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A Week In California On A $190,000 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.

This week: a software engineer who makes $190,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on an Apple Watch leather strap.
Occupation: Software engineer
Industry: IT
Age: 24
Location: California
Salary: $190,000
Assets: HYSA: $67,000; 401(k): $16,321; investments: $27,830; RSUs: $15,000
Debt: $40,000 (federal student loans)
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $3,900
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: $1,750 (This is for my share of the rent. I live in a cozy 1BHK with my partner and we split the rent 50/50.)
Monthly Loan Payments: $500 (federal student loans)
All Other Monthly Expenses:
Utilities: $100 (my half)
Internet: $30 (my half)
Mobile Phone Bill: $28 (my share)
Netflix: $7 (my share)
Medical Insurance: $88
ASPP (Associate Stock Purchase Program): $140
Dental Insurance: $16
Vision: $5
401(k) Contribution: $331 (My company provides a 1:1 match on my contribution.)
Loan Payment To Parents: $600 (My parents gave me $40,000 to help me with the fee for my first semester during my master’s, so I started paying them back in December last year.)
Yearly Expenses:
HBO: $75
Peacock: $25

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?
One hundred percent, there was no question about it. I was raised in India in a very academically competitive environment. My parents encouraged me to take my studies seriously and through school, I was at the top of my class. My parents also attended higher education and are accomplished in their respective fields. When I decided to take up engineering in India, my parents were extremely supportive and funded my undergraduate expenses (roughly $25,000). We agreed that when I pursued a master’s, I would pay every penny of the fee myself. My parents have now set up a plan for the repayment, and I am so grateful to them for their support.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We did not talk a lot about money growing up. My parents ensured we were very comfortable and never let us see what they were going through. As I began high school, I started observing more and having candid conversations with my parents. I realized that since my brother and I were academically inclined, they wanted to ensure we did not compromise on choosing a university. We had a very transparent conversation about how much it would cost and it opened my eyes. My parents have always taught me to save money carefully and at the same time enjoy my life, and they would always say the best way to do this is by working hard. That is the principle I live by.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
During my master’s at Columbia I worked as a housing assistant and a teaching assistant for two courses to cover some of the living expenses. Living in Manhattan as a student buried under loans and crushing academic pressure was hard. I made sure to work these on-campus jobs so I would never have to ask my parents for further help. After my first semester (which they paid for), I secured a summer internship — with that money, plus federal aid and part-time jobs, I managed the rest of my tuition fee and living expenses.

Did you worry about money growing up?
We grew up very comfortably. My parents spent carefully but never had to be frugal. They worked extremely hard to ensure that me and brother’s education expenses were secured, and we never felt any pressure for money. However, as I grew up, I realized the sacrifice it took on my parents’ behalf — my dad worked abroad and lived by himself for two years and my mom stayed back with us so he could earn more money to cover our tuition fees. As an adult, I understand how hard this must have been on them. They never let us know what they went through.

Do you worry about money now?
Occasionally, yes I do. I know I am comfortable now and my partner earns very well, but when we look at housing prices in the Bay Area it makes us so tense. Our parents do not live in the States and we know that we want to take care of them when they are older, so we need a big-enough house. Such discussions make me extremely anxious so I tell myself to work on saving as much as I can now.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible at 21. I started my master’s straight out of undergrad (which I completed in India), so my parents helped me initially. The shift from my city in India to Manhattan was crazy. For the first year, I would constantly convert everything from US dollars to Indian rupees and thought so much about spending every single dollar. This has changed recently, and I have grown more confident since I started my job and now earn a stable income. My partner earns more than I do and we both support each other in every way to help when needed. He is my safety net in the US. I know I can always turn to my parents but I hope that does not happen — I don’t want to burden them financially at this age.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents paid my entire fee for my undergraduate expenses ($25,000), which I am so grateful for. They also helped with $40,000 for my first semester at Columbia, and I am currently paying them back this amount in installments.

Day One

9 a.m. — Woohoo, it’s the weekend! My partner R. and I head out on a run. I am wearing a lululemon sports bra and leggings. We love gymming together and are trying to get into running. It is a gorgeous day outside and the run is SO satisfying. After a good run, we head to our favorite café and order a tiramisu latte, a brown sugar latte, a spinach and feta pocket, and strawberry ricotta toast. Everything tastes divine and we scarf it down quickly. $15
1 p.m. — We’re home and chilling on the couch. It’s slightly chilly outside but bright and sunny at the same time, so we decide to head to the hot tub. I slip into a cute bathing suit I bought from Amazon a few months ago. We live in a community with an amazing gym, hot tub, and a bunch of other cool amenities, so it’s very nice and accessible. We splash around in the hot tub for about an hour before my skin starts to get wrinkly. I decide to hop out while R. stays back for a bit. I feel so relaxed and at peace. We head home and I wash my hair while R. prepares lunch with rotis, paneer curry, and a salad (he is an amazing cook). After his shower, we sit down to eat and I end up eating way more than I had intended to because this meal SLAPS.
3:30 p.m. — It has been a while since I have felt this relaxed. Last year, I went through a bout of depression and got severe anxiety after a bad incident at my workplace. After that, I was in a rush to switch jobs and started feeling “stuck” that I wasn’t making any progress. I have been at this company for the past one and a half years, and through therapy and lots of support from my family and R. I have come to realize that I was not lazy, and that it’s okay to take my time to make a switch. I have slowly started preparing and studying to change jobs. With all these thoughts racing through my head, the veil of calm lifts away and I feel slightly anxious again. R. suggests taking a nap so I cozy up with him on our couch and nap away. I am not usually one for naps, but on occasion I love cuddling with him and letting go.
5 p.m. — You know it’s a good nap when you wake up with lines on your face. I slowly wake up and look at R. I thank my stars every day for meeting him. He is so sweet and supportive of me, I love this guy so much. I look at the clock and — oops! — realize we need to head out to our friend J.’s place for game night. After a quick shower, I do my usual skincare — rose water toner, niacinamide drops, vitamin C serum, and a light moisturizer. I used to have severe acne so I try to stick to basics and clean makeup. I slap on some blush, eyeliner, and Summer Fridays lip balm in brown sugar (which is nice, but not very tinted). I call J. to check on the vibes for tonight and decide to wear black cargo pants, a rust-colored tank, and a loose cream one-shoulder sweater with my favorite Jordans. We head out to J.’s place where we meet our other friends, too. We order some good Indian food. $20
1:30 a.m. — After a long night of games and chatter, we head home at around 1:30 a.m., and with great effort, I wash my face, apply moisturizer, and hit the bed.
Daily Total: $35

Day Two

8:30 a.m. — I wake up from a deep slumber and roll out to do my usual morning routine — brush, face wash, skincare, then drink some lemon water. I’m not sure if it helps, but it makes me feel great so I’ve been sticking to it.
10 a.m. — I put on some flared lululemons with a sweatshirt and R. and I head out to our favorite park for a walk. We grab a coffee each: I get an Americano (I am usually a sucker for sugary strong coffees) and R. gets a cappuccino. $5
11:30 a.m. — Both R. and I love plants and have a bunch of them at home. I have been looking for a string of hearts for a while but have not been able to get my hands on any, so we head out to Home Depot. We don’t find it there either but I find a cute jade creeper, so we get it and head home. $2.50
2 p.m. — For lunch, R. and I have an assortment of leftovers from the week. Emptying leftovers gives me so much happiness. We end up eating some rice, lentils, sauteed veggies, and yogurt. After that, we curl up on our couch and watch Curb Your Enthusiasm (love this show!).
5 p.m. — It is such a struggle for R. to get up once we plop on the couch but after some time I get super anxious and restless if I don’t move around and do something productive. I jump up, shower, make coffee for both of us and force R. out of his sloth-bear mode. R. and I do almost everything together, including grocery shopping; doing even mundane stuff with him is so much fun and he makes me laugh all the time.
6 p.m. — We head out to Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries. We end up buying a bag of mixed greens, cauliflower, strawberries, blueberries, eggs, almond milk, coconut water, kombucha, coffee brownie ice cream sandwiches (these are to die for!), canned beans, sourdough bread, wine, pasta sauce, frozen palak paneer, and chana masala. We try to do the majority of grocery shopping here and visit the Whole Foods in our neighborhood for the day-to-day items to keep the grocery bills low. $50
7 p.m. — Back home. Grocery shopping gets tiring but I am pumped to do meal prep. I make some chickpea curry, oatmeal-banana breakfast bars, and a salad, and box them up. I stand corrected: This is what is tiring. R. does his meal prep (I am a vegetarian and he isn’t, so we meal prep some meals together and some separately), and we finally sit down to catch a break.
9 p.m. — We’re exhausted and don’t want to claw into the meals we have prepped for the week so end up ordering some soulful South Indian food and devouring it. We watch TV for a bit and then I switch to reading the book for this month’s book club. Fall asleep by around 11 p.m. $20
Daily Total: $77.50

Day Three

7:45 a.m. — It’s Monday. Have I mentioned that I hate Mondays? My biggest motivation to meal prep (aside from the obvious reason, lol) is so I can get into the weekday zone. Because of how relaxing weekends are, I find it challenging to context-switch back to the weekdays at times. I wake up, brush, skincare, lemon water, and sit down to study by 8:15 a.m.
10 a.m. — I try my best to complete at least four problems on LeetCode these days, to get into the zone of interview prep. I usually have breakfast at 10 a.m. and call my parents and brother. Our conversations always last at least an hour. I munch on my meal-prepped protein bars (they’re okay, not so great) and work on the side. Mondays start out slow at work so I start getting pinged at around 11 a.m.
1 p.m. — Aah, I need a break already! For lunch, I have the chickpea curry I had prepped, while R. has some chicken over rice. We watch Curb Your Enthusiasm for a while then get back to our desks to work.
3:30 p.m. — After hitting the midday slump and battling sleep for what feels like forever, we go on a walk outside. R. and I love walking and keep looking at all the dogs playing around in the park. We want one of our own some day, but only when we are more comfortable financially. We talk about our goals for this week and I talk to him about my job prep and instantly feel calmer. We also discuss the upcoming week, plan out some things, then head back home.
6 p.m. — I finally wrap up work. For a pre-gym snack, I blend a packet of frozen acai with almond milk, collagen, and berries. It tastes okay-ish but, well, I need the protein and my life is a constant struggle to strike a balance between protein, calories, and taste. We head to the gym and I put on my favorite podcast, Normal Gossip. It is so funny and makes my bones tickle, lol. Today is leg day so I need to get in as many laughs as I can.
7:30 p.m. — Back from the gym. I have dinner plans with some of my friends from undergrad today so I take a quick shower, slap on my usual skincare, do a winged liner, some eyebrow tint, and a light lip tint. I wear a cute white tee with an embroidered bagel that I got from A&F with some black chinos. I give R. a kiss before I head out to meet my friends. I take his car (we both use his since I don’t own one).
8:15 p.m. — I am meeting one of these guys after four full years so there is SO MUCH to catch up on. We head over to an Anglo-Indian pub I frequent (they have amazing food and even better cocktails). I order a veggie burger and we split some chili-cheese naan and mac and cheese bites. We walk around and catch up on so much and since my friend is visiting, I offer to drop him off. I received my license only recently (super late, I KNOW), so this is the first time I would be driving a significant distance without R. in the car. I manage to drive him home safely and then head home. I am greeted by a sleepy R. $40
11:30 p.m. — I hug R. and give him the tea from dinner, lol. After I change and freshen up, I apply some lip balm, retinol, and moisturizer, and try to get some office work done. Lights out by 12:30 a.m.
Daily Total: $40

Day Four

8 a.m. — I don’t feel like waking up just yet so I roll back and continue sleeping until 8:30 a.m. I finally force myself to wake up and see R. in the kitchen, brewing his tea. Usual morning routine, and today I need to hop on a few morning meetings so it’s goodbye to LeetCode for the day.
10 a.m. — R. heads out to the office but I WFH on Tuesdays, so I grumpily say bye, sit in my chair, and stare at my plants for a while. My family calls in a few minutes and I snap out of my zone. I grab the protein bar I prepped, talk to them, and continue work.
1:30 p.m. — Finally feel hungry and ready to take a break. I heat some bread with a paneer curry that was leftover from last week and it’s mouth-watering! I send a picture of my lunch to R. (I always do when I am not eating with him) and watch TV for 10 minutes before I head back to my desk again.
5:30 p.m. — R. is back from work. I take a much-needed break, talk to him about his day, and eat a slice of bread with peanut butter and honey (a match made in heaven) before heading to the gym with my podcast on.
7:45 p.m. — Back from the gym. Phew, did a bunch of running today and I feel great. I chug my protein shake — I use vegan protein powder with 50 superfoods from Orgain. It is slightly pricey but is a bang for your buck if you are looking for a yummy non-whey protein powder that does not upset your stomach. Take a shower, attend a few night meetings, and finally sit down.
9 p.m. — For dinner, R. and I share the salad I prepped over the weekend and watch Modern Family. We laugh so much our stomachs hurt. I have a production deployment tonight which means I have to stay up until 2 a.m. to make sure that once my code is in production, the system does not break. We do this at night to cause minimal impact on customer traffic. R. as always is a total sweetheart and offers to stay up with me. At about midnight, I see that he has dozed off on the couch and implore him to sleep comfortably in the bedroom. I stay up until the deployment is complete and join him at 2:30 a.m.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

8:45 a.m. — I feel sore and tired. I work from the office on Wednesdays and Fridays and I usually enjoy going into the office but today I am beat. I wake up, brush, and hop into the shower to wash my hair. Once I am done, I slather on moisturizer, do my usual skincare, and apply Trader Joe’s coconut serum on my hair while blowdrying it to tame the frizz. It smells great and is super effective.
10 a.m. — I put on a beige full-sleeved top with light pistachio-colored pants from A&F. The fit is so flattering, I am in love! I do my usual makeup and grab the overnight oats that R. prepped for me last night. R. subscribes to Oats Overnight and I pay for some extra packets sometimes. Today, it’s mocha dream and it truly is a dream — if you’re a sucker for coffee and are a protein fiend (this has 20 grams) like I am, do give it a shot!
11 a.m. — I sit to work and am instantly pulled into a mountain of meetings. I finally get free at 2 p.m. and along with my team, head to the cafeteria for lunch.
2 p.m. — I get a salad with mixed greens, black beans, farro, banana peppers, jalapenos, sauteed cauliflower and broccoli, parmesan, and tortilla strips, and top it off with a cilantro-lime dressing. Food at work is subsidized so I get huge salads and keep myself full while I toil away. $10
5:30 p.m. — Woohoo, time to head home. R. picks me up on the way back from his office. As always, we update each other on our day. I feel exhausted but power through and after a quick pre-gym snack, head out to do some light cardio while watching Love Is Blind. I got into it only two days ago and am still on season 1; so far it’s funny and entertaining. I am a sucker for listening to or watching low-stakes drama (or in this case high stakes?).
7:30 p.m. — After the gym, we head to Whole Foods, which is just a three-minute walk. One of the reasons our rent is so high is because our apartment complex has several services and food outlets. It’s nice to be able to walk and get things done. Being former New Yorkers, the dramatic shift to relying on cars was a huge learning curve, but the move to our new place has helped us strike a nice balance. While at Whole Foods, we grab some whole milk (for R.), hummus, chamomile tea, and flatbread. The bill comes to $40, and we split it evenly. $20
8:15 p.m. — Back home, showered and with one protein shake down, I plop on the couch while R. heats dinner. We watch Modern Family while eating and retire early to bed. I try to read my book but fall asleep very quickly. It’s lights out.
Daily Total: $30

Day Six

8 a.m. — Usual morning routine, feeling unusually non-grumpy today. Sip on my lemon water while I do some LeetCode and then start work at around 10 a.m. I am feeling super productive so I decide to postpone the family call today. I munch on the protein bar while I tackle a task at work.
12 p.m. — Finally, get up and catch a break. I heat the last serving of my chickpea curry with some bread and warm R.’s food, too. I have plans for the afternoon so I have a light lunch. After some time, I hop into the shower and get ready to meet my friend. I am taking a half day at work today.
2 p.m. — I wear a black and white cropped tank from H&M with some flared pants and put on my regular makeup. I grab my water bottle, a giant shopper, put on my white Nikes, and head out. I am so excited to meet my friend after a long time and can’t wait to go shopping with her (she lives in Texas and is visiting Cali). I have a lot of friends here but I miss having girlfriends around with whom I can do things like getting my nails done, going shopping, and having cute Sunday brunches. The ones that live nearby are not interested in any of this stuff, so I wait around for my friends from undergrad to visit so that I can do this stuff with them.
3 p.m. — Woohoo! I pick up my friend, S., and after lots of hugging, we head out to the mall. We update each other on our lives while window shopping, which is one of my favorite things to do. After a long day of visiting possibly every single store at the mall, I end up buying a beautiful green dress, a baby blue halter top with a light shimmer, and my favorite moisturizer from Bath & Body Works. We also end up getting a coffee and split a cookies and cream mochi donut and a cheese tart, yummmm. $130
7 p.m. — After a long shopping haul, S. and I head to a Thai restaurant that she has been wanting to try. We are joined by M. and her boyfriend, V. We all sit down and order a lot more food than we can eat, talk endlessly, and have a great time. We realize that we have a bunch of leftovers and just split the takeout. The restaurant is pretty cha-ching but if we’re getting two meals each out of it I guess it’s not so bad, eh? $40
11 p.m. — I am beat. My heart is so full and happy, I love days when I’m tired but I know it was completely worth it. I show R. all the stuff I bought and even try them on once again (isn’t that the best part of shopping?). R. preps overnight oats for both of us and after the usual nighttime routine, it’s lights out by 12 a.m.
Daily Total: $170

Day Seven

8 a.m. — The weekend is so close. I feel relaxed just thinking about it. I wake up in a good mood, put on Normal Gossip while I brush and do my morning routine. I hop into the shower since today is work from office day. I wash my hair so it takes a little longer and by the end of blowdrying my hair, I am dehydrated and tired. Washing long hair is not for the faint-hearted.
9:30 a.m. — After chugging a whole bottle of water, I finally feel more at ease. I put on a black sleeveless turtleneck with grey straight pants. I pair this with a black oversized coat which has become a staple in my wardrobe, along with black pumps. I put on my usual NYX eyeliner, Rose Inc cream blush, Kosas eyebrow tint, and Maybelline lip gloss. I grab my tiramisu-flavored overnight oats and R.’s mango-flavored oats from the fridge and we head out to work.
12 p.m. — I juggle between attending meetings, completing tasks, finishing my oats, and making weekend plans. I have been looking to buy a leather strap for my Apple Watch and finally bite. I order a cute one from Quince. This is my first time shopping on their website so I’m not sure what to expect. My former roommate, B., who also did school with us, hits me up and says she’s coming over for dinner. We’re super close so it’s usually low-key dinners with a lot of wine and takeout. $30
1:30 p.m. — I somehow manage to get some work done before heading to a team lunch. As always, I grab a giant salad and scarf it down with some no-sugar iced tea. I am particularly hungry today, not sure why. $10
5 p.m. — After getting through an exhausting Friday (the work hours for Fridays should not extend beyond 3 p.m., imo), I head home with R., who picks me up as always. We chat for a bit but I feel a little down so I am quiet for the most part.
6 p.m. — Pre-gym snack, freshen up, change, and off to the gym. Today I am doing abs and cardio (my favorite). I put on Normal Gossip which usually gets me in a good mood and do an intense session today. I feel so great afterward and am looking forward to meeting B.
7:30 p.m. — R. is still at the gym, so I head to Whole Foods to buy a few things for dinner tonight. I am making a pizza at home so I pick up pizza dough, tomato pesto, fresh burrata, and green peppers. B. is bringing some wine and we already have a few bottles at home, so I grab a beer for R. and head back. $20
8 p.m. — After showering and my usual routine, I slip into cozy PJs and B. walks right in. She sits by the kitchen island sipping on her wine and chatting away while I make the pizza. I have done this before so I am familiar with the process and it doesn’t take too long. When R. walks in, B. and I are buzzed and laughing a lot for some reason. I picked out a movie earlier today for us to watch but I have a feeling that’s not happening.
9 p.m. — The pizza is done and it smells heavenly! We sit down to eat and the pizza SLAPS. We continue chatting through the night and after several glasses of wine, B. is not sober enough to get home so she crashes at our place. R. makes up the bed for her in the living room and we go to sleep giddy, tipsy, and content. I am walking a samoyed (he is an absolute cutie) tomorrow and am super excited. What a week it’s been, I’m grateful that the weekend is here.
Daily Total: $60

The Breakdown

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