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A Week In Chicago, IL, On A $97,500 Salary

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 security engineer who makes $97,500 per year and spends some of her money this week on Lagunitas Hazy Wonder.
Occupation: Security Engineer
Industry: Finance
Age: 25
Location: Chicago, IL
Salary: $97,500
Net Worth: $233,200 (Retirement: $125,200; savings: $100,000 (I know I need to invest most of this money and I've started to several times but I have literally no idea what to do with it); mutual fund: ~$12,000 (set up by my parents when I was a child). I also have $18,600 in RSUs that haven't vested yet so I don't actually have them and didn't include in my total. Minus debt.)
Debt: $4,000 to my parents for college
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,883.19 after taxes and the 25% that I split into my 401k (15%) and Roth IRA (10%)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,300 for my studio apartment (I live alone)
Loans: I save $833/month towards my college loan from my parents but I pay them bi-annually in lump sums
Quip: $5 (every three months)
Amazon Web Services: $5
Electricity: $20 (this will go up once I have to turn on my heat)
Cell Phone: $25 (I'm still on my family's plan for convenience but I reimburse them for my line)
Internet: $47.85
NYT Crossword: $39.95
Last Pass Premium: $3 (as a cybersecurity professional I IMPLORE all of you to set up multi-factor authentication on all of your accounts and to use a password manager so that you never have to repeat passwords)
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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, there was always an expectation that I would go to college. Both of my parents went and I was always a high-achieving student so I felt my whole life that it was important I go to a top-tier school. My parents paid for my college in full, which was an unbelievable gift. When I chose my school, which was way too expensive, a part of that agreement was that I would pay my parents back $40,000 for part of my tuition. They wanted to be sure I had some financial responsibility, but they really eased me into it because I don't have to pay them any interest. I started paying them back eight months after I graduated college, once I had been working my first job for a few months and had gotten somewhat comfortable with my finances. I pay them in lump sums twice a year and will pay them the last $4,000 that I owe them in May or June.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents always talked about the importance of saving money and they opened a bank account for me when I was a kid. Whenever I got money for birthdays or Christmas, it went into that bank account. Money conversations were fairly high level, but I definitely was taught to save every penny that I can. One of my parents' favorite stories involves them "saving beyond their means" right after their wedding and eating one meal a day so they could put a down payment on a house.
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What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started babysitting for family friends when I was 13 and did that all through high school. My first job in an actual workplace was at a frozen yogurt store the summer before I started college, but they paid me cash under the table so I'm not sure if that fully counts either. My first on-the-books job was as a dishwasher in the dining hall freshman year of college, which I did three to four nights a week because I was very stressed about how much money my parents were paying for school and I wanted to help however I could.
Did you worry about money growing up?
I am generally an anxious person, so I definitely worried about money growing up even though it was largely unwarranted. I always thought we didn't have much money because we were never allowed to get anything from the ice cream truck. Turns out my parents were just frugal and didn't want us to waste money on overpriced Spongebob pops with gumball eyes.
Do you worry about money now?
I only have myself to take care of and I have a good emergency fund built up, so I don't worry so much about having money right now but I do worry a lot about how to manage my money and ensure I will have enough saved for the future.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
My parents paid for my tuition, room, and board through college and I was only responsible for my personal spending. Since I graduated, I have been responsible for all of my expenses except for health insurance. I am still on my parent's health insurance since it doesn't cost them anything extra to include me in their policy. I pay for any health-related fees that are not covered by insurance. So I am not fully financially independent still, but once I turn 26 this summer, I will switch to my own health insurance through my job and be truly on my own. I know that if I had some kind of financial crisis, I could move back in with my parents and live in eternal shame, but they would be able to support me for as long as I needed.
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Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My dad's parents started 529s for each of their grandkids and paid for one semester of my college, which was amazing. My parents also opened investment accounts for me that I found out about when I turned 21 (included in net worth above).

Day One

6:45 a.m. — I stayed over at my boyfriend's apartment last night, so I get up and get ready (brush my teeth and wash my face with my boyfriend's Neutrogena face wash) so that I can walk back home before work. My boyfriend, G., walks me halfway and then heads home. I listen to The Daily during the rest of my walk.
7:15 a.m. — I get back to my apartment and notice the toilet seat is up in the bathroom. G. almost never does that, so I immediately assume someone is in my apartment and get ready to dial 911 while dramatically whipping open the two closet doors that I have. Luckily my apartment is very small so there are not a lot of places to hide, and I text G. to tell him that leaving the toilet seat up almost gave me a heart attack. I putz around until I work up the courage to start working.
7:45 a.m. — I turn on my laptop and check my emails from the weekend. My company is pretty good at work/life balance, and I only have one message from my overzealous boss on Friday night which is okay that I missed. I have some leftover chia pudding and then a bowl of cereal to start my day.
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1 p.m. — I love eating late lunch because it makes the afternoon feel shorter. I heat up some chorizo black bean soup that G. and I made over the weekend, adding Fancy Mexican Blend Shredded Cheese from Trader Joe's and crushed up tortilla chips. I have no idea what makes the shredded cheese "fancy" but I am all for it. I eat at my little WFH desk and browse the internet instead of doing any work while I eat.
5 p.m. — I have been really struggling to motivate myself at work for the last couple of months and I technically accomplished all that I absolutely need to today, so I turn off my laptop right at 5. Earlier today I realized that I missed my parent's wedding anniversary over the weekend, so I give them a call while I go for a walk to stretch my legs. It was their 28th anniversary!
6:30 p.m. — After I get back from my walk, I Facetime my brother. We talk for a long time and catch up. I am very close with my brothers, but we are all terrible communicators so it's really nice to talk to him.

8 p.m. — I call G. while I chop up a sweet potato into a sad imitation of potato chips and bake them in the oven. I munch on those "chips," then heat up some more soup and throw in some leftover quinoa that I have. I eat while I catch up on This Is Us, my guilty pleasure show, and yes, I shed *several* tears.

11:30 p.m. — I watch apartment tour YouTube videos and look up and suddenly it's 11:30. I brush my teeth and hop in bed to read a couple of pages of The New Jim Crow. It is an incredible book and it feels like every page contains a statistic about mass incarceration so crazy that everyone in America should be panicking about it. But here I am, reading it several years after it came out and somehow being surprised by America's racial inequality. It is a really well-written book and I highly recommend it.

Daily Total: $0
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Day Two

7 a.m. — My alarm goes off on my smart speaker and starts playing The Daily podcast while I begrudgingly get out of bed. When I crack the blinds, I see that it snowed last night! This improves my morning significantly because I love the snow, so I get ready quickly, transfer the podcast to my phone/headphones, and head out to stomp around in the snowfall before work.
8 a.m. — The snow is absolutely glorious and I make some fresh tracks on the sidewalks around my neighborhood. I reaaaallllly miss skiing, where I normally get to enjoy the snow at its finest, but I am not going on any trips this year because of COVID. Snowy walks will have to do. I do some dishes that were crusting in my sink to put off working for a little while longer, then I open up my laptop.
9 a.m. — I make some toast and slather it with almond butter to eat before my first meeting of the day. All of my calls are generally video calls, so I don't really eat on them. I have, however, let go of any other illusions of composure that I maintained when I was working in an office. My company has been remote since March 15 and I stopped wearing make-up and "business" clothes on March 16. Today, I am rocking blue leggings and a black t-shirt I got for free in college. Luckily, my team is 90% old men (hello technology industry) and they don't seem to notice.
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1 p.m. — I take a break from procrastinating my work to have lunch! Quelle surprise, I heat up more chorizo black bean soup with fancy shredded cheese and quinoa. It is delicious and I have no regrets about this repeat meal cycle. I have some carrots too.
4:20 p.m. — My big meeting is done and it was a minor conundrum rather than the major disaster that I was expecting. Thrill of thrills! Now that I am done with meetings, I decide to beat the evening rush and head to Trader Joe's.
5 p.m. — There is no line at Trader Joe's, a pandemic miracle, and I take the long way home to walk through some more snow. I pick up cannellini beans, corn salsa, veggie burgers, frozen elote, garlic hummus, dried mango slices, a package of biodegradable sponges, broccoli, a cucumber, red bell peppers, a loaf of bread, tortillas, and more fancy shredded cheese ($41.58). After I put my groceries away, I sit down on the couch to get a little bit more work done. $41.58
6:30 p.m. — Done with work and I change into exercise clothes. I am NOT an exercise person but I love lots of activities that require you to be in decent shape so here I am. I watch an episode of Criminal Minds while I work out to distract myself.
7:45 p.m. — I chop up another sweet potato for fake chips and take a shower while they cook in the oven. It feels like bad oven safety to take a shower right now but it also feels EFFICIENT so here we are.
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8 p.m. — I start the new season of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist while I eat. I did not like the show at all when it first started but I got sucked in by the surprisingly raw emotion and now here I am shedding tears. I guess I'm having a sad TV show kind of week. I eat some more quinoa to supplement my paltry dinner and then a bowl of cereal because I'm not feeling like actually cooking.
12 a.m. — After 20 minutes or so of reading, I turn off the lights and pretend I am asleep for an hour until I actually fall asleep.
Daily Total: $41.58

Day Three

7 a.m. — The usual morning lineup. My alarm goes off and I listen to The Daily while I slowly get ready for the day. I'm feeling a bit achy from my workout so I do some yoga to stretch out before I sit like a crumpled-up shrimp in my desk chair for the next eight hours.
9 a.m. — I mix some frozen raspberries and chia seeds into greek yogurt with honey for breakfast, wait a few minutes for the chia seeds to get soft, and eat at my desk before the first meeting of the day starts. Most of my work is independent, so I actually look forward to meetings to an extent because it means I get to interact with people and get feedback.
12 p.m. — I am ravenous but I have a meeting starting in just a few minutes, so I eat a rice cake with almond butter to tide me over. Luckily, my meeting ends early and I heat up the last of my leftover soup to enjoy for lunch. I'm glad this is the last of it because I am finally getting sick of eating the same thing.
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4:30 p.m. — Morale is low. I have more work to do but I am not feeling it so I eat a pickle to motivate myself. I am able to focus for a little bit and I work for another 30 minutes.
5:45 p.m. — I do a 30-minute workout from the Nike app. They made the app free at the beginning of the pandemic and it is extremely helpful to me because I don't have to come up with exercises on my own. I watch Criminal Minds while I work out and once the episode is done I start cooking dinner. I throw some frozen falafel from Trader Joe's in the oven to warm up and then I chop up red onion, red pepper, and a cucumber. In my mind, this will all mix together into some sort of cucumber salad-type thing. Unfortunately, the lid to my balsamic vinegar absolutely will not come off. I attack it with a corkscrew and just drill right through the metal top. I wouldn't say the end meal is especially authentic or delicious but it fills me up and that's what counts.

8 p.m. — I jump in the shower after I eat dinner and then turn on the TV to watch Outlander. I didn't leave my apartment at all today, which in normal times I would feel bad about, but since it's a pandemic, I guess I am just doing my civic duty. Not all heroes wear capes.

Daily Total: $0

Day Four

7 a.m. — My alarm goes off and I sit in bed for 10 minutes listening to The Daily until I feel awake enough to start getting ready. It is 11 degrees outside today so I put on leggings and a thick pink sweater. I haven't turned my heat on because I get a decent amount of residual warmth from all of the apartments around me, but my apartment is 63° this morning and I need the bulky warmth of my sweater. I eat some toast with almond butter before logging on to work.
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12:30 p.m. — I ended up being on calls all morning, so I am glad to have a break. I have some leftover cucumber whatever-it-is mixture from yesterday, so I take the tape off the hole in the top of my balsamic vinegar bottle and pour some onto the veggies for my lunch.
3 p.m. — I am actually being kind of productive this afternoon?? This is a pleasant development.
6:45 p.m. — I've got a bug in my code that I can't work out, so I decide to call it quits for the night. I call my grandma to say hello. My grandpa passed away pretty unexpectedly two years ago and she has been really lonely, so my cousins and I each have a day of the week to call her. She tells me that she has an appointment to get the vaccine! This is a massive relief. While we chat, I pack a bag and head out to walk to G.'s where I will have dinner.
8 p.m. — G. meets me a couple of blocks from his apartment and we walk the rest of the way together. My grandma is very concerned about me walking in the dark by myself and asks me before we hang up if G. will "walk me home later tonight." I lie and tell her that he will. I am actually sleeping over, but she doesn't need to know that. Sorry, Nana!
10 p.m. — After having some lentil soup and watching two episodes of How to Get Away with Murder, we climb into bed. He goes to bed so early all the time and I adapt to his schedule when we're together because I know it is healthier to get a full eight hours.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Five

6:45 a.m. — G. has fancy smart light bulbs that wake you up by slowly getting brighter and simulating the sunrise, and I LOVE them. Alarms are so harsh and sunrise is so gentle. We get up and get ready, then head out for a walk before work. The sun is coming up over the water and you can see a lot of the city skyline from the path, so I stop and take a picture. This is such a glorious way to start the day.
8 a.m. — We return to G.'s apartment and have bowls of Lucky Charms for breakfast. I ADORE Lucky Charms. Then we both sit down to work at his apartment.
12 p.m. — I am technically done with work! Our company started giving us half days on Fridays when it became apparent that everyone was on the brink of losing their minds. I am beyond grateful and usually do take the full afternoon off. Today, however, after a quick break for more lentil soup, I keep working because I have good momentum and also a new bug in my code to wrestle with. I taught myself Python two years ago for my previous job, and I still feel like I have big gaps in my knowledge, but I really enjoy it and a pernicious bug is one of the few things that can get me to willingly work overtime.
4 p.m. — I shake off my internalized capitalism and decide to stop working. G. is in grad school and has been working on homework most of the afternoon, but now that we're done, we decide to do a quick workout. Before we work out, I mix the ingredients for pizza dough and start G.'s bread maker. We've been having pizza Fridays for the last couple of months and I am a big fan.
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5:15 p.m. — Workout is finished and we join a Zoom call with some of our friends to play Scattergories. We found a good online version and it's a fun way to burn a few hours. We have a few beers each, assemble our pizza and pop it in the oven, then once the Zoom is done, we eat dinner and have some more beers.
8 p.m. — I hop in the shower after dinner, G. showers after me, and then we turn on How to Get Away with Murder. We are obsessed. My dad texts me that another snowstorm is expected to hit Chicago tomorrow afternoon. Classic dad weather report.
11:30 p.m. — We tear ourselves away from HTGAWM so that we can go to sleep because, although we are on the edge of our seats, we are also tired.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

8 a.m. — I wake up sans-alarm but still earlier than I would like. G. wakes fully up and sits at his laptop to do some schoolwork, but I laze in bed and try to finish the NYT crossword from yesterday on my app. I make some good progress but I'm stuck on three clues! Maddening.
9 a.m. — G. makes toast and we each have two slices with butter and jelly for breakfast along with some yogurt and granola. I am dogsitting for my friend today, so while we eat, I check the balance of my Ventra card. I load it with $10. $10
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10 a.m. — I convince G. to hang out at my friend's apartment while I dogsit, so we hop on a bus and I pay with my Ventra card. Once we arrive, we take the dog on a walk. I miss my childhood dog so much (he is a perfect angel and lives with my parents) so dogsitting is very welcome.
11 a.m. — After we get back from our walk, the dog settles down for a snooze and we turn on HTGAWM, of course. G. places an order for Panda Express on Uber Eats. I Venmo G. for my half. $23
2 p.m. — I take the dog up to my friend's roof where she can run around off the leash. She is an angel puppy and I throw her toys for her and generally have the time of my life.
5 p.m. — G. and I take the dog on another walk after sitting around for a couple of hours. As promised in my dad's weather report, it has started snowing, so we have a great time marching about. We have enough leftover Panda Express for dinner, but I don't want to drink all of my friend's beer, so we close out our walk with a quick trip to the liquor store. The dog and I wait outside while G. goes in and grabs a six-pack of Lagunitas Hazy Wonder. I Venmo him for my half. $6.50
11 p.m. — We take the dog on one last walk before heading back to G.'s apartment for the night. We can only leave her alone for eight hours or so overnight so I want to make sure she empties her tank, so to speak, before we leave. I love nothing more than late nights walks in quiet snow and I am truly so happy.
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12:30 a.m. — G. and I finally get a bus back home ($2.50 but I pay with my pre-loaded Ventra card) and I run a quick load of laundry before we go to bed. My apartment building has paid laundry in the basement but G. has in-unit, so I do most of my laundry by cramming it into a backpack and walking it down to his apartment. It is extremely inefficient, but it is free so I'm all for it.
Daily Total: $39.50

Day Seven

7 a.m. — My alarm goes off and I jolt awake. I hate alarms on weekends but that poor dog needs to go outside so I drag myself out of bed, grab my laundry out of the dryer, and head out the door. It feels too early to consider eating. There is SO MUCH SNOW outside that I have to wait in the road for the bus to come because the sidewalk is knee-deep. ($2.50 off my Ventra card.)
7:45 a.m. — I make it to my friend's apartment after trudging through quite a lot of snow. This is my first winter in Chicago and it appears that they only plow the main roads. All the residential streets have over a foot of snow, and at this hour, they really haven't been shoveled at all. I walk in tire tracks down the middle of the road so that I can walk easily. The dog and I set out for an absolutely electric morning walk in which she poops not once, but twice, and dives headlong into the snowbanks every chance she gets. We are passed by a man who is cross-country skiing and I am thrilled with the whimsy of it all.
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9:30 a.m. — After returning from our walk I am Extremely Hungry. There is far too much snow to consider a quick walk somewhere for food, so I steal one of my friend's Pepperidge Farm bagels. This is a sign that I am truly desperate because as a native New Yorker, I am a bagel snob. This affront to bagelry fills me up though, so I am grateful. The dog and I settle in to watch some TV and get warm again.
11:30 p.m. — My friend texts me that he will be home by 3. In normal times, I'd wait around and see him, but since he's just been with a bunch of people, I want to head out before he gets back. The dog and I suit up for another walk. We see lots of kids sledding down a teeny tiny hill in a park. They are blissfully unaware that the hill is teeny tiny and I wish I had a sled myself.
12:45 p.m. — I head out from my friend's to go back to G.'s apartment. I check the Ventra app for updates and the next bus is 30 minutes away and I am sad. It's still snowing very hard and I make the most of my wait by constructing a miniature snowman next to the bus stop. I strongly consider going into Walgreen's across the street to buy myself a snack, but I give myself the "we have food at home" talk and hold off.
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2 p.m. — I finally make it back to G.'s apartment and devour a lot of Goldfish while I heat up some leftover pizza. We watch a couple of episodes of How to Get Away with Murder while I eat and then decide to head out for a walk. It's been a big walking weekend, but the snow is gorgeous so it is worth it. We bundle up and walk down to the lake, which has frozen at the edges into huge floes of ice that are bobbing up and down in the waves. It is awesome and wild and fascinating.
4:30 p.m. — We launch right into making dinner after our walk. G. and I have gotten very into somewhat absurdly early Sunday dinners so that there's a long evening afterward where we can relax before work. We cook ground beef and potatoes as well as some rice and squash. G. went to the store this morning while I was at my friend's and bought all the ingredients, so I Venmo him for my half. $15
6:30 p.m. — Once dinner is all cleaned up, I decide to walk home. On the way, I call my other brother to catch up. As I walk and talk, I pass four cars stuck in the snowy unplowed roads and also an elaborately constructed igloo right on the sidewalk. It's extremely impressive and I love the effort.
8 p.m. — Finally I am home! I hop in the shower to warm the heck up and to get clean. Then I grab a ricotta crumb bar, flop onto the couch, and watch two episodes of Outlander. Since I didn't get much sleep last night, I force myself to turn off the TV at 10:30 and climb into bed to read.
Daily Total: $15
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