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A Week In Arlington, VA On A $90,000 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 full-time high school biology teacher and part-time intermediate care nurse who makes $90,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a raincoat for her dog.
Occupation: Full-time high school biology teacher and part-time intermediate care nurse
Industry: Education and healthcare
Age: 35
Location: Arlington, VA
Salary: $90,000
Assets: Checking: $320.96; savings: $12,040.79; Roth IRA: $39,392.53; Maryland teacher’s pension: $40,120.62; Virginia teacher’s pension: $8,147.83; hospital 403(b): $18,932.54
Debt: $1,511.96 (credit card balance, paid off in full every month)
Paycheck Amount: For teaching, I get a monthly paycheck of about $4,500. For nursing, I get paid biweekly and each paycheck is $700.
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: $1,900 for a studio (includes parking, pet fee, and all utilities, except internet).
All Other Monthly Expenses:
Internet: $61
Google Storage: $2
Hulu & Disney: $10
NPR: $9 (donation)
Teletherapy: $39
NYTimes: $4
Washington Post: $7
Manna Food Center: $26 (donation)
CorePower Yoga: $151
AppleCare: $8
Dog Walker: $440
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?
My siblings and I were definitely expected to go to college as first-generation children. Neither of our parents graduated from high school in Vietnam, but they both saw value in obtaining a higher education and financially supported me and my two siblings through our bachelor’s degrees, my sister through medical school, and myself through nursing school (federal student loans and grants helped, too). I was able to leave both of my bachelor’s degrees without any debt, for which I am eternally and constantly grateful.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My family and I didn’t often talk about money. When I started my first job in high school, my dad took me to the bank to open my first checking account and put me as an authorized user on his credit card, which ended up helping my credit score a bunch (highly recommend!). Aside from that, everything I know about finances (which is low to moderate), I learned through my own reading and listening.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I worked at Aeropostale and later American Eagle at the local mall when I was in 11th grade. My high school friends were spending their afternoons playing sports, so I needed something to do and my siblings had recently started working at a restaurant at the same mall. Of course, it was also nice to have some pocket money.

Did you worry about money growing up?
A little bit. My parents came to the US in the ’80s where the five of us lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C. My mom would tell me stories of how she couldn’t afford to buy a piece of pie when she first arrived here, but eventually both of my parents got stable jobs as a cook and a barber and they moved out to the Maryland suburbs. I knew we weren’t rich, but things always felt comfortable. My parents didn’t spend much on themselves and I don’t understand the corners they had to cut in order for a family of five to feel like they were living comfortably. I remember when my sister’s college tuition ended up being a lot more expensive than my brother’s and mine, I worried that my parents were being stretched too thin.

Do you worry about money now?
A little bit. I check my credit card balances every day to make sure I haven’t gone out of control and it often feels like I’m cutting it close. I know I’m not saving enough for retirement or if I want to buy a condo or a house, but with the state of the world right now, I’m not that concerned about retirement or more permanently calling a place home. I also work part time as a nurse so I can worry about money less.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I probably didn’t really become financially responsible for myself until I graduated from nursing school in 2019 (age 30). My parents helped me to pay a mortgage at that time. Since then, I’ve taken care of all of my finances except... They still pay my phone bill. My financial safety net is the money that I have in savings, which would cover about three months of expenses if I stopped working. I am also very lucky to know that my parents and siblings would help me if I needed to ask.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents gave me $36,000 as a down payment on a condo in 2014. I have since sold the condo and recouped all of the money. This year, I gave my dad about $20,000 of that so he could assist his family overseas. I don’t count it as my money and just hold onto it for when my parents will need it.

Day One

7:45 a.m. — I wake up and get dressed for yoga. I got a dog last month (!) so I am working on waking up a little bit earlier than I had been, in order to get her outside and fed before my day starts (I am not a morning person). As usual, my yoga teacher’s class is great and really helpful in grounding me in between exhausting weeks. I’m charged for yoga on a monthly basis so class is already paid for.
9:45 a.m. — After showering and walking my dog again, I head out to meet my college roommate for lunch. She brought me a gift for my dog :) We go to a French-Mediterranean place and catch up on her baby’s latest developments and how my ex-boyfriend texted me about six months after we were last in contact. She tells me she’s really proud that I didn’t respond, but then I tell her that I responded two weeks later and she’s nice about it. $48
2 p.m. — On the way home, I stop by the mall to have my watch repaired. While I wait, I go to Bath and Body Works to get some hand lotion, because my hands have been super dry since getting my dog and washing my hands all the time. When I get back to the watch shop, they tell me there’s no charge, but they did fix my band (yay). I make one more stop at Goodwill to drop off donations that have been sitting in my car since Christmas. I never ask for a donation slip, I’m not sure how much that really impacts my taxes, but I figure they’re doing *me* a favor by taking my things. $28.46
4:15 p.m. — For the last few months, I’ve been doing a weekly meal delivery service called Vegetable & Butcher, because I made peace with the fact that cooking doesn’t bring me joy and that it should be okay to outsource things when you work two service jobs. Since this week is spring break, I don’t need as many meals and I go online to edit the number. I find out that I got a discount for submitting ratings for last week’s meals so the cost is much lower than usual for four meals. I head out with my dog for our evening walk and pick up bubble tea along the way. We stop by the dog park and she is not playing nicely with the other dog there so I take her home. Dinner for tonight is some food that my parents made me when I visited them a few days ago. $28.42
8:30 p.m. — I get a text from coworkers at the hospital that they want to do a breakfast in the morning for Easter. I go on a run and then stop by the grocery store on the way home to pick up danishes and strudels to contribute. $18.66
11 p.m. — I get home and shower, then do the final walk of the night with my dog. I don’t really know what to do about all the dog hair accumulating on my clothes these days, so I buy two pet hair brushes off Etsy before I go to bed around midnight. $36
Daily Total: $159.54

Day Two

5:30 a.m. — I wake up, walk my dog, and get ready for work. I’m training a newly graduated nurse today and though we are both slow, all of our patients are nice and medically stable and the hospital scrounged up an extra nurse for the unit, so it is a good day. Lunch is from my meal-delivery service and a doughnut from the breakfast potluck. We leave the unit around 8 p.m. I get a text saying that the canned chai oat lattes that I usually get with my weekly grocery delivery are discontinued, so I buy a kit to try after work (to be clear, it’s a 30-day kit and comes with a thermos and frother — neither of which I have — and not just an $80 chai). After a walk and a shower, I immediately get into bed. $85.19
Daily Total: $85.19

Day Three

6:45 a.m. — Pup and I wake up to try to do our usual thing, but it is pouring outside and she isn’t having it. We’re going to Shenandoah National Park today to meet up with my sister and her family so we pass some time by packing for the trip. When it becomes less gross outside, we make the two-hour, windy drive down. I don’t have an active park pass, so I pay the $30 entrance fee, which is fine, because nature can have my money. My niblings love our new pup and we make it 1.5 miles on a hike before the kids call it a day. My sister pays for lunch at the park’s dining hall. $30
3:30 p.m. — The dog and I head back up north and because we took toll roads down and back, my EZpass has to be replenished. When I get home, I jump in the shower only to find the water has been turned off due to road maintenance... And then we head back out to go to training class at PetSmart (so pup can learn to be better behaved around other dogs). It’s a series of six classes over six weeks, but I paid for it last month and it was $99. I’m hoping she won’t need much more training after this, because non-PetSmart training is in the hundreds. Luckily, our current trainer is really great and she complimented pup’s learning, which makes me very proud. We get home, I eat dinner from my parents, do a walk, and then go to bed. $25
Daily Total: $55

Day Four

7 a.m. — I have a professional day (no students) at school today. I run the dishwasher and do a load of laundry before heading out to my first meeting at 9 a.m. The meeting is basically useless, as most meetings in education are, and I commiserate with a coworker before the next one. I feel mentally dumber for having experienced these meetings, so I go get a venti chai oat latte. My students got me a gift card for the holidays, so I use that. Lunch is from my meal delivery service. After the last meeting of the day, it’s time for teletherapy. We discuss whether or not I should respond (again) to my ex-boyfriend and the various ways that failed relationships have made me doubt my choices and functionality as a person. It’s a good session, because I am getting better at being more open. I get charged $195 for each one, but I get reimbursed so it ends up being only $19.50. Therapy is not something I thought I would do pre-pandemic, but now I tell all my friends and students to consider it. $19.50
6 p.m. — I decide to pick up take-out on our evening walk and then stop by the pet store to get more bone broth for my dog’s meals. I often find myself eating my feelings when work is mind-numbing, so I know that’s what I’m doing here. I took a four-year break from teaching to go to nursing school and though I love teaching, I have found it really challenging on this side of the pandemic. My students, for the most part, are great, but my executive functioning skills and overall endurance have decreased, both of which are absolutely necessary to survive this line of work. I end up feeling pretty mentally drained at the end of each day at school, even if there aren’t students. $54.47
9 p.m. — My cousins and I are going to Switzerland and Germany this summer to see Taylor Swift, so I buy us clear stadium-approved bags for the trip. Before I left school today, I put in for a sub for tomorrow, so now I put together quick sub plans and take a burnout survey to confirm that this is what that feeling is. I catch up on my Hinge correspondence (the worst) and agree to a coffee date with a guy who I think is cute, but maybe not much else. I’m hoping that he just doesn’t come off well to me over text, but at 35, I think my instincts are usually correct, even though I keep trying to prove myself wrong! After some moments of wondering what I’m doing with my life and if I’m going to die alone, I get into bed :) $37.07
Daily Total: $111.04

Day Five

7 a.m. — I wake up and email my sub plans and post messages for my students on our online platform (though we are in-person, we still have a communication board). One of the assignments is a self-care check-in survey, because every time I feel overwhelmed, I know my students are probably feeling some semblance of it, too. I work at a magnet school and everyone — teachers, students, et cetera — seems to feel overstretched at all times. It’s been raining a ton lately and I hate it, so I buy a rain jacket for my dog and some other things that would’ve been nice to have on our hike or are just cute. I can’t seem to find clothes for myself (is it just me or is everything just uglier and lower quality after 2020?), so I’ve been filling the shopping void in my soul with things for my dog. I not only eat my feelings, I often also shop them, but I rarely buy things I don’t end up using for a long time and most people say I’m the most minimalistic person they know — I promise! $209.45
10 a.m. — I head to the coworking space in my apartment building to work on some grading while watching the Eras Tour on Disney+ as background. While I’m working, my dog walker picks up pup and hangs out with her for a bit. Even when I work from home, I prefer to keep my dog close to a regular workday schedule. I put in an order for DoorDash for lunch because I can’t leave the building while I’m waiting for maintenance to come by and inspect the HVAC system. After they leave, I try to shovel up all of the hair that my cute dog leaves around the house. I’m very thankful for my robot vacuum. Dog and I take a nap and then head out for our walk. Dinner is from my meal delivery service. $25.05
8 p.m. — I FaceTime a different Hinge guy for a little bit as we make plans for dinner over the weekend. I don’t usually do two dates in a week, or even in a month, but I am trying to prioritize dating more for the next few months before I quit and commit to a life of celibacy. One of my cousins is coming over tomorrow for a sleep over. I don’t have a good blanket for guests or a power outlet by where I’m putting the air mattress, so I place a pick up order from Target that I’ll get after work. Since we rarely get to do sleepovers, I throw in two hydrating face masks for us in the order as well. It’s not raining for 10 minutes, so pup and I do a quick walk before she goes to bed. I send a few texts with Hinge Guy #3 and he kind of implies that teachers having summers off is a perk, so I pause the conversation for the night. I go to do laundry (is adulthood just endless loads of laundry?), which is $2.50 for each use of the washer/dryer, but I already have some money on my account. $89.04
Daily Total: $323.54

Day Six

6:45 a.m. — I wake up earlier than usual to mentally prepare for going back to teaching. On the way into work, I order another venti chai oat latte and a turkey bacon egg white sandwich to pick up (thank you, students). This morning I have to catch up on grading and then go to another meeting, so I need some extra fuel and motivation. The chai gets me through some grading, but unfortunately the meeting still hurts. In class, my students harvest seeds from plants we’ve been growing since February and we replant them for an evolution lab.
7 p.m. — After a long first school day back after spring break, I pick up the things from Target and then meet my cousin at my apartment. We walk my dog and stop by a taco truck for dinner. He pays and I venmo him my half. We do our face masks and catch up before The Last Walk. I go to bed around 11 p.m., while he stays up later because he is youthful and in his 20s. $10
Daily Total: $10

Day Seven

4:30 p.m. — I’m so thankful it was a short week back at school. Lots of teachers are leaving the classroom these days and I totally get it. My current plan is to try to fix some of the things that make my job exhausting so that I can enjoy it more consistently again, but to let the job go if I still feel this way next year. (To be clear, healthcare is no picnic either, but it pays much better, so at least there’s that.) I get out of the parking lot early and am really hungry. I have to take my dog to the vet when I get home, so I go through the drive-in at McDonald’s for a six-piece chicken nuggets and medium fries. It ends up feeling kind of gross, but I’m glad to have something in my stomach. I eat McDonald’s usually on road trips and on days where I feel like I’m hanging by a thread. This works out to about once a month or once every other month. $7.40
5:30 p.m. — I head home to pick up my dog for the vet consultation. When I got her last month, we found out that she has two fractured back teeth and now I’m looking for the best place to do her extraction operation. My first vet estimated the cost to be between $2,500 and $3,000, but the second vet gave me a $1,500 estimate, so I make an appointment with him. Both vets are well-rated, so I feel okay with going for the cheaper option for my girl. Pet parenting, especially in the beginning, is a wild and expensive ride. She’s very sweet though, so I will keep her. $79.24
6:30 p.m. — My cousin texts me from the airport to say that his flight got cancelled (literally less than a half hour before it was scheduled to depart). He’s coming back to stay with me another night and I only have one more delivery meal in the fridge, so I pick up two orders of SeoulSpice for us. I don’t ask him to pay me back. $33
7:30 p.m. — My grocery delivery service (The Rounds) drops off my weekly bundle of pantry snacks and household items. I like them because I live in a studio and I don’t have that much storage space, so having things delivered in smaller amounts (e.g. one bar of soap rather than six) is useful. $94.68
10 p.m. — I get ready for bed and notice that the cheap Target face mask actually seems to have improved my skin since last night. This is great news, because when I’m stressed at work it shows up in two places: my face and my stomach (IBS friends, unite!). I try to plan my weekend for yoga, school work, chores, and dates, but my eyelids get so heavy I just go to sleep.
Daily Total: $214.32

The Breakdown

Weekly Total $$ Spent: $958.63
Food & Drink: $265.21
Entertainment: $0.00
Home & Health: $572.89
Clothes & Beauty $65.53
Transportation $25.00
Other $30
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