A Week In New Jersey On A $35,000 Salary

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Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.
Today: a program coordinator working in nonprofit legal services who makes $35,000 per year and spends some of her paycheck this week on coffee and a donut.
Occupation: Program Coordinator
Industry: Nonprofit Legal Services
Age: 23
Location: New Jersey. (I commute to NYC for my job.)
Salary: $35,000
Paycheck Amount (Biweekly): $1,035
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $0. (I live with my parents, who generously do not ask that I pay rent. I think they recognize that my salary is low relative to the high cost of living in NYC. Generous as they are, they definitely don't want me to stick around for much longer than a year, and I anticipate moving out by late summer.)
Student Loan Payment: $196.15. (I have ~$20,000 in student loan debt that I've just begun paying off.)
Bus Pass: $210
Unlimited MetroCard: $121
Phone: $0. (Still on my family plan. Once I move out, I'll start paying my portion.)
Netflix: $0. (Yet another mooching-off-my-parents situation.)
401k: $60. (My employer matches a little over half of this, so in total, my retirement account accrues $100.)
Health Insurance: $0. (Staying on my mom's plan until I'm 26.)
Gym Membership: $27
Savings: $750. (Some months it's more, if I've been conservative with my spending.)
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Day One

10 a.m. — I get to sleep in a little, though not as long as I would have liked. I drove home from a conference in New Haven, CT, last night in the middle of a snowstorm, so it took longer than expected. I was completely exhausted by the time I got home, and would have liked to spend all day lazing around today. Instead, I shower and head into the city on an 11:30 a.m. bus (using my monthly pass) to meet a friend for brunch before she heads back to her new home in Colorado. Because of my conference, I barely got to see her while she was here, so I don't mind making the trip into the city for such a short amount of time. We get bagels and another friend pays, because she's still chipping away at paying me back for a concert ticket I bought her about a month ago. After the bagel, we decide that we can call it even now.
3:30 p.m. — Back from the city. I stop by ShopRite on my way home to grab a few things for my mom – red and green grapes, salad greens, limes, and a small tub of vanilla ice cream. I throw in tampons for myself ($8.99). $25.67
7:30 p.m. — We squeeze in dinner after my mom gets back from tennis and before my dad leaves for hockey (my parents are honestly more active than I am). My grandparents are here (and staying overnight) and we're teaching my grandmother how to use her new iPhone. She's learning pretty quickly, but is having a hard time with the touch-screen keyboard. Dinner is sheet pan chicken and chickpeas, with chocolate chip banana bars and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. After dinner we do more iPhone tutoring until everyone starts to get a little testy and we call it a night.
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Daily Total: $25.67

Day Two

8:45 a.m. — I wake up for breakfast with the grandparents. No work today because it's a holiday. My measly salary is slightly offset by my great time-off package – we get 11 paid holidays, 15 days of paid vacation, four personal days, nine sick days, and three summer Fridays each year. Breakfast is bagels and lox (supplied by the grandparents), and I chat with my grandma about her feelings of stagnation in her old age. It's pretty depressing.
11:30 a.m. — Grandparents head out the door. I love them, but one night with them was plenty. I do a 40-minute YouTube yoga video and shower. Then I get started on my taxes – I'm filing for the first time. I get held up when my dad tells me he isn't sure whether or not he and my mom are claiming me as a dependent this year. I'm already in the financial zone, so I pay my credit card bill and my student loan, even though the payments aren't due for another week. I like to make the payments early in case any issues come up.
3 p.m. — Time for grocery shopping. The drive to Trader Joe's is only 15 minutes, but it always takes at least another 10 to find a parking spot. I stock up on food for the week, including salmon filets, baby bok choy, snow peas, sweet potatoes, coconut milk, Thai green curry simmer sauce, anchovies, goat's milk gouda, cilantro, a loaf of multigrain sourdough, half and half, a bunch of KIND bars, Cheddar Rockets, and peanut butter pretzels (work snacks are a necessity for me). My family likes to shop at different grocery stores for different items (TJ's produce is usually not ideal), and whoever is doing the shopping pays. $63.52
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4 p.m. — I manage to sneak in an episode of Grey's Anatomy before a friend of mine arrives for dinner. We make lemon caper cauliflower and fusilli and eat with my parents. Pack up leftovers for lunch tomorrow. After that, it's TV and wine for the rest of the night. I'm in bed by 12 for a quick FaceTime with my girlfriend, who is still in school in Ohio, and I'm asleep by 12:30.
Daily Total: $63.52

Day Three

6:50 a.m. — I wake up to my alarm and hit the shower. Uncharacteristically, I remember to grab my bag of recently purchased work snacks (along with breakfast and lunch) before heading out the door to catch the 7:40 bus. I arrive at work at 9 (the commute is strangely smooth today), put my snacks in my snack drawer, make myself tea, and heat up oatmeal I brought from home. I eat breakfast while catching up on the news from the weekend.
1 p.m. — I catch up on emails and putting out small fires until lunchtime. While some of our clients are very self-sufficient, others are more needy and require assistance with every last detail of their cases. It's easy to get frustrated, but I remind myself that financial literacy is not a privilege that all people enjoy. For lunch, I eat leftover pasta and cauliflower from last night while reading up on the options for my next book club meeting. (I'm in a book club with a group of coworkers who are all great.) We all work at the same level in our organization, so our monthly meeting is also a nice time to catch up on and complain about work stuff. I decide that I'm voting in favor of Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I love reading, but watching TV is just easier – so my book club is a great way for me to keep it balanced.
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4 p.m. — Word is making its way around the office that there are extra sandwiches leftover from a fancy corporate lawyer meeting in one of the conference rooms. Being a nonprofit, we don't usually get free food. (In fact, our office doesn't even have a coffeemaker.) Work is slow and I'll be eating a light dinner tonight, so I swing by and pick up a turkey and cheese sandwich. During my snack break, I quickly order a pair of jeans I've been eyeing that just went on sale. I'll be able to pick them up in-store in New Jersey later this week. $41.30
5:45 p.m. — Clock out and make my way to the Met to meet my mom. A work friend invited her to a Lunar New Year celebration and she's bringing me along. There's tons of great Chinese food and an open bar, and we spend about an hour people-watching before heading back to NJ. I watch TV with my dad, have a quick FaceTime with the GF, and I'm asleep by 12:15.
Daily Total: $41.30

Day Four

6:50 a.m. — Typical morning routine. I'm out the door by 7:35 to catch the bus. I arrive at work at 9:15 with latte and donut in hand. I'm trying to cut back on the amount of money I spend on coffee, but Gregory's always has deals on Wednesdays and I've been missing my morning chats with the baristas. Plus, my account hit the $50 mark, so I get a $5 credit for future purchases. Gotta love rewards programs. $7.36
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1 p.m. — The morning flies by – quite unusual for me, but I'll take it. I manage to shake a client who seems like he'll never hang up the phone, and head to Bryant Park for lunch with my coworkers. As unbearable as midtown is in most regards, I love being able to spend my lunch break in the park, but I can't remember the last time it was warm enough. It's 75 degrees today – I almost feel like a real human again! Lunch is TJ's chicken tikka masala, which I'm trying for the first time. It isn't terrible, but also not great or particularly healthy. I promise myself I'll actually make lunch for the rest of the week.
3:30 p.m. — I leave the office for a long overdue performance review with my supervisor, who graciously buys iced tea for both of us before we head to the park (twice in one day!). I was really nervous for this because he's difficult to read, but it turns out he's been very happy with my work thus far! I've been working here for about seven months now with little feedback, so it's nice to have this affirmation. I also work up the courage to express that I feel capable of taking on more work, and he responds immediately by sending a few more cases my way. I'm back at my desk by 4:30 to finish up a few things, and out of the office a little after 5.
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6:30 p.m. — After swinging by the pharmacy to pick up a few prescriptions, I get home to an empty house and get started on a 40-minute yoga flow. I usually like to vary my exercise between cardio at the gym, workouts from the Nike Training app, and yoga, but my knee has been hurting lately, so I'm trying to minimize impact. My parents still aren't home when I'm finished, which is typical for my mom but not so much my dad. He had a heart attack about a year ago and is doing much better now, but I still tend to panic whenever he's unaccounted for. A text confirms that he's just held up at the fish counter at Whole Foods, picking up salmon for dinner. When he gets home, I whip up a miso glaze for the fish, plus green beans sautéed with ginger and garlic and white rice. I've really tried to get on the brown rice train, but I just can't. (Actually, in all honesty, I haven't tried that hard.) There are leftovers, so I get away with not having to make lunch for another day. $6.08
11 p.m. — Restock on my face cleansers on Amazon. I started double cleansing about a year and a half ago, and I swear by it now. I finally close my eyes at 2:40 a.m., knowing tomorrow morning will be tough, but #noregrets! $38.08
Daily Total: $51.52

Day Five

6:50 a.m. — As predicted, waking up this morning is miserable. I'm planning on staying with friends in the city for the next two nights, so I stuff my clothes and makeup into my backpack and somehow manage to fit my running sneakers and a workout outfit too. I have grand fantasies of going to the gym before this week is over…we'll see if that pans out. I'm going to a Phoebe Bridgers concert with two friends tonight but I don't really know her music too well, so I listen to her top songs on Spotify on my commute. I also listen to the Sufjan Stevens songs from the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack. Why do I do this? Starting off the day emosh, I guess. I'm at work by 9:25 (traffic is not great today), make myself tea, and munch on a KIND bar for breakfast.
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12 p.m. — Early lunch today. I'm heading to a satellite office we have at a courthouse in Brooklyn to help translate for another one of our projects with a Spanish-speaking client, and I want to leave my desk by 1:30. I'm excited for the chance to get out, since I didn't make it to my project's weekly court clinic on Tuesday and I really like my coworkers at the satellite office. I heat up my leftover salmon and rice, do the crossword mini, and finish this week's episode of The Bachelor. If I believed in guilty pleasures, The Bachelor would be mine, but I don't! Why should I be guilty for liking what I like?
5:45 p.m. — I make it back to my office by 5 and finish up a few things before heading out to Williamsburg to meet my friends for dinner. We eat at Vanessa's, a cheap but reliable dumpling spot near the concert venue. One friend pays for dinner and the Uber to the venue (it's walking distance, but not in the cold and rain). Once we get there, I pick up the tab for drinks for all of us, and my other friend covers the coat check. We call it even to make our lives easier. $27
12:30 a.m. — Arrive back to my friend's apartment, where I'm crashing for the night (she pays for the $8 Uber home). The concert was amazing, and I may have even liked the opener better than the main act! I go to sleep pretty much straight away, still reeling from staying up so late last night.
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Daily Total: $27

Day Six

8 a.m. — I get to sleep in this morning! Unfortunately, I wake up feeling horrible. I'm definitely not hungover, so I attribute it to a lack of sleep. I make it to the office by 9:45, eat a rice cake with peanut butter and honey, and start my work day.
4 p.m. — I decided to work through lunch today so I can leave the office early. I had plans with a friend to go to the gym together after work, but we both decide we'd rather be horizontal. I swing by Whole Foods to kill time while I wait for her to get off work and get something substantial to eat: rice, chana masala, and a samosa from the hot bar ($8.01). We decide on homemade pizza for dinner since she already has dough, so I grab a can of diced roasted tomatoes, a bag of shredded mozzarella, two bags of frozen broccoli, a toffee and sea salt chocolate bar, and raspberries ($21.70). $29.71
5:30 p.m. — After meeting on the train, my friend and I finally get home. We stop for a double bottle of wine en route, which she pays for. She makes me watch the pilot of The End of the F***ing World, which I end up loving, so we watch another two episodes while making and eating dinner. We decide tonight is a night to be stationary drunk, and three other friends join us. We get to sleep around 1:30.
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Daily Total: $29.71

Day Seven

11:30 a.m. — Roll out of bed after taking full advantage of the fact that it's Saturday. My friend and I go for a walk so we can get time outside before it starts to rain, and pick up a breakfast sandwich and a salad at a café to bring home and share. (She pays.) We make coffee and chat while we eat, and then watch a couple episodes of Queer Eye. After that we do a 35-minute yoga video together, and then take turns showering. I spend so much time at her apartment on the weekends, I should probably be paying her rent.
5:30 p.m. — We leave my friend's apartment to meet more people for dinner, and make it to the restaurant around 6:40. We grab drinks while we wait for a table, and I pay for two friends' drinks to make up for the Ubers on Thursday and breakfast from this morning. $29
9:30 p.m. — After dinner and a stop at another bar (where I don't get anything), I head to Port Authority (ew) to catch the bus home to Montclair (paid for with my monthly pass). I like to sleep in my own bed for at least one weekend night. I FaceTime with my GF for a while, trying to iron out dates for our trip to Spain this summer. We found a flight for under $500, so I want to buy tickets ASAP. We catch up on the mundane details of each other's' lives until we both get too sleepy.
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Daily Total: $29
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