A Week In Ann Arbor, MI, On A $35,000 Salary

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This week: an administrative assistant and HR manager who makes $35,000 per year and spends some of it on strawberries.
Occupation: Administrative Assistant/HR Manager
Industry: Cloud Computing
Age: 27
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Salary: $35,000
Paycheck (2x/month): $1,345, pre-tax and 401(k)
Monthly Expenses
Housing: $200. I live with my sister and our rent is crazy cheap — $550/month.
Loan Payments: $0 since my parents paid for college (thanks, guys!), and my car is paid off.
All Other Monthly Expenses
Netflix: $0. We share as a family and my parents pay for it.
401(k): $40, and my employer matches
Health: $0. Covered by my employer.
Credit Card Bills: $210
Computer Payment: $100. I financed it through Apple to avoid shelling out the full amount at once.
Car Insurance: $110
Groceries: $200
Gas: $25-$45 a month, depending on whether I stay at home or at my boyfriend's.
Hospital Bill: $35. I have endometriosis, which comes along with a pile of medical bills that I've put on a payment plan.
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6:30 a.m. — I wake up panicked, fearing I massively overslept. It turns out that I don't need to be up for another 15 minutes, but I pull myself out of bed anyway. The sun is blindingly bright, so going back to sleep isn't an option, and I need to get out the door early today. I live with my sister, but lately I have been splitting my time between staying at home and staying with my boyfriend, and I need to drop the dog off at his house before I head to work.

8:45 a.m. — I get to work 15 minutes behind schedule. Luckily, the place I work for is super laid back, and I'm still the second person in the office for the day. I make a cup of coffee and settle in for the morning.

11:30 a.m. — I get hungry and head to the kitchen and make my “bowl.” It's really a mason jar with organic kefir, strawberries, kiwi, blueberries, Uncle Sam flax cereal, and slivered raw almonds. My mom turned me onto it, and I love it! Plus, it keeps me full all day.

3 p.m. — The day has been dragging on, and I contemplate sneaking out a little early. It's Friday and the office is pretty quiet. My guilt gets the best of me and I decide to stick around. As a reward, I pour myself a small beer from the office keg; today it's a strawberry blonde ale from a local brewery, and it's delicious!

6 p.m. — I stop at the grocery store and grab dinner supplies. My boyfriend and I have been eating a lot of red meat lately and I want to aim for something different. First, I grab some wine. We're wine snobs but I'm a stickler for sticking to my budget and have learned to work a wine section well and get some deals. I also pick up white fish, pretzels, mustard, kale, a baguette, prosciutto, and popcorn kernels. We make pretzel-crusted white fish and a kale salad with frizzled prosciutto for dinner. We recently put a patio table out back, so we eat dinner outside under the warmth of the setting sun. $55

9 p.m. — We come inside and I put the dishes in the dishwasher. I don't have one at my house, so whenever I'm at his place I make good use of it. He pours me another glass of wine, turns on Justified, and we settle on the couch for the night. That is one show we're supposed to watch together, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my BF has already seen this episode…

Daily Total: $55
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9 a.m. — Sleeping in on Saturday is such a joy! We laze around for a while and then get up to let the dog out and get ready.

10:30 a.m. — We're out the door for the day. We're heading to a specialty spice store and are running a few other errands in a city that's about 45 minutes from us. We tend to stick around our little town, so it's fun to get out for the day.

12:30 p.m. — We left without breakfast, and we are STARVING. With one errand down, we stop into one of my favorite restaurants out this way; it's like Chipotle but with Mediterranean food. It's Saturday, and I'm feeling indulgent, so we also split a beer. I fight him for the bill, but my boyfriend picks up the tab for lunch.

2 p.m. — We hit up the spice store, and I get into more trouble than I expected. We only need Tellicherry peppercorns and vanilla, but I somehow walk out with $45 worth of spices. Because we spent enough, we got a few free spices as a bonus. I feel a little guilty spending so much on spices, but my boyfriend points out that we cook at home six or seven nights a week and they will get used. $45

5 p.m. — On our way home, my boyfriend's mom calls to ask if we'd like to go for a picnic in the arboretum and see the peony garden that's in bloom. I love peonies, and we haven't seen his mom in a while, so we pick up some wine and meet her at the park. She's graciously brought us salads for dinner, but I'm still so full from lunch that I only poke at mine. $10

9 p.m. — It's a nice night, so I suggest that we start a fire. My boyfriend lives below two of his brothers, and we invite them out for the festivities. We roast s'mores, have a few drinks, and chat. By 11:30 p.m., I'm exhausted and need a shower, so I excuse myself and head in for bed.

Daily Total: $55
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10 a.m. — I sleep in late (late for me at least). Although I went to bed early last night, I didn't fall asleep until about 2 a.m., which is far past my usual bedtime. I get up and find that my boyfriend has already made coffee and started on breakfast. What a guy.

1 p.m. — We usually spend Sundays with my parents, but they have plans this week so we invite my boyfriend's siblings over for dinner instead. I head out the store and buy things for dinner: chicken that we'll end up grilling, polenta that we'll coat in cornmeal and fry, and because I'm feeling ambitious, a very involved ratatouille-style dish. I also buy a small side table for outside, so we have something to put our drinks on by the fire. The dog about spilled my wine a million times the previous night, so it's a needed investment. Finally, I get some miscellaneous household items. The cost of everything is surprisingly cheap. $85

5 p.m. — His siblings show up a little early, and I'm feeling a little stressed, so I reluctantly hand the task of grilling off to my boyfriend. He hasn't done much grilling and I'm apprehensive, but choose to keep optimistic.

7 p.m. — Dinner was great! BF nailed the grilling (chicken was done and not at all dry), and all of the dishes turned out great. I even attempted a vegan béchamel sauce for the ratatouille, since one of his brothers is dairy free and it turned out surprisingly tasty! We clean up a little and finish our night with another fire.

Daily Total: $85
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7:30 a.m. — Up and at 'em. It's so much easier to get out of bed on time when my boyfriend, who usually works from home, has to go into the office as well.

10:30 a.m. — It's not even 11 a.m. and it already feels like the longest Monday ever. Come on, four o'clock!

12 p.m. — I take a lunch break today, which I rarely do, but time is moving so slowly that I figure taking a break will help to speed up my afternoon. I head to the library to return some books and poke through the cookbook section. Nothing jumps out, but it was still nice to leave my desk.

3 p.m. — The struggle is so real. I daydream about dinner and start making a list.

5 p.m. — I survived the day and am now tackling the grocery store with only a rough idea of what I want for dinner. I settle on using some of the leftover chicken from Sunday's dinner to make pasta with homemade pesto and a salad. I have a lot of the things we need already and only need to buy salad greens, basil, and some strawberries. $10

8 p.m. — We decide to take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood since it's so nice out, and sit down to eat a little later than usual. We sit outside with some wine and chat for a while before heading in to clean up and settle in for the night.

Daily Total: $10
5 of 8
7 a.m. — Rise and shine! I wake up to an inbox full of family drama that launches me out of bed. I don't like to start my day with stressful situations, but at least I can have a cup of coffee while working through any issues.

11 a.m. — After hearing about this morning's debacle, my boyfriend offers to take me out for lunch. I'm not feeling too hungry but I know I should eat, so I agree. We head to a diner around the corner from my office and I get chicken fingers, fries, and two Diet Cokes (can you say emotional eating?!) while talking my poor boyfriend's ear off about what's going down in the family. He picks up the $20 lunch tab.

7 p.m. — I don't really feel like cooking, but I can't justify take-out after my lunch. We end up making massive salads for dinner with things lingering in the fridge. After dinner, we relax outside with gin and tonics and try to recover from the day. I'm in bed by 11 p.m.

Daily Total: $0
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8 a.m. — I didn't mean to sleep so late, but my body needed the rest. I rush to get ready, take the dog out, and head out the door.

10 a.m. — I'm slowly working through sending emails to candidates that have applied for a job with us. We have three positions open, and a LOT of candidates that we need to make decisions about. We have a pretty in-depth hiring process and are very careful about hiring people who will be a good fit. The team of engineers is small, so it's crucial that I only bring in candidates that will mesh well. Working through these and setting up phone screens takes me through the lunch hour.

3 p.m. — I have a weekly meeting with the marketing department today, and I'm not quite prepared. I spend half an hour making a list of things I think we need to touch base on for the week and realize I could use a little pick me up. I take a quick break and head to a coffee shop around the corner for a latte. $5

6 p.m. — I stop at Trader Joe's on my way home and do some serious damage. All things considered, though, we were pretty much out of groceries (and wine), so the money I spend isn't that crazy. I get home and throw together a vegetable curry and rice. We've been so lucky with the weather lately, so we relax outside again until dark. We contemplate making a fire but head to bed early instead, around 10:30 p.m. $125

Daily Total: $130
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7 a.m. — I'm out of bed before my alarm. I make a cup of coffee and sit on the patio, watch the dog run through the grass, and enjoy the warmth of the morning sun. I head in and get ready to head out the door for the day.

10 a.m. — Man, this Thursday really feels like a Friday. Luckily, I have a full schedule today, with multiple phone screens to conduct and an interviewee coming in at 2 p.m. The day will probably go pretty fast.

3 p.m. — The interview went really well, so we decide to bring the candidate back in for a more technical interview next week. We've had some duds lately, and we really need to hire more engineers, so I'm thrilled this one seems to be a good fit.

5 p.m. — My boyfriend is craving sweet potato fries, so we bake some wedges and make BLTs for dinner. I jazz up the sandwiches with pesto and mozzarella, and roast the tomatoes in the oven with salt, pepper, and plenty of garlic. It was a total improvement on a boring BLT — and pairs great with an ice-cold glass of rosé. After dinner, we play a few intense rounds of UNO (I get my ass handed to me), and I fall asleep on the couch while my boyfriend stays up and watches SNL reruns.

Daily Total: $0
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