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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 public health researcher who makes $72,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on the book, Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow.
Occupation: Public Health Researcher
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Net Worth: Net Worth: ~$29,300 ($3,000 in checking, $12,000 in HYSA, $1,300 in Roth IRA, $12,000 in 403(b), $6,800 current car value minus debt. My partner, J.’s (she/her), salary is $56,000, but we keep our finances completely separate.)
Debt: $5,800 (car loan)
Paycheck Amount (Biweekly): $1,847 after 6% 403(b) contribution and health/vision/dental premiums
Rent: $750 (my half of a two-bedroom condo, split with my partner, J.)
Car Payment: $205
Utilities (Electric and Gas): $150
Health, Vision & Dental: $137
Car Payment: $205
Car Insurance: $150
Renters’ Insurance: $18
403(b): I contribute up to my employers 1:1 match at 6%
Cell Phone: $0, this is the only thing my parents still pay for
HBO Max: $14
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?
My parents didn’t go to college/graduate high school so they were very determined for me to go to college and beyond. They weren’t worried about where I went, just that I go. I think I was very naive in high school — I didn’t take AP classes, got mediocre scores on my ACT, and only applied to one state school where I ended up getting my BA in political science. My grandparents left me enough money to pay for my bachelor’s degree. After I graduated, my parents were not happy that I was working in a coffee shop and I felt very lost and directionless. It took three years to decide that I wanted to work in public health so I decided to go back to school and get my master’s in public health at another state university. My parents graciously paid for my degree out of pocket.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents didn’t talk very much about money, but they didn’t avoid it. It was always in a positive light if they did, like talking about the importance of saving, investing in retirement accounts, and not spending above your means. I went to a very wealthy public high school and we were middle class, so I struggled a lot feeling like I didn’t fit in with my classmates and their material wealth. My parents would always kindly explain that they worked really hard to provide everything we need and more, without those trips to Aruba and wearing Abercrombie & Fitch.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was making minimum wage ($7.40) as a custodial worker at a private fitness place. I knew people who went there as clients, so I took the job to get free exercise classes and personal training. I cleaned the bathrooms, sanitized the workout equipment, vacuumed, and sometimes picked up shifts in the childcare center.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No, if there was ever a worry about money my parents would shield me and my brother from those conversations. I feel very privileged and lucky to have not had to worry or be concerned with our family’s money situation.
Do you worry about money now?
I’ve built up an emergency fund that I’m relatively happy with, so on a day to day, no I’m not worried about money. I do have a little looming dread about not being able to afford retirement or healthcare costs for my partner and me to support ourselves in the future. I’m just unsure if we’ll make enough or be able to invest enough to have any sort of retirement.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I’ve been fully financially responsible for myself since I was 25, which is when I graduated from my master’s program and got a full-time job. Before that, my parents helped me with rent and health insurance through undergrad, grad school, and in between, but I had part-time jobs that paid for the rest of my expenses. My parents are incredibly supportive and if I ever needed financial help they’re there for me.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My grandparents left me enough money combined to pay for my undergrad tuition.
8 a.m. — It’s Saturday!! My partner of nine years, J., and I wake up because we have a Saturday morning tradition of driving to our favorite breakfast place. It is inconveniently an hour away, but we love the drive and it gives us time to talk and connect away from our phones.
10:30 a.m. — We get our breakfast of hot biscuit breakfast sandwiches and vanilla iced coffees, and eat while sitting in the car with the windows rolled down. I buy us breakfast this time around. $25.44
12 p.m. — We spend the morning exploring the town, visiting the botanical gardens (free!), driving through the neighborhoods, and dreaming about which little ranch-style home with a garden out front we’d like to buy. We have no plans to buy a house but have talked about it a little bit. Our conversations usually end in a mix of sadness/frustration/existentialism about the costs of housing and the fact that we’re incredibly priced out of the town we love and that I grew up in. It’s nice to dream, though!
2 p.m. — We stop and get some ice cream — butter pecan in cake cones — at a local place on our way out of town. $8
4 p.m. — It is Indie Bookstore Day and we never pass up an excuse to buy new books, so we go over to our local Black-owned bookshop. I buy a new book, Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow. $25
8 p.m. — It’s the weekend and we’re not cooking, so we order online from a taco food truck in town. I got the most amazing birria tacos, chips, and guac. We get Cokes at McDonald’s to drink and eat at a picnic table by the food truck. $22
Daily Total: $80.44
8 a.m. — I wake up early, make a pot of coffee, and settle in at the dining room table to work on a quilt I’m making for a friend. I get frustrated having to cut a million squares on my tiny mat so I order a rotating cutting board from Amazon. $33
11 a.m. — J. is up and we devise a plan to have a picnic at the park for lunch, but we need provisions. We stop at the bakery down the street for coffee and a breakfast pastry. I get a short black coffee, a buttered croissant, and a loaf of bread for the week. $16
12 p.m. — We stop at the grocery store and get a few things, which turns into a whole big Sunday shop. I don’t mind because I get a bunch of stuff for lunch this week — pasta salad I saw on TikTok, Harvest Snaps, spinach dip, honey crisp apples, cucumbers, and yogurt. When J. and I grocery shop together she’ll usually pay and I’ll Zelle her half. $40
2 p.m. — After stopping at home to put away the groceries and prep lunch, we go to the park and have a cute little picnic around the corner. I pack tuna salad sandwiches, chips, clementines, and chocolate-covered raisins.
8 p.m. — I have a long phone convo with my dad about what to do with my old job’s 401(k) and how to manage my new job’s 403(b). While my dad is no financial expert, I trust him when it comes to money, investing, and saving advice. We decide that I’m making the right decision to invest in the 403(b) up to the match and any additional money I want to invest I’ll put into my Roth IRA.
8:30 p.m. — Someone on Facebook Marketplace comes by and buys my pandemic-purchased Instant Pot for $30. J. and I read and TikTok until bed.
Daily Total: $89
6 a.m. — For some reason, I scheduled a 7 a.m. doctor’s appointment on a Monday so I get up, brush my teeth, throw my hair in a bun, and put on my favorite Costco joggers and a hoodie. J. wakes up with me for moral support, we go downstairs, feed our two kitties who are bouncing off the walls already, and then I head out.
7 a.m. — I have to visit a specialist this morning because I get ovarian cysts and have to get regular ultrasounds. I pay a $25 co-pay each time. $25
8 a.m. — I’m home and I don’t have to start work for half an hour! I make a pot of coffee, eat a cinnamon raisin English muffin, and sit and read for a bit before I log on (currently reading Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde).
8:30 a.m. — I go up to my office and log into work. It’s only my third week on the job, so while I have some tasks to take care of, my inbox is empty (for now), and I have a day ahead of onboarding HR training and meet and greets with team members. I’ve been working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic and when it came time to switch jobs, I knew in my heart that I could never work an in-person job again if I had the choice. At this point, I feel like working is just like a simulation game I play — clocking in, doing my little tasks, meeting with people, using office jargon like “circling back” over and over, and then signing off back to my real life. Don’t get me wrong, I find a lot of purpose in what I do and I feel that I’ve found a niche where I contribute positive things to the world, but my mind is still in constant turmoil with the late-stage capitalist world forcing me to give my labor to eat, have healthcare, and survive.
12:30 p.m. — My dad texts me to let me know he made a giant pot of bean soup and is going to drop some off for us! After he leaves, I run to our local bakery. I get my favorite to take home — a tuna salad sandwich on rye bread and a crusty, french baguette for later. $10.60
6 p.m. — I finish work at 4 and take a two-hour nap. J. gets home with groceries — including a lot of fresh fruit that we cut up for dinner with the soup and bread.
8 p.m. — J. and I walk to the corner store for a bag of ice because we don’t have an ice maker in our fridge. $2.12
8:45 p.m. — My nightly 45-minute shower routine includes washing and conditioning my hair with Amika Normcore shampoo and conditioner, washing my body with organic grapefruit soap from the bulk foods store, brushing my teeth and flossing with an off-brand WaterPik, and washing my face with CeraVe. I read my Audre Lorde book and J. reads All About Love by bell hooks until we go to sleep.
Daily Total: $37.72
7:30 a.m. — I get up and take a walk to combat my morning anxiety. My doctor calls while I’m out to confirm that she has no concerns about my ultrasound results this time around, thank god!
8:30 a.m. — I settle into my desk, which is a Fully Jarvis standing desk I bought for my new job. The desk was $550 and I bought a butcher block top for $120 from Lowes which I attached myself for a more personal feel. It was a big purchase for me but I wanted to invest in a good office space especially if I plan/hope to work from home for a long time.
12:30 p.m. — Take another anxiety walk around my neighborhood and eat lunch.
4 p.m. — I need to buy a new charger for my MacBook Air because I have a knockoff that gets really hot and sparks when I plug it in. I buy an Apple brand one from a guy on Facebook Marketplace. $15
4:30 p.m. — I treat myself for no reason by going to my favorite coffee shop and getting an americano and taking an hour-long walk through one of my dream neighborhoods in town. I swallow my resentment when I see houses for sale here knowing their inflated and outrageous prices are out of my budget. $4.71
7 p.m. — J. makes Mexican entomatadas and rice for dinner. The news is coming out about Roe V. Wade being overturned so I finish off the night with a vanilla cupcake and existential dread.
Daily Total: $19.71
6:30 a.m. — Up for another morning anxiety walk, it’s the perfect spring morning weather. I ground myself by looking for newly bloomed tulips and listening to the birds.
8:30 a.m. — I get home, put on my work uniform — some variation of Target/Costco joggers, a T-shirt, hair in a claw clip, and usually Pixi DetoxifEYE Hydrogel eye patches first thing in the morning. I feed the kitties, pour myself some coffee, get a plain La Croix and ice, and head upstairs to log on.
12 p.m. — I’ve had back-to-back meetings today so I have to prep a quick finger lunch — carrots, cucumbers, spinach dip, Harvest Snaps, an apple, and some slices of ham — and go back to my desk. Since I’m relatively new, I’m still trying to figure out how to finesse my Microsoft Team’s status from going yellow, so I’m generally attentive at my desk all day.
4:30 p.m. — I meet a friend at a local townie bar to catch up. It’s early for drinking and we’re the only ones there, but we a drink each (cider for me) and end up talking for three hours. $14.72
7:30 p.m. — When we leave, I’m starving and have no energy to make a coherent decision on dinner so I get McDonald’s. I get a cheeseburger, fries, and a four-piece nugget. I smash it in the car on the way home. On the (not-so-rare) occasion I get McDonald’s, I always use the app for coupons and this time I end up using the daily $1 fry deal. $6.36
8 p.m. — When I get home, J. and I take an hour walk and then read/TikTok before bed. I finish reading Audre Lorde, which was probably the fastest I’ve ever read a book in my life. Once I finish, I go to sleep.
Daily Total: $21.08
6:30 a.m. — Up early again to take a walk around the neighborhood. I put on Target joggers and a T-shirt, a hoodie from an old coffee shop I used to work at, and my old Stan Smith sneakers.
8:30 a.m. — After making a pot of coffee, feeding the kitties, and getting a La Croix, I go upstairs to the office to log into work. I only have one meeting on the calendar today and that’s a meet-and-greet chat with one of my new teammates. Since everyone in my organization works remotely, I am determined to put myself out there and make connections virtually as much as possible.
12 p.m. — I make lunch, the same plate of food as yesterday, and take it back up to the office. I keep my personal laptop on the side of my desk because I’m too scared to do any personal things on my work computer. Throughout the day, I listen to podcasts, watch YouTube, listen to Spotify while I work, and take mind breaks on social media or online shopping. I think it will look nice to have my laptop elevated on my desk, so after looking around on Facebook Marketplace I land on a Rain Design mStand someone is selling for $20 just across town. I message them and it’s available, yay! Going to pick it up tomorrow. $20
4 p.m. — I’m setting strict boundaries with this job and sign off at exactly 4. J. has the day off so I go downstairs to see what she’s up to and we decide to go get iced coffee as a post-work treat. I’m a black coffee gal but I love to treat myself with iced white chocolate oat milk lattes from Starbucks every so often. A year ago I was getting $6 Starbucks drinks every day, sometimes twice a day, until I forced myself to cut down. $6.36
7:30 p.m. — After coming back from coffee, going for an hour-long walk, and reading a bit, J. and I decide to order pizza from our favorite place in town. It’s specialty woodfired pizza which is borderline overpriced, but SO delicious. We ordered a sausage pizza and a Caesar salad to share. I want arugula on the pizza but it’s $6 to add it!!! I bring a bag of Whole Foods arugula I already have at home instead. We also bring our own drinks and enjoy dinner outside while the sun goes down. The total for this meal with tip is $43, which we split evenly. $21.50
9 p.m. — I just binged Dolly Parton’s America podcast which made me have a new love and appreciation for Dolly. I need more of her so we rent the movie Steel Magnolias on Amazon Prime! $3.99
Daily Total: $51.85
8:30 a.m. — It’s payday!!! I get really excited to budget bright and early on paydays. I don’t have all the payroll direct deposits I want to set up yet, so of my $1,847 paycheck (post 6% 403(b) and health care deductions), I transfer $500 to my Ally Bank HYSA account, which is a catchall for emergency fund, vacation, and future (maybe) house savings, $600 to into my bills checking account, and keep the rest in my main checking account. I keep a $1,000 buffer there, so I’ll have $1,747 for the next two weeks for food, home goods, gas, shopping, etc. Any left over, I transfer into the bills checking account. I’m still figuring out my budget with this new paycheck, but somewhere in between now and my next paycheck, I’ll drop some money into my Roth IRA.
12 p.m. — I go downstairs for a lunch break. I make a Whole Foods margherita pizza and eat half with an apple and a La Croix. I put myself on Busy on Teams and take an hour-long walk around the neighborhood.
4 p.m. — I’m done with work and feel so jazzed that it’s Friday! A friend of mine is having a get-together at an outdoor bar to celebrate her graduation, so I go over, hang out, and have two ciders. J. and I have been incredibly cautious through the whole pandemic and I’m finally starting to do some more things in person, but I really appreciate it when events are outside. $12
7:30 p.m. — J. and I meet up with my parents to have dinner. We go to a little sandwich place in town that does great carry out and we sit outside on the patio. My parents pay for our dinner!
10 p.m. — I read my new book, Memphis, and then put on an episode of the Anxiety Melt podcast until I fall asleep.
Daily Total: $12
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