A Week In Northern Canada On A $43,400 Salary

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.

Today: an elementary school teacher working in education who makes $43,400 per year and spends some of her money this week on a slushie.
Editor's note: All prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.

Occupation: Elementary School Teacher
Industry: Education
Age: 34
Location: Northern Canada
Salary: $43,400
Savings: $16,633
Student Debt: $41,943
Paycheck Amount (2x/Month): $1,306

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $275 (I moved to a reservation for my job, and the school arranged housing for me and my 10-year-old daughter, so rent is deducted from my pay each month. It includes basic cable, internet, and water.)
Loan Payments: $1,735 (I pay $868 every two weeks.)
Health & Dental Benefits: $165.51
Netflix: $10.11
My Phone: $28.92
My Daughter's Phone: $28.59
Storage Unit: $91.56
Tax-Free Savings Account: $108.44
Savings: $722.96
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Day One

10 a.m. — After staying up into the wee hours binge-watching The Last Kingdom on Netflix (because I had to find out what happens to Uhtred and his quest to claim his ancestral birthright as King), I'm waking up late. It's Mother's Day, and I'm feeling perplexed. I have a wonderful and highly thoughtful daughter who has been secretly plotting to surprise me (a mom always knows when something fishy is going on), but I always feel a sense of sadness on this special day. The feeling is rooted in the disconnect between me and my mother. I forgave her a long time ago for not being present because I know she doesn't have the capability to do so, but I'd be lying if I said it doesn't bother me at all.
11 a.m. — At my daughter's request, I give her $29. I'm guessing this is the debt she incurred plotting my secret surprise. After lunch, she darts out to another teacher's home and returns singing her own version of Happy Mother's Day to the tune of "Happy Birthday." She has balloons and a box in hand, and she's beaming. To my surprise and great delight, she purchased me a gift set that includes tea, cedar for smudging (a traditional Indigenous medicine), a Thunderbird mug painted by a Salish artist, and two beaded bracelets laden with symbolic messages about humility, hope, love, peace, and health. $29
12 p.m. — I surf the internet and shop for workout bands on Amazon. I'm conscious of the social issues with this platform, but I can't help but employ it as a means to get what I need. I live in a remote community, and far too many companies forget about those of us who live far from urban centers, so I appreciate the opportunity Amazon provides. I don't end up buying the bands because the shipping is too high to bear.
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1 p.m. — I resume my Netflix session and spend at least 15 minutes saving shows to watch later. I finally decide on Ragnarok. My daughter is reluctant to watch it, but I convince her by pandering to her interest in mythology.
3:15 p.m. — I get an email stating that an old debt has finally been cleared. The bank has been tracking me down for at least 10 years. How dare they ask me to repay over $1,446 on a line of credit that was only worth $361?! They gave me a $723 offer, and I bargained them down to $434 in March, but then I didn't hear back from them until earlier this month when they scolded me again, so I responded with a slew of reasons, including COVID-19, as to why they should now accept $289, and they accepted it!
6 p.m. — My daughter has been cooking for a few months now, but she still forgets to offer me her masterpieces — possibly because she's a meat-eater and I'm a vegetarian — so I make myself good old ramen noodles and add my own flair: green onions, thawed out spinach, cabbage, and other chopped veggies. I always do the dishes before I eat, but today is my day to chill, so I resist the urge and leave the knife and cutting board in the sink.

Daily Total: $29

Day Two

7 a.m. — I wake up and visualize how I want my day to go before I jump out of bed. I spread my cheetah-print blanket and fluff my pillow, then put on my moccasins to make coffee. I measure out my Folgers using a recycled Vega protein powder scoop and reuse yesterday's paper filter. I'm a big advocate for reducing, reusing, repurposing, and recycling, and since moving to a place where I can actually see the local dump, I do these things with rigorous intentionality. Coffee brewing, I shower, get dressed, slay my eyebrows, toss my curly dreads around, then pour coffee into my new Thunderbird mug. Before sitting in front of my laptop, I go to my back porch where I can smoke a cigarette, free from the possible gaze of my non-smoking neighbors.
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12 p.m. — Due to COVID-19, I'm currently providing digital/home learning support to my students. I've spent the morning messaging with some of them, but my eyes have been on the clock for the past three minutes, waiting for noon to strike. As I open a tin of minestrone, I can't help but feel guilty because I've fallen out of my healthy eating routine since the closure of our school in March. I don't believe in using microwaves, so I'm always cooking fresh food, but this hasn't been the case for a number of weeks. My daughter and I shuffle around our small kitchen as she prepares her infamous poutine with spiced fries to go with my soup and side salad.
6 p.m. — Using the bank machine on the reserve means that I have to pay to get cash. As an alternative, I opt for email money transfer exchanges (EMTs). There are lots of stores on the rez that people run out of their homes, and they'll trade cash for an EMT. I message the owner of a mom-and-pop restaurant and offer to send her $145, so I can have cash on hand. (My great-grandmother always used to say "Mek sure you have at least $50 inna yuh pocket at all times.") The owner's daughter drops off the cash, and I hand over $58 to my daughter. She earned it by helping me with tasks at school (things like washing my students' water cups and reorganizing bookshelves). As a parent, I believe it's important to teach her the value of earning and saving money, but I don't believe in paying her to do household chores, so I allow her to choose how she makes money. The dollar amount she gets has doubled since we've relocated for my work, and she earns every penny. $58
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8 p.m. — I love living on the rez. As a Black professional who has to live here for the 10-month school year, I've found that both my daughter and I have been easily accepted into the community. It has really become our home, and we've learned to accept the fact that most things, like food and household items, cost two to three times what they would south of here because they need to be shipped up. When we first arrived, I bought us both winter boots. They weren't fancy or name brand, but they still cost over $200. Now that the second winter has passed, I realize my daughter's 10-year-old feet can't squeeze into the same boots she wore when she was nine. Also, mine have a hole in them, so I shop online as a silent protest against buying another pair of expensive boots locally. I'm able to score two name-brand pairs for more than 50% off. $147.49
Daily Total: $205.49

Day Three

9 a.m. — I log on to teach. I admit that working from home due to the pandemic has been a relief from my regular day, standing, walking, teaching, and learning alongside my students. I think I did a great job preparing a digital book that focused on science, math, and language activities, but there's still nothing like in-person contact with regard to the elementary school experience.
12 p.m. — On my lunch break, I go online and request transcripts from my alma mater. Even though I'm content working on the rez, I know that I can't stay forever. The local school only goes up to Grade 9, and parents send their teenagers out of town for high school. I cannot fathom doing the same just so that I can continue working here. My daughter is finishing Grade 5 this year, so I predict that I'll have to look for another job during her Grade 8 year, and I'm already preparing for the transition. As part of that process, my training needs to be assessed, which requires a copy of my university transcripts. While ordering it, my screen glitches, so I resubmit it and end up paying twice for the same form. $21.69

4 p.m. — I can't wait to jump off of the computer and live my non-teacher life. My daughter and I make our way to the closest store, and even though there is still snow on the ground here, we get medium-sized slushies that cost $3.61 each and a pack of cinema-style nachos. Sitting at my dining room table, I scarf down the nachos and fake cheese dip in less than three minutes. Fake cheese has never tasted so good! $10.84

Daily Total: $32.53
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Day Four

8:45 a.m. — At my computer, I open one of three browsers I have lingering with multiple tabs in each: I have one for personal reading and writing, one for schoolwork, and one for academic research for an article I'm working on. I open the work tab and go to a screen-monitoring platform that allows me to track my students' computer use, communicate if needed, and assist with their daily work. Before the day's session starts, I see a personal email that says our boots are en route — yay!
2 p.m. — My principal gave me permission to go to the grocery store during school hours, and I figure I'll be in and out because 10 people are now allowed in the store at a time (it used to be five due to COVID). When I enter the store, a surge of energy and excitement bubbles from within. Even though I have a list in my hand, I easily deviate from it based on sale items and things I almost never see. First, it's two pairs of Nike flip flops, next laundry detergent pods, and finally KFC Zingers (spicy chicken sandwiches), which are tempting even though I'm a vegetarian. Then I zoom around and fill my cart with ketchup, spicy mayo, strawberries, lettuce, carrots, pierogies, and a carton of Five Alive. I also splurge on a box of navel oranges for $17.27. I'm quite pleased until I get home and realize that I didn't pay $11.56 for the laundry pods but rather a whopping $37.59. Why did I buy two? Expletive! Expletive! $233.52
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Daily Total: $233.52

Day Five

10 a.m. — I've been on the computer for an hour now, waiting for my students to log on. Most don't log on during the morning, and I've considered the fact that they have their own lives and family schedules that offer rich learning experiences. I believe educators have a duty to make learning relevant and culturally responsive. I enjoy hearing about how my students live from the land and how elders, parents, and other family members and friends make space for the children to enjoy the natural environment.
3 p.m. — It's nearly the end of the day, and after a brief break, I sit back down and click on Facebook to see if any parents have reached out with questions or concerns about their child's at-home learning.
6 p.m. — My daughter has wanted a tent for a while, but I've never bought one because the shipping costs are too high. This week, we won a tent as a prize, and given that we'll be staying here this summer and possibly an additional three years, I figure some outdoor furnishings would be fitting, too. I've wanted an inflatable lounger for a while, and tonight I'm extremely determined to purchase one, along with a hammock. I luck out when I find a seller that has both items with a mere shipping cost of $2.16 per item. I predict this is going to be a great summer for two Black girls experiencing facets of the rez life. $75.90
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11 p.m. — My daughter and I are watching a Nollywood movie called Isoken, which we pause for the night. We've already brushed our teeth, so we climb into our separate but equally cozy sleeping quarters in our shared bedroom. After she spends about three minutes rearranging her numerous pillows, she shuts off the lights, leaving only the lamp on, and I start our ritual of prayer and gratitude in which I ask our ancestors to guide and protect us, and we set our intentions for the future. We say "I love you" several times, then I pop in my night guard to counter my habitual teeth grinding and turn on an old radio broadcast of Coast to Coast AM hosted by the late Art Bell. We listen to stories of the extraterrestrial as we drift off to sleep.
Daily Total: $75.90

Day Six

12 p.m. — After paying for extras on Tinder, so I could see who liked or viewed my profile, I got into a relationship and deleted the app. Then, a couple of months ago, we broke up. Some people don't care about their partner's history, but I do. I was married to someone whose past came back to haunt both of us, and I vowed never to be with a person who engages in criminal activity ever again. I believe it takes a certain type of person to hurt, steal from, or lie to others, and because I have a strong moral compass, I want to be with someone who has similar ideals. I've since stepped away from online dating. I want love to happen naturally, mediated by what's in the stars for me. Maybe my ideals in this regard are not evolving with the times, but I'm trying to save myself from being a "serial profile picker" — that is, matching with numerous people over and over again and yielding lots of communication but very few quality interactions. I'm content with being single for now and writing my pen pal who is incarcerated. We've developed a meaningful friendship over the last few months, and I've become something of a mentor to him. I check my email to find several messages from him, thanking me for my generous gift — I previously sent $50 to his prison account — and letting me know that my messages truly uplift his spirits. I choose to ignore his inquiries about what kind of music I listen to and why I'm single because there are limited characters allowed per 25-cent message (you have to pay per message to communicate with inmates), and mentorship is my key motivator in our interactions.
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6 p.m. — For dinner, I make yellow lentils with fried garlic, geera seasoning, and chana masala over basmati rice.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8 a.m. — I haven't spoken to my mother since the fall, but I keep in touch with my aunt, and I message her on WhatsApp. My phone plan is still active, but my provider doesn't manage service this far north, so I connect with my closest friends and family on WhatsApp instead. Even my grandmother jumped on the WhatsApp bandwagon a few months ago.
1 p.m. — Earlier in the week, my father requested "some assistance," because the pandemic is affecting his finances. He was incarcerated when I was younger; I cried and prayed for him to be paroled, so we could live a happy life together. Developmentally, a child doesn't understand what prison does to a person. He was also a father to at least five other children from three mothers, so I, of course, couldn't understand what it would be like for a man to start his life over. Or determine what relevant skills he had to become gainfully employed and partake in society. Only now, as a 34-year-old, can I look back and laugh at the unrealistic standards I set for my father. Is it possible to love and despise someone at the same time? He is the best at giving advice, but I can't count on him for anything else. I go back and forth about his worthiness, but end up sending him $108. $108
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4 p.m. — In an effort to resist watching television, I sit at my laptop to theorize for the article I'm preparing to submit. Initially, I beam with pride at the slight effort it took to pull an outline together, but as I read I feel less motivated. I was inspired by an American professor who has written a plethora of articles and recently reflected on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted her teaching in an essay laden with research. I ask myself, Who is going to publish an article like this? Then I spend at least an hour looking up research journals to determine a good fit for my submission.
Daily Total: $108
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