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A Week In Saudi Arabia On A $22,400 Salary

·15 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 dental assistant who makes $22,400 per year and spends some of her money this week on an IKEA pillow.

Editor’s Note: all currency has been converted to USD.

Occupation: Dental Assistant
Industry: Medicine
Age: 27
Location: Saudi Arabia
Salary: $22,400
Net Worth: I only have $3,200 to my name. Part of this is in a high-interest savings account and 30% of this is in a VUL investment.
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $1,867
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent $0 (free accommodation provided by the company)
Loans: $0 (I don’t have student loans. My education wasn’t expensive and it was paid for by my parents.)
Savings: $400
Netflix: $3 (split with my sister and mom)
Guitar Lessons: $150
Internet/Phone: $100

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?
I grew up in a traditional household and there was never an option not to go to university. I have older sisters who went to college before me and it was expected for us to attend school and excel in our studies. My parents paid for my education and my extracurricular activities.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My dad is a businessman in that he is always saving up for capital to start new businesses so he inspires me to also save to start my own business one day. My mom is a big earner in the medical field. She has always highlighted the importance of saving while we’re young and being of help to those less fortunate. I’ve never taken out loans and I intend to save aggressively from my own monthly salary.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was as a dental assistant at my mom’s hospital. She was the one who referred me so I got the job. I have since moved to a different city.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Now that I think about it, I never worried about money growing up. My parents were responsible with their finances and we didn’t seem to lack, but we weren’t extravagant and we didn’t eat out as much. I remember that they provided for my every need back then. And it was never a problem when I asked for things I needed such as a laptop or phone.

Do you worry about money now?
I do worry about money. I think everyone does. There’s a delicate balance between wanting to reap the fruit of your labor and wanting to save for your future. I’m not as reckless as I was when I first started working.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible at the age of 20 when I got my first job. I do not have a financial safety net but I’m working on saving for my emergency fund.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Day One

8 a.m. — Wake up early to prepare for my guitar class online. I live in shared accommodation provided by the hospital where I work. I initially wanted to take violin lessons, but I live with four other people and that would make me the annoying housemate, so I chose guitar. I already learned a chord progression and have been diligently practicing two assigned songs every day. I spend this class getting the hang of strumming. I’m left-handed so it takes some getting used to. I play a little more after class until I decide to do some laundry.

12 p.m. — One of my friends has an auntie who sells packed meals so I shoot a message and order chicken bbq and Hainanese rice for lunch. I have been skipping breakfast since I started my new job because of the early call time. I call my family while putting away laundry. $5.50

4 p.m. — I read a book and make plans to get groceries with two of my housemates B. and H. The supermarket is in close proximity to our accommodation so we decide to walk going there with our masks on and we’ll book a Careem (ride-hailing service) on the way back. I get chicken, ground beef, fresh shrimp, salmon, onions, garlic, yogurt, arugula, romaine lettuce, cucumber, carrots, hummus, popcorn, almond milk, and cocoa powder. Grocery shopping is less fun now because of the 15% VAT implementation since July 31. Get home via a Careem ride (H. pays). $80

8 p.m. — We have a common room at the accommodation and there’s no one hogging the TV so I decide to binge-watch Reply 1988 (Korean drama series) on Netflix. B. and H. join. We pause the show for a while to prepare some snacks — guac, hummus, leftover naan, nacho chips from H., and iced tea.

11 p.m. — I leave B. and H. to watch more episodes and go to bed. I want to catch some more zZzZs for tomorrow’s work. Trivia: Saudi Arabia has Fridays and Saturdays off so weekends are a little bit different.

Daily Total: $85.50

Day Two

6 a.m. — Wake up and get ready for work. The weather here is so hot and dry (I live in a desert) so I maintain the same routine every morning during the workweek. Brush my teeth, take a bath, and ice roll the heck out of my face. I have a quick three-step face routine — cleanser, toner, and moisturizer with SPF. No breakfast as usual. Then hop on the bus.

7:30 a.m. — At work, I wear my full PPE and get briefed on all our assignments and patients. My boss is a stickler for symmetry so she agreed to take on 20 cases today and another 20 tomorrow. SEND PRAYERS AND HELP. I love my job and I understand I need to mentally prepare for it every day.

12:30 p.m. — My lunch break is supposed to be at 12, but my doctor (boss) needed my assistance, so I don’t break until now. I have my lunch at the hospital cafeteria. I buy a heavy meal of rice, sweet and sour fish, and a Caesar salad. It comes with leche flan for dessert but I just give it to one of our cleaning and maintenance staff. $8

5 p.m. — On the bus home thinking of cooking dinner when suddenly I receive a message from a longtime friend, D. I try not to think too much about it but I want to fly home and rest my head and stare at this message.

6:30 p.m. — I cook and eat buttered shrimps and white rice which is the easiest and tastiest dinner. I share some with H. who gives me some of her beef tapa. Then I go to my room hoping to have a longer conversation with D. In the past, we only got up to hello how are you and nothing else. I see that he followed up his first message asking about my weekend plans. Really hoping that we can arrange a date. I’ve known D. for a long time now, but we’ve both been so busy we haven’t spent a lot of time together.

9 p.m. — Feeling more relaxed now after having made plans to meet D. this weekend. I play my guitar with a face mask on until the timer rings. I am that person who sets a timer for my face mask because one of my friends left her face mask on for too long and woke up with a rash the next day.

10 p.m. — I eat a snack of seaweed sheets and pistachios. Suddenly, I have an idea for a song so I jot down some lyrics in my journal. I go to bed feeling grateful and more inspired. Scroll through Instagram and see that Young Living has an essentials oils starter kit promo but decide to pass. I’m still kind of skeptical about essential oils.

Daily Total: $8

Day Three

6 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm and meditate on a verse and quote. I send good morning messages to my mom with the verse I have on my mind. She loves this kind of thing. Her love language is words of affirmation. I get ready for work.

7:30 a.m. — Ready to seize the day! My work involves a lot of standing so I’m on my feet all day. I’ve been looking online for the most comfortable shoes but they’re too pricey so I’m still saving up for a replacement for my Nike Run shoes.

12:30 p.m. — Someone has a birthday so we gather in the lunchroom and sing for her. She treats us to party food trays of baked mac and cheese. We ordered a cake ahead of time and pitch in $10 each. $10

5 p.m. — Home time and still feeling energized. Can’t wait to continue writing the song from last night. When I first started to write this song, I intended it to be about the rich experience of being in love but this is quickly turning into a break-up song. I think about my previous relationship and feel a huge sigh of relief that it’s over (it’s been more than a year). It was an emotionally abusive relationship and I’m glad we finally went our separate ways.

6:30 p.m. — I make and eat dinner (chicken adobo). B. wants to order a griddle from Amazon SA so we can have samgyeopsal at home. I pay her $20 for the griddle. $20

9 p.m. — I get a call from D. We talk about being in quarantine and dating. I play my guitar then do some bedtime yoga and go to sleep.

Daily Total: $30

Day Four

6 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm again and make French press coffee. I get ready for work and find out that our water heater in the bathroom isn’t switching on. I make a mental note to call our building maintenance.

12 p.m. — Lunch break. I call our building maintenance to check on the water heater. I order a cup of tea and a tuna sandwich from the cafeteria. $4

6 p.m. — Back at home in time for water heater repair. They don’t charge us for the service because we live in free accommodation but we tip the guy $3 each. $3

9 p.m. — My flatmate, H., wants to try this salmon pasta recipe she saw on IG so I help her prep and set the table. We play Monopoly Deal cards for three rounds with B. I say goodnight and go work on my song. I’m so close to finishing the song but I’m still thinking of a title. For now, I just want to have a final third verse and this will feel like a huge accomplishment. Off to bed.

Daily Total: $7

Day Five

6 a.m. — Today is a holiday for the 90th Saudi National Day so I also feel like celebrating. I sleep in for another hour then called my mom while eating yogurt. I tell her about my date this coming weekend with D. She smiles mischievously while I tell her.

12 p.m. — My housemates order from Subway and I join them. I get a BLT with soda and a cookie. $7

2 p.m. — I go to the mall with my friends and there are a lot of sales going on. I want to update my skincare routine but can’t seem to fully commit to a new range of products. I try not to impulse buy and just get a VANS shirt for my godson. H. manages to buy herself a guitar that is on sale. $10

6 p.m. — We get home and I see our griddle arrived! B. and H. start hunting for Korean food sellers so we can test it out. We decide to buy beef bulgogi and galbi from someone who lives in our neighborhood and she says she’ll throw in some more meat cuts for us. Yay! To be delivered tomorrow. $14

8 p.m. — I bake chocolate cake, which turns out moist and just the right degree of sweet. My roommates like the cake and we end up having enough for tomorrow.

9 p.m. — Today has been a busy day so I’m just seeing D.’s message greeting me a happy Saudi National Day. He asked if we could meet up but I read his message too late. So I tell him we’re still on for Saturday.

Daily Total: $31

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — This morning I’m able to sneak in a nice morning jog around the block. Last workday of the week and it’s the weekend. I am in a really good mood as I put on my PPE gear. I’m looking forward to our samgyeopsal tonight and my date with D. on Saturday.

12 p.m. — I eat some toast and a boiled egg from my coworker.

5 p.m. — At home and waiting for the delivery. My flatmates and I do a group workout in the living room by Chloe Ting. Then we set the table for dinner.

7 p.m. — Food’s finally here and we are really satisfied. We also eat some of my romaine lettuce from this week’s grocery run. Feeling so full and happy. I decide to start a new book titled The Overstory by Richard Powers, so I buy it on my Kindle. $10.49

12 a.m. — Time flies really fast when you’re reading a good book! I finally fall asleep around midnight.

Daily Total: $10.49

Day Seven

5 a.m. — Wake up to the fajr prayer (prayer before sunrise) at the neighborhood mosque. I try to get back to sleep by scrolling on my phone. I watch the first episode of It’s Okay To Not Be Okay on Netflix. But I get sleepy reading the subtitles so I switch to New Girl.

8 a.m. — My flatmates are already having a lively chat in the living room and it puts me in such a good mood I hop off my bed to join them. We make plans to eat breakfast at IKEA today and check out some of their furniture.

10 a.m. — I order a Careem taxi ($3). We roam around a bit and I buy the KLUBBSPORRE pillow which is on sale for $34. I can’t wait to try it out; it’s a memory foam pillow on one side and there’s cooling gel on the other side. We then head to the food court. We get a Belgian waffle, country breakfast, and Arab breakfast meals from the IKEA food court with cheese samosas and cappuccinos ($11). $48

12 p.m. — I decide to get our groceries today so we get a Careem to the grocery store near our house. I buy two kilograms of chicken, some candy and chocolates to give to the kids who visit our dental clinic, and coconut water. $12

3 p.m. — Back at home, I unpack my groceries and my pillow from IKEA. I change my duvet, bedsheet, and pillowcases to start this week fresh. I’m one of those people who loves to clean and organize stuff, but I don’t do it religiously. I don’t get frustrated when I can’t follow my cleaning schedule but when I get started, I get in the zone and it’s hard to know when to stop. I sweep and polish my bedroom floor and also clean the bathroom.

8 p.m. — I’m liking the fresh clean vibe as I sit on my couch. I make a mental note to buy some potted plants to bring more life to my bedroom. Around 10, I decide to go to sleep early to prepare myself for my date tomorrow. I just can’t wait!

Daily Total: $60

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