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A Week In San Diego, CA, On A $98,000 Salary

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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 UI/UX designer who makes $98,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a gin and tonic.
Occupation: UI/UX
Industry: SaaS
Age: 28
Location: San Diego, CA
Salary: $98,000
Net Worth: ~$45,800 ($4,200 in checking, $1,700 in emergency savings, $14,700 in a Roth IRA, $23,000 in ETFs & mutual funds, $2,200 in estimated quarterly tax savings. My husband makes $65,000 and our finances are almost completely separate. Our only joint account is for leftover wedding funds or gift money that’s given to us as a couple (currently $18,000). Otherwise, we keep everything separate but frequently chat with each other about finances. Since he has a good bit more in savings than I do, if we end up making a joint purchase in the future (like a home), he would contribute more towards the down payment, while I would proportionally pay more of the mortgage, until we have both equitably contributed, at which point we would split payments 50/50. Groceries, household stuff, and date night expenses go on a shared credit card, paid off 50/50 each month. We split rent and utilities. He also pays half of my reproductive healthcare costs. I'm currently making ~50% more than he does, but there were periods where that was reversed. We'd support each other in an emergency, but we expect the other person to have their own savings to lean on first. This system has been low-stress for us.)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $8,000 monthly in steady contracts + ~$2,000/year in misc. contract work
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $713 for my half of a two-bedroom apartment, split with my husband. We got crazy lucky on Craiglist a couple of years back.
Quarterly Estimated Taxes: ~$2,500
ETF Investments: $1,000
Emergency Savings: $1,000 (this was going to max out my IRA, but I just reached that goal last month)
Gifts/Charity: $880 ($150 in recurring donations to local refugee support and student sponsorship, the rest I set aside monthly to spend on friends/family or donate spontaneously. Whatever is left over at the end of the month goes to a local non-profit.)
Health Insurance: $245
Car Insurance: $140
YMCA: $35
Utilities: $35
Quickbooks: $25
Adobe CC: $20
Spotify: $10
Apple Storage: $1

Annual Expenses
Microsoft 365:
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, though I don't think my parents planned for it at all. School was my personality trait, and I began dual-enrollment courses at 14. My parents found a third-party educational service that taught us how to combine community college, CLEP testing, and online courses. I graduated with a bachelor's degree at 17, for about $12,000. My grandparents graciously paid for it all (and practically everything else in my life). It took me years to appreciate how lucky I was to have my education funded. I also had to make up for the social learning that route couldn't teach. A few years ago, I borrowed $6,000 leftover from my wedding fund (funded by my grandparents) and used it for a coding boot camp. I repaid that money back into our joint account within a year of graduating from the program.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
In elementary school, I was taught the envelope system for managing birthday and holiday gifts from family. Both sets of grandparents heavily used chores as a cover to slip me money all through middle school. I can't vouch for the quality of work they got in return, but I was grateful and I tried. One grandpa was my primary math teacher (I was homeschooled, could you tell?), and he began teaching me tax and investment principles when I was in high school. He was there for me during my first few years of filing self-employment taxes. My mom also regularly had me run over the monthly grocery budget with her. What my parents never talked about was their mountain of credit card debt, lack of savings, and taste for living several tiers above their income level.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I babysat regularly all through high school and would spend a couple of weeks each summer temping at an insurance agency. I started working full-time as a freelance illustrator immediately after graduating, for about $15/hr. I got it because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life, so a remote job with flexible work hours was ideal while I figured things out.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes, it was clear my parents were tense about it. They talked about us being poor frequently, and particularly that they had been very poor when we were young. Only in adulthood have I been able to look back on that narrative, and see how mismatched it is with the spacious new houses we lived in, the new cars we drove, and the family vacations we took. Also, my mom was stay-at-home?! We were middle-class but lived upper-class lives thanks to upper-class grandparents. Someday I'd love to be able to ask my parents frankly why they interpreted their circumstances that way because it makes no sense to me now.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes, there's a lot to think about as an independent contractor... Planning for estimated taxes, paying for my own healthcare and retirement, and continually negotiating is a lot of work! We also have a ridiculously sweet rental situation right now and if that were to change we would have to move out of the area to continue saving at our current rate.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
My grandparent's money is a big chunk of my savings, so am I financially responsible? They are my financial safety net and have said my husband and I could move in with them for free for up to a year if we ever needed it. I moved out of my parent's house at 20 and began paying for all my own expenses. Before that, they never asked me to pay rent and I didn't contribute to groceries or utilities, but I was essentially an au pair for my significantly younger siblings.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
So. Much. Grandparents have paid for: school, my first car (still driving it), my wedding, coding boot camp, and a random $15,000 gift this year. My husband and I put any money given to us both into a joint investment account, which we would split if we divorced. Additionally, one grandpa taught me about investment, and over the course of a few years of high school helped me save $2,000 and invest it in a mutual fund. I am grateful and understand it makes them happy to give, but it is excessive for one person. Drag my ass in the comments, but please also link a good place to donate!

Day One

6:30 a.m. — Up for an East Coast time zone morning meeting with my primary client. I make a French press coffee, eat a bagel with avocado and dynamite sauce, slather on Vitamin C serum and sunscreen, and start a couple of hours of meetings in my office. My husband, F., pokes his head in to say goodbye around 8.
10 a.m. — Break to fill up my water bottle and water the potted front-yard herbs. I'm in a turf war with the winter moth and swallowtail caterpillars.
1 p.m. — I grab leftovers from a cabbage, eloté, and chickpea salad we made a couple of nights back, and some Trader Joe's ciabatta. I'm doing a lot of wireframing today, so I put on an episode of The Bachelorette to play in the background.
3:30 p.m. — Submit the wireframes for review. There's not much of the work day left, so I switch to the Intoux UX research course. My primary client pays for me to take two educational courses a year; it's one of my favorite things about working with them. While the video plays, I paint my nails.
4 p.m. — Early meetings mean I'm off a bit early! My routine at the end of the workday is usually the same: munch on a Nature Valley bar, play with the cat, vacuum, and do any dishes in the sink. F. gets back from work and we catch up on our days. Then he logs into a workshop and I head off to the gym.
6:30 p.m. — I accidentally left my headphones at home, so that was one sweaty, boring treadmill run. I should have just opted for a different activity, but I'm addicted to the endorphins I get from checking off a run on my Nike Run Club plan. Home to shower and then I sit on the couch and text my best friend to gossip.
7 p.m. — F. wraps up and we throw together a dinner snack board. While we eat, he shows me all the stuff he learned in Lightroom today. While our careers don't overlap, we're both in creative fields and regularly chat through projects together. Then we're out the door for cheap movie Tuesdays! We're at the movies most Tuesday nights because several local theaters have tickets for under $7 and the theaters are practically empty.
8:25 p.m. — We see A Thousand Years of Longing ($5, my half) and there are a lot of elements to love, but I'm stuck on the crass way fat bodies are portrayed. We spend the car ride home debriefing. $5
11:30 p.m. — We get in bed and my cat won't stop using my arm as a scratching post. I take her out of the room and then get back in bed. She meows at the door all night, but I somehow fall asleep.
Daily Total: $5

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — I wake up to the sound of F. making coffee. I'm not ready to wake up and doze for a bit. A few minutes before 8, I drag myself up and down some coffee. Open Slack, catch up on a few messages, and verify I have no meetings this morning. Toast a bagel, do the morning skin-care routine, then send a quick daily standup note to a client.
9:30 a.m. — It's a slow workday, so I putz around doing some user research and watering my plants. There are a lot of them, so each week it takes a couple of days to water everything. I see that my estimated taxes just went out from my account (noted in the monthly budget) and log into Quickbooks to make sure it gets appropriately flagged in there as well.
12 p.m. — I read through customer-support logs to get more context for a feature I'm working on. A mid-day meeting gets canceled (yay!), so I go blink in the sunshine for a few minutes then eat some of the fruit and veggies from last night. Since leftovers are scarce, I heat up some pre-packaged madras and add Greek yogurt. I'm craving a sandwich from my favorite spot and would normally go for it... but I'm traveling in a couple of weeks and the eating-out money for that has to come from somewhere. Bleh. The madras gets the job done.
4 p.m. — Powering through some technical videos. I eat a lemon bar from Costco and water a few more plants. The lemon bar is a splurge from our once-a-month bulk trip to Costco or Walmart. I notice we're low on coffee and butter, and add those to the grocery list.
5 p.m. — Done with work! I start my wind-down routine and make a smoothie. F. gets home and starts a load of laundry. Then we catch up while he does some dishes and I work on a potato salad. It's too damn hot in our apartment, so we decide to walk to our favorite dive while the potato salad chills. We sit out on the patio and both get a beer and a gin and tonic, plus tip. We split the bill. $15
7 p.m. — Back home. We heat up black bean patties, top them with a fried egg, and eat them on Trader Joe's everything ciabatta with a side of herby potato salad. F. needs to pack for a work trip tomorrow, but I pitch having sex before I get sleepy. Afterward, he packs and we watch an episode of What We Do In the Shadows before drifting off.
Daily Total: $15

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — I wake up and cuddle the cat for a bit. F. left sometime around 4:30 this morning... gross. He travels one to two weeks a month and while it was a tough adjustment at first, I feel like I get all the perks of being married *and* being single. I could pretend I spend the extra time meaningfully connecting with other people, but mostly I just work out and play video games. Start the morning with coffee and toast.
10:15 a.m. — I end a two-hour work session with a teammate. We've blocked out a couple of hours a week to align our client's marketing presence with its product UI, and we get through quite a bit of great content. I spent almost a decade in freelance spaces where I was scrambling for new clients, getting paid less than minimum wage, and all the deadlines were "yesterday" (screw Upwork). Only in the last two years have I found healthier work.
12 p.m. — I eat potato salad and drag a string around for the cat. She's 7 and we picked her up from the shelter in January. We got an older cat hoping that she would be chill in our small space... but she still wants to party hard. I think she would be happier as an indoor/outdoor cat, but F. persuaded me to help out the local birds by keeping her inside. Apparently, free-roaming cats kill a minimum of 1.4 billion birds a year?!? The line between the circle of life and conservation is frequently fuzzy to me.
2 p.m. — My favorite Knix sports bra is falling apart after a year and a half of heavy use. Most months I have ~$200 dollars of wiggle room for fun items like this, but I got my hair permed last week, so that money's long gone. I bookmark two Poshmark bras I'd like to get next month, though I'll have to decide then whether I want them more or less than a new car key fob (my old one took an accidental dip in the ocean). I keep a running list of purchases I want to make, so I don't feel like I'm denying myself... I'm just pacing myself.
4 p.m. — Was supposed to have book club with a friend, but she has to reschedule last minute, so I eat a snack bar and play Stardew Valley.
5 p.m. — Trying to psych myself up to go on a run, but instead I lay on the couch and catch up on texts.
7 p.m. — Short run, short walk, shorter stretch. After showering, I make a brown rice, kale, and soft-boiled egg bowl. Then I watch The Bachelorette and do some embroidering.
10 p.m. — Melatonin. Book. Bed.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

7:30 a.m. — Out the door to meet a surf buddy! We spend about 45 minutes in the water. Financially, the culture around outdoor hobbies in Southern California was hard to break into because the gear is expensive (wetsuits to boards, running shoes, camping gear, etc.). I had to borrow a lot when I started being more active about five years ago. I've slowly accumulated enough pieces through OfferUp, Craigslist, and REI Garage Sale that my weekend activities are now mostly free, but the initial investment was prohibitive, even getting stuff all secondhand.
9 a.m. — Back at home, I take a shower and use UrbanSkinRX exfoliating face scrub. Then I do my normal skin-care routine, wrap my hair in an old t-shirt, and lounge in my robe with a cup of coffee. I feel like an '80s housewife. My work weeks are normally 36 hours, but I have one particular project I'd like to wrap up soon. I think about doing it but procrastinate instead. It's also raining harder and the cat is on my lap, so everything about the vibe says no-work-only-cozy.
10:30 a.m. — I make a grocery list for a couple of meals to tide me over before F. gets home. The NYT Cooking app has a collection of pizza recipes posted that inspire me, so I text a bunch of friends to see if anyone wants to do a build-your-own pizza night tomorrow. Everybody's free?? What is this, a sitcom? I get dressed, diffuse my hair, and head out the door. I decide to swing by the nearest healthcare center and get my flu shot as well.
12:30 p.m. — Well, the drive-through flu shot clinic is closed. I head to Trader Joe's and pick up the ingredients for saag, Soyrizo potato and kale soup, and pizzas. I also grab mac and cheese, beer, ice cream, potato chips, and some fruit/veggies for snacking. I'm starving when I get home, so I make the mac and cheese and a smoothie (spinach, frozen pineapple, Greek yogurt, ginger). In my personal budget spreadsheet, I allot $20 from my gifts category for the pizza night. $66
5 p.m. — Welp, I blacked out and played Stardew Valley for a while. Now it's time to meal prep and do some tidying.
8 p.m. — I prep pizza dough and set it aside to rise. I make a crockpot of saag and sear some tofu. While I eat, I watch my first-ever episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. After I eat I wash my face and get in bed. I go to sleep after scrolling for a while.
Daily Total: $66

Day Five

9 a.m. — Wake up slowly and cuddle with the cat for a bit. Then I make a breakfast sandwich with smoked gouda and finish off yesterday's smoothie. My Spotless app reminds me that this is the weekend for some deep cleaning chores, like grout scrubbing and the shower. I put on my Libby audiobook (Sir Ian McKellan reading The Odyssey), and get to work.
12:30 p.m. — Cleaning done! I slather sunscreen on and fill my water bottle, then head out for a long run while listening to The Odyssey.
3:30 p.m. — Run seven miles, walk one mile, and then stretch out. Then I go home and shower. I start chopping veggies for tonight.
5:30 p.m. — My bestie, B., comes over early so we can have some us time before everyone else arrives. People drift around 6:30 and it's a great group. I met most of these women through F.'s job. Everybody brings some topping, and the dough comes out perfectly.
9 p.m. — Half of us are also queer! Around 9, we decide to head over to a lesbian bar, straights in tow. I buy a beer and B.'s drink + tip. I get hit on by a total babe, so my new haircut is working! We dance till we're too tired and sweaty to keep going, which sadly is only about two hours. My heart is strong but my calves are done. $14
Daily Total: $14

Day Six

7 a.m. — The cat is up and so am I. I convince her we need to stay in bed for another hour.
8 a.m. — Coffee, eggs, and toast. I wash some of last night's dishes, then get my shit together to go out on a wetlands walk with a few people from yesterday's crew. I realize I misread the calendar and F. is actually getting back this evening!
12:30 p.m. — Back from the estuary. I finish up the dishes and reheat the saag. I fry some leftover pizza dough so that it vaguely resembles naan, then settle in for an afternoon of reading, Stardew Valley, and TikTok.
5 p.m. — F.'s home! We lie on the living room rug and catch up on our weeks. He's navigating a funky situation at work, so we chat through a variety of ways to approach things. We both have an IPA and he eats the saag while I make myself a gouda avocado sandwich. I cajole him into training for an end-of-year marathon with me — it would be both of our first. He's in, then we spend the next half-hour trading articles on training nutrition.
8 p.m. — We start the first episode of The Bad Batch. At some point, F. brings me Trader Joe's Cookie Butter ice cream. Then we have sex, shower, and head to bed.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

6 a.m. — F. wakes up to get in his first training run before it heats up... why are some people... like that?
7 a.m. — I'm up now. I grab some coffee, then crawl back in bed to catch up on the news before it's time to start the work day. At 7:45, I rush through my eggs and toast, skin care, and hair routine.
8 a.m. — Settled on the couch for a couple of hours of work. On the docket today: mocking up some small UI changes for a desktop app, continuing the UX course, and wrangling a gangly Notion table of research into a Google Sheet.
12:30 p.m. — Today feels soooo slow. A lot of the people I work with are at a conference today, so it's just crickets. Lunch break to vacuum, do some dishes, and make a pitcher of iced tea. Not feeling the saag, so I make a chopped salad from all the leftover pizza toppings, arugula, and avocado.
2 p.m. — These video courses are starting to rot my brain. It's good content; I just don't have the stamina. Bored, I run to the bank to get laundry quarters ($20, F. Venmos me his share). Quarters are hard to get here and these will go so quickly. Once back home, I motivate myself through the next lecture with two mandarins. $10
4:30 p.m. — Winding down the work day. I eat a Nature Valley bar and then head to the gym. I do some incline walking, some running, and some core work while listening to my audiobook.
6 p.m. — I'm back and showered and craving Thai, but don't want to cook. F. agrees. We get DashPass complimentary with our credit card, so we usually use that. We order some vegan egg rolls, pad see ew, pad kee mao, and a fried banana dessert ($27.50, my half). It is SO good. Then we watch another couple of episodes of The Bad Batch, while I plug away at my embroidery piece. I'm still working with the training fabric, but I have a couple of thrift-store button-ups sitting in the back of my closet I'd love to tackle next. $27.50
10 p.m. — Feeling sheepish about how early it is but I'm exhausted! I lay in bed and browse some Reddit threads on iron supplements for Nexplanon users. I'm on day 17 of the almost-never-ending period from hell. I use a cup and period underwear, so thankfully there are no extra expenses there. It's been nine months of almost constant bleeding, so I'd like to switch birth-control methods, but I don't know to what yet — plus, it's gonna be pricey to switch with my terrible insurance. I already tried the copper IUD, and it was great until it fell out. I don't want to go through that ordeal again. Always bright thoughts before bed! Take melatonin and we're both out.
Daily Total: $37.50
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