A Week In Washington, D.C., On A $56,687 Salary

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.

This week a School Counselor working in Education who makes $56,687 per year and spends it on “epsom salts or malted milk powder? ”.

Occupation: School Counselor

Paycheck Amount (monthly): $3,443

Housing Costs: $1,125. I share a two-bedroom apartment and split rent evenly.

Loan Payments: $491. I’m paying off about $40,000 in graduate school loans.

All Other Monthly Expenses

Retirement & Health Insurance: I have around $790/month taken out of my paycheck pre-tax for various retirement accounts, as well as $145 for health and dental insurance.

Spotify Premium: $0.99 (trial)

Savings: $550 for the summer. We don’t get paid for two months of the year, so we have to set money aside to pay ourselves. It’s a pain, but has made me a very careful budgeter!

9:30 a.m. — I hear some neighbors outside and my roommate up and about. I decide it’s time to start the weekend. I’m usually a very early bird — I love to get up before the sun and have time for quiet, coffee, breakfast, etc. — but I was up really late last night and slept in today.

9:45 a.m. — Make a pot of coffee and heat up breakfast. I have leftover whole-wheat banana bread topped with peanut butter, plus an orange and some sesame honey cashews. And coffee. I bring it back to bed and eat while I read a few New York Times articles and catch up on Bravo shows I’ve missed this week. Not a bad start to the day!

11:30 a.m. — Text my friend about our plans for the afternoon. She’s my best friend and lives right down the block from me, but we’ve both had busy weeks and haven’t seen each other. I’m ready for some girl time!

11:45 a.m. — Swing by the library to pick up the books I had on hold (a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt and two Thug Kitchen cookbooks) since I have a few minutes before my friend is ready to go.

12 p.m. — Parking is crazy where we planned to go, so we detour to a local brewery we’ve never been to. It was a little bit of a hike but the beer was awesome. We chat about the book she’s writing and admire the strangely violent murals on the walls. I pay. $23

3 p.m. — I’m hangry when I get home, so I make the quickest thing I can think of: rye toast and eggs scrambled with cheddar cheese, and hazelnut chocolate for dessert.

4 p.m. — I’ve been feeling super strange lately, kind of unsure of myself, insecure, self-critical, like I don’t even know myself or what I want. Even though I love spending time with my best friend, she is so sure of herself and confident that I sometimes feel unsteady in comparison. I remind myself to contact a counseling office I’ve bookmarked to schedule an appointment. I can’t tell if these are normal late-20s feelings or if I’m really struggling. I turn on “Gilmore Girls” to comfort myself and try not to get too wrapped up in my head. I’ve gotta get it together for a date tonight!

4:15 p.m. — I spontaneously buy the 1 Second Everyday app after seeing an adorable video on someone’s Instagram story. I have no idea what to take videos of though! I guess this will challenge me to be creative. I’ll start tomorrow. $5.28

5 p.m. — Hop in the shower and get ready for my date. I cannot decide what to wear (see struggling feelings above) and try on approximately three outfits before settling on an old faithful: a black jumpsuit with a chunky cardigan. Curl my hair and put on a little makeup.

5:30 p.m. — My date is cooking steak fajitas for dinner, and I’m in charge of bringing chips and salsa. I swing by the store on the way and get them both, plus a pack of gum for my purse. $8.97

10:30 p.m. — Home! I had a good time on the date but am having a hard time figuring out if I like this guy and can see long-term potential. I feel like having to think to hard about it probably does not bode well. I eat a little more chocolate before crashing.

8:30 a.m. — Wake up, make coffee, and toast a TJ’s multigrain bagel for breakfast. I put clarified french butter on one side (I don’t even know what really this is, but damn is it good!) and peanut butter on the other. I also grab an apple. Somehow, I threw out my back between last night and this morning, so I hobble around a little bit. I scheduled a barre class through ClassPass for later today. If I cancel, I have to pay a fee of $15 so I hope it feels better soon.

9 a.m. — I hop in the car to run to a few grocery stores. It’s a long weekend and I want to do a bunch of cooking projects, so I need to stock up and get the best prices! I drive 20 minutes or so out to the best Aldi in Virginia and get ingredients for my recipes and some other essentials for the week ($60.80). I also stop at Target for paper towels, sponges, and one of those assorted cereal packs my family used to bring on vacation. I’m going to make cereal milk ice cream! ($11.59) The last stop is Trader Joe’s for frozen leeks, broccoli florets, parsnips, and heavy cream ($12.14). $84.53

11 a.m. — I turn on Spotfiy, unpack the groceries, and start on the base for the cereal milk ice cream.

11:30 a.m. — My friends and I spent a week at the beach together last year, and it was so fun that we’re doing it again this year! I’m in charge of coordinating/booking. I send out an email to the group with logistics and ask them to Venmo me their share of the rental, which I put on my credit card last week.

1:30 p.m. — Made it through barre class without throwing out my back. Small victories.

2 p.m. — Random lunch full of things in the fridge: a big kale salad with cranberries, goat cheese, almonds, and sweet potatoes with homemade vinaigrette, plus a kiwi.

2:30 p.m. — I make a batch of cereal milk ice cream (I dream of opening my own ice cream shop one day!), with a cereal crumble to mix in. I let everything sit in the fridge overnight. I’ll churn it tomorrow.

5 p.m. — Make an early dinner of Trader Joe’s frozen cauliflower fried rice with a scrambled egg added and kung pao chicken, both topped with sriracha. I love that this meal crushes my takeout cravings at a fraction of the cost, and with more veggies to boot.

5:30 p.m. — I have a shift at the restaurant tonight, so I shower, get ready, and drive over there. I would love to stay home or go out for a beer with my friend, but I remind myself that this money will help pay for my beach trip! Plus, we don’t have school tomorrow because it’s MLK Jr. Day, so I can sleep in a little.

12:15 a.m. — Home, and so damn tired. I wash my face, put on PJs, and head to bed.

8:15 a.m. — Up and at ’em! I’m feeling strangely motivated when I wake up, so after I put in my contacts, wash my face, and brush my teeth, I do a deep clean of the bathroom and throw in a load of laundry. Then on to coffee and a comforting bowl of oatmeal with bananas, dates, chia, flax and peanut butter. I also churn the ice cream I made yesterday and stick it in the freezer.

9 a.m. — I’m feeling stressed about this beach trip. I kind of wish that I hadn’t agreed to it and had instead devoted the money to a new trip somewhere different this year, but I got swept in. This was an instance when I definitely could have practiced being more assertive instead of going with the flow, which is my natural inclination. I know it will be a ton of fun when I get there, though.

9:30 a.m. — Wash the huge pile of dishes in the sink, then do some more cooking for the week: Joy the Baker’s turkey meatballs, broccoli with garlic and olive oil, and farro.

11 a.m. — Shower and get ready for the day. I drive downtown to spend the afternoon in a few of my favorite Smithsonian museums, but as soon as I get there I realize that may not be possible. There is not single a parking spot to be found for blocks! I’m still glad to drive around and swing by the Dr. MLK Jr. memorial on this holiday.

12:15 p.m. — Instead of my museum plan, I take myself out to one of my favorite restaurants for a burger and a toasted marshmallow milkshake. Seriously, it’s heaven on earth. I didn’t order fries but I think the cashier made a mistake (or was really nice/flirty!) and gave me some! I sit by the window and read my book, The Sound and the Fury, and people watch while I eat. I leave feeling full but satisfied. $13.89

2 p.m. — Call my dad on the drive home and vent about feeling down. He is a great listener and knows exactly what to say.

2:30 p.m. — Take a long, hot bubble bath with my book and a can of sparkling water — one of my favorite self-care activities. I also spend like 15 minutes feeling the feelings (read: crying uncontrollably), but I feel a lot better after.

3:15 p.m. — Paint my nails and watch a few episodes of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Why didn’t I start this show sooner?! The script, wardrobe, and acting are all so good. Also, Tony Shalhoub!

5:15 p.m. — Snack on an apple, still kind of full from lunch. Feeling fancy, I put on two face masks in a row — a fun, peel-off one followed by one from The Ordinary that makes me look like a newborn alien.

7 p.m. — Prep snacks for me and my friend to eat; she’s coming over to watch “The Bachelor” tonight. I cut up veggies, cheese, leftover banana bread, and pop a big bowl of stovetop popcorn. I never watch “The Bachelor” on the night of, so this is a treat! I also definitely need some social time (but there was no way was I putting on a bra and/or real pants again today).

10 p.m. — I love my friend. She gives great advice and is so funny and supportive. We had a blast judging Arie’s awkward kisses and catching up on each other’s weeks.

10:30 p.m. — My nighttime skincare routine is already done; all that’s left is to take out my contacts and hop into bed. Getting up for work tomorrow will not be easy…

5:45 a.m. — Wake up and get going with the morning routine. Put my contacts in, remember to take my calcium pill (I never know if it helps), wash my face, etc. I put on a pot of coffee and make my bed, then start putting on skincare stuff and decide on an outfit and breakfast. It’s going to be a balmy 40 degrees today after a brutally cold weekend, so I decide to wear ankle-length pants. I like to live on the edge.

6:30 a.m. — Sip on my first cup of coffee and pack up my lunch for work. I have a really tasty breakfast that I hope will fill me up for a busy morning: TJ’s multigrain bagel (half with butter and half with peanut butter) with two fried eggs, and a sliced pear. I also look over my weekend spending on Mint, something I do every morning, if not multiple times per day. I could probably ease up a little bit on this, but I stress out about money so much that tracking every penny of my spending gives me some peace of mind.

6:45 a.m. — I need to leave a few minutes early to fill my gas tank on the way to work. I live in D.C. but work in the suburbs of Virginia, so I have a pretty long commute. I just started listening to Jeffery Eugenides’ new short story collection, so the drive isn’t so bad today! $24.52

7:30 a.m. — Get settled at work and drink my second cup of coffee from a travel mug. My job is really stressful sometimes, but I mostly love it. We have a department meeting first thing and plan for our upcoming registration. It’s good to catch up with my coworkers after a long weekend and get back in a routine. There are murmurs of a possible snow day tomorrow, but I’m not counting my chickens!

10:30 a.m. — I check on a student whose mental health I’m worried about, help another track down a spare textbook from a math teacher, and respond to parent emails. Then I meet with a new student and her dad to show her around the school and talk about the classes she will take.

12:45 p.m. — I was hungry for lunch about an hour ago, but I got sidetracked with students who needed to see me. Then I had to “walk” (read: escort) a student to in-school suspension. So goes the life of a school counselor! When I get back to my office, I see that my sweet coworker left me her soft pretzel; they come with school lunches but she didn’t want hers and knows I love them. I eat that in approximately five seconds, then move on to the lunch I prepped yesterday while I read emails.

1:30 p.m. — I like something sweet in the afternoon, so I have a small apple and a piece of chocolate one of my students gave me for Christmas. I also make a cup of decaf coffee to sip on while I rush around to meetings this afternoon.

3:30 p.m. — Feeling so snacky today! I eat a little slice of leftover whole wheat banana bread and a few crackers with cheese. I always pack extra things like this in my lunchbox in case of a snack attack.

4:30 p.m. — I decide to run the few miles over to my ClassPass class tonight, which is a spin class at Flywheel. It’s not too far and mostly downhill from my apartment — plus, parking is a nightmare near the studio. I tell myself I’ll walk or take the bus home if I’m too pooped after class is over.

5:30 p.m. — Great spin class! I leave dripping in sweat, feeling strong and grateful for a body that is able to do lots of different things.

6:15 p.m. — Grab a free apple on the way out of the studio to sustain me for my walk home. My phone recently started to spontaneously die when the weather is cold, so I spend the quiet walk home making a to-do list in my head, thinking over the day, and wondering if we’ll have a snow day tomorrow.

7 p.m. — Get home and start preparing vegetable pot pie for dinner! I’m using a Thug Kitchenrecipe, so it’s vegan — except I use regular pie crust, because pie crust must have butter in my humble opinion. I just put it in the oven to bake when my friend calls. We’re both smart ladies who love trashy reality television, so we chat for a bit about the finale of “RelationShep” on Bravo. She makes me laugh like crazy.

8 p.m. — Take a quick shower, put on PJs, and serve myself dinner. It is delicious! I finish the night off by taste testing some of the cereal milk ice cream from yesterday. Oh man, is it good. The buttery cereal crumble tears up the roof of my mouth a little bit, but that’s a good problem to have, I think.

9:30 p.m. — Put on my retinol cream, take out my contacts, and hit the hay, hoping for a snow day tomorrow.

5:30 a.m. — Wake up to a text that we have a two-hour delay. I’ll take that! I set my alarm for 7 and go back to sleep.

7 a.m. — I’m awake. It felt so good to sleep in and still beat my alarm. I make a pot of coffee and a more time-intensive breakfast: a bowl of oatmeal with chia, flax, cinnamon, half a banana, and a scoop of peanut butter. I eat, drink my coffee, read blogs, and check my budget. I’m still waiting on a return credit for a pricey jacket I returned a week or two ago, but it’s not in yet. Grr! I check my email and see that the store is trying to send me a store credit card instead of refunding the money to my credit card. Frustrated, I email customer service to see what they can do. I see that a Madewell order for a pair of jeans I was waitlisted for went through. (The hassle of needing tall sizes!) I got them for a great deal during a 30% off sale, though, so I didn’t mind waiting. I update my budget spreadsheet with these purchases. $59.48

8 a.m. — Start getting ready for work. I have extra time and decide to put a few curls in my hair. Drink one more cup of coffee before leaving.

10 a.m. — Drop off my stuff in my office, then show my new student to all of her classes. Go to a meeting, see a few students, and prep for things happening next week.

12 p.m. — Eat lunch before I have to head down to cover the cafeteria. I eat the same things as yesterday plus an orange and carrots on the side.

1 p.m. — I have a meeting at our county office this afternoon, so I leave school. On my way I stop at one of my very favorite places: Wegmans! As a born and raised Rochesterian, this is a big deal for me, and definitely worth going out of my way through the Northern Virginia suburbs. I have plans to take myself to a movie tonight, which requires gummy candies and maybe chocolate. I pick and choose some favorites from the bulk section and also grab a twelve-pack of diet root beer, gum, a big bag of epsom salts, heavy cream, and malted milk powder to make more ice cream. Can’t stop, won’t stop. $20.61

2:30 p.m. — Leave the county office and head home. I have the whole afternoon ahead of me! In a flash of creativity, I start brainstorming my maid of honor speech for my best friend’s wedding. It’s not until the fall but great memories and ideas popped into my brain randomly this afternoon. I make a voice recording on my phone so I don’t forget!

3:15 p.m. — Well, crap. Apparently Aritzia only gives store credit for returned sale items. I’m kicking myself for not checking the policy more carefully, and mad that I won’t get the money back, which I wanted to put towards my larger than normal credit card bill this month. I guess it’s good I have store credit, but I never even really shop here. Sigh. Lesson learned.

3:30 p.m. — Dust my apartment, Swiffer the floors, water my plant, fold laundry. I also pay a bill from my doctor’s office. I thought I had a yeast infection last month (I didn’t, thank goodness!) so my doctor ordered labs that insurance only partially covered. I try to have as many zero-spend days as possible in a month (which I’m doing a very bad job of this week). Since I’ve already spent money today, I figure I might as well check off this. $38.15

4:15 p.m. — Getting pretty hungry so I eat leftover roasted sweet potatoes and watch an episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Take a break to call my best friend and wish her luck on a job interview. I make a batch of malted vanilla ice cream and a pan of boxed brownies that I’m going to chop up and mix in.

5 p.m. — Early bird dinner: leftover cauliflower fried rice and kung pao chicken.

5:30 p.m. — I’m feeling a little cooped up and I decide to get fresh air and exercise by walking 35-ish minutes down to the Loft store to see what’s new. I don’t need to buy anything immediately but I am in the market for a new skirt or two, a pair of work pants, and a sweater. It’s freezing out so I walk quickly and get my heart pumping!

6:30 p.m. — Struck out at Loft, which is a good thing for my budget. I decide it’s too cold to walk to and from the movie theater like I planned. I’ll have to see Call Me By Your Name another time. I head home and swing by the library to pick up a few more holds that came in.

7:30 p.m. — When I get home, I churn up my ice cream, adding the brownie pieces and a caramel swirl, and stick it in containers in the freezer to share with friends and coworkers. Then I take a bath, eat some of the movie gummies I bought earlier, flip through cookbooks, and listen to a podcast. I text my brother about coming over to pick up ice cream tomorrow, text a bit with a few friends, and do a little browsing on OkCupid.

9:15 p.m. — In bed reading my book. An early night is great with me! I remind myself to make plans with friends over the weekend; it will feel good to be a little more social after an introverted week.

5:45 a.m. — Up and starting my morning routine. I take my vitamin, put in my contacts, put on some serum and face oil, put some dry shampoo in my second day hair, and brush my teeth. Then I make coffee and pack my lunch.

6 a.m. — Do about 10 minutes of Duolingo practice while drinking coffee. I want to be more consistent with this habit — usually I’m great for about three weeks and then I totally stop. I’m visiting my brother in Paris in April, so that is motivation to practice my rusty high school French! I’m also trying to learn Spanish because a lot of the students and families I work with are from Latin America, so maybe I’ll alternate which language I practice each day. I was taking a Spanish class but it got too expensive, so this will be a good free way to practice.

6:45 a.m. — Easy breakfast of two slices of whole wheat toast, one with peanut butter and one with butter, with a pear on the side. Get on the road to work a few minutes later than I was hoping to.

8 a.m. — Drink my second cup of coffee during my first meeting of the day.

11 a.m. — This morning has been crazy stressful. I’m trying to do ten things at once (see students, prep for registration, make schedule changes, plan a baby shower potluck for a coworker) and I feel like I’m not making progress on any of it. I’m already hungry at 11, so I eat an orange and crackers to tide me over until lunch, and keep plugging away.

12 p.m. — Lunch is leftover veggie pot pie with a spinach salad on the side. A little while after lunch, I eat a small apple and dark chocolate leftover from Christmas. I update my budget spreadsheet over lunch and read one of my favorite money-related websites, The Billfold.

5:15 p.m. — I have to meet with a student’s parents and a teacher after school, which keeps me there way later than usual; it happens. My best friend asks if I can pick her up from campus on the way home. It’s on my way and it’s freezing out (she hates the cold!) so I tell her no problem. She stops at my apartment to pick up ice cream before heading home.

6 p.m. — I text a parent about tutoring her son and arrange to meet this Saturday. The extra money will be great!

6:30 p.m. — Go over to my friend’s apartment for dinner. She feeds me leftover baked ziti and salad, which obviously tastes amazing because it wasn’t made by me! We drink a beer and plan a potential summer program for rising high-school seniors. She’s a great writing teacher and we think we could make money by doing a weeklong college application and essay bootcamp together. We brainstorm for a while and half-watch what might be the worst show ever made, Hart of Dixie.

8:30 p.m. — Walk home, take a shower, and start winding down. I taste test a little bit of the ice cream I made yesterday. It is so good, oh my goodness. New favorite flavor. I bring my laptop in bed to watch an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I know better but every once in a while, I give in to the urge!

5:45 a.m. — The usual morning routine commences.

6:15 a.m. — Pack up my lunch for today and make breakfast: multigrain toast, one with jam and one with butter, with two fried eggs and a few blackberries. And coffee, obviously. Check Mint, transfer my Venmo balance to my bank, and read blogs.

7:30 a.m. — Get to work a little early. Sip coffee in my travel mug and try to evaluate a few students’ transcripts before a busy day of meetings. A sweet student gave me a Starbucks gift card yesterday for helping him with something, so I add that and a few others I had from Christmas to the app on my phone. Easier than juggling separate cards which very well could fall into the black hole that is my purse. Remind myself to write him a thank-you note later.

7:45 a.m. — Text with my friend who is considering getting bangs. I used to have super full bangs and loved them. Seeing the new “Fifty Shades of Grey” trailer has made me want them again in a big way. The movies may be problematic, but damn, Anastasia Steele has good hair! I remember how annoying bangs can be, though, especially once you decide you no longer want them. What to do?!

12 p.m. — My coworkers and I actually are able to sit down for 20 minutes to eat lunch together. Miracle of miracles! I love chatting with them, but we’re all so busy that it doesn’t happen often. I have leftovers again and I’m looking forward to a new lunch next week. I eat quickly because I have to run to another meeting at 12:30.

1:45 p.m. — Snack on a few brownie pieces and an apple to power me through the rest of my afternoon meetings.

3:15 p.m. — So glad it’s the weekend. I blast old school John Mayer on the drive home (embarrassing) and consider how I’d like to spend my evening.

4:30 p.m. — Change into workout clothes and go for a walk. It’s beautiful out; the sun is setting and it’s still in the low 50s. I stop by an ATM to deposit cash, then walk for 30 minutes or so. while chatting with my parents on the phone. This diary is making me realize how often I’m on the phone! I’m happy to stay connected with friends and family who live elsewhere but I know it’s often a big distraction.

5:30 p.m. — Craving a huge salad for dinner, I make one with romaine, spinach, pistachios, goat cheese, and dried cranberries. With some popcorn on the side for a whole grain. Yum! I start season two of The Crown.

7:30 p.m. — Finish the night with the rest of my gummies and chocolate, and a big glass of water. My brother comes over for ice cream and we chat for a while. He works a crazy consulting job so I don’t get to see him often. He seems so old and mature to me!

9:30 p.m. — Wind down for the night, eager to finish my book. I’m feeling rested after a quiet couple of days, and I’m excited to have some more fun this weekend!

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