A Week In Chicago, IL, On A $42,000 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.
Today: a copywriter working in advertising who makes $42,000 per year and spends some of their paycheck this week on Algenist sunscreen.
Occupation: Copywriter
Industry: Advertising
Age: 22
Location: Chicago, IL
Salary: $42,000
Paycheck Amount (Biweekly): $1,210
Gender Identity: Fluid
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $675
Student Loan Payment: $275
Health & Dental Insurance: $0 (I'm on my dad's.)
Transportation: $105 for a 30-day unlimited pass
Internet: $18 (Split three ways with my roommates.)
Utilities: $75
Phone: $0 (Thanks, Mom and Dad.)
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Day One

5 a.m. — My three alarms go off, staggered twenty minutes apart. It's Monday, and it certainly feels like it. I am very lucky to live a relatively short bus ride from my work, but I don't like to be late and I don't like to be rushed to get ready. I turn on the space heater in my bedroom, make coffee, stretch, and go through my morning skincare routine while listening to a Freakonomics podcast. On the bus (which I use my monthly transportation card to pay for), I start reading a Steve Erickson novel I picked up this weekend.
9 a.m. — Make coffee at work, which I sip until lunch.
12:15 p.m. — My boss is out of town this week, so I head out a little earlier than my scheduled lunch hour. I go to Whole Foods, where I pick up a couple sweet potatoes for dinner, plus an orange, walnuts, and vegan kale salad for lunch. I eat at the store and read my book. I use a computer all day, so I really try my best not to look at my phone during breaks. $7.69
1 p.m. — Need more caffeine. And I want something sweet. I grab a Diet Dr. Pepper from the gas station by my office before going back in. $2.12
5 p.m. — I leave work, catch my bus, and head home. I throw potatoes in the oven, wash spinach, and read my book for an hour or so. I queue up an episode of SVU when my oven timer goes off. I smother everything with balsamic vinegar and toss on toasted coconut chips.
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9:30 p.m. — One episode turned into three. I eat an orange and then commence my full skincare routine. I feel like I'm getting closer to the ultimate routine, but every couple weeks something causes a new problem (or I try to introduce a new product) and I have to figure out where I went wrong. I've started to keep a small notebook where I track my steps and reactions — and it's actually helped me pinpoint problematic combinations, ingredients, and brands. Tonight I'm sad to realize that the toner I wanted to like must go. I set up an hour-long ASMR video and fall asleep.
Daily Total: $9.81

Day Two

5:30 a.m. — Wake up to my neighbor's dog barking (and my neighbor shouting at the dog to stop barking). This is a miracle, as I realize I forgot to set my alarms. Regular routine ensues. Thank you, dog. Take the bus to work.
7:30 . a.m.. — Stop for an Americano on my way in. $3.29
12:30 p.m. — I'm killing it at work today, and the morning blows by. Before leaving the city, my boss dropped three big projects in my lap that he'd been putting off for weeks. These projects are very important to the clients they're for, and I'm kind of shocked that they haven't been handled yet. I knock two out before lunch and brag a little (without throwing my boss under the bus) in a few carefully-worded emails to clients. I go to Whole Foods and have apple juice, grapes, and vegetable soup for lunch. I get a few oranges for later. $12.04
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5 p.m. — It's super sunny, and I feel good. I catch the bus, find a seat, and read during the ride.
6 p.m. — Hungry and now feeling the mental exhaustion of dealing with support and account representatives all day, I can't quite process putting together a full meal. I get under my blanket with a cup of sencha green tea, a bag of pistachios, and the oranges I bought earlier. I return to a longer novel called The Nix that I'm about halfway through.
10 p.m. — Skincare time. I write in the journal that it all feels like it's working for me, especially the Murad Vitamin C toner. I start a patch test of a retinoid from The Ordinary on the side of my neck — I've never ventured into retinoids before and am hopeful they'll cure some old red marks from pimples of years passed. Then I go to bed.
Daily Total: $15.33

Day Three

5:40 a.m. — Slept until the third alarm, and I'm okay with it. I usually wake up a couple times every single night and never sleep very well. What is this "well-rested" concept? I can see in my eyes that I've slept better today, but also that I probably had too many salted pistachios last night. I swipe on some Sunday Riley Auto Correct cream, cross my fingers that it helps, and get ready as I listen to Previously Gifted podcast. No seats are available on the bus this morning, and other passengers' backpacks knock me around; I wish public transit was free.
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9:30 a.m. — Several cups of coffee in at work and with little to do until the afternoon (most of my clients are several hours behind Chicago time), I surf Etsy. I've been looking for a pair of earrings for my friend (who doesn't live here) as a congratulatory gift for releasing their new album. I find a pair I like — and think they'll like too — and order them before jumping back into a technical work project. $9.99
12:15 p.m. — Out early for my break, I see it's the first day of the big Whole Foods beauty and skincare sale. I don't even really care for makeup, but I pick up and set down several different cleansers and moisturizers. I'll research them later and see whether any might be worth trying. I buy a new bottle of tea tree oil and Dr. Bronner's soap ($13.32) as well as seed crackers, baba ganoush, and tabbouleh for lunch ($10.17). Then I read SkincareAddiction on Reddit on my phone for an hour. $23.49
5 p.m. — Haven't made up my mind on any of the sale stuff, so I walk a little farther to Aldi after work. I buy quinoa, spinach, black pepper, a pineapple, and an avocado, and ride the bus home. After taking my time, dinner is served: a bowl of quinoa, diced cucumber, wilted spinach, and half an avocado with lemon juice, turmeric, black pepper, leftover baba ganoush, and a few of the seed crackers. I make a cup of pomegranate tea and read The Nix, which I've been looking forward to all day. $9.14
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9:30 p.m. — I take a shower and think about potential solutions to one of my client's tragic Q1 numbers…and I also think about downloading Tinder and OkCupid again. I had one really good OkCupid date a couple months ago, but the guy got into a serious accident. We texted a lot as he dealt with it, but I just don't think he's interested anymore, which I'm still disappointed by and confused about. I wonder whether he made up the whole accident, and then hate myself for thinking someone would do that.
10:30 p.m. — It occurs to me that I likely meet many of the diagnostic criteria for hikikomori. I resolve to update my dating apps tomorrow. I fall asleep and dream about hermits and invoices.
Daily Total: $42.62

Day Four

5 a.m. — Up and at it, today featuring vintage Björk. It is oh so quiet on the bus today, thank goodness, because this novel almost brings me to tears. I buy a huge bag of pistachios on the way to work. $6.26
12:30 p.m. — I've probably consumed the pot of coffee at my office all by myself. I'm jittery and ready for lunch. I get a couple steamed buns, an avocado, and a seaweed salad. Check my personal email once I'm back at the office — Ulta is calling my name with their 21-day sale. I exit the tab and revise some copy. $10.20
5 p.m. — I get to walk home today! It's so sunny out, and I walk whenever I get the chance. I'd like to start running, or so I tell myself. I impulse-buy copies of The New Yorker and Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson at Barnes & Noble on my way. $27.51
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6:30 p.m. — Then I pick up a couple Japanese sweet potatoes. When I get home, I steam spinach and the sweet potatoes before dousing everything in tamari and topping with coconut chips. My eyes are closing as I eat dinner and flip through the magazine. $2.94
10 p.m. — Wake up with my head beside the half-eaten dinner plate. I apply (for the first time) some new Sunday Riley Tidal Cream after The Ordinary's Hyaluronic Acid, and it smells and feels so good that I decide not to layer my regular moisturizer on top of it. I read the ingredients a few times and then call it a day.
Daily Total: $46.91

Day Five

5:20 a.m. — I feel good. My skin looks amazing; all my visible dryness is gone and red spots are minimized. I cleanse and tone and reapply the Tidal, which sinks in like magic. This stuff might be my new holy grail product. I listen to a Caroline Hiron's interview. On the bus, I get a seat right away and finish a chapter. I make coffee and eat pistachios once I'm at the office. I need to plan for my brother's visit this week, but I also have a lot of technical copy to grind through today. I make a reservation at Mana Food Bar, which I've wanted to go to for a while.
12:30 p.m. — Brown rice, avocado, pumpkin, and pumpkin seeds at Whole Foods. While eating, I read another Chicago-based Money Diary. Relatively speaking, I realize I spend a lot of money and time on skincare. But I'm very careful with money and even kind of frugal in other areas. Skincare is a cost that I just cannot give up. $8.28
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5 p.m. — I stop at Sephora to buy my mom a trial-sized Sunday Riley Tidal Cream ($24.37) and then Nordstrom Rack to buy my dad a cool pair of socks ($10.09). They've gone through some tough things lately, and I've wanted to send them a small care package. I write a card, package it up, mail it before the post office closes ($6.89), and then walk the rest of the way home. $41.35
8 p.m. — Today I had some great ideas for a new short story, so I begin outlining it and plan to work on it as a project for the weekend. For dinner, I make steamed yams, broccoli, and sauerkraut with dried wakame and tamari. I go through my nighttime routine and then fall asleep to an ASMR video.
Daily Total: $49.63

Day Six

5:12 a.m. — Fell asleep early last night and didn't set my alarm, but my body says it's time to get out of bed and make coffee. The one real perk of the unexamined reclusive life is always seeing the sun rise. Happy Saturday.
1 p.m. — After doing laundry, cleaning, and sheet-masking over a few hours (while listening to the Previously Gifted podcast), I walk a few miles to my office to grab a package. My mom sent me a couple new pillows. I leave the retinoid that I patch-tested the other day at the office; I think it's too strong for me at my age. I'll send it to my mom next week. I take the bus back home with the pillows under my arms.
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5 p.m. — Go for another little walk with a thermos of sencha, and end up at Ulta. I'm turned off enough by aggressive brand reps that I leave without buying anything, which is probably for the best. I go home, make a salad, and read my New Yorker.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

6 a.m. — Up and ready to deep clean before my brother gets in tonight.
11 a.m. — Of course I'm at Sephora as soon as they open, a.k.a. prime time to get samples and try not to give them all of my money. I repurchase my favorite Algenist sunscreen and force myself not to buy the Sunday Riley kit yet; I'm still waiting on a deluxe sample of Good Genes to arrive that I bought from eBay. But I do still get my three samples. $31.01
1 p.m. — Grocery store run before my brother arrives. He is maybe twice my size and not vegan like I am, so I grab a few things I don't usually buy, just in case: a few pounds of sweet potatoes, romaine, chard, opal apples, pita bread, hummus, tahini, red lentils, and adzuki beans. He'll be here for four days, and we probably won't eat out much; he's as cheap as I am. I eat a couple of the apples when I get home and take a nap. On the weekends I'm somehow exhausted, as if on a schedule, by early afternoon. $14.29
5 p.m. — I vacuum, set up the couch for my brother, and text my roommate a gentle reminder to pay me her share of the bill. It's frustrating how often I have to do this. I am hoping to receive a raise soon and find a studio or one-bedroom when this lease is up in June. My anxiety spikes when I have to repeatedly ask to be paid like this. This is just one thing among many that makes me want to live alone. I look around on Craigslist and different apartment sites, but July 1st is apparently still too far off.
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6 p.m. — My brother is due in soon, so I sit and get a coffee at the Starbucks by his Blue Line stop and read my book. After yet another terrible encounter wherein some man tried to hit on me by commenting on my book, my brother texts me that he's here! We walk home and I make a basic lentil soup. After catching up, we call it an early night. $3.29
Daily Total: $48.59
Money Diaries are meant to reflect individual women's experiences and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.
The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.
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