A Week In Silver Spring, MD, On A $18,024 Salary

·22 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 library assistant who makes $18,024 per year and spends some of her money this week on beignets.

Occupation: Library Assistant
Industry: Libraries & Museums
Age: 23
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Salary: $18,024 (I work 28 hours a week and go to grad school part-time as well)
Net Worth: $1,360 (in a savings account)
Debt: $0 (But once I finish grad school next year, I will be ~$13,000 in debt)
Paycheck Amount: $571 (2x/month) plus $360 (1x/month)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,075 (My half of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom with one roommate. Yes, I know I can’t afford to live here and I plan on moving somewhere cheaper once my current lease is up.)
Internet: $37.95 ($75 split with roommate)
HBO Max: $4.99 (shared with two other friends)
Spotify: $4.99
Phone: $0 (paid for by my father)
Netflix: $0 (paid for by my father)
Hulu, Sling & Disney+: $0 (paid for by my mother)
Health Insurance: $0 (covered through my mother’s job until I turn 26)
Grad School Tuition: $2,844/semester (I essentially depleted my savings to pay for my first two semesters out of pocket and will take out loans for the rest of the program.)

Annual Expenses
Washington Post: $9
Amazon Prime: $119 (I’m canceling after this year because it’s gotten way too expensive for me and I’m no longer qualified for the student rate because I used up my four years during undergrad.)

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, absolutely. When I was in the fourth grade, my parents noticed that I was not being challenged in public school (I was a really smart kid) so they enrolled me in a K–12 college-prep private school (which they really struggled to pay for, but at least it DID help me get into a fantastic college). I went to a four-year private liberal arts college and received a highly generous financial aid package because I was so low-income. I was extremely fortunate to not have to take out loans. Both of my parents had a lot of student debt (my father is in his 50s and is still paying off student loans), so I was very determined to graduate without debt. The little tuition that I did have to pay was about $3,000/semester, and my parents and I pooled our money to pay that off each semester. I worked at least two jobs each year to contribute to my third of the tuition payments.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I was not educated much about finances. My parents did not talk about money much until they divorced when I was 15. It was at this point that my mother informed me that they divorced because my father did not manage the family’s money well (he was and still is heavily involved in an MLM) and the last straw for my mother was when we could not afford to pay our heating bill in the dead of winter — forcing me, my mom, and my two brothers to essentially share a bed for a month before she finally took us away. When she did, we were homeless for about nine months. The four of us slept in motel rooms and on the floors of various family friends’ homes. That was the entirety of my freshman year of high school. After my mother finally was able to find a home for us, she was always transparent about her finances and their limitations.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was working in my school’s afterschool program. I was 16 and was paid minimum wage, $7.25/hour. I got the job to help my mom with bills, to pay for an SAT prep program, and to save for college.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes and no. Pre-divorce, I knew we weren’t rich (I was one of the few low-income students at my school and I stuck out like a sore thumb), but I didn’t truly know how low-income we were, so I didn’t worry much. After the divorce, I pretty much stopped asking for Christmas and birthday presents. I never asked my parents for money because I knew they were both always tight on cash. Money issues caused me to grow up quickly. Another source of financial stress for me was my father. He would occasionally ask to borrow money once I started my first job and had money coming in. He still does this every once in a while, so I’ve gotten in the habit of not telling him how much money I have in my accounts.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes, even more so than I did when I was growing up. In fact, money is so tight for me that I regularly frequent local food banks and am currently trying to figure out how to receive food stamps. A few months ago, I sobbed in my dentist’s bathroom after having to pay $500 to get my impacted wisdom teeth removed.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
At 21 when I graduated college, started my first full-time job, and had bills to pay. Although, if I’m being honest, I’d only consider myself 90% financially responsible for myself because my parents do cover health insurance, my phone bill, and some streaming services. My mother keeps a bit of cash for each of her children for emergencies.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Lol no. I wish.

Day One

6:45 a.m. — My alarm goes off, but I feel groggy so I don’t get out of bed until around 7:05 I spend time on my phone scrolling through Reddit. I don’t really do social media but I like Reddit because I can carefully curate what I see and I don’t ever feel pressured to contribute. I drag myself to the kitchen and fry eggs and make myself a cup of instant coffee. It’s not gourmet but it gets the job done, plus I need the caffeine. I eat quickly and then brush my teeth and wash my face with Simple Kind To Skin moisturizer and a sample of Laneige Water Bank moisturizer that I’ve had for months. It works well, but there’s no way I’d be able to afford the full size, so I’ve been trying to use only a little bit at a time. I get dressed (a sweater and a pair of black pants from Old Navy that I wear every day).

8:10 a.m. — I walk five minutes to the metro. I live in Maryland, but I commute into DC for work four days a week. I get off at my stop, and my fare is $3.60. My job loads $100 a month onto my metro card to cover commuting costs, so I technically pay nothing.

9 a.m. — I get to work. There is very little work to be done, so I read a few articles while I wait for more work to pop up. My job consists of processing newly cataloged books, so the amount of work I have is directly proportional to how productive the catalogers are. Only two out of five catalogers are in, so today is especially slow.

11 a.m. — One of the few people at work today swings by my desk to offer me a mint-chocolate bonbon. This is one of my favorite perks of working here: My coworkers are baking fanatics, and there are baked goods on site at least once a week. I love it because I can’t afford to buy sweets with my own money. I take a brief break from working to snack on the bonbons and attempt the WaPo crossword (something I never do). It’s very difficult, and I give up 10 minutes in.

1 p.m. — I break for lunch. I don’t really eat during my lunch breaks but I do like to go sit in one of the museum’s cafes and read. Today’s book is Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland. I’ve been working on it for months (it’s over 400 pages long) and I’m so close to finishing. I still have about 15 pages left in the book, so I figure I’ll probably finish it on the metro ride home.

5 p.m. — I head home on the metro (another $3.60 fare paid for from my preloaded metro card). On the way, I stop by a Giant supermarket. I received some food from a local food bank this past weekend but there are still some essentials that I need. I buy eggs, toothpaste, bread, and sugar cookies that are on sale. When I walk into my apartment, I see that my roommate is at her makeshift workspace. She doesn’t acknowledge me when I come in, so I kind of just do the same and say nothing. I don’t think she likes me very much. $9.06

6:30 p.m. — I call an accountant my mom uses to help file her taxes. She recommended him to me specifically because I have such a weird financial situation. I’ve held four different jobs in the past year and I have a 1098T from my grad school tuition payments. Additionally, I work in one state, live in another, and am technically still a resident of a third state. My mom told me she’d cover his fee, for which I am extremely grateful. My mother doesn’t make much, but she always makes sure her kids are set. Then, my dad calls me regarding my crazy dentist bills. I was kind of pressured into having a wisdom tooth pulled a while back and I am still getting bills for it even though I already paid over $500 out of pocket at the time of the appointment. My dad uses this service that provides legal advice (which is actually technically an MLM that I’m uneasy about using) and he tells me to set up an appointment for them to reach out to me tomorrow. I’m desperate, so I set up the appointment.

7:30 p.m. — I FINALLY get around to eating dinner. Tonight, it’s an entire bag of frozen broccoli and a PB&J followed by a cookie. Dinner of champions. I settle in to bed and watch the most intense episode of Euphoria I’ve ever seen before passing out around 11. after what seems like the longest day of my life.

Daily Total: $9.06

Day Two

6:45 a.m. — The alarm goes off, and I get up immediately this time. Breakfast of three fried eggs. I wash my face with my Simple moisturizer and a travel-sized Ole Henriksen Oil Control Hydrator moisturizer that I got from Marshalls, brush my teeth, get dressed in my work pants and a sweater, and am out the door by 8:10 I read Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson during the ride. It’s spooky. I walk into work at 8:50.

10:15 a.m. — I get a text from my boyfriend, H. It’s an extremely sweet message wishing me a happy anniversary. It’s been one year since our first date. I love him immensely and I’m extremely lucky to have him. I respond to wish him a happy anniversary as well and suggest we visit the Hirshhorn Museum on Saturday to celebrate, even though I know we’re going to Jamaica next week to celebrate formally.

1 p.m. — I break from lunch and head to my usual spot in the cafe. I didn’t bring any food today so I read while drinking a bunch of water to hold me over until dinner time. I get off at 3. so at least I won’t have to wait that much longer. It’s a pretty slow workload day, so I continue doing the catalog maintenance work that I started this morning.

3 p.m. — I leave work and metro home. It’s nice outside, so I hit up the mall that’s a few blocks from my place. I recently lost weight, and none of my summer clothes fit me anymore, so I’m in desperate need of clothes to wear to Jamaica. I visit Marshalls, T.J.Maxx, and Rainbow but don’t really find anything. While I’m out, I get a call back from the legal advice service and I feel dumb once again when the lawyer asks me if I reached out to the dentist because I haven’t and I realize that probably should have been my first move when I first got the confusing bill. I make a note to call them tomorrow.

5 p.m. — I’m hungry, so I go to &pizza for dinner. I typically don’t eat out, but I’ve had a long week already even though it’s only Tuesday. Plus, I have a coupon for a $4 pizza. I pick it up to bring back to my place where I devour half of the pizza. I made my own pizza with white sauce, onions, mushrooms, chicken, and Italian sausage. I made sure to indulge on the meats because I can’t afford to buy meat from the grocery store (at least not until my food stamps kick in next month). It’s so worth it. I’m too socially drained to call the dentist tonight, so I just settle into bed and call my boyfriend. We talk for about an hour. After that, I watch the most recent episode of The Gilded Age and a few episodes of Adventure Time and Steven Universe to decompress my long day. $4.24

10 p.m. — I drag myself out of bed to shower and do my skin-care routine (Simple face wash and a sample size of Laneige Water Sleeping Bank). I’m asleep by 11.

Daily Total: $4.24

Day Three

6:45 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I eat a quick breakfast (two fried eggs and toast), wash my face and brush my teeth, and get dressed. I’m spending the next two nights at H.’s place because I work my contract job tomorrow, which is walking distance from his apartment. I pack up my bag and head to the metro.

12 p.m. — I break for lunch. No food for me, as usual, but all the library assistants are getting together for coffee in the cafe, so I buy one. With my employee discount, it’s $1.27. While there are six total assistants, only four of us (including me) show up. It’s nice talking to them, as we’re all students in library school. They’re all a bit older than me, which made me nervous at first, but they’re super nice. $1.27

3 p.m. — I head out for the day and take the metro to H.’s apartment. He works from home and is in a meeting when I get there, so I hang out in the living room while I wait for him to finish. While I’ve got this free time, I call the dentist. In an amazing stroke of luck, they tell me that they made a mistake on their end with sending me that bill, and that I don’t actually owe them any money. I cry tears of happiness. H. finishes his meeting and comes out of his room with a bouquet of pink roses for our anniversary. I almost cry again (this week has been an emotional rollercoaster).

5:30 p.m. — We hang out and watch TV before we decide to go out for dinner. We walk to a steakhouse and both get burgers and jam out to all of the cool ’80s music playing over the speakers. It’s a lot of fun, and our waiter is fantastic. I only eat half of my food so I pack up the rest for lunch tomorrow. H. pays and leaves a generous tip. We have a sort of understanding about going out; he knows everything about my financial situation and makes nearly four times what I make, so he always pays. He’s even paying for everything with our upcoming Jamaica trip. I’m extremely grateful for his generosity and kindness.

8:30 p.m. — We get back to his apartment and camp out on the couch to watch TV and share a bottle of wine. We go to sleep around 12:30.

Daily Total: $1.27

Day Four

8:30 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I’m able to sleep in because my Thursday contract job is a 10-minute walk from H.’s place. I get ready in 10 minutes, kiss H. goodbye, and head out. I love my Thursday job because it involves digitizing a part of a museum’s archive, which is easy as hell (for me, at least). Plus, I can catch up on my podcasts while I work. I’m usually largely unsupervised, but the library director swings by and we chit-chat for a while. When she leaves, I hunker down for work.

1:45 p.m. — I’m hungry because I didn’t eat breakfast, but I realize I forgot to bring my leftovers from last night to the office for lunch. Luckily, I’m not far from H.’s place so I quickly head over there to eat the other half of my burger and fries before turning right back around to get back to the office.

5 p.m. — I get off work and go back to H.’s place. Tonight for dinner, he wants to cook this elaborate chicken and risotto dish from the Binging With Babish YouTube channel. I dutifully chop veggies to help out, but he does the majority of the cooking.

8 p.m. — After we eat, H. and I watch a documentary on Netflix about art fraud called Made You Look and then head to bed shortly afterward, around 11 p.m.

Daily Total: $0

Day Five

9 a.m. — H. and I wake up, and I’m happy I got the chance to sleep in even longer than yesterday. He’s got a full day of at-home work ahead of him, so I decide to head back to my place. I take the bus home around 10, cook a quick breakfast of eggs and toast, spend a few hours doing my school work for the week. My master’s program is asynchronous, which means I do my work on my own time instead of having scheduled classes. This week’s work is pretty light — just a bit of reading and a recorded lecture to watch. I head back out around 2, this time to run errands. I still need to get some things for Jamaica next week.

2 p.m. — I take the metro to Target first. Last week, my mother offered to give me money from her emergency stash of cash that she keeps for all of her kids, I just had to let her know how much I needed. I very rarely request money from this stash, so it’s been growing steadily ever since I left home at 18. I requested $60, but when I check out my bank account, I see that she’s actually transferred $100 to my account, and I’m shook and very grateful — this is WAY more than I needed. I end up not finding any clothes that I like, but I do make sure to pick up travel-sized toiletries and toilet paper. I spend $12.35. I also swing by Marshall’s and end up buying two cute summer tops. I spend $19.05. I’ve always kind of been a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of girl, but I’m trying to reinvent my post-college self a bit. $31.40

4 p.m. — I take the metro back home, eat my leftover pizza from a few days ago, and catch up on TV — namely a few episodes of This Is Us. While I’m relaxing, I get a call from the guy who helped me file my taxes and get some excellent news — I owe $38 but I’m getting a refund of around $2,000. I’m absolutely elated about this money; it’s nearly twice what I have in my savings now! I had been feeling very paranoid about having so little in my savings (not even enough to cover a month of rent) so this is a huge load off of my back.

10 p.m. — I continue watching TV and go to sleep at 11.

Daily Total: $31.40

Day Six

8:30 a.m. — It’s Saturday, so no alarm, but I do wake up naturally pretty early today. Since I’m up and I know that I have a bit of money coming my way, I decide to hit up the nearby farmer’s market to see if I can get something for H. The two of us are supposed to meet up today, but I know he typically sleeps in pretty late so I have some time to kill before he’s ready. I walk over around 9:30 and end up buying a pint of chocolate milk and a pint of honey-vanilla kefir for H. On my way back home, I get an order of beignets for breakfast. $12.01

11 a.m. — Once I get home, I make my typical breakfast of fried eggs and eat one of the beignets. I’ll bring the rest to H.’s. I pack a quick change of clothes because I’m spending the night (again) and head back out, this time taking the bus.

12:30 p.m. — I arrive at H.’s, and he loves the kefir and the beignets. He eats while we watch TV, and then we take the metro to the Hirshhorn Museum. This is our first time visiting, and it’s awesome. I’m surprised at how crowded it is at the museum, though, and I do have moments when I get a little nervous at just how many people are crammed into these small-ish spaces. I also feel kind of weird about the sheer number of people that I see that seem to have only visited the museum to take pictures of themselves posing in front of the art (often taking off their masks in crowded rooms to pose for these pics, which annoys me). It doesn’t ruin the experience for me, but I do find it a little sad that they can’t just enjoy the art. But perhaps I’m just being a little judgmental.

4:45 p.m. — We leave the Hirshhorn and we’re pretty hungry so we take the metro to Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken. We both get chicken sandwiches and doughnuts: H. gets a chocolate chip cookie dough doughnut, and I get a maple-bacon one. He pays. The maple-bacon is okay, but the chicken sandwich is delicious. We stick around after we finish eating to play some of the bar games that they have at the restaurant.

6:30 p.m. — Exhausted from all the walking we’ve done today, we metro back to H.’s place, watch TV, and head to sleep around midnight.

Daily Total: $12.01

Day Seven

1 p.m. — We’ve both somehow slept in very late, but it feels nice to be well-rested. Once we’re both awake, H. states that he really wants to watch Spider-Man 2 (the Tobey Maguire version from 2004), because I constantly hype this movie up, and he’s never seen it. He rents it on Amazon. This is probably the millionth time that I’ve seen this movie, and it’s one of my all-time favorites. Spider-Man 2 is one of the greatest superhero films ever made, in my humble opinion. H. thankfully says it lives up to the hype.

5 p.m. — H. and I coordinate how we’re going to get rapid tests for Jamaica, and he reserves specific seats for our flight next week. Once that business is out of the way, we order a pizza (H. pays).

7 p.m. — I get a text from my roommate asking me if I can put an additional $100 towards a couch for our apartment. We currently don’t have one, and I don’t mind because I prefer spending time in my room anyway, but my roommate really likes to use the whole apartment. When she first asked me months ago, I told her I could MAYBE contribute $200 (which is a lot for me). I technically can contribute more because of my tax refund, but I truly need to build up my savings, plus I know for a fact that I’m barely going to use this couch. I text her back that I can still only contribute $200. I know she wants to go half and half on this, but I make $18,000 a year, and she makes $50,000. I’ve been very open with her about the fact that I don’t make very much at all so I’m a little annoyed that she’s asking me for more. I have work in the morning, so I head home after a while.

10 p.m. — I get home, get ready for bed, and am asleep by 11.

Daily Total: $0

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