I’m 31, I Earn $73.5K & The Thrift Stores Were Good To Me This Week

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I’m 31, I Earn $73.5K & The Thrift Stores Were Good To Me This Week


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.

This week: a grants administrator who makes $73,500 per year and spends some of her money this week on stadium hot dogs.

Occupation: Grants administrator
Industry: Higher education
Age: 31
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Salary: $73,500
Assets: 403(b): $61,050; checking account: $3,434.30; savings account: $2,275.25; HYSA with my husband: $8,600
Debt: $150 (credit card)
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $4,011
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: Rent: $1,350 for a two-bed, two-bath I split halfsies with my husband, N.
Monthly Loan Payments: $0
All Other Monthly Expenses:
Water: $60 (I pay)
Internet: $89.90 (I pay)
Gas: $50-100 (N. pays)
Electricity: $90-150 (N. pays)
Health, Dental & Vision: $200
HSA: $100
Prescriptions: $30
Subscriptions: Netflix: $17 (I pay); Paramount Plus with Showtime: $12 (I pay); Hulu: $1.99 (I pay); Max: $18 (I pay); Amazon: $0 (my mom pays and shares with my family); Criterion Collection: $11 (N. pays); NYT Cooking: $40/year (I pay); Spotify: $12 (I pay)
Cellphone Plan: $0 (I’m on my family’s plan.)
Car payment: $200 paid to my dad, who paid for my used car in cash in 2020.
Car Insurance: $150 (I paid $900 last month for six months, but this is the monthly cost.)

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. I attended art school in New York for a year, but I ended up transferring to a college near home, where I commuted while living with my parents and working nearly 30 hours a week. I’m so glad I did this, because I only had $10,000 of federal loans when I finished school in 2015. My parents paid for my tuition and subsequent loans.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents were open about their jobs, how much they made, the details of their union pensions and how they paid for vacations and the addition they put on our house when I was 12. I have a younger brother and we received the same messages about supporting oneself. We are/were firmly middle class, lived in a house they own, and spent modestly. I got so upset when my mom refused to buy me clothes outside of back-to-school and holiday shopping. She was honest about the limitations we had financially, but a little vague about the difficulties she had dealing with my dad’s earning and spending.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started helping moms with their kids when I was 11 (I have nine younger cousins, so I was pretty comfortable) and continued babysitting throughout high school and college. A teacher friend of my mom’s connected me with families she knew, so I had steady work every day after school and on the weekends. It was my money to spend how I chose.

Did you worry about money growing up?
I watched my parents fight often about money, as my dad is a spender and my mom is a saver. They came from wealthy families, but did not earn as much in comparison, although both worked full time and had stable jobs. It was confusing because we had what we needed for family vacations and college savings, but their frequent disagreements were painful for everyone. My parents separated when I was in college, but couldn’t afford to get divorced. They now live together and are retired, but a lot has happened. I think living in constant money stress compelled me to start working early in life. I wanted control of my time and money because I saw how much my mom struggled.

Do you worry about money now?
Where to begin? I am finally earning a wage that enables me to save, including 10% for retirement every month. With my husband’s income ($55,000), we can start to see progress towards our big goals. I am still recovering from years of crappy pay and burnout working in non-profits. I am both extremely fortunate for what I have, yet aghast at how far behind I feel, especially because buying a home, having children, paying for the related costs later on, all feel prohibitive. To paint you a picture, we got pre-approved for a mortgage, but we don’t qualify for first-time home buyer grants, and, even with a 10% down payment, we are looking at doubling our monthly housing cost with interest rates where they are, for a house that we will no doubt have to fix ourselves on the cheap. My husband paid off his loans shortly before we got married. I’m gobsmacked by how little there is to show for the years I have been working and so grateful that I learned how to live frugally. I am praying to find a better job or a side job so we don’t lose an opportunity to buy a house we can afford. Don’t get me started on caring for my parents in their later years, I’m just grateful they saved wisely.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Well, I’ve been paying my rent, health insurance, medical bills (I have a pre-existing condition and got a breast reduction last year), and food since I was 23. However, my parents paid for most of our wedding costs, helped with paying for my car in cash so I could reimburse them and avoid borrowing, and until last month, they helped me pay for my car insurance. They still pay for my cell phone as well as my EZ pass, which I use to visit them and get my groceries in New Jersey. So, I’m still on the teet, just less expensive for them.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents paid $30,000 for our wedding (I asked them for help buying a house instead, but was turned down) and N.’s parents put in $5,000. I haven’t received other inheritances or passive income. Our parents would help in a serious emergency, but we want to rely on ourselves.

Day One

9 a.m. — Had a late night with friends, so I’m rotting in bed as long as I can. N. is getting ready for work and I offer to drop him off before I head over to New Jersey to hang with my best friend, C. We’re going thrift shopping with her mom and I have a 30% off coupon I can use multiple times! I text C. asking if I should get us coffees. She’s covered, but I’m desperate so I tell her I’ll head over after my next stop.

10 a.m. — I get an iced coffee, a ham and cheese croissant, and a chocolate doughnut from my favorite coffee shop, Shot Tower, in my old neighborhood. Then I drive to C.’s house about 15 minutes away. We’re back on the road after I say hi to her husband and son. $11.45

1 p.m. — I scored some great stuff! A pink Lacoste polo (surely from the ’80s), a preppy plaid DKNY linen skirt, a silk leopard print cardigan, some new-looking pajama pants from L.L.Bean, and a bright orange Banana Republic sweater ($20.08). We’re both hungry when we get in the car, so we head into our hometown to grab a bite. I get a chicken cutlet with a side salad and a Coke Zero ($16.54). $36.62

6 p.m. — Pick up N. from work since I’m on the way back from New Jersey. We have a little misunderstanding about our dinner plans and regroup when we get home. N. has plans to hang out with his friend, D., and calls to check. D. is at home with his girlfriend K. so now I’m in on the plans to hang with them. We decide to pick up dinner on the way and eat at D.’s place. N. pays for our sushi and I get a pack of Bud Light Limes ’cause I want something silly and novel. $13.20

Daily Total: $61.27

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — Why do I wake up early on the nights that I get the least amount of sleep? I already know it was the four beers I had at our friend’s house last night. That’s not a habit I have, but I was trying to forget some friendship stress I’ve been having recently. N. and I get up, make the bed, and I run over to the coffee shop across the street to get us coffees while N. makes eggs. I eat leftover cutlet from lunch yesterday. $11.15

12:10 p.m. — Check Uber for prices to get to the Phillies game. I can’t justify $50 for one way, but we’re late to meet my family. We are going for my mom’s birthday (my dad’s treat), so I call her to ask for the tickets to be transferred to me since we’ll get there when Septa wants us to get there. The train arrives as we’re climbing the stairs, but we sprint to make it! At least we get a free transfer taking the El to the Broad Street Line. $2.50

1:40 p.m. — Get to the ballpark and text my brother that we’ll pick up hot dogs on the way to our seats. We get five dogs and an Italian sausage sandwich for N., plus a water he and I will share, and I pay ($66.43 with tip). Then my dad texts for a Diet Coke, so we stop again and indulge ourselves with two tall-boy shandies ($45.21). Bye bye, money! $125.29

7:30 p.m. — Hanging at home after the game. The Phillies lost. We don’t have any food in the fridge to whip up something quick. The weather is beautiful and there is a cute restaurant with a patio down the street. N. owes me a date, so we walk over. We both order cocktails, the pickle appetizer, N. gets a bánh mì with tofu and I get an Italian hoagie. N. pays.

10:30 p.m. — I’m exhausted. After watching a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I need to go to bed. This is N.’s pick after he indulged me by watching all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, plus the reboot. Fair is fair, but I am actually enjoying it!

Daily Total: $125.29

Day Three

8 a.m. — Wake up and read emails from bed. I work from home most of the month. N. goes downstairs first and I make my way to the kitchen after he has made his breakfast. I scramble two eggs with cheese. Then I prepare my iced latte with whole milk and simple syrup.

11:30 a.m. — I got assigned two new projects at the end of last week. I create some preliminary checklists and due dates and draft my intro emails so I can hit send when the division head connects me with the researcher. Nice to get a slow week because I will be really busy in May, June, and July. I eat the leftover half of my hoagie from dinner last night.

3 p.m. — N. is coming back from physical therapy. I ask him to pick up celery, onion, and romaine while he’s getting his weekly lunch supplies. He brings home tulips for moi! Awww! Dinner is frozen leftover soup that I pulled out to thaw. We had an expensive weekend, so I’m going into our reserves.

7 p.m. — I run out to the store for ice cream for N. and end up grabbing some crusty bread, ranch seasoning, and a block of cheddar ($15.61). When I get home, N. is done painting in the basement studio so we start cooking the soup and garlic bread. When dinner is done, we head to the couch for two episodes of The Curse. My friend venmo requests me for spa passes and Medieval Times tickets ($90) for her bachelorette and we text a little, then say good night. $105.61

Daily Total: $105.61

Day Four

9:30 a.m. — N. is leaving for work. I follow him out the door and walk across the street to get a coffee. This is a spending habit I’ve been struggling to break. $4

11 a.m. — Made a big bowl of chicken noodle soup (from scratch, but previously frozen) with a crusty piece of bread and goat cheese for an early lunch. I have a team meeting at noon and a meeting with a researcher at 2 p.m., so I cut up an apple and bring a seltzer back to my office. I also pull out some frozen chicken thighs to thaw for dinner.

6 p.m. — N. will be home from work soon. I put the chicken into the instant pot with water. I try to make bone broth every time I have a carcass. I throw in some carrots, celery, onions, apple cider vinegar, and salt. Then I season the chicken thighs and N. puts them in the oven. We eat them over last night’s leftover soup and pasta. I also have a glass of sauvignon blanc.

10:15 p.m. — We complete another evening binge of Next Gen with some ice cream.

Daily Total: $4

Day Five

8:15 a.m. — Half-day at work because I have a dentist appointment at noon. I walk over to my desk and look down at my notes from yesterday. I scheduled a phone interview for 10 a.m. today to talk to a recruiter at another research center. I’ve been on the fence about leaving my current job after receiving a promotion in the fall. Sometimes I think that I’ve been here too long and too much has happened in a bad way, but I like my team and my projects. I turned down an offer for $90,000 last week because I would lose PTO and work-from-home benefits.

10:30 a.m. — Get off the phone with the recruiter. I’m moving to the next round. I go downstairs to make a bagel with lox and cream cheese. Then I make an iced latte and chug it. I go back upstairs to get dressed and brush my teeth and water floss. I have early signs of gum disease, so I need to step up my game. The outfit is thrifted J.Crew jeans, thrifted sweater, red Nike Daybreak sneakers from Poshmark, and an old T-shirt.

1:30 p.m. — Back home after the dentist. The cleaning is free since I go to the dental school on campus, but I have to go back on Friday for a consultation with the oral surgeon to remove my single wisdom tooth. Feeling indecisive about what to make for dinner, so I pull out ground turkey and a pork loin from the freezer. I do a girl lunch of tuna, crackers, and cheese. Then I fill up quart containers with the broth to freeze. I’m getting better about conserving food before it goes bad. N. has been teasing about getting me a deep freezer for my birthday.

4 p.m. — Get in the tub to decompress. Having a little vino and watch 500 Days of Summer.

6:30 p.m. — N. is home from work. I make BLTs because the meat is still frozen and I need to use my aging tomatoes. The sandwiches are a slight fail. Oh well! I slice a bunch of apples to make apple pie tomorrow night. I was overzealous shopping for produce at Costco last week. Early to bed tonight.

Daily Total: $0

Day Six

7:20 a.m. — I’m up and looking at emails. I go downstairs, drink some water, put away dishes, and make scrambled eggs without any frills. It’s an iced coffee day. I follow N. out the door, say goodbye, and get my caffeine. $4

11 a.m. — I’ve now connected with all three of the subcontract sites for my June proposal. I like connecting with grants managers at other schools because I’m curious how it is where they work. Research administration can be a little dry and people talk a lot about the reputations of collaborating institutions. I’m getting better with asking pointed questions in interviews about culture and workload. Seems like the rest of the day will be chill, I should go on a walk.

3:45 p.m. — I scan the fridge for another girl lunch and clock my options for tonight’s dinner. Since N. doesn’t get home until 6:30 p.m., I usually do the prep myself. I also start on the pie crust and adding ingredients to the apples. Tonight we’ll have pork loin and broccoli, another dinner staple at our house. It wouldn’t hurt to jazz things up and I’m planning to go grocery shopping tomorrow, so I start on my list with some go-to recipes.

8:30 p.m. — The apple pie is cooling on the stove top. It’s a nice treat, but it would be even better with whipped cream. N. offers to go to the convenience store next door to grab the goods. I slice two pieces and N. piles on the whipped cream. I was right.

10:30 p.m. — Bellies full and brains shutting down. I’m browsing Amazon to get more vacuum storage bags and I remember to get some unflavored protein powder, per the recommendation of my nutritionist. Add to cart and check out. $44.53

Daily Total: $48.53

Day Seven

7 a.m. — Alarm goes off right on time. I took off today, but my oral surgery consultation is at 8 a.m. I put on a thrifted Everlane yellow skirt, my red Nikes, a thrifted Vince tank top, and a very old black cashmere cardigan. Teeth are brushed and waterpik’d, contacts are in, bejeweled HUMMER baseball cap on, and I’m out the door. The surgeon’s office is near my once-a-month office where we hotel space, so I park for free in the neighborhood. I know all the spots. There is no copay for the consultation.

8 a.m. — I need caffeine while I’m out and about. I pop into Elixr for an iced coffee and croissant. Walk back to the car and check traffic on the way to my favorite thrift stores in Northeast Philly. I just need to check and make sure they don’t have anything I need. $12.38

12 p.m. — They got me again! I bring home some kitchen ramekins, a red cardigan, and a pair of clogs. Drive back home for a little lunch and reset. $13.23

4 p.m. — I text N. that I’m headed to NJ for a grocery run. It’s near my parents’ house and I need to drop off my mom’s birthday present. I stop there first, catch up with them, then go back out to Wegmans. I get a lot of pantry items: ground beef, chicken breast, broccoli, bananas, arugula, carrots, peppers, a frozen pizza, pepperoni, bread, burger buns, RX bars, Celsius for N., Cooper Sharp cheese, and cream cheese ($133.24). I have been trying to hold back to avoid food waste and utilize the little market in my neighborhood for odds and ends. On my shopping nights, I treat myself to drive-thru ($14.98). Before I leave the shopping complex, I get some gas at Costco ($25.36), then head home. $173.58

9 p.m. — On the couch, texting my carpool for the bachelorette festivities tomorrow. I’m going to drive three of us up to north Jersey. I’m so excited to go to the Korean spa, but this reminds me, I have to clean up my deranged pubic hair situation before I get naked with the ladies.

Daily Total: $199.19

The Breakdown

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