A Week In Upstate New York On A $31,200 Salary

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Today: a program manager working for a nonprofit who makes $31,200 per year and spends some of her pay cheque this week on salt toothpaste. Read an extended interview with this diarist here.
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Occupation: Program Manager
Industry: Nonprofit
Age: 25
Location: Upstate New York
Salary: $31,200
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $941
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $400 for my half. (I live in my friend's five-bedroom farmhouse on 82 acres, which is mostly forest.)
Student Loan Payment: $0 (I was an AmeriCorps volunteer for two years.)
Utilities: ~$30 (It depends on the month. We don't have A/C, and we heat the house using a wood stove. We supply the wood from the land we live on.)
Phone Bill: $80 (I have unlimited data and a hot spot. We can't get Internet at the house — we're pretty remote.)
Running Club: $175 (including a half marathon training plan)
Car Insurance: $100 (I'm still on my mom's plan, but I pay her every month.)
Spotify: $10.99
Netflix: $7.99 (I cover it for my sister and me.)
ACLU: $20
Planned Parenthood: $20
Savings: $~600 (I have an automatic deduction every payday of $300, but sometimes I have to reduce that to $200.)
Additional Expenses
Piano Lessons: $15/week

Day One

4:50 a.m. — I get up and change into my running clothes. It's Friday! I run intervals for two and a half miles and head back to shower, change, and make coffee. I usually eat breakfast at home, but I need to get into work early today, so I pack an apple and peanut butter.
6:30 a.m. — I get to work around 6:30, and then finish up paperwork and documentation. I try and remember not to make phone calls before 9 as a courtesy to others who don't get to work as early as I do, so I make a list of people I need to call in a few hours. My coworker gets into work at 9 and we head out to get potting soil for flower boxes we made for the community garden I manage. We end up getting soil from her friend who lives on a farm, so we "tour" the property on a four-wheeler.
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12:45 p.m. — Finally finish work in the garden, and I heat up leftovers for lunch. I had pheasant for the first time last night and it was surprisingly good (tastes like chicken, lol), so I eat that with root vegetables, potatoes, parsnips, and brown rice for lunch. Then I have a La Croix while continuing work.
3:45 p.m. — I leave work a little before 4 to head to the movie theater! I'm takin' myself out to see RBG. I'm a member of the theater, which means sometimes free treats but always half-priced tickets. It's not really close to work or to my house, but when you live in the middle of nowhere, nothing is close by. I buy the ticket ($5) and get a sparkling water ($2). $7
7 p.m. — The movie was AMAZING. I was laughing, I was crying — I felt all the emotions. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is such an incredible woman and she is so hilarious. The scenes with Obama made my heart hurt. I leave the theater and stop to get gas on my way home. $26.65
8:30 p.m. — I'm in bed at 8:30 and asleep within 10 minutes.
Daily Total: $33.65

Day Two

5:30 a.m. — My attempt to sleep in fails. While I'm awake, I might as well go for a run.
6:40 a.m. — After my run, I do some foam rolling. While rollin' and stretchin', my roommates dog attacks me with kisses. We go outside and play with a ball for 30 minutes. I probably find the game just as entertaining as she does (haha).
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7:30 a.m. — For breakfast, I make leftover rice with a fried egg and sesame seaweed. Then I clean up the kitchen. I feel like I'm on a roll, so I load up my car with recycling and trash. The downside to living in the country is that you have to take your garbage to the transfer station. I attempt to mow the lawn while outside, but the cord won't pull. I'm worried I may have broken it, so I'm going to let my roommate figure this one out!
9 a.m. — I shower and lay in my robe on my bed until I'm completely dry. I find this to be such a luxury. I love lounging in my robe. I scoot out of the house and hit up the transfer station. Luckily we (a.k.a. mostly my roommate) sorted the recycling, so it doesn't take long to do.
9:30 a.m. — I run over to the community garden to water it before the sun is up. Otherwise, the water will evaporate or the sun will burn the plants if they're wet. While I'm there, I run into a member I haven't met yet and tell him the dates of the community potlucks I planned.
10:20 a.m. — I head into the larger town and make my way to Target. I like to buy paper products here because they come in a larger size than the stores near my house have. I pick up toilet paper, paper towels, cotton pads, and face towels. $46.80
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10:45 a.m. — Head to TJ Maxx because someone mentioned they might have running shorts, which I have been on the hunt for. All the options are a little too flashy for me, so I leave empty-handed.
11:30 a.m. — I hit up the natural food store to get items that the co-op I belong to doesn't sell. I get bulk polenta, quinoa, salt toothpaste, two kinds of sesame seaweed mix (really trying to find which one is my favorite) and a bag of Barbara's Kitchen cheese puffs (jalapeño flavor, the only flavor worth eating). $44.34
12:45 p.m. — I head to a food pantry to meet with the director. On the way, I snack on cheese puffs. I run a program that brings fresh, local produce to food pantries and other sites around the county, so the food is accessible to low-income families and individuals.
1:45 p.m. — I finally make it home and let my roommate's dog out. I put up the goods from my shopping when I hear the dog barking outside. She has free range of the whole property and there is a lot of wildlife, so I'm always worried for her safety. I go out and yell at her to leave it, whatever it may be this time, and she won't. I get closer and realize a woodchuck is right in front of her, and they're barking and hissing at each other. I break them up and get the dog back inside. I give her a treat, then start a load of laundry​.
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3:45 p.m. — I hang my laundry on the line outside because it's beautiful out. I throw beans onto the stove and prep dinner because I haven't eaten a proper lunch. I'm making my favorite white bean and red quinoa burgers from Half Baked Harvest. I've made them so many times I don't even look at the recipe anymore. I also slice up sweet potatoes to make oven baked fries. While things are cooking, I play with the dog more because she was inside a lot today.
5 p.m. — I practice piano while I bake the fries and when the timer goes off, I sit down to eat and listen to NPR on the kitchen radio. When my roommate gets home, I make her a plate and we catch up on our days and the movie last night, since she was already in bed when I got home.
8 p.m. — We're both exhausted (my roommate is a farmer), and we both go upstairs and get ready for bed. I recently got Netflix again, so I catch up on Love.
Daily Total: $91.14

Day Three

7:16 a.m. — I'm up and only have 10 minutes before I need to leave the house to meet up with my running club. I splash water on my face, brush my teeth, and throw on my baseball hat and Garmin watch.
8 a.m. — Make it to running club on time. I originally joined this club when I first moved to the area to meet people, but this is rural America, so the club is mostly older retired women. I love it just the same, but the social aspect isn't what I was going for. We run three miles and stretch before parting ways.
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9:30 a.m. — I come home hungry, and luckily my roommate has coffee made. She's outside cleaning up the chicken coop, so I start breakfast for the both of us. I make leftover sweet potatoes with fried eggs and toast. The coffee she made is so tasty that I ask her to make more. (Apparently, she puts a lil honey and milk in it.) We talk about the progress with the coop and what I can do to help. We just got chicks from an elementary school that hatched them as a project. They're currently in the guest bedroom in a huge pin under heat lamps until they get big enough to live outside.
10:45 a.m. — I shower off really quickly and throw clothes on so we can head to the farmer's market. Despite my roommate working the farmer's market yesterday, she didn't get a chance to shop around. We get eggs, breakfast sausages, radishes, and asparagus. She pays because I don't have cash. She asks if I want to stop in at the brewery where the market is being held. We hang out with our favorite bartender. She gets an IPA and I get water.
11:45 a.m. — I need more soap, so we walk across to the co-op. We're non-working co-op members, so we get a 2% discount. $7.16
12:20 p.m. — We stop by the auto shop to get the parts to fix the lawn mower. I swear my roommate can fix anything! Roommate pays for whatever it is that we needed.
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1:15 p.m. — Get home and put the groceries away. My roommate brought home a pork butt from the market yesterday, so I begin to prep the pork for pulled pork tacos. I brown it on all sides and then remove it and add onion and garlic. I rub the pork with seasoning before putting it back in the Dutch oven, cover it with a bottle of wine, and throw in the oven for four hours. After cleaning up the kitchen​, I vacuum the house and get distracted by Netflix.
2:30 p.m. — Vacuuming takes a long time with such a large house, and I feel accomplished when I'm finished. I even move my bed to vacuum all the dust bunnies in my bedroom. I practice piano before I watch another episode of Love.
4:30 p.m. — I make a salad to go with the tacos. I pull the pork out and throw in some of the beans I have leftover from yesterday. Then, I call my roommate inside and we eat dinner together. She heads back out to work on things in the barn afterwards, and I clean up the kitchen.
7 p.m. — It's early but I'm tired, so I get ready for bed and lay down to read my book, All Over Creations. I just got it from the library because I loooooved A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and I'm hoping her other books are just as great. I fall asleep before 9.
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Daily Total: $7.16

Day Four

6:45 a.m. — I wake up naturally and get moving. Today is a holiday, so I don't have work! It's my first day of crew though. I used to cox in high school, and one of the farmers I work with in the area told me that he belongs to a club team and that they're always looking for coxswains, so I said I'd try it out. I'll be paid $10 per hour, which is crazy to me, but I welcome it!
8:45 a.m. — Get to the boathouse and meet the coaches and team. Everyone seems nice and welcoming. They're really appreciative of me joining. I don't go out on the water, but do get to help the novice rowers.
11:30 a.m. — I stop over at the community garden to water and weed. I run into another member I haven't met yet and introduce myself. It's hard to meet the gardeners when everyone has different schedules, which is why I plan community potlucks.
12:30 p.m. — I get home and heat up a leftover veggie burger with yogurt on the side.
1:30 p.m. — I attempt to mow the lawn again now that the mower is fixed, and three miles and an hour and a half later, the yard looks amazing! Such a societal pressure to have a manicured lawn, but I love it. Luckily I'm not paid to do this, because from the upstairs window you can see weird lines in the area I mowed. I broom the walkways and clean up the edges.
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3 p.m. — I'm pretty pooped, so I have a La Croix while sitting on the rocking chair on the back porch. I catch up on the phone with two friends, which feels good. It's nice living in the country, but I do miss being in a city near friends and having a younger group of people to hang out with.
4 p.m. — I shower off and then start dinner. I'm heating up leftover pork for burritos. I roast sweet potatoes (I eat so many of them, they're my favorite vegetable) and make a quick salad.
5 p.m. — My roommate and I eat dinner together. I really value our relationship. She's quite a bit older than me, but has known me since I was 18. We talk about how I'm anxious about my busy schedule, how I feel like I should be doing more career-wise, and how I want to go to grad school but am scared about debt. I list all the different things that I'm anxious about and she patiently talks me through them.
6 p.m. — I get letters together to send in the morning. I write a lot of letters each week to various friends across the country. It's mainly for my own sake, because I value writing things down. I don't get many letters in return, but I couldn't care less. I practice piano. I haven't really gotten better at the piece I was supposed to practice before this week's lesson.
8 p.m. — In bed and asleep by 8:30.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Five

5:20 a.m. — Wake up and my legs are sore. I foam roll and stretch before getting dressed. I make coffee while my roommate eats breakfast. I make Bob's Red Mill gluten-free eight-grain hot cereal. It's delicious and only takes about five minutes to make. I fry an egg and put sesame and seaweed on the hot cereal with the egg on top. Clean up and pack my lunch.
7 a.m. — At work and catching up on emails. I spend a good chunk of time creating the Powerpoint for a training I'm hosting in two weeks. I love creating graphics for things like this, so I probably take longer than I should to create it. I outline how I want the training to go and write up a sketch of what I'll say for each section. It's all about safe produce handling, which I'm going to make as fun as possible. I'm planning the food that I'll bring in to highlight what we're harvesting now and distributing through our food pantries.
9 a.m. — I catch up with my coworkers about their holiday weekends when they get in.
12 p.m. — I run to the chain grocery store to buy more olive oil, which is much cheaper than at the co-op. I also grab Kind Bars for snacks on those early mornings, a box of La Croix to keep at work, and an Amy's burrito, which I have for lunch. $35.40
3 p.m. — I spend time weeding and straightening things up in the garden. I meet a member who wasn't able to come the first two weeks that the garden was open. She's a single working mother with quite a few kids, so I go ahead and weed her plot and add compost so it's ready for her. She's really sweet about it. She works at the one restaurant in town, and I'm going to make a point to visit it sometime soon.
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4:30 p.m. — Home from work and my roommate has brought home lots of veggies home. I prep them and throw sweet potatoes in the oven. While I wait for them to cook, I practice piano. I throw brown rice, pulled pork, bok choy and a lot of garlic together. My roommate comes in and we eat it with the potatoes and a side salad.
5:30 p.m. — I call a friend and we catch up for an hour. It's been two months since we last talked on the phone, so it's great to hear her voice. I take a lot of weekend trips and we plan to meet in NYC this summer. We met up there last fall and it was wonderful, so we'll do it again but in a different neighborhood this time. We stayed in Boerum Hill, which is my kind of pace but she wants to stay somewhere more lively.
7 p.m. — A different friend mentions that she's in the midst of breaking up with her boyfriend. Even though it's her decision, I know that it's going to be really hard for her. I begin to craft a lil gift to send her. I'm making 14 different notes that each have a different thing in them, like a command to go on a walk and call a friend (a.k.a. me!) or a note with a list of all her best qualities. She can open one when she feels like it. It takes a long time, and I only create four of the 14 tonight.
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8:30 p.m. — I can't write or draw anymore, so I watch Love and fall asleep by 9.
Daily Total: $35.40

Day Six

4:13 a.m. — First real morning practice for crew. I make coffee, pack breakfast, lunch, and water.
5:45 a.m. — I get to the boathouse and we watch a safety video. It's hilarious — I don't know how they staged these extreme misfortunes, but they did a great job because it's hard to eject yourself from a boat! The coach asks me to take a boat in the water and, of course, I say yes. I'm really nervous — it's been nine years since I've been on the water and I kinda forgot all the commands, so I wing it. We get in the water and the boat is floating all over the place. I've forgotten how to steer. It's a complete mess and some of the members are getting annoyed. I try my best to stay positive and light-hearted about it, but I'm also frustrated. Docking is my literal nightmare, but we make it back without running into anything. I breathe a sigh of relief.
8 a.m. — I get into work and change into my work clothes. I don't dress too nicely at work because I'm usually working in a garden or farm, or moving boxes to and from places, so it's just jeans and a tank top. I eat my breakfast of yogurt with peanut butter and jelly in it. Sounds weird, but I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so I try to make variations of them with other things (yogurt, oatmeal, and cookies).
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9:30 a.m. — I remember to take the work van into the mechanic. I drive it over and let him know it's outside. I walk back to work and call my mom on the way. I walk through a neighborhood and pass a dog in the street, and then notice that there's a person hanging out in his car in his driveway, where I'm assuming this dog lives. When I walk past, the guy yells expletives at his dog. He then notices me and yells at me, asking me if I want to go on a date and get a drink. I can't believe it — it is 9:30 in the morning! I am so annoyed. I hate men. I tell my mom what happened, and we laugh about it. You can't catcall me in the morning!
10:30 a.m. — I run over to the food pantry to see the produce situation we have this week. It looks great, as we've been getting a lot of produce lately, which is nice, especially because there were weeks during the winter when it was bleak. I also pop in the garden to weed some more. I feel like I have to set a good example as the manager of the garden, so I also pull weeds in other people's plots so that they don't outgrow the actual plants.
12 p.m. — I heat up leftovers for lunch: pulled pork, rice, and bok choy. I quickly eat so I can go on a walk. I call my friend during his lunch break to catch up. I'm from a city and left over a year ago, and now am wondering if I made a horrible mistake by moving to the country. Despite loving the things I do, I really miss my friends. This friend and I used to hang out two to three times a week and lived within walking distance of one another, so I appreciate the times we get to talk.
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4 p.m. — I change into my running clothes and head to my piano teacher's house. My teacher is a 78-year-old great grandmother who has played the piano since 1947. She is a sassy gal and I really love taking lessons from her. I only started piano in February. I had always wanted to play as a kid but never did, so when I saw her ad at the hardware store, I called and the rest is history! I have my first recital in two weeks, so I practice my solo piece and then we practice our duet. I asked her if I would be her oldest student at the recital and she said, yes, but it's fine because I look like a teenager. HA, can't wait for that!
4:30 p.m. — I stop and get gas. $35.80
5:45 p.m. — Get to running club, despite feeling a little tired, and decide I better just go. I'm glad I did, because my favorite member is there. We usually run together and I pace, but tonight that gal is on another level. I desperately try and keep up with her, and I finally catch up when we hit a hill. We do a cool down walk together, and then I head home.
7:20 p.m. — I get home and am very tired. My roommate has been rebuilding the chicken coop all night, so dinner is up to me. We have the last of the veggies burgers and broccoli. I save the rest for lunch tomorrow.
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8:30 p.m. — I foam roll and stretch more before getting in the shower. I lotion up and am in bed and asleep by 9.
Daily Total: $35.80

Day Seven

5:13 a.m. — I'm up, but I check my phone and scroll through Instagram and my email. I try not to do this, but this morning I don't care. My hair is a mess from sleeping on it wet, so I have to work magic and use bobby pins to get it together.
6:30 a.m. — I make toast, breakfast sausage, and an egg for breakfast. I eat with my roommate and we talk about the fish we ordered from the co-op that will be ready this afternoon. I'm so excited — I love the fresh fish that they get!
7 a.m. — Get into work and read through my email newsletters. I get so many great ones from NYT: Daily Briefing, which discusses the news; Smarter Living, which talks about habits, health, practical purchases; Cooking, which I use to look up a recipe for the fish; and Gender Letter, which talks about women, pop culture, and gender. I take my time to go through them.
9 a.m. — I have to get a produce order out to a partner, so I walk over to the pantry and get a good variety of produce together for them. I walk back to the office, stopping by the garden. It looks great, so I just keep walking.
12 p.m. — The day is flying by. I've been meeting with my boss to discuss logistics and the schedule for summer harvesting and distributing. I stop to eat my lunch of leftovers. I'm craving chocolate, but I don't have any at the office. I kinda also want a cookie. I hold out knowing that we have biscotti at home.
4 p.m. — I leave work. I'm lucky to have flexible hours, so if I go in at 7, I can leave at 4 p.m. I'm obviously a morning person, so it works for me.
4:30 p.m. — I practice piano and think about what to make for dinner. We have done so well at eating all the food in the fridge that it's getting slim. I'm not too terribly hungry, but I still want that biscotti, so I have a piece. I make a salad with radishes and a simple dressing. We heat up more pulled pork and have burritos. This pork is so good, especially when you re-heat it and it gets crispy.
5:30 p.m. — While cleaning up from dinner, my roommate and I realize that we didn't pick up the fish. I'll do it after work tomorrow because I'm too tired to go back out.
7 p.m. — I clean up and get ready for bed early so I can lounge before going to. sleep. It's an early morning tomorrow again, so I watch Love and fall asleep by 9.
Daily Total: $0
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 behaviour.
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