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A Week In the U.S. Virgin Islands On $2,000 A Month

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 freelance writer/yoga teacher who makes $2,000 per month and spends some of her money this week on baggage fees.
Occupation: Freelance Writer/Yoga Teacher
Industry: Wellness
Age: 34
Location: U.S. Virgin Islands
Salary: $2,000/month in freelance work
Net Worth: ~$214,000 (I taught in the public school system in the US for 12 years, so I have a vested public school retirement account with ~$106,631 that I will have access to when I am 63. I have about $50,000 invested in the market (a large chunk of that came from the sale of a house when I got divorced in 2020) that is managed by a financial firm. I have $5,600 in a Roth IRA (that I plan to max out again this year), and around $52,000 in an HYSA. I sold a car and have been saving like mad to be able to move from the Midwest to the U.S. Virgin Islands to join my partner. This number is pretty inflated because I hope to buy a car in the next few months and will also begin contributing to living expenses. I also have some of this earmarked for taxes. My partner and I don't have joint accounts but we do cover things for each other when needed.)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (varies): ~$2,000/month in freelance work
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
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Housing Costs: $0. This will likely change in the next few months, but my partner has graciously agreed to cover rent and other living expenses so that I have time to get settled into life on the island. I did the same for him a few years ago, so this feels equitable to me.
Financial Investments: $200
Emergency Savings: $100
Health Insurance: I am currently uninsured — my public school benefits ended in July, and I haven't gotten around to looking at options yet. I know I need to prioritize this.
Phone Bill: $60, paid to my parents (I'm a good millennial and still on their plan).
Business Management Tools (Squarespace, Flodesk, Calendly): $50
Fitness Insurance: $15
Spotify: $12.99
Apple Storage: $3
Annual Expenses:
Credit Card Annual Fee: $695
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, there was an expectation and my parents encouraged me to apply for as many scholarships as possible, so my undergraduate degree was almost completely funded. My parents helped out with the rest. I went to school for education and I earned my Master's a few years after beginning my career, which I paid for out of a joint account shared with my ex-husband.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I grew up in a mid to upper middle class family, but I was always acutely aware of how hard my parents had worked to be able to afford the comfortable lifestyle I enjoyed. My parents lived significantly below their means in order to save for long term investments and taught me and my two siblings to view money in a fairly restrictive way — eating out was rare and family vacations were done on a budget. That being said, I never wanted for anything, and I grew up with a healthy mindset around saving and investing, despite whining a fair amount as a child about not getting all the latest and greatest clothes and toys.
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What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first official job was at a Wendy's when I was I'm high school. I grew up in a rural part of the Midwest, so I had to drive about 25 minutes each day to work the drive thru during my summer breaks in high school. I got the job mostly because I felt like that's what you "should" do at that age — and my parents encouraged it so that I had spending money. Though it was a mostly thankless gig, I learned to be unfailingly polite to anyone handling your food.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Sometimes. I remember what I call the "yellow box era" of my childhood, where my dad went back to school to pursue a master's degree so that he could achieve a higher salary at his engineering job. My mother only purchased store brand food, which usually came in a yellow box, and I remember worrying that we might run out of money because my mother was a stay-at-home parent. We didn't, and after that, I don't remember feeling stressed about money. We always had plenty.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes. I quit my traditional teaching job at the end of the last school year for several reasons — pandemic burnout, the itch to try something different Oand to relocate to be with my partner. Prior to this shift, I developed several side hustles that helped carry me through this transition to the USVI, but I constantly check my accounts out of fear that all of my hard work will suddenly have disappeared. I'm not sure where this mindset comes from, but if I had to wager a guess, it has to do with my divorce, which happened right as the pandemic started. I had always relied on someone else to track my finances, and now, it is all on me. I am realizing that I don't trust myself as a good steward of my money, despite evidence to the contrary.
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At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became totally financially independent at 21 — during college my parents threw some dining hall money into my undergrad account and helped out with housing here and there until I graduated. I got my first teaching job (I remember signing a contract for $26,000/year) and supported myself completely from then on. If it came down to it, I know I could move back in with my parents and that they would support me, but I would never ask them for financial support unless I was in dire straits.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
No. I tangentially benefitted from random checks that my ex-husband's parents would send us after selling a particularly profitable crop (they are in farming), so in the divorce, half of that money did benefit me. It was maybe $5,000 total.

Day One

3:45 a.m. — I'm standing at the airport counter surrounded by eight bags and two sad cats in their carriers. Today's the day I'm moving from the Midwest to the US Virgin Islands, and I am about to start crying. This moment has been months in the making — I quit my teaching job at the end of May, sold or gave away most of my belongings, and tried my best to mentally ready myself for this huge shift. I'm moving for a happy reason, to join my partner, but I'm all up in my feels as I weigh my bags and fill out paperwork for my two cats. The helpful gate agent helps me rearrange my bags to avoid the heavy bag fee and the grand total to get my kitties and my stuff to St. Croix isn't as bad as I thought ($890). Thanks to a credit card perk, $141 of the total is reimbursed. $749
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10:20 a.m. — I land in Miami and head with my partner to the Centurion Lounge for a quick breakfast before catching our final flight to St. Croix. This is another perk from my credit card that almost makes the ridiculously high annual fee worth it. Q. and L., my two cats, seem to be doing well. I set them up by the floor-to-ceiling windows so that they can watch the planes coming in. We feast on sausage, eggs, and croissants with strawberry jam before heading to our gate.
2:10 p.m. — We are officially on the island and because the travel gods were smiling on us, all of our bags arrived in one piece! I ended up checking three plastic totes of miscellaneous household goods, which worked out perfectly. The only thing that didn't survive was a decorative mirror — seriously, what optimistic wavelength was I on when I packed that? No one checks my cats' health certificates, which I paid a pretty penny to get before I left and I indignantly tell my partner that I'm going to frame them because they're worth more than any art I own.
4 p.m. — We walk into my partner's apartment, throw our bags down, set the kitties up with food and water, and immediately head out in search of food. We grab burgers at an oceanside restaurant (my partner, R., pays). We chat with the bartender, who R. knows, and take a few sunset pictures before heading back home. We have every intention of starting to unpack, but the exhaustion of the past few days hits us both, and we fall asleep before 8.
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Daily Total: $749

Day Two

5:30 a.m. — Before we passed out, R. thankfully had the foresight to set his alarm for a sunrise wedding we committed to a few weeks ago. The timing isn't ideal — I'm still bone tired — but we both rally and drive the half hour across the island to the eastern side. We stop on the way for two bottles of water ($6) because I'm pretty sure yesterday leeched all the moisture out of my body. $6
8 a.m. — The ceremony is short and sweet and the beautiful couple is radiant as they exchange vows with a backdrop of migrating butterflies and ocean waves. We toast to their union with a breakfast of bagels, lox, pastries, and mimosas.
11 a.m. — I'm starting to think morning weddings are a brilliant idea. Everyone slips into their swimsuits, and just like that, we're in Sunday Funday mode. We spend the rest of the afternoon in and out of the water, talking, and munching on leftover cinnamon rolls.
6 p.m. — We head back west just in time for the sunset. We walk down the pier and for the hundredth time today, I feel shell-shocked that I live here now.
7 p.m. — Yesterday, we discovered that our refrigerator isn't cooling as well as it should be, so grocery shopping has been on hold until we can get it fixed next week (yay, island time). Thankfully, we have what we need for spaghetti, which R. whips up. We eat, unpack a few more items and end the day snuggling in bed.
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Daily Total: $6

Day Three

8 a.m. — My partner heads off to work and I'm officially on my own. I spend the morning pulling out sentimental items from my tubs and arranging them in the apartment. I send R. a few pictures and he tells me that I'm livening up the place.
12 p.m. — I warm up leftover spaghetti for lunch and work on a few tarot readings. I started reading tarot a few years ago and though I wouldn't call myself a “super woo” person, the practice has had a huge impact on my life. I ended up launching a small business offering readings and getting back into writing, something I had put aside for years. Because I left teaching at the end of the last school year, tarot and teaching yoga have been my main sources of income.
5:30 p.m. — I make the half-hour drive across the island to take a yoga and pilates class. At yesterday's wedding, I met a new friend who invited me to this studio, so I purchase an introductory three-class package ($36). I'm excited to potentially make some connections on the teaching side of things. I taught yoga regularly in the Midwest and want to do the same here. The class is so much fun and I meet the owner of the studio, who is welcoming and excited about working with me. We exchange info and plan to chat soon. $36
7:30 p.m. — More spaghetti. The refrigerator is sort of working again after defrosting the freezer, so I cross my fingers that I can grocery shop soon. After dinner, I lie in bed and put together a huge Amazon order of a bamboo bath mat, a foot scrubber for the shower (island life means dirty feet), a steam mop, and other miscellaneous items that I know will help me feel more settled. I got rid of pretty much everything I owned before my move with the knowledge that I would have to replace some of it, so I don't feel too terrible when I see the total. $295.14
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Daily Total: $331.14

Day Four

8 a.m. — I wake up with the urge to be productive, which translates to arranging and cleaning our two-bedroom apartment. My two cats have started to settle in a bit (yay for using the litter box) and I coax them out of the corner of the closet for some treats and a rousing round of chase the jingly wand.
12:30 p.m. — My partner comes home for lunch, and we head to a local spot near the water. We order wraps (Thai chicken for me and Greek for him). I pay ($33.04). Since we don't currently have Wi-Fi at our place, I bring my computer with me and plan to hang out and work for a bit. I write a weekly newsletter, so I chip away at this week's post until the cafe closes at 2. $33.04
6 p.m. — R. and I catch the sunset at the pier before driving to a grocery store to purchase a filtered water jug and a pump. The tap water on the island isn't the best, so this is a necessary purchase. I also snag some cat food for my boys and pay with cash ($18). On the way out, R. spots the takeaway counter and asks me if I want a slice of pizza. Duh. He pays. $18
8 p.m. — I feed my cats, shower, and starfish in bed. I'm still feeling so exhausted from the move. I scroll through messages from friends back home on Instagram and respond to a few before falling asleep.
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Daily Total: $51.04

Day Five

8 a.m. — I'm feeling a little stir crazy this morning, so I ask my partner if I can walk with him to his workplace. He enthusiastically agrees, so I slap on some sunscreen and walk the five or so minutes with him to his government job. I kiss him goodbye and continue walking, enjoying the slight breeze and lush island flowers that line the sidewalk. I arrive back home, pet the cats, and make some tea while planning out my day.
10 a.m. — I decide to drive back to the same cafe I worked at yesterday. I order an iced chai ($7) and work on editing my newsletter. An island chicken wanders next to my table and stares pointedly at me. I wonder if my muse is actually a chicken. $7
1 p.m. — The thermometer we placed in the refrigerator read 34 degrees this morning, so I drive to a local grocery store to do some heavy shopping. I buy coconut sparkling water, spinach, tofu, turkey sausage, paper towels, bagels, and more. I have a little sticker shock at the prices of food items here — I see a tub of deli ham for $10.99, but seeing as I moved from a low-cost-of-living area to an island, this is to be expected. $103.20
5 p.m. — R. comes home from work and asks me if I want to go on an adventure. I immediately agree, who could say no to that? He slowly drives us up a very rough road to a place where a natural waterfall is running, thanks to a recent heavy downpour. We wade in and talk about how wonderful the sound of rushing water is.
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6:30 p.m. — It's starting to get dark, so we come back the way we came. When we hit the road that runs parallel to the ocean, the sunset is breathtaking, so I ask R. to pull over so that I can snap a quick photo.
7:30 p.m. — We decide to join some of R.'s friends for a trivia night at a local bar. We order pizza and drinks (R. pays) and do our best to answer a random mishmash of questions. We do not win, but we definitely had fun, and I made a few new friends. I tell R. how happy I am that I'm here — we were in a long distance relationship for a year and it is so nice to be with him again.
Daily Total: $110.20

Day Six

8 a.m. — Today, R. and I take a different path to work and he asks me to come inside and meet some of his colleagues. I finally put faces to names I've heard many times over the phone and I get to see his workspace, which is really cool. He shows me a whale vertebra (huge) and the dissection lab and I feel really proud of him. He made a big career change in his late 20s to pursue science and seeing him here motivates me that I can do the same. Afterwards, I lie in bed and have a bit of an existential crisis about not having a traditional job. Despite having saved up a lot of money prior to the move, I still worry nearly daily about finances and whether chasing this nontraditional path will come back to bite me in the future. I halfheartedly scroll Indeed and eventually decide to give myself a month or two before I start aggressively looking for work.
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1 p.m. — I drive to mid-island to the Home Depot in search of a lightbulb. One of my most cherished possessions is a stained glass turtle lamp that I've had since I was a kid, so I figure that getting it set up will help push me out of this funk. I find the bulb and decide to check out the plants. I gave away or sold around 45 plants before I moved, so I'm itching to restart my collection. I'm disappointed with the quality of the houseplants available, but I find a golden pothos that looks fairly healthy and purchase it, along with some terracotta pots to use for replanting some clippings that R. started rooting for me before my move. $28.83
2:30 p.m. — I stop and grab gas on the way back to the apartment. I sold my car before leaving the Midwest, so R. and I are sharing until we find my “island car,” AKA something that can handle the rough and tumble nature of the roads here. The least I can do is keep the tank filled. $33
3 p.m. — On my drive back, I pass a McDonald's and decide to pull in for some french fries. I order a medium fries and a large Diet Coke. $6
4 p.m. — Back at home, I purchase a gift card for an acupuncture treatment to send to my younger sister. She was so helpful leading up to the move, so I decide to gift her a session with my friend and acupuncturist back home. I'll send it on to her in the next few days. $100
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6 p.m. — R. and I decide to go on an evening walk. The island is so small that, within a matter of minutes, we're near the ocean. We stand underneath the street lamps that are lit with red bulbs and R. explains to me that the red light is to help hatchling sea turtles make their way safely into the water without the disruption of traditional lights. He's a marine biologist and I love learning from him.
7 p.m. — Our nighttime amble takes us to a restaurant on the water and we decide to stop in for a drink. We discover that it's bingo night, and we can't say no to that — R. buys us each a $5 card. We order an appetizer that ends up getting comped because of an error in the recipe, so we only pay for R.'s beer and my Coke. He picks up the tab. Neither of us win at bingo, but we have fun celebrating the woman next to us who wins the jackpot.
8 p.m. — We walk back home and spend the rest of the night in self care mode. We gua sha each other's faces, exchange hand massages (seriously underrated), and fall asleep completely blissed out.
Daily Total: $167.83

Day Seven

10 a.m. — After a lazy wake up, R. and I gather up our scuba diving gear and drive the five minutes to the pier, where we meet up with fellow divers, some of who are in costume. We signed up for an underwater pumpkin carving contest earlier in the week. We came prepared with a pumpkin with a crudely drawn outline of an octopus on it, sketched by yours truly. R. dives for his job and I earned my scuba cert in 2020 — it was one of the initial bonding points between us. We jump in, descend ~15 feet to the sandy ocean floor and hack away at our pumpkin. It's much harder than either of us anticipated and it's pretty difficult to communicate artistic direction with regulators in our mouths, but we manage. Our pumpkin sort of falls apart on the surface, but we don't mind. A carved squid and a much better octopus pumpkin take the top prize. We munch on muffins and R. walks across the street to buy me an iced latte.
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12 p.m. — We join our friends who also participated in the underwater pumpkin carving, for lunch at a Latin place. R. and I split a plate of roasted pork, macaroni and cheese, and cabbage slaw and he orders a few beers ($33.60). We all chat about tonight's event, a soft opening of a salsa club owned by two other friends on the island. $33.60
4:30 p.m. — After a midday siesta and shower, R. and I head east to the salsa club, where he'll be bartending for the night. I hang out and check out the space, which is lovely. There's a huge dance scene on the island and tonight is a showcase of different styles of dance.
6:30 p.m. — The showcase starts and our plated food comes out. I have so much fun watching versions of the foxtrot, the waltz, bachata, and salsa while enjoying the roast chicken, slaw, and pasta. I visit R. at the bar for a few drinks throughout the evening ($15), which turns into a roaring party once the showcase wraps. I meet a lot of new friends and exchange numbers with a few. I hear “we've heard so much about you!” several times and realize that R. has really talked me up prior to my arrival. What a sweetheart. $15
10 p.m. — We are all sufficiently soused and once R. wraps up at the bar, we make our way a few streets over to a karaoke bar, where I join in with others on a rousing rendition of Part of Your World from the Little Mermaid. I should not do tequila shots.
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12 a.m. — R. drives us back home and I tell him how much fun I had today. I'm starting to realize that life can be this fun on the regular. though I'm sure I'll eventually settle into a more “normal” pace as the weeks pass, I'm so glad that I'm living life like this right now.
Daily Total: $48.60
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