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A Week Unemployed In Vermont

Photo: Courtesy of King Arthur.
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 nonprofit worker who makes $0 per year and spends a gift card on whole wheat flour.

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Occupation: Unemployed (I quit my job before Thanksgiving.)
Industry: n/a
Age: 38
Location: Vermont
Salary: $0 (I’m living off of my emergency fund while I’m looking for a job.)
Net Worth: -$73,950 (car: $6,000; emergency fund: $6,300; I bonds: $3,050; retirement account: $10,000; checking and savings accounts: $700; minus student loans)
Debt: $100,000 (student loans)
Paycheck Amount: $0
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent, Utilities & Internet: $997 (for a two-bedroom apartment in the country)
Student Loans: $230
Health Insurance: $20
Medications: $50
Car & Renter’s Insurance: $67.75
Phone: $25
Pet Insurance: $50

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?
No. Neither one of my parents went to college and they never understood why I wanted to go. We struggled financially all of my childhood and, at times, we had no food at all. I knew I wanted my life to be different, so I went to college and got a master’s degree. I paid for it through student loans.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
There were no conversations about money, just utter anxiety about how we were going to make it through the month. My parents never saved or planned, and I grew up feeling that money is a force that no one can control. I made it a point to educate myself about finances.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
Tutoring math at 15. I got it because I wanted money of my own. I learned pretty early on that money is security.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes. All the time. I grew up in poverty, and my folks fought about money constantly.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes, to an extent, but my worries are less nebulous and more practical. I’ve been out of work for about a month and I’m living on my emergency fund until I find something. I’ve instituted a spending freeze and I know I have the resources to make my money last. Still, I’d like to have a job soon.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I was 18 when my parents kicked me out. The only financial safety net I have is the one I created for myself. I have an emergency fund and I’m really good at living on very little.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
No. All I’ve ever received from my parents is money anxiety.

Day One

6:30 a.m. — My cat, M., wakes me up before my alarm goes off. I want to sleep, but he attacks my toes until I relent. He gets three to five small meals a day because he has a tendency to puke if I give him too much food at once. I take my medications and go back to bed. M. comes to cuddle later, and we snooze for a while. It’s Christmas Day, so I don’t have to wake up at any particular time. I soak in the cozy instead.
9 a.m. — I roll out of bed and feed M. his second breakfast. I make coffee. I don’t drink coffee every day, but when I do, I have exacting standards. I have two favorite mugs that I designate only for coffee. I like the size and weight of them. I grind my own beans and use a French press. I add a splash of unsweetened almond milk. In the fall and winter, I sweeten my coffee with a little maple syrup. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should. It’s the ultimate taste of comfy. I check my text messages and scroll on social media. My best friend, V., tells me about her family gathering from the night before. Another friend reports that it’s 70°F in North Carolina. I would be jealous, but it’s warmer than usual where I am right now, and there’s no snow on the ground. At 44°F, it’s practically summer here and it feels wrong.
10:30 a.m. — I’m taking a self-paced tax preparation class. I’ll be helping with pro-bono tax prep for the first time this year, but I’m also hoping to make this a paying gig in the future. The class is paid for by my health insurance company. Every year, I get to spend $500 on anything that contributes to my wellbeing. This year, I’ve used the money for home decor, this class, and wireless earphones. I move $1,200 from my emergency fund to my main bank account. I hate doing it, but I quit a toxic workplace right before Thanksgiving and, other than occasional babysitting, I haven’t had any regular work. I lovingly call my account the “screw-you fund” because the financial cushion protects me from being beholden to bad bosses. Since I’m using my emergency fund, I’ve instituted a necessities-only budget until I get another job.
12:30 p.m. — I take a break from taxes for cat chores. I deep clean M.’s litter box and water fountain. I heat up a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup for myself and give M. his lunch. He eats like he’s never seen food before. Cats, amiright? I decide to make tomato sauce for pasta later on, so I dice a bunch of onions and garlic to caramelize while I study. I throw the tomato sauce together in my crockpot and continue my study session.
4:30 p.m. — The tomato sauce tastes amazing. I have a secret seasoning blend taught to me by an Italian grandma and I always think about her when I throw it together. Then I sort through laundry and listen to my book, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. I don’t have a washer or dryer in my apartment, but my friend, R., lets me do the washing in her place. It saves me money, and we get to hang out. I text her, and we agree on a Wednesday afternoon hangout.
6 p.m. — I’ve been eyeing a bunch of odds and ends on Amazon. I collect Amazon gift cards from different rebate apps until I have enough to cover the things I want for free. I have $43 in my account, which is just enough to cover the good olive oil I like, replacement heads for my electric toothbrush, Korean chili oil with crunchy garlic, and a continuous mist spray bottle.
6:30 p.m. — I’m hungry and so is M. I feed him first because I can’t with his dramatic wails of sadness. Then I make my own dinner: pasta with tomato sauce, chickpeas, and spaghetti squash. I even have bowtie noodles, which I consider to be the fanciest of all shapes. It’s the little things in life, right? I listen to my book while I eat. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories with an awkward female protagonist. After dinner, I check on my plants. I’m regrowing celery, green onion, and beet greens from grocery scraps. I do this mostly for my soul. Winters in Vermont are long and harsh. A bit of green on my windowsill reminds me that spring will come eventually. I’ve been able to harvest a tiny bit from my plants, too, so I consider it a win.
8 p.m. — I brush my teeth. I won’t go to sleep until after 11 p.m., but I find that if I wait until I’m tired, I tend to skip brushing. Plus, I have this evening ritual with my cat. He gets his teeth brushed right after me. I try to brush his teeth every night, but two to three times a week is more realistic for us. He actually loves it. The toothpaste I use on him tastes like chicken, so he thinks it’s a treat. It might sound a little extra, but my teeth are so fucked up, I don’t want any living being — especially my precious baby — to suffer as I have.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

7 a.m. — I wake up, feed M., and eat peanut butter on toast for breakfast. I stayed up pretty late listening to my book last night and I’m almost done. It’s really, really good, but sad. I’m rooting for a happy ending. I make chamomile and mullein tea. I’m in the final days of a cold and I’m hoping herbal tea will help. I’m okay for the most part, but I have this awful cough that my cat hates. He runs and hides every time I even think of coughing, and there’s a lot of glaring and silent disapproval going on in between. To be fair, I sound like a sick dog with a smoking problem, so he’s got every right to disapprove. While the tea is brewing, I take my morning meds, then inspect the windowsill garden. The celery stretches toward the window, desperately trying to reach the sun through the morning fog. Me too, little celery. Me too.
9 a.m. — R. texts me about her sourdough starter. We began our sourdough journey three weeks ago and very quickly formed a support group of two. She says she ran out of whole wheat flour and asks if she can borrow some. I’m out, but I plan on getting more today. I tell her that I’ll bring some with me for our laundry hangout on Wednesday. M. gets a second breakfast before I leave.
9:30 a.m. — I stop and get gas ($23.24) and head to Shaw’s. I grab sugar, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, tomato paste, and frozen spinach. This place is one of the more expensive stores in my area, but it has amazing loss-leaders so that’s what I focus on. The total comes to $16.24, but I have a $20 gift card, which makes the trip free. $23.24
10 a.m. — At home, I make rolls for veggie burgers later in the week. I take out my sourdough starter from the fridge and feed it flour and pasta water I reserved from yesterday’s dinner. Sourdough seems intimidating when you start out until you realize that yeast is incredibly resilient. All it needs is air, heat, food, and patience. You create the conditions for success, and then you sit back and let it do its thing. There’s a metaphor for life somewhere in there, but I file that thought for later.
11:30 a.m. — I do a quick browse for different jobs I may want to apply for. So far, I’ve applied for a couple. I’ve had one interview but didn’t make it past the first stage. Part of me really wants to work for myself. That’s what the tax class is all about, but I’m also trying to think of contingency plans. I’ve got enough money to live on for a few months if I’m careful, but I’d like to get money coming in sooner.
2 p.m. — I finish up the last of my chicken noodle soup. M. is eating as well. After lunch, I work on my tax class and get through almost two chapters. If I continue at this clip, I’ll be able to finish the class before the new year.
4 p.m. — I pause to deal with a car insurance issue. Long story short: I’ll be getting about $700 back, hopefully soon. Yay! I finish up the tax chapter I’m on, do the practice questions, and call it a day.
5 p.m. — It’s leftover pasta and an apple for dinner. I really like how the sauce turned out and am kind of happy I have leftovers for tomorrow as well. Later, I put together the dough for the sourdough buns. It’ll rise overnight in the fridge, and I’ll bake them tomorrow. I’m excited to see how it goes.
8 p.m. — It feels like a hot chocolate kind of night. I’m allergic to dairy and most mixes have milk, so I make my own hot chocolate with almond milk, cocoa, a little sugar, and stevia. I brush my teeth and get ready for another cozy night in. I’m a real homebody in the winter.
Daily Total: $23.24

Day Three

6:30 a.m. — I feed M. and clean his litter box. Then I make butterfly pea flower tea. It’s sweet and has a delightful blue color, which is just what I need on this foggy morning. I’m still coughing and I wonder if I need antibiotics. I often get secondary infections after colds, so I wouldn’t be surprised. After morning meds, I eat a couple of squares of baked cranberry-cinnamon oatmeal. I modified a recipe that I found online, and it turned out pretty well.
9 a.m. — I go to the food pantry, where there’s a weekly distribution of local bread, produce, meat, and eggs. I had reservations about using a pantry because I didn’t want to take food from people who need it more than me, but the manager explained that there’s more than enough food to go around. I grab beets, potatoes, watermelon radishes, eggs, apples, and a whole frozen chicken. There are also pantry staples, so I pick up oats, canned salmon, and almonds. I’m incredibly lucky to have this resource in my community. I doubt I’d be able to eat as healthfully otherwise.
10 a.m. — Back at home, I snack on a super-crisp apple as I put my groceries away. I notice a few sad-looking apples and some cranberries in my veggie drawer, so I make apple-cranberry butter in my crockpot. I’m kind of winging it, so we’ll see how it turns out. I reserve the cores from my apples for homemade vinegar. This would be my first time making apple cider vinegar on my own, and I’m quite excited to see how it works. I live in an apartment now, but one day, I’d like to own a farmhouse. In the meantime, I’m teaching myself all kinds of preservation methods. It brings me a lot of joy.
11:30 a.m. — I eat the last of the pasta for lunch and head out to my laundry hangout with R. The drive to my friend’s house is beautiful, especially with the fog we’re having. I feel like I’m in the British countryside for a moment, except that we drive on the right side of the road here. My friend’s washing machine sings when it’s done. Her oven and dryer sing too. How very Jetsons. We catch up on our lives and discuss our hopes and dreams for our bread. We snack on banana chips, and I run to my car to grab the whole wheat flour I threw in there for her. I’m so glad I remembered.
3:30 a.m. — I return to my second-floor apartment with a heavy bag of warm, clean clothes. After a quick snack of oatmeal squares, I feed M. and put my clothes away. I also change my bed and cut onions and carrots for veggie and bean stew. While the stew is simmering on the stove, I check on my apple-cranberry butter and prepare the sourdough buns for a second rise. I feel accomplished and content. Life may not be exactly where I want it to be, but I love these small moments of peace.
6:15 p.m. — I eat some of the veggie stew for dinner and stick the sourdough buns in the oven. My kitchen smells like a bakery. It’s delightful.
8:30 a.m. — I brush my teeth and look for a podcast to entertain me. I settle on Unfinished, which deals with polygamists in Utah. It’s a very thoughtful look into the community and the cult of fundamental Mormonism. As I listen, I look through vintage cookbooks on Internet Archive. The archive has whole copies of cookbooks from as early as the 1800s and, being the nerd that I am, I bookmark 10 ancient recipes to try. I fall asleep around 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

7 a.m. — M. lets me sleep in a little this morning. After I feed him, I try one of the sourdough buns and with the apple-cranberry butter from yesterday. The bun has a great texture, but it’s not as sour as I’d like. The apple butter is my new favorite thing. I’m definitely making it again but next time I’ll preserve some to give as gifts. I take my morning meds and look at my bullet journal. I have my annual physical this afternoon. A friend and I were supposed to get together this morning, but I push the visit to next week. I’m a little peopled out from my laundry date yesterday. Don’t get me wrong: I love my friends, but I also relish my alone time.
10 a.m. — I brush my teeth and floss, then I feed M. his second breakfast. I’m pretty sluggish this morning, but I don’t feel like drinking coffee so I take a shower in hopes it will wake me up.
11:30 a.m. — I make tortilla-chicken soup for lunch. It smells delicious. It’s cold and gross outside, and soup is the highlight of the season for me. I’m about to go to my doctor’s appointment, though, so the soup will have to wait. On my way out, I grab my mail and discover that my insurance company sent me a check to reimburse me for the tax class. That’s $149 back in my pocket. I head to my annual physical, and my doctor tells me that my stubborn cough is actually asthma. She says my lungs sound angry. My asthma is generally so mild that I don’t even use a rescue inhaler, so I’m surprised. But as soon as I use the inhaler, the cough disappears. She also convinces me to get tested for the BRCA breast cancer gene because of my heritage and family history. I agree and hope that I don’t regret it. I can’t help but think about Angelina Jolie. I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of drama.
2 p.m. — The tortilla soup is so worth the wait. Yum!
4:30 p.m. — I get a call from our local H&R Block. They want me to come for a job interview next week. The representative urges me to finish the tax class beforehand, and I assure her I will. Fingers crossed that I get it!
8 p.m. — I’m not hungry, and the coughing makes me exhausted so I use my inhaler, feed M., brush my teeth, and go to bed. No tax class today, oh well.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

7 a.m. — M. is feeling neglected because I was away yesterday and slept most of the evening. He attacks my feet with the fervor of a manic tribble, so I grab one of his toys, and we play for a solid half an hour. When he’s that wound up, all I have to do is hold the toy and he zooms around me from room to room. He eventually settles down enough to actually paw at the toy and when he walks away, I know my little rascal is feeling better. He pounces on his breakfast like the apex predator that he is. I use my inhaler and take my medications, then make Irish breakfast tea. I have a lot of stuff to do today. The inhaler makes me feel icky, so I’m not hungry this morning. As I brush my teeth and floss, I notice that one of my front crowns is chipped. I can tell it’s just the crown that’s damaged, not the tooth. I’ll delay the visit to the dentist until I have a regular income source. I hope the crown holds until then.
8:30 a.m. — Tax class time. I plan on taking two tests today. I munch on a few banana chips as I work.
12:45 p.m. — Yay, I passed both tests! I’m officially halfway through the course. I take a long break before I continue. M. gets his lunch, and I skip mine for now. My stomach still feels kinda icky.
6:30 p.m. — I spend most of the afternoon puttering around the house and now I’m hungry. I have peanut butter toast. My stomach is still messed up, but the cough is almost gone. I work on more tax class stuff. I get through a few more chapters before my eyes glaze over and I call it quits for the day. I hope to finish most of the course tomorrow and take the final exam in a couple of days.
8:30 p.m. — I feed M., then brush my teeth and chill for the rest of the night.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — M. mounts an all-out assault on my toes. In his defense, breakfast is half an hour late. My cough continues to be annoying, and I consider calling my doctor back to ask for something stronger. I check on the apple-scrap vinegar and notice a lot of activity. It’s starting to smell vinegary. I feel like a mad scientist who eats her experiments.
8:30 a.m. — I didn’t eat much yesterday and I’m really, really hungry. I finish up the leftover veggie stew. Sometimes, when I know I’m super hungry, I skip right to hearty lunch mode. Today is one of those days. I take out my sourdough culture and divide it in two. One half stays in the fridge as backup, and I feed the other half. I want to try a whole wheat sandwich loaf recipe. It’s the perfect foil for all the fictional taxes I’m about to do.
12 p.m. — I take a break from studying and I feed M., then eat a bowl of tortilla soup. I assemble my sourdough and let it rise, then return to my work.
6 p.m. — I take a test and pass it, which is a good stopping point for today. M. gets his dinner, and I make scrambled eggs.
10:30 p.m. — I fall asleep and forget about my bread. Luckily, when I wake up to brush my teeth, the dough has risen but not too much. I stick it in the oven. By the time it finishes baking, I’m tired enough to go back to sleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — The thought of fresh bread gets me out of bed. I feed M., then make toast with peanut butter and apple butter. The bread is delicious. The crumb is a little over-proofed, but the texture and flavor are great. I’m pretty pleased with myself. As I brush my teeth, I listen to a podcast about Siegfried and Roy. It’s really, really dark, and I’m both sad and shocked that I didn’t know Roy was almost mauled to death by his own tiger. I drink my Irish breakfast tea and try to psych myself up for a day of studying. I’m so close to being done.
9 a.m. — I know I should start working on tax class but I wanna finish the episode I’m listening to so I do some dishes and check on my apple cider vinegar. It’s bubbling away, and I feel confident that I’ll have homemade vinegar in about two weeks. I sit down to take a test and finish the rest of the class.
1:40 p.m. — I’m officially done with the tax class and I passed every test! I feed M. and take a celebratory nap. I know, I lead a wild life.
5 p.m. — I wake up and feed M. his dinner, then remember that I finished my tax class. I allow myself a moment to bask in the achievement, then heat up tortilla soup. I can’t believe it’s the last day of 2023. I’m not much for reflection, but I look back at my emergency budget for the month. My normal budget is about $2,100 a month. This month I spent just under $1,500. I’m proud of myself and hope I get a job soon.
8 p.m. — I brush my teeth, then write a rent check that I’ll drop off tomorrow. I finish up the dishes in the sink and look for another podcast to entertain me. I spend the evening babying M. I brush his hair and play with him, then go to sleep around 10:30 p.m. Happy New Year!
Daily Total: $0
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