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A Week In Birmingham, AL, On A $50,000 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: a writer who makes $50,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on plants.
Occupation: Writer
Industry: Media
Age: 25
Location: Birmingham, AL
Salary: $50,000
Net Worth: $16,193 (Checking: $2,055, savings: $3,000, 403(b) from previous job: $11,000, 401(k) from current job: $138. My husband, R., and I are planning to combine our accounts, but we haven't done so yet. Right now, our finances are completely separate.)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,390.22
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $400 (I pay utilities and for groceries, and all of that adds up to my half of our $1,545 rent for a two-bed/two-bath apartment)
Utilities: ~$100
Internet: $60
401(k): $96.15 (biweekly; pre-tax)
Health Insurance: $79.82 (biweekly; pre-tax)
Car/Renters' Insurance: $129.79
Cell Phone: $25
Apple TV: $5
Netflix/Hulu/Disney+/HBO Max: use my husband's or parents' accounts
Donations: $240
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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?
There was never a question about if I would attend higher ed — more a question about where/for what. Both of my parents' families have a history of higher education, and not many people I grew up with took different paths, so I honestly thought that was the only option for a while. My parents had set aside funds for me, but I got a full ride to an out-of-state public school, so they used that to help with fees, books, and groceries. I have no idea how much they had saved.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I grew up in one of the most affluent counties in the US, something I didn't realize until I went off to college. My parents would never tell me about our financial situation, other than that we needed to save money and not spend on things we didn't really need. My dad grew up relatively poor, so this mentality is definitely from his childhood. We talked about taxes and how to balance a checkbook (which, for the life of me, I can't remember), but other than that, they never really talked about it. Because we didn't talk about it, I thought we were in a very different financial state than we actually were.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
Other than babysitting, my first job was at a daycare. My first job out of college was in the communications department of my university.
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Did you worry about money growing up?
Because of the culture around money where I lived, I worried about money a lot because my parents didn't spend on what they called "showy" things. We still never went without anything, we went on family vacations, and my mom got to stay home with me and my sisters while my dad worked, but for my pre-pubescent brain, this wasn't enough evidence. My friends would come to school with Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, and North Face backpacks while I carried one from Target. When we turned 16, they got BMWs and Lexuses and I got a Honda. It's not that I wasn't grateful — I just genuinely thought that's how upper-middle-class people lived and thought we were in a less steady financial state than we were. Once I got out of my bubble and actually met other people, I realized just how privileged I was to even be able to think that, and how I shouldn't have been as worried as I was. But I also lived for drama, so that was probably part of it.
Do you worry about money now?
Finances have always been something that triggers my anxiety, so I don't think I'm ever not worried about them. After we got married last year, R. moved to live with me and looked for a full-time gig for a few months while freelancing. For that time period, our only steady source of income was my $35,000 salary, which put us right at the poverty line in Alabama. That was definitely a tough period, but R. now has a full-time job that he loves, and I have a job that pays me better and is better for my mental health. Even still, looking at my bank account makes my heart beat faster — I have no idea if I'm saving enough or spending too much.
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At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became mostly financially independent around 22. When I got my first full-time job after college, I paid for everything other than my health insurance. My dad quit his job when I was 23 and he lost his health insurance, so I lost mine too and had to start paying for it. I know that my parents and R.'s parents will help if we're ever struggling, which is really nice to have working in an industry known for layoffs.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents paid for my rent and groceries throughout college with money from my college fund. They also bought my first car and contributed $10,000 when that car was totaled (not my fault) so I could get something during the pandemic when car prices were insanely high. They also contributed around $12,000 towards our wedding, and R.'s parents and both of our grandparents contributed another $5,000 total. I know my parents have a trust set up, but they haven't told me anything about it. We're really, really lucky to have the financial support that we do.

Day One

7:15 a.m. — Slept through my alarm again. I'm disappointed in myself — I've been trying to get up at 6:30 every morning, and it's not happening. Roll out of bed and start my morning routine while my husband, R., is in the shower. Brush my teeth, wash my face, and throw on some Cocokind vitamin C serum, Cerave moisturizer, and Sun Bum sunscreen.
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8 a.m. — R. heads to his office while I set up for the day. I recently started a work-from-home job that I love, but I'm still adjusting to it. Throw on a t-shirt and some shorts from Abercrombie I'm trying to decide if I actually like. Grab some coffee and play Wordle, Quordle, Heardle, Octordle, etc. before logging on to work. My parents and I send our scores to each other every day. We're a bit obsessed.
9:30 a.m. — First meeting done! I get some greek yogurt and strawberries. I did a huuuuuge Trader Joe's haul yesterday, but somehow still forgot a ton of essentials (like granola). I start a running list of things I still need to buy in my notes app, then get back to work,
12 p.m. — R. comes home for lunch and we throw together a quick Caesar salad with cherry tomatoes and leftover chicken. After he leaves, I decide to do a little work unpacking some moving boxes. We moved to Birmingham over the weekend from about an hour away, and we're almost unpacked, but not quite. I very, very desperately miss my friends.
1:15 p.m. — Get back to work after scrolling through a local plant store's website. They just announced a sale and we need some new plants for our house after I, uhh, forgot about our others and let them die. Oops.
4:30 p.m. — Clock out for the day just as R. gets home. We're going to a soccer game with his office tonight, so we'll get dinner at the stadium. I don't understand soccer, but I'm hoping to make friends with his coworkers.
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9:30 p.m. — We won! I still don't understand soccer and spent most of the night hanging with R.'s coworker's kids, which was fine by me. I quickly rinse off and do my nighttime routine: brush teeth, micellar water, Cetaphil sensitive face wash, CeraVe retinol (only twice a week — I'm a sensitive gal), and moisturize. My little sister's birthday is tomorrow, and she's recently discovered an obsession with all things Starbucks, so I send her a digital gift card ($25). Do a French Duolingo lesson and scroll on TikTok for entirely too long while R. develops a roll of film (he's a photographer in his spare time and develops film himself). It's lights out by 11. $25
Daily Total: $25

Day Two

7:15 a.m. — Wake up. Groan. Do a quick stretch. Make a mental note to do some yoga during my lunch break, and fall back asleep until R. wakes me up.
8:15 a.m. — Actually up. Do my morning skincare, make coffee, and log on for the day. I realize I have a few meetings where I'll meet new-to-me coworkers this morning, so I put on a bit of makeup to make me look less dead: concealer, blush, eyebrow gel, and waterproof mascara. I've recently become obsessed with the Rare Beauty liquid blush — thank you, Selena Gomez. I devour a banana, and we're off.
11 a.m. — Take an early lunch to run to Aldi and grab some sandwich meat, tomatoes, butter, garlic, granola, pickles, avocado cooking spray, and tajin ($29.43). We're having some friends over to use our pool tonight, so I grab some summery ciders. When I get home, I do a quick yoga sesh, then throw together a salad and get back to work. $29.43
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1 p.m. — I find a barely-used Ikea couch on Facebook Marketplace for $250 that retails for $900, and they'll deliver! Score! Heat up some frozen soup dumplings because I'm still hungry, and work from our porch for the afternoon.
5 p.m. — Our friends arrive and we head out to the pool. They live in the town we just moved from and, honestly, it's a breath of fresh air to see them. After a bit, we go to a Tex-Mex spot for dinner, where I practically inhale a huge frozen blackberry margarita and veggie enchiladas ($32.77). We also hit up Trader Joe's for some post-dinner snacks ($5.48). $38.25
9 p.m. — R. and I are home from dinner and exhausted. I prep for a full hair-washing shower with Kiehl's Magic Elixir on my scalp. I had some hair loss when I got my hormonal IUD last year, and am still working to regain my full mane. I really wish people would talk more about the side effects of hormonal birth control — I've had a hell of a year both physical and mental health-wise because of it.
10 p.m. — Do my skincare routine (sans retinol), a quick Duolingo lesson, and pretty much immediately fall asleep.
Daily Total: $67.68

Day Three

7 a.m. — I wake up to an abnormally large sum of money in my checking account. It looks like I've finally received my last direct deposit from my old job along with the payout for my vacation time, so it's significantly larger than my normal paycheck ($2,500). I put $2,000 into savings and leave $500 to pay for the couch and for those plants, which I order from their website. Morning routine, coffee, and breakfast, and it's time to work. $31.68
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12 p.m. — Somehow, I've finished most of my work for the day, so I take a break to eat R.'s leftovers from last night (bless him) and a cookie. Run downtown to go pick up my plants and it takes an hour and a half for the drive. I also have to pay for parking for the 30ish seconds I'm there because there's a parking attendant parked right next to the only open spot ($0.65). When I get back, I start wrapping up the last few things I need to do before the weekend while binge-listening to Maggie Rogers's and Beyoncé's new albums. What a great freaking Friday. $0.65
4:30 p.m. — The guy I bought my couch from drops it off and I venmo him ($250). It looks great in our space — now we just have to decorate around it. We're meeting R.'s family for dinner, so we head out soon after. It's nice having them close, but it makes me wish we were closer to my family, too. $250
7:30 p.m. — We get back from the barbecue place content and full of smoked chicken and mac and cheese. R.'s parents paid for us (and we're so grateful) and make us promise we'll come over soon. I got a migraine halfway through dinner, so we just chill for the rest of the night. I have chronic migraines that I take meds for as needed, but decide it's not worth taking tonight — I only get so many a month and don't want to waste them. We watch a few episodes of Solar Opposites, eat some chocolate oat popsicles, and do our normal night routines before heading to bed.
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Daily Total: $282.33

Day Four

6:45 a.m. — Happy Saturday! We're up bright and early to go our old city so R. can take our friend's maternity photos. I've still got a migraine (sigh), so I take my meds, grab a banana and some water, and we're off!
10:30 a.m. — Photos are done! We go to our favorite coffee shop and grab some drinks ($15.18). One of our friends is a potter and doing a pop-up shop there, so we snag a beautiful yellow mug ($40). A couple of our friends want to meet for lunch, so we hit up our regular spot. I get a Cuban and fries (so freaking good). R. pays since I was his unpaid photo assistant. We get back on the road to go home. A great start to the weekend. $55.18
2:30 p.m. — Home from our morning trip, R. and I plan to take a nap, but I end up FaceTiming my dad instead. He's just moved across the country for a job, so it's nice to talk to him about us both starting new things. R.'s brothers ask if we want to go to the movies, so we decide to meet them for a late afternoon showing of Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. R. pays. Right before we walk into the theatre, I realize that my wallet is missing. Shit. Quickly freeze all my cards before the showing starts.
6 p.m. — God, that movie is so good. It does a great job of talking about grief and also made me laugh so. much. We decide to get some hot chicken while I call every business we went to today and ask about my wallet. It sucks if it's in our old town because that's another two-hour round trip to get it. R. pays for my food again, and we eat out on the covered patio when a thunderstorm appears out of nowhere. After we eat, we head home.
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8:45 p.m. — It's still storming when we get home, but I decide to check my car for my wallet, where it's laying on the passenger seat. I breathe a sigh of relief but feel really stupid for freaking out. I have a good cry in the shower while R. develops another roll of film. My friend sends me a Venmo request for some concert tickets for next month, so I send it to her before I forget ($38.26). R. and I watch I until 10:30 or so, then go to sleep. $38.26
Daily Total: $93.44

Day Five

7:45 a.m. — Of course, the one day I actually want to sleep in past 8, I can't. I get up and (quietly) do my morning routine while R. is still snoozing, then go out to our living room to watch TikToks on our new couch. I probably should have been unpacking, but honestly, I don't care. When H. gets up, we have breakfast (waffles for him, bagel with avocado, feta, and hot honey for me, coffee for both) and start our days together.
11 a.m. — While R. edits the video for a wedding he shot a couple of weeks ago, I decide to go to Target. I spend about an hour with a small list in my head and end up leaving with none of those things but still manage to spend $100. I don't even like this Target — the setup makes no sense. There's skincare and makeup next to kitchen knives, two sections of home goods on opposite sides of the store, and no rhyme or reason to the grocery section. I come home with some hooks for our bathrooms, a yellow throw pillow for our couch, shampoo, conditioner, a skincare product TikTok made me buy, and a shirt I'm most definitely going to return. My RedCard gets me a discount, but I'm still annoyed. $97.06
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1 p.m. — I scarf down a sandwich on our way out the door to visit our friends and their new baby. They live about an hour away (in the opposite direction from where we used to live), and on the ride up, R. and I talk about our future plans. R. grew up in Central Asia before moving back to the US for high school, and has mentioned potentially wanting to live abroad again. I'm not so sure — I like being close to my family and friends. With everything happening with our government and the economy, we're both concerned and think this may be a solution if we can swing it. We'll figure it out eventually, right?
4 p.m. — Leave our friends' house with full hearts. Their baby is so stinking precious, and I want to hold her all day. On the way back, we stop by Sonic for some drinks and snacks. I order it on the app so we can get half-price drinks. I get my new favorite: a Coke Zero with vanilla and lime, and it's perfect in every way. When we get home, I whip together a quick dinner of chicken, pesto pasta, and broccoli, and we eat together before R. goes out to shoot film with a friend downtown. $9.22
8 p.m. — I decide to watch YouTube videos while planning out meals and grocery shopping for the week. When R. comes home, we watch more Solar Opposites before going to bed around 11.
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Daily Total: $106.28

Day Six

7 a.m. — I don't want to be awake right now. Why can't the weekend last through Monday? Grab coffee and go.
10 a.m. — After a few meetings, I have a short break and decide to go grocery shopping for the week. I'm trying to get better about meal planning, so I stick to the list I made last night — for the most part. I leave with the ingredients for spaghetti, an egg roll bowl, and a pizza night we're hosting tomorrow night, plus a couple of sides. I also grab some Meyer lemon biscotti, potato chips, and a frozen orange chicken bowl for lunch. $75.64
12 p.m. — Eat lunch with R. when I realize I forgot the tomatoes for the spaghetti sauce I'm making tonight. Of course. I decide to run to the grocery store a mile down the street that I haven't had the chance to check out yet. Grab the tomatoes, as well as some coffee, Coke Zeros, white chocolate chips (for some blueberry cookies I'm making later this week), and Chinese Five Spice. It's definitely the most expensive store in the area, besides the specialty market down the street. $30.68
3:30 p.m. — Miraculously, all of my meetings for the rest of the day have been canceled, so I'm finished with work early. I decide to head to the gym for a quick workout. Because of my hormonal issues, I haven't had the energy to work out other than the occasional yoga flow in over a year. Hopefully, having a gym in our new complex will help with that since I'm not having to drive anywhere.
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4:30 p.m. — That was… rough. I did workout I saw on TikTok which only involved walking on a treadmill, and I am so out of shape. The half-hour workout triggered a serious bout of cramps, so I end early. It also doesn't help that the only sneakers I could find were purchased in 2014, so my feet hurt like crazy. Note to self: Buy new sneakers with actual arch support. I rinse off and start researching sneakers (maybe Hokas?) before R. arrives home from work. We make spaghetti together, along with a Caesar salad and garlic bread.
8 p.m. — R. edits the wedding video some more while I literally just sit on my phone. Move to our room around 10 before taking a full shower, doing my night routine, and turning off the lights.
Daily Total: $106.32

Day Seven

7 a.m. — Reluctantly wake up. I've decided I'm not a morning or night person — just an afternoon person. 2 p.m. is my peak time. Quickly do my morning routine and put on a black romper and a little makeup before starting on coffee and work. Tuesdays are typically my busiest days, so I try to start early. I've been trying to track down a package from Madewell (UPS and USPS both claim the other has it), and Madewell's customer service notifies me that they've issued a refund. I'm kind of bummed because I was really looking forward to getting these earrings (they have mushrooms on them!), but so it goes.
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11 a.m. — Finish with my biggest project of the day just in time to start lunch. I've gotta go run an Abercrombie return to the post office, so I tape everything up before heading out. I have pretty bad driving anxiety, so driving anywhere new makes me nervous. I successfully complete my trip after dropping off the packages and conquering a U-turn. I come home and eat a turkey wrap and some of the lemon biscotti before getting back to work.
1:30 p.m. — R. comes home from work early and we finish cleaning up our apartment before our friends come over. I realize I haven't actually figured out how to use the pizza dough I bought, so I do a little research while R. finishes up the rest of his work for the day.
5:30 p.m. — Our friends arrive and we spend hours assembling a bunch of different pizzas. Somehow, I got the right amount of ingredients — I'm really bad at judging these things. After we eat, we make blueberry chocolate chip cookies I saw on Instagram. After they leave, R. and I clean up the kitchen and go to bed.
Daily Total: $0
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