A Week In Oklahoma City, OK, On $16,000 Income

A Week In Oklahoma City, OK, On $16,000 Income

A Week In Oklahoma City, OK, On $16,000 Income

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 graduate service assistant who makes $16,000 a year and spends some of her money this week on Mug Buddies.

Occupation: Graduate Service Assistant
Industry: Higher Education
Age: 30
Location: Oklahoma City, OK
Salary: $9,000 stipend/semester (this is my last semester, so I’ll only receive one stipend payment this year), plus $7,000 from contract work
Net Worth: ~-$30,000 (I have $12,833.39 in savings, $1,776.90 in my HSA from a previous employer, and $5,200.64 in retirement savings, minus debt. My partner and I split bills proportionally based on our income but keep our finances and bank accounts separate.)
Debt: $50,000 (student loans)
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $968
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $500
Utilities: $150
Stock & Retirement Contributions: $40
Pimsleur Language App: $14.95
Hulu: $1.99
Apple Music/iCloud/TV+: $5.98
Car Insurance: $44.54
Phone Bill: $119.14
Tummee (Yoga Planning Software): $8.95
Goddess Provisions Box: $33

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, but only because I expected that of myself. My family knew that going to school was my dream, so they didn’t see any possible future where I didn’t get my bachelor’s at the very least. I took out loans for my undergrad, which were lightened because my paternal grandfather created a college fund for me when I was born, so I used that ($10,000) for my first semester expenses. I fully expected to pay off the loans but did not end up doing so due to a very generous offer from a family friend who wanted to pay them for me (when this was offered, I quite literally cried). I took out loans to pay for my master’s, which I am very close to finishing. Based on my academic performance and CV, I expect that I will not have to pay much if I do choose to pursue a PhD. I am the second person in my family to obtain a BA and will be the first person in my family to obtain an MA.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My siblings and I were raised by a single mother, and I contributed heavily to basic expenses as I got older. My mom and I never had conversations about how to save money, so I figured that out on my own. The gut-wrenching feeling of being so financially insecure significantly impacted my work ethic, and I’ve worked incredibly hard to make sure that I would never be concerned about meeting my basic needs.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I worked at my church nursery starting at age 13 to make pocket money, but made very little each Sunday. It was easy because I lived right across the street and could walk in the mornings without relying on my mom to drive me. After that, I mainly relied on babysitting gigs until I bought my first car at 17, which helped me get different jobs because I had more reliable transportation.

Did you worry about money growing up?
I was constantly worried about money. I knew we never had any and that even paying for groceries was a struggle. We relied a lot on charity and food banks to get by our boxes usually included powdered milk because it lasted longer. My mom made sure that I had the important things, but I went without a lot of the time because I didn’t want to stretch our finances too thin. Part of that rationale was also because I’m the oldest, so I felt obligated to my younger siblings and what they needed, too.

Do you worry about money now?
Right now, yes, but, being in grad school was an important investment for me and what I hope to do with my future, so I decided that financial worry was better than settling for jobs that would never feel fulfilling to me. However, I have worked through my entire program to reduce loans and make sure that I have flexible spending when I need it.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible when I graduated college. I got a scholarship for an out-of-state university, but I was responsible for most of my own expenses at that point (outside of my cell phone bill). I would go home for the summers, but once I entered senior year, I was no longer living in the dorms and had to be responsible for rent, utilities, gas, etc.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I received $10,000 from my grandfather for my college fund, which was only used for tuition. My grandmother would also send me money here and there to eat out when I was an undergrad.

Day One

Day One
9:30 a.m. – Finally get out of bed because one of my cats is screaming like a sad baby through the door. It’s a holiday today, so I allow myself to move a little slowly this morning. I wash my face, throw on sunscreen, make coffee, and check on my pet jumping spider. He is well-fed and a happy camper! I work on my thesis, which is very understudied in my state and will be the first significant research on the subject that gets published here. After sending my survey to a local university that will be participating in the research, I wrap up some pending tasks that are part of my job as a graduate service assistant.

3 p.m. – I need a brain break so I return two Amazon purchases and ship some clothes to For Days to be recycled (I get a hefty $40 credit for this to use for a future purchase). I consider Starbucks but remember I have a free drink at a nearby local cafe. I also return some workout shorts to Victoria’s Secret and exchange them for two new pairs of underwear – I used card member rewards to pay for the shorts initially and also use a coupon today, so my total is only $0.61. $0.61

4:30 p.m. – My partner, R., is craving Fuzzy’s, so I pick up his lunch on the way home and charge it to his card. Once I’m home, I send my survey flyer and QR codes to the same local cafe to print later today ($6.01). After that, I shower and fix my hair, which is easier for me to do in the afternoons. It’s naturally curly and I try to put in a decent amount of effort so it stays in good condition. In the evening, I go to teach my yoga class at a local studio, but no one shows. Bummer, but I get free Girl Scout cookies and munch on them immediately. On the way home, I stop to print my survey materials. For dinner, I heat up a frozen Amy’s meal and have a popsicle. Before bed, I make hard-boiled eggs, then clean and set up my coffee maker for tomorrow morning. Between school, my internship, and three jobs, I’m pulling at least 50 hours of work a week. I also know I have to prioritize my health, so I don’t feel guilty about lying in bed for a while, but I don’t fall asleep until 12:45 a.m. $6.01

Daily Total: $6.62

Day Two

Day Two
7:15 a.m. – I check personal emails from bed, then wash my face and put on tinted moisturizer and sunscreen. I am out of my coffee, so in desperation, I scrounge up an old bag R. bought several months ago. While it’s brewing, I do a short meditation and a bit of yoga. The coffee is horrid, so I just drink some Amazing Grass with water and take my vitamins instead.

8:15 a.m. – To stay on top of my defense schedule, I need to put three hours of thesis work in today (which may admittedly be too ambitious). Before working on my literature review, I cut out the QR codes I printed yesterday into squares and then check my school and work emails. I text my massage therapist and ask if she can squeeze in a chair massage for me this week. I usually budget $65 a month for massages. My partner informs me he has a doctor’s appointment at 1, so he can drop me off, but can’t pick me up. So to preserve as much of my lunch hour as I can, I make a quick egg salad and put it in the fridge for later.

11 a.m. – My partner drops me off at the university before he heads to his doctor’s appointment. I get some interest in my research and try to talk to as many people as I can. My massage therapist texts me that she has been exposed to COVID, so no chair massage for me this week. Half of my QR codes are gone by the end of my tabling window, so hopefully that bodes well for me!

2 p.m. – My sister, K., kindly drives me home. I eat egg salad on toast with baby carrots and Cheetos while I watch Golden Girls. My coffee shipment arrived while I was gone – it’s almost stupid how grateful I am for something so simple.

3 p.m. – Internship time. I work on client resumes and job search sheets and then prepare for a phone survey with a different client. I’m working with refugees and asylum seekers, so I usually need to use an interpreter, which requires a lot of time and patience. About half an hour before I finish up, my sister, P., comes over to shower and brings me a banana shake. I munch on toasted nori while I make frozen potstickers for us.

8 p.m. – P.’s boyfriend comes over to join us and we all watch Encanto. While we watch, I order sushi and Thai food for my partner and me because I’m completely exhausted at this point. He’ll venmo me his portion ($19.90) later. My portion is $24.97. They leave after the movie, and I head to bed soon after but end up with stomach cramps most of the night from something I ate, and they significantly impact my sleep quality. $24.97

Daily Total: $24.97

Day Three

Day Three
9:30 a.m. – I slept horribly because of my reaction to the food, and my body feels like it’s been run over by a snowplow – and ironically, it’s snowing today. I allow myself to sleep in a bit. Because of the snow, the university is closed and I won’t be able to table, leaving me more time for other tasks. I make coffee, take my vitamins, and drink water. I also feed my jumping spider this morning and watch to make sure he sees his breakfast. I caught him in my room when he was starving at the end of December, and he is now chunky and happy! He’s brought me a lot of joy over the past few months.

10:30 a.m. – I check my emails and outstanding phone messages. A friend from New York sent me a song to listen to, which I add to my Apple Music for later. Then I have an hour meeting with my program director, who is also my boss. We catch up and then address outstanding tasks, as well as our program event this Friday. Afterward, I create a new working agenda and mark tasks off my GSA to-do list.

2:30 p.m. – Since I still feel weak and shaky, I order a macro bowl from a local vegan restaurant for pickup later. I get $5 off today because of the snow, yay! I make some hot tea to bring with me and bundle up. While I’m out, I grab my partner’s prescriptions (he’ll pay me back later today). I also stop by a nearby grocery store to grab half a gallon of local milk, lemons, bananas, and another Amy’s meal ($10.80). I finally stop at the restaurant to pick up my bowl, and it’s closed! I peer inside and can see that they didn’t even open today because of the weather. I message their Instagram account to let them know and they confirm they’ll process the refund today. I also check my yoga studio’s page and they are closed today, so there are no classes for me to attend tonight. $10.80

3:30 p.m. – I realize my tires are in desperate need of air, but the nearby gas station’s airbox is out of order. I drive to another and have to unexpectedly pay since they upgraded their machine. $1.50

4:15 p.m. – I snack on some pretzel nuggets and eat a banana. Then I begin working on the resumes I received yesterday. I’ve relied on this income heavily since entering grad school. When I first started, I had to use the extra money because I was making poverty wages in social services, but when I got a better job I was able to actually save it! Now I’m back to using it for regular expenses, but it means I didn’t have to take out as many school loans.

6:30 p.m. – I was going to make tofu for dinner, but K. texts me and asks if I want to surprise P. at Chili’s. They planned on going to a movie and brewhouse for P.’s birthday, but it was canceled due to weather. She also won’t be able to go to her big birthday dinner tomorrow because the roads will be too bad. I decide to join them because I navigated the roads well earlier. The waiter flirts with me and comps my drink – I’m flattered and leave a generous tip. I bring the leftover tacos and beans ($15.74) home for lunch tomorrow. $15.74

8:30 p.m. – I get home and spend quality snuggle time with my partner because he has been down lately and is on some new medicine for recent health issues. Since I only finished two resumes before dinner, I wrap up the last one to get it off my plate before emailing them to the organization.

10:30 p.m. – I decide to move the rest of my work to the couch and work a little later tonight. The university is closed again tomorrow (just my luck that I miss out on two important days of data collection), so I will likely sleep in and work on my literature review instead. Tonight, I need to work on a social media calendar for one of my stepdaughter’s best friend’s moms (say that five times fast) who is running for office. I have previous social media management experience, so I’m now part of her committee team – fingers crossed she gets elected! My partner and I make a late-night run to 7-Eleven, where he grabs a vanilla coke for himself and a cold-pressed juice for me. It’s finally lights out at 1 a.m. after I scroll on my phone for a bit.

Daily Total: $28.04

Day Four

Day Four
9:30 a.m. – It’s still cold and icy outside, so I sleep in because I was up late. This morning, I decide to include mushroom defense powder and collagen-boosting powder in my coffee, along with macadamia nut milk. Then I take my vitamins before attempting a short yoga flow, and I do mean attempt because my cat insists on playing with my ponytail and biting my fingers the whole time.

10:45 a.m. – Before I start working, I order more methylated vitamin B12 because my supply is running low ($20.62). I have the MTHFR gene and I notice that I have much less energy when I don’t take it. After settling in, I start my thesis work, but then my sister texts me asking if I will come to my grandparents for birthday doughnuts with her. Normally I would decline because I’ve started working, but it’s a special day and her past few birthdays have been real bummers for her, so I go and snag some doughnuts and more coffee. $20.62

1:30 p.m. – I order two French hairpins from the Target app when I get home ($10.31). I finally flesh out more of my literature review and I’m relieved – I’ve had two deaths in the family this year and it’s been hard to keep up with school and work obligations while emotionally taking care of myself. $10.31

2:15 p.m. – I have my cold leftover tacos for lunch. They are actually amazing? I think I might consider getting them more often since I can stretch the food into two meals. Afterward, it’s internship responsibilities again. I call a client as soon as I hop on to arrange a meeting for her with a government office. Then I schedule a phone survey with another client and finish up a third client’s resume.

6:45 p.m. – I reach out to the visiting speaker that my program is hosting tomorrow and ask if he has any questions before his presentation. Because of the weather, the yoga studio is still closed, so I won’t be attending or teaching a class tonight. I am not hungry because I had the doughnut and a large lunch, but my partner orders pizza for himself, and I munch on a few slices.

8:30 p.m. – I’m starting to feel burnt out so I lay in bed and watch Jurassic Park (I am absolutely a dinosaur nerd, but also madly in love with Jeff Goldblum) ($3.99). I order Pretty Litter for my cats from Target ($25.62). I cut down my personal emails and remember I have credits with Girlfriend Collective that are about to expire. I combine the credits and my points on a very comfy-looking top I can wear casually and to yoga. I only pay $6.29. $35.90

10:30 p.m. – I do a little more work, then my nighttime face routine. Lights out!

Daily Total: $66.83

Day Five

Day Five
9:30 a.m. – I’ve been productive this week and consider sleeping more but opt out. I do the usual: feed my spider, kiss my cats’ little heads (if they did not want to be kissed on their little heads, perhaps they should not have such cute little heads?), make coffee, take vitamins, and do a small bit of yoga. My day is more open than usual, but I have to help trim down a paper on migration for my program director. I wash my face and get ready for the event I’m helping host today.

11 a.m. – I was supposed to have a call with one of the other committee members for the political campaign to discuss the webinar we watched last Friday, which was the most boring and confusing event I have ever attended, but she never calls me! I work on some outstanding tasks, then hop on Zoom early to help get everything situated for our event. Right before it starts, I hear that my survey still has not been distributed via email at the university. This stresses me out a lot because I only have so much time to gather responses and inaction could really affect my thesis. But the event goes great!

1:30 p.m. – I exchange some foundation and grab my Target pick-ups, then print additional QR codes and flyers at the coffee shop ($8.90). While I’m there, I buy a mocha ($7.08) and drop off my old leggings to be recycled at the post office – I’ll receive a $15 credit later for a future purchase. Once I return home, I wrap up outstanding tasks for the event and send thank-you emails. Then I work on the migration paper. It’s challenging but not indecipherable, and I think I can contribute significantly to trimming it down for journal submission. $15.98

5 p.m. – Dinner with my family for my sister’s birthday! We go to a restaurant she really likes, and I dress up with a turtleneck, gold earrings, and a French-inspired updo. While I’m there, I get a call from the school’s financial aid office because I still don’t have my cost-of-living loan. They admit that it’s fallen through the cracks, and I have to reaccept my loan a third time. Ugh. After I chat with them, I treat myself and order a glass of wine along with my favorite meal. R. joins us, and I put both meals on my card, but he’ll venmo me for his portion later. $48.59

7:30 p.m. – When we get home, I finish editing the paper and send my recommendations. I consider how hectic this week has been. Next week will be the same, if not worse! I go to sleep around 11:45.

Daily Total: $64.57

Day Six

Day Six
10 a.m. – I sleep in a little more today. While I make coffee, I talk with K. about a house she’s trying to rent and the job she was just offered! Then I get ready for my weekly individual yoga session with my best friend’s boyfriend, A. He just started grad school, and we are now doing 30-minute sessions once a week to help him manage his own stress. My best friend comes, too, since she couldn’t come to a class because of the weather – they end up being 20 minutes late, though, which puts me behind on my to-do list for the day.

1:30 p.m. – I’m home and have a small mental breakdown about whether or not my research now requires an IRB modification. I clean my cat’s litter box, unload the dishwasher, and start laundry before eating my leftovers from last night (leftovers are the food of the gods and no one can tell me otherwise).

5:30 p.m. – I speak with my boss over the phone. She confirms that no modification should be necessary, and I breathe easier. She also tells me I did incredibly well at editing the journal article, which is great! R. picks up a gift for a mutual friend’s party tonight and I venmo him my portion. I didn’t know this party was happening until two days ago because no one invited me to the group chat. I know that I wasn’t purposely excluded, but it puts me in a frustrating spot because I’m very limited on time right now. My emotional battery is running low, but I agree to make the 30-minute drive and join them for an hour or so. $12.88

8:30 p.m. – I pack the birthday gift and fill up my partner’s car with gas on the way to the party ($32.08). My friend loves his present, and I have some pizza and cake. I’m home by 10:30 and I lay around for a bit. Once I feel motivated enough to work on my thesis, I open my computer and take a CBD gummy to relax. It kicks in, and I make some very good points (at least in my opinion)! I head to bed around 1:30 a.m. $32.08

Daily Total: $44.96

Day Seven

Day Seven
11 a.m. – My body feels completely wrecked from this week, so I lay around and watch Netflix for a very long time. Several hours later, I get hungry and decide to treat myself to Pei Wei since I have a free meal and I order delivery for my partner as well. I’m pescatarian and when my shrimp arrives, I discover it’s not shrimp – it’s chicken! After several calls, I basically am told that I can’t get a refund through the store and would have to go in to pick it up after they remake it, which seems super unfair given that I paid for delivery! What’s up with my bad luck with food this week? $16.98

3 p.m. – I head out to pick up my remade meal and discover they made us an extra meal AND gave me doughnuts, so I’m not as mad anymore.

5 p.m. – I order a liquor-infusing set as a future gift and also buy some Mug Buddy gingerbread houses that sit on the edge of your mug for hot chocolate! I have a coupon and both items are on sale. 11.92

8 p.m. – I watch Euphoria and The Righteous Gemstones at my sister’s house. Then I head home, wash my face, and go straight to bed. What a week!

Daily Total: $28.90

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