A Week In Los Angeles, CA, On A $2,300 A Month Allowance — For Rent & Expenses

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Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.

Today: an Unpaid Researcher who gets a $2,300 a month allowance and spends some of her money this week on a Moscow mule.
Occupation: Unpaid Researcher
Industry: Psychology
Age: 23
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Salary: $0 (I can't make money from my job right now because I'm on a student visa, but my parents send me $1,000 a month and pay my rent. Right now my parents pay for everything as I graduated from undergrad in December and can no longer receive scholarship money from my undergrad. Their generosity is why I can focus on research for the 4 months I spend in the US postgrad, which hopefully helps me walk into a Ph.D. program with more potential publications and collaborators, which may translate into more funding in the long run. I am currently applying for a $10,000 scholarship for pre-grad students like me who are doing research.)
Paycheck Amount: $0
Gender: gender-nonconforming female

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,295 (I live alone in a studio by my university, paid for by my parents)
Student Loans: $0
Netflix: $8.99
Amazon Student Prime: $59/year
Spotify: $4.99
Cell Phone: $60 (prepaid plan)

Day One

12 p.m. — I make a pitcher of kale strawberry smoothie for lunch. While I eat I read a paper to prep for an upcoming meeting. I stayed up late because I was rushing a poster that I am presenting at a research conference this weekend, so I have not had time to prep for this meeting. Wish me luck!
1:30 p.m. — I head out to meet my collaborator. Background on my employment status: I graduated one semester early from college two and half months ago, which was also when I submitted my graduate applications. Because I am a foreigner, I am not allowed to work in the United States. Since I am going to grad school this fall, it is also hard to find employment in China, my home country, given that most standard employers require a two-year commitment. I am looking into online freelance work this month. I write short stories, know three programming languages, and used to be a statistics tutor, so I am focusing on work that requires those skills. My parents agreed to financially support me in between college and grad school since I graduated early and had multiple scholarships that helped with my undergrad costs.
3 p.m. — Our meeting is a success! We go over her data set and I gain a good understanding of our research variables. She is also a woman of color in academia, and we share similar struggles in trying to be assertive, so we talk about that as well. There is a clear hierarchy in my field, in that undergrads are below postgrads, who are below Ph.D. students, and so on. But she is very down-to-earth and has become a role model/mentor for me in many ways.
4 p.m. — I stop by my university's bookstore and browse for souvenirs for my parents. They really wanted to visit me this May and attend my graduation, but the US government imposed a travel ban on all Chinese citizens. This means they are unable to get a visa to visit. I moved to the US on my own when I was 16, left for two years to study in Europe in between, and ultimately graduated college in the US. I feel close to this country, but it's situations like these that remind me that I may not belong here. I buy two of those "mom" and "dad" shirts with my university's logo on them, a mug, two highlighters, and a ream of printer paper. The only thing I did not need was the mug, but I have a weird obsession with mugs. $74.26
5 p.m. — I get out of the bookstore and text my close friend, R., to see if she wants to get coffee. I pick her up at home and we walk over to the neighborhood coffee shop. I get a lavender latte and a vegan bureka. She talks me through my grad school decision. I am deciding between two institutions to attend this fall. We also catch up on her crazy week with three midterms coming up and her indecision about doing a Ph.D. She's crazy smart and dedicated with original thoughts, but she's also a woman of color, and her field is very male-dominated, so she isn't sure that she truly belongs. $16.10
6 p.m. — We walk over to Trader Joe's together and get groceries. I stock up on a few items that don't go bad quickly, like Tofurky sausages and tofu. I also get a bunch of green-ish bananas that should be just brown enough for my smoothies when I get back from New Orleans, a few boxes of dark chocolates, brown rice, bagels, and vegan chocolate chip cookies. I freeze the cookies and microwave them when I eat them, but they usually only last 2 or 3 days. My sugar addiction is back by popular demand. $56.89
8 p.m. — I see that I was billed for a German learning website subscription. This is for the whole year. I made it a 2020 New Year goal to improve my German (which I spoke well when living in Europe) and actually hope to get my C1 certificate at the end of the year. So far, I haven't put much effort into it other than just listening to podcasts and reading German news again, and I hope this subscription will motivate me to learn more. I enjoyed the trial period of this website a lot, so I'm glad I committed to a whole year. $99.95
2 a.m. — The last few hours flew by. I journaled about my day and my feelings, binged The Good Place, made tofu scrambled eggs for dinner, and smoked a bowl before brushing my teeth and knocking out. I don't read my book but scroll on my phone. I think my reading habit is falling off, as I'm too addicted to my phone these days because I had a viral post that got 27k likes, so I keep checking that. This is probably my biggest accomplishment in a while.
Daily Total: $247.20

Day Two

12 p.m. — I clean up my apartment and do laundry. One load of laundry costs $3.25 in my building. I also check-in for my flight to New Orleans. R. texts if I want to get coffee and the answer is yes. I motivate myself to finish up quickly, as it usually takes me two hours to do everything. $3.25
2:30 p.m. — I take a quick shower and meet R. downstairs. We walk over to the neighborhood coffee shop and talk about my upcoming conference. I get a cold brew because it is so hot. More conversation about my grad school decision and her upcoming midterms. $4.26
3:30 p.m. — I finish up a few random things before I leave, like clearing out my fridge and taking out the trash. An hour before I'm supposed to head to the airport, I finally hop online to see who's attending this conference. It's one of the biggest conventions in my field, so everyone's going. I realize my prospective supervisors from both schools will be there along with several other academics whose work I admire. Nerd energy pulses through me and I'm too excited now. I force myself to take a shower before I leave.
4 p.m. — I get a shared ride to LAX that's surprisingly cheap. I travel a lot, and usually have to shell out $25 for a ride to the airport, so this is nice. $16.16
8:50 p.m. — I get a latte at the airport Starbucks after customs. I brought my laptop with me to work on the plane, so coffee is mandatory. I give them my Hydro Flask because it is also a New Years goal to reduce my waste, although I hear Starbucks employees are required to measure the drink in a plastic cup anyways. I have a planning spreadsheet for my yearly goals, which my therapist says is too controlling, but all my friends think is smart (i.e. are willing to entertain me when I shove my spreadsheet in their face proudly like it's my baby). Seriously, it's color-coded and everything. So beautiful. $6.70
9 p.m. — I decide to pay for an all-day wifi pass for my flights. I received funding for this conference, so my flights and hotel are both paid for. However, I booked my flight too late, and all direct flights were sold out, so they routed me through Atlanta to New Orleans. This is a red-eye and I land at 8 a.m in New Orleans, then I have a whole day of the conference to get to. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have planned to work through the flights, but I already got coffee and I'm in game mode. $16
9:43 p.m. — I buy a wireless portable charger because my phone charger stopped working. I think about buying something cheaper in New Orleans, but decide against it. My friend from the lab flew in yesterday and doesn't know anybody, so I want to find her as soon as I can and unite. We are both presenting our research projects at this conference, and are the only two people from this lab that went, probably because we are the only two with funding to cover our expenses. Again, academia is elitist. There is no way I could afford it without funding. $65.69
10:30 p.m. — We finally take off. I take out my laptop and begin working on this non-profit initiative I started with a friend, who I met while studying abroad and who is also a student/researcher. She grew up in the Middle East and moved to the states for college, so we bond over our ambiguous cultural identity. We started this initiative a few months ago. We start airing podcasts next month, so busy times. It's been a humbling experience as we are small fishes in a vast ocean, but we are both pretty dedicated.
Daily Total: $112.06

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — I forgot about the time difference and I actually land at 7. I take my duffel bag and meet someone who's doing an MD/Ph.D. at another elitist west coast university and we briefly chat about that. I wonder if I should have applied to MD/Ph.D. programs and think I would have if I were more confident, but they take at least seven years to complete on a minimal stipend. There's no way I can afford it, even with my parents' help. I remind myself that what I do is also important and I shouldn't compare myself to others. Anyways, I call a Lyft to the hotel and wow it's expensive. $34.30
8:30 a.m. — I duck into the bathroom and change out of my plane clothes, comb my hair, put on makeup, and get into "business" attire (i.e. a turtleneck and linen pants). I'm a pretty casual person and generally look like I'm in middle school with the way I dress down, but I want to fit in at this conference, so I dutifully change my looks. I didn't bring a blazer because I want to be comfortable, but once I get out, I see that everyone is wearing a blazer. Damn.
10:30 a.m. — The conference started before I got in and I already missed the keynote speaker, who is actually the entire reason I signed up for this conference. He's a pioneer on racial bias research in my field, and I read his works in textbooks as an undergrad. I see him walk by me as he sneaks out of the room and want to scream and ask for his signature, but I suppress my inner groupie self. I leave the room, too, and sneak into another conference where a feminist psychologist whose work I greatly admire is giving a speech. She's amazing in person! I talk to her afterward but am very flustered. Still, she agrees to a phone interview for my podcast.
12 p.m. — It is lunchtime, and the hotel provides free boxed lunches for us. There is one veggie option, and it is a spinach and mushroom wrap that literally tastes like nothing. I take my lunch outside to meet my friend, Z., from my lab and run into one of my prospective supervisors. We say hi, and she tells me not to commit to the other school yet. I want to get coffee with her, but none of my questions feel totally appropriate. I know her university is dominated by old white men, so that's my primary concern.
12:30 p.m. — I can't find Z, and she texts that she had to rush back to a conference that started early, so I ask the hotel if I can check-in early. The only room available right now is a special view kinda room and requires me to pay an extra $40, so I ask them to put it on my card rather than my university's card. I decide it's worth it since I'm paying $0 for the hotel, and could really use a nap before tonight's kickoff party. $40
1 p.m. — I take my tasteless spinach wrap to my room, take a long, hot shower, brush my teeth again, stretch out on my giant king bed, and eat chips. I watch The Good Place and pass out for a few hours. It's a nice room with a view of the Mercedes Benz center, so I take photos for my parents. I'm the first in my family to have a bachelor's degree, so my parents are amazed by all of this and think I've "made it," which I find hilarious and heartwarming.
4 p.m. — Z. and I finally meet up. We go to a conference just for the free snacks. I see no appealing options because I'm just not satisfied with pretzel chips and hummus. It's a luxury hotel, so I expect a full buffet of dim sum because that's how it would go in Asia. Alas, she raids the snack bar, and we catch up on life. She did not get into grad school this round but has an amazing job opportunity lined up, so I'm very excited for her.
5:30 p.m. — Z. and I finally make our way to the hotel lobby, where she calls an Uber to the kickoff party. I Venmo her half. It is only a 10-minute drive, and I follow the tradition of always showing up two hours late to a party (yeah, my friends complain about this sometimes), so I complain that we are leaving too early. But she has the good sense that there will be a line, so I'm okay with it. $4.12
7 p.m. — After chatting with a British postdoc for a long time about what it's like doing a Ph.D. in the UK, the entire table has lost interest. He essentially does methodological research, which is important, but not very interesting to me. However, I eat three bowls of bread things (I forget what it's called, but this was the only meat-free option I found at this party, and I think there's butter in it). I get a beer and it hits me hard, because I don't normally drink (but take other substances, *wink wink*, as a trade-off).
10 p.m. — Z. and I call an Uber back to the hotel. It's only 10 and the place is clearing out, which amazes me. They must have exemplary self-discipline. I feel nostalgic about my old days in Europe where everyone gets shitfaced at home and shows up at a party past 2 a.m., and then in the morning, we all hit up a Turkish bakery for a semit. Quite the bonding experience. $4.14
12 a.m. — I text my ex-partner, V., asking if we can talk, which is not a good decision. I ended this four-year relationship because our respective insecurities were spilling over into our relationship, causing frequent fights in the past year. It was an amicable and mutual ending. We both know we are in love, but that right now we must grow on our own. I hope to find my way back to him because we are incredibly compatible most of the time. It's complicated so I won't go into it here. He doesn't reply, so I knock out.
Daily Total: $82.56

Day Four

9 a.m. — I wake up two hours later than intended and see that I missed my alarm. I see that V. texted back and said he was at work (he's in Europe, so there is a big time difference), but that he misses me and wishes me luck on my presentation. We text for a bit, and he reveals that he Googled when my presentation would be even though he feels it's creepy. I find it rather sweet and only slightly creepy.
10 a.m. — I take a shower, pack up my laptop and miscellaneous items, drink lots of water, and leave my room. The hotel is very noisy. Who knew researchers had social skills? Maybe everyone's just anxiously blabbing. Academics are notoriously awkward. The portrayal of Chidi on The Good Place is pretty accurate. JK, I'm just too socially awkward and all this noise is frightening.
6 p.m. — I finish a whole day of back-to-back conferences and go back to my hotel, where I pay rent so I can check it off my to-do list and feel productive. I did nothing else today. In a state of false optimism, I made a to-do list last week for my time in New Orleans, which obviously is not going to work now that I'm here and eager to do anything but these things.
6:30 p.m. — I meet Z. downstairs and go to a place known for gumbo. I call the Uber this time and Z. will call the Uber back, because we've gotten closer now and don't need to Venmo each other right away. Friendship goals. She even Googles best vegan gumbo in New Orleans for me. What a saint! $8.55
10 p.m. — Z. and I pay our bills and walk to Bourbon Street. We walk into a voodoo shop and see voodoo dolls for good fortune, and because I'm ignorant, I ask the shop owner why we are wishing our enemies good fortune. He educates me on the history of voodoo as a religion and its roots in Haiti. Verdict: the idea that voodoo dolls are for cursing is a Hollywood sensation. I apologize and leave the shop with Z. in shame because I could've Googled this before I spoke. $20
10:50 p.m. — Z. and I go back to the hotel bar and drink some more. They have tasty cocktails and I want to try them all. I also get miso soup because it is so good with cocktails, like jumping into a cold lake in summer heat. Would recommend. $15.26
12 a.m. — I can't believe I brought my book on this trip. I haven't read a page, but the novel is also at a turning point where I'm not sure I'm ready for what's to come. I take a hot shower, brush my teeth, put on an overnight gel face mask (Pacifica, I think the brand is), and watch The Good Place until I pass out. Did you know that Kristen Bell voiced Gossip Girl?!
Daily Total: $43.81

Day Five

7 a.m. — I wake up late again. My prospective supervisor is giving a talk at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m., so I drag myself out of bed, usher myself into a hot shower and then put on a business-looking sweater and my Doc Martens. Someone compliments my pants in the elevator and I excitedly tell her I thrifted them for $5. I show up at the talk for the final segment because these conferences have several speakers per session, so I'm in time for the last speaker but missed my supervisor's talk. I look at another girl's notes (so dutiful) and see that my supervisor cited another researcher I admire, which is cool.
11 a.m. — I meet my peer mentor, a third-year Ph.D. student from the east coast, for coffee. She's also a woman of color and first-gen, so we talk about the hidden barriers in academia and how she dealt with them. We are both terrible at directions, but manage to find a hipster coffee shop with breezy decor and overpriced lattes that virtually transports me back to L.A. She's so down-to-earth and driven, I feel inspired talking to her. $6.70
12 p.m. — We head back to the hotel for a first-gen academic meetup. A white man talks about how people think just because he's an old white man, he must have a privileged life, but he's actually first-gen. It's a room with primarily women and POC, but only the two or three white men in the room speak about their struggles, which I find concerning. I put the feelers out for anyone who's willing to write about their experiences in academia for my initiative as a way to encourage underrepresented communities in academia, and a girl comes up to me with interest. It's a small win.
1 p.m. — I attend a mentoring lunch with a professor and a few other students. We talk about our struggles in academia. Imposter syndrome and depression are real issues many students face in grad school and beyond. This is probably so much worse for women and POC. I also broadcast about my initiative and ask the students if they would want to submit anything for us. The professor gives me her card and asks me to send her information so she could share our platform within her network of 400+ psychologists, yay!
2 p.m. — I present my poster! A Ph.D. student from my undergrad university shows up. I took a grad course last semester, and he was in my class, but he was my nemesis. I'm a competitive person. My nemesis seems to flirt with me (?!) and gives me his number. I tell him Z. and I would love to hang with the grad students later tonight. I then stop by his poster, too.
6 p.m. — The grad students are going to an indoor market hall, so Z. and I Uber over. Same deal: I get the ride there, she gets the ride back. I don't find anything appealing at the market hall except for beet juice (I'm curious because of Dwight from The Office), but nobody is at the stall, so I give up. Z. and I share two cocktails and talk about our research. $6.82
11 p.m. — Z. and I head back to the hotel and the grad students head back to their Airbnb (there's less conference funding for them). We continue our conversation at the hotel bar. We have different political standpoints, but we debate the hell out of it. In the end, we are both able to see each other's perspectives, and we both appreciated each other for speaking our truths. That said, neither of us changes our perspective. I get a Moscow mule, a beer, miso soup, fries, and a small avocado roll. $30
Daily Total: $43.52

Day Six

1 p.m. — I wake up without an alarm in my hotel room. Z. flew back to LA on an early flight, and I text her to let me know when she lands. I text a conference poster that's relevant to my undergrad supervisor's research to her, and she says she's so jealous I get to be here because this poster is so cool. Z. also shares photos of us at the conference in our lab group chat, and our supervisor congratulates us.
2 p.m. — I take a shower, brush my teeth, put on face lotion, a sweater, and jeans, and get an uber to a vegan brunch place. I'm taking myself out on a date, yay! They supposedly make the best vegan po'boy in New Orleans. $7.26
2:15 p.m. — I get their famous kelp po'boy and a pink cocktail, and it is so good but also very strong. Tipsy me wants to get tofu nuggets, but I know the drink is expensive and I want to save $$ for whatever I do later. I eat while reading travel blogs on my phone and decide I want to go thrifting and check out a coffee shop in the neighborhood. $32
3:30 p.m. — I walk to a thrift store where everything is at least $200, which is unexpected. I see an artsy t-shirt with a New Orleans scene on it and decide to buy it. It doesn't have a price tag, which should have been a warning sign. It's over $50! Alas, I should have asked about the price, but the store lady followed my every move around the shop, which makes me want to retreat from talking to her at all. $50.35
4:30 p.m. — I see a thrift popup in the neighborhood and spot a woven handbag. I have been meaning to buy a woven handbag for a while now, but never feel it is worth it. This one is a good size and would fit my essentials, and I currently only own one small handbag. I browse other shops, but they are all overpriced. Maybe this is just an expensive neighborhood. $12
5 p.m. — Are coffee shops just as overpriced in New Orleans as they are in L.A.? I stop in a coffee shop I find on Google Maps and get a standard latte. I complain about the price in my head, but when I take a sip of the latte, it is heaven. I instantly feel the price is worth it. I sit down and debate if I want to check out a market that closes in an hour, but decide I'm tired from all the walking. $7.61
5:30 p.m. — I call an Uber back to the hotel. The driver is very chatty but not in a good way. I give short answers and get out in front of the hotel. I take another hot shower and brush my teeth again. Then I get in bed, call my parents, and we talk about my conference experience so far. I should mention that it ended yesterday, so today is just my free day. I negotiated to have my funding cover an extra night so I could explore New Orleans, which apparently meant brunch and thrifting. $6.86
6:30 p.m. — I start packing. This is when I realize I lost my Hydro Flask. I call the hotel front desk and security, but nobody has found it. I cry inside — it is so pink and so pretty! I finish packing up and browse Hydro Flask mugs on Amazon. I don't order any yet, because this is still a mourning period.
8 p.m. — I try to fall asleep because I have to get up in the middle of the night and leave for the airport. However, someone is playing the Titanic theme song on repeat. It's stuck in my head now. It is so loud and from my bed, it sounds like it's coming from all directions. Finally, three hours later, I call the front desk to inquire about the music, but nobody picks up. I try every other line. Someone finally picks up, and I tell them about it, so they send someone up. I tell the security guy that someone's playing it on repeat for three hours and I'd like for them to not; he tries hard to suppress his laughter and takes care of it, it's my next-door neighbor. I would have gone over myself if I knew.
11 p.m. — The Titanic music has stopped. I finally fall asleep.
Daily Total: $116.08

Day Seven

3 a.m. — My day begins! I hum the Titanic theme song without the lyrics because I don't know the lyrics, take a shower, and pack up my toiletries. I take one last look at this fancy hotel room and decide I have everything I need. I get an automated email from the hotel that I can just check out online (what?!) so I do that. I drop off my key card at a retrieval box by the elevator, and they send me a bill, which is billed to my undergrad university's card directly.
4 a.m. — I call an Uber to the airport. It is, again, expensive. Uber also only offers four-person rides in New Orleans, so I can't get a shared ride. $34.25
6 a.m. — I try to get a veggie sandwich from one of the places at the airport, but they refuse to put it in my reusable container. I go to another place for a veggie wrap, and they say it's a safety issue so they can't take my container, but they can put it in a cardboard box. Paper can be decomposed so I say yes. It takes over half an hour for them to make it, though. $14.50
6:30 a.m. — I know I said I wouldn't work on the flight anymore, but whatever, I want to work. I pay $16 for an all-day pass just in case I want to work through my two flights because again, flights were sold out so I'm flying through Minneapolis. $16
10 a.m. — I land in Minnesota. It takes me a minute to find the metro that takes me to the Mall of America, and when I get there, I see that I can spend about half an hour. This is good enough for me since I only wanted to get out of the airport.
10:30 a.m. — I get an unsweetened lavender green tea at the mall. It is so good! I think about visiting the aquarium, but it costs $24 to go, and half an hour isn't worth it. I browse Zara and Victoria's Secret but don't get anything. I then head back to the airport. $6.29
11 a.m. — I'm back at the airport. I go to the bathroom, wash my face, and brush my teeth. I do these routines when I travel because they help me feel a little more grounded and refreshed. I then wait at my gate while reading the news.
3:30 p.m. — I make it back to L.A. and go through the baggage claim pretty quickly. International customs at LAX take a long time, and I was held for eight hours last time. They literally told me to wait at the detention center, and then handed me my passport back eight hours later without explaining anything. Anyways, I get through the airport quickly because this is a domestic flight, and I call an Uber home. $22.40
6 p.m. — I go to Trader Joe's with R. I pick up pineapples, oat milk, edamame, kale, spinach, and golden berries. I'm making pineapple fried rice this week. I made nothing but fried rice for the past two years, but for the past two weeks, I've been experimenting with pasta and curry. I nope-d out of it and now I'm going back to fried rice, but I'm adding pineapples because I'm fancy. $26.10
8 p.m. — I heat up a frozen brown rice and tofu scramble that I made before I left L.A. I eat that with a handful of spinach, then eat two chocolate chip cookies and make tea. I go on Netflix and decide binge Gossip Girl to satisfy my 12-year-old self. Now I can't tell if this show is actually so problematic (Blair tells Dorota she's going to call immigration services on her and say she's undocumented?!) or if it's actually a social satire. I have some Asperger symptoms (and hope to get diagnosed in the future), so this is hard for me to interpret. Fun fact: autism research is primarily based on white men, so for women of color to receive a diagnosis is very difficult as we may manifest different symptoms and are much better at social masking.
12 a.m. — I take a shower and go to bed exhausted from a half-day of travels.
Daily Total: $119.54
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