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A Week In Cambridge, MA, On An $11,000 Income

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Today: a startup co-founder and independent consultant working in technology who makes $1,000-$4,000/month and spent some of her money this week on Reese's.

Occupation: Startup Co-Founder & Independent Consultant
Industry: Tech
Age: 41
Location: Cambridge, MA
Income: Consultancy: I charge $125-$175/hour and make $1,000-$4,000/month. (Last year I made $11,000.) Startup: Bootstrapping and pre-revenue

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $3,500 ($1,750 for my half) for a two-bedroom and office. Sounds high, but this is a steal for our area.
Phone: $110-$140 for my share of the family plan
Health Insurance: I'm on my husband's plan.
Entertainment: Hulu/Netflix are my husband's accounts, HBOGo is my in-laws' account, and the podcasts I listen to are free.
Housekeeper: $240 (2x/month)
Gas & Electric: $150-$200, depending on season
Car Insurance: $990 (I pay in full each April.)
Microsoft 365: $8.95
Gym Membership: $89
Savings: I keep $5,000 minimum in my checking account.
Mutual Fund: I have $36,000 in a mutual fund.
Retirement Accounts: I have $210,000 saved from my last job. (I deposited the max I could and got company matched.) Since I've been on my own, I've been depositing $550/year.
Consulting Business Expenses: $250 for annual insurance coverage, $136 for two-year P.O. box, and $500 for annual incorporation fees.
WBE Annual Certification Fees: $600 (includes national and state specific fees)
Annual Professional Membership Fees: $370

Day One

6:15 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I'm exhausted in that space between awake and asleep. I meditate with Calm, get up, and get dressed in my suit and shoes. This is a change from my usual fleece leggings and t-shirt. Today I'm pitching a local startup accelerator. All weekend I was zeroed in on my pitch deck and practicing. I eat breakfast while listening to the New York Times Daily podcast. Greek honey yogurt, blueberries, and Bear Naked Fruit & Nut (their best flavor!) with two pints of PG Tips tea. I'm not dainty about how much caffeine I need to get up and running.

8:40 a.m. — Start my “dress rehearsal” and feel a little bit of confidence about the pitch, but not so confident about my voice, which is raspy from having practiced for hours yesterday. I do some startup administrative tasks of following up on a contract that's taking months to come together (it's our seed funding check, which we really need!) and finding a meeting room. (We don't have budget for an office space yet.)

10 a.m. — I check my email again. Freelancing as a consultant while bootstrapping a startup means I'm always on business development duty and looking for my next client if I'm not doing work or actively moving the ball forward for the startup. I make a few mental notes about what to follow up on and put half a bag of black beans in the slow cooker. Tonight I'll make black bean enchiladas for dinner.

11:15 a.m. — Head to the T to get to the accelerator's office. I've budgeted extra time for delays. I would normally walk to save on fare and get some exercise, but getting there on time and not disheveled is key today. I worry a little about how I'll get there on the daily if we win a spot in the accelerator, but that'll be a nice problem to have. I've now had another two pints of tea and practiced the pitch four more times. Packed some almonds (can't risk getting distracted by hunger) and water. Our time slot is anytime between noon and 3 p.m. When I arrive, we're informed that we are one of 300 startups from an original pool of 1,000 vying for 100 spots in the accelerator. No pressure. I snack on my almonds while we wait to pitch. It's a little awkward sitting in a room of other companies waiting to be called on.

2 p.m. — We lived through it. I'd dialed in the pitch so well it was muscle memory. My co-founder says he feels good about it, and that he learned a thing or two during the pitch! We head to Downtown Crossing to stop in Chinatown so I can buy salty prunes. I've been craving them for weeks. I stop into a Chinese grocer and scratch that itch. I get two types of salty prunes, a bag of salty orange peel, and crystallized honey ginger tea. My co-founder buys some cute pineapple candy and rose tea. I give him a salty prune and he wonders where they've been all his life. $18.41

2:45 p.m. — It's a beautiful day, so I walk home after seeing my co-founder off at the T station. When I get home, I drain the Crock-Pot black beans and catch up with my husband, who just had a boys' weekend in Vermont. I eat some salty prunes and a homemade mini chickpea quiche. After I change out of my suit, I follow up on the emails I left hanging this morning to get a consulting contract and NDA squared away. I also see an updated milestone from an Upwork client. When things are slow I'll work on Upwork, but lately it's more trouble than it's worth. The client has changed my milestone to "revise until done," which shows how wishy-washy our project has been. They didn't have a clear idea of what they wanted, so I've reworked the deliverable multiple times.

5:45 p.m. — Didn't pay attention to the time or my munching on an entire bag of salty orange peel. (Now I'm crazy thirsty.) I take a break to make the enchiladas. Because I spent all weekend working, I haven't had a chance to cook for the week. When I was in graduate school, I started the habit of cooking for the week, and it's a good one that I've tried to carry forward. Tonight's dinner will be my husband's lunch for a few days: corn tortilla enchiladas filled with black bean, red onion, zucchini, corn, and Monterey jack. I make the red sauce myself, starting with a roux-based sauce on the stove.

7:15 p.m. — I eat on the sofa and watch this weekend's SNL. I have another salty prune and a glass of honey ginger tea. I text with my co-founder, who updates me that we finally have our incorporation taken care of in Massachusetts. Even if you have no revenue, you still have to pay taxes. Because the universe works in interesting ways, I notice an email from my entrepreneur friend, who introduced to his tax specialist as promised. We should be able to get a R&D credit among other things, but I'm not sure we can afford a tax specialist yet. I also notice an email from a client who hadn't filled in the blank on my rate – he says to fill it in with what I want. This strikes me as odd, as he told me that my rate was out of his hands, and I'd have to negotiate with the business owner.

8:30 p.m. — The adrenaline that carried me through the pitch has now completely drained out of my body. I'm so tired I feel like there are knives behind my eyes. I drag myself up to bed. I don't want to, but because I wore makeup today, I need to wash my face. I had been trying to scrimp my budget by half-assing my ritual for a few months, and now I've had a two-week cystic acne breakout. I do it all – oil clean with cold cream, then face wash, BHA, AHA, moisturizer, and serum.

Daily Total: $18.41

Day Two

6:45 a.m. — I've been slowly waking up since 5:45. I meditate with Calm and have honey yogurt with blueberries and Bear Naked while listening the NYT Daily. I take care of administrative stuff : follow up with potential partners for the startup and pay the credit card and phone bill for my consulting work.

8:40 a.m. — Begin dinner prep in the slow cooker – sauté onions, add white beans. Toast some bread so it can dry out to make bread crumbs. We are having a white bean, pasta, ricotta, tomato, pesto, and bread crumb casserole tonight. This is a husband favorite, and it's so easy to make now that I've figured out how to speed it up – beans in the slow cooker, pre-make the pesto and freeze it. My BFF calls from vacation to say hello while I cook. It's great to hear from him. I usually spend Monday and Thursday nights at the climbing gym with him, so I really feel his absence this week.

9:15 a.m. — Take a moment to sketch out some thoughts for my therapist appointment ($15.55 co-pay). I thought therapy would be a luxury I couldn't afford, with respect to time and finances, but my husband (out of love) pushed me to do it. I have addictive tendencies – most recently in calling phone psychics, and spending lots of money every month. I broke the psychic habit before seeing my therapist, but sometimes the urge to call a psychic really kicks in. Yesterday's speculation of whether we would get a “yes” on our pitch would have driven Past Me to call a psychic to learn what was coming up, despite cognitively understanding that I was buying BS and yet still craving that temporary mental certainty. $15.55

11:15 a.m. — Arrive at the gym. I follow up therapy with a gym visit, because I find it's a more productive way to work out my post-therapy angst. Otherwise, I tend towards buying candy on my way home and eating the entire bag in one sitting. I introduce myself to another woman who is always there when I'm there. We chat for about 10 minutes, and then I get into my quick barbell workout. I lift twice a week – overhead press, front squat, bench, and single leg deadlifts. Gets the job done.

12:45 p.m. — I get home and have a quick lunch of sheep feta, homemade peperonata, and two mini chickpea quiches before I jump on a call with a VC advisor. He provides an opinion about how to protect my startup's IP and how to better define our value proposition to a niche of our planned customer base.

1:45 p.m. — Before a business development call with a potential consulting client, I get out for a quick trip to the library to return a book and check out the new cookbooks. I pick up Wicked Healthy. When I get home, I have a snack of salty prunes and a pear, and then text my husband to see if he can get a dice of canned tomatoes on the way home for the casserole.

5 p.m. — I mindlessly eat cinnamon raisin bread from Green Rabbit, which my husband brought back from Vermont. My husband comes home with diced tomatoes and plays guitar while I cook. I multitask making the casserole and a batch of zucchini-berry-nut breakfast cookies.

7 p.m. — Kitchen is cleaned up and dinner is ready. After we eat, I thumb through cookbooks until I hit a wall of tired at 8:30. I guess working 15-hour days over the weekend really sucked it out of me.

Daily Total: $15.55

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — Sleep in and meditate with Calm. My mind is drifting to my pitch from two days ago, and I remind myself that we only have seven more days to wait. Breakfast is a breakfast cookie, honey Greek yogurt, and a pint of PG Tips.

8:45 a.m. — I have a bunch of emails to sort through for consulting business development, and I get into a deliverable that's due at the end of the month. I listen to The Daily and Security Now. I've been listening to to learn about the latest issues affecting Internet security. Strikes me that as the CEO of an early stage IoT startup, I should be in the know about things affecting my company. It's a steep learning curve for me to follow most of the topics.

11 a.m. — Take a break for a 6.5-mile run. I haven't had time to get out for a few weeks and am glad for the chance to really stretch my legs. I was an age group triathlete and marathoner when I was younger, and it's taken me some time to accept that my older body can't handle the amount of running my former self could do. After a bad injury years ago, I've worked on not mentally beating myself up for not running as fast or as far as I think I should be able to. Part of being kinder to myself is remembering I only have this one body, and it can only do so much mental and physical work in a day.

12:15 p.m. — A post-run snack of pear and two glasses of water tides me over for a lunch of leftover enchiladas while I read a chapter of Cheryl Sandberg's Lean In. I know everyone else read it in 2013, but it's just as relatable and relevant today as it was then.

1:50 p.m. — I snack on a tangerine and get on the phone with a prospective client. It looks promising, and he thinks the next step will be to define a short-term project that will give me about 30 billable hours next month.

4:30 p.m. — Snack on two mini quiches while working. I'm hungry after the long run but trying to hold back on snacks so I don't ruin my appetite, since we have dinner plans with friends tonight.

7 p.m. — Friends are here! Husband is practicing guitar with the amp keyed up so loudly he doesn't hear the doorbell. We walk to Area4 for pizza. Dinner is two shared salads (shaved Brussels and asparagus in hollandaise) and three shared pizzas (fancy mushrooms with fontina, margherita, and sopressata). I have a glass of rosé. Our friends are expecting a baby! My husband knew last weekend and was in on the secret! So happy for them. We haven't seen these friends since the end of last year — life gets in the way. We catch up on new jobs, my seed grant, my recent pitch. It's a great evening. My husband pays for our half of dinner and we walk back home with promises to not let six months pass before we meet up again.

9:45 p.m. — BFF texts: “Any news?” No, still have a week to wait.

Daily Total: $0

Day Four

5:45 a.m. — I wake up naturally. Guess I'm all caught up on sleep, finally. Totally bloated from the trifecta of cheese, gluten, and alcohol last night. My hips feel tight from yesterday's run. Yay for getting older. I make a mental note to stretch and drink a lot of water today. I spend about an hour lolling around in bed, reading articles about the royal baby, and meditating with Calm.

7 a.m. — Breakfast is a zucchini breakfast cookie, honey Greek yogurt, and a pint of PG Tips. I read the last chapter of Lean In.

9 a.m. — Starting a phone marathon. First is a networking phone call with a potential startup partner, second is a check-in with my hardware development team. In between calls, I stretch and drink water.

10:45 a.m. — Wrap my phone call marathon earlier than expected! I go out to run an errand at H Mart. I want to make some egg rolls, dumplings, and a rice cooker dish from my library cookbooks. On the grocery list: dates, baked tofu, fried tofu, scallions, carrots, dumpling wrappers, bean thread noodles, spring roll wrappers, napa, water chestnuts, spray oil, dried mushrooms, fresh spinach, and kombu. I'm impressed when the bagger fits all of it into one shopping bag and tell her so; she must not get many compliments, because she blushes and smiles. $47.70

12 p.m. — More phone time. First up is a two-hour conference call with a consulting client, next up is a biweekly planning call with my co-founder. I multitask a little during the introductions on my first call by submitting an application to a branding contest for the startup. If we win, we'll get some free marketing, which we sorely need. In between calls, I drink more PG Tips and eat some salty prunes. I can't believe my husband and I haven't polished them all off yet.

5:30 p.m. — Early dinner before meeting with an advisory committee that I'm on.

8 p.m. — Phew. There was a lot of lively conversation. I'm always impressed by how passionate and articulate folks on this committee are. I walk over to Walgreens to get some Wal-zyr for my husband and impulse buy some Reese's peanut butter cups, too. $16.76

8:45 p.m. — Get home and eat my Reese's while my husband has leftover pizza. We catch up on the day and watch Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and then Bob's Burgers before I decide I'm going to pass out on the sofa. I head up to bed before that can happen.

Daily Total: $64.46

Day Five

5:45 a.m. — Up, and my mind is racing. I try to meditate with Calm, but I can't keep my eyes closed or stay still. I keep thinking back to last night's meeting and all the things I could have done better to keep conversations on track. I realize I'm beating myself up, and I try not to beat myself up about beating myself up. I know this feeling will pass and I accept that I'm continuously learning.

7:15 a.m. — Breakfast is a zucchini breakfast cookie, honey Greek yogurt, and a pint of tea while listening to The Daily. Then I put together Japanese ginger rice with tofu from The Ultimate Rice Cookbook. I also soak some of the dried mushrooms for “Ma's Baked Spring Rolls” from Wicked Healthy. If we could afford to go out more, we certainly would…we love trying new food, but our dining out budget is pretty limited since I'm bootstrapping my startup. Next week we're going to try some Caribbean fritters from Provisions. I need to figure out where to get scotch bonnet peppers.

10 a.m. — At Diesel in Davis Square to meet a friend who's on his second startup and is a great sounding board. I get an Iron Maiden tea, which is disappointing – the description implies a smoky tea, but I get something that looks and tastes like pond water. I remind myself that I'm here for the conversation, not the tea. We talk about my recent pitch and how it'll be nice to have temporary office space through the accelerator. He asks me when I'm going to “burn the ship” – meaning, when I'm going to quit my consulting work and go all in on the startup. It scares me, because I'm not ready to go for investor money yet – my co-founder and I want to keep as much oversight of our company as we can. We also start talking sales strategy, and my brain starts filling with a bazillion half-formed questions that distract me from being present in the conversation. Still, it's great to see him and we part ways with follow-up introductions to make for each other. $5.30

11 a.m. — Head to the gym and get on a few new boulder problems. I like it when they're freshly set and unrated because I'll try something without talking myself out of it. After burning out my grip, I head to the weight room for my barbell workout.

12:45 p.m. — House smells like seaweed, thanks to the Japanese ginger rice. Lunch is cottage cheese, yogurt, and Green Rabbit raisin bread (with a little salt). I shower while listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. Part of the podcast this week focuses on how to make the entrepreneurial leap into the unknown. I feel like the universe is telling me I am going to eventually have to make a decision between my two businesses.

2 p.m. — Drink more tea and snack on a pear and banana. The afternoon is a flurry of reviewing business card samples, following up on an introduction for my friend, emailing startup advisors to cue up meeting times to talk about my sales pipeline, and a business development phone call with a potential consulting client.

4:30 p.m. — Break for the day to make spring rolls! Husband starts practicing guitar and working on “Heart of Gold” and “Ziggy Stardust” in preparation for his guitar lesson. Even though he apologizes often for the repetitiveness (he only knows two songs), I love listening to him strum and pick away for hours.

7:30 p.m. — I put the leftover spring rolls in the freezer and then start making smoked tofu dumplings with spinach and dates. After using up a package of dumpling skins, I decide to finish the rest of the batch tomorrow.

9:30 p.m. — Lights out.

Daily Total: $5.30

Day Six

6:45 a.m. — My husband gets up for a bike ride with a friend, so I'm awake too.

10 a.m. — Finally accept I'm not going to doze back off to sleep, but I'm so tired I feel drunk. I get up and have a zucchini breakfast cookie and yogurt with tea for breakfast. I listen to the T ed Radio Hour and Hidden Brain while making the rest of the dumplings, then move to the sofa to space out.

12:30 p.m. — Husband is home, and I feel like I've been a loaf. I head out, hoping some fresh air and sunshine will wake me up. I intend to run, but end up mostly walking seven miles along the river. It's a beautiful day — one of those days where everyone is a runner. I love it when there are lots of people out.

2:30 p.m. — Home. I snack on cottage cheese and a pear. After I shower, we settle in on the sofa. It turns out that getting outside didn't wake me up at all. I watch a bunch of stuff that my husband has been watching: The Chi, Billions, and The Last O.G. He asks if I'll make popcorn, and I respond that I don't feel like washing out the pot he used to boil dumplings in. So. Tired. He stumbles over to the kitchen and washes it out. In about 15 minutes, we're both back on the sofa with our own bowls of popcorn.

6:30 p.m. — I steam fry some dumplings and have them with a black vinegar sauce plus a clementine for dessert.

7:20 p.m. — It's now dark outside, and I feel it is excusable for me to call it a day and head to bed.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8 a.m. — Wow. I slept more than 12 hours. And I still have that hungover feeling of tiredness. Thankfully it's raining today. My husband hypothesizes that we are victims of the pollen overload, because he feels like he's been hit by a truck too.

9 a.m. — Breakfast is a zucchini breakfast cookie, yogurt, and tea. We talk about going grocery shopping but neither of us wants to think too hard about our grocery list. I soak some black-eyed peas to make akkra (black-eyed pea falafels) later. I thumb through some of the cookbooks for inspiration. My eyes are so heavy that I stop every 10 minutes or so and lay the book down on my chest. Husband joins me and we take a nap.

11 a.m. — See a text from a climbing buddy asking if I can meet up this afternoon. My husband and I rally and head out to Market Basket where we buy staples and other things for the week: eggs, parmesan, Greek yogurt, oat milk, tea, dry beans, flour, nutritional yeast, sesame oil, ground cumin, chili spice, Sriracha, diced tomatoes, “Italian” mixed frozen vegetables, granola, seltzer, bananas, Sumo mandarins, berries, pears, limes, cilantro, mushrooms, okra, baked tofu, green beans, scotch bonnet peppers, bell pepper, When Pigs Fly cinnamon raisin bread, basil, and a few random things: freekeh, crispy corn, and fried chickpeas. The bill for this enormous haul is $200, and my husband pays.

1 p.m. — Sort the food and put some of it away. I vow to find a home for everything after I cook in the afternoon.

2 p.m. — Meet my climbing buddy at the gym. We hit a good balance of chatting and climbing.

4:30 p.m. — Get home and start making scotch bonnet okra and akkra from Provisions and Indian-style rice from The Ultimate Rice Cookbook. I listen to The Columbia Energy Exchange, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and RadioLab until my husband gets home and starts practicing guitar again. I wash as I go so that when dinner is finally ready, there's just the pots and pans to clean.

7:30 p.m. — Wow. I want to make everything from Provisions now — the okra and akkra are amazing. And if I make every recipe in the book, we can use up the pint of scotch peppers we bought this morning. We watch SNL and top off dinner with some fried chickpeas.

9 p.m. — Clean up the kitchen and pry my dozing husband off the sofa to go to bed.

Daily Total: $0

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