A Week In Berkeley, CA, On A $92,700 Salary

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Today: a consultant who makes $92,700 per year. This week, she spends some of her money on movie tickets and a vinyl record.
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Occupation: Technology Consultant
Industry: IT
Age: 24
Location: Berkeley, CA
Salary: $92,700
Paycheck (2x/month): $1,795 after taxes, 401(k), stock, and health insurance deductions
Monthly Expenses
Housing Costs: $1,275. My relatively low rent is one of the reasons I decided to stay in my college town after graduation. These days, living alone in a one-bedroom apartment for the amount I'm paying is a tall order in the Bay, and I'd be hard pressed to replicate it. (I moved in just before the tech boom really got underway and rents exploded.) Had I moved to San Francisco, as many of my friends did, I'd easily be paying several hundred dollars more a month for much less space.
Loan Payments: $0. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
All Other Monthly Expenses
Cell Phone: $0. Still on the family plan. Another shout out to the 'rents. My parents have generously let me stay on their plan, and in return I share my NYT, WaPo, The New Yorker, and Amazon Prime subscriptions with them. We all take a heavy interest in the news and political commentary, and two-day shipping, so it works out.
Internet: $42
Health Insurance: $110
401(k): $1,438; my company matches 6%. (All I took from my college personal finance class was that I should've started saving for retirement at time of birth, or before then.)
Company Stock Purchasing Program: $175. Company-offered program where employees can purchase company stock at a discount.
Savings: $400. Have no specific goals for the funds yet, but grad school and/or owning property could be neat at some point. I have $9,000 in savings, $35,000 in retirement, and $33,000 in investments.
Charitable Donations: $40. I support the UN refugee agency, my local food bank, and an org called Developments in Literacy, which builds schools in Pakistan.
The New York Times: $7.50
The Washington Post: $3.99
The New Yorker: Comes out to $5.67/month
Amazon Prime: Comes out to $8.25/month
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Day One

8:30 a.m. — Ah, Mondays. Wake up, freshen up, and log on to my work computer. I'm currently between projects (as can happen in consulting) and I usually work from home when unstaffed. Not one to turn down the opportunity to sleep in a little!
10 a.m. — I hate eating first thing in the morning and avoid it whenever it's an option. Finally make my way into the kitchen to make a quick breakfast of toast, eggs, and tea. I'm Pakistani, and black tea with milk and sugar (a.k.a. chai) is, as DJ Khaled would say, major key.
11 a.m. — Chat with my HR rep about the start date for my upcoming project. The onboarding is taking ages since the client requires a ton of security checks and documenting, and I'm starting to get antsy. Being “on the bench” is nice at first, but boredom starts to set in pretty fast. In this case, though, there's not much I can do to speed it up; in the meantime, it looks like it'll be another slow day.
12 p.m. — Read up on the status of the wildfires raging down in SoCal; they look as bad as ever. Worried, I shoot a few texts to friends who live in and around L.A. Here in the Bay Area we had our own turn with wildfires in October, with hundreds of thousands of acres scorched in Napa, Sonoma, and other nearby counties. Berkeley itself was okay, but the air quality was so poor here that I, and many others, turned to respirator masks to get relief from the throat irritation and coughing. The news says the fires in SoCal are so massive we can expect air quality up here to suffer once more. It's scary and saddening to see the effects of climate change play out in such a stark and destructive manner.
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2 p.m. — Do a little Amazon browsing, and end up buying a Kindle Paperwhite for my cousin in Pakistan. He asked me to buy one for him, and he'll pay me back; electronics like these are much more expensive and difficult to get there. My family went to Pakistan almost every summer when I was growing up, so I'm pretty close to my cousins there and don't mind helping them out. This cousin in question has a friend in Berkeley who will be returning to the motherland in a few days, and can take it with him to deliver. $115
3 p.m. — Realize that I'm getting hungry, and reheat the leftover salmon I made last night —broiled with dill, butter, and garlic, with steamed zucchini on the side — for a late lunch.
5 p.m. — Log off work for the day. Here's hoping I can start my project soon. One can only browse so much news before one's grip on reality becomes tenuous.
6:30 p.m. — Leave my apartment and head for BART, which I'll charge to my pre-loaded Clipper card. I'm meeting friends in San Francisco to watch Lady Bird, which I've been wanting to see for weeks now. I love Greta Gerwig and coming-of-age movies, so I'm looking forward to it.
7:30 p.m. — Get to the theater right as the trailers start. I quickly purchase my ticket and locate my friends. Thankfully, it's a weeknight so it's not too crowded and we're able to find a group of decent seats together. $13
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9:30 p.m. — Lady Bird was lovely. I really empathized with Lady Bird's complex and often fraught relationship with her mom; it reminded me of my senior year in high school. We discuss the film for a bit before splitting up; it is a weeknight, after all, and we all have work tomorrow. I try to avoid taking BART alone at night, so call an Uber Pool. $10.89
10:30 p.m. — Get back home and am a little peckish, but not enough to cook a real meal. Settle on toast with PB&J. The classics are the classics for a reason.
Daily Total: $138.89

Day Two

8:30 a.m. — Up and at 'em. I wake up, freshen up, log on, etc. Toast and tea for breakfast, part two. Make a note to get more preservative-free saline eye drops soon. I got LASIK done last year, and while the pros far outweigh the cons, the chronic dry eyes — especially with my large amount of screen time — are real.
11 a.m. — Still no sign of movement on the project onboarding. It's more than a little frustrating. While checking my email, I get a notice from a popular event organizer in the Bay — Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, is coming to speak in San Francisco in February! I am a fan of the Congressman and admire his bravery and tenacity, so getting a ticket is a no-brainer. $23.16
12 p.m. — Mega-cringe for the day: I check in to see how Alabama's senatorial election is going because I'm a masochist, and can only cringe at the latest ridiculous, potentially bigoted statements emanating from Roy Moore's camp. I have zero idea what's happening in America these days, or where these people are coming from. It's like a massive SNL parody that was rejected for being too on-the-nose has become our reality.
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2 p.m. — Lunch is a slightly haphazard affair of whatever leftovers I can find in my fridge. I desperately need groceries. I come up with leftover Chinese, and supplement it with steamed veggies on the side. I am a domestic goddess.
5:30 p.m. — Head for Trader Joe's, determined to have a less pathetic dinner. Buy milk, eggs, olive oil, turkey bacon, tuna steaks, a salmon fillet, Havarti cheese, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, zucchini, penne pasta, marinara sauce, mushrooms, an eggplant, buttermilk, shrimp, chicken pot stickers, garlic naan, a single-serve palak paneer meal (no judgement zone), and a bar of dark chocolate. $67.73
7:30 p.m. — Whip out my cast-iron pan and make seared tuna steaks, with roasted brussels sprouts and baked sweet potato fries on the side. It turns out pretty well, and I feel I've mostly redeemed myself.
8 p.m. — Holy hell, Doug Jones won. Well done, Alabama. I donated to his campaign last month, but even then thought his to be a quixotic last stand. I've never been so happy to be wrong. I donate $20 to the NAACP in celebration; they were instrumental in getting out the vote. Spend the rest of the evening reading pollsters' hot takes and exchanging exclamation mark-filled messages with friends. $20
Daily Total: $110.89

Day Three

8:30 a.m. — Tea and, in a stunning break from the norm, oatmeal. Look at me, spreading my wings.
9 a.m. — Start the day with a call: FedEx is outside with the iPhone X I ordered last week. It's not for me, though, but for another cousin in Pakistan. This is obviously a bigger-ticket item than the Kindle, but this cousin and I are quite close and I don't mind doing her a solid. (My iPhone 6 is still chugging along.)
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11 a.m. — A sigh of relief: I receive word from HR and my manager that I'm finally cleared to start the project! I'll be starting at the client site on Monday. Hallelujah. While I am definitely a homebody, even I've started to go stir-crazy. This is very welcome news.
1 p.m. — Polish off the other tuna steak and the rest of the sweet potato fries (which I could honestly eat forever, they are SO GOOD) for lunch. Realize with some alarm that I've also somehow worked my way through a quarter of the dark chocolate bar already. I move it to a different counter.
2 p.m. — Post lunch, check my email to see I've gotten a flurry of emails from various members of the team I'll be joining. Even though I start Monday, there's always an expectation in consulting that you'll hit the ground running as soon as you start, so you don't waste the client's time and money. The emails make it clear there is no shortage of demos, overviews of applications I'll be working with and testing, and workflow charts I can start going through. I'll be working in the healthcare space, and though I've done other projects in this industry, I have not performed this specific role. This is gonna be interesting. Here we go.
5 p.m. — After work and already feeling the effects of information overload from the sheer number of PowerPoint presentations I have to look through. I swing by the UPS store, where an Amazon package was dropped off for me. Grab a latte on the way back. $3.30
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6:30 p.m. — Spend some time looking over my cryptocurrency holdings. I've been interested in crypto since I took a course on block chain technology in college, and about a year ago, I bought small amounts of a few cryptocurrencies out of interest in the projects. I've seen some gains since then, but nothing matches Bitcoin's explosive growth in the last month alone: On November 1, it hovered around $6,000 a coin. At time of writing this, it is around $17,000 a coin. That kind of growth is obviously unprecedented — and totally irrational. I can only ascribe this parabolic growth to the sudden spike in societal awareness of crypto in general and Bitcoin in particular. I worry that people who don't appreciate how high-risk crypto is are investing irresponsible amounts of money in it, in the hopes of getting rich quick. The cardinal rule of cryptocurrency is to never invest more than you can afford to lose, and I fear we're headed for a crash that will have ugly consequences for many.
9 p.m. — Watch an episode of Godless on Netflix. I love Michelle Dockery so I thought I'd give it a try, but it's not doing much for me. After, I suffer through a round of HIIT on FitnessBlender. I don't know whose idea mountain climbers were, but I'd like to write them a strongly-worded letter.
Daily Total: $3.30

Day Four

9 a.m. — Out the door to meet my cousin's friend. (The one returning to Pakistan, who is delivering the Kindle and iPhone.) My familial duties are complete. The kid looks a bit frazzled; it's finals week, apparently, and he doesn't look like he has slept in a while. I certainly don't miss those days. Get a bagel at Noah's on the way back; the cashier surprises me by giving it to me on the house. Nice start to the day!
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11 a.m. — More introductory materials to go through. These demos are loooong. Wondering why knowledge transfer via osmosis isn't a thing yet.
1 p.m. — Fry some chicken pot stickers with a side of steamed zucchini for lunch. Read up on the FCC's vote to repeal net neutrality for a bit before closing my internet browser in disgust. (Take that, ISPs!) This is why we can't have nice things, y'all. My periodic desire to shun society and take up life as a nomad living out of a yurt somewhere flares up.
2 p.m. — Beat down escapist fantasies and open another PowerPoint. I'd make a terrible goatherd, anyway.
5:30 p.m. — After logging off for the day, I make penne for dinner with marinara sauce, ground beef, eggplant, mushroom, and plenty of spices. Listen to the new episode of Pod Save America as I cook. I saw them live last week and they were great; very personable and witty.
7 p.m. — Chat on the phone with my mom for a bit; she's pleased that I'm finally starting my project, and we then move on to the major subject at hand. My brother's getting married next month, and South Asian weddings are crazy, probably over-the-top, multi-day, loud, colorful, family affairs, with tons of food, choreographed Bollywood-style dancing. I'll be desperately trying to remain upright in a sari without accidentally ripping the whole thing off due to misplaced steps. My mom's been in planning mode for months, and though it's been a logistical nightmare, I'm looking forward to the actual event.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — I'm going into the city today to work out of the office, which I try to do at least once a week when I'm unstaffed. I pour my tea into a thermos and eat my toast on the go as I head to BART.
10 a.m. — The office is pretty busy since most consultants don't work at their client sites on Fridays. My assigned space turns out to be in a slightly cramped room shared with two guys on a very loud conference call. Yay.
12 p.m. — Escape the room at lunch, going to my favorite halal food truck and buying a gyro rice plate. Probably unhealthy, but I love it too much. It's a nice day in SF so I go for a walk through the Financial District after eating. $10
1:30 p.m. — Get a very welcome email: Thanks to the work survey I took last week, I've won a ticket to see the Warriors play the Grizzlies next week! My firm works with the Warriors so we get opportunities like this on occasion. My number one team will always be the Rockets (11 straight wins, baby!) but with six years in the Bay, I've adopted the Dubs as a secondary team. They're always fun to watch.
6:30 p.m. — Meet my friends at the movie theater. We have tickets for The Last Jedi, and as I'm very serious about my Star Wars, I insisted we all get here early to secure good seats. I refuse to be stuck in the front row while Rey struggles with the dark side. My friend purchased our tickets online yesterday, so I Venmo him as we walk in. Now, time to enter a galaxy far, far away… $15.69
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10 p.m. — Omg. That was so good. I am, as the kids say, shook. No spoilers, but fans of the franchise should be pleased. Rogue One was amazing but I was a little disappointed by The Force Awakens as I thought the plot was too similar to A New Hope. There's no fear of that here. Also, it was long and I'm now starving. Aside from nightlife, SF kind of shuts down after 10 p.m., but there are a few bars with dinner menus, so we Uber to one (my friend pays). After battling our way to a table, we finally eat. I get a cheeseburger, which is delicious, and we split a slice of cake. $23
12 a.m. — My friends want to go barhopping, and though I don't drink, I usually accompany them to the first few spots because it's fun to hang out. Everywhere is crowded, so conversation is limited, but we finally end up in a pub with a free table and post up for a bit.
1:30 a.m. — I'm dead and call it quits. BART tragically closes at midnight, so I split an Uber back to Berkeley with a friend who also lives here. It's still crazy expensive, but prices surge after midnight and pretty much stay there until at least 3 a.m. I get home around 2 a.m. and happily crawl into bed. $17
Daily Total: $65.69

Day Six

10:30 a.m. — Sleep in with zero guilt, and consider sleeping more even after my alarm goes off. Alas, I have plans to go hiking with friends and one is already en route to pick me up. I bid a sad farewell to my bed, get myself together, and inhale toast and tea by the time she arrives.
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11:15 a.m. — We stop by Ike's, a popular Bay Area sandwich chain, to grab rations. I get a Ménage à Trois on Dutch Crunch (they go for zany names). It's my Ike's go-to and is named for its three cheeses (cheddar, pepper jack, and Swiss) and three sauces (barbecue, honey mustard, and honey) paired with chicken and lettuce. It's delicious. I cover my friends' food as well, since they're doing all the driving. $34.06
1 p.m. — After picking up our other friend, we make our way up to Point Reyes National Seashore up in Marin where we'll be hiking. It's beautiful up here and has a huge variety of great trails, many along the coast. One of my favorite things about the Bay is its easy access to nature. Since we arrived relatively late in the day, with not too many hours of sunlight left, we pick a moderate five-mile hike.
3 p.m. — Inhale our sandwiches at our stopping point, a beautiful vista overlooking the Pacific. Attempt several hilarious backlit selfies.
5:30 p.m. — We return to the parking lot just as it starts to get dark. I am so over daylight savings and winter; it's pitch black by 6 p.m. and makes me want to stay in bed watching Netflix. It was a great hike, though, and I resolve to do this more often. (I'm also embarrassingly sore, so eventually my legs will approve of this choice.)
6:30 p.m. — On our way back, we stop at a coffee shop, in desperate need of caffeine. It's attached to a little vintage store and I flip through their collection of used records, coming across a vinyl of Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook. I don't think twice about buying it; my dad is a huge jazz fan, and I grew up listening to Ella, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, etc. on his record player. This will be a nice surprise for him when I go home for the holidays! Meanwhile, my friend covers our coffee. $13.02
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7:30 p.m. — Finally get back to Berkeley; my friend kindly drops me off. I'm beat, with zero inclination to do anything past showering and changing into pajamas. I do just that, then eat the other half of my sandwich. (Ike's sandwiches are massive.) Next stop: Parks and Recreation. Overall, a good day.
Daily Total: $47.08

Day Seven

11 a.m. — Peel myself out of bed pretty late, but I'm sore from yesterday and can't be too bothered about it. Looking forward to a lazy Sunday, especially with my project starting Monday!
11:30 a.m. — In the kitchen, I whip up chocolate-chip buttermilk pancakes, my monthly tradition. They take a little while but are so worth it; breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Have a pancake with turkey bacon on the side and tea.
1 p.m. — I didn't get through all the materials I need to look at for Monday, and since I don't want to embarrass myself, I dedicate the afternoon to getting up to speed.
4 p.m. — Finally set my work laptop aside. There's only so much you can absorb, and the best learning comes from doing, so Monday will be a bit of a crash-course anyway. Have some of the pasta I made earlier in the week.
4:30 p.m. — Wanting to stretch my legs a little, I go for a walk through the UC Berkeley campus, which is gorgeous and abandoned. The students gone for winter break and I make my way into downtown Berkeley before turning around. While I like SF, I think I prefer the smaller-town vibe Berkeley has. It also smells a lot better than the city, which assaults you with a barrage of odors every time you walk out of a BART station.
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7 p.m. — Make my second cup of tea and then, after some consideration because I don't feel like cooking, have more pasta.
8 p.m. — Spend the rest of the evening cleaning my apartment and planning for Monday, before getting into bed by midnight. My sleep schedule is totally shot after my irregular week, so tomorrow morning is going to be painful regardless of when I sleep, but no harm in trying!
Daily Total: $0
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