Money diaries logo

A Week In Charleston, SC, On Unemployment

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: an unemployed person living on $270 a week who spends some of her money this week on Tylenol Cold & Flu.
Occupation: Unemployed
Industry: Software Development
Age: 26
Location: Charleston, SC
Salary: $0
Net Worth: $2,600 (I have $4,000 in savings minus $1,400 I owe on my credit card. I had to buy four new tires recently, then replace two of them within a couple of months of each other, so I've gotten behind on payments.)
Debt: $1,400 owed on my credit card
Paycheck Amount (1x/week): $270 in unemployment benefits
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,400 (I live in a studio apartment. This covers rent, trash pick-up, water, and cable/WiFi.)
Car + Renter's Insurance: $122
Health Insurance: $301 (I've been on my father's plan, but I turn 26 this week.)
Disney+: $7.99
Hulu: $12.99
Apple Music: $9.99
Cell Phone: $106.54
Advertisement
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?
I was required by my parents to go to a four-year college and to earn a master's degree. The college degree was not even remotely optional and then my dad used to say, "Everyone in my family has a master's degree." That meant I also had to get a master's degree. My parents received money from a relative of my father's to pay for our college tuition, but went through an acrimonious divorce before I went to college. My dad used this money to pay his half of my tuition and my mom took out a loan against her house to pay for her half. I did not qualify for federal student loans because my mom, who had primary custody, made too much money and owned multiple properties. She thought private student loans would leave me in debt for the rest of my life, so she elected to borrow against her home, which she owned outright at the time. Scholarships covered part of tuition, my parents covered the rest. When it came time to get my graduate degree, the same rules applied.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My dad talked about it a lot, especially when it came to investing, which is where a lot of his income comes from now that he is retired. It still goes over my head a lot of the time. My sister is smarter about it, but my career has been in such flux since I left school that I haven't had much time to consider long-term financial planning. My mom is notoriously bad about money, so we don't talk about it and I'm a little bit afraid I inherited that gene. Both of my parents are older Southern WASPs so they won't ever discuss actual numbers in terms of what they are worth, but they are each well off, just for different reasons.
Advertisement
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I worked in a small movie theater during summers in high school and college to earn fun money and extra savings. During college, I worked at a law firm to cover rent/utilities/groceries and spending money.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No. My parents did well for themselves, had stable jobs, and inherited a comfortable life from my grandparents.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes. I didn't make as much as I needed to after graduating school and I took a chance on a job at a start-up. It's been chaotic and downhill ever since. Even as my salary increased (I was making $55,000 when I was laid off), the prospect of the company succeeding did not. Now that I'm unemployed, and finding a job seems like a very distant prospect, I'm very worried about being able to pay rent. My parents are always available to borrow money from, but the terms are bound to be steep, and I'd rather be financially independent from them.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
23. When I left school and got my job, my parents stopped paying for anything. I prefer it this way, as money has always been a touchy subject, but they are also still my safety net.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents paid my rent when I was in school.
Advertisement

Day One

3 a.m. — I'm woken up by some insanely annoying knocking sound against my ceiling. Our city is getting ridiculous winds ahead of a cold front and I'm on the top floor of my building. Something must have come loose on the roof. There's not much I can do about it, so I lay there listening to the wind for a little while and try to resist looking at my phone. My therapist says the bed is only for two things: sleep and sex. I mostly ignore that, but when I wake up in the middle of the night (which seems increasingly often these days) I try not to pick up the phone first. Eventually, I'm too angry about the noise and too anxious about the weather, so I open my phone. I put on an episode of QI (British panel show) to drown out the noise from the ceiling and return to a deeply unsatisfying sleep.
6:45 a.m. — My alarm goes off but I turn it off. I've been unemployed for about eight weeks now, so I'm definitely getting worse about lying in bed for too long. I scroll through Instagram for an embarrassing amount of time, tossing and turning since lying around when I'm fully awake is no longer comfortable. It's times like these when I wish I had a dog that would force me to get up and be a little less lazy.
9 a.m. — Get out of bed and do my morning routine. Wash face with CeraVe SA Cleanser (amazing for my acne-prone skin and cheap), then toner, serum, and moisturizer all from Sweet Chef, a K beauty brand available at Target. I let The Golden Girls play in the background. RIP sweet Betty. I'm hungry but I haven't been to the grocery store since getting back into town after Christmas. I drink some water and eat plain tortilla chips while I make a grocery list.
Advertisement
11:30 a.m. — Head to the grocery. I cook at home a lot more now that I've lost my job so I buy some standard items and the ingredients to make Italian sausage and orzo soup and a vodka sauce recipe I found on Pinterest. I also grab some prepared sushi to have for lunch. $126.46
1 p.m. — Home from the store and put my food away. I eat my grocery store sushi and watch Grey's Anatomy on my couch. I am almost done with the seasons available on Netflix, so I'm just powering through at this point. A friend texts me about my birthday on Wednesday and we finalize plans for dinner.
3 p.m. — More people get added to the birthday dinner so I move it to Friday to accommodate everyone. My sister calls and tells me she tested positive for COVID. She and her husband start their quarantine with symptoms, but they aren't too bad.
4:30 p.m. — A friend who lives nearby texts and asks me to get her some things from the grocery. She's dealing with a stomach flu and can't keep anything down. I run to the store and grab Gatorade, fruit popsicles, smoothies, and chicken soup. I throw in a zinc supplement too. It's $41.29, but she pays me back on Venmo right away. I leave the bag at her door, then run away before she opens it.
9 p.m. — Unemployment life is incredibly frustrating and I'm getting really sick of it. I've applied to about 80 jobs but have only had interviews for a few. I'm waiting to hear back about one I really want, then if I don't get it, I'm going to reset my search. New resume, new application strategy, the works. In the meantime, I'm not enjoying the pace of unemployment. I feel very blah and sedentary. I paused my gym membership as soon as I found out about the layoff and I don't have much room in my apartment to do at-home workouts. I do a quick 15-minute stretch video on YouTube.
Advertisement
9:30 p.m. — Start to get ready for bed, but get a text from the South Carolina Department of Unemployment and Workforce that I haven't certified my benefits for the week. Head back to my desk and go through the 50 bazillion steps to log in, then certify my benefits for the week and check on the status of a request I made last week. I won't burden you with my diatribe about the unemployment benefits system, but I cannot imagine how painful and burdensome the whole process must be for people that don't have the resources, time, energy, and security to sit through the application and certification process.
10 p.m. — Nighttime routine and time for bed. It's retinol night, so I wash with my CeraVe cleanser, use The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid serum and a spritz of rosewater to prepare my skin. I have sensitive skin so when my dermatologist started me on retinol, she told me to use a thin but hydrating barrier before adding the retinol. I apply a pea-sized amount of retinol and wait a few minutes. Then I put on The Ordinary Niacinamide & Zinc serum, azelaic acid, and moisturizer. Get in bed and fall asleep.
Daily Total: $126.46

Day Two

3:30 a.m. — Awake early for no reason again. I think I vaguely remember having a bad dream that woke me up, but it's already fading by the time I realize I'm awake. Not being able to sleep much is probably due to stress from the job search and being jobless, so I write down ways to use up energy during the day. This doesn't help, so I start editing my book. It's in pieces in a document that I can access on my phone, so I tend to read through chapters and add notes to come back to later.
Advertisement
6:45 a.m. — Alarm is going off, but I turn it off. Time for my morning routine of scrolling aimlessly until I feel like getting out of bed. The other benefit of staying in bed past 10:30 is not needing to make breakfast: The less food consumed, the longer I can stretch this grocery run. Finally get out of bed at 10 and start my morning routine. I wash my face with CeraVe cleanser and apply Sweet Chef products.
10:30 a.m. — I start the Italian sausage and orzo soup I bought ingredients for yesterday. I'm a really bad cook, so it can be hard finding things to make. I'm always looking for ways to make it easier, and buying prechopped veggies has been the way to go. Don't come for me. It's better than buying a whole bag of celery when the recipe calls for a single stalk. Trust me, I'm never going to consume the rest of that celery and will throw it away in a week. I cook the Italian sausage, then all I have to do is add my prechopped onions, celery, and carrots, some spices, minced garlic (I mince it myself; I haven't stooped to a pre-minced garlic level yet, but check back with me next month), chicken stock, diced tomatoes, and orzo. It's life-changingly quick, and the soup is simmering in no time. A few handfuls of spinach go in when it's done.
12:30 p.m. — My sister calls and asks if I can pick up groceries for them while they're in their bubble. I tell her I can go in an hour and she sends me her list. She is an excellent cook so I'm a little jealous of her husband, knowing he's getting quality homemade meals this week. The soup I made is pretty good though, and I eat a bowl of it before heading to the grocery.
Advertisement
1:45 p.m. — There's something magical about being in the grocery store for the third time in 24 hours. I grab my sister's groceries and a sub that her husband online ordered from the deli. I get in line to check out, but they text me with new items. They start having a mini-argument in our group chat about whether or not they need milk. While they do this, I'm the annoying person staring at my phone and standing in the way of people who want milk. I tell them to suck it up and live without milk and get back in line. Their total is $93 but she pays me back on Venmo.
2:15 p.m. — I put their bags on their front porch and they stare at me from the front windows like creepy Victorian ghosts. I run back to my car before they open their door, but wave as I drive off.
6 p.m. — I FaceTime my sister and her husband. She kicks him out of the room for "coughing just for the sake of making noise." I think quarantine will end with one of them shaving the other's eyebrows off. I check my email while we're talking, but don't have anything from the people I'm waiting to hear back from about a job.
9:30 p.m. — Finally an acceptable time to go to bed. I shower, then I put on an episode of QI on YouTube while I do my nighttime routine. It's a non-retinol night, so I wash my face with Sweet Chef's Oat Milk Latte cleanser and use The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Toner. I don't use my CeraVe cleanser when I use this toner, because the salicylic acid in the cleanser fights with the glycolic acid in the toner. I apply The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid serum then wait several minutes before applying my niacinamide, azelaic acid, and moisturizer. This keeps the irritation levels down, since glycolic acid can be tough on my sensitive skin. Fall asleep watching QI. In case you couldn't tell, I can rarely just be alone with silence and my thoughts.
Advertisement
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

4:15 a.m. — I wake up from a weird dream about my last interview and get worried that I haven't gotten the job. I ignore my phone and try to fall back asleep without it. It kind of works. Oh right, it's my birthday! I'm 26 today.
6:45 a.m. — My alarm goes off while I'm sleeping fitfully, so I wake up right away and turn it off. I check my phone and I do have an email from the company. I did not get the job. I call my mom and cry to her on the phone for a little while. I've been through interviews with five different companies at this point, all of which have required multiple interview stages and even a few project presentations, before eventually being passed on. It's a really depressing and frustrating process. This rejection hits a little harder though because it was a position I was really excited about and really thought I'd enjoy, and it's also my birthday. So I let myself cry a little bit about it, just this once.
9:45 a.m. — I don't even feel guilty about staying in bed for a long time today. I respond to happy birthday texts as they roll in, but mostly scroll Pinterest or Instagram. My friend, who I thought had the stomach flu, texts that she is positive for COVID. Oof.
11:30 a.m. — I call my dad and tell him the news about the job. He's sympathetic and we share the same sentiments about people who say it's so hard to find anyone to work these days. I'm finding the opposite is true; I can barely get any interviews. Like hello, here's me! Hire me please!
Advertisement
1:45 p.m. — I tell my sister about the job, and her husband calls the company "poop butts." She tells him that's crude so he calls her a poop butt. Only they could make me laugh at this point. I email the guy from the company back and thank him for his time and ask them to keep me in mind for future positions. I get a response pretty quickly that some things may change, and they may have new information for me in the next 48 hours. I wish he hadn't said that though, because my hopes are up again. Would have been nicer to just get a spontaneous email from him when he knew for sure if there was another opening. Still, I respond and let him know I'm interested and to keep me updated.
3 p.m. — Answer more texts and calls from friends and family for the birthday, then try to get back on Indeed and LinkedIn to check out jobs in my field. I work in software development, but I am not an engineer or developer, so I stick with product/project management positions. I find a few that look promising, but get overwhelmed by starting over and just give up for the day. "It's my birthday," I whisper, as I reach for another Reese's cup and collapse on the couch. I make a note to look into resume-writing resources. I think I'm getting lost in the ATS shuffle. Or everyone hates me. It's one of those.
Advertisement
6 p.m. — A friend asks if I want to go out for my birthday, but I don't feel like doing much of anything. She agrees we can just do a chill dinner somewhere quiet. I take a quick shower, and then we head to a Caribbean place in the neighborhood. Another friend joins us after his run, and we stay and chat for a long time. He buys my dinner because birthday.
10 p.m. — This day was too pathetic so I fall asleep without washing my face.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

2:45 a.m. — Wake up coughing. Dammit.
6:45 a.m. — Alarm goes off but I'm already awake from the coughing. Everyone has been struggling to find at-home tests in my area and wait times for PCR tests are still really long. I stay in bed and text some people to see if they have any tips on where to get a test.
10:30 a.m. — I heat up some soup and call our health department. Their website says they have free self-test kits available at their clinics, but it's far away from where I live, so I want to see if they have any in stock before I drive all the way out there. Apparently, I've called the wrong health department, as if that's a real thing that can happen. She gives me the number to the specific clinic, but tells me they are closed today. They are not closed today, and when I call, she confirms they have some kits in stock.
Advertisement
12 p.m. — "Self-test kit" is a little vague. "At-home self-collect saliva sample for mail-in PCR test with results to be returned to you in 5-30 business days" is probably more accurate. I need a rapid test so I head to a private pharmacy to get my nostrils abused by a Q-tip. The line is shockingly short; only four people are ahead of me. They don't take insurance so I pay $75 upfront, but I can keep the receipt and the results for reimbursement. My insurance is only active for another week, so I have to submit this before then. The tech confirms my identity with my date of birth, tells me happy belated birthday, then shoves a cotton swab up my nose and into my brain. $75
12:15 p.m. — While I wait, I walk inside the actual pharmacy (testing is being done outside), and buy Tylenol Cold & Flu and a bag of Dot's Homestyle Pretzels. $15.25
12:30 p.m. — Test is negative!
1:45 p.m. — I get home and take a nap to celebrate my negative test. I wake up feeling hot, cold, and achy. I text my doctor friend about the accuracy of the tests and he reminds me that regular colds still exist. I pop some of the Tylenol I bought and put a heating pad on my back for the aches.
3 p.m. — Wake up from another nap stressed about getting COVID while unemployed and basically uninsured. I open my test results again and confirm that it says I'm negative. My body aches so much I can feel it in my teeth. I take some zinc and elderberry and a multivitamin gummy. In my head, I hear my high school anatomy teacher railing against the vitamin and supplement industry, then take three vitamin C gummies.
Advertisement
4:45 p.m. — Realize I forgot to thank my parents for the birthday cards they each sent, so I text them individually. My mom, who likes to use every opportunity that I text her as an indication that I am available to talk on the phone, calls. She hears me coughing and immediately gets worried. I assure her my test was negative, but I might have the flu or a cold. Something similar happened to her in November, when she had this cold that dragged on and on, but every COVID test she took came back negative.
7 p.m. — Dinner is more soup and more Tylenol. My five-year-old Amazon Fire TV Stick has officially stopped working as of today, RIP, but now's not the time to be buying that kind of thing, so I switch to cable and watch The Proposal. Suffer through a fifteen-minute commercial for something that looks like a Medicare scam before muting the TV and watching Reels on my phone. It's hard to even comprehend that level of "needs constant distraction from life."
10 p.m. — Not feeling amazing, but manage to do my full skincare routine. Watch out world, that's called growth. Keep scrolling Reels until I fall asleep with the same one playing over and over, wake up after a few minutes, turn it off, and rollover back to sleep.
Daily Total: $90.25

Day Five

3:30 a.m. — I'm starting to think that sleeping through the night is a distant memory of my youth. My body really turned 26 and said, "Here, have some insomnia." My fever broke at some point last night and my cough is a lot less aggressive. Still, I am awake for some reason. I try to go back to sleep.
Advertisement
6:45 a.m. — Alarm, but I ignore it. It's Friday, the day of my birthday dinner, but I have until 6 to decide if I feel well enough. If my fever stays away and I have enough energy, I'll go and keep my mask on at the table.
8:30 p.m. — After a full day of water, naps, soup, vitamins, and Tylenol, I feel well enough to go to dinner. We go to hibachi and luckily there's enough of us that we don't share a table with any strangers. I beg them not to say anything, but my friends tell the chef it's my birthday. He has the waiters come out with a drum and sing happy birthday. They make you stand on your chair and dance during the song, and I do a mean chicken dance. My friends split my meal as a birthday gift, so I don't pay. They also give me an at-home rapid test and a mini-bottle of tequila.
10 p.m. — Three of us head to an outdoor bar for after-dinner drinks, but I can't make it for more than one. Someone buys my drink.
10:45 p.m. — Home and I do my skincare. Like I said, growth.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

6:45 a.m. — Oh my gosh, she slept through her alarm. Did she get out of bed though? No, she did not.
9:45 a.m. — Get out of bed and do the at-home rapid. It's worse when you're the one abusing your own nostrils. Do skincare while I wait.
Advertisement
10:00 a.m. — Still negative. So this really is just the world's most inconvenient cold then.
11:45 a.m. — Run to a bakery to pick up breakfast sandwiches for my sister and her husband. They online order and get me something as well #spoiled. I stop at their favorite coffee shop and grab them iced lattes that come to $12 with tip, but my sister will pay me back on Venmo. I put the bag of sandwiches and coffees on their porch and get back in my car. They come out and tell me to get my stuff out of the bag. Whoops. They go back in, shut the door, and I get out and rummage through the food. I get my stuff, get in the car, shut the door, and they come out.
1 p.m. — Another long day of nothing. I read for a little bit, but can't focus. I think about going to the county park for a walk, but don't want to wear a mask while I exercise. Decide on a nap.
7:30 p.m. — A friend convinces me to come out to dinner with her and a mutual friend. We hit up a taco place that has really good frozen cocktails. We have a good time, but it's still draining. I might not have COVID but whatever I'm fighting is taking a lot of my energy. I have one drink. My total is $25 + $5 tip, but I use a gift card my sister got me for Christmas.
Advertisement
10 p.m. — Home and getting ready for bed. Another night of full skincare. Self-high five.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

6:30 a.m. — Wake up congested. It feels like I'm experiencing this cold one symptom per day.
9:30 a.m. — Reheat my leftover quesadilla for breakfast and do a little work on my resume.
12:45 p.m. — I'm making progress on a chapter in my book. I majored in creative writing in college, so it's a wonder I ever ended up in software development, but I still write in order to keep that creative muscle active. I don't know that I'd ever publish what I'm working on, but it's a good exercise nonetheless.
3 p.m. — Take a brain break to watch a serial killer documentary on Netflix. So soothing. Pause to talk to a friend who is driving back into town from being with his parents for the holidays. Why did I make friends with people that like phone calls? Can't imagine anything worse.
6 p.m. — I use the very last of my toilet paper so I have to run to Target. Fun fact (if your definition of fun is incredibly flexible): This is the first time I've bought toilet paper in over a year. When the Toilet Paper Crisis of COVID 2020 hit, my mom thought it would be hilarious to buy my sister and me each a bulk box of toilet paper for Christmas. I don't really know how many rolls it was, but enough to last me more than a year. I also live alone so maybe not that impressive? Anyway, I get some household essentials, toilet paper, a new pack of toothbrushes, mouthwash, eye drops, and lotion. $88.42
6:30 p.m. — It's dark as I'm driving home so I put on my glasses. I got LASIK in early 2020, and it is slowly failing in one eye. I was basically blind before, so it's not altogether surprising but still frustrating. I'll see my doctor every couple of months from now until they think the prescription is starting to slow down, then they'll repeat the surgery. I only wear the glasses to drive at night, because I paid $4,000 to not have to wear glasses anymore and I don't intend to waste that money.
8 p.m. — Reheat the last of my soup for dinner and start a list of goals for the upcoming week as well as a to-do list for Monday morning. Looking forward to getting out of my post-rejection, post-birthday, post-sickness funk.
9 p.m. — Shower and Sunday night routine: wash with CeraVe cleanser then do The Ordinary AHA/BHA Peeling Solution. This mask is no joke, so I'm strict about only leaving it on for 10 minutes. I fold my laundry and watch an episode of Gogglebox while I wait. After I rinse of the mask, I apply the Peach & Lily Overnight Star Night Cream. Fall asleep with Gogglebox still playing.
Daily Total: $88.42
Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual's experience and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.

Do you have a Money Diary you'd like to share? Submit it with us here.

Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here or email us here.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series

Advertisement