Money Diaries

A Week In Spokane, WA On Unemployment & Disability Benefits

Photo: Getty Images.
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 woman living on unemployment and disability who spends some of her money this week on gummy bears.
Occupation: Unemployed
Industry: Nonprofit
Age: 49
Location: Spokane, WA
Salary: Unemployed (pre-COVID it was $41,000)
My Husband's Salary: $1,717/month VA disability, he does not work
Net Worth: $551,000 (Home equity: $205,000 (mine), undeveloped real estate: $154,000 (my husband's), stocks: $22,000 (ours), checking/savings: $47,000 (ours), retirement: $123,000 (between us). Our net worth has shot up dramatically over the past year because of rising housing and stock prices. Who knows where we will be next year?)
Debt: $206,000 mortgage balance
Paycheck Amount (1x/week): $621/week (unemployment) I also get $500/month in child support
My Husband's Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $1,717 VA Disability Benefits
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,500 (mortgage/property taxes/insurance)
Utilities: $235
Cell Phone/Land Line: $85
Internet: $45
Netflix: $10
Charitable Giving: $400
Savings: $200-$300 (whatever remains after variable expenses)
Retirement: $0 (because we are not receiving earned income)
Life Insurance: $80
Annual Expenses
Car Insurance: $313
Amazon Prime: $119
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?
Yes. I was smart and took all the college track classes in high school. I didn't feel overly pressured, though. "College degree equals good job/good life" wasn't indoctrinated in us back in the '90s. My parents paid for the first three years of my undergraduate degree. I received scholarships and grants for my senior year. A graduate assistantship and student loans financed my master's degree. I think I took out about $10,000 in student loans. They were paid off long ago.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I was taught to budget, save, and avoid debt. I did not learn about investing. My parents practiced frugality and that mentality seeps into your bones. I always look for the lowest price on everything. There was a bit of "money is the root of all evil" subconscious messaging going on so I wasn't driven to seek out high-paying jobs. I wish I learned more about career development, salaries, and benefits.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
Basketball referee at age 15. It made me feel cool.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No. We had a decent standard of living with few extras. I never worried about housing or food. I do remember being frustrated with my parents' cheapness and feeling denied cute clothes. Now, I admire their frugality. They were able to fund higher education for me and my brother AND retire early. I want to be like them when I grow up.
Do you worry about money now?
For twenty years, I worried constantly about money. For a number of years, I was a full-time mom, so I was financially dependent on my ex. We lived paycheck to paycheck and he kept us in credit card debt during the entire marriage. I don't worry now because I am finally in control of my finances. I have an extra-large savings account that gives me a lot of emotional security and the resilience to handle unexpected circumstances.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Age 21. I got married a couple of weeks before my senior year of college. Rightfully so, my parents cut me off financially — I wasn't allowed to just play grown-up. That said, I will always have a safety net with my parents.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My grandpa gave me $9,000 for my college education. My parents managed it and, evidently, never had to use it for my undergrad. They gave me the $9,000 when I enrolled in graduate school. Stupidly, I gave it to my then-husband to support his fledgling business and took out student loans instead. During my divorce, they also gave me $23,000 so I could buy out the equity in the house from my ex. I hope I live in a way that honors their gift.

Day One

8:30 a.m. — It's Friday. I wake, shower, and eat breakfast, which is a bowl of Kashi cereal with sliced banana. For brevity's sake, from here on out, know that at some point in every day I will shower, make the bed, and drink a Diet Coke. I never drink coffee. My daily skincare routine is Ivory soap and Ponds facial cream, and my outfit is culled from my COVID capsule wardrobe of four pairs of sweatpants, five t-shirts, and two sweatshirts.
10 a.m. — I make a weekly menu plan. I shop my pantry first then head into town to fill the grocery gaps. My first stop is the car wash ($9). It's extra dry in Spokane this year and pollen is caking everything. After vacuuming the truck's interior, I drive to Winco and buy pineapple, two melons, broccoli, bananas, carrots, fresh basil, tomatoes, strawberries, flank steak, yogurt, feta and mozzarella cheeses, tomato soup, broth, panko crumbs, a loaf of bread, flavored water, and ice cream. The total is $58.07 and I pay for it with my "Pandemic-EBT" card (food stamps) which we received automatically because my kids qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. I then go to Grocery Outlet and buy three cartons of tomato soup, frozen blueberries, a box of granola bars, and a can of pringles ($10.23). I pay with the P-EBT card. I also stop by the thrift store on the way home, but nothing catches my eye. $9
1:15 p.m. — I make it home just before my high schoolers. I have four kids — two still live at home. For the last quarter, they are back in school full-time. Thank god. Teenagers are not meant to spend so much time with their parents. That's why we give them driver's licenses. My son, T., immediately logs onto his video games. My daughter, L., and I talk while I eat a turkey sandwich and some pringles. L. chats me up with school and work stories. She got her first real W-2 job a couple of months ago and it is fun to see her animated again after so many months of sameness.
4:30 p.m. — My older daughter, N., picks up her brother for a belated birthday outing. N. is a whirlwind of words. L. has already left for her work, and she and T. will spend the weekend at their dad's house. My husband is also out of town for a few days. Even though we've been staying home all year, I haven't had the house all to myself. The first thing I do is fast forward through the Pink documentary on Amazon. Meh. Then I go for a walk while listening to a Freakanomics podcast. When I get back to the house, the back door is mysteriously wide open. I am a little spooked, so I grab a steak knife and check out the house. All clear.
6 p.m. — Dinner is an apple, yogurt, and bowl of popcorn. My husband, J., calls. He is on the west side of the state helping my parents' re-shingle their roof. He took my oldest son (E.) with him. My husband is there to keep my dad off the roof and my son is there to keep my husband from lifting heavy things. It's a full-circle moment and it's beautiful. After our phone call, I watch Brittany Runs a Marathon because nobody else in this house would. Lights out by 11.
Daily Total: $9

Day Two

8:30 a.m. — I'm woken up by a text from my husband. We text a bit and then I eat breakfast: cereal and sliced banana with three Oreos on the side. I'm moving slowly because I have a slight headache.
10:30 a.m. — The headache is gone and I want to mix it up a bit, so I decide to take a hike. I put a lunch (orange, granola bar, trail mix, water, Diet Coke) into a backpack and drive to Riverside State Park. One of J.'s VA benefits is a state park pass so I don't have to pay to park. I thrash around a bit, trying to find the right route. I think about giving up, but if Brittany ran the marathon, I can do hard things, too. Eventually, I do make it to the overlook.
3 p.m. — Back home. I clean myself up and close my eyes for just a second. I wake up two hours later.
5:30 p.m. — I have a turkey sandwich, yogurt, and a little plate of nachos for dinner. I turn on Netflix and I somehow land on the Trump: American Dream four-part documentary series. I am not in it for the Trump storyline, but for all the references to my teen years. It's a memory lane stroll.
9:30 p.m. — After talking with my husband, I take a GABA supplement. It is supposed to relieve anxiety and promote sleep. My brother recommended it for my son. T. has high-functioning autism and has been extremely anxious for months. Last spring, he was in a great place, but he wanted to experiment with different medications. With COVID, virtual learning, new doctors, and changing meds, it's … been a year. Actually, it's been really, really hard. I'm not really the magic elixir type, but I'm going to guinea pig this GABA on myself before giving it to my son.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

8:30 a.m. — I am out of bed by 8:30. I woke up several times last night but immediately fell back asleep. I think the GABA is working? I finish the fourth part of the Trump series while eating my breakfast of cut melon and pineapple. I also eat a yogurt.
9:30 a.m. — I get a Facebook message from my kids' bio mom. E. and N. were adopted internationally when they were 2 and 5. Two years ago, we miraculously found out their mother was still alive. The kids were able to go back to their birth country and be reunited with their mother. It is wonderful and confusing and all kinds of Big Feelings. Unfortunately, we do not speak the same language and have to rely on Google Translate. Google says her message is: "Hello family. How are you? Send a photo." I send some recent pics of our kids. Communicating is stressful because of the language barriers. I cannot imagine the agony of not being able to really talk to your babies.
10 a.m. — In an odd juxtaposition to my earlier viewing, I watch my church's online service. I haven't been inside a church since March 2020. The in-person option requires making a reservation but it feels weird to RSVP to Jesus.
11 a.m. — I eat lunch (turkey sandwich, Wheat Thins, chocolate ice cream) and do some household chores.
1 p.m. — I get a notification that my 1980s, handcrafted, iridescent unicorn bust has sold on eBay for $35. We've been selling extra stuff on eBay and FB Marketplace. People will buy the most random things. I LOVE Marketplace. I get a ton of free stuff from it. I wish it had been around when I was setting up my first apartment. Last spring, I re-decorated a couple of rooms buying new-to-me stuff from Marketplace. I sold my old stuff and came out a few dollars ahead.
1:15 p.m. — I submit my weekly unemployment claim. I was laid off last June when donations dried up for the non-profit I worked for. I don't mind being unemployed. I didn't like working from home and Zoom meetings are the worst. Plus, we can live for years off our emergency fund. Five years ago, the last time I faced a financial crisis like this, it was the final blow to my first marriage.
4:15 p.m. — I puttered around all afternoon and now it is time to pick up T. from his dad's house (L. will drive herself home later). I stop for gas ($25). Gas is a painful $3.20 per gallon. $25
4:15 p.m. — I also run into the grocery store to buy a scrubby sponge and a sparkling water ($3.84). T. is actually in a good mood when I pick him up —that's a rarity these days. We talk about his birthday outing with N., his dog, and video games. $3.84
5:20 p.m. — Back at the house and dinner is fend-for-yourself because there are only the two of us here. I make a Chinese chicken salad for myself and T. creates a strange soup concoction.
6:45 p.m. — I make a second run to the grocery store because I got a special request for beer from J. I want it here for him when he gets back. I also get Diet Coke, gummy bears for me, and Airheads for T. $15.96
8:25 p.m. — E. and J. finally make it home. On the drive back, J. filled the gas tank. $27.01
8:30 p.m. — They also ate at McDonald's ($14.38). E. doesn't stick around because he's eager to get back to his own place. He does collect his Nike Air sneakers that he left here for safekeeping. I don't get it. The boy dresses like a slob from his head to his ankles but wants his shoes to look good. $14.38
9 p.m. — I bring J. a beer while he soaks in a hot, Epsom salted bath. We finally make it to bed for some overdue sexy time. Having J. where he belongs: priceless.
Daily Total: $86.19

Day Four

6:55 a.m. — My alarm rings and I stumble out of bed to give L. $10 for a lab fee. Without sports, clubs, or activities, it's been a pretty cheap year, kid-wise. L. tries to tell me something, but I'm too groggy to hear it. I go back to bed and wake up for real at 10. I think last night's GABA worked too well. J. is in the den watching the Army of the Dead Netflix movie, waiting for me to wake up. I join him on the couch with some Wheat Thins and a Diet Coke. After the movie, we go back to our bedroom for some more couple time. My goal today is to make J. take it easy. His body needs to recover. I'm a big fan of R&R, but he feels guilty if he isn't doing something "productive." Personally, I have a much lower bar for productivity. $10
1:20 p.m. — The kids are home. T. goes immediately to video games and L. and I talk in my bedroom. Her friend is taking a COVID test and L. is worried that she will have to quarantine a third time. Ugh. J. feels a migraine coming on, so he takes over the bedroom. My computer is in there, so I can't use it as I had planned. Instead, I eat lunch (Chinese chicken salad again), prepare marinated cucumbers for tonight's dinner, pick up some books from the library, and bake blueberry muffins. J. is up by the time the muffins are done.
4:18 p.m. — Another chunk of my cell phone case has fallen off so I bite the bullet and finally order a new case from Amazon Prime. $6.45
4:45 p.m. — I start making dinner for the family. We're all home tonight. Dinner is chicken parmesan, marinated cucumbers, rolls, and sliced strawberries. Motherhood is mostly feeling guilty, but one thing I did right is having family dinner 95% of the time. We always use cloth napkins which we place in our laps. Apparently, this makes us fancy people. Honestly, they're just cheaper paper towels. I'm not a very good cook, but I am an efficient one. Feeding six people requires cheap and easy meals. Take out is not an option. I wish I enjoyed cooking more since I do so much of it.
5:30 p.m. — After dinner, the kids do their daily chores. My kids have done chores forever, but they are all still slobs. Because three of my kids have ADHD, I have implemented a lot of structure and schedules. It helps protect my sanity.
6:30 p.m. — I'm feeling restless tonight and flit around between book reading, paperwork, light housekeeping, and web browsing. I go to bed early.
Daily Total: $16.45

Day Five

4 a.m. — I have a dream that all four of my kids are missing. The knot in my stomach wakes me up.
10 a.m. — I pick up T.'s new prescription at the pharmacy. It's covered by insurance and no co-pay. I also pick up a library book for him.
11 a.m. — I have a long conversation with my mom on the phone. She is so appreciative of E. and J.'s help with the roof. I think J. is her favorite child now.
12:30 p.m. — J. and I eat lunch. I use leftover cooked chicken to make wraps. When I repurpose leftovers, I feel like I am a pioneer living off the land.
1 p.m. — I start working through some online tutorials for CRM certification. When COVID is all over and done with, I want to be able to say I accomplished more than just growing my bangs out. While I am inside on the computer, J. works in his shop. He has a bunch of different projects going on in there.
1:20 p.m. — Kids are home. T. thanks me for picking up the library book. Spontaneous gratitude? What?
3:30 p.m. — L. leaves for work and I take a walk while listening to a boring personal finance podcast. After my walk, I get started on dinner which is beef and broccoli stir fry, leftover cucumbers, and fruit salad (see above re: leftovers).
6 p.m. — After dinner, J. and I sit out on our deck with drinks. Comfy chairs and cold drinks are my favorite. We talk about the money my dad gave J. for working on the roof. Normally, J. would not accept money from family, but my dad was always The Guy That Fixes Things and now he's aging out. Needing help was a blow to his self-identity and paying J. to "help us out money-wise" lessens the sting. My parents are worried about my unemployment even though I try to tell them that we are doing better than ever. J. and I talk a lot about money. We both have ex-spouses who ruined us financially and we are both wary of that happening again. I never thought I would get married again, let alone combine finances, yet here I am. Having the right partner is everything.
8 p.m. — We watch a couple of episodes of DC Legends on Netflix. We're in the binge-show desert right now.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

8 a.m. — Wake up (no GABA) rollover onto J. and we fool around for a bit. Breakfast is fruit salad and a yogurt. Then I sit at the computer for more independent learning.
12 p.m. — Lunch is all the leftovers.
12:45 p.m. — I pick up T. from school for his weekly private speech therapy appointment. While T. is in speech, I go to Winco for more fresh produce and cold drinks ($5.62 paid with P-EBT) and a graduation card ($2.65). The therapist tells me T. had a great session. Lately, T. has been using her as a surrogate mental health counselor (none have been available during COVID), but today he was able to focus on his speech exercises. On the drive home, I stop at USPS to ship the unicorn bust. I'm worried the horn will break off in transit ($27.20 paid by buyer). $2.65
3 p.m. — It's all hands on deck to remove a tree stump from the yard. It's not easy. J. gets frustrated and pissy. I get pissy at J. for being pissy. We give up on the stump. I'm feeling frosty. It will eventually blow over.
4:30 p.m. — I recruit L. to help with dinner since she first introduced the dish to the family (the feta pasta TikTok trend). While dinner is cooking, L. shows me her favorite TikToks and I guess I "just don't get her generation's humor." I mean, objectively, some of that stuff is really stupid, right? During dinner, I notice that T. hasn't had a meltdown all week. It usually happens at dinner time, when he has to get off tech for a couple of hours.
6 p.m. — I'm still feeling frosty so I angry weed until dark. J. and I have rules of engagement. Number one: take a time out, number two: do not escalate. While yanking dandelions from the lawn, I feel regret for buying this big house with its too-big yard. My ex-husband and I bought it "for the kids" back in '09 at the height of the market. Within months, we were underwater and it was a constant source of stress for years. Plus, the kids never even played in the yard! Note: don't buy what you can't afford, even if it is for the kids. J. has put a lot of sweat equity into this house, and thanks to a booming housing market, it is finally an asset.
9 p.m. — I go to bed.
11 p.m. — I find J.'s toes under the covers to signal we're okay.
Daily Total: $2.65

Day Seven

9 a.m. — I wake up and skip breakfast and log onto my computer for CRM training. At some point, I log onto our bank account to confirm that my unemployment check has been deposited. I'm in that sweet spot where I am making more money being unemployed than when I was working. There have been so many bonuses this year: extended unemployment, federal unemployment, stimulus checks, tax breaks, food stamps. I hope I'm not getting lazy, but it is going to be hard to go back to a 9-5 job.
1:15 p.m. — I have an IEP meeting for T. at the school. His counselors and teachers are there so I put on pants with a zipper and a "not-a-T-shirt" shirt. T.'s grades are good, he is participating in class, and he's not sleeping in the halls. His school speech therapist says he has become a different person during the past few weeks. I think we may have finally landed on his correct medication. It is exactly the same meds as last spring. I wish we had never changed them in the first place. On one hand, I'm glad I'm getting my sweet boy back, but I'm also mourning the loss of a whole year with him. After the meeting, I eat my conflicting feelings with a slice of chocolate cheesecake I buy from the grocery store bakery ($3.99 P-EBT).
3:30 p.m. — J. is back from a doctor's appointment. He filled up the gas tank ($32) on the way home. We talk about donating extra money this month (camp scholarships) and where we are going to put the free gazebo I found last week. We have to put it together without instructions, but that's well within J.'s skill set. $32
5:15 p.m. — Dinner is boxed tomato soup to which I add fresh basil so it's practically made from scratch. We also have grilled cheese sandwiches and apple slices. L. is at work and T. is pleasant at dinner.
6:30 p.m. — J. and I watch a really crappy movie on Amazon called Atone. We also watch another episode of Legends and go to bed by 9.
Daily Total: $32
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