the cat's litter box because it's smelling bad. Really glamorous Friday night, y'all.
6:30 p.m. — I take out the trash and head out again to buy groceries. I did a big run last week, so I don't need a ton today. At Safeway I buy diced tomatoes, tomato paste, aluminum foil, bacon, baby carrots, fresh ravioli, and a frozen pizza ($19.06). Then I go to Trader Joe's, which is dangerous because I'm starving. Amazingly, I don't veer too far off my list. I get two dozen eggs because I've been baking a lot, pesto, more fresh ravioli, sour cream–and-onion corn puffs, and mini stroopwafels ($14.84). $33.90
7:30 p.m. — Finally home for the night! I make the frozen pizza for dinner. I stopped eating out to save money and improve my cooking skills, but I sometimes get frozen pizza on Fridays if I don't feel like cooking or eating leftovers. It's cheaper than takeout yet still kind of feels like it, so I don't feel deprived.
8 p.m. — The cat and I cuddle and watch the new episodes of Grey's Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. You can absolutely judge my taste in TV. I also read an obnoxious thread in my neighborhood Facebook group about teenagers being “ingrates” in local stores after school hours. I live in a fairly affluent area with a lot of older people who seem to be very worried about their neighborhood “degrading.” I definitely don't condone things like shoplifting or doing anything to make retail workers' jobs harder, but a lot of these people seem to be mad about teenagers…existing…in public… I have nothing in common with most of the people in this group, but I stay because the ridiculous drama is so entertaining.
1 a.m. — Time for bed. I take my meds, clean my face with micellar water, swipe a Stridex pad across my face, put some Bite Agave Lip Mask on, and get in bed. I scroll through Instagram until I fall asleep.
Daily Total: $137.08

Day Two

1 p.m. — It's late, but I let myself sleep in on weekends if I don't have anything to do, because I frequently don't sleep well during the week. I get up and start grating carrots, because I'm making carrot cake pancakes for brunch! I've started cooking myself brunch every weekend, mostly as a self-care thing. I look forward to it all week. The carrot cake pancakes take me forever, but they use up all the carrots, cream cheese, and walnuts I had left in my fridge, plus some of the buttermilk! Score. And they're delicious. I freeze the leftovers for another day.
3 p.m. — I read today's Money Diary and cry — the diarist lost her sister recently, and I relate so much to a lot of what she says. It's so, so hard, especially living so far away from my family and not knowing very many people here. Sometimes I think it's a miracle I'm still alive and doing okay. But it's not a miracle; it's strength and bravery I didn't know I had. I try to remember that when grief gets hard. Someone in the comments recommends a group for younger people who have experienced significant loss — I'm definitely going to look into it. The prospect of meeting new people in a new city while grieving is terrifying to me, but I could really use some friends. I love the idea of hanging out with people who have been in similar situations.
4:30 p.m. — My mom has sent me like eight texts today; she's cleaning out my brother's room and trying to decide what to keep or donate. I just call her because it's easier than texting. We talk about what to do with certain things and segue to my other brother, who is doing his best to distance himself from the rest of our family. Kind of feels like I lost two brothers and like my parents lost two sons.
5:30 p.m. — I decide to do my tax return by myself for the first time ever. It only required one phone call to my dad, and only because I didn't have last year's AGI. I'm excited to see that I'm getting almost $2,000 back! I'm NOT excited to see that I have to pay $40 for federal, $40 per state (I had to file in two this year because I moved), and $40 for direct deposit. Maybe I didn't read closely enough, but I expected $40 to cover everything. I have the $160 deducted from my federal return and do the responsible thing and have everything else deposited directly into my high-yield savings account.
8:30 p.m. — Done with everything tax-related! My friend might come over after the farmer's market tomorrow, so I pick up my apartment a little bit and disinfect all the counters.
9:30 p.m. — I made enough tofu stir-fry to feed a small country the other day, so I eat some of that for a very late dinner. Then I watch Chopped while I go through the list of psychiatrists my doctor gave me yesterday and see who takes my insurance. There are only six who do, but at least that narrows down my search. I omit two for being too far away and one for having concerning reviews. Then I choose one and will try to call and schedule an appointment on Monday. Afterward, I apply to be matched to a table with The Dinner Party, the organization I learned about through the comments. I've been to a suicide-loss survivors' support group, but it's intense. I LOVE the idea of a more relaxed dinner-party setting for people my age to talk about loss, since most of our friends haven't experienced it and don't know how to help.
12:30 a.m. — These sour cream–and-onion corn puffs have the texture of packing peanuts. Not a fan. Mini stroopwafels are much better, in case you need a recommendation for hungry Trader Joe's shopping.
1 a.m. — Meds, skin care (micellar water, Stridex, Glow Recipe Watermelon Moisturizer, and Agave Lip Mask), and Instagram scrolling in bed until I fall asleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

9:45 a.m. — I set an alarm today because I'm meeting my friend at a farmer's market. I still can't figure out how to dress for Phoenix weather, but it's in the 40s, so I go with leggings and a flannel shirt. I have two leftover bran muffins that I try to eat, but it tastes like the berries inside have gone bad. Will have to remember to freeze half of them next time I make this recipe.
10:30 a.m. — My friend is running a few minutes late, so I sit in my car and do a stupid thing — look at my skin in broad daylight. Where did all these dry patches come from?? Yikes. When she arrives, we walk around the market. I've never been to this one, but it's cute! And the vendors are very generous with samples, which is nice since I didn't really eat breakfast. I end up buying dessert empanada cookies filled with dulce de leche. I didn't expect to like them so much, but they melt in your mouth. Yum. $4.50
12 p.m. — We decide to get coffee at a café near my apartment. I love this place and they have the best cold brew, but I try not to go too often because it's expensive. I spend $6.37 on a cold brew with mocha syrup, which includes $1 in tip. We sit and talk about work, life, and grief. When we're done, we stop by my apartment because she wants to meet my cat. $6.37
1:45 p.m. — She leaves and I head to the library to look for cookbooks. I love the idea of having a big cookbook library, but books are heavy, and historically, I've moved a lot. So I decided to start checking them out from the library — if there are any that I particularly like, I'll consider buying them. I check out The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2016, Cravings: Hungry for More, Barefoot Contessa at Home, and The Red Rooster Cookbook.
2:15 p.m. — Home and hungry after my weird breakfast of samples. I eat some more tofu stir-fry and watch Chopped. Usually I do a lot of chores on Sundays, but my apartment is fairly clean and I'm not at an urgent situation with laundry yet. It's nice to relax!
5:30 p.m. — I'm freezing, so I get in bed and scroll through Instagram. I end up taking a nap, which I will probably regret later, but it feels great now!
7 p.m. — For dinner I make all the fresh ravioli I bought on Friday and eat some of it with pesto. While it cooks, I put away dishes and grind coffee beans for tomorrow morning.
8 p.m. — I make Smitten Kitchen's Perfect Blueberry Muffins for breakfasts this week. I was skeptical about these being perfect, but they absolutely are. They only use one bowl, make nine instead of 12 (which is better for a single person), are topped with turbinado sugar (which I now top everything I bake with thanks to this recipe), and taste amazing. Also, the batter is really good, which is important to me. I do the dishes while they bake. I also see that my dad sent me a text reminding me that I have $1,250 of inheritance money. It was actually my brother's from when our grandma died over a decade ago, and when my brother died my parents generously decided to split the remaining money between my other brother and me. I totally forgot about it, but I decide to put it in my high-yield savings account when I get it.
1 a.m. — After watching MasterChef and reading through Cravings for a few hours, I'm finally tired. That nap definitely messed me up; I try not to go to bed so late on weeknights. Meds, skin care, and Instagram scrolling. The usual. Except…I can't sleep. I realize it's been exactly six months since my brother died. I start having flashbacks to that day. And then I go back another six months, to one year ago. I was living with my parents and brother, working retail. I never in a million years would have been able to predict what my life is like now. Not that it's all bad. It's just completely overwhelming to go through so many major changes in such a short amount of time.
Daily Total: $10.87

Day Four

8 a.m. — My alarm goes off and I'm sad and exhausted. I didn't sleep well at all last night between the insomnia, crying, and the cat who woke me up multiple times. I decide to text my boss and tell her I'm taking a sick day. It's really a mental-health day, though. I hate doing this, but I can't even pull myself out of bed right now, let alone drive to work and be productive. After texting my boss, I turn off all my alarms and go back to sleep.
2 p.m. — Part of me hates when I sleep in so much, and part of me tries to be kind to myself. My brain is healing from a traumatic situation — maybe that requires extra sleep? Or maybe I'm just having a rough day. I reheat some carrot cake pancakes and watch more MasterChef.
6 p.m. — I notice that my friend, G., texted me earlier. I'm shocked to see that she remembered it's been six months today. G. is the only one of my friends who has gotten the whole “supporting a grieving friend” thing right. She checks in on me regularly, asks me how I'm doing, and texts me cute pictures of her cat. I don't think it's actually that hard, but I think a lot of people don't know how to react to a grieving person, especially if they haven't experienced major loss. Then again, G. hasn't experienced loss, and she gets it right by asking me what I need and giving it to me. I'm so grateful for her.
6:45 p.m. — I finish the tofu stir-fry leftovers. Totally making that again next week, since it turned out so well. Afterward, I finish looking through Cravings. I'm tempted to buy it, but I'm not sure yet — there are a lot of meat dishes, and while I'm not vegetarian, I don't cook a ton of meat so I can keep my grocery costs down.
10:30 p.m. — Feeling just about every emotion right now. I don't know if it's reasonable for me to be upset that two of my good friends didn't check in with me today. And rarely check in with me ever. I don't need or want them to tiptoe around me, and we talk about other things, but how hard is it to ask your grieving friend how they're doing once in a while? But at the same time, would I be any better if roles were reversed? Grief is scary and uncomfortable to everyone, especially those who aren't familiar with it. But you know what else is scary? Grieving alone, far away from my family and friends, without much of a support system in my new state. I really struggle with whether I'm being too understanding when they're actually being bad friends.
1:30 a.m. — Meds, skincare, insomnia, and crying. I honestly haven't had such a hard time with grief since the holidays. I'm hoping it has something to do with the six-month mark and that things go back to “normal” soon.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

8 a.m. — Wake up after another terrible night of sleep. I'm tired, I have a headache, and my sinuses are making my entire face hurt. I don't have any reason to physically be at work today, so I decide to work from home so I can get a little extra sleep.
9 a.m. — I notice a text from my best friend. He was supposed to call me this past weekend but didn't. The text doesn't acknowledge the missed call, and I'm a little mad. He visited me recently and I poured my heart out to him about my grief struggles. You'd think he'd be able to send a text saying, “Sorry I'm not able to chat this weekend. Let's reschedule for ___.” I don't respond because I don't really have anything nice to say.
10 a.m. — I finish the last of the carrot cake pancakes. So good. I'm thinking next weekend I'll make French toast with whipped honey-ricotta topping from Cravings.
5:30 p.m. — It's only Tuesday, but I need a serious reset on this week. I take a shower and exfoliate my face with Lush's coffee mask, deep-condition my hair, and use a pumice stone on my heels. After I shower, I strip the sheets off my bed and put in a load of laundry. I might feel bad, but at least I'm clean, exfoliated, and going to be sleeping in a freshly made bed. While the washer's going, I eat some ravioli with pesto and have a glass of white wine. I'm not a huge drinker, and I try to be especially careful now because I don't want to numb my feelings or feel dependent on alcohol. But the few times I've had alcohol since my brother died, I've paid close attention to how I feel, so I know I'm going to be fine with one glass.
7 p.m. — Decide to update my lab's Google Calendar because I've been putting it off for too long. Also get a text from my mom telling me the stir-fry recipe I sent her turned out way too salty. Turns out I accidentally typed 3/4 cup of reduced-sodium SOY SAUCE instead of chicken broth. That'd do it. I feel kind of bad for ruining their dinner, but she assures me it was great for the ice on the sidewalk.
9:30 p.m. — I see that Aerie has a 10 for $30 sale. I'm tempted to go for it, but luckily for my wallet, I don't see any pairs that I really like. I try to spend under $200/month on all non-recurring-bill, non-grocery purchases. (I give myself another $200/month for groceries.) It's very restrictive and not always possible, but I attempt it so I can save as much as possible. I'm getting close to $200 for this month, though, so I'd prefer not to spend the $30 now anyway.
10:30 p.m. — I put away the laundry that's done and finally make myself fold and put away a ton of towels and sheets. Afterward, I put on a sheet mask because my skin has been feeling dry. I usually hate sheet masks because they feel cold and slimy and never fit my face right, but I got this Glow Recipe one in a set and figured I should try it. It's actually not bad. The cat thinks it smells interesting, too.
12:30 a.m. — Skin care's done, so I take my meds and look through a cookbook on my Kindle in bed. I'm feeling somewhat better mentally, which is good because I have a busy day at work tomorrow.
1 a.m. — The cat gets stuck on a high shelf in my closet, where he was sleeping. I get the stepladder and rescue him. That fool is lucky he's so cute.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

7 a.m. — Rudely awoken by an early morning leaf blower outside my window. Luckily, I can sleep through anything, so I do just that until I really need to get up.
9:20 a.m. — I don't need to be at work until 10:30, and I know I'm going to be working late-ish tonight, so I let myself sleep in. I get dressed, throw on some concealer and liquid lipstick, and scarf down a blueberry muffin. I'm going straight to a lab this morning, and I can't have food or drinks inside. Oh, coffee. I will miss you dearly this morning.
10:30 a.m. — Into the lab! I've never worked in here before, but it's in my favorite building with free coffee. As I expected, almost everyone else is late.
1:30 p.m. — It's apparent I'm going to be in the lab the entire day. We break for lunch. I brought a hummus bowl that I made a few weeks ago and froze — it has brown rice, lentils, edamame, sweet potato, chicken, and homemade hummus. For once, I eat with coworkers. It's really easy for us all to isolate ourselves, so it's nice to have some human interaction. Especially because I like my coworkers!
2 p.m. — I spend the rest of the afternoon working on calibrating a device, responding to emails, and editing the lab's website. There is so much natural light in this building, and I think it makes me way more productive.
6 p.m. — My boss wants to meet tomorrow. I always freak out when she asks to meet and doesn't tell me why — it makes me worry I'm doing something wrong! But I know realistically things are probably fine. My coworkers and I leave after planning to meet on other days, because we still have work to do on this project.
6:45 p.m. — Home! I bring in my mail and see that my Old Navy Pixie Pants arrived. I really needed a basic black pair of work pants — we don't have any sort of dress code, but I try to look somewhat more professional than I need to, so I'm taken seriously (and not mistaken for a student). I'm absolutely shocked when I try them on and they fit perfectly and look great! Y'all. Well-fitting pants are impossible for me to find. Definitely going to have to get some more pairs when they go on sale.
7 p.m. — Face washed, bra off, and hair up. I'm in for the night. For dinner I make a recipe with a very high taste-to-effort ratio: chickpeas in a creamy tomato-and-smoked-paprika sauce, with eggs poached in the sauce. So good. So easy.
9 p.m. — I get an email saying my credit score changed. Somehow it went up over 40 points in the last month? I'm guessing because I'm putting less on my credit card now that I'm trying so hard to save. Regardless, awesome.
12 a.m. — I wash the dishes in my sink, take my meds, and do my skin care. I notice that the cat made catnip-toy soup in his water dish (again), so I fish out the offending toy (a very wet squirrel that was actually meant for dogs) and get him fresh water. Cats, man. After dealing with that mess, it's bedtime. I'm thankful I felt much better today than I did on Monday and Tuesday.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

9 a.m. — Reluctantly get out of bed at the last possible minute after snoozing my alarm several times. Clearly I'm not a morning person, so I'm glad my job has relatively flexible hours. I'm excited to see that it's overcast today! Cloudy days aren't super common in Phoenix, but they remind me of home, so I don't mind them. I get ready, scarf down another blueberry muffin, and leave for work around 9:30.
10 a.m. — My coworker is swamped with work on a project and needs my help. It turns out to be pretty easy, and when it's done, I drop the results off at my coworker's office.
1 p.m. — I head over to my office building to meet with my boss. One meeting turns into two, which turns into three. She has a ton of students working on projects, and she'll be traveling a lot soon, so I'm taking over those meetings for her while she's gone.
4 p.m. — I go straight back to the lab after my meetings end. I check on the results of my project — two came out decently, one didn't. I'll come back in the morning to finish up.
5:30 p.m. — Head home. I'm absolutely starving, because with all my unexpected meetings I never got to eat lunch. It was super tempting to pick up food on the way, but I successfully gave myself the “we have food at home” talk. Instead, I reheat the leftover chickpeas from yesterday, poach two eggs, and eat while watching MasterChef.
10:30 p.m. — It's Valentine's Day and I haven't eaten chocolate yet, which I'm pretty sure is illegal. I make a brownie-in-a-mug recipe that I saw today — it doesn't really taste like a brownie, but it's warm and chocolatey, so I'm not mad. The sugar gives me a little burst of energy to start making a grocery list for tomorrow. I don't get far — I can never figure out what I want to eat!
12 a.m. — Early and busy day tomorrow! Same routine as always — meds, skincare, bed.
Daily Total: $0
If you are experiencing anxiety or depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
Money Diaries are meant to reflect individual women's experiences 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. Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here:
In addition to Money Diaries, we're also looking for sources for the following stories:
Have you ever posted a "break-up post" on Instagram or Facebook after splitting up with your significant other? If so, we'd love to talk to you for an upcoming story. Email us here with the subject line "social media break up."
Do you donate to charities and causes you care about? If so, we want to hear from you! No matter the amount — we want to know where you give and why. Click here for a chance to be featured on the site.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series