A Week In Los Angeles, CA, On $25 An Hour

Refinery29
·18 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 pastry chef who makes $25 an hour and spends some of her money this week on a stuffed Muttley.

Occupation: Pastry chef
Industry: Hospitality
Age: 42
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Salary: $25/hour
Net Worth: $141,000 (This includes approximately $100,000 in an IRA, $16,000 in a mutual fund, $25,000 in savings. My boyfriend and I have been together for five years but do not have shared accounts; he pays me each month for his half of rent, groceries, and utilities.)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,300-$1,600
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $662 for my half of a one-bedroom apartment that I share with my boyfriend
Car Lease: $325
Netflix: $0 (boyfriend’s mom’s account)
Apple Music: $9.99
Cable/Internet: $0 (paid by my boyfriend)
Utilities: $45 for my half
Vanguard IRA: $200
Car Insurance: $195
Renters Insurance: $15
Health Insurance: $550
Cell Phone: on a family plan with my mom who is graciously paying my half while I’m underemployed
NY Times: $4
LA Times: $16
NPR: $10

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, there was and though I excelled in high school, I really didn’t want to go to college. I was a photographer and ended up going to a very good art school but dropped out after two years. I eventually went to culinary school and my parents paid for both. I do NOT recommend culinary school for so many reasons!

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My mom was a saver and my dad was not. He was several years behind on his taxes until my mom pulled him out of it. Mostly, I learned about saving and not accruing credit card debt from my mom. Most of my mother’s wealth now is from property my dad bought in the 1960s and 1970s, but I don’t believe I will ever be able to own property in Los Angeles.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was at a local coffee shop as a cashier and barista. I got it in high school for spending money and continued it into college.

Did you worry about money growing up?
I didn’t really worry about money per se, but I knew that I couldn’t have the Guess jeans that all my friends had in sixth grade. We did not take fancy vacations or anything like that. My parents made much more money when I got a little older and my mom would definitely indulge us. I didn’t get an allowance; as a teenager, my mom just basically gave me what I asked for (obviously within reason).

Do you worry about money now?
Yes, all the time. At the start of the pandemic, my $60,000 salary was taken away and we were all given $15/hour. I was on partial unemployment until the first reopening last June. When we reopened, I was offered $20/hour, which I negotiated to $25/hour at the height of a very busy summer. I used to work 10-12 hours a day as a salaried employee, but now I only work six to eight hours a day and bring in roughly $45,000 a year. It’s been a big hit for me because I have some big bills, such as my very expensive health insurance (which most restaurant people I know don’t have). Thankfully, my rent is not bad.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Up until age 25, I was living rent-free at home. I moved out with my then-boyfriend and that’s when I became fiscally independent. I do have a decent amount in savings and retirement I could tap if needed, and my boyfriend definitely came through last year chipping in more for the monthly expenses (his job was unaffected by the pandemic and he makes more money than I do). I could also rely on my mom for help if needed.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Several years ago my mom gifted me $10,000 after the sale of a building and I put it in a mutual fund. I have occasionally taken out some money to travel, then not touched it to let it grow again.

Day One

8 a.m. — I arrive at work, put some ice cream base on the stove to start cooking, then sit down with a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and a double espresso. The perks of being the boss, I can have breakfast as soon as I get to work. Today is Sunday and we have brunch service, so it will be a busy day. Our general manager gets in after my breakfast and since she is one of my best friends, we spend 15 minutes reviewing the gossip of the last few days. Restaurants are full of gossip, all the time, and she knows all of it (as a good GM should). I take a low dose of Xanax (prescribed to me) because busy Sundays make my heart race.

4 p.m. — At the end of my Sunday brunch shift, I always sit down with our GM for an amaro and more gossip; we call it amaro clock. The gossip today is about trying to replace our chef de cuisine AND sous chef at the same time, no good at all.

5:30 p.m. — Since I’ve already spent a long day cooking other people’s food, I hate to come home and cook on Sunday nights. I stop at a Jersey Mike’s and get sandwiches ($20.20 with tip). I get home and my boyfriend, S., and I unwind with bourbons (with a splash of my favorite amaro in mine, restaurant people love bitter aperitifs) and music and talk about our days. We watch Schitt’s Creek with dinner (after he rejects the headlines on 60 Minutes, we are old) and I am sad we are almost done with the series. $20.20

8:30 p.m. — Get into bed because I have to open the restaurant tomorrow and have to wake up at 4:15 a.m. I am currently rewatching Dexter and it takes me about two episodes to actually fall asleep. S. stays up grading papers and playing video games in the living room. He teaches from home and literally never leaves the house, I have no idea how he can stand it.

Daily Total: $20.20

Day Two

4:15 a.m. — 4:15 is deeply horrible. No matter how much I do it, there is nothing natural about getting up in the middle of the night. I get up, read the nightly email from the restaurant, and scroll Instagram for a few minutes before turning on the shower. My cat and I have a ritual where I lay back down in bed for the five minutes it takes the shower to heat up and she sits on my chest for pets until she gets tired of it and tries to bite me. At 5 a.m., I’m off!

7:30 a.m. — Once the pastry case in the cafe is fully stocked, I can finally relax with some Cheerios and espresso. We are out of strawberries for my cereal but I remember there is leftover farmer’s market strawberry compote from a dessert special and spoon the whole runny, jammy mess into my bowl. I applaud myself for my cheffyness. Also there is now bonus strawberry milk left at the bottom of the bowl.

12 p.m. — Lunch! You would think working in a restaurant would give you a lot of lunch options, but you just end up tired of all the food, even the food hacks where you frankenstein the various components into new dishes. Our GM and I keep a variety of frozen foods on hand that are quick to make, so today I settle on a few chicken tenders (easy access to a fryer is magical), some bagel chips, and my house-made ranch for dipping. Always ranch. After lunch, I make an ice cream base and some little frozen mousses for dinner service. Even though I hate hate hate opening, it’s better than closing and gets me home early in the day.

2:30 p.m. — I get home just as S. is finishing a Zoom class. We chat about our days and he laughs this kind of wheezy laugh and stops and asks me if I remember an old cartoon dog with a laugh like that. YES, I DO AND HIS NAME IS MUTTLEY. He is an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon and the sidekick to Dick Dastardly. S. makes me spend the next half hour watching Muttley on YouTube and trying to perfect his Muttley laugh. He hurts himself a little. I spend the rest of the afternoon reading both newspapers I subscribe to, Eater LA and Buzzfeed, then taking a well-deserved nap with the cat.

5:30 p.m. — Time to start thinking about dinner. I pour us some bourbon and pull up the Smitten Kitchen recipe for baked pasta with sausage and broccoli raab, it’s S.’s favorite. After the pasta, S. eats a cookie I brought home from work and I eat…a piece of parmesan. Here is the worst thing about me: I’m a pastry chef and I don’t really like sweets. But give me a piece of good cheese and a few olives after dinner and I am in hog heaven. A walk around the neighborhood, then more Schitt’s Creek, then bed and Dexter at 8:30.

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

4:15 a.m. — Just. The. Absolute. Worst. I have to open the restaurant three days a week now and it honestly never gets easier.

10:30 a.m. — After a morning spent making muffin batter, ice cream, and sponge cake, I lean under the station to get something and somehow knock over a sanitizer bucket right into my shoe. My pants and socks are soaking wet and I briefly consider just giving up and going home.

11:30 a.m. — Our chef and owner comes in to do some R&D and it’s nice to see them. They set up to work on the table next to me so I get to have little tastes. Our chef is very famous and isn’t here very often. (Celebrity chefs DO NOT cook in their restaurants.) I’m glad I didn’t leave even though I am still squishing in my shoes. I bake off a few of my new cookies and they love it, and I am very happy.

2:30 p.m. — I get home and S. is still talking about Muttley. I decide I am going to buy him a stuffed Muttley, figuring I can find a vintage one, but I go online and discover that because he was in a strange movie called Scoob! last year, Amazon sells stuffed Muttleys! I snap one up and keep it a secret from S. $13.83

5:30 p.m. — Bourbon and amaro and dinner time. I’ve been super into french onion soup lately (Smitten Kitchen recipe again), and when I make it there’s always leftovers that I freeze so I barely have to do any prep tonight. I pair it with a quick salad. I top the toast on the soup with about twice as much gruyere as is advisable, and the cheese pull is phenomenal. S. eats the ice cream I brought home from work and I have a stick of Juicy Fruit gum, another favorite dessert. We eat, watch Jeopardy, go for a quick walk, watch some Schitt’s Creek, then I am in bed early so I can wake from the dead one more time tomorrow.

Daily Total: $13.83

Day Four

4:15 a.m. — Ugh.

8:30 a.m. — One of our cooks urgently calls me into the other room, so I hurry over. I find three people standing around a tub of something that looks like jam, jiggles like jam, smells like jam, and is labeled “jam.” They want to know if it is jam. I consider going home.

1 p.m. — Lunch with our GM. The days we work together are ALL about lunch. Today, it is a frozen Amy’s cheese pizza, which I top with good olive oil, sliced pepperoncini, and pineapple (come at me). We obviously dip our crusts in ranch. We toast to our own lunch brilliance and gossip some more on the patio.

2:30 p.m. — Get home and flop on the couch to work on my cookbook. A friend is setting up a meeting for me with a culinary book packager. I spend some time working on the main introduction and on recipe introductions. I compile my own photos and daydream about a book full of big glossy photographs.

5:30 p.m. — S. has a Zoom meeting with his family while I get started on dinner. Before you accuse him of not pulling his weight, he is NOT allowed to cook. When I met him, he was eating quesadillas filled with granola. I make yet another Smitten Kitchen recipe (I owe her everything) of tomato sausage risotto (if you’re looking up the recipe, I add a small box of basil to it and it makes a world of difference). I have to balance what I make during the week because S. needs leftovers for lunch since he works from home, but I don’t want to end up with too many leftovers because I will NOT eat them (leftovers are gross except for pizza and Thanksgiving). This will make a few days of leftovers and S. eats them happily. Jeopardy, evening walk, and bed a little later than usual because I get to sleep in tomorrow!!

Daily Total: $0

Day Five

6:45 a.m. — SLEEPING UNTIL 6:45 IS BLISSFUL.

8 a.m. — Get to work, and it’s ice cream spinning day! I get myself all set up to run the machine, then have breakfast of scrambled egg, hash browns, and espresso. I get started spinning, and while the ice cream spins, I do the dishes. One of the worst consequences of the pandemic is that we no longer have a daytime dishwasher and it is TERRIBLE. With four to six people working in the kitchen, you have to stay on top of the dishes or you are sunk. We all hate it.

12 p.m.— Lunch with the GM is the good snappy hot dogs from the butcher shop that I throw in the fryer to cook.

1 p.m. — One of my favorite specialty vendors who is also a good friend comes in under the pretense of trying some new vanillas. We gossip for two hours on the patio and taste vanilla for about ten minutes (did I tell you restaurants are built on gossip?). She works for an independent purveyor who is obviously struggling right now and I try to source as many things as possible from her.

4:30 p.m. — I get home, grateful it is my Friday, and MUTTLEY HAS ARRIVED. I tell S. to close his eyes and put out his hands and I hand him Muttley. He is over the moon and shows off his Muttley laugh. Then the three of us watch some cartoons.

7 p.m. — Tonight is pizza night and we order a salad and a large pizza ($43.81, S. pays). I get veggies on my half and S. complains that it’s too slimy when he eats it leftover. But he eats it anyway. I bring home S. a piece of carrot cake and I have…another slice of pizza for dessert? I would like to tell you that when I don’t have to get up the next day, I go to bed late, but once you’re used to going to bed early, you can’t stop. I take a sleeping pill so I don’t accidentally wake up early, and it is bliss.

Daily Total: $0

Day Six

9 a.m. — SLEEP IN! I wake up, make coffee, read emails and scroll Instagram, then start working on my grocery shopping list. It’s a task I love. I meal plan for the whole week and only go shopping once a week.

10:30 a.m. — Off to the grocery store. I get the basics here, then shop elsewhere for specialty items. Among other things, I get Four Roses bourbon, canned salmon as a treat for the cat, Svedka vodka and tomato juice for bloody marys, hickory chips for the grill (hooked on hickory), cheddar for burgers, and the prep for chilaquiles, pad see ew, cassoulet, and baked potato soup ($110.36, split with S.). $55.18

11:30 a.m. — Head over to the Original Farmer’s Market at Third and Fairfax. I love using the vendors there and shopping local for the fancy stuff and quality meat. From the butcher I get sausages for the cassoulet, flank steak for the pad see ew, and burgers to grill tonight ($24.50, split with S.). I get a baguette ($4.50, split), and go wild in the cheese shop for our weekly Friday lunch. I get a soft cheese (Brillat Savarin), a hard cheese (Beaufort), a blue (Fourme d’Ambert), proscuitto, and Castelvetrano olives ($38.70, split). $33.85

12 p.m. — After shopping, I hit the seafood restaurant there for my favorite weekly treat: oysters! I get six oysters on the half shell and slowly, quietly slurp them down. It is heavenly. I would get a dozen but $50 on something that is barely a snack is hard to justify. $24.90

12:30 p.m. — Get home, put away groceries, start a load of laundry ($2.25) and then finally settle in for a bloody mary with ALLLL the garnishes and some reading. I am reading Dr. Carl Hart’s Drug Use for Grown-Ups and it is a clear-headed and very different approach; the drug policies in this country are offensive. Lunch is a groaning board of the baguette, meat and cheeses, and tomatoes and peppers. After this weekly lunch, we have a family agreement to pass out in our respective spots (me, couch, S., bed). I put on The Conjuring 2 and quickly fall asleep. I take horror movie naps, and yes, the screaming wakes me up. $2.25

7 p.m. — It is grilling time! S. sets up our little Weber grill behind the apartment and I make homemade onion rings. We top our burgers with barbecue sauce and an onion ring and it is *chef’s kiss*. I always have to remember to buy beer for S. because he apparently cannot run the grill without a beer? Schitt’s Creek, Dexter, sleeping pill, bed.

Daily Total: $116.18

Day Seven

9 a.m. — Blissful as always to sleep in. I have coffee, look at emails and Instagram, and text a friend about coming over later for bloody marys. I got COVID at work at the end of January (I started having symptoms the morning after a negative test, so word to the wise about using negative tests as a free pass to see people maskless) so I figure I have the immunity to sit on the front lawn having drinks from six feet away with a friend (S. will stay inside; he somehow managed to not catch COVID from me). I get a second cup of coffee and manage to book an appointment for the vaccine! Our area just opened up for food service workers to get it and I am very excited. Even if it has a microchip in it.

12 p.m. — Every Saturday we get sandwiches from my friend’s cafe. This week I get the best cheesesteak in the city and S. gets a chicken laffa wrap. We watch an old episode of The Simpsons while we eat. I pine for a nap but my friend is on his way. $35

1:30 p.m. — Bloody marys on the front lawn with my best friend! It’s nice to feel slightly normal.

5:30 p.m. — Pour a bourbon and start the prep for chilaquiles. I make the sauce and the tortilla chips from scratch. We top them with eggs, crema, Oaxaca cheese, and guacamole and are suitably stuffed after. We take a long walk, then Schitt’s Creek, and then time to get ready for another busy Sunday brunch tomorrow.

Daily Total: $35

Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual’s experience 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.

Do you have a Money Diary you’d like to share? Submit it with us here.

Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here or email us here.

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

A Week In Philadelphia, PA, On A $54,000 Salary

A Week In Raleigh, NC, On A $132,000 Salary

A Week Being Unemployed In Charleston, SC