A Week In Columbus, OH, On A $50,000 Salary

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 School Counselor working in Education who makes $50,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on plastic flatware.
Occupation: School Counselor
Industry: Education
Age: 26
Location: Columbus, OH
Salary: $50,000
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,330 (post-deductions)
Gender Identity: cis woman

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $975 for a one-bedroom apartment
Student Loans: $381 (My parents paid for undergrad and I have about $50,000 from grad school)
Medical Insurance: $50/paycheck (pre-tax)
Dental Insurance: $7/month (pre-tax)
Short Term Disability: $16/paycheck (pre-tax)
State Teachers Retirement System: $290/paycheck (pre-tax)
Union Dues: $48/paycheck (pre-tax)
Health Savings Account: $63/paycheck (pre-tax)
WiFi, Gas, Electric: ~$130/month (water is supposed to be billed quarterly by my landlord but it's been seven months and I have yet to be billed...)
Spotify: $10.74
Mobile Phone: $71.50 ($40 for service, $10 for AppleCare, $21.50 for a 0% APR Affirm loan for my iPhone 8)
Bernie Sanders Campaign: $10 (I just started this, other charitable contributions are ad hoc)
Car Insurance: $375 every six months
Renter's Insurance: $115 annually
Savings: I have a monthly $200 automatic transfer to my savings but it doesn't always stay there...

Day One

11 a.m. — I get out of bed. My sleep schedule gets so messed up on the weekends. I shower and head to a nearby bakery to pick up croissants ($19 + $1 tip). I drive to my friends' F. & K.'s house because we're planning to cook something delicious together today. $20
12:15 p.m. — We drink coffee, eat croissants, and finally decide on a menu — chicken tinga, pico de gallo, salsa, and margaritas. After a while, we head to the grocery store. I try to slip a $20 bill to F. after checkout, but she rebuffs me multiple times.
6 p.m. — We cook a feast and hang out for a long time. I love friends. Everything we make is so good — thanks Serious Eats and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt!
11 p.m. — When I leave their house, I realize that it snowed a little bit! It's beautiful but makes me nervous driving. I never grew up with snow and I get a little excited at the thought that we might get a snow day if it keeps up! I drive home (I had one margarita over four hours), pump up the heat, and stand around watching Last Chance U in my coat until my apartment feels warm enough to change into PJs. I use my mom's Netflix login but might need to reassess soon since I think she may cancel. I drink a seltzer and use a cotton pad to wipe Thayer's Witch Hazel on my face. I finish the episode with my head and laptop fully under the duvet, then go to sleep.
Daily Total: $20

Day Two

9:40 a.m. — Three-day weekend! I roll out of bed and get ready quickly. F. and K. pick me up to go to brunch in German Village. I get an orange brioche à tête and a cold brew ($8.89 with tip). We sit for a while, chatting and tasting everyone's food. Then we walk around in the cold and make admiring comments about strangers' houses. $8.89
1 p.m. — They drop me off and I call my mom while I do some half-assed cleaning (throw a load of laundry in, do some dishes). I'm happy that there's a free washer and dryer in the basement of my building. My apartment is at the point where I can't do any real cleaning until I tidy up all the stuff everywhere and I don't feel like doing that. I think about MLK day and make a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center ($10) because I'm not sure how best to honor him. $10
2:30 p.m. — I take the load out of the washer and hang it up, then bundle up for the walk to the library. I listen to Who? Weekly as I walk. At the library, I look for a book that the website said was on the shelf (Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney) but I can't find it. I don't feel like taking off my coat and scarf but it's really warm which is making me feel queasy. I check out Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston and two children's books on teasing that I had on hold for work, then dip. I continue to listen to Who? Weekly as I walk home and lol when Bobby and Lindsey talk about Paris Hilton making lasagna.
5 p.m. — After bopping around on the internet, putting another load of laundry in, and doing some work for classroom lessons I have tomorrow, I drive to the grocery store. I check the Kroger app for coupons and get a reusable grocery bag from my trunk before heading in. I buy cranberry-lime seltzer, black iced coffee, and blueberry muffins ($10.77). If I don't have something in the house that both tastes good and doesn't require prep, I will 100% mobile order an iced coffee and piece of pumpkin bread from Starbucks every day on the way to work. It's something I'm trying to work on! $10.77
6 p.m. — I take my laundry out of the dryer and drive to my friend R.'s house for Monday meal. Every Monday, a group of friends from grad school rotates whose house we go to for dinner. It's something I look forward to every week! We eat chickpea tomato peanut stew with rice and toasted pita. Everything is delicious — R. says she got the recipe from Minimalist Baker.
9 p.m. — I stop to fill my tires with air on the way home. When I get home, I fold my laundry and watch Sunday's Real Housewives of Atlanta on nbc.com. #leavetanyaalone

11 p.m. — I round out the weekend with a lil bowl of chips and salsa and two Hershey's nuggets in bed while watching my last ep of Last Chance U. Watching Cheer over winter break opened me up to a whole new world of sports documentaries!

Daily Total: $29.66

Day Three

5:30 a.m. — Start pressing snooze.
6:10 a.m. — Get out of bed, shower, dress. Take my muffin and iced coffee with unsweetened almond milk on the road. I buy almond milk because it lasts longer in the fridge than cow's milk and is the cheapest non-dairy milk. Writing this down makes me rethink — I do know about the environmental implications of almonds. Everything is so complicated… but I succeeded in avoiding Starbucks!
7:25 a.m. — Arrive at work. It's a whirlwind of classroom lessons, administering state tests, a few individual sessions, and consulting with teachers and parents. We have a staff meeting after school. I eat a brownie.
3:45 p.m. — Leave work. On the way home, I stop by a (different) library to pick up some more children's books. I start out my drive listening to Whitney. It makes me feel too wistful so I put on DaBaby. Can't decide if I want to lesson plan when I get home or get up early and do it.
4:45 p.m. — Home! Cut up a potato, toss it with olive oil and lots of salt and pepper, and stick it in the oven. I eat the potato with green salad but only half the amount I intended. The lid came off the plastic container while I was shaking the dressing around and half of the salad flew all over the kitchen. It's when things like that happen that I have to remember all the impulse control skills I preach to the elementary schoolers. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
11:45 p.m. — Well, the rest of the day was a waste. Over the course of six hours and the first six episodes of The Circle, I fall asleep, wake up, eat a muffin, and wash a load of towels. Hopefully, tomorrow will be more productive.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

6:40 a.m. — Finally out of bed after far too many snoozes.
7:05 a.m. — Out the door. Today is not a day I can resist the siren call of Starbucks. Pleasantly surprised to see I have $4.61 on the app and 50 stars so I can order my venti iced coffee with non-fat milk and pumpkin bread without spending new money!
7:30 a.m. — Arrive at work. Today's another testing day and classroom lesson day plus double duty because I swapped for scheduling reasons yesterday.
4:30 p.m. — I leave work after some good chats with coworkers. I love coworkers! I realize that I need to get moving though — F., K., and I have a dinner reservation for 5:15 p.m.
5:15 p.m. — I arrive at the restaurant after stopping home for a quick change. The host and I chat about working in schools and being tired. F. and K. arrive soon after me. Even though we're at a brewery, I feel like a cocktail. I order a tequila one from the menu but the waitress tells me they're out of the grapefruit necessary so I get a margarita. It's restaurant week, so we each get three courses for $30. I order a charcuterie board as my starter, salmon for the main dish, and a cheesecake mousse thing for dessert. We all try each other's starters — F. gets butternut squash arancini-type balls that taste like churros and K. gets fried alligator. TBH, I'm not into either of them. My salmon tastes great but our desserts come out while we're halfway through our mains so I rush to finish. By the time we're ready to eat the desserts they're all melted anyway. It's a weird vibe and our server seems mad at us but we're all too weenie to tip less than 20%. ($44.70 with tip). $44.70
7:30 p.m. — F. and K. drive back to park at my apartment and K. comes in to pee. We walk to a nearby bar to play trivia but there aren't any tables open. We go to a different bar to kill time because tables will open up after the first round of trivia. I buy a beer ($7 with tip) and the three of us play the bar's game of Trivial Pursuit from the '80s. We play a highly adjusted game full of hints but still celebrate wildly whenever anyone gets a question right. K. wins! By the time we go back to the original bar, K.'s friends are there with a table and it's halfway through Round two. $7
10 p.m. — We walk back to my apartment after coming in second which awards…no prize. But we had fun! F. and K. head home and I head in to get ready for bed.
10:15 p.m. — I realize I left my big iced coffee cup at school for the second day in a row… guess I'll be Starbucksing again tomorrow! I'm trying to be more disappointed in myself but truly I'm looking forward to it. I do feel badly about the plastic use though. My metal straw only does so much.
Daily Total: $51.70

Day Five

7:09 a.m. — I leave the house later than I wanted to and also makeup-less. At least I'm showered and wearing a cozy sweater. This diary is showing me that I start the day later and later as the week goes on…not surprising but telling. I put $10 on my Starbucks app to get the day going and pick it up on my way in. $10
7:30 a.m. — Arrive at work. Today, I have to administer twice as much the testing as I did the past two days. Then, a midday meeting has me feeling overwhelmed in a way I haven't felt in a minute. Luckily, I can go outside to recess duty right after. Fresh air and funny kids make me feel better but I'm a little crabbier than usual. I'll use my shining personality to make up for it tomorrow. I also haven't been cracking through my to-do list the way I did before winter break. Could it be… my fault? I remind myself to make a therapy appointment to get grounded.
4:45 p.m. — I leave work and head to Dollar Tree. Every Friday, teachers rotate bringing breakfast for the staff. Tomorrow is my (and another teacher's) day. For some reason, my brain tells me Dollar Tree is a good place to buy plates and napkins but when I get there I realize the plates (logically) only come in packs of 10. I check my Kroger app and realize it'd be more economical to go there. I do buy cotton pads and rubbing alcohol because I will need them at some point ($2.15). I like to dab rubbing alcohol on pimples. I know this is a terrible idea, but it makes me feel clean in the same way that Sea Breeze Astringent did in early adolescence. Can't wait to be 60 years old and have sandpaper for skin. I buy paper plates, paper napkins, and plastic flatware at Kroger ($4.33). If I realized when I was at Dollar Tree that plastic knives aren't usually sold separately, I could have saved a quarter. Damn! $6.48
6 p.m. — I meet my friend, S., at my second Restaurant Week stop of the week! I order their cheapest glass of red. This place has three courses for $30 too — I get the Caesar salad, New York strip with green beans and garlic mashed potatoes, and a Kahlua brownie. Yay, leftovers! I have a terrible habit of cleaning my plate no matter how stuffed I am, which is how I know these portions are huge. We laugh a lot and have a second glass of wine while we eat. S. tells me I need to give people second chances. In theory, I agree. When it's strangers from dating apps, I'm less inclined. ($56.70 with tip) $56.70
8:30 p.m. — I give S. 50 cents for her meter before we walk around the mall. S. buys a sweatshirt from Homage and we browse West Elm. I imagine what it would be like to decorate my entire apartment with their stuff. For a minute it feels beautiful but then I realize it would be pretty bland, even for a basic gal like me. $0.50
9:30 a.m. — I head home listening to the “Songs to Sing in the Shower” playlist on Spotify. Once home, I order a ton of bagels and cream cheese from Panera to pick up for breakfast tomorrow ($45.96). My cohost is bringing fruit and will end up Venmo-ing me for whatever is half of the bagels, fruit, and paper products combined. For now, we'll count it as mine. I wash my big iced coffee cup and fill it up for tomorrow, then head to bed and futz around on the computer until way too late. $45.96
Daily Total: $119.64

Day Six

6:10 a.m. — Up! I get ready quickly and head out to pick up the bagels. I make it one block before I realize I left my coffee in the fridge. Turn around because I can't let myself down AGAIN!
7:05 a.m. — I arrive at work and set up the bagels. Feel like it's going to be a loooong day.
3:45 p.m. — Leave work with some leftover bagels. It was actually a good day and went surprisingly quickly! I got to see a lot more students individually today than I did the rest of the week which made me feel productive and also like I'm doing my actual job. I ate a plain but toasted chocolate chip bagel and a cookie from a teacher throughout the day. I swear I eat vegetables sometimes! Since I'm babysitting tonight on the same side of town, I try to kill time after dismissal. I don't want to waste gas by driving home but eventually, I have to get out of the building. It's Friday!
4:30 p.m. — I get home after hitting up the library to pick up my hold on Conversations with Friends. I eat my leftovers from last night and start working on my tax return (TurboTax's free version). I have my W-2 but realize I haven't received any 1099-INTs or my 1098-T. I am the type of person to do my taxes ASAP. I want that refund! Honestly, I'll probably just put it in my savings.
5:45 p.m. — I leave to go to babysit. I don't babysit a lot anymore, but I do love this family. I've nannied for them the past two summers and the kids are so great!
12 a.m. — I have so much fun with these kids — I haven't seen them since July so it feels good to get to be with them again. We eat frozen pizza while asking each other a million questions, play a board game, and watch Hook. I stay an hour after the parents come home just catching up. I make a brain commitment to stay in better touch with this family because I have so much fun with them. Back at home, I eat half an untoasted asiago bagel, wash my face, and get in bed.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8:45 a.m. — Some noise from the unit downstairs wakes me up. I respond to a funny text from the mom from last night, turn over and go back to sleep.
12 p.m. — That's better. Because I know myself and know that I never get enough sleep on weekdays, I try to let myself wake up naturally at least once a week.
12:45 p.m. — I finally get up-up and fix an iced coffee and plain bagel toasted with chive and onion cream cheese. I take it back to bed and eat while watching Real Housewives of New Jersey. I am very cognizant of crumbs, don't worry.
2 p.m. — Every day I track my expenses in a spreadsheet. I spend some time looking at my budget and pay my credit card bill ($1,594.19). I pay my bill in full every month and track charges as I make them, so this does not count as an expense. This statement is higher than usual. It includes some holiday purchases, a few group purchases that I was Venmo-ed for, and a plane ticket to Europe. My lovely school breakfast cohost also happens to Venmo me $15.88 for yesterday.
3 p.m. — While scrolling through Instagram, I see an advertisement for a charcuterie mini-workshop happening next week. I send a link to my friend L. who replies, “so are we going?” I confirm with her and then buy two tickets ($35.10). She'll Venmo me half. $17.55
6 p.m. — I leave my house to go hang out with S. I go a little bit out of the way to stop at Trader Joe's. I buy a big bottle of sparkling water, sweet potato chips, and milk chocolate-covered pretzels for us to snack on ($6.27). You always need a sweet and a salty! My gas light goes on while I'm driving there. I'll deal with that later. $6.27
11 p.m. — We watch four episodes of Dirty John and eat snacks. This show is so unsettling. I didn't realize it was based on true events until after the first episode. While watching the second, I read the six-part LA Times report about the events… I am terrible at waiting to find out what happens. Such a twist though! On the way home, I stop by a gas station to remedy the gas light situation but am kind of on edge from the show. I only fill up partially ($15.12). $15.12
11:40 p.m. — Home, sweet home.
Daily Total: $38.94
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