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A Week In Tucson, AZ, On A $53,000 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.

Today: a middle school science teacher who makes $53,000 per year and spends some of her money on a live mouse.
Occupation: Middle School Science Teacher
Industry: Public Education
Age: 26
Location: Tucson, AZ
Salary: $53,000
Net Worth: ~$23,686 (Checking/Savings: $3,534, HYSA: $12,387, Betterment Investment Account: $1,687, Acorns Investment Account: $1,300, Acorns IRA: $248, 403b: $4,237, HSA: $293)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): ~$1,184 it varies due to the way Arizona distributes its funds to pay teachers
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $550 (my half, I live with a roommate)
Internet: $26.48 (my half)
Electric: ~$57 (my half)
Gas: Between $15 and $70 depending on the season (my half, our furnace runs on natural gas)
Union Dues: $33.15
Renters Insurance: $12.08
Phone: $57.95 (I'm on my parents' plan but pay my share)
Car Insurance: $70.96
Acorns App: $3
Spin Class Membership: $140
HBO Max: $10.60 (I cover this, my parents cover Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. We get AppleTV+ for free for a year.)
Apple Music: $0 (This is covered through my cell phone plan as a promotion. I prefer Spotify but can't justify paying for it if Apple Music is free.)
Savings: $167 to my HYSA every month, $153 to my general saving account, $75 to my investment accounts
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?
There was a pretty big expectation to attend higher education in my family. However, I seemed to put more pressure on myself than my parents ever did. I remember from a young age my parents always told me the importance of attending college, but they also said they would not be able to afford to pay for my college education, or my sibling's, and that it was up to us to find scholarships that would pay our way. I was lucky enough to earn a full-tuition scholarship to an in-state school and a few other scholarships that helped me live in the dorms and pay for books. After my freshman year, my mom got a job working for one of the in-state universities, which meant I got a tuition discount because I was still one of her dependents. This allowed me to save money to study abroad for a summer and for my master's degree tuition. My master's degree was also paid for through a scholarship. I am extremely grateful to have graduated with no debt; I know that this is a huge privilege.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Growing up, my parents always talked to my sibling and I about the importance of saving money. I remember opening a savings account with my mom and occasionally depositing change from my piggy bank that I would save. When I was a little older, I wanted to save money to actually buy something, and I was able to save enough for a small digital camera. I loved saving money as a kid and I would put any cash I got that didn't go to the bank, in order by serial number. I was a weird kid. Also, to this day, I know that my mom “adds up the checkbook” at least bi-weekly. She also taught me how to make a budget spreadsheet.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was babysitting for family friends all through middle school and high school. I was obsessed with dance, particularly ballet, and my parents said that they were willing to pay for up to four dance classes per week. If I wanted to take any more, I had to pay for them myself. So, I babysat most weekend nights to save up for more classes. I honestly think this is one of the best ways my parents taught me to save money. In high school, I was also responsible for paying for part of my own cell phone bill.
Did you worry about money growing up?
I never really worried about money growing up, which again is a huge privilege. I knew my parents were careful with how they spent their money, and my mom would cut coupons and look for sales everywhere. We were able to go on a vacation every summer (usually to California or a backpacking adventure) and always were able to afford what we needed, and through saving, some things that we wanted. I am extremely grateful to my parents for providing such a good example of how to spend and save money.
Do you worry about money now?
As of right now, I really do not worry too much about money. My salary is not huge, but it is pretty high for a public school teacher in Arizona. It is enough for me to live, save, and have some fun. If I did not have a master's degree, and if I was not teaching in a district with a union, I would not be able to afford to be a teacher in this state because the salary would be about $20,000 less than my current salary. If I had dependents, as many teachers do, my situation would be very different.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible for myself at 24. For my last year and a half of undergrad and the entirety of my master's degree, I was able to live at home, and before that my parents paid for my groceries and cell phone while I worked and lived in the dorms at my university. During my first semester of teaching, I lived at home to save money to move out. However, I was able to stay on my dad's insurance until this year. It was rad insurance. I miss it. I know if I ever needed my parents to help they would. I am extremely grateful to them for all that they have done for me.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
When I bought my first car, my dad gave me $1,000 to put towards it. Also, I was able to buy one of my parent's old cars for a very discounted price when it came time to get a different car. I was also given $500 from my parents and $1,000 from my grandparents when I graduated with my undergraduate degree. And then when I graduated with my master's, my parents gave me $1,000 as well.

Day One

5 a.m. — My (multiple) alarms go off, and I grab my phone. Recently, I decided to delete all social media off my phone for a while. I may have been starting to dream in TikTok sounds. A break was necessary. I check my email, get out of bed, and head to the kitchen to make coffee using my AeroPress. I make a smoothie for lunch with Trader Joe's frozen berries, Orgain vanilla protein powder, chia seeds, plain Greek yogurt, a frozen banana, and almond milk. For breakfast, I scramble an egg and put it on a tortilla with leftover Taco Bell hot sauce. I do dishes and then pull out my computer to finish up a lesson for a couple of days from now. I work on the daily Wordle and figure it out in three tries! My alarm rings, and I'm out the door on my way to work.
7:30 a.m. — I arrive at work, drag in all the composition notebooks I bought for the students, and say “hi” to the other teachers in my building. I get all my things set up for the day and try to clean up my classroom… I used to think I was organized until I became a teacher. Oh well. A student stops by and gives me a bracelet she got for me in Mexico. It is a super sweet surprise and I thank her. I have my planning period first so I do some grading and talk to one of my friends who also has the same planning period. The bell rings and it is time to teach! The day goes by very quickly. I teach, do lunch duty where I sip on my smoothie, and then teach some more. The kids have a lot of energy, but I do too so it is a pretty good day.
3 p.m. — The final bell rings, and I spend some time sorting our new safety goggles that just came in. I try to make sure all of the teachers get the same number.
4 p.m. — At the start of the year, I was given a classroom snake and it is time to feed her. She is a picky eater and will only eat live mice, so I drive to pick up a mouse from the pet store, and then drive back to the school to feed her. Feeding her is not my favorite thing, but it does make me happy to know she is fed and happy. $1.84
4:55 p.m. — I'm done at school for the day! I drive home and stop at the library to return a book and pick up a new one. When I get home, I watch an episode of New Girl while eating popcorn and a slice of banana bread.
6 p.m. — I have plans to meet up with a friend, D., and two of her friends to see the new Spiderman movie ($11 Zelled to D. for the ticket). This is the first time I'm back in a movie theater since the pandemic started. Near the end of the movie, one of D.'s friends answers a phone call on speakerphone inside the theater! D.'s other friend calls him out, but he doesn't think it's a big deal. I've had enough, so I say bye to D., and head home. $11
9 p.m. — I get home and start getting ready for bed because I have to get up early in the morning. The house is empty because my roommate, B., is isolating with COVID at her boyfriend, H.'s, house. I miss her but appreciate her efforts to keep me safe. We have all been vaccinated with our boosters and still wear our masks in public but sometimes there is only so much you can do. I wash my face, put on moisturizer, and brush my teeth. I decide to shower in the morning and fall asleep around 10.
Daily Total: $12.84

Day Two

5 a.m. — My (multiple) alarms go off several minutes apart to make sure that I'm actually up. I get out of bed, grab my computer, and get back in bed. I work on the finishing touches of my lesson for the day until 6.
6 a.m. — I do the Wordle of the day but get frustrated and don't try that hard. I text my mom my Wordle progress as well as B. and H. in our group chat. I get out of bed and hop in the shower. I don't wash my hair even though it needs it and instead pull it back in a ponytail. I'm feeling very tired, but I think that is just typical for me.
6:30 a.m. — I go to the kitchen and put some chili B.'s mom made in my lunch bag, which is just an old reusable Lululemon bag. I also add an apple. I start making my coffee in my beloved AeroPress as I heat up a slice of banana bread along with a Tofurky Italian sausage. I also drink water in an attempt to wake up. I think that almost helps more than the coffee. At 7:05, I'm out the door.
7:30 a.m. — I arrive at work and do the rounds of saying “good morning” to everyone in my building. I don't have my planning period until later in the day, so I try to get everything set up and ready to go for class. The bell rings, and I'm as ready as I am going to get. Today, the students had a reading assignment, and there are a few complaints about having to read…at school. However, most of them are not too upset. During lunch duty, I chat with a few students and then I go back inside to eat my own lunch and talk with a few coworkers. It's a nice lunch with good conversation! The bell rings, and I go back to my classroom to let the students in. The rest of the school day is great! Even my last class period of the day is willing to focus!
3 p.m. — I am running study hall today and a few kids from other classes come to get some work done. While they work, I clean up some of the messier parts of my classroom.
4:30 p.m. — When I get home, I watch a few episodes of New Girl. I have seen New Girl all the way through multiple times, but sometimes it is just very comforting to watch.
5:30 p.m. — I pull my laptop out to get some work done. No work gets done.
6 p.m. — I'm hungry so I heat up Trader Joe's green chili mac and cheese! This is easily my favorite mac and cheese. Every time I visit Trader Joe's, I grab at least two. I watch some more New Girl while I'm eating. This easily turns into too many episodes, and I end up falling asleep while watching.
9:30 p.m. — I wake up from my unplanned nap and still have things to do! I text my roommate that I wish I didn't ever have to sleep.
10 p.m. — I guess my wish has been granted because I can't fall back asleep! I grab my computer and get more work stuff done. I finish it and still can't go back to sleep. This never happens.
1:30 a.m. — I turn on a sleep story about manatees on the Calm app. I bought the “forever” subscription on a Black Friday a few years ago. This actually helps even though they are getting manatees and dugongs confused. I finally fall asleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

5:30 a.m. — Wake up! I feel surprisingly well-rested despite not being able to fall asleep last night. I start getting ready for work. I really need to wash my hair this morning. I usually shower and wash it at night because my hair takes hella long to dry. However, recently, I've been so exhausted at night, I just go to sleep and shower in the morning.
6 a.m. — My hair is still very wet, but I am dressed. I wear jeans and one of our school T-shirts because it's Friday! I put leftover soup in my lunch bag and pop Trader Joe's blueberry waffles in the toaster. I also start heating up hot water and get my AeroPress ready.
6:45 a.m. — I have 15 minutes until I have to be out the door! I blowdry my hair but, as per usual, it is taking forever! I spend the entire 15 minutes standing in my bathroom with the blow drier. At this point, my “it's time to leave” alarm is ringing so I grab my stuff and go. I have a plate with my toaster waffles and peanut butter on it and surprisingly I do not drop and break the plate. I eat my waffles on the way to work.
7:30 a.m. — I get to work and do my same morning routine. I might not be able to stick to a routine for anything else, but at least I can count on being able to say “hi” to everyone at work in the morning! It is a test day so I make sure the online test is ready to go and then I let the students in. We do a quick review game before I have them start the test. Oops. I assigned the wrong version of the test. Everyone is getting points on number eight now. They are stoked.
12 p.m. — Instead of eating the soup I brought for lunch, I just have a cheese stick and Goldfish.
3 p.m. — Welp. My last class of the day has more energy than I am prepared to deal with. During the review game, they get LOUD. I'm ready to go home.
3:45 p.m. — When I get home, I grab a snack of dried mangoes and watch an episode of New Girl.
5 p.m. — I get in my car and head over to my parents' house for pizza. I have been looking forward to this pizza all day. Their puppy is very excited to see me and demands all of the kisses. Their older dog just looks at me with an expression that says, “Oh, it's just you again.”
8:45 p.m. — Surprisingly, I do not fall asleep on their couch like I normally do and instead get in my car and go home to fall asleep in my bed. Pajamas on, face washed, lights out by 9:30.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

6:30 a.m. — It's Saturday! However, today is also the day to make life for future me a little easier. Remember all those tests my students took yesterday? It is time to start grading those. I put in a load of laundry, grab my computer, read some news articles, and grade tests in bed.
8:30 a.m. — Time to get out of bed! I get in the shower even though I am about to go to spin class. I just need to feel clean. After my shower, I heat up a Tofurky Italian sausage. I really need to go grocery shopping. I really don't like going grocery shopping.
9:40 a.m. — Out the door and on my way to spin class! On weekends, they have their classes outside and it is a beautiful day to spin!
11 a.m. — After class is over, I get gas, then stop at home to get my backpack and computer. It is time to go to school to help my future self out a little. $18.22
11:30 a.m. — I stop at the pet store to get another mouse for the snake. I know she just ate but I'm really trying to stick to feeding her on weekends when there are no kids around to be traumatized. $1.84
11:45 a.m. — On the way to school, I place a mobile Starbucks order. I get an iced coffee and pesto sandwich. I have some money on a gift card but not enough so I add more. $10
12:15 p.m. — I get to school, feed the snake, and then take a moment to sit, eat, and drink my coffee. I work for a couple of hours getting old labs cleaned up and new ones set up. I hope my future self appreciates my willingness to help her out.
2:15 p.m. — I get home and watch New Girl.
5 p.m. — I'm hungry. I still haven't gone grocery shopping but I need to. I'm feeling so sleepy so I decide to get Chipotle instead. I get a veggie burrito and a bag of chips and pay with a gift card. It's awesome.
6:30 p.m. — I finally find enough energy for grocery shopping and head over to Trader Joe's. I get green chili mac and cheese, black bean and cheese taquitos, dried mangoes, carrots, oranges, apple sauce, shredded cheese, a bag of olive oil popcorn, bananas, southwest bagged salads, Tofurky Italian sausages, and a few other things that I decide to throw in my cart. $78.96
7:15 p.m. — At home, I unpack all of the groceries and watch TV before I decide it's time to go to bed. By 10, I'm in bed asleep.
Daily Total: $109.02

Day Five

6:30 a.m. — No sleeping in too late this weekend. I'm supposed to go hiking this morning with my friend, L., and another one of her friends at a place about an hour away. I lay in bed reading news articles on my phone until 7. I suddenly realize what time it is and quickly get up. I get dressed, get water, and pack a few snacks. L.'s friend gets to my house before she does, so I let him in and finish getting ready for the hike.
8 a.m. — L. arrives, and we are on our way! When we get to where we are hiking, there is an $8 fee. L. pays it and I Zelle her $8 for part of the fee and gas because she drove. $8
9 a.m. — We start our hike, and it is beautiful! I haven't been on this pretty of a hike in a long time — the views just keep getting better and better.
12 p.m. — We are back at L.'s car after hiking around five miles. We want tacos so we get in the car and drive back into the city.
1 p.m. — Taco time! I order two tofu tacos and one breakfast taco. All of them are excellent. While eating, we discuss Wordle. I swear for a game that only takes me a few minutes a day, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about it. $13.96
2:30 p.m. — I get home, change my shoes, and then stop by my friend's house to let out his dogs while he's at a wedding. They have been inside for a bit. I sit outside and play with the dogs for a while. They are the sweetest!
3:30 p.m. — My mom and I have decided to run together every Sunday. We started this right before the pandemic, but the race we were training for was canceled, so we didn't stick to it. It's now time to start training again! We walk the dogs together and then run a mile.
5 p.m. — My mom makes naan pizzas. I help her by grating the cheese. I add peppers to my pizza, and we bake them. They turn out really good!
8 p.m. — Time to go home so I can get a few things done before work tomorrow morning. My mom gives me the orange juice she got for me from Costco and I Venmo her for it. $8.59
8:30 p.m. — I get home, take a shower, and fold clothes. Tomorrow is a “catch up” day for the students, so I don't have to do much to prepare. We have had a lot of absences recently, so I want to give them time during class to ask questions about the content they missed.
9:30 p.m. — This weekend has been awesome but feels so short. Bedtime!
Daily Total: $30.55

Day Six

5 a.m. — I normally love Mondays but this one already feels like it's dragging! I get up, get my computer out, and then get back in bed. I make sure everything is set up for today. Around 6, I get out of bed, get dressed, wash my face, and make sure to put on sunscreen. I eat Trader Joe's blueberry waffles with peanut butter this morning and make coffee to take to work. I put soup in my lunch bag and am out the door.
7:30 a.m. — I get to school, make the rounds, and check to make sure everything is set up for the day. It is. Present me appreciates past me for coming in for a couple of hours this weekend.
8 a.m. — My friend comes in with a surprise for me! An AeroPress for my classroom! He and his fiancée wanted to say “thank you” for helping to watch their dogs a couple of times. Hanging out with the dogs was thank you enough, but I am so excited about this AeroPress! I've been wanting one for my classroom.
12 p.m. — The day is going by very quickly! Probably because of my new AeroPress giving me all of the caffeine power! We have a quick lunch meeting. It is the shortest meeting we have had in a long time. I'm okay with this because I still have tests to grade.
3 p.m. — I have to leave right after school because I have one of my biweekly therapy appointments.
3:30 p.m. — I get to my therapy appointment just in time! I have OCD and anxiety so I think spending the money on therapy is definitely worth it. We talk a lot about different things I can do to help with my OCD this week. All of these things make me anxious and make me want to do my compulsions more, but I fight off some of the urges. My therapist gives me homework to work on. I tell her thank you and head home. $82
5 p.m. — Time to get ready for spin class!
6:30 p.m. — After spin class, I go to Target for a few things. I get bagels, coffee creamer, toilet cleaner, bread, and eggs. I splurge for the pasture-raised eggs. I can't help it. They have a chicken of the month! $21.72
7:15 p.m. — I get home, put my food away, and decide it's time to finish grading the tests. As I'm grading tests, one of my best friends, J., FaceTimes me to tell me about a new job offer she got! It sounds like it is a really good position and will be good for her. We talk about the job and a lot of other things. It has been a while since we FaceTimed. I miss her.
10:30 p.m. — I shower and go to bed.
Daily Total: $103.72

Day Seven

5 a.m. — Good morning! My many alarms wake me up and it is time to get my day started. I get dressed in a black shirt and green North Face pants that look nice enough for work. New teachers, stay away from the cheap uncomfortable dress pants that you will think you need to wear. I know some schools have very strict dress codes for teachers, but stay far far away from the cheap pants that will dig into your side all day even though they are also falling down! It is another toaster waffle and peanut butter morning.
7:30 a.m. — When I get to work it is much more chaotic than normal. We have the first of many standardized tests to proctor today, and everyone is confused about how to log onto the testing website. There are too many papers with too many different directions on them. In the end, we get it all figured out, but oh dang, it's not easy to get everyone on a computer that works, that's connected to the internet, and that doesn't freeze when the testing program opens.
12 p.m. — The test is over, and we have an abbreviated schedule for the rest of the day. It flies by!
3:30 p.m. — I leave school after making sure everything is set up for tomorrow. I go to a different Target that still has composition notebooks in stock for $0.50 each. I buy a few to help some of the kids who need one get one. $10.87
4:30 p.m. — I get home and go on a walk around the neighborhood. I need some outside time. I put in one earbud and half-listen to a podcast while walking for about half an hour. Back inside, I work on my lesson for tomorrow. We are starting a new topic and I'm very excited! I take a break to eat some Trader Joe's green chili mac and cheese.
9:30 p.m. — It is time for bed. I wash my face and brush my teeth. I'm very excited to have my lesson completely done! This will help me sleep better!
Daily Total: $10.87
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