A Week In Vermont On A $38,000 Salary

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Today: a School Zero Waste coordinator who makes $38,000 per year and spends some of her money on fruity Mentos.
Occupation: School Zero Waste Coordinator
Industry: Municipal Government
Age: 26
Location: Vermont
Salary: $38,000
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,138.58
Gender Identity: Woman
Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $550 for my share (I split home expenses with my boyfriend.)
Loans: $0 (My degree was paid for by scholarships, and my parents and I bought my car used with cash.)
401(k): $45.12 (Taken out of my paycheck — I contribute 3% and my employer matches 4.5%.)
Supplemental Injury Insurance: $13.86 (My employer pays my healthcare premiums in full.)
Heat and Hot Water: $10-$200 (Depending on the season. I split with my boyfriend.)
Wi-Fi: $25 for my share (Split with my boyfriend.)
Electricity: $20 for my share (Split with my boyfriend.)
HOA fees: $65 for my share (Split with my boyfriend.)
Cell Phone: $50 (Sent to my boyfriend, M.'s, dad — I'm on his company's plan.)
Spotify: $10.59
Gym: $23.31
Vermont Public Radio: $9
Donation to Local Women's Shelter: $5
Netflix, HBO, etc: $0 (We use M.'s parents' accounts.)
Savings: $320 (Sent automatically to an Ally savings account.)

Day One

6 a.m. — My alarm goes off. I pull my dog up and under the covers to snuggle with me for another few minutes. Five minutes later M.'s alarm goes off. M. makes the bed and I start coffee and feed all the pets (we also have two cats). I don't really have a skin-care or makeup routine, but I try to at least wash my face with water and put on SPF in the morning. We both dance around the kitchen preparing breakfast and lunch for ourselves. I make a smoothie (vanilla oat milk, banana, a couple dates, peanut butter, moringa powder, and protein powder) and a quick coleslaw (cabbage, a little mayo, a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper, and a couple scoops of leftover quinoa) that I'll add to a can of tuna for lunch. I pack it all up with my coffee, a sumo orange, some echinacea tea packets, and a bee propolis throat spray my coworker made me to head off a cold. M. takes the dog out for her morning run, and I head out to walk to work.
6:45 a.m. — It snowed half an inch last night and everything looks pretty again, though the roads are a mess. I'm grateful my work is only an eight-minute walk away, because my poor old Prius doesn't handle snow very well and has the scars to prove it. The wind is kicking the snow up into tiny vortexes all over the place, and I pretend I'm in The Wizard of Oz.
7 a.m. — I love being the first one in the office on Monday. I check emails and plan my week. I write down the most important thing I need to do today. I started this habit while playing the Whole Life Challenge last year, and I'm really happy I've stuck with it. Most of the time I do the important thing right away, unless I'm feeling particularly self-destructive that day. I also make my budget for the month and take a quick minute to order some shorts and cropped straight-leg corduroy pants that I've been eyeing from Everlane. A return just went through, so I have credit. The total comes to $20 for everything. $20
9 a.m. — The coworker that I share an office with recently got a desk treadmill, so we had to heavily rearrange our little room. I spend a bit of time reorganizing and downsizing. There are a ton of papers that have been in filing folders since before either of us were here. I sort through it and add a huge stack to my big box of paper that I use with kids to blend up and make new recycled paper. I add the papers that are only printed on one side to another box for a school that presses them into notepads to sell at fundraisers.
12 p.m. — I'm only working until 2 today, so I work through lunch. I add some nutritional yeast to my weird coleslaw mixture, and it actually tastes pretty good.
2 p.m. — I pick up my dog and head over to walk our seeing-eye dog friend. We are lucky to have a large park in my town where dogs are allowed off leash. It's cold and windy, but the sun is strong, so it's pretty nice out.
3:30 p.m. — I drop off the seeing-eye dog and head home. I stop at the post office to mail out a couple of Poshmark sales and to send out my passport renewal ($1.59 for postage, $110 for the renewal fee). We're going to Iceland in August to backpack the Laugavegur trail. I had to rebook my flight when I found out WOW Air shut down. They didn't even send me an email to let me know. $111.59
4:15 p.m. — I pick up 3 burritos from Mad Taco ($39.60 with tip) and top off on gas ($4.59). My car has something weird with the internal computer, and sometimes my dash just shuts off for days at a time, so I can't see how much gas I have or what speed I'm going. I've looked into it and the fix is expensive, so I just work around it with a speed app on my phone and filling up whenever I can. $44.19
4:30 p.m. — I pick up my friend and we head to Burlington. We meet another friend, who is in town for a training this week, at a climbing school to boulder. He pays for me to climb, since I bought the burritos. I've never gone during the week because it's a 40-minute drive away. It was insanely crowded, but I do finish two routes that I've been struggling with! A random eight-year-old was giving me beta and crushing ridiculous routes left and right. He's definitely the next Alex Honnold.
7:45 p.m. — We go to a bar for a beer. My other friend pays for my beer this time. I get a lemony sour. It's freezing outside, but we sit out there for a minute to watch the sunset over the Adirondacks. M. used to live in Burlington, and I really do miss watching the sunset here.
9 p.m. — We head back home. M. is in bed but still awake when I finally get there. I take the dog out and get ready for bed. I read some of Dante's Inferno out loud while M. Googles all of the references. He randomly bought this book at a garage sale, and we've been slowly working through it. It basically drags all these historical people who Dante doesn't agree with by mentioning them in different circles of Hell. We fall asleep around 11.
Daily Total: $175.78

Day Two

6 a.m. — Alarm, snuggles. We get up and do our morning routine. I pack my smoothie, coffee, coleslaw (no tuna this time), and a potato that M. baked last night. I walk to work. It's cold now, but it's supposed to be 50 degrees today!
11:30 a.m. — One of my coworkers is doing a lip-sync battle to raise money for Vermont Cares, an HIV prevention and education organization. I donate and round up for the fees. $21.54
12:15 p.m. — I pick up my dog and we take a walk through town. She's one year old and gets way too excited when strangers pay attention to her. We're trying to do more walks in crowds to get her used to it. It's a gorgeous day, and I love all the smiles she brings to people when we walk by. Do other dog parents think their dog is the most gorgeous creature in the world? When I get back to the office, I heat up my potato in the toaster oven and set off the fire alarm. Oops. My dog takes a nap and I eat at my desk.
3:30 p.m. — Head out for the day. It's so nice out, so we take another long walk through town and then throw a frisbee for a bit in the green near my house.
5 p.m. — We get home and I towel off my dog's mud socks. I start making zucchini-cabbage pancakes for dinner. I'm kind of winging it, but it turns out awesome! M. comes home quickly but leaves to go have a beer with his old boss.
6:45 p.m. — I walk down the street to the elementary school where I play in a dodgeball league on Tuesdays. It's actually very competitive and an awesome workout, plus I've made a lot of friends through it. I always say hi to the custodians, since I'm in this school a lot for work. One of them asks my name, and we talk for a minute while I fill my water bottle. When I come out again to get a drink, there's a Post-It note on my water bottle with his number on it. Oooof, no thanks. I consider getting a beer afterward with everyone, but I don't want to spend any money.
9:15 p.m. — I get home and shower. I always have trouble winding down after weeknight social time. I read some Dante out loud, but I'm yawning so frequently it's basically unintelligible. We have sleepy sex and knock out by 11.
Daily Total: $21.54

Day Three

7 a.m. — I wake up and take the dog out for her morning run, since I'm working late and won't be around this afternoon. We see one of her dog friends, and they get the serious zoomies.
8 a.m. — Same morning routine. I walk down to work. Today, I have to prep for my board presentation this afternoon. I'm not really stressed about it, but I have a lot of materials to put together.
12 p.m. — I walk to yoga down the street with a coworker. I only get to do this on days that M. works from home, so I relish it. I use a prepaid pass. I wanted to refill my coffee at the bakery afterward, but I forgot my wallet.
2 p.m. — I drive to our warehouse in the next town. We collect leftover fabric pieces from sewing projects. I sort through them, wash and fold the nice pieces, and give them to schools to use for art projects, sewing classes, and theater. The outreach team is unloading a few pallets of compost bins, so I stick around to help them for a bit.
5 p.m. — I heat up my lunch/dinner of a baked potato and leftover cabbage pancake at the office. I put the potato in the microwave instead of the toaster oven this time (because of the fire alarm), but it's so dry I can barely finish it. I keep busy with emails until the board meeting.
6:30 p.m. — I head up the street to the meeting. I have to sit through all of the beginning formality stuff, but at least there are thin lemon Oreos to snack on. My presentation goes really well! The board has the power to terminate my position if they feel it necessary for the budget, so I always want to keep bringing new creative programs to the table (especially grant-funded ones) and advocate for school sustainability programs.
8 p.m. — Get home and M. is stressed out by the dog. Apparently, she wasn't listening to him off leash, so he cut their walk short. We think she's having an adolescent moment and hope that if we stay consistent with training, she'll get over it. We go to a mart down the street to get some Ben & Jerry's to stress eat while watching random episodes of Bob's Burgers. We go to bed around 10. $3.99
Daily Total: $3.99

Day Four

7 a.m. — I don't have to be at work until 10 today! M. is already up and coffee is made. I make my smoothie breakfast and decide I have time for a quick arm workout. Then I take my dog and the seeing-eye dog up to the park for an hour. We run into my dog's favorite friend. At some point, they go out of our sight wrestling over a frisbee. When they come back, he is somehow wearing my dog's bandanna! I actually peed a little laughing so hard. They also have lots of fun in the emerging mud puddles.
9:20 a.m. — My dog and I arrive at the office. Today I need to finish ordering grant materials and coordinate delivery with all of the schools.
12 p.m. — I stop at the local co-op to get some groceries: coffee, red lentils, peanut butter, carrots, a bag of onions, bananas, potatoes, lemons, coconut milk, yogurt, and Serrano peppers ($56.94 that I will split with M.). I take the dog home and prep for a slow-cooker dinner of lemony lentils, until I realize I left my slow cooker at work. I throw everything in a bowl and put it in the fridge. I grab a roll, almonds, pistachios, and a peanut butter Epic bar for lunch. $28.47
2 p.m. — On my way out, I run home and plop everything in the slow cooker on low. I drive to a high school for a meeting with their leadership team. We are trying to change the culture of throwing everything in the trash in their cafeteria. Last time we did an audit, we found two bowls and eight pieces of silverware (and a lot of recyclables and compostables, too) from only one lunch period! We have set a solid action plan for a share table and some peer-education programs.
4:30 p.m. — I'm done for the day. I walk home to finish dinner and change. In addition to the dal, I steam some butternut squash, smash it, and sauté it with some Indian spices. I have time for a few bites before my teammate picks me up for rugby practice.
7:30 p.m. — Practice was great! I usually play wing, but we are working on getting everyone on the team comfortable with every position this spring. We are doing a lot of line-out work, and I absolutely love getting lifted, so I jump in whenever I can. It feels like flying. My captain says I might even get to do it in a game as a surprise play! My teammate and I stop at Walgreens, and she buys me some peanut M&Ms that I've been craving.
8:30 p.m. — I get home and shower. I finish the last few pages of Braiding Sweetgrass. It's an amazing book that is part memoir, part natural history, and part indigenous storytelling. I start a Discworld book. My dad has been obsessed with Terry Pratchett for forever, and I'm slowly warming up to the weirdness. I only get 20 pages in before falling asleep around 10.
Daily Total: $28.47

Day Five

6 a.m. — Awake and snuggles. Same morning routine as always. M. takes the dog for the morning walk. I pack leftover squash and lentils for lunch.
2 p.m. — Whoops, I got so wrapped up in ordering supplies and making tax-exempt requests that I forget to take a lunch. Oh well, my 40 hours are up for the week, so I head home.
2:30 p.m. — I head over to walk my dog and the seeing-eye dog in the park. The seeing-eye dog's neighbor asks if I could take her labradoodle, too. Of course, I agree and we set out as a little wolf pack.
3:30 p.m. — We are all heading down the hill back to the house when an entire herd of deer gets startled. The labradoodle tears off to chase the deer, and my dog tears off to chase the labradoodle. After about two minutes of sprinting after them in desperation (the seeing-eye dog does not give a shit, and thankfully he's on my heels the whole time), they both trot back to me like nothing happened. I am stressed out and worried about the deer; I hope they didn't get chased into the road. I leash everyone and take them home.
4 p.m. — I get home and accidentally lock my keys in my car. I pick my house lock with a credit card (not my first time doing this) and decide to deal with my car tomorrow. I change into scrubby clothes, move everything out of the entryway room, and line the floor with a drop cloth. I fish around our closet for the clothes steamer M.'s mom gave us and get to work scoring, steaming, and scraping off the old ugly wallpaper. I work at it for two hours and only get one small wall finished. I'm frustrated with the slow progress. I don't want to buy the nasty wallpaper solvent, but we might have to.
6 p.m. — M. gets home and surprises me with Mad Taco! My day is instantly better. He helps me clean up the curls of wallpaper. He asks if I want to go see a Misfits cover band playing at a dive bar downtown. I am tempted to stay home, but he grew up on that music, so I agree and text my friend who likes that stuff, too.
9 p.m. — M. and I walk downtown and meet our friend there. I buy a few PBRs for us and a shot of Tullamore D.E.W. for M., plus tip. $15
10 p.m. — I decide I need some candy, so I run two blocks over to Shaw's. I am craving Spree for some reason, but they don't have any. I get fruity Mentos instead. $1.09
10:30 p.m. — We take turns buying rounds of beer. The band is finished, but M. and our friend are pretty drunk and want to stay out. We hear thumping music and end up at a pizza place/bar with a band that could probably be described as vampire electronica. We don't have to pay the cover since it's already late. I am bummed they aren't still selling pizza. We stick around and people-watch some unlikely Vermonters dance in fishnets for a bit, then we walk home around 1 a.m. M. is pretty drunk and refuses to move from the couch. I don't mind, because I get to sprawl out in bed. I call my dog in to snuggle and fall asleep by 1:30. $14
Daily Total: $30.09

Day Six

8 a.m. — I wake up with a jolt because I totally forgot that I locked my keys in my car and I need to leave at 9:30. I don't have AAA anymore, and I'm not sure whom to call. I end up calling a towing company, and they send someone. I walk my dog around the block until he shows up. He unlocks my car, and I cry inside as I pay him $50. I text with my friend, and she tells me I could have called the police to unlock it for free. More internal crying. $50
9 a.m. — I make coffee and some eggs and avocado for breakfast. I pick up my teammate and another girl our captain recruited who is new to rugby. We all drive to Burlington to pick up yet another teammate. I get gas and pick up a fig bar. $18.29
10:30 a.m. — We meet a few other teammates at a climbing gym to boulder for a few hours. $16
12:30 p.m. — We all head to rugby practice. Our first game of the season is next Saturday, so the practice is pretty intense. I show off with an unnecessary slide to score, and I'm rewarded with some nasty turf burn the size of a grapefruit. I eat my fig bar and some pistachios I packed on the drive home.
3 p.m. — Dropped everyone off, and I'm finally home! M. is up but groggy and hungover still. We decide to walk the dog downtown and pick up sandwiches. I get a veggie hummus sandwich on a bagel, M. gets an Italian sub, and we split pepperoncini chips and a chocolate chip cookie. He pays. We sit on the library steps to eat. If the sun would come out, it would be almost warm enough to hang out for longer. But it doesn't, so we walk home.
5 p.m. — We decide to make cookies tonight. We make a quick trip to Shaw's to get milk, chocolate chips, brown sugar, vanilla extract, butter, hummus, kiwis, peanut butter, pistachios, eggs, pasta, and bananas. We split the bill. $29.90
5:30 p.m. — I take a shower while I'm waiting for the butter to soften. My turf burn sears when it gets wet. I thought I was tougher than this, but I'm not. I get out and mix up the cookies with M. I realize we're out of white sugar, so I use turbinado sugar in the raw. It turns out great, but I can't even eat any actual cookies because I ate so much raw dough.
8 p.m. — I feel my shoulders start to tense up from being tackled today. M. rubs my neck while we watch the new season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I feel like I'm too old for this show, but it's entertaining and addicting. We fall asleep around midnight.
Daily Total: $114.19

Day Seven

10 a.m. — I finally get up. My whole body is sore, so I'm happy I slept in. M. has coffee and eggs made for me!
11 a.m. — I take the dog across town to our local mountain-bike trail while M. goes to the gym. We want to get her used to the area so that once it dries out, she can come mountain biking with us. She's come out here with us on cross-country skis and did well, but I feel like everything changes when the snow is melting. We jog about two miles up the trail before looping down to the connecting nature-center trails where M. picks us up.
2:30 p.m. — M. and I strip the rest of the wallpaper in the entryway. There are some stubborn spots left, but we are pretty proud of ourselves. M. cleans up and I vacuum.
5 p.m. — M. makes spaghetti and heats up some sauce we froze. I chop up some cabbage and carrots and put some oil and vinegar on it. We split a glass of wine.
7 p.m. — After cleaning up, we watch a few more episodes of Sabrina. I realize I got my weird period (usually I just spot, since I have a Mirena), and all of the candy cravings make sense now.
9 p.m. — I watch an episode of Bob's Burgers before I call it a night, so I don't have dreams about the devil.
Daily Total: $0
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