Money Diaries logo

A Week In New York, NY, On A $20,000 Salary

Welcome to Money Diaries where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We're asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.

Today: an usher/actor/playwright/aerialist who makes $20,000 per year and spends some of their money this week on hospital socks.
Occupation: Usher/Actor/Playwright/Aerialist
Industry: Entertainment
Age: 33
Location: New York City
Salary: $20,000
Net Worth: $2,100 (savings minus debt)
Debt: $1,400 in credit card debt
Paycheck Amount (weekly): $380
Pronouns: She/they

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0 (I inherited a studio apartment from my uncle, utilities and maintenance were covered by his purchase.)
Credit Card: $150
Chewy Subscription: $50
Netflix: $9.99
Hulu: $14.99
Actors Access: $9.99
Adobe: $9.99
Health Insurance: $0 (thanks, Obama!)
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?
Absolutely. Intellect and intelligence were the most important things to my parents when I was growing up. People considered "dumb" or uneducated were harshly and openly judged in my family. Going to college was never up for debate. My grandfather had set aside money to help me and my brother pay for college and it was absolutely expected of us. So, when I dropped out of college after three semesters, there was a lot of scrutiny and disappointment. My dad told himself for years that I would go back to school "once I was ready." He still says that now, and I'm 33 and have no plans on going back to school. I think it's still considered a black mark on our family that I'm "uneducated."
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I grew up with very mixed messages about money. My parents grew up in completely different financial brackets. My mom grew up one of five children in a very poor family. She instilled in me that saving money was the most important thing in the world, but didn't teach me how. She made it clear, even when we were young children, that asking for spending money or using money on anything that wasn't 100% necessary was never okay. My father, on the other hand, grew up not needing to worry about money. He felt that worrying about money was silly. This dissonance in my parent's view about money ultimately ended their marriage. Regardless of their beliefs, neither of my parents taught me how to manage money in any way. Any skills (or lack thereof) that I have now are self-taught.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was working on a farm when I was 14. Growing up in a rural area, everyone I know worked on a farm in one way or another. I got the job partially for something to do, but mostly to have my own spending money.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes and no. I worried about it in that it was a constant source of stress in my home. My parents fought about it all the time. I worried constantly about costing my parents too much money and creating a burden. In addition, I knew that my family was more financially fortunate than any of my friends' families and that felt weird to me. It was something I felt a lot of shame about.
Do you worry about money now?
Of course! That said, I'm extremely fortunate that I inherited an apartment in New York City from my uncle and that I no longer have student loans (I paid off my three semesters of loans rather quickly). Not needing to pay rent has afforded me an immense amount of freedom that I do my best to never to take for granted. No one else in my entire life is in a situation like this. I know how rare and wonderful it is. It allows me to take low-paying flexible jobs that leave time and space for me to pursue my artistic passions.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible for myself after I dropped out of college. I was extremely broke for a while and definitely took some hard knocks when learning how to handle my money appropriately. I do have a significant safety net through my father, but I feel a lot of guilt around asking him for money and can count on one hand the number of times I've done it.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes. I inherited a studio apartment in New York from my uncle.

Day One

11 a.m. — I came down with a bad cold last night, so I call out of rehearsal today. I stay in bed so late. I make vegan eggs, potatoes, beans, and greens (my usual) for breakfast. I also make a hot tea to try to clear my sinuses. I've been trying to eat healthier and save money on food. It's so much easier to do when I'm home all day.
1:30 p.m. — I go a little wild on Instacart, but I need groceries and hopefully now I won't have to pay for food for the rest of the week. The grocery stores around me are all really fancy so it's actually cheaper for me to order groceries on Instacart. I get groceries delivered from Aldi and am excited to make soup and vegan spicy ahi. $79.12
3 p.m. — I make rice noodles, broccoli, and tofu for lunch. It's meh. I'm good at making a few recipes and besides that, I'm not a very good cook. Because of that, it's so hard to not spend money on food. I memorize lines for the show I'm understudying and watch The Rings of Power on Amazon Prime (I use my friend's account).
7:45 p.m. — I drag myself out of my sick bed to go to my aerial silks rehearsal. I only have two more weeks of rehearsal until my student showcase so I really can't miss it. I use OMNY to ride the subway since I haven't bought my monthly MetroCard yet — I always procrastinate on spending that much money. $2.75
9:30 p.m. — I make it through my silks rehearsal in one piece, which is a huge win. Here's the thing about my aerial silks habit: It's mind-blowingly pricey. It's $40 a class, so I could easily spend $200 a week on classes. I can't afford that, so I have a work-study position where I work the front desk in exchange for free classes. My work-study job gives me $100 in class credits per shift and I saved up when I first started working there so I could buy class packs. I almost never pay for classes now. I take the subway home. $2.75
10 p.m. — I make vegan tacos for dinner. Super easy. Then I go to sleep in the pile of cat hair that is my bed.
Daily Total: $84.62

Day Two

7:50 a.m. — One of my cats decides to scream sing this morning, so I'm up earlier than planned. I make myself breakfast and coffee at home and then pack a lot of food for the day. I'm hoping it will be enough to get me through I'm still congested, but I'm otherwise feeling better so it's going to be a full day: rehearsal, an aerial silks class, and a work-study shift at the aerial studio.
8:30 a.m. — I buy a ticket to see a drag show in Brooklyn in a few weeks. I've been going back and forth on whether or not to do it since it's a pricey ticket, but a bunch of my friends are going, so I finally bit the bullet. I hope it's worth it! $50
9:30 a.m. — I use OMNY again to ride the subway to rehearsal. I'm going to be away for two weekends this month, so I officially make the decision not to get a monthly MetroCard this month. It feels weird paying for each ride individually. $2.75
9:45 a.m. — I pick up cat food on my way to rehearsal. It's $21.99, but I pay using credit card points so it's free! I also impulse buy a really nice candle. Candles are something I can never resist and I can't decide if that makes me witchy or just super basic. $14
1 p.m. — Rehearsal kicks my ass today in the best way. I'm so happy I finally got to be on my feet and not just memorizing lines in a corner. I'm also very glad I packed lunch today because it meant I could relax for half an hour instead of running to find food.
3 p.m. — Remember when I said I wouldn't have to buy food for the rest of the week? I buy more food anyway. After my rehearsal, my friend and I walk past a brand-new vegan cafe that has a $5 sandwich promo ($5.44 after tax). I also got a pumpkin spice latte. I hate the fact that I love pumpkin spice lattes. It really doesn't align with the queer witchy image I have of myself, but I guess my true basic nature wins sometimes. $10.44
7 p.m. — My aerial class is so fun, but leaves me extremely hungry. The class would have been $40 but it's covered by my work-study credits. I heat up my dinner and eat it during my work-study shift. Even though I've been working and taking classes here for years, going into the staff room to use the microwave always gives me weird anxiety. I end up tiptoeing into the room all stealthy, which is way more strange than if I just walked in like a normal person. Anyway, I'm so grateful that I packed a lot of food today.
10 p.m. — I use OMNY to take the subway home. I give a dollar to a group of old men singing on the subway. After getting home, I fall asleep with my kitties pretty quickly. $3.75
Daily Total: $80.94

Day Three

8:30 a.m. — I have such a hard time getting out of bed this morning. I make my usual breakfast and coffee at home and spend an extra five minutes snuggling my cats before leaving. I also re-download Hinge.
9:30 a.m. — I use OMNY to ride the subway to rehearsal. $2.75
1 p.m. — During my lunch break, I buy hospital-style socks with grips on the bottom for my upcoming aerial silks act. They only come in packs of five so they're fairly expensive but I'm excited to have them even just for aerial classes. I eat a weird sandwich that I made at home. $21
3:30 p.m. — Rehearsal is over and I have the day off tomorrow! I head to Penn Station to catch the train. I'm going to visit my dad and stepdad in my childhood home. I have tons of Amtrak points from when I worked on a play in Washington, D.C., so I used points to pay for my ticket (meaning it was free). On the train, I eat the second of the two weird sandwiches I made to get myself through the day.
8:30 p.m. — I make it to my home state! My dad meets me at the train station and we drive the hour home. It's so good to see him. His cooking is just so terrible, but it makes him so happy to cook for me that I eat all the overcooked gluten-free spaghetti I can. We drink red wine and do the New York Times crossword.
10:30 p.m. — I go to sleep in my childhood bed with my childhood teddy bear. Kinda weird, but kinda nice.

Daily Total: $23.75

Day Four

10:30 a.m. — I sleep in so late this morning and it feels amazing. Even though I miss my cats whenever I'm away, it feels great to sleep without them constantly poking me in the armpit or screaming about nothing. My stepdad makes breakfast — a vegan veggie scramble with homegrown veggies and delicious coffee. It's so good. After I eat, I go to clean out my childhood bedroom.
1:50 p.m. — I'm very proud of myself! I cleaned out a ton of stuff from my room! I have lunch with my dad and we go for a walk.
4:30 p.m. — My dad takes me out to dinner at my favorite Chinese food restaurant in the next town over. He pays for it which is very generous of him. I have lots of leftovers so I won't have to cook tomorrow. After dinner, he drops me off at the train station so I can head back to New York.
7 p.m. — I'm gonna have to cook for tomorrow because I ate all the leftovers on the train. I sit next to an old man who is wearing several KN95 masks stacked on top of each other. I think he is watching and judging me as I delete and download and delete Hinge again.
11 p.m. — The train gets stuck in Queens for 40 minutes. I end up taking a Lyft home. I have a promo so it's only $12. Even though I was only gone for about 24 hours, I feel like I'm coming home to the city after a long break. $12
Daily Total: $12

Day Five

7 a.m. — Getting up this morning is truly so hard. I make my usual breakfast and coffee. My cats have started attacking the steam that comes out of the coffee maker, which is cute and odd but also might end in catastrophe. I just don't know.
9:45 a.m. — I'm lucky enough to have secured some TV work, so I use OMNY and take the subway to get the COVID test they require before my first day of work. I'm feeling very movie star-like until I realize I got the address wrong and have to call an Uber to get there on time (it costs $11). I show up so sweaty and just oozing ineptitude... but I make it? $13.75
1:15 p.m. — I take the subway to rehearsal after my fancy movie-star COVID test. $2.75
3 p.m. — Even though I packed sandwiches, I give into temptation and get Chipotle for lunch. It is so good and so worth it. $14
5 p.m. — After my play rehearsal, I go to aerial silks rehearsal. I use work-study credits again. I'm endlessly grateful for my work-study job. I run my act for the student showcase a couple of times and then sit on the mat and eat the sandwiches I packed. After rehearsal, I head to my job as an usher.
6:30 p.m. — Work tonight is exactly as I expected it to be: organized chaos. I work as an usher for a long-running Broadway show and there are always a lot of tourists in the audience.
8:30 p.m. — Tonight I'm in charge of the bathroom line, which means I have to carry a wooden sign pointing to the women's restroom and make sure everyone stays in line. There are no words for how challenging it is. This is definitely the least favorite of my jobs, but is also the one that pays my bills. I'm so glad that my current rehearsal and freelance schedule means I can only usher three days a week for a while.
11:30 p.m. — After surviving my ushering shift, I take the subway home. I play fetch with my cats (their favorite game) and fall asleep like a dead person. $2.75
Daily Total: $33.25

Day Six

7 a.m. — I make my usual breakfast and clean up a huge hairball that one of my cats spewed in the night. Great way to start the day. I ordered nylons from Amazon for $6 because I need them for the TV gig I'm doing. The rest of the morning is spent going through my agent's notes on one of the plays I wrote. I edit for about two hours and stuff some rice and beans into a Tupperware container for lunch before heading out. $6
9:30 a.m. — I take the subway to rehearsal. I'm growing weary of this rehearsal process and can't wait for the show to open so it doesn't take up all my time anymore. Being an understudy is not for the faint of heart. It's a combination of needing to self-motivate, being super bored while sitting on the sidelines, and being super stressed when asked to step in. I wish I could edit my play on the side without being rude. $2.75
1:30 p.m. — During my lunch break, I eat the lentils and rice I hastily packed this morning. They are dry and uninteresting.
4:30 p.m. — I meet up with my friend, F., who I haven't seen in so long! It is so delightful and I'm low-key obsessed with her. We first met in a writing class. We each clocked the other's hairy legs and bonded over being the only two queer people in the class. Today, we meet at a queer/lesbian bar in the Village. We get happy hour drinks and I spend $20 with tip. After drinks, we run around the block talking about how cool it is that we live in New York City and get to work as artists. I grab a coffee for $4.50 before heading to work. $24.50

8:30 p.m. — I take the subway to my usher job. I adore my coworkers so it makes the job easier. A woman projectile vomits at the beginning of the show. I need to get out of here. $2.75

11:30 p.m. — I take the subway home after work. I'm hungry so I make breakfast for (late) dinner. Then I go right to sleep. $2.75

Daily Total: $38.75

Day Seven

10:30 a.m. — I get to sleep in late, which is the best thing ever. I make my usual breakfast and coffee and fed the cats. I play Animal Crossing for about an hour before doing anything else. It's been over a week since I've been on Animal Crossing, and let me tell you, my villagers are PISSED. I work on my play a little more. I wish there was a way to get paid for the editing process because it's endless!
1 p.m. — I ride the subway to my usher job yet again. Seeing the same show every day is a rare form of torture. It kinda ruins the magic of Broadway. Today's show goes off without a hitch. $2.75
3 p.m. — I eat the microwavable vegan mac and cheese I brought for lunch.
7 p.m. — I head home on the subway. I visit my Animal Crossing island again and my villagers all seemed to have forgotten that I'd abandoned them for a week. All except Eggbert, the unforgiving chicken. He still needs some convincing, but I know we will get through it. He already threatened to move to a new island once, but I pleaded with him to stay. I eat more of the delicious spicy vegan ahi I made and then head to bed. $2.75
Daily Total: $5.50
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