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A Week In Chicago, IL, On A $126,000 Salary

·19 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 Senior Content Strategist who makes $126,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a burger.

Editor’s Note: This Money Diary was written in December 2021.

Occupation: Senior Content Strategist
Industry: Advertising
Age: 29
Location: Chicago, IL
Salary: Career: $100,000; Family Business: $26,000
Net Worth: $119,500 ($25,000 in HYSA, $15,000 in checking, $76,000 in retirement, $3,500 in Stash)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $2,343
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,300 rent for a one-bedroom apartment I share with my cat.
Gas: $90
Electric: $60
Internet: $45.90
Cell Phone: $20 (The total bill is $70, but my job reimburses me $50/month.)
Renters’ Insurance: $8.25
Compost Service: $25
Apple Storage: $2.99
Stash: $86 ($85 invested, $1 fee)
LinkedIn: $32.69 (I had no idea what I was doing at my job when I first started, so I subscribed to LinkedIn to use their digital marketing classes.)
Maybe Baby Subscription: $5
Annual Expenses:
Divvy Membership: $99
Credit Card Fee: $90
Squarespace: $144.17
The New Yorker: $149.99
Block Club: $59
Bon Appetit: $30
The Unpublishable Newsletter: $77

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 never realized there was any other option after high school, even though young me had no idea what to study. I went to an inexpensive state school, got a lot of scholarships, and graduated with $13,000 in debt. I paid down about half of the debt by around age 25, and then my dad paid off the rest as a Christmas gift.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My mom is incredibly frugal and my dad spends every cent he ever gets. I like to think I fall somewhere in between. My mom was adamant about teaching me about saving, especially for retirement. She’s the first person I call whenever I have finance questions.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
In my first semester of college, I got a job at a fast food place. I got it so I could pay for gas.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes. My parents were divorced and my mom raised my sibling and me on about $35,000 a year. She was extremely frugal and I grew up thinking that things like Doritos or Lunchables were insanely luxurious expenses. I was always afraid to ask her for money for field trips or anything like that because it would stress her out so much. I even remember skipping field trips without telling her so she wouldn’t have to deal with the financial stress. Meanwhile, my dad struggled with unemployment, but was always buying treats and gifts; it made me anxious that he was spending money he didn’t have.

Do you worry about money now?
Usually, I don’t, but this week is very different!

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
There have been years when I’m financially independent and years when I’m not. I paid for all my own “wants” (going out, gas money, clothes) in college. After college, I made $34,000 a year and was financially alone except for my dad paying my phone bill. Around age 27, the following happened…

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Two years ago, my family’s business really took off and they started paying me $26,000 a year. They’ve been really profitable but don’t want to expand, so they’re using the extra financial cushion to help my sibling and me.

Day One

8:50 a.m. — My alarm goes off. I stay in bed checking things on my phone when I see I got an invite for a meeting with my boss’ boss’ boss and someone from HR at 10. We’ve lost a few big clients recently, so this can’t be good.

10:15 a.m. — The worst has happened. Due to client/revenue loss, my position is being eliminated in two weeks, but the holiday break is coming up so I only have four business days until then. I’m told there is a chance that some of the other agencies within my company will be able to absorb me, but I’m not sure if that’s feasible with this short timing… If not, I’ll receive four weeks of severance pay. I feel empty inside. I text my boyfriend and a few close friends the sad news.

12 p.m. — I have an interview with another agency within our company to discuss a possible fit (Job 1). I’m totally not what they’re looking for and am in a terrible mental space, but I try to play it off and present myself as best as possible so I can hopefully secure employment. I eat leftovers for lunch.

2 p.m. — My boyfriend, O., calls me and I cry a lot. I spend the next few hours sulking on the couch with my cat.

7 p.m. — I bundle up and head out on a long bike ride. On my way home, I pick up a package that’s been waiting for me at a UPS pickup point. It’s from some company I’ve never heard of, and when I open it it’s a bunch of caramel and cheese popcorn, with no note. I assume it’s a Christmas gift so I rip it open and eat it.

9 p.m. — While watching Married At First Sight, I order a Christmas gift for my dad, a Peloton shirt. I freak out about money and cancel a Dysport appointment I had scheduled later this week. Though it’s medicinal in my opinion (I get my masseters done to help with my heavy TMJ clenching), it’s just too expensive to justify if I’m losing my job. I take melatonin and head to bed around 11. $70.56

Daily Total: $70.56

Day Two

8:50 a.m — My alarm goes off and I really just don’t want to get out of bed. I had terrible dreams about my ex-boyfriend, my morning podcast is doom and gloom about Omicron, and oh, I’m facing unemployment.

10:15 a.m. — I finally get out of bed and head to my computer as I have another interview with a sister agency today (Job 2). I meet with two people there and it feels like a better fit than yesterday’s interview, but I’m still just not quite right for it. Fingers crossed they hire me anyway and I figure it out along the way. I head back to bed and scroll for a long time.

12:30 p.m. — I get out of bed and make myself a tuna melt for lunch. I’m not really feeling doing my job today, so I plop on the couch and play The Sims for a while.

3 p.m. — I head over to healthcare.gov because I might not have health insurance after the end of January. The site is a nightmare to navigate and I don’t know what I would even qualify for, especially given that I receive a small salary from my family business. I take this moment to reflect on the fact that even if I lose my job, I’m in a great position. I have a healthy savings account, I get $26,000 annually from the family business, and I have minimal expenses.

5:30 p.m. — I walk over to my Pilates class, prepaid with a pack of ten. On the way there, I think about how these classes are an expensive luxury that might have to go away soon. I also just pulled the trigger on treating myself to monthly house cleanings; maybe I should cancel that too.

6:30 p.m. — After class, I hop on the bus to head to a thrift store (I have a Ventra card that autoloads $20 every time my account gets low). Somehow I get on the wrong bus, so I get off a few stops later and end up walking extra far to the store. I’m hosting Christmas for my dad and stepmom this weekend, so I pick up some cool serving ware. $32.80

7:30 p.m. — The bus is 20 minutes away and it’s too far of a walk with all the fragile and heavy stuff I’m carrying. I call a Lyft to get me home. $7.68

8:30 p.m. — I wash up my new purchases, empty the dishwasher, and tidy the kitchen. I have some sourdough that’s getting stale, so I cut it up and bake to make croutons. Then I sit down with my laptop and start searching LinkedIn for jobs. I Easy Apply to a few of them and feel just generally sad.

Daily Total: $40.48

Day Three

8:50 a.m. — I wake up to my alarm and check my email. I’ve received a “thanks, but no thanks” from Job 1.

11 a.m. — I make myself an omelet with spinach, tomatoes, onion, and feta. I realized I hadn’t been eating well or eating enough since I got the bad news, so I’m going to try to turn that around today. I log on to LinkedIn to do some job hunting, but the site is down. Figures.

12:30 p.m. — Time to interview for Job 3. Based on the description, this one fits me really, really well, whereas the other ones were a huge stretch. I chat with the hiring manager for about 30 minutes and feel really good vibes! I chat briefly with the recruiter who asks me my salary expectations; I’m thrown off because I thought this would be just a transfer to a different part of the company. I’m totally not prepared to negotiate, so I’m honest and tell her I’d like to stay at my current $100,000. Hopefully I’m not accidentally leaving money on the table, but now is not the time to be greedy.

1:30 p.m. — I have a call for a potential freelance opportunity I found on LinkedIn. It goes well enough. The job would start almost immediately and be 20 hours/week for three months, which would be really great to tide me over! The rate is $50/hour.

3 p.m. — I call up my company’s HR because I’m just plain panicking. I make it clear that Job 3 feels really great for me. They reassure me that we’ll be able to work something out, but I can’t believe it until I see it in writing.

4 — My co-op emails me a deal for $15 off grocery delivery, so I use this opportunity to buy a few more things for Christmas this weekend, along with heavy stuff I wouldn’t want to haul home on my own: ice cream, goat cheese, lemons, Brussels sprouts, grapes, spinach, scallions, vegetable broth, chocolate chips, Martinelli’s, La Croix, mint, and strawberries.

4:30 p.m. — For early dinner, I bake some plant-based chicken nuggets and eat them with ranch. I officially get a “thanks, but no thanks” from Job 2. I set out my compost bucket for pick up tomorrow, then I walk to my yoga studio for class at 6.

7 p.m. — After class, I take the train to O.’s house where I’ll be spending the night. We walk the dog and pick up Sweetgreen for dinner; O. pays. With my parents driving into town soon, we are each going to use a COVID test from a two-pack. He tests tonight (negative), but I’d rather wait until just before their visit to be the safest. We head home and watch a movie till we fall asleep.

Daily Total: $0

Day Four

8:50 a.m. — I wake up to an email that Job 3 is scheduling two more interviews with me today starting at 11! Today is the last business day before my termination date, so I’m crossing my fingers quite hard. I eat some leftover Sweetgreen for breakfast, then my boyfriend and the dog walk me to a Divvy station and I bike home.

10:30 a.m. — I put on a nice-ish shirt and some makeup, and do a little research and interview prep. I’m feeling so nervous!

12 p.m. — My interviews went SO WELL! I’m buzzing at how good the role feels and the positive vibes that were going around. I ping HR and let them know I’m super interested. Today is the last chance I have to land a job so my adrenaline is going nuts. Halfway through one of the interviews, I get a knock on the door and it’s my grocery delivery I ordered yesterday. They were out of a few things so my total is lower than anticipated. I’ll have to bike to another store tonight or tomorrow morning to pick up the last few odds and ends for our Christmas meals. I also still need to pick up my boyfriend’s gift. $47.68

2:30 p.m. — I have some turnips and radishes that are starting to go wobbly, so I chop them up, boil, and fry for a hash with two eggs. I do some more cleanup around the house in preparation for my parents arriving tomorrow.

4 p.m. — The next hour or so moves so quickly. Job 3 wants me! They can’t initiate formal paperwork since so many people are out in preparation for the holiday, but they say I will have a job with them come January. I wish I had something in writing to make it feel more official, but I’m still so excited! It’s literally an eleventh-hour Christmas miracle situation that I’m getting this job. I ask the recruiter what the salary band is for this role, out of curiosity, and she tells me it caps at $105,000. I’m not about to play any sort of hardball to try to earn an extra $5,000 a year, and I feel glad that even if I’m potentially leaving that money on the table, it’s not a huge amount.

5 p.m. — I get a text that my GrubHub order is arriving soon, which is odd because I didn’t order anything. It turns out to be some yummy cookies from my friends! They were supposed to be “feel better about your job” treats, but now they are celebratory treats! My friends rock and I’m so touched by the thoughtful gesture.

7 p.m. — I spend the next couple of hours baking cookies for this weekend and switching loads of laundry at the laundromat down the block (I take out large sums of quarters every few months for this). I need to take a rapid test tonight before my parents drive over in the morning (they’re coming from about six hours away), but I realize I left the test at O.’s. He bikes it over along with a couple of ingredients I forgot.

7:30 p.m. — I swab my nose and dip it in solution, then have my boyfriend keep an eye on it and the timer for when to check results. I’m juggling a few different desserts and totally distracted when the timer goes off and he says “uh, I think you have it.” I assume he’s messing with me, but he’s completely serious. I look at the test strip and he’s right, I’m positive.

8 p.m. — I rush my boyfriend out the door and call my parents to cancel for tomorrow. I’m so sad and in a state of disbelief. I have no symptoms, no known exposures, and I’ve had two vaccine doses. For dinner, I order comfort food delivery (a burger and fries). It’s dropped off at my front door with no contact. $20

11 p.m. — I spend the rest of my night feeling sorry for myself. My kitchen is full of cookies that are now just for me and my weekend plans are shot. What should be an amazing and celebratory day with my new job has turned miserable. I still can’t believe I have COVID, so I search online for PCR tests and make an appointment for 8:30 tomorrow morning so I can confirm.

Daily Total: $67.68

Day Five

8 a.m. — Merry Christmas Eve! I put a coat on over my pajamas and bike about a mile away to the testing center. The door is completely locked up and there are no signs of life. I’m so frustrated that I was able to make an online appointment for a place that is evidently closed today. I call O. who is getting tested at a site in his neighborhood, and he tells me the line is filling up but maybe I can make it if I hurry. I get back on my bike and haul ass to meet him.

9:15 a.m. — We get tested together with both a rapid and a PCR. Our rapid tests give results in five minutes, and we both show up as negative. I’m so confused about which test to believe. The PCR results will be in 48-72 hours, so I guess I’ll just wait till then to find out. We part ways and I start biking home, but get a flat tire about halfway. Sigh. I don’t have a spare tube with me and there are no bike stores around, so I sit and wait for the bus to take me and my bike home.

5 p.m. — O. calls me and says he was able to score some more rapid tests from Walgreens. He bikes up to me and we both take another test. We’re both negative again, so we decide we can hang out together but will isolate from all others until we get our PCR results. We take Divvy e-bikes to his house and pick up our favorite Chinese food on the way, he pays.

8 p.m. — We eat our fried rice, drink some rosé, and watch The Great British Baking Show. I’m feeling exhausted and head to bed at 9:30.

Daily Total: $0

Day Six

9:30 a.m. — I wake up after sleeping for 12 hours. I’m not sure if this is my body’s response to a stressful week or if it’s a sign I have COVID. I get to work in the kitchen cooking bacon and cinnamon rolls for our Christmas brunch, accompanied by Martinelli’s.

10:30 a.m. — We take a long walk with the dog, then stop at our friends’ house. They’re out of town and we’re watching their cat, so we feed her and give her a lot of attention. Once we’re back home, I get really sleepy and take a nap while O. plays video games.

12 p.m. — Hopefully that nap was not a COVID fatigue thing… We watch more Great British Baking Show then take Divvys to my house to check on my cat. She’s doing just fine and really enjoys the dinner we feed her. We hang out there for about an hour before Divvy-ing back to his house.

2 p.m. — It’s present time! We chose his gift at the store last weekend, but I didn’t get a chance to pick it up before I had my positive COVID test, so it’s just me opening presents which makes me feel guilty. Luckily, neither of us are big gift people so it’s not a huge deal. He got me three kitchen gadgets I had specifically asked for, and I’m very grateful!

7 p.m. — While he works out, I take a nice hot bath and read The Great Believers on my Kindle. After, he makes cocktails and we start working on dinner.

9 p.m. — Dinner is steak and mashed potatoes by him, a Brussels sprouts salad by me, and a bottle of malbec. It’s so yummy and the dog enjoys some scraps. After dinner, we ignore the dishes and watch Love Actually. We head to bed around midnight.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

9 a.m. — I wake up naturally after a night of subpar sleep. O. is still fast asleep, so I stay in bed with him and read. My throat feels a bit off, but that’s probably just from drinking a fair amount last night, right?

10 a.m. — We’re out of bed and my throat is definitely scratchy. I hunt around Google and find exactly what I’m looking for: a scratchy throat is a hallmark of Omicron. My boyfriend makes me some tea and walks the dog while I read some more.

11 a.m. — We reheat fried rice for breakfast and settle in to watch The Great British Baking Show while I text some friends and family my COVID updates. Hopefully, I hear back on my PCR soon! I’m scheduled to get my booster today but have to cancel until I know my COVID status.

4 p.m. — I’m really feeling crappy. We Divvy back to my apartment and the short ride exhausts me. I finally accept that I have COVID and reach out to my fitness studios to let them know.

6 p.m. — O. is ready to head home, but he stops at the corner store (double-masked) and picks me up some ice cream and a can of soup first. He’s seriously the best. I heat up the last of the fried rice for dinner and follow it with ice cream.

11 p.m. — I spend the rest of the night watching Married At First Sight and typing a thank you letter to O. for being my rock this week. Between getting notice that I’m being laid off, almost immediately jumping into interviews, landing an awesome job, getting COVID, and canceling Christmas, this week has been an utter rollercoaster. I’m still not sure how I feel about everything and I don’t even think I’ve absorbed most of it yet.

Daily Total: $0

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