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A Week In Washington, D.C., On A $77,602 Salary

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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 special assistant who makes $77,602 per year and spends some of her money this week on a frozen margarita.
Occupation: Special Assistant
Industry: Federal Government
Age: 23
Location: Washington, D.C.
Salary: $77,602
Net Worth: ~$50,000 (I am very lucky and grateful to have no debt thanks to my family's help paying for my undergrad degree. I keep about ~$5,000 in my primary checking account and have about $40,000 in short-term savings accounts and a two-year CD with my bank. I know this is a lot to have in a short-term savings account as opposed to retirement, but I am thinking about going to law school and was advised not to bother moving it to a retirement account if I might use it for grad school. I also have a little under $5,000 in an IRA that rolled over from my job with a 401(k) last year, and then just about $2,000 in my TSP that just started with my new government job. I am putting a good chunk of my paycheck into my TSP and the government matches 5%, so I should have about $9,000 in that account by the end of 2021.)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,786
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,805 for a one-bedroom where I live alone
Utilities: ~$200
Renters Insurance: $10
TSP: 12% of my paycheck pre-tax
FERS: 4% of my paycheck
Dental/Vision Insurance: $12
Subscriptions: $25 (Hulu, Disney+, Apple Music, and Google Storage)
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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. Both of my parents have college degrees and doctorates, and while they love me very much and certainly would have been supportive if I had decided I didn't want to go to college, that was never something that I even considered as a real option. My high school was public, but a magnet school, and was very focused on preparing students for college and helping them apply. I went to an Ivy League school for my undergrad and was very, very privileged to have had my parents pay the full cost. I did work throughout college for pocket money, but they paid for tuition, books, room (my freshman year, I was an RA for the last three years) and board, and travel to and from school. My great-grandfather invested in stock for me when I was a baby and it really took off, so that paid for a good portion of my college and allowed my parents to not take out loans on my undergrad education. If I go to grad school, I will pay for it myself.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I didn't have a ton of conversations about money growing up. I have always been a bit focused on budgeting, managing my money, saving money, etc., so my mom taught me how to design a budget and think about those things. She also helped me open my first credit card, my 401(k), and my rollover IRA, and taught me to balance a checkbook (a skill I doubt I will ever actually need) but we didn't talk much about it until I left for college.
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What was your first job and why did you get it?
I was a babysitter growing up for pocket money. My first real job was as a teaching aid at a community theater in high school, also for spending money, which turned into a camp counselor job for a couple of summers. In college, I worked a variety of jobs, including as an RA, at a restaurant, as a research assistant, and in my college's visitors center. Pretty much all of those jobs were just for spending money, except the RA job which paid for housing.
Did you worry about money growing up?
For the first half of my life, my dad was a college professor at a not particularly prestigious school and my mom worked in public health. We got by fine but we were not particularly well off, but my dad did have some inherited wealth from his grandparents, so I never felt worried. As I got older my parents both ended up switching jobs and we became more comfortable. This should have made me less worried, but I also developed an anxiety disorder around middle school and this manifested as me worrying about money irrationally. I would feel guilty if I ordered something expensive at dinner and in college, I would sometimes skip meals so I could save the money instead. Therapy has helped me get past some of that since it was never particularly justified given my family's socioeconomic status.
Do you worry about money now?
Ish. The anxiety disorder is mostly in a good place, but I do sometimes get freaked out that I am not saving enough. I think I have a good lump sum saved up in case of an emergency and my hope is to move more of it into a retirement account at some point in the future if I don't go to law school. But sometimes I still can't help but get the feeling I should be saving more or spending less. I know I spend more than I need to on some things. My rent, for example, could be a lot lower, but I was looking for some very specific features and amenities and I love living alone, so I decided to get a nicer place that makes me happier in my living space and I feel good about that trade-off, mental-health wise. I do worry every once in a while, but I tend to be good at sticking to the budget I set, and looking at it in my little Excel spreadsheet and seeing the net (actual) total number tick higher than the net (projected) number makes me a lot less anxious, even if those numbers are arbitrary ones that I create myself!
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At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I won't lie and act like my parents never help me out with anything now. I live in the same city as them and they will pay for dinner once a week or so when I see them, bring me homemade bread (my dad is a baking fiend), etc. I am also still on both their health insurance (my sister is younger, so it is no extra cost to them currently to have me on the self + family plan) and their family phone plan. But I consider myself to have become primarily financially responsible for myself this year. I had bouts of unemployment in my first two years out of college (I was working on the campaign trail, which meant sporadic employment and living in supporter housing rather than signing a lease) and lived at home as needed. I could always move back if I needed to and certainly have a safety net, but I take taking care of myself seriously and would consider myself financially independent, aside from what I consider some fairly minor exceptions. I am incredibly grateful for the relationship I have with my parents and the support I receive from them. I don't think saying no to their help would make me a better or more well-rounded person but I do expect to become even more financially independent over the next few years.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
The aforementioned stocks from my great-grandfather that helped pay for college and my parents paying for the rest of my undergrad. Nothing else.
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Day One

8:30 a.m. — I wake up at 8:30 on Saturday and it's PRIDE! I text my friend who I'm meeting to let him know I'm up and moving, then jump in the shower, get dressed, and do my morning skincare (a lot of Drunk Elephant) and haircare routines. I get dressed, pack a quick bag with what I need for the day, and head over to my friend M.'s place. It's a 30-minute walk and I get there around 9:45. We get glittered up for the day, take his dog on a walk, and then head over to the coffee shop where we are meeting the rest of our friends. We stop for bagels on the way, and M. buys mine. At the coffee shop, I get an iced vanilla latte for $5.05, and Venmo M. $10 so he can pay someone else something from last night with Venmo balance (this covers the bagel he bought for me and a drink he will certainly buy me later). The rest of our friends trickle in and our big day of Pride is officially underway! $15.05
12 p.m. — Once our group is all there, we start walking towards DuPont — this year D.C. is doing a bit of a watered-down pride parade but I am still expecting the gay bars to be pretty packed. On our way to the circle, we stop at Doi Moi for grab-and-go drinks. I get a watermelon basil daiquiri for $7.70 and a tip. We get to the circle, take some pictures, and people-watch for a bit while we wait for things to kick off. It's crowded but not as crowded as in years past. The organizers of the event do some hyping up the group and then the marching/parade starts. My friends and I decide not to march with the parade, but to grab some food and then head over to bars when they open. We go to Duke's for lunch and I get a grapefruit vodka cocktail and share a BLT with M. Our friend, D., decides to just put her card down at the end of lunch and Venmo everyone later rather than try to split things up at lunch. We pay and then head to JR's (a gay bar) next door since it's now open! $9
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2 p.m. — I get a frozen margarita at JR's for $12 + tip. We hang out at JR's for a couple of hours — yes, I milk my one drink for that whole time. Around 3:45, we decide to move along to our next stop, another gay bar, Trade. M. buys everyone (14 people at this point) tequila shots. I did not want a tequila shot but he doesn't care and makes me take it anyway. We hang out on the patio for a bit — a couple of members of our group trickle off and head home. M. buys me a Truly, which evens out the Venmo I sent him this morning. We hang out for an hour and then decide we are hungry and need a pit stop, but a couple people from our group decide to head to Nellie's (another gay bar!) instead. Those of us wanting food walk to M.'s apartment nearby, and he orders pizza on the way. We eat Domino's at his place and then head out to meet our friends at Nellie's around 6:30. I get a frozen watermelon slushie ($14+tip). $28.50
8 p.m. — We hang out at Nellie's until 8-ish, and then a couple more people head home. The rest of us finish our drinks and head across the street to Dirty Goose (another gay bar, of course). We wait in line for what feels like a very long time to get up to the roof. Some more friends meet up with us! Our friend, S., buys me another frozen drink, but I decide after a few sips I'm really not feeling more alcohol and give it to another friend to finish. Instead, I just drink a plain Coke since the caffeine is really what I need at this point. We dance for a bit but then around 9:30 the music stops, so we plan our next move. We try three places that all have huge lines (Uproar, then an Uber to Number Nine, then Trade). We decide to go back to JR's (it's 10:30 at this point), which has basically no line since it's less popular. They have good music though so I'm not complaining. I'm still not feeling more alcohol so I just get some water and dance with my friends (who do keep drinking).
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12:15 a.m. — We stay at JR's until around midnight. At various points, M. makes out with a 55-year-old, S. gets asked out on a date by a friend of the guy he's currently seeing, and my coworker comes by with his girlfriend. I stick with my water(s) and decide I'm ready to go around midnight. I convince M. not to go home with the 55-year-old and he, S., our friend L., and I head out. We walk to Chicken and Whiskey for some food. I get an arepa with chicken and avocado ($12 + tip). We eat there and S. and L. call an Uber home. I walk the rest of the way with M. and he convinces me along the way to sleep over. I need contact solution to do this, so we stop by 7/11 on the way and I get a mini bottle of solution and a case ($5.99). We get to his place, he takes the dog out, and I get ready for bed. Finally, we go to bed! M.'s bed is extremely comfortable and I pass out in short order. $20.06
Daily Total: $72.61

Day Two

9 a.m. — M. and I wake up at 9, I remind him of the details of the last night (he blacked out), and then he showers and we take his dog out. We walk with the dog to a coffee place near his house, and I buy us both lattes ($10.17). He has brunch plans which I am not joining so he takes his dog home and I walk the rest of the way home to my house. I get home around 10:30, shower, do my skin and hair routines, and get dressed. I watch The Bachelorette, check my work phone and answer some emails, and do some laundry. I also spend some time tallying up my spending from the previous day, since I keep track of it in a Google Sheet. I know I have some Venmo settling left to do for the weekend so the $75 I have already spent does not cover all of Saturday and I should try to take it easy the rest of the week. $10.17
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12:30 p.m. — I head out from my apartment around 12:30 for my wax (upper lip) appointment. I stop at a CVS on the way there to grab some bandages since I'm out and I am known to cut myself shaving ($4.19). It's a 45-minute walk to my European Wax Center, and although it's pretty warm out, I make it a general rule of thumb to walk pretty much anywhere that's under an hour if I am wearing comfy shoes. Get to my appointment a few minutes early, cool off in the air-conditioned lobby, and then get my wax done in just under 10 minutes ($14 + tip). I didn't get any waxing done until I was fully vaccinated, but now I am back to getting my lip done every four weeks and my brows done every six. Everything else I do myself. $21.19
1:45 p.m. — After my wax appointment, I walk to meet a few friends for lunch at Bar Pilar/Hemingway. I'm meeting three friends from an old job. It is great to see them and we are all fully vaxxed so we eat inside. I get a BLT (one of my faves) and enjoy catching up. We split the bill four ways since we all got similarly priced entrees and it's $22.92 including tax and tip. $22.92
4 p.m. — After a long lunch, I meander over to M.'s to hang out on his roof for a bit with the friends we went out with yesterday. Between the three people who bought me food, drinks, and Ubers, I owe another $44 and we all settle up through Venmo while we hang out on the roof. Honestly, could have been worse. I'll bring lunch this week and make up for it. M.'s friends head out around 5, we take his dog out, go grocery shopping, and then our other friend comes over for dinner and a movie. M. and I cook salmon piccata with green beans and orzo (it's delicious if I do say so myself) and we watch The Social Network. $44
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10 p.m. — We finish the movie around 9:30, tidy up, and take home some leftovers from dinner. Our other friend drives me home and we talk about the existential crises we both face working in politics and not really being sure if we're making a difference. She drops me off and I get ready for bed as soon as I get upstairs. Skincare, PJs, Headspace sleep meditation, and I'm out around 10:15.
Daily Total: $98.28

Day Three

5:55 a.m. — Alarm goes off at 5:55. It's an early week of work for me. I hit snooze once, then roll out of bed at 6:05, shower, skincare, haircare, get dressed. Make coffee and some eggs, pack my lunch (PB&J, fruit snacks, veggie straws, and a PopTart), and read a couple of work emails. Do my makeup, finish my coffee, and pack the rest of my bag for the day. I head out around 7:05 for the office, which is a 30-minute walk (and it's nice out)! I drop off a couple of overdue library books on my way in.
7:35 a.m. — I get to the office around 7:35, right around the same time as my boss, whose day starts at 8. I am usually the first one in the office with him, which I like because I get extra face time (and he sees I am a hard worker). Plus, I work well in the mornings and there is always an email backlog for me to get through. Get to work around 7:45 and basically don't take a real break until 10:45.
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10:45 a.m. — I run downstairs to badge in my coworker who is in the office for the first time today! Generally, I go into the office when my boss is in, but this coworker hasn't moved to D.C. yet so they are still remote, but they are in D.C. this week so I finally get to meet them! I show them around and then it's back to work around 11 for what is pretty much again nonstop until 3ish. I eat my PB&J and snacks at my desk while working around 12:30.
3 p.m. — Take a short break to touch base with my Chief of Staff around 3. I have gotten to be pretty close with him since we've all started coming in the last month or so. I want to be a CoS one day and I am super grateful that he really looks out for professional development opportunities for me and gives me helpful feedback. We talk for a bit, then both staff our boss for a meeting with a governor. Then a call with the press where I am the only one staffing him. Team check out at 5, which goes about 45 minutes. Our boss goes home right around 6 with his briefing book and the rest of us tie up a few loose ends and head out by 6:30, which is pretty reasonable for us.
7 p.m. — I walk home from work and get back to my apartment right around 7. I really need to go grocery shopping, but I am also really hungry and tired, and I decide to just go upstairs and make do with what I have in the fridge. I am also feeling kind of anxious about my somewhat messy situationship with my ex who I slept with again recently. I finally bite the bullet and text him a "where's your head at" message. I make some leftover pasta for dinner and turn on the series finale of Younger. My ex responds in a way I find a bit frustrating and I realize it's time to cut the situation off. I'm not sad but I am annoyed I had to force him to say what we both knew was coming.
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9 p.m. — I finish my TV show, deal with a couple one-off work emails that have come through since I got home, and call my friend to unpack the resolution of the saga with my ex. He is supportive and I am reminded that there is nothing embarrassing about being mature enough to ask for communication. Plus, I really do think this dude will regret letting me go (again) because quite frankly I know that I am hotter (or at least, have my life way more together) than him, and it's his loss. I text a couple other friends this update since they were all waiting to see what happened and knew this was kind of at a boiling point this week. Get ready for bed around 9:30 — skincare and read a chapter of my book. Headspace meditation and lights out by 10!
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

5:50 a.m. — I wake up at 5:50, hit snooze once, then get moving at 6. Shower, skincare, hair, get dressed. Make coffee, make eggs, drink coffee, pack lunch (PB&J and snacks), do my makeup. I blare Lizzo the whole time and it puts me in a good headspace and mood after the events of last night with my ex. It stormed last night and I slept great in the rain, which also helped. I head out for the morning right around 7 and call my best friend to fill her in on the events of the night before.
7:35 a.m. — It's not a crazy busy morning, but I am working pretty steadily through the day. My team takes a team meeting from a cafe nearby and my boss buys for everyone, which is nice. I get a mocha and a croissant and leave my thermos of coffee from home mostly untouched. I eat some of my snacks at my desk around 1. Other than a couple of bathroom breaks and a couple of team huddles, I am pretty much at my desk until 6.
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6:00 p.m. — Most of my work wraps around 6. I linger for a bit, chatting with my Chief of Staff about some random things that have come up throughout the day. I have plans to get dinner with my coworker and I text her to come down to our office since my Chief wants to say hi to her. She comes by and the three of us end up chatting for a while, and we invite my Chief to come to dinner with us. I get two arepas and a San Pellegrino ($21.51 with tip). I take half of the second arepa home leftover. I have a nice time with them, and we part ways and all walk home after. $21.51
8:30 p.m. — I walk home and decide to make a quick stop for some urgent grocery needs at the Safeway across the street from my apartment. I am pretty stocked on the basic things I make every day but do need a couple of staples to be able to finish out the week. I grab milk, half and half, tofu, green beans, cold brew, and Luna bars. $22.10
9 p.m. — After unloading groceries and storing my dinner leftovers, I run downstairs to pick up two packages. The first is AirPods a friend mailed me because she has an extra pair and I dropped one of mine in a river nine months ago and still haven't replaced them... very kind of her and very dumb of me. The other is a Nespresso machine we ordered for the office. It is WAY bigger than I expected and I am going to need to Uber to work tomorrow to get it there. Sigh. I head upstairs and answer some work emails while I half-watch The Bachelorette. I also throw a load of laundry in. I'm having a bit of an out-of-weekly-routine week, which is strange for me.
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10 p.m. — I move the laundry to the dryer and decide I will deal with unloading and folding tomorrow. I blow off the last 30 minutes of The Bachelorette to go to bed at a reasonable time. I'll finish tomorrow. Go to bed around 10:15 after putting on a Headspace meditation.
Daily Total: $43.61

Day Five

5:55 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I snooze once, then pull myself out of bed. I do not feel well-rested. I shower, do my skin and hair care, get dressed, and make myself some cereal for breakfast. I pack a PB&J and some snacks and drink a cold brew from the stash I bought last night. I am going to have to take a Lyft this morning because I have this giant Nespresso machine. I do my makeup, down the rest of the cold brew, and call the car ($9.84 + $2 tip). $11.84
7:10 a.m. — I get to work around 7:10, get myself set up for the day, and help my boss get ready for his 7:30 call. He has locked himself out of his computer and our IT guy isn't in yet, so it's a bit of a hectic morning for me. Good thing there's espresso in the office now, at least. My frantic morning does not cease and I work nonstop until noon.
12 p.m. — Get a quick reprieve during my boss's lunch break at noon. I do a dry run of tech for tomorrow for him and then he goes to get food. I eat my PB&J at my desk, scroll through Twitter for a bit, and check-in with the Chief of Staff. Back to work around 1 and pretty much nonstop until 5. I told my boss I would get him out early today. We end our check-out at 5:25 but then there's all this drama about the remarks he had prepared for tomorrow. He still gets out of the office by 5:45 but I have to stay until 7 waiting for the final version of the remarks to come through.
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7 p.m. — I decide to leave at 7:05 even though the remarks still aren't in, I will send them when I get home. I walk home at a brisk pace and am in my apartment by 7:40. I get the remarks on the walk home and send them to my boss from my phone. Once I get home, I change out of my work clothes immediately and get some prep started to make stir fry. While I press my tofu, I catch up on the end of The Bachelorette and The Bold Type. I am officially behind on TV and won't get around to Loki until tomorrow, or maybe even Friday. RIP.
8:45 p.m. — I eat my rice, tofu, and green beans with my favorite stir fry sauce. I finish my TV, check work email, and then come into my bedroom, where I realize I still have laundry to fold and put away. Sigh. Do the laundry, quickly, and then get ready for bed. I wanted to be in bed by 9:45 since it's another early morning, but it's another 10:15 night.
10 p.m. — Do my skincare and other nightly routines, get in bed, and write in my one-line-a-day journal. Headspace sleep meditation on and lights out by 10:10.
Daily Total: $11.84

Day Six

5:50 a.m. — Alarm goes off at 5:50 (I set it a few minutes earlier because I plan to do my hair today). I hit snooze once and then find it particularly hard to drag myself out of bed today. I manage to shower, do my skincare, and decide not to blow out my hair after all, just do my usual curl care. Get dressed, have some cold brew and cereal, pack some lunch (no PB&J today just protein bars and snacks since I'm out of bread). Do my makeup and head out by 7.
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7:30 a.m. — Get to work around 7:30, it's a slightly lighter day for me because my boss is supposed to go on a trip tomorrow and I am not staffing it. Around 10, we realize that the President is almost certainly going to sign the Juneteenth paperwork and we will not be working tomorrow. A mad dash to pull down his meetings and figure out how and when to reschedule this trip.
1:30 p.m. — I'm working mostly nonstop until about 1:30, at which point I walk down with my boss to the cafeteria to ask him which calls he wants to still do tomorrow just to get them out of the way. We walk to the cafeteria and he gets lunch. I just get a soda and some chips ($3.61) since I ate the rest of my protein bar and snack lunch at my desk already. We resolve my questions about tomorrow's schedule and I head back up to my desk where I work for a couple more hours. $3.61
3:15 p.m. — I take a break and go for a walk with the Chief of Staff to Starbucks. We get lost. When we finally find the one that's NOT closed due to COVID, I realize I don't have a mask so he goes in and gets drinks for both of us. I mention Venmoing him but he does not request me or tell me how much I owe, I will follow up tomorrow. We get back to the office and dawdle on our way in. With the holiday there is not that much left for us to do. We wrap work up around 6:15 and I just deal with a few final email threads at my desk before leaving the building at 6:45.
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6:45 p.m. — I meet three friends from a former job for dinner. I get a Paloma and three tacos ($27.78 + tip). After dinner, which is fun, we head back to my apartment and hang out a bit longer. I have some Trulys in the fridge, but I don't really like Truly so I let my friends collectively drain my stash. They finally head out just after 10:30. $33.78
10:40 p.m. — After my friends leave, I watch the new episode of Loki, answer a few late work emails that came through, scroll on social media, do a quick 10-minute ab workout, and get ready for bed. I turn off my morning alarm, put on a Headspace meditation, and hit my pillow around midnight.
Daily Total: $37.39

Day Seven

9:30 a.m. — I manage to sleep in which feels great and is the latest I've slept in probably a month. I scroll on social media for a while after I wake up and then shower, get dressed, and get ready for my unexpected day off. After I get ready for the day, I run to the Starbucks across the street for an iced coffee. I have money on my card already so I am not really *spending* money (I spent it last week when I reloaded my card). I come back to my apartment and answer a few work emails and paint my toenails.
11:30 a.m. — Around 11:30, I eat a Luna bar and then start walking over to DuPont where I am meeting my work colleagues for a no-work-allowed lunch. I am early but decide to stop at the circle and read my book for half an hour or so. Then I walk over to the restaurant.
1:15 p.m. — We get a couple of pitchers of margaritas to share and I have a couple of tacos. Another coworker from our office shows up around 2:30 to join us. We get more pitchers and more chips and salsa. Around 4, I wonder how long the lunch is going to go, and then my boss picks up the check for everyone, generously.
4:45 p.m. — My coworkers and I all head out around 4:45 after thanking my boss profusely and full of frozen margarita. My coworker who is my age and I decide to hang out on my roof. I order us an Uber to my place. It's more expensive than it should be ($25.04 including tip) which I guess means it's rush hour for people who worked today. We grab Trulys and some snacks in my apartment and head to my rooftop, where we snag a big table. $25.04
5:30 p.m. — My coworker is extraordinarily friendly and makes friends with a couple of women walking by us on my roof with a bottle of wine. They end up sitting with us and we chat for a few hours. They are extremely nice and I need friends in my building, especially ones who don't work in politics. We exchange numbers and when I realize they are ten years older than me I am disappointed that we probably won't be best friends... but perhaps they can still be rooftop wine buddies for me!
8:30 p.m. — Around 8:30, one of their boyfriends shows up and we decide to part ways. I walk my coworker downstairs where he catches an Uber home. I head up to my apartment and make some mac and cheese and green beans for dinner. I watch an episode of The Bold Type on my couch and almost fall asleep. I don't finish the food I made but I stick it back in the fridge.
10:30 p.m. — I am literally falling asleep while scrolling social media even though it's only 10:30 so I decide to just get ready for bed. I do my skincare and make sure my personal budget spreadsheet is also all filled out and updated. I keep it by week, Saturday through Friday. My budget is usually about $300 total per week and I came in just barely under, woo! I've not been doing a great job sticking to it the past few weeks but I'm glad to be back in my normal spending zone this week. I put on a Headspace meditation and hit my pillow around 10:45, looking forward to a good night's rest before a new weekend starts!
Daily Total: $25.04
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