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A Week In Boston, MA, On A $78,000 Income & $18,000 Yearly Allowance

·24 min read

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 PhD student/social media content creator who makes $96,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Brooklinen towels.

Occupation: PhD Student, Social Media Content Creator
Industry: Engineering
Age: 24
Location: Boston, MA
Salary: $96,000 ($48,000 stipend + roughly $30,000 side gigs (as of May 2021) + $18,000 financial support from parents)
Net Worth: $143,000 (Assets: $5,000 cash between personal and business checking/savings (I have a pass-through LLC), $35,000 in a brokerage account (stocks and mutual funds), $100,000 in a different brokerage account (mutual funds), $7,000 in an IRA. Total Debts/Liabilities: $1,600 remaining on an Affirm 0% interest loan, ~$2,000 in credit card debt.)
Debt: $3,600 between Affirm Loan and credit card debt (see above)
Paycheck Amount (PhD is 2x/month, social media and parents are 1x/month): $2,000 (PhD) + ~$1,200 (side gigs) + $1,500 (parents, not an actual paycheck)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $3,085 (one bed + den in a controlled-access building in an expensive part of Cambridge, no roommates)
Affirm: $466 (0% interest six month loan for furniture)
Utilities: $50
Internet: $60
Phone: $110 (monthly plan + financing for an iPhone 11 Pro Max)
CrossFit Gym: $259 (I’m fully vaccinated and started going back this month)
Nutrition Coaching: $125
Donations: ~$100 (Fair Fight, Planned Parenthood, Girls Who Code, Specific URM Programs at my undergrad institution)
Peloton App: $0 (my credit card reimburses me for it)
Daily Harvest: $200
Subscriptions: $100 (Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, HBO Max which I split with a friend, NYT, Boston Globe, NY Mag)
IRA: $200
Mutual Fund Investment: $100
HYSA: $200
Rainy Day Fund: $100
Taxes: $400 (I have a fellowship, so no withholding)

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?
Absolutely, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t planning to get at least some sort of graduate degree. My parents grew up middle to upper-middle class, both went to top-ranked schools, and both have graduate degrees, so every discussion about my future followed a similar plan. I went to an Ivy League university for my undergraduate degree and am now in graduate school. My parents paid for college (no financial aid/scholarships), including housing, food, trips home, and a monthly allowance. My PhD program pays $48,000 and my advisor pays for my tuition, but one of my parents supplements that with additional financial support because they want me to focus on school and not worry about money or housing-related concerns. I’m very lucky to have their support.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents divorced when I was young, and my dad made significantly more than my mom, so it was interesting in hindsight to see the different conversations that were had in each home. Money was a common topic in both homes, but my mom was a teacher so those conversations tended to focus more on the day-to-day aspects of personal finance and budgeting. For example, we’d go grocery shopping with a set amount of cash, so I got used to checking prices and tallying in my head as I shop. On the other hand, my dad worked on Wall Street, so those conversations tended to focus more on understanding market trends and investments. I think I got a solid conceptual education between the two, but I didn’t have a ton of experience with actually handling and budgeting my own money until grad school (and also had undiagnosed ADHD, I’m prone to impulse spending), so I’ve definitely made some poor financial choices over the years (see my credit card debt). But I’m extremely privileged to be in a position where most of those choices haven’t significantly impacted my financial future or current lifestyle.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was probably an internship at a biomedical research company over the summer after my sophomore year? It was definitely the first time I’d been paid for work, although I volunteered at summer camps before that. I didn’t work in high school and my parents gave me a monthly allowance in college (in addition to being on an unlimited meal plan, which was the only option for the dorm I lived in), so I had minimal expenses that needed to be covered. My first job that I actually used to pay for living expenses was probably a combination of my PhD and social media work, which I started around the same time.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes and no. I was definitely aware of money because of the discrepancy between my parents’ incomes, but I wouldn’t say I worried about money as it related to the stability of my life and my hobbies. My parents did fight over money frequently though (at one point, they went to court over how to split my tuition) so it was a stressful topic at times.

Do you worry about money now?
Again, yes and no. No, in that I have the privilege of having a financial safety net of inherited income (and the support of my parents, if it ever came to that), so I’m not worried about having enough money on a day-to-day basis. Yes, in that I’m much more aware of some bad spending habits that I’ve developed and am actively working to develop better ones. I know that I have a financial safety net and have used it more than I’d like. I want to use that money more wisely so it continues to serve me in the future. I also definitely developed some emotional spending habits during COVID that I initially didn’t worry about because I figured it would be a short-term thing, but it’s turning out to be harder to break than I expected as we return to the “new normal.” I’m definitely susceptible to lifestyle inflation and impulse spending due to a combination of ADHD and growing up either having or being able to buy pretty much anything I needed, so I worry about whether I’ll be able to really develop long-term habits or if I’ll always be susceptible to my neurodivergent brain.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Well, I’m not financially independent right now, so I’ll say hopefully by the time I finish my PhD (age 27-28)? I’d say I became mostly financially responsible for myself at age 22 when I started grad school since I had a job where I was getting paid enough to cover living expenses (also a privilege, since PhD stipends are not known for being high), but I also have the financial safety nets I mentioned earlier.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes, two inheritances — one account with about $35,000 in cash and another account currently valued at around $100,000 in investments. I received the first account in 2019 and the second when I turned 24. I make passive income from the dividends on both accounts.

Day One

6:30 a.m. — I wake up around 6:30 a.m. with the goal of working out on the spin bike I bought a few months ago, although my success rate on that plan is currently around 20%. However, as of yesterday, I’m fully vaccinated (14 days since my second Pfizer dose) so I decide to head over to the gym for a 7:30 workout class. I just restarted my CrossFit gym membership, but I’m not entirely sure I’m going to stick with it. I moved during the pandemic and it’s kind of out of the way now. There’s another CrossFit gym closer to my apartment, but the reviews aren’t great. By the end of the class, I can definitely tell that I’m out of shape. I should have brought some water but I jogged here without a bag, so I grab a water bottle on the way out and ask the instructor to charge it to my account. $2

9:30 a.m. — Once I get home, I make a protein smoothie for breakfast and call my dad for our weekly chat. I get a monthly Daily Harvest box of 24 smoothies, which is kind of expensive, but I’m very lazy about making breakfast and if left to my own devices (and my ADHD medication/antidepressants, which are both appetite suppressants) I would forget to eat anything until the early afternoon, so I think it’s worth the added cost. I do a quick Google search on smoothie recipes before hopping into the shower — as much as I like Daily Harvest, I’m trying to lower my monthly expenses and it takes up a ton of space in my freezer, so I’m looking for similar recipes that I can make at home. I find a couple and save them to my reading list for later.

12:30 p.m. — I spend the rest of the morning analyzing some old data from an experiment and realize I’m missing a crucial part. I have a research proposal deadline in a few days that I need this data for, so this is a bit of a setback. Tired of looking at this data, I take a break from work to make lunch, which ends up being pasta with shrimp, parmesan, and vodka sauce.

4 p.m. — Two meetings and a COVID test (my school requires us to get tested weekly if we’re going to campus) later, and I’m starting to feel hungry. Well, not exactly. I’m not that hungry, but I am starting to crave honey garlic boneless chicken bites from a restaurant in Allston. I’ve spent a lot of money on DoorDash and UberEats in the last 14 months and I’m trying to cut back these days, so I close out the UberEats tab I had open and try to distract myself for another hour or two. I’m planning on making baked ziti for dinner tonight, but I order my groceries using Amazon Fresh and they’re not scheduled to be here until 5-7 p.m. And then I’ll need an hour to cook the ziti…. I really need to order some snacks with my next round of groceries.

5 p.m. — I end up getting impatient and make some Annie’s White Cheddar & Shells that I have in the pantry. I’ll make the baked ziti tomorrow. Then I head to bed early at around 8, as I’m feeling pretty wiped and have a final exam in the morning.

Daily Total: $2

Day Two

6 a.m. — Wake up after getting ten wonderful hours of sleep and am feeling ready to start the day! I make some coffee, listen to the latest episode of Pretty Basic, and end up purchasing the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris after Alisha Marie recommends it. I’m definitely susceptible to influencer marketing, but unlike the random lifestyle products I see on Instagram, I feel like a book will at least teach me something useful. Once I finish my coffee, I make my usual protein smoothie for breakfast, get dressed, take my meds, and head over to my home office to get ready for this 8:30 a.m. final exam. $12.99

10:20 a.m. — Submit my final exam and take a quick break before sitting back down to continue working on the data analysis and writing from yesterday. I have a meeting with my committee at 2 to review this and the final document is due on Monday, so I’m a bit stressed. I’m also feeling hungry, so I heat up the last of some beef stew that I made last week.

3:30 p.m. — Finish the call with my thesis committee, and as usual, I was stressed over nothing. They were happy with my work and felt like I was solidly on track, so I feel better. Zoom meetings always fry my brain though, and with the proposal stress and the final exam this morning, I decide to start making dinner a bit early. Plus, I’d like to make this baked ziti before I run out of energy. I use a recipe from NYT Cooking and listen to the latest episode of My Brother, My Brother and Me, and then hop back onto my laptop to send some emails while I wait for it to bake.

6 p.m. — Have some of the ziti for dinner and spend another few hours working on my research proposal. Then I get ready for bed. I try to read before I go to bed, so I read on the Kindle app on my iPad then fall asleep around 9:30.

Daily Total: $12.99

Day Three

5:30 a.m. — I wake up and read for an hour before getting up. Then I make some coffee. I’m debating on whether to walk over to Tatte for a breakfast treat and some fresh air, but I flip through their website and they don’t have anything that catches my eye. Maybe I’ll head over to Starbucks instead…

8:30 a.m. — I end up making my usual smoothie instead, fold some laundry, throw my comforter into the washing machine, take out the trash and recycling, and start running the dishwasher. This last week has been a little crazy because of this research proposal, so cleaning hasn’t been at the top of my priority list, but I’ve just taken my ADHD meds so my brain isn’t quite ready to get to work yet. Once things are slightly cleaner, I film a sponsor preview for a YouTube video.

10:30 a.m. — I finish the preview, send it out, then write up an outline for a paper. I’m feeling a bit hungry, so I make some waffles and eat that while I pay the next installment on my West Elm Affirm loan since I got paid today (in monthly expenses). I bought a new bed frame and a chair about two months ago, and the chair came immediately but the bed frame won’t be here for another month.

11:45 a.m. — I end up having to deal with some emails and administrative work before I can get back to data labeling. I also order two new towels from Brooklinen as my current towels are verging on threadbare and still have my name written on the tag from summer camp. I use a $20 off coupon that I got last week, bringing my order to a total of $63. With that done, I make a note to check on a Glossier order that I put in two weeks ago and never got shipping confirmation for, and get back to that data analysis. $63

3 p.m. — Mentally hit a wall about an hour ago and have been looking at couches ever since. I’ve been wanting to get a new couch since I moved into my current apartment, but everything is back-ordered due to COVID and I’d want to test out some options in-store to make sure they’re actually comfortable. Currently debating on whether to read a book or try to get back to work since it seems like my brain has checked out for the day, but there are still a few things I’d like to get done. I’ll be working through the weekend regardless though — one of the perks of monetizing your hobbies is that you rarely have a full day off. In the meantime, I eat two protein bars and check on the delivery status of some wine that I ordered last week.

9:30 p.m. — I end up finishing one book and starting another, then have some baked ziti for dinner and head to bed around 10. As usual, work stress keeps my brain running in circles for another hour or so — my Oura Ring says that I actually fell asleep around 11:30.

Daily Total: $63

Day Four

7:45 a.m. — I wake up and drag myself out of bed even though I’m tired because it’s Saturday and I always call my dad at 8 a.m. It’s been a few days since I’ve really gotten outside and it’s supposed to be really warm out, so I put on a sundress with a light jacket, put in my headphones, and order a Venti Salted Caramel Foam Cold Brew and Iced Lemon Pound Cake from Starbucks. Then I call my dad and head out for a walk and some coffee. $10

11:30 a.m. — I get back after a five-mile walk feeling tired but good, make a list of the stuff I need to get done this weekend, and change back into pajamas for a nap. Then I take a look through the fridge and my cabinets to see what I have already so I can meal plan for the week. I decide to make some pulled pork since it’s easy to make in large quantities and I already know it’s going to be a busy week. Neither Amazon Fresh nor Whole Foods delivery has boneless pork shoulder though, so I end up ordering from Wegmans on Instacart. $66

2:30 p.m. — Apparently this is the week that I replace all of my threadbare items. After groceries, I start looking for new knee sleeves. I’ve had my old ones for four years and they’re literally falling apart at the seams, so I’m definitely due for a new pair. I find some that I like at Strong Strong Supply, and add a weightlifting belt to my cart while I’m at it. Next on the list is looking over some of the data analysis results from earlier this week, then making two TikToks. I realize that I forgot to take my meds and crack open a bottle of Usual Rose to sip while I work. $103

5 p.m. — A few hours of work and some YouTube videos from my Watch Later queue later and it’s time for some dinner. I’m still loving this baked ziti, so I reheat some of that for dinner. I scroll through Instagram while I eat and end up falling prey to another IG ad, this time for that foundation that supposedly perfectly matches your skin. They only charge you for it if you keep it for more than 14 days though, so I’m planning to try it once for the fun of it and return it immediately. I also head downstairs to pick up some packages. I got a Lululemon gift card a while back and bought the Align Tank that everyone raves about and that Glossier order finally came in. $5

9 p.m. — After another couple hours of work, I wash my face, put on a pimple patch for a rather persistent whitehead, brush my teeth, and head to bed. I end up tossing and turning for a few hours because I’m too hot, but the AC vent is right over my bed so if I turn it on, it will immediately be too cold. Eventually, I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $184

Day Five

6 a.m. — I wake up early and text one of my friends asking whether we can postpone our lunch to next weekend. I didn’t sleep well and am stressed about this research proposal deadline tomorrow, so I’d rather just work through today and tomorrow and regroup later in the week. I make some coffee and flip through new Compass listings near me. I’d eventually like to use that larger inheritance as a down payment but it’s unlikely that I’ll buy in the area — the housing prices around here are insane and I’m not planning to stay after grad school.

7 a.m. — I’ve finished my coffee, so it’s time to take my meds. I have ADHD and depression, both controlled by medication, and also take a biotin and collagen supplement because I find that my skin breaks out a ton otherwise. I’m not sure if it’s just a placebo, but I have a dermatologist appointment next week, so I’m planning to bring it up and see what the doctor thinks. I’m a bit nervous because this dermatologist is a white woman and I’m not sure if she has experience with Black women’s skin.

9:30 a.m. — I’m feeling more awake from the coffee but my ADHD meds haven’t quite kicked in yet, so I debate on making a cheese omelet for breakfast. I would make a smoothie, but my blender is really loud and I try not to use it before 9 a.m. on the weekends because there’s no way my neighbors can’t hear it, even if they’re nice enough to not complain. I’m not that hungry though, so I make some ginger tea instead. I end up making the omelet around 10, after watching some YouTube videos.

10:30 a.m. — I have a call with an internet friend at 11 and would like to wrap up this research proposal today, but we’ll see what happens. I also need to make another two TikToks (I’m in a paid program where I have to hit a quota each week), draft a script for this week’s YouTube video, and work on a fiction project for a writing class that I’m taking. PSA: don’t monetize all your hobbies, it makes them less fun.

2 p.m. — Have my meeting, then end up lying down for 90 minutes. When I get up, I’m hungry but realize I haven’t run the dishwasher, so I load it with the rest of the dirty dishes and set it for a quick cycle, then grab some hummus and pita chips to tide me over. I really don’t want to keep working today (I’ve been going non-stop for about three weeks), but I need to at least chip away at a little more work before I can take another break. I make some iced tea, add some more pita chips and hummus to my Instacart basket so I don’t forget, and get back to it.

5 p.m. — Alright, I think my brain has had enough. I’m pretty fried, so I head over to the couch to watch YouTube with red wine and honey garlic boneless chicken wings ($24). I also see that a shirt from an internet friend’s merch collection is back in stock, so I order one ($41). Then I time block my calendar for the next day and head to bed early. I’m planning to get up at 5 a.m. tomorrow, so there’s no use in staying up late. $65

Daily Total: $65

Day Six

5:30 a.m. — Ahhhhh it’s so early and my research proposal is due today. I turn on What A Day to catch up on the news while my brain wakes up, then change into some workout clothes, drink some pre-workout, and hop on the spin bike for a 30-minute Peloton class. I also post to my Instagram story. I’ve amassed a decent following on all my other socials, but haven’t quite figured out the secret to Instagram growth, so I’ve been experimenting a bit over the past few weeks. Once I’m done on the bike, I make an iced coffee, wash my face, get dressed, and head over to my desk. I’d normally take a shower but I’m already behind schedule, so I cut my lunch break shorter on my calendar to give myself a little time for a full-body wash.

7:30 a.m. — Finished labeling the data and am now moving it to our lab’s computing cluster. My stomach has been feeling off all morning, so I pop a couple Pepto Bismol tablets and wash it down with some iced coffee.

8:30 a.m. — Stomach still not feeling great, likely because of how fast I ate those chicken wings last night (or the wine, my stomach isn’t historically a fan of either), so I make some seltzer in my SodaStream (easily one of my best quarantine purchases, I drink about two liters per day and used to buy ~24 1L plastic bottles per year, so I also feel better about reducing my plastic consumption) and some ginger tea to see if that helps a bit. The early morning is also starting to hit me a bit, so I take my meds and a 20-minute work break before my 9 a.m. meeting to help my brain wake up a little more.

10 a.m. — One cup of ginger tea and a meeting later and I’m feeling a bit better! Also feeling a bit hungry, so I make some toast and a vanilla protein shake.

5:30 p.m. — Home stretch! Pretty much all of the writing is done, I just need to finish making a figure, and then I think I’m good. I order another thing of honey garlic boneless chicken wings ($26) on UberEats as an incentive to finish writing between now and when it is delivered (~45 minutes), and plan to take a dinner break before reading over the final document, making any needed revisions/edits, and sending it in! $26

8:30 p.m. — Finally finish it, do a final proofread, and submit! Then finish off my chicken wings and a glass of wine, and head to bed around 9 — it’s been a loooong day.

Daily Total: $26

Day Seven

7 a.m. — Wake up after not sleeping very well and make some coffee. I was supposed to have a dentist appointment at 9, but I get a text saying that my appointment has been canceled. I make some toast and a protein shake for breakfast and take my meds.

10 a.m. — I’m still feeling pretty tired, but I make my way over to my desk and fill out my planner with the things I’d like to get done today. I also check my email and see that a fiction writing assignment that I thought was due today was actually due yesterday — whoops. It’s for an online class that I’ve actually really enjoyed, but I wish I’d signed up for it after my qualifying exam because I’m swamped with work and don’t have a ton of time for writing for fun. I have a financial accountability group meeting at noon, so I plan to answer some emails, prepare a meeting agenda for a student group meeting tonight, and finish the fiction writing assignment.

3:30 p.m. — My financial accountability group meeting was really good. We had a spontaneous discussion on the intersection of finances and values, which is something I struggle with a lot. I also did some good work on my fiction writing assignment. I take a break and go for a walk, then have a bit of a panic over whether to pause my gym membership — I love that style of fitness but rarely actually go due to the location. I make a list of fitness activities that I enjoy, then open up Google Maps and see what options I have near me. Having found a few, I email my gym asking them to pause my membership through the end of June and reach out for some trial classes. Then I grab a few protein bars before my next meeting and snack on them through the evening.

7:30 p.m. — Done with meetings! I still have to make a YouTube video that needs to go up tonight, so I wash my face and get my camera gear together to film, then do a quick edit on the footage and start uploading. I realize that I haven’t really eaten that much, so I warm up the last of the baked ziti and eat that while the video uploads, then set it live. I also realize that I haven’t showered in two days — yikes — and hop in the shower before getting into bed to read a book for about an hour before heading to bed at 10.

Daily Total: $0

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