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A Week In San Francisco On A $133,000 Salary

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
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 scientific researcher working in biotech who makes $133,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a graphic novel.
Occupation: Scientific researcher
Industry: Biotech
Age: 33
Location: San Francisco, CA
Salary: $133,000
Net Worth: $213,818 (checking: $20,207; HYS: $10,404; 401(k): $183,207)
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $3,382
Pronouns: She/they

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $3,045 (This amount is for a one-bedroom apartment with parking. I moved last year, and this is almost double my previous rent, so I’m still adjusting.)
Utilities: ~$30 (This fluctuates and, due to the California Climate Credit, sometimes it’s free, but $30 is about the most I pay.)
Internet: $60
Phone: $30
Health & Dental Insurance: $60 ($30 deducted from each paycheck)
Pet Insurance: $37
Hulu: $15 (I trade this with my mother for Netflix.)
Max: $15 (I trade with friends for Disney+.)
Spotify: $11
Crunchyroll: $8
Patreon: $25 (various)
Southern Poverty Law Center: $10
Transgender Law Center: $5
Annual Expenses
California State Parks Pass: $5
California Academy of Sciences: $129
Monterey Bay Aquarium: $95
Renter’s Insurance: $125
Google One: $20

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. Both parents valued education highly, and it was not even a question as to whether or not I would get an undergraduate degree. Thankfully, there wasn’t a lot of pressure as to what sort of degree. I was able to graduate without debt because my grandparents set up a college fund for me, and I was an overachieving student: I got scholarships that covered about half of my tuition and graduated with two degrees in four years to maximize my time and interests. That said, I was scrambling to pay for the last semester. My master’s degree was more like a paid internship, but it meant the company I worked for paid my tuition and a small stipend in exchange for my labor. I racked up a lot of credit card debt trying to balance everything during those years, though.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
It was a weird mix. On the one hand, my dad didn’t have much money growing up, and once he did have money to spend, he became the sort to buy things without caring how much they cost. He’s almost an example of what not to do with money. My mother, on the other hand, is very careful with money but came from a family and culture where it was considered rude and unnecessary to talk about finances in public, especially with children. So I was taught to save if there were things I wanted, how to write a check, the importance of having a savings account, but not much beyond that. My first overdraft fee in college was certainly a shock, and there’s also an infamous story about one of my first summer jobs. I ended up owing far more money for taxes than I actually had, because no one told me about the difference between being an employee and an independent contractor when it came to tax deductions. When I told my dad that I thought my paycheck was mine and taxes had been deducted already (it hadn’t been), he got mad that I would suggest I had been wronged because no one explained the difference at hiring. So I learned pretty quickly to educate myself on everything financial.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
When I was 16, I became a summer lifeguard and swim instructor at our city pool. I was driving the carpool to school and needed money for gas.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No. Both of my parents worked and had fairly lucrative jobs, although when I was about 12, my mother quit the corporate world and went back to teaching, which is not so lucrative. We were firmly middle-class. When they divorced, there were a lot of questions as to how things would split and what that would mean for the household and for me, but it was never a concern about having enough.

Do you worry about money now?
Sort of? It’s hard not to, living in SF with its high cost of living, but I’m very lucky to have a good, stable job and a breadth of skills that would hopefully mean that if something did happen, I wouldn’t be on my savings for too long. I worry about money more in the abstract than the particular. In my head, my non-liquid savings basically don’t exist as something that can be spent.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Around age 23, when I graduated from my master’s program. I lived with my father at the time, which became unsustainable for a number of reasons, including the four-hour commute to my job. While I don’t get any financial support from either of my parents, I know that if anything drastic happened, I could live with one of them until I got back on my feet. I also have several friends in the area, and while their support would likely not be financial, it would be in big ways that would help me save money.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My mother gave me $3,000 for a down payment on my car, which I’m still driving 13 years later. Both of my parents (my father in particular) have been vocal about spending what they have in their later years, so I have no expectation that money or property will come to me.

Day One

6 a.m. — I’m on call for jury duty this week, so it’s a weird one. I just got back from an international trip, which means my body’s sense of time is off, but especially in terms of my period. Normally, the timing is very regular, but this time around, I narrowly miss a flood of blood onto my sheets. Phew, I didn’t want to have to do laundry yet. But now I’m up before my alarm, which makes my cat think she’s getting fed early. I laze around my apartment and debate the merits of making tea here or at work and eventually settle on just going into work. I used to take the bus, but during the pandemic, I got used to driving and being on my own schedule with flex hours.
1:15 p.m. — To accommodate jury duty, I moved an experiment to today, which means that the rest of my week is pretty lax. I bring lunch because this particular experiment means I can’t leave the lab for more than five minutes for the next three hours. I throw a personal pizza in the toaster oven in the break room and eat in the doorway of the lab as the experiment finishes up.
4:30 p.m. — I check the court site and, to my relief, I don’t have jury duty tomorrow. This is great news, because we hired a new guy, and I’m supposed to have a welcome lunch with him tomorrow. On my way home from work, I stop for gas. $47.50
5 p.m. — I stop at PetSmart for cat litter and cat grass seeds. My cat loves a salad, and I love my houseplants, so having approximately three containers of cat grass growing at all times is our compromise, so that she doesn’t destroy my other plants. $27.50
5:30 p.m. — I make dinner at home, a gochujang and kimchi gnocchi bake with pork and spinach. I cut some of my window-box scallions over the top, and it’s so good and filling. Gnocchi bakes have become a go-to dinner because they’re easy to prepare, and I can mix and match proteins and vegetables.
6 p.m. — During the pandemic, a group of friends set up a weekly movie chat, where we stream a bad movie and all hang out in voice chat and laugh about it. To our delight, we’ve kept it going with a high rate of return, although now we’re doing fewer bad movies and more movies and shows that just bring us joy. Tonight is an episode of The Great British Bake Off, which the international crew appreciates me streaming due to region locking. We always latch onto one or two of the contestants, and I think we have our choices for this season: Tasha and Saku.
8 p.m. — I take out the trash and note that I’m getting low on compost bags. I’m also getting low on Litter Genie liners, so I add them to my Chewy auto-ship order that will come (and be charged to my card) at the end of the month. I settle in with a glass of wine and finish my book, Into the Light, for one of my book clubs. I don’t like it much, but I get most of my books through the library, so at least it doesn’t cost me anything but time. I know most of the group will rave about it; maybe I just won’t go to this meeting. I’ve been reading a lot of books I haven’t particularly liked recently, but my friend has a book coming out next week that I know I’ll like, so there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Daily Total: $75

Day Two

7 a.m. — My sleep tracker (okay, fine, it’s Pokémon Sleep), recorded a conversation between me and my cat during the night. She gets nightmares and often meows loudly when she wakes up, which sometimes wakes me up, and if she’s in the other room, I’ll meow back so that she knows where I am and come cuddle me. After I get ready, I drive into work again. I listen to audiobooks when I drive, and the length of my commute means I usually get through about a book a week. Right now, I’m on Demon Copperhead, which I’m loving, especially in audio form.
9 a.m. — I’ve kept my schedule loose this week because of the whole jury duty thing, so the only set thing I have is lunch with the new guy later. I putter around the lab and start adjusting some things on the new assay I’m working on automating. I’m wearing my Brown Fall Boots™ for the first time this year and realize that the heels are ground down. They’ve already been re-soled and re-heeled once before, and I don’t know if that's something that can be done again. Is it time for a new pair?
12 p.m. — Lunch with the new guy. We go to the cafeteria, and I almost get chicken katsu curry, but the allure of salmon poké is too strong. There’s a good curry place near my apartment. Maybe I’ll get curry there later. My boss gave us lunch cards to cover the food.
2:30 p.m. — After clicking around, I order new brown ankle boots. They’re similar to the ones they’ll be replacing, but just different enough that I’m a little concerned about how they’ll fit. They’re on sale, and I take the opportunity to use a Visa gift card that keeps getting rejected from all of the other online purchases I’ve tried so far. It works fine, so that’s $90 I don't have to worry about.
3 p.m. — When I’m running experiments, I get to read while I wait, but when I’m developing experiments, I get to listen to podcasts. Today, I get through several episodes of Bay Curious, a KQED podcast about Bay Area curiosities and history. KQED is having its annual listener drive, and I’ve been enjoying Bay Curious and like supporting public radio, so I pitch in some money. $20
4:30 p.m. — A friend texted me earlier today to let me know that a re-release of one of my all-time-favorite manga series, Tokyo Babylon, is out today, so I stop by Barnes & Noble to pick up the first book. I can’t not get it, despite the fact that this will be the third version I own (the original Japanese release, the old English one, and now the new English). The re-release is for the book’s 30th anniversary, which does some psychic damage. Time passes, I suppose. $16.48
5:30 p.m. — It’s foggy out and I need to shoot a clip for a Halloween collaboration video I’m doing with friends, so I take advantage of the perfect fall atmosphere and head to a wooded area. The fog and dark trees help make up for my lack of videography and editing skills.
6:30 p.m. — After I’m done, I eat leftover risotto with pancetta, spinach, sweet potato, and scallops in my car. I brought it because I have to go straight to a chorus rehearsal.
7 p.m. — I missed two rehearsals in a row due to traveling, so I’m still playing catch-up on some of the pieces. One of them is in German, which my mouth and throat do not particularly like pronouncing, so I’ve got a lot of practicing to do.
10:30 p.m. — I get home after rehearsal. I’m so glad to have a parking space. Rehearsal ends so late that by the time I’m home, all the street parking is gone. The serving of food I gave my cat earlier was apparently not enough, because she’s sucking up to me to get more. She was going to get it anyway, but I appreciate how sweet she’s being. I’m home so late I race through getting ready for bed.
Daily Total: $36.48

Day Three

7 a.m. — Still no jury duty, and I work from home on Wednesdays. My cat bullies me onto the couch so that she can claim my lap, and I completely forget about breakfast. Sometimes I can set up my tablet without disturbing her, but her current favorite pose is right where it would rest, so that’s out. I read for a couple hours instead. A series I love, Shades of Magic, has a new book coming out called The Fragile Threads of Power, so I’ve been re-reading the original books.
11:30 a.m. — Since I didn’t eat breakfast, I make lunch early: sweet potato gnocchi from Trader Joe’s with sage and butter. I add extra sage, plus chicken to fill it out and make it last for two meals.
2 p.m. — It’s so warm? It’s supposed to be fall and cooling down, but instead it’s hot. Almost nowhere around here has AC, and my place is no exception. The windows are also meant more for light and views than air circulation, but it’s so stuffy because there’s no wind, so opening the windows only does so much. I do it anyway, even if it means my windows are open-open — no screens or anything. I putter around taking care of my plants. One of them has a pest infestation that I’ve been battling for months. The bugs keep hopping around from plant to plant; it might be time to quarantine the infested ones.
4 p.m. — I make a pitcher of iced tea and toss a few sticks of Churu in the freezer for my cat to make treat popsicles to cool her down. I consider going out for dinner later, since I don’t feel like cooking, but that would mean putting on real clothes that aren’t pajama shorts and a muscle tank that says Proud Plant Parent.
6 p.m. — I compromise by putting on a skirt with the plant tank. I go to the sushi place below my apartment. It’ll be expensive, but I haven’t been in a while. It’s run by a husband-and-wife duo who only do sushi, and the fish is always high quality. The husband is the sushi chef, and the wife does everything else, and by the time she takes my order, I’m feeling hungry and splurge: chūtoro, sake maki, a specialty roll, and a bottle of sake. I should have just gotten a beer, especially because she doesn’t give me the cap for the sake bottle, so now I feel like I need to finish it or I’m wasting money. It actually works out well because, by the time she gets back to me to clear my plates, I’ve gotten a decent way through my book, and I’m also tipsy enough to leave a 30% tip. I don’t mind though, I like them a lot. $70
8 p.m. — Oh my god, I’m so tipsy. I try to collate a list of things for a writing exchange I’m doing later this year, but I’m so full of sake that who knows if it makes any sense? I do somehow remember to check if I have jury duty tomorrow. I’m still free.
11 p.m. — Between the alcohol and the heat, it’s hard to fall asleep. My Snorlax is going to be so unhappy this week.
Daily Total: $70

Day Four

7 a.m. — How is it both hot and dark at 7 a.m.? I feel like this shouldn’t be allowed — pick one or the other. Nonetheless, I drag myself out of bed and into work. Team members take turns bringing in breakfast once a week. Today, it’s unexplained pastries. There are some truly gigantic bear-claw-looking things that intimidate me, so I pick the least-dense-looking pastry, which turns out to be an apple doughnut, I think?
10 a.m. — I got myself a fall tea sampler, so I’ve been working through that. Today, I have a raspberry and honey black tea with chili threads. I’m a little obsessed with it and will definitely get more.
12:30 p.m. — I eat the last of the risotto-and-scallops leftovers between timepoints for today’s experiment. I typically eat at the cafeteria or the grab-and-go more frequently, but this week’s menu didn’t spark joy for me, and I have a lot of leftovers to get through in my fridge.
2 p.m. — My mom texts that my aunt wants to meet up this weekend to settle some things and asks if I’ll go with her. Very long story very short: I haven’t seen my aunt in over 10 years, and that’s fine with me, but my uncle (my mom’s brother) died earlier this year, so there are a lot of things to settle, and I refuse to let my mom be taken advantage of or hurt for wanting to keep the relationship alive. So I guess I’m rearranging my weekend plans to go be my mom’s guard dog. My aunt is picking the meeting place. First, she chooses a winery, but then rescinds the idea by saying the wine flights are too expensive (they are: they’re $80). Then, she picks a spa hotel, which also seems expensive. Is this a status thing? I’m now mad and determined to flex.
4:30 p.m. — I get my eyebrows waxed so I can raise them in full force at my aunt this weekend (I had the appointment already, but now I get to put them to good use). $35
5:30 p.m. — I have book club later tonight, so instead of going home between my eyebrows and book club, I hang out with a happy-hour beer at a pub nearby and call my mother. I was ready to completely rearrange my weekend plans, but my aunt agreed to meet on Saturday instead of Sunday. This is especially good because she refuses to drive more than 10 miles from her house, and I was already planning on being in her area on Saturday. I decompress from the call by chatting with the server; we talk about books and writing and reading, which is fun. I’m getting to know most of the staff here. They’re all really nice, so I always tip well. $7.50
6 p.m. — I show up at book club at what I think is the correct time, but no one comes, and I have a small crisis thinking the book club doesn’t exist anymore (it’s a new one, so info is scarce). I order a beer and food with the intent that if I finish the food and no one comes, I’ll go home. Thankfully, I just got the time wrong by an hour, and the organizers eventually show up. It’s a good thing, too, because I’ve eaten an entire basket of free chips out of nerves. $43
7:30 p.m. — The book club is fun, and while none of us particularly liked this month’s read, we're all excited for next month’s. The book is on Kindle Unlimited, and I feel bad about not buying it from the bookstore we’re affiliated with, but I don’t like spending money on M/F romances if I don’t have to. (Side note: My mother and I share a Kindle account, and we’ve made a pact to never mention the other’s books unless we like them.)
9 p.m. — I moved to this neighborhood last year, so I’m still settling in. It’s difficult balancing being an adult who goes to bed early with meeting other adults who also go to bed early on top of busy schedules. Tonight, a few of us hang around after book club, just chatting. I’m the type of person who doesn’t always want to be social, but once I’m out, and things get going, I’m there until the end. My cat is demanding about her feeding schedule, though, so I give her some treats using an app on my phone that connects to my pet camera and treat dispenser. It’s only a little late, okay. My beer order (six beers, dealer’s choice) arrived today. Thankfully, the delivery guy left it at my door instead of taking it back because I wasn’t home to sign for the alcohol. I send him an extra tip, even though the delivery charge includes an 18% tip. $53.45
Daily Total: $138.95

Day Five

7 a.m. — I passed out basically as soon as I got into bed last night (fell asleep with my phone in my hand and everything). I’m free from jury duty today — and for the next two years. I WFH again today, doing a bunch of prep work for next week. The charge for my Horti plant subscription hits. Every month, I get a pet-safe houseplant with a little info about the plant, a pot, and some soil. (The price varies depending on the plant. Today, I’m charged $42.50.) I love it, though I may cancel soon. I have a lot of plants and tetrising them in terms of light, fragility, and my cat’s attraction is getting increasingly difficult. $42.50
8 a.m. — I realize that a girl in the building next to mine moved out yesterday! Not that I could see that much of her apartment, but it didn’t look like she was moving. This means a third of the apartments over there are empty now. I’m feeling nosy, so I look up the building. It turns out the management company is charging a full $1,000 more for those units than in my building, despite the floor plans being better where I live. They do have in-unit washers and dryers over there, which I don’t have (it’s in-building though, which I appreciate), but that’s definitely not worth $1,000 a month. The charge for next week’s meal-kit box hits. I get one every other week to make sure I have vegetables and recipes that call for them. $76.93
12:30 p.m. — I heat up leftover gnocchi for lunch while I watch Our Flag Means Death. I get a very passive-aggressive email from a coworker that kills all motivation to actually work on her project beyond the bare minimum. A lot of decisions were made for me without asking if they were possible, and now I’m feeling uncharitable. Hopefully, I’ll feel better about it come Monday.
5:30 p.m. — I make roast chicken, squash, and Brussels sprouts. It’s delicata squash, so I save the seeds to roast after I scoop them out. They’ll sit in brine for a day or two, and then I’ll roast them once they're dry.
9:30 p.m. — I had plans to play a tabletop role-playing game with friends tonight, but everyone is tired, and the friend who is running it has made herself sick through work stress, so we all play a round of Monster Prom instead. One friend streams it for us, while we give our decisions, and another friend and I do voices for all the characters. It’s very fun and relaxing. I realize at the end that the newest game is out, a road-trip version, which is a favorite trope of mine, so I get the bundle with all three games and DLCs on Steam. $37.76
Daily Total: $157.19

Day Six

8 a.m. — Guess who learned the hard way that the pumpkin spice latte stout I had with dinner has actual coffee in it? I didn’t fall asleep until around 1:30 a.m., kept waking up, and eventually just got up for good. It’s the weekend, and I take a full shower (clay face mask beforehand, exfoliant glove all over my body) and blow dry my hair to prepare for this brunch with my mom and aunt. Mom calls: aunt said the reservation is for 11:30 a.m., but apparently it's actually at 11:15 a.m. Both my mom and I have a thing about being late, so now we’re both stressed, and I’m resigned to doing my makeup in the car as I drive.
11:30 a.m. — I get to the restaurant. My mom and I planned to meet up beforehand to arrive as a united front, but she ran into traffic (and called me three times to worry about it), so it’s just me versus my aunt for now. She already has a glass of wine, and I’m going to need liquid courage for this, so I order a cocktail because none of the wine looks appealing enough to pay $18 a glass. My aunt calls me a lush for having hard alcohol before noon, and I don't know if she’s joking or not.
1 p.m. — The brunch is mostly okay, aside from it being the fakest brunch I’ve ever attended. The only time cracks show is when my aunt makes some nasty comments about my mom not being present for things. My mom won’t say anything, but I’m, of course, on her side, and my bridges are burned, so I comment back snidely. At this point, I want to order a mimosa, but my aunt is on glass number three of wine, and I don’t see this going anywhere good if we’re all drinking that much. We split the bill evenly, to which my aunt comments that we’ll have to meet at a cheaper place next time — even though she picked this place and $60 of the bill is just her wine. Whatever, I’m done. $80
2 p.m. — What I actually had planned for the day: high tea with friends! A tea shop we all love opened a new location, and they have a cute backyard garden area, so we have a lovely time with tea and scones. Well, I get crumpets, but the vibes are the same. I haven’t seen some of these people in years, and unlike my aunt, we stayed in touch. It’s so good to get together again. Someone grabs the bill for the table with the “I’m just going to the bathroom” trick. It‘s been a while since I’ve had to engage in a bill fight. I’m out of practice, but I’ll get her next time.
6 p.m. — One of our friends couldn’t come to tea, so we stop at the art store where she works to say hi. She offers to give us her discount if we want anything at the store, which is very sweet. I don’t get anything, but some others do. I stop for gas on the way home, even though I still have half a tank, because I’m passing the cheapest gas station in the area by far ($4.94 a gallon). $37.65
7:30 p.m. — I’m still very full from tea and no longer full of rage, but I need to eat something more than crumpets before bed, so I boil a handful of pork-and-chive dumplings. My freezer is constantly full of frozen dim sum and assorted dumplings. The charge for one of my wine clubs hits (this one comes three times a year). I’m in three clubs, but I will probably cancel one of them because it’s four bottles four times a year and, aside from the rosé, which I really like, I don’t love the rest. $270.75
Daily Total: $388.40

Day Seven

8 a.m. — I slept so hard last night; I was physically and emotionally exhausted. It’s pouring, which is odd for this area at this time of year. Climate change is taking a toll on us all, but my cat is here to cuddle me. After making tea, I call my mom to debrief yesterday’s brunch. Thankfully, she’s decided not to force the relationship anymore. Oddly enough, however, my aunt texts me (which is hilarious because she swore up and down that she didn’t have my phone number). I don’t know how to respond.
11:30 a.m. — I have brunch with my former roommate and her girlfriend. We lived together for six years, but last year her girlfriend moved here from the East Coast, so they moved in together, and I moved into my own place. We still try to get brunch together once a month. We get food at a place that serves Japanese takes on Thai cuisine. I get soy-milk pho with keema curry, and it’s incredible, if $25. I also get angel-wings-style karaage for the table and an oolong-hai. It’s nice to catch up with them, and their plans have changed, so they may be able to make it to my pumpkin beer party next month. $56.27
1 p.m. — Fall means that rehearsals for my caroling group’s Christmas performance have begun. I’ve been a member of the group since 2015, so I give some advice to newcomers, and we sing for four hours.
5:30 p.m. — Our director brought dinner for everyone, so we sit around chatting while we eat. I probably need a new hoop skirt and bonnet for my costume this year (I made my current bonnet out of a sun hat from Target, and it’s not flattering). I’ll see if the costume shop has one I can rent or if anyone else has one they want to pass off. In the meantime, I go online to get a new hoop skirt, finding a nice cotton one on Etsy. My old one was polyester and didn't breathe at all. $32.24
6:30 p.m. — I stop by Total Wine on my way home. I’d vaguely intended to get more of the Lightning vodka I’ve been drinking sparingly since I got it in 2020 (because I had to have it shipped from DC at the time). I also want to get more pumpkin beer for a pumpkin beer bracket I’ll be running soon. Basically, I collect all the pumpkin beers I can find and host a party, setting up a blind bracket for people to taste and vote on the Best Overall, Most Pumpkin, and Most Fall. So far, I have 12 entries, however, one of my original entries turned out to not have pumpkin in it, so I need a replacement. I get two more. $33.83
9 p.m. — The start of caroling season means I’m going through Throat Coat tea at a furious rate. To each rehearsal, I bring my Thermos that holds over a liter. I make myself one of the remaining bags and sit with my cat on the couch to watch more Our Flag Means Death.
Daily Total: $122.34
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