A Week In Mesa, AZ, On A $62,000 Salary

Laveta Brigham

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar. Are you starting your first year of college this fall? Will you […]

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.

Are you starting your first year of college this fall? Will you be tuning into virtual classes from your childhood bedroom? Email us here to share your story.

Today: a system analyst who makes $62,000 per year and spends some of her money on a True & Co bra.

Occupation: System Analyst
Industry: Higher Education
Age: 26
Location: Mesa, AZ
My Salary: $62,000 (plus a tuition waiver of $4,763 for the spring semester of grad school, I will get an additional waiver for the summer)
Husband’s Salary: $68,500
Net Worth: -$6,000 (My retirement (401(k) and two IRAs) is around $30,000, and then we have a mix of Fidelity, Ally, and Edward Jones accounts totaling $23,470 split between us. We combine our bills and savings but also have our own accounts and separate checking for individual goals.)
Debt: $42,000 in student loans (my husband pays his student loans separately, which are $30,000)
My Paycheck (2x/month): $1,697
Husband’s Paycheck (2x/month): $2,180
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,535 (Two-bed, two-bath in a “luxury” complex. Includes washer and dryer and nice amenities. This place is more than we’ve ever paid in rent and it hurts. But we’re both homebodies (even before COVID) so it’s definitely worth it.)
Student Loans: $0 (in deferment because of grad school. Both cars paid off.)
Retirement: 7% per paycheck, matched by the state
Health, Dental, & Vision Insurance: $133.52 (for my husband and me)
HSA: $36.40 plus employer contributes of $111
Monthly Tuition Payments: $800-$2,000 depending on timing. All put on a credit card for those sweet points and paid off in full each month.
Utilities: $130
Internet: $85.99
Car Insurance: $75.71 (Husband pays his separately)
Renter’s Insurance: $9.58
Phone Bill: $123.19
HBO Max, Hulu, iCloud, Spotify: $31.83
Netflix and Amazon Prime: Husband’s mom

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?
There was not an expectation that I would attend college, in fact, it was assumed I would not. I was raised Jehovah’s Witness and higher education is shunned. I left the religion when I was 16. For my undergraduate degrees, I used a combination of grants, loans, scholarships, and payment plans. For my current graduate degree, I’ve also used a combination of loans, scholarships, and payment plans. I’ve handled the brunt of the cost for my graduate degree, making large payments on my tuition bill every payday.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?

I knew from a young age that we did not have money. Or maybe that we had money but my family did not manage it well. I remember being younger than six and afraid to ask for something at a store or order something at a restaurant because of the price. My two younger siblings and I frequently had our electricity shut off and we were on reduced/free lunch programs at school. My mom received WIC checks when we were very young. My parents, and later my legal guardians, did not educate me about money and that is probably why I made some of the poor decisions about where to attend college. I didn’t get a credit card until after graduating college because I was always afraid to fall into credit card debt.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I was in 5th grade and got two paper routes and started detasseling corn in the summers (if you’re not from the Midwest, Google it — straight-up child labor). I wanted to save up my own money for school clothes and school supplies instead of going to Goodwill with my mom. Turns out, I had to have her on my bank account since I was a minor and she stole almost all the money over the years. I learned to not deposit my checks in that account anymore. I was so excited my first summer detasseling, I saved up enough money for a 64g iPod Classic.

Did you worry about money growing up?

Yes, I worried a lot about money growing up.

Do you worry about money now?

Yes, I will always have that fear. It is ingrained into me from childhood. Even though I’ve had good jobs and am well into my twenties and in graduate school, I will never forget the struggles from my childhood or college when I worked three jobs and slept four hours a night while enrolled in 18-21 credit hours and involved in too many extracurriculars. I’m recently unemployed, so that fear and anxiety are very present.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?

Around 16/17. I sued my abusive birth parents for legal guardianship and lived with my best friends’ parents. They provided unconditional love, a kind home, food, and necessities, but anything else I wanted (like Buckle jeans or Sperry shoes) was up to me. Only recently have I felt that I have some breathing room. In the past two years, my husband and I have been aggressively saving and investing. We can afford me not having a job right now. I also have the ability to look for the right job without pressure to take the very first offer, but I’m also not above working retail if it gets to that point.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

My step-grandmother bought me a new (sensible) car in high school, which I’ve always felt like I did not deserve and makes me seem privileged despite my upbringing. I don’t know if that was their way of apologizing for my shit childhood, but that car put me so far ahead. I still own it, with 130,000+ miles and have no plans to get rid of it anytime soon. My stepdad and that side of my family has farming money, but I’ve never asked about it and don’t even know how many acres their farm is. I’m probably too proud for my own good. I don’t want to owe anyone anything (except maybe my husband since he’s a true partner).

Note: This Money Diary was submitted at the end of June. Since then, the diarist has had some life updates:
As of July 13th, I am no longer employed at the job described in the diary. My husband and I moved to Arizona for this position and it has been disheartening how little care my previous employer gave in my termination. I was given two weeks of administrative leave with pay. I am in a very lucky position to be married and have the option to get onto my husband’s insurance — I don’t know what I would do if I was single. While I never intended to stay in the role long term, I certainly did not think I’d get fired during a pandemic. The terms of my termination might exclude me from filing for unemployment benefits too. Now I’m one of millions in the job market. I cried and moped around my apartment for the first few days then signed up for LinkedIn Premium, updated my résumé, and signed up for an industry-respected certification. I’m still in my online graduate program which wraps up in December. This program will help catapult me into a completely new career field.

Day One

7:30 a.m. — Starting the diary with a swerve. Wake up before husband (A.) leaves for work to take a pregnancy test. I’ve felt off for the past few weeks, missed my period, and noticed some weird things that made me think I was pregnant because, of course, I Googled it. Been on the same birth control pill since 2013 and have only had a few scares. Always good to check, right? PRAISE, it is negative!! We are not interested in hatching anything, not now or ever.

8 a.m. — Fix my messy bun, throw on a crewneck sweater, grab my glasses, and get comfortable in my reading chair to tune into a webinar that goes until 1:30. I precariously hold my laptop and a cat for the next few hours. At some point during the morning, I clean cat puke from the kitchen floor.

12:30 p.m. — Stretch break to make some iced coffee. I let the coffee get cold from when A. makes it and add creamer, ice cubes, and a metal straw. Yum.

3:30 p.m. — Snack on some baby carrots and catch up on emails. Get on a Zoom call.

4:45 p.m. — Move from the office to the living room. It’s A.’s computer game night with friends back home. Tuesdays are the one night I tell myself that I can get away with not doing anything related to my online class since he’s claimed the office, but really I just want to be lazy. Just kidding, I watch two lectures and take a quiz. Now all I have left is a homework assignment and a final exam due Sunday. Then a week break before starting my next class which is Data Mining Using Python!

7:30 p.m. — I shower and do all the hygiene things (hair, shave, exfoliate, etc.). I love showers but hate the chore of washing my hair and usually only do it once a week or less. I have super long hair and have had enough of it.

8:30 p.m. — Since he’s been going into the office every once in a while, A. orders more masks from Amazon from our joint account ($20.57) and new cat boxes with covers from PetSmart ($58.97). We’ve alternated between covered and uncovered over the years but one of them keeps peeing on the edge of the box and it’s getting onto the carpet/wall. I think uncovered is better for their breathing, but we can’t have this in an apartment! We talk about getting our carpets cleaned soon and plan to deep clean this weekend. $79.54

9:30 p.m. — I make a massive taco with melted shredded cheese, salsa chicken, rice, spinach, salsa, and guacamole. Eat some Doritos after while watching some Westworld.

11:30 p.m. — Sweet tooth calls. A. made brownies last week and I have one with some Blue Bell Cookie Cake ice cream and watch YouTube.

Daily Total: $79.54

Day Two

2 a.m. — Why am I like this. Brush my teeth and crawl into bed.

8:30 a.m. — Ignore/snooze my persistent alarms. Throw on leggings, crewneck sweatshirt, and glasses, fill my water, and take birth control and allergy meds. Run a brush through my hair since I went to sleep on it wet and my part is wacky. I’m in meetings/webinars all day. Around midday I have the same iced coffee as yesterday.

1:30 p.m. — My manager sends me an email informing me that I was approved for $4,800 towards my tuition this fall!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am SO happy. I’ve been on a payment plan putting $860 towards my bill every payday. It’ll be such a relief to add this money to savings and investing this fall. Send A. a message that I have good news and we talk for five minutes.

6 p.m. — Special class webinar in preparation for the final and last week. Only four of us join the Zoom call so it turns into a more intimate chat with the professor. He gives us interview and career advice, talks about some of his experiences, and answers our questions about the homework and final. This has been one of my favorite classes so far and I love how personable he is, even though we’re online students.

6:45 p.m. — Pour milk into my fancy silver-rimmed cocktail glass and eat some Oreos while wrapping up work. A. did a quick grocery store run earlier this week but don’t worry, there’s another large haul coming soon.

8:30 p.m. — Make one of my favorite lazy meals. Boxed macaroni and cheese with pan-fried mixed veggies on top. This time it’s the store brand cheesy spirals and a mix of frozen squash, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and zucchini. While I eat, I watch the second to last episode of Westworld. Then, more YouTube and Instagram scrolling. Before A. goes to bed around midnight I tell him I’m thinking about doing virtual counseling through my university. I was waiting until things went back to “normal” to find a counselor that I really connected with but it looks like things are heading in the opposite direction here in Arizona. Without going into much detail, I’m processing some complicated emotions and painful memories from my childhood that I’d like help with.

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

1:30 a.m. — Brush my teeth and randomly decide to trim my eyebrows with my cat watching on the counter. I watched a video of someone using a tiny comb and nail scissors to trim their brows to give them a more polished look and I decided YOLO, mine are thicker than normal and I usually pluck them every few weeks. It turns out so good! But def terrifying having scissors that close to my eyeball. Sleep time.

9 a.m. — Another training webinar, one on one with my manager, and then project meetings with my coworker to discuss our current items and review what I’m working on.

12:45 p.m. — Same coffee as yesterday. Take a “lunch” break to show A. how to peel a kiwi and we talk about the stress of his work during these times. He recently got back to a full-time schedule after being furloughed for eight weeks. It was an odd couple of months for us. He received unemployment, but it was a hassle since we didn’t live in Arizona last year. He ended up filing again in our previous home state. He’s so hype to be full time again, but his company is doing massive layoffs next week and his department has to process terminations. He forwards me the SEC filing with the official numbers across multiple business units. We both used to work for the same company before moving and I’m scared for my friends back home. I send them a few messages and we talk through the stress.

2:58 p.m. — Browsing through Instagram and see an ad for True and Co. bras. I’ve been wanting to buy a few more bras that are comfortable for the WFH life. Find two that are on sale; one strapless and one wireless, racerback style that looks more like a yoga top than a bra. My favorites! Is it weird that I like how easy it is to put on a strapless bra? I use a coupon code that I literally just found on Google and save $15. Cannot believe I found two bras for less than $40! $39.95

4:30 p.m. — I place a pickup order for sandwiches and the hummus munchie from Cheba Hut. Since I’m the one that enjoys eating out more frequently, I try to cover the cost more often. It is disgustingly hot outside and I laugh at the fact that I dress like it’s the middle of winter inside my apartment but have to remove all the layers to venture outside. A. and I watch two episodes of Bojack Horseman before accidentally napping until around 9. $34.17

10:15 p.m. — I’m determined to start on my final exam. I outline the topics and examples I plan to use and any sources or slides I want to reference in the paper. All of my other classes have had proctored online exams or presentations for the final, so a 10-page SINGLE-SPACED paper is not the norm. I’m focused on research and stay up until 2 again. Maybe this is my life now.

Daily Total: $74.12

Day Four

2:27 a.m. — Finally wrap up my research for class. I have a 1:1 with my director tomorrow to talk about racism in our workplace. I sent them an email last week about some comments made during a staff meeting and asked for a meeting to brainstorm solutions. I grew up in a very conservative farming family and was actually a registered Republican until about a year ago. I’ve taken the past few weeks to educate myself and acknowledge how different and privileged my life is compared to others, especially Black people.

9:30 a.m. — Contacts and button-down shirt today. The meeting with my director goes surprisingly well even with technical problems with Zoom! It was nicer talking to her over the phone anyway. Watch more webinars and have a lot of back and forth conversations about test cases with a user.

10:45 a.m. — I drink my coffee hot this morning with the same creamer. I’m debating ordering BBQ tonight from a local, black-owned shop in Tempe…TBD if I can convince A. to eat out two nights in a row. The audacity.

12:34 p.m. — Take a break and wash some dishes. The new litter boxes and face masks arrive!

1:47 p.m. — I got paid today and $500 is direct deposited into the shared checking account. I usually put $800 per payday into my tuition bill using my credit card since I’m trying to save points for international flights. A. and I didn’t take a honeymoon when we got married in January and we were planning to go to Europe for an anniversary trip. LOL THAT’S PROBS NOT HAPPENING THIS YEAR. Waiting for the tuition voucher to process to see if it’ll pay off my bill for June.

2:03 p.m. — I read a Money Diary where the OP talks about being thankful that she made friends before Covid-19. I have been in Arizona about eight months and still haven’t made a friend outside of work colleagues. It is tough out there for adults and now I am homesick. Text with my aunt for a bit — she’s checking up on us since there are fires all over the state and the daily COVID-19 case curve is pretty much a straight vertical line.

2:30 p.m. — I am so distracted today. The cats are being too cute sitting in the recliner and of course, that means photoshoot. I probably take and send the same photos to A. almost every day that he’s at the office. I have a virtual work happy hour at 3. Have my rosé chilled and ready!

4 p.m. — That was so fun! There were more than 60 of us. We had a friendly competition with movie trivia using the site menti.com while I drank a glass of Rose D’anjou from the Loire valley. It’s a grenache grape and very flavorful.

4:45 p.m. — My order from Ulta was delivered while I was in trivia. I bought Squalane face oil, Physician’s Formula eyeliner, Pixi Glow Tonic, Clinique moisturizer, Essence Lash Princess mascara, Milani setting spray, Elf Poreless Primer, and Elf brow pencil. I’m the type that wears a full face of makeup every day when I’m around people. I’ve been using this time at home to practice and get better at makeup. Hoping the moisturizer products save my skin from this Arizona summer. It was $107 but I paid last week.

6:23 p.m. — A. is stuck at work so I take some cheese and crackers back to my desk to keep working. Try to get registered for telehealth counseling but the site isn’t recognizing that I’m a student. Ugh, another excuse to put off getting help. Guess my two cats will have to do for now.

7:30 p.m. — A. is still at work so I drive to pick up food for us. I get pulled chicken, smoked wings, macaroni and cheese, French fries, and a strawberry tart. Total comes to $36.08 with $15 tip. $36.08

Daily Total: $36.08

Day Five

12:30 p.m. — Lazy morning and coffee with A. We sit on the balcony for about five minutes with the cats. It’s already over 105 outside.

8 p.m. — Honestly, this day was a blur. I spent the entire day working on homework. I also review my voluntary retirement account options and decide to open a 457(b) but need to talk with someone about the fee structure and get a better understanding of the portfolio. Planning to put $200 per paycheck into the pretax account.

9:30 p.m. — We venture out to pick up Crumbl cookies. He pays. We were seriously addicted to these cookies when we first moved and were getting them almost every week and it’s been a personal development thing to only buy them once a month. I have one with a glass of milk at home. I don’t remember what I ate today, probably leftovers or a sandwich.

Daily Total: $0

Day Six

8:30 a.m. — I’m up early for the weekend and already hate myself for the ambitious plans. I body shower, put on CC cream, eyebrow gel, and mascara and drive to a neighboring town for a haircut. I had planned on getting it chopped back in March but coronavirus. I sign a waiver and she takes my temperature. We both wear masks the whole time and she takes 16 inches off!! My hair pretty much touched the toilet seat when I sat down and was getting unbearable. She bundles up the hair for me to donate. We talk about the next appointment and what my hair goals are now that I’m a whole new person. I set an appointment for three weeks from now for the color job. Cut, consultation, and tip come to $170. I justify this because I only get my hair done a few times a year. $170

11:45 a.m. — After leaving the salon, I decide to buy a coffee from a new place. I’m not in this part of the valley very often and look up a place with a drive-through. I buy a cold brew with heavy cream and a tiny bit of vanilla. $4.39

12:30 p.m. — I eat another cookie with my coffee as A. and I marvel at my new look. I take some selfies and share them with the world. He says I look like an adult.

1:30 p.m. — Remember that ten-page paper that’s due today? Yeah, I have to write it. Over the next ten hours, I write the entire paper. A. edits and reviews for me and I submit right at 10:57 pm, three minutes before the deadline. Nothing like some solid procrastination to light the fire.

11:35 p.m. — I’m in a dazed state and realize I haven’t eaten anything besides sugar and caffeine earlier. Heat up a chicken pot pie and finish off the rosé from earlier this week. My big reward for finishing the class is watching the final episode of Westworld… WOW! Can’t wait for season four. I eat some ice cream and then carrots. Bed around 2 a.m.

Daily Total: $174.39

Day Seven

9 a.m. — I wake up and see that I have no meetings today! What is life? I sleep a bit longer and decide to work later tonight. My loyal cat joins me in bed. He’s weirdly protective when I’m sleeping alone.

11 a.m. — A. made coffee and decided to work from home today. Tomorrow his company is doing massive layoffs and he’s anxious about the process. He’s pretty sure his job is safe, but I’m not that optimistic. I’m worried for him and all of our friends back home. Both of us have a hard time concentrating with all the news and impending doom. I also find out about Trump’s executive order banning new visa applications. This is going to completely gut the higher education system. Universities like mine have a heavy international student population. I spiral into news reading, toxic Facebook scrolling, and Reddit. I snack on some Doritos during the day.

5:30 p.m. — Put our grocery list together and sort through paper coupons. For the most part, we’ve been using Instacart to get groceries, but the prices are SO HIGH. I understand why and try to tip well too, but I decide to brave the chaos that is Arizona right now and go shopping. Mask, hand sanitizer, list, and coupons ready. Buy frozen French fries, chicken strips, chicken breasts, guacamole, two avocados, frozen potatoes, lettuce and spinach bags, provolone, green grapes, salsa, dressing, croutons, red pepper flakes, gnocchi, two bags of coffee beans, strawberries, parmesan Goldfish for me, Pringles, tortilla chips, dish soap, napkins, small paper plates, and replaceable dish brush heads. Can’t find hand soap refills, gallon plastic bags, or frozen gyoza. I pay with our joint account. $84.46

7:30 p.m. — I went a little crazy last week with Loft clearance. I try on all the clothes and realize the sizing is completely made up. There’s a pair of elastic pleated shorts and a peplum shirt that fit A. and a dress that I could fit two people in! I ask if he wants to keep the shorts for around the house (LOL). It’s always so tough buying stuff online. I usually get things too small and overcompensated I guess? Only four of the nine things are in the Yes Pile.

8:30 p.m. — A. and I have sex for the first time all week. We joke about how hot our bedroom is, especially for being newlyweds. Both of us are starving and try to find a local Mexican food place that’s open. Nothing, of course, we live in Mesa and everything closes at like 8. We cave and order Chipotle bowls, chips, and queso for pickup. We finish the last season of Bojack Horseman…and talk until past midnight about the impact of the show. Highly recommend if you like watching animated shows about depression, alcoholism, and the troubles of fame? $31

Daily Total: $115.46

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