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A Week In Michigan On A $60,000 Salary

Photo: Courtesy of Dairy Queen.
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 scientist who makes $60,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a Dairy Queen cone.
Occupation: Scientist
Industry: Biotech
Age: 27
Location: Michigan
Salary: $60,000
Net Worth: ~$6,000 ($2,200 in checking, $13,300 in savings, $5,600 in investments, $12,000 in retirement, minus $27,000 in federal student loans).
Debt: $27,000 in student loans.
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,911
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $702.50 (I share a two-bedroom with a roommate).
Student Loans: $300 (my loans are on pause but I pay what I can).
Gym Membership: $10
Spotify: $10
Phone: $45
Health Insurance: $0 (thankfully, my plan through work has no premium).
Utilities: $60-$70
Retirement Contribution: $750 (15% of my income, my company doesn't match).
Savings Contribution: $400
Investments: $100

Annual Expenses
Car Insurance: $850
Renter's Insurance: $140
Streaming Services: $140
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. My parents and I never discussed the option of me not going to college. I was always considered a "bright kid" and excelled at science. I applied mainly to state schools and received about half the tuition in scholarships at the school I chose to attend. I took out about $15,000 in federal loans and then my dad paid the remaining amount. Later, I transferred to a much more expensive school, got some more scholarships and took out another $17,000 in loans. My dad paid the rest using a combination of his own funds and a now-generally-considered-a-scam life insurance policy my parents took out on me as an infant. He and I have a complicated relationship and I've never dared to ask what the total amount of money he ended up paying for my education was.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We had almost no conversations about finances. Both my parents worked full-time in tech jobs but rarely talked about money, saving or investing. By the time I was a teenager, I had realistic expectations about what we could afford and didn't ask for things super often so any need/want I had from my parents was usually granted with no discussion.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was as a cashier at a pizza place in town when I was 16. I got it mainly because I thought it was my responsibility at 16 to have one and I hated asking my parents for money. The minimum wage was $7.25 and my paychecks almost entirely went to gas and fast food.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No. We grew up middle class and I rarely felt concerned about my parents' finances. My sibling and I both had used cars we didn't purchase ourselves, traveled internationally for exchange programs in high school, and my mom took us and a few friends to the beach for a week every summer. I had friends who weren't as lucky and tried to feel thankful.
Do you worry about money now?
Sometimes but not as much as I used to. I use budgeting apps to loosely stay on track and have enough to save and contribute to retirement every month. In 2022, I was able to double my salary as a result of some strategic (and lucky) job-hopping and I feel a lot more secure now than I did a few years ago. Now, I feel I could financially recover from a mid-tier emergency like needing a new car or being unemployed for a few months. As a result of making not very much money for most of my 20s, I sometimes feel behind for my age and wish I had made enough money to invest earlier. If I could go back in time, I would have chosen a course of study that could lead to a more lucrative career. I'm worried about adjusting my budget for the next leasing cycle, when I plan to move out into a one-bedroom apartment on my own and my rent will increase a few hundred dollars.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
My parents paid for half my rent while I was in college. Shortly after graduation, I moved across the country to live with my sibling and started working full-time. That was when I considered myself financially independent from my parents, although I remained on my mom's health insurance until I turned 26. I think that if something were to go very wrong in my life, both of my parents would be able to help me out at least a little. I haven't had to ask them, thankfully, but I am very grateful that it could be a possibility and I think that contributes to my general ease with my current situation.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My dad sold our childhood house a few years ago and gave my sibling and me $3,000 each of the proceeds. Last year, I closed a life insurance policy and got about $10,000 back from it, minus taxes. To this day, I don't really understand how the plan worked.

Day One

6:30 a.m. — My alarm wakes me up from a dream that takes me several disorienting seconds to determine was not real. I lie in bed until the last possible moment and then force myself to get up, wash my face, run some water through my hair and put on some face moisturizer with SPF and Boy Brow from Glossier. I am not usually up this early but I had surgery two months ago and the only slot that my physical therapist had available consistently was 7 a.m. twice a week. Luckily, I rarely feel tired in the morning when I wake up for these sessions so the hardest part is just getting out of my cozy bed.
8:45 a.m. — I am convinced my PT wants me dead. After an hour and a half of horrible, evil (necessary) exercises, I settle up with the front desk for today and Tuesday's sessions ($30 copay each) and head down the street to work. I microwave some apple cinnamon protein oatmeal and eat it at my desk while planning my day. $60
1 p.m. — I have an experiment to do that I was pushing to finish before my afternoon therapy appointment but I don't have enough time to analyze the results. Boo. I eat a string cheese and a small bag of chips from work's snack supply as I head into an empty office with my laptop and take my therapy session. My copay is $20. $20
2:45 p.m. — After therapy, I analyze the results of my experiment and make a few PowerPoint slides to share in a meeting next week. I watch half an episode of Barry on my phone while eating a tofu, caramelized onion, spinach, tomato and goat cheese pasta dish I meal-prepped and brought in for lunch. I have some administrative work I could do for the rest of the afternoon but I'm feeling pretty lazy and will probably just stare at a populated Excel sheet until it feels appropriate to leave.
5:15 p.m. — I get home from work, do some dishes, take out the trash and then lie on the couch and read some horror short stories from an anthology I checked out from the library.
7 p.m. — My roommate, V., her boyfriend, E., and I take turns making dinner for each other once a week and this week it falls to me. We call this Taco Tuesday although it rarely happens on Tuesday and we've yet to make tacos. Until now! I make chicken tacos with mango salsa and black beans. I'm thrilled because both my mangos and my avocados are perfectly ripe for this meal. As we sit down to eat, I see my upstairs neighbor getting home from work and shout through the window to invite him in to join us. He comes in bringing an apple pie and we all eat. It comes out great and I feel very proud.
8:30 p.m. — We decide to trek down the block to the corner store and buy an overpriced pint of vanilla Ben & Jerry's to go with our pie. I venmo V. for my portion as well as for some house toiletries she picked up today. We get home and enjoy pie and ice cream while watching some Bridgerton, which I've never seen. V. goes to bed and I torture everyone else by putting on some YouTube videos. Everyone leaves by 10. I don't often feel tired at night but aim for nine hours of sleep so I try to be at least in bed by 9:45. This is a crazy night for me. $8
Daily Total: $88

Day Two

7:40 a.m. — My alarm goes off but I hear my roommate in our shared bathroom so I lie in bed scrolling until she leaves. I take a quick shower, put in my contacts, brush my teeth, apply a face serum and moisturizer with SPF, and put on my Boy Brow. I then get dressed and chat with my roommate for a few minutes before I head out the door for work.
8:30 a.m. — At work, I discover I left my wireless headphones at home and I have to use my wired earbuds like a caveman. Wah. I listen to an audiobook of Gillian Flynn's Dark Places while checking the results of an experiment I set up earlier in the week. Thankfully, it looks like it was a successful run. I do some tedious lab work and tidy up to get the lab ready for the weekend.
10:45 a.m. — I make a decaf cappuccino in the kitchen and eat some shortbread and a scone someone made and brought in before heading into a meeting.
12:30 p.m. — A very nice rep from a large scientific supply company calls me and we negotiate on the price of a new piece of equipment for my lab. He gives me a generous discount and I think about telling him I love him before hanging up and working through a huge pile of paperwork and doing some document revisions. Science is not always glamorous.
2 p.m. — My colleague interrupts my lunch of pasta meal prep and a clementine to let me know several packages came in for me. Unfortunately it's nothing fun, just some lab supplies I ordered in bulk. I unpack them and try my best to organize the supplies, then head over to a weekly one-on-one meeting with my boss. After, I grab a string cheese and another piece of shortbread.
4:45 p.m. — I get home from work, do my PT exercises, then cut up the remaining ripe mango I have left over from dinner yesterday. I snack on that and some white cheddar popcorn while I finish my short story anthology.
7 p.m. — My neighbor, H., and I walk downtown to a local cidery to play card games. Like me, H. also went through a breakup recently and we've been spending a lot of (purely platonic) time together commiserating. His friend K., who I really enjoy hanging out with, joins us. I order a flight of cider using a prepaid gift card I got for my birthday and pay for a full-size drink and tip on my own later. $9
10 p.m. — V. and E. ended up joining us at the cidery and I convince (manipulate?) everyone to walk to the 24-hour diner so I can get a late dinner. I order a grilled cheese and French fries and immediately sober up. I also pay for E.'s order of fries even though I know they'll never pay me back. K. and I exchange numbers on the sly and we make plans to hang out again. V., H. and I walk home and watch an episode of Abbott Elementary. I make it into bed around midnight. $16.53
Daily Total: $25.53

Day Three

11 a.m. — Ugh, I sleep in way too late and it feels like I've ruined my day. I get up, change my sheets and take a shower. The trash smells terrible so I take it out and do some dishes. I make scrambled eggs and half a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, as well as lots of water. While making breakfast, I see a centipede scuttle across the floor. I let out an involuntary yelp and dramatically kill it. The start of spring means the return of my least favorite bugs.
12:30 p.m. — Several months ago, I enrolled in some homesteading classes through a local community center and I have a soap-making class today. I drive there and drop off an online shopping return at UPS on the way.
4:30 p.m. — The class is interesting but I am paired with a somewhat grouchy older woman who does not find me charming at all. I had hoped there'd be some folks my age that I could befriend but most of the attendees are in their 60s. Regardless, I leave cradling a small bag of grapefruit-scented soap that definitely looks homemade. I eat an apple and a string cheese I packed as a snack and decide to stop by the Humane Society to do an hour of volunteering since it's on the way home.
4:45 p.m. — Bummer. I pull into the Humane Society and realize they close at 5 today. I head home instead.
5 p.m. — When I get back, I check the mail and see an invoice for $153.48 from some old therapy sessions I had before I set up autopay. I write a check to mail tomorrow, pop an individual-size bag of popcorn, light some candles and lie in bed. Since my surgery, I've been less active than I've ever been in my life and it's driving me bananas but I know that I was a little too strict with my exercise routine before and am hoping this will help me find a healthy balance. I start a new sci-fi book I got from the library called A House Between Earth and The Moon but put it aside after a few minutes to take a nap instead. $153.48
6:30 p.m. — I wake up and do my PT exercises. V. and E. get home and make dinner, shrimp scampi with gnocchi. They invite me to join them and I do, but make a mental note to eat a vegetable tomorrow. I drink a seltzer water and V. says she wants to watch Bones and All, which surprises me because she hates horror and gore. We rent it on Prime under my account ($5.99) and V. venmos me half. $2.99
10:30 p.m. — V. predictably did not like the movie, I thought it was fine. We chat for a little and H. comes home and knocks on our door to chat. I love having neighbors I know and a roommate I'm close with but tomorrow I need some solo time. V. and E. go to bed.
12 a.m. — I kick H. out. I've been slacking on my nighttime skincare so I wash my face and apply a chemical exfoliant and a lightweight moisturizer. I stare at my face in the mirror for a few minutes, inspecting it for wrinkles, then brush and floss my teeth and crawl into my fresh clean sheets. I set an alarm for 9 so I don't sleep in like I did today and turn off the lights by 12:30.
Daily Total: $156.47

Day Four

10 a.m. — My alarm goes off at 9 but I torture myself for an hour in the form of 12 five-minute snoozes. Finally I get out of bed, take a shower and put on my skincare. I'm going to walk downtown this morning and it's a sunny day so I supplement with some Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen on my face for extra SPF. I tidy up the kitchen a little from last night's dinner and make some scrambled eggs to eat. I do my dishes as well as some from last night and then bundle up to brave the cold. I call my mom on my walk into town.
11 a.m. — I get into town and go to a tea shop. This was a favorite haunt of my ex and me so I hold my breath when I enter in case he's here, but he's not. I order a pot of jasmine pearls tea ($6) and pay using a prepaid gift card. I settle in at a table and do some journaling and then read my sci-fi book.
12:30 p.m. — My stomach starts rumbling so I switch to listening to my audiobook and walk back home in the sunshine. I heat up the last serving of my pasta meal prep and eat while making a grocery list. I still have lots of chicken taco meat and mango salsa from Taco Tuesday so I think of a meal I can make for work lunch that incorporates those leftovers and decide on taco salad. I also will get ingredients to make dinners for a few nights. Since I moved to Michigan, going to the grocery store is positively postapocalyptic. Stores are consistently understaffed, understocked, only have self-checkout lines open and are run like the Wild West. I take a few reusable bags and drive over.
1:30 p.m. — Okay, it's actually not that bad of an experience today. I get everything on my list and even find some of my more expensive items on sale. I get an avocado, a red bell pepper, romaine, cilantro, strawberries, apples, bananas, broccoli, two packages of frozen wild-caught salmon, rice, two cans of black beans, Greek yogurt, kettle corn and three cans of probiotic soda ($62.78). I unload everything at home, change into an outfit I don't mind getting nasty with cat hair and drive to the Humane Society to get some volunteering done. $62.78
3:30 p.m. — Volunteering is awesome. I leave in a great mood and am not even annoyed when I realize I forgot to grab ginger and have to go back to the grocery store. I also get carrots and two more probiotic sodas since they're on sale ($7.42). As I'm driving home, I tune into an interesting episode of This American Life and continue listening to it while I thaw salmon for dinner, make a marinade for it and meal prep taco salads. I clean up, then I snack on a banana and peanut butter. $7.42
5 p.m. — I reapply my face sunscreen and head out for a walk along the river while listening to my audiobook.
5:45 p.m. — I'm starving when I get home and promptly make a dinner of honey ginger salmon, steamed broccoli and rice. It comes out just okay and I eat it while drinking a probiotic soda. I clean up and lie on the couch watching Succession while eating a Rice Krispies Treat.
8:30 p.m. — V. gets home and joins me on the couch. I change into pajamas and cut up some strawberries to eat. I do my skincare (a face serum, a retinol and a lightweight moisturizer), brush my teeth and move into my bedroom around 9:15 to read. It's lights out by 10:15. I'm having trouble sleeping so after an hour I take a children's melatonin gummy, which I use maybe once every three months and believe is mostly a placebo for me.
Daily Total: $70.20

Day Five

7:30 a.m. — I wake up a little before my alarm goes off but my roommate is in the bathroom so I can't make productive use of my time. When she leaves 20 minutes later, I'm running late and don't have time to shower. In lieu of a proper scrubbing, I run some water through my hair, apply my skincare and Boy Brow, brush my teeth and get dressed. I almost forget my lunch and have to run back in to get it.
8:30 a.m. — I arrive at work and see two emails requesting my presence at meetings and an audit this week. I send back an email with my availability and package up a piece of demo equipment to return to its supplier. I brew some herbal tea and eat a banana and a mini Clif bar before heading into a day full of meetings.
1:15 p.m. — All of my meetings are running long and I'm feeling sleepy and unfocused. I wish I had eaten a more satisfying breakfast! Immediately after thinking that, I double down on poor food choices by making a chaos meal out of a fig bar, chocolate, and a cheese, dried fruit and nut snack pack during a break to try to quickly boost my energy instead of waiting an extra hour to eat my real lunch.
2:15 p.m. — Finally, my meetings are done. I still feel sluggish and tired but now I'm not hungry for my salad. I'll leave it in the fridge and try to do better tomorrow. I take a 20-minute break and scroll on my phone.
3:30 p.m. — Some friends that I have plans with tonight text me to cancel and I feel incredibly relieved. Today is dragging me down and I don't feel like socializing after work.
5 p.m. — I get home and take a 35-minute power nap. My friend calls me when I wake up and I go for a walk while chatting with him. I get back and have some more phone scrolling time.
7 p.m. — I eat one of my meal-prepped taco salads for dinner and drink a probiotic soda on the couch while my roommate watches That '70s Show.
7:45 p.m. — I'm so tired today! I blame it all on the children's melatonin gummy. I take the shower that I missed out on this morning, using a eucalyptus spray to make it extra relaxing. Once I get out, I admit to myself that I'm going to be in bed for the rest of the night and do my nighttime skincare as well as brush and floss my teeth. I pack a work outfit to put on after PT tomorrow and lay out exercise clothes to put on in the morning. I light some candles for ambience, change into a big T-shirt and lie in bed to read. I'm asleep by 9:30.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — I'm up for PT. Unfortunately I'm still feeling a little drowsy and have to force myself through an abbreviated skincare routine (no serum and no Boy Brow today, just moisturizer) and a quick teeth brush before getting dressed and hitting the road.
8:45 a.m. — My physical therapist adds another three exercises to my list and I admit defeat by telling them I have to leave before I finish them all. I have an experiment scheduled for today and tomorrow that I've been dreading for months and I want to get it started ASAP. It's lengthy, difficult, super sensitive and easy to fail. When I get to work, I make some apple cinnamon protein oatmeal to eat while I review the protocol one last time. Once I'm done, I wash my dishes and head into the lab. Wish me luck!
2 p.m. — Day one of the experiment fails, which is the pits. It's still valuable and necessary to keep going and complete day two but I'm sure I'll feel like it's a waste of my time when I'm doing it. However, I know what went wrong and am already thinking of ways to improve it. I do some stretching and eat my leftover lunch from yesterday while watching an episode of Bob's Burgers on my phone.
2:45 p.m. — After being hyper-focused at my lab bench for four hours, I'm finding it hard to stay on task and take several breaks from my desk work to read the news and apartment-hunt on Craigslist and Zillow. I look up some CSAs for the summer but decide against signing up as I go to the farmers' market almost every weekend from May to October and can buy produce there.
5 p.m. — I get home and watch the season finale of Barry while making salmon, rice and broccoli for dinner. It comes out slightly better than last time but still not my favorite meal I've ever made.
6:15 p.m. — I'm meeting K. downtown at the tea shop. I walk down and get there before her and order a pot of bitter lemon tea and a lavender shortbread cookie ($8.12). We have a great time together, chatting and laughing quite a bit. I'll be thrilled if this turns into a real friendship. $8.12
8:30 p.m. — I walk home. On the walk, my leg brace rips open a hole in the crotch seam of my pants so I'll have to sew them at some point before I can wear them in public. Adversity makes us stronger. When I get in, my roommate is on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, watching That '70s Show. I steal a few handfuls and then head to bed.
Daily Total: $8.12

Day Seven

8 a.m. — It's a gloomy, dark morning and I'm so unmotivated to get out of bed. I lie there scrolling for another 15 minutes before getting up. I put on my skincare, brush my teeth, get dressed and go. I make it to work right at 9 and consider that a win. Thankfully, no one polices my coming and going.
9:15 a.m. — I turn on the water bath to heat up for the second day of my doomed experiment and eat a banana and a protein bar while I wait for it to get up to temp. My banana is perfectly ripe. Everything's coming up Milhouse.
12 p.m. — Good news and bad news! The good news is that this part of the experiment goes much more smoothly and I finish in nearly half the time. The bad news is that it also failed. Because this experiment is tricky, I blocked off tomorrow and the following day for a repeat so this won't make me shift around my schedule at all. I fill out the paperwork for this experiment and submit it for approval and record-keeping.
12:45 p.m. — The company orders pizza for us all to celebrate this month's birthdays and I take a break to eat three slices and half a piece of cheesecake. After lunch, I call my hairdresser and cancel an appointment I had booked for next week. I was going to get my hair bleached but they quoted me $300 and I really don't want to spend that right now. I had to pay an unexpected $400 earlier this month on my car and spending nearly that much on my hair feels unreasonable. I do schedule a cut while I'm on the phone with them.
4:30 p.m. — The rest of the afternoon passes in a flurry of receiving shipments, doing some routine cell maintenance, cleaning up the lab and revising protocols. I make plans with my coworker to get dinner and drinks later tonight and she texts me her address to pick her up. I hate driving to places within walking distance but it's going to rain tonight and now at least she can get drunk while I drive.
6:15 p.m. — I get my coworker and we go to a Mexican place for dinner. It's pretty expensive (when did restaurants start charging for chips and salsa?) so I decide against getting a drink and just stick with food. We split chips and salsa, and I get carnitas tacos and a side of Mexican street corn. $32
9:15 p.m. — We drive past a Dairy Queen on our way out and I see it's finally open for the season. We stop by and each get a small vanilla cone with crunch coat. I pay for both cones ($7.42) and we sit in the parking lot chatting for another hour before I finally drop her off at home. I get back to my place, quickly pack a change of work clothes for after PT tomorrow and immediately fall asleep. $7.42
Daily Total: $39.42
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