A Week In Washington, D.C., On An $82,100 Salary

·23 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 genetic counselor working in healthcare who makes $82,100 per year and spends some of it on a Statue of Liberty Lego set.

Occupation: Genetic Counselor
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 26
Location: Washington, D.C.
Salary: $82,100
Net Worth: -$57,455 ($18,277 in checking/savings accounts, $10,245 in retirement/investments, minus debt. I live with my partner, who makes roughly $100,00 and has some student loan debt. We split most expenses, but do not combine finances.)
Debt: $84,000 in student loan debt, $1,977 currently owed on my credit card. I do pay my card off in full every month, so this fluctuates.
Paycheck Amount (Biweekly): $2,117 after deductions for short-term disability insurance and 401(k) (5%, completely matched by my employer)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Housing Costs: $650 for my portion. This includes rent, pet rent, parking, and all utilities except electric. I live in a one-bedroom with my partner. The total monthly cost is $1,623, but my partner and I split it 60/40 because she makes more money than me. We split all other bills 50/50.
Loan Payments: $0 for student loans, due to the pandemic forbearance. I still try to pay ~$700 monthly.
Electric: Ranges from $12 to $26
Internet: $24
Climbing Gym Membership: $79
Health Insurance: $0, until I turn 26 in a few weeks
Car Payment: $0 (My partner owns a car that we share.)
Streaming Services: $0 (We use my partner’s or my sisters’ accounts.)
iCloud Storage: $0.99
Spotify: $16.95 for a family plan
Chewy Autoship: $104
CVS CarePass: $10
Investment Platform Membership: $5
Investments: ~$200 (Sometimes more, sometimes less.)
Savings: I usually deposit $200 to $500 into savings at the end of each month, depending on how much I spend that month and how much I want to contribute to student loans or investments.

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. My mom always made it very clear that the only path after high school was college. She did not go to college when she was young, and she desperately wants my sister and me to grow up with more than what she had. I ended up getting a B.S. and an M.S. I paid for my undergrad degree with scholarships, grants, and some student loans. I paid for my master’s mostly with student loans, but did get a scholarship that covered tuition for one year. My loans are all federal. Thankfully, I went to in-state schools and got enough scholarship money that I didn’t have to take out private loans.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn’t have many conversations about money. My mom would occasionally tell us not to spend frivolously like our father, and she tried to stress the importance of saving, but that was really it. I’ve started asking her about money, now that I’ve been in my career for about a year and a half, and she does give some pretty solid financial advice when I need it. My father is terrible with money, and I would never have those conversations with him.

What was your first job, and why did you get it?
I started babysitting at 14, but my first tax-paying job was at a campus dining hall when I started college at 17. I got these jobs so I would have spending money and wouldn’t have to ask my parents for things as often.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes. Even though my parents have been separated since I was a little kid, I would still hear them fight about money throughout my childhood. They’d argue about spending habits, missed child support payments, etc. When they separated, my mom, sister, and I stayed with family for a few years, until my mom could buy a house. All of the bills were always paid, and we always had food, but my mom would sometimes skip meals so my sister and I would have enough. I remember being very worried about affording a life on my own. I wouldn’t have even had a laptop for college if it weren’t for the generous family members and friends who gifted me money for my high school graduation.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes and no. While I do make a good salary and can absolutely pay for whatever I need, I also have a ton of debt and I still have negative emotions tied to money. When a bill comes out to more than I was expecting, I start to panic and have to actively remind myself that it’s okay, and that I’m no longer living paycheck-to-paycheck or student loan–to–student loan.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself, and do you have a financial safety net?
The responsibility piece is hard to answer. On one hand, I began paying for my own living/eating/shopping/school expenses when I moved out at 17. On the other, my parents still pay for my phone bill, and I’m still covered under my mom’s health insurance until I turn 26 in a few weeks and enroll in benefits through my workplace. For a safety net, I have an emergency savings account with upwards of $11,000. Also, if I were to lose my job or have a huge medical expense or something, my partner and I could live off of her income alone for a while.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I was laid off from a retail job when the COVID-19 pandemic started, so I collected unemployment for four months, until I started at my current job. I also got the COVID stimulus payments. My mom gave me $2,000 to help with moving expenses when I moved to Washington, D.C., to start my career.

Day One

7 a.m. — Wake up to my alarm and decide to work from home today. I scroll on my phone for 20-ish minutes, until my partner, R., wakes up. We cuddle and roll out of bed around 8 to start our day. R. is in technology, and works from home full-time.

8:15 a.m. — I set up my laptop at the kitchen table and get to work, while R. makes us coffee. Today my work consists of various administrative tasks: I catch up on emails, disclose a negative genetic test result, and enroll one of my patients into a research study.

11 a.m. — We take an early lunch break because we both have 12 p.m. meetings. R. heats up leftover chicken pot pie for us from dinner last night. This was my first time making one from scratch — we think it turned out pretty good!

12 p.m. — I listen in on a Zoom meeting and work on some clinic notes. Then I have another meeting: a yearly performance review, which goes really well. I can tell my supervisors appreciate the work I put in for our clinic, our patients, and the community. That praise goes a long way, and I’m feeling super motivated for the rest of the workday!

3 p.m. — I’m already hungry again, so I make another meal: a chicken sandwich and some strawberries, with a mini can of Dr. Pepper. Soda (and caffeine in general) is my biggest addiction. R. is hungry too, so I heat up some other leftovers from the weekend for her.

5:15 p.m. — Done working for the day. I grab chocolate chip cookies out of the pantry and snack on a couple while we relax on the couch. We watch the latest episode of Holiday Baking Championship before taking our dog, W., out for a walk and a long round of fetch.

7:45 p.m. — R. is heating up more leftovers for dinner, but I’m not hungry at all, so I lie on the couch and watch TikToks while she eats and showers. We get in bed at 8:30, with the intention to read for a while before going to sleep early. Instead, I get out my laptop and end up researching high-yield savings accounts and other tips for financial novices. I get up to feed our cats their wet food, and go to sleep around 9:30.

Daily Total: $0

Day Two

5 a.m. — R.’s alarm wakes us up. Tuesday is an early gym day. We recently purchased a joint membership at a climbing and fitness gym and really want to make the most of it. I am NOT a morning person, but R. is. She stayed up with me for a lot of late study nights during the beginning of our relationship, and I’d like to put in the effort to get up early with her now. Relationships should have a healthy amount of compromise! R. gets dressed and persuades me to get out of bed at 5:15. She takes the dog out and fills our water bottles, while I make breakfast and get ready. I eat toast with peanut butter and strawberry slices in the car. At the gym, we do some bouldering, followed by a quick core workout and stretching.

7 a.m. — I suggest that we get Starbucks. R. reminds me that we can make coffee at home, but gives in pretty easily since we’re both excited that it’s holiday drink season. I add $10 on the Starbucks app and order ahead from the car. I get a tall peppermint mocha, and R. gets a grande caramel brûlée latte. $10

7:35 a.m. — Time to shower, make the bed, and log in to work. I mostly work on preparations for patients I’ll be seeing tomorrow.

11:15 a.m. — Another noon meeting means another early lunch. I eat the last of the pot pie. We’re trying to reduce our food waste. Even if it’s monotonous, it feels great to finish off leftovers before they go bad!

12 p.m. — My team has our monthly peer supervision meeting. This is an opportunity for us to get feedback and support one another. Genetic counseling sessions can be emotionally charged for all involved, including the counselors, so we have this time set aside to touch base and review any difficult cases. After the meeting, I continue working on clinic preparation and follow-up.

4 p.m. — Time to unplug! I change out of the sweatshirt and basketball shorts I’ve been wearing and into a slightly better outfit (read: T-shirt and jeans). R. and I take W. for a long walk. We stray from our usual route and end up finding a really cute park to stroll through, before heading back home.

5:20 p.m. — On our walk, we realize that we forgot to take chicken out of the freezer for dinner, so we stop downtown to get food. There are tons of options, and I decide on MOD Pizza. I go for garlic, onions, jalapeños, and pineapple as my toppings (don’t knock the spicy/sweet combo until you try it!). I also get a Coke. R. gets takeout from Nando’s, and we eat together at an outdoor picnic table. This feels like an unexpected date night! $14.15

6:25 p.m. — Back home for the evening. I spend about an hour and a half playing video games, before R. pops her head into the room to ask if we can spend time together. Quality time is her biggest love language, and I’m happy to oblige. We lie in bed together, watching a couple episodes of You on Netflix, and also cuddling, talking, and joking around. I go to sleep at 11:30.

Daily Total: $24.15

Day Three

7:15 a.m. — I wake up and scroll through Twitter before getting out of bed. I let W. in the room so he can cuddle with R. I get ready, kiss R. goodbye, and am out the door by 8.

8:30 a.m. — Spend my morning sipping coffee and flipping between in-person and telemedicine genetics sessions. I used to have a habit of purchasing a latte every time I went to work, but I had the foresight to pick up a bottled Dunkin’ mocha the last time I was at the grocery store. I am not a breakfast person, so coffee is what usually gets me through to lunch.

12 p.m. — I eat lunch outside with some coworkers. I have leftover pizza and strawberries I brought from home.

1 p.m. — I have four afternoon patients: three follow-ups and one new. New patient appointments take longer, but they’re my favorite because I enjoy explaining DNA/genes/chromosomes and educating families about how genetic testing works. I try my best to respond to emails and voicemails in between patients.

5:15 p.m. — Head home from work. The clinic is closed tomorrow for Veterans Day, and I’m looking forward to relaxing on a weekday. Before I moved to D.C., I didn’t get the minor federal holidays off work. Definitely an unexpected perk of this position!

5:30 p.m. — I’m home, but need to grab a few items from the grocery store nearby. I take my work bag upstairs and see if R. wants to go with me. We need produce, chips and salsa, coffee, and a jar of jalapeños. I add a bag of hot Cheetos to the basket, and R. gets a Gatorade. The total comes out to $27.08. I Venmo request $13 from R. and cover the rest. $14.08

6 p.m. — I make veggie quesadillas for dinner. We hang out and talk for a while before doing the dishes and taking care of the pets.

11 p.m. — We get settled in bed. Before I fall asleep, my mind is racing. I struggle with anxiety. I debate whether I want to talk to R. about how I’m feeling, and ultimately decide to open up and ask for support. We have a long talk about my mental health, and I think we end up falling asleep around 3 a.m. Good thing neither of us has to work tomorrow.

Daily Total: $14.08

Day Four

7:15 a.m. — R. wakes to the sunlight and takes W. for a walk. I think she needs to process our conversation from last night, and I’m glad she takes the time to herself. She gets back around 8, makes some coffee, and comes back to bed to scroll on her phone until I’m ready to get up.

8:40 a.m. — We decide to have a lazy morning and catch up on reality TV. We watch this week’s episodes of Married at First Sight and The Bachelorette. Later in the morning, maintenance comes by the apartment to check the smoke alarm batteries and change the HVAC filters. Since our day has been interrupted anyway, we take the opportunity to eat something. I’m not very hungry, so I opt for snacks instead of a meal. Grapes, beef jerky, and hot Cheetos…breakfast of champions?

12:45 p.m. — I finally will myself to get in the shower and put on real clothes. I have plans to grab a late lunch with my best friend.

1:30 p.m. — Text my friend, P., that I’m on my way and walk to the Metro. The fare is $3.10; I use a prepaid Metro card from work. I get motion sickness from looking at my phone on the train, which I always know is a bad idea and proceed to do it anyway.

2:40 p.m. — Finally make it to P.’s apartment. It’s so good to see her! We have been friends for eight years, and she had a huge impact on my decision to move out here last year. We walk to Subway for lunch. I get a chicken teriyaki sub with cookies and a Coke ($10.21). We catch up and talk about our respective work dramas. She’s in government, and I’m in healthcare, but we love hearing each other’s tea nonetheless. P. wants to check out a comic book store nearby. It’s an awesome shop, but we leave empty-handed. On the way back to her place, we see a little tea shop neither of us has been to and decide to go in. I pick up a serving of loose tea to bring home for R. to try ($3.71). $13.92

4:15 p.m. — We head back to P.’s apartment to catch up a bit more. I play with her cat and watch her play Animal Crossing. After a while, I order an Uber for a ride home. I don’t feel like taking the Metro. $25.90

6 p.m. — I walk in the door and immediately need to lie down. I was reading some texts from R. in the Uber and, you guessed it, got motion sickness. After a few minutes, I get up to make dinner. We planned to make a curry today, but the store didn’t have red curry paste. I make a gourmet meal of Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese instead. While the water is boiling, I clean the bedroom. We start two loads of laundry and watch a few episodes of Criminal Minds on Hulu.

9 p.m. — R. takes W. out, and I run down the hall to switch the laundry that we completely forgot about. The next time we move, I definitely want to splurge for an in-unit washer and dryer. My sister calls while I’m getting ready for bed. We talk for about 30 minutes. It’s great to hear her voice. I go to sleep around 10:30.

Daily Total: $39.82

Day Five

7:20 a.m. — It’s Friday and I’m working from home, so I allow myself to wake up slowly. We cuddle with W. for a while, and I finally log in to work at 8:20.

8:45 a.m. — I remember that we’re out of milk, so R. can’t have her usual cereal for breakfast. I remedy the problem by ordering bagels and coffee from Einstein. You get a free coffee anytime you order on the app, and I’m a sucker for a good deal. I get two bagels with toppings, a caramel cold brew, and a medium hot coffee (for free, yay!). We take W. and walk to pick it up. $11.72

9 a.m. — I eat my jalapeño bagel, sip my cold brew, and settle in to do more work.

12:30 p.m. — Lunch break. I throw together a salad using a bagged mix and some things from my fridge. I add chicken and croutons to keep me full longer. I read a Money Diary while I eat. Then I listen in on a Zoom meeting, and do more patient follow-up tasks for the rest of the day.

5 p.m. — I put in a last-minute test order for an admitted patient and run out the door. I have an appointment to get my COVID vaccine booster at CVS. R. comes along to get a flu shot. While I’m waiting near the pharmacy counter, I pick up the Christmas cookies edition of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. These recipes look amazing and I want to bake all of them, so I buy it. We also pick up two bottles of soda, a bag of KitKats, and an Icy Hot patch for R. because she has a sore knee. The total is $34.06, but after coupons and rewards from my CVS CarePass, it comes down to $14.37. The machine asks if I want to round up to donate to the American Diabetes Association, and I press yes. $15

6 p.m. — We cook chicken drumsticks in the air fryer and pair them with brown rice and veggies for dinner.

9 p.m. — We decide to do a late workout. We stop for gas on the way. It’s my turn to pay (we alternate filling the tank). At the gym, I start off with stretching and core, and then we boulder for about 45 minutes. Before today, I could only complete intro-level climbing problems. But practice has been paying off, because today I completed three V0 climbs! Obviously, I’m still learning the basics, but I’m so proud of myself. R. stops at McDonald’s on the way home and gets me a Coke to celebrate. McDonald’s Coke just hits different than other sodas — you cannot tell me otherwise. We get home at 11, and I fall asleep around midnight. $52.18

Daily Total: $78.90

Day Six

8:10 a.m. — We wake up and have a very lazy morning. I stay in bed watching TV and playing Animal Crossing, until my friend N. texts me that she’s coming over soon. We have plans to go out and start our Christmas shopping. She gets here at 10:45. We both need a few grocery items, so we walk to Giant. I get red curry paste (they finally have it in stock!), jasmine rice, milk, two doughnuts, and a bottle of peppermint mocha creamer. We run the groceries back to my apartment, and then I scarf down one of the doughnuts on our way to the car. $28.20

12 p.m. — Time to shop! First, I take N. to check out the Container Store, since she’s never been. She gets a plastic bin to store her cleaning supplies. I spot a book on meditation and crystals for beginners and pick it up to give to P. for Hanukkah ($15.89). Next stop is Starbucks. I redeem stars in the app to get a free drink, a grande peppermint mocha, of course. Coffees in hand, we walk to Barnes & Noble. The last time we were here, R. pointed out an elaborate 1,600+ piece Lego set of the Statue of Liberty. I figure this would be a great Christmas gift. I also purchase a deck of cards with ideas for things to do when traveling. We take a lot of road trips, and this looks like a fun way to liven them up! Legos are NOT cheap — my total comes to $126.82 after a member discount. We pop in and out of a few more stores. I buy a toy for W. ($10.59) and a handmade glass business card holder for my desk at work ($27.56). $180.86

2 p.m. — Next, we grab a late lunch at Noodles & Company. I get penne pasta fresca and a bottle of Smartwater. We eat and discuss what we’re looking forward to about the holidays. $11.66

2:30 p.m. — Time for my favorite part of every weekend: a Target run! N. picks out Christmas decor for her apartment. I end up leaving with a canvas print to hang in our living room, refillable soap/lotion dispensers for the bathroom, a few plain black picture frames, and a book to give to my mom for Christmas: Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman. The total is $98.15, but R. Venmos me $38 for half the cost of the household items. $60.15

3:30 p.m. — We drive to yet another shopping center. N. wants to look at clothes for her boyfriend, and I have a few gifts to buy at REI. The first thing I pick up is a U.S. National Parks jigsaw puzzle that R. wants. I also get a sticker to put in R.’s stocking and a lanyard with a print of the Maryland flag for a friend who is visiting me later this month. She collects lanyards, and this is her first time visiting me in the DMV! As a transplant to the area, I truly don’t understand Marylanders’ obsession with their flag. If I’m being honest, it’s a pretty bad pattern, but I digress. After REI, we walk around L.L. Bean and West Elm, but neither of us buys anything. $43.99

4:30 p.m. — We stop at a bubble tea shop on the way home. N. gets a citrus tea with aloe pieces. I get honeydew milk tea with boba for myself, and a mango strawberry smoothie and spicy chicken onigiri for R. $16.70

5:30 p.m. — N. helps carry our stuff back up to the apartment and distracts R. while I hide her gifts. The three of us watch this week’s episode of the Great British Baking Show on Netflix before N. calls an Uber. R. bakes a frozen pizza, and I eat a few slices for dinner. We get the pets settled and get in bed at 9:30. R. falls asleep right away, but I stay up snacking on hot Cheetos and watching Criminal Minds until after midnight.

Daily Total: $341.56

Day Seven

10 a.m. — We roll out of bed to start our day. R. takes the dog out, and I try my hand at making lattes with our Ninja coffee bar. They don’t turn out great. After sipping our sad coffees and hanging around the house, we get ourselves and W. ready to meet some friends of mine for a hike at Great Falls. R. searches the apartment and car for the national parks annual pass we purchased earlier in the year, but to no avail. Looks like we lost it. We’re running late and I haven’t eaten anything yet today, so I microwave two Hot Pockets to eat in the car on the way.

1 p.m. — We pull up to the park entrance and discuss whether we want to pay for a day pass or another annual pass. We decide on the annual, since we often take trips to Shenandoah to hike. I pay, since R. paid for the previous one. $80

4:45 p.m. — We hiked over 5 miles and are feeling tired and hungry. It was lovely to catch up with friends, but we’re more than ready to go home and relax. We stop at a combination KFC/Taco Bell a few blocks from our place. I get a chicken sandwich and two soft tacos. R. gets a two-piece fried chicken meal and a chicken quesadilla. R. pays. At home, we eat together, relax, and pass out at 10 p.m.

Daily Total: $80

If you are experiencing anxiety or depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.

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