A Week In San Diego, CA, On $23 An Hour

Laveta Brigham

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: an emergency veterinary technician who makes $23 an hour and spends some of her […]

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: an emergency veterinary technician who makes $23 an hour and spends some of her money this week on a spicy tuna roll.

Occupation: Emergency Veterinary Technician
Industry: Medical
Age: 31
Location: San Diego, CA
Salary: $23/hour + overtime (usually around $50,000/year before taxes)
Net Worth: ~$127,371 (~$107,000 equity in my house (I have $124,000 left of my mortgage) + $4,800 in savings + $18,507.22 in IRA + $1,273.83 in 401(k) + $418.02 in HSA – debt)
Debt: $124,410.46 on my mortgage, $4,627.33 on my car loan
Paycheck Amount (Bi-weekly): $1,300-$1,500 depending on overtime
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,038 for my portion. I share a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. I rent my house to a friend who covers my mortgage ($952.67), property taxes, and the insurance on the property, so I only pay maintenance costs on the house, but I’m not making a profit.
Car Loan: $145.31
Electricity: ~$70 for my share
Internet: $30.95 for my share
Utilities: ~$60 for my share
Health Insurance: $0 (very minimal plan with high deductible, covered by my employer)
Eye Insurance: $2.58 automatically deducted from each paycheck
Dental insurance: $0 (very minimal plan, covered by my employer)
HSA: $25 automatically deducted from each paycheck
Spotify: $10.59
Streaming services: $0 (I mooch off my parents and boyfriend)
Phone: $10, paid to my dad, still on the family plan
iCloud Storage: $0.99
Start Planner Subscription: $10
Savings: $100-$400
401(k): 3% automatically deducted from my paycheck, my employer does not offer matching
IRA: not currently contributing, started with a previous employer

Yearly Expenses:
Renter’s Insurance: $125/year
Rental Dwelling Insurance: $0 (paid by my bank and incorporated into my mortgage payment outlined above)
Car Insurance: $711.66/year

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. Both of my parents attended college, and it was a known expectation from a young age that I would get a four-year degree. My parents participated in a program that allowed them to prepay my tuition to a state school before I was enrolled (similar to some 529 plans). By participating they were able to pay the current rate (they paid for four years worth of tuition in 1995) rather than the rate when I was actually a student (2007). I’m not sure if this particular program still exists. They also covered my room, board, and cost of books.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents started teaching me about budgeting from a young age. I had an allowance in exchange for chores from the age of 5 until I was old enough to get a job. I was required to put a certain amount per month into savings, another portion towards charity, and the rest was “fun” money. If I did not do enough chores in a month, I was required to cover my savings and charity money first and would not earn any “fun” money. I paid for gifts for friends’/family members’ birthdays out of my own money to help me learn that even “fun” money should be budgeted. My dad also taught me and my sister about investing when I was in high school. He gave us each $100 and showed us how to pick and invest in stocks. We didn’t make much at it, but it was a good economics lesson.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I worked as a stable hand in exchange for horseback riding privileges starting around 10 years old and helped with food prep in the kitchen of the restaurant my parents owned for a few years (under the table) when I was 12-14. I also did a lot of pet sitting and some babysitting in high school. My first “real” job was re-shelving books at the local library at 16.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No. My family had some financial setbacks when my dad changed careers but basically shifted from upper middle class to middle class. We always had food on the table and maintained ownership of our house.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes. I picked a career based on passion rather than financial stability. I feel like I have to budget carefully to have anything left over to put towards savings or retirement. I moved from a low COL area to a high COL area a year ago and I have had to make major lifestyle adjustments to live within my means. I worry about any unexpected expenses and that I’m not putting enough away for retirement.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
22 years old, when I graduated from college. I have a small amount in savings that could float me short term, but if I was unemployed for more than a month or so, I would have to ask my family for help. Thankfully both my parents and my sister are in positions where they could help me and would be willing to help me if I asked.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes. I inherited $100,000 from my grandmother when she passed away. I spent some of that money on a car (I have since traded that car in for my current car), and the rest went toward the down payment on my house and renovations on my house. Also, as stated above, my parents covered the cost of my tuition for college.

Day One

11 a.m. — I wake up three hours before my alarm (I work nights), but I’m wide awake. I toss and turn, return some texts, toss and turn some more, and eventually give in and get out of bed around 12:30. I went to bed earlier than my body wanted to and apparently it doesn’t feel a full eight hours is necessary. If I’m up I might as well be productive. I make myself coffee and an English muffin with peanut butter. After breakfast, I don my mask and take my dogs to my apartment complex’s small but thankfully deserted dog park.

2 p.m. — I dust, vacuum, and clean the kitchen and bathroom. The apartment is small and it doesn’t take long. I take a long shower, wash my hair, and do my morning skincare. Cleanse, toner, vitamin E eye cream, vitamin C serum, hyaluronic acid moisturizer, and sunscreen. I use all drug store brands, but it still helps fulfill my self-care needs.

3 p.m. — My therapist calls for our appointment. I’ve only “seen” her a handful of times, but I like her so far. Because of COVID, we have not met in person, but she has a friendly, reassuring phone presence. We focus on addressing work stress today and then schedule my next appointment before hanging up. Her office will bill me later after they submit to my insurance. It normally runs $61.20 out of pocket.

4:30 p.m. — My boyfriend, Z., is finishing work for the day so we talk during his 45-minute commute. My work stress conversation spills over into my conversation with him and he agrees to help me draft an email to my boss addressing my concerns. We chat a bit about our plans for tomorrow and confirm what time we’ll be meeting up. I have a date in the afternoon and want to make sure it wraps up before he gets to town (we’re ethically non-monogamous). I eat some leftover red beans and rice with shrimp while we talk. My cat begs relentlessly for a shrimp until I submit and give him a piece.

6 p.m. — I send a few work emails, text tomorrow’s date to confirm, and aimlessly (unsuccessfully) browse online for Christmas gifts. I send out an email to the staff at work to see if anyone has local horseback riding recommendations. I’ve been riding most of my life, but between the expenses of moving across the country a year ago and then COVID, I haven’t been able to get back to it since I moved. I miss it terribly. Luckily, one of our internists has a horse she could use help exercising! She and I arrange to meet Saturday.

9 p.m. — Doze off for a little while — unsurprising given my early wake-up time. I wake up HUNGRY and heat up some frozen ziti with meatballs. I’m impatient and end up eating a chocolate mousse cup that I bought on impulse during my last shopping trip while I wait on the pasta. Nothing wrong with dessert first!

10:30 p.m. — I spend some time working on some continuing education for work. We’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to do any while at work and I’m lagging behind in my yearly requirements. My hospital pays for access to a bunch of online courses, so it’s free to me. After a couple of hours dutifully learning about TIVA protocols and techniques, I take a break and watch a couple of episodes of The Crown.

2:30 a.m. — Quick walk for the dogs and nighttime skincare for me. Cleanse, toner, retinol serum, retinol eye cream, and collagen moisturizer. Then some journaling and social media scrolling before I pop a melatonin and my sleep aid and call it a day around 4 a.m.

Daily Total: $0

Day Two

12 p.m. — Alarm goes off, snooze. I am decidedly an afternoon riser.

12:15 p.m. — Begrudgingly roll out of bed to my second alarm. Start coffee brewing while I take the dogs for a quick walk. Take a body shower and sip my coffee while I get ready for my date. I’ve been seeing C. for a few months now, but he’s currently on the east coast. He flew home in early November so he could properly quarantine before spending Thanksgiving with his parents. He’ll stay with them through Christmas and then be back in California for New Years. Since his east coast departure, we’ve mostly talked on the phone or via text, but we’ve made time today for a real “date.” We both order sushi delivery and talk over FaceTime. It’s good to have some dedicated time for each other after a few weeks of haphazard contact. My spicy tuna roll and miso soup are delicious. I tip generously because the restaurant is a small local place and I want them to be around post-COVID. $23.72

4 p.m. — C. and I hang up and I decide to lie down. I’m feeling tired and a bit sad about nothing in particular. Hopefully, a little nap will help pep me up.

5:45 p.m. — Z. arrives. He lives a few hours away and we trade off who travels each week. We normally only get one or two nights together a week, but it suits our busy schedules and non-monogamous relationship structure well. Z. brings swordfish steaks and uses pasta and veggies from my pantry to make us lemon, garlic, and herb swordfish over linguine with a cucumber salad. He’s an amazing cook and I’m getting spoiled with all his fabulous creations!

8:30 p.m. — After dinner, we spend more time talking. We’re both very verbose when we talk and have a habit of talking for hours when we’re together. He helps me proof the email to my boss and eventually, we end up in my bedroom showing each other how much we’ve missed one another over the past week.

2:15 a.m. — Z. is falling asleep mid-conversation so I tell him to get some rest. I won’t be able to sleep for a few hours, so I begin prepping meals for work this week. I work long shifts, so I always try to have my meals fully prepared and portioned ahead of time. This week, I make bacon and scrambled eggs on English muffins ( I’ll reheat the eggs and toast the muffin day of, but I have everything prepped for easy assembly), bananas for snacks, and a veggie pho for my main meal. The pho recipe is super simple and surprisingly delicious!

5 a.m. — I finish cleaning up the kitchen and load the dishes into the dishwasher. I walk the dogs, nighttime skincare routine, and take melatonin and some CBD oil as I can feel anxiety about work tomorrow creeping in. I crawl into bed and snuggle in with Z.

Daily Total: $23.72

Day Three

10 a.m. — Z. wakes me up to say goodbye. I groggily remind him to take the leftover swordfish and tell him to drive safely. Immeadiate fall back to sleep.

1 p.m. — Alarm goes off. I scroll through texts and emails before getting up. Coffee for me, walk for the dogs. Finish responding to emails while I sip my coffee and have an English muffin with peanut butter.

2:45 p.m. — Head out to meet my colleague at the barn where her horse lives. Even though we’re outside and socially distanced, we wear masks. We joke that we wear them so much at work that we almost feel naked without one these days. She gives me a tour and introduces me to her older mare. We spend some time brushing her and chatting about my riding experience. We warm the mare up in a round pen before I get on for a short ride. The horse and I are both out of riding shape, so we keep the ride brief. Even so, it feels SO good to be back in the saddle. My colleague and I discuss plans for future meetups and I drive home on cloud nine.

5:30 p.m. — Get back home and reheat my remaining ziti and meatballs for a snack. I fill in my planner for the upcoming week to help me mentally prepare for the start of my work week. Saturdays tend to be understaffed and exceptionally busy. My hospital in general has been incredibly busy ever since COVID. Many hospitals are at reduced capacity due to new safety precautions or limited staff and the ERs in the area have been receiving all the overflow. For almost six months now we’ve been seeing almost twice our normal caseload without much additional staff. As per usual, I can feel my anxiety rising thinking about my upcoming work week. I follow my snack with a shower and some stretching and breathing exercises to try to combat my anxiety.

6:30 p.m. — I take the dogs to the dog park for some fetch to tire them out before work. Once my corgi stops returning the ball — his way of saying he’s tired — I walk them back home and finish getting ready. Grab my lunch, heat up my breakfast sandwich to eat in the car, and leave around 7:30.

8 p.m. — Clock in. The ER is busy and it’s non-stop cases. There’s a buzz of gossip among the staff tonight. We received an email earlier in the week that three staff members tested positive for COVID. According to policy, all employees that were in close contact with the individuals have been notified and received rapid tests before returning to work. The email to the staff kept the identities of the positive employees private, but naturally, news travels fast as the positive employees have talked with friends and posted on social media. I recognize one of the employees as someone that I have worked closely with in the past week, but I was not contacted to be tested. I shoot my boss an email asking if this was an oversight. The doctor I’m working with tonight was informed he should be tested and is awaiting his results. He was told to keep coming to work unless he developed symptoms.

9:45 a.m. — I finally clock out. It was NON-STOP all night. I’m leaving over an hour late and I’m very hungry because I never got a chance to take a lunch break. I inhaled a banana in between patients at one point but never got to eat the pho I had packed. I snag a donut from the breakroom and eat it on my drive home. I call Z. while I drive to vent my apprehension about potentially being exposed but not informed I should get tested. I get home and walk the dog and get ready for bed.

10:30 a.m. — I receive a response from my boss. They’re apparently relying solely on a COVID positive employee to provide a list of people they’ve been in close contact with to determine who should get tested. She encourages me to get a test (paid for out of my own pocket) if I’m concerned, but that management does not feel I have been put at risk. I decide to schedule a test to be safe. The rapid tests cost around $150, so I opt for a PCR test that I can get for free. I schedule through CVS for their first available, on Tuesday morning. I try to settle into sleep.

11:45 a.m. — I’m woken up by my phone ringing. It’s the doctor I worked with last night. His PCR results came back this morning and he’s positive for COVID! He’s informed management and expects I’ll be told to get a test soon. UGH! I let him know I’ve already scheduled my PCR test for Tuesday. I debate scheduling a rapid test today, regardless of price, but decide to wait until management contacts me. I worry a rapid test today would be too soon to reflect my potential exposure. I manage to fall back asleep after some tossing and turning and CBD oil.

2:30 p.m. — Woken up again by my phone. This time, it’s my boss. She lets me know about my potential exposure and informs me that I should pursue a rapid test before work. She says I can use PTO if I don’t feel safe coming to work, but I am allowed to return to work as long as I am asymptomatic and the test is negative. She sends me a link for where they would like me to get tested and lets me know I’ll be reimbursed. I schedule a test for this evening. They pre-charge my credit card $150. I have an internal debate about using my PTO. I want to protect my coworkers, but I only have about a week’s worth of PTO and I’ll really need it if I do end up getting sick. I have no symptoms and the doctor and I were both masked the entire shift. I try to mentally calculate how long I’ll be able to pay my bills if I end up being out of work for a few weeks to quarantine. I’m exhausted and sleep-deprived. I decide to sleep on the decision and manage to pass out for a few more hours. ($150.00 expensed)

Daily Total: $0

Day Four

5:45 p.m. — My alarm goes off. I’m feeling far from rested after so many interruptions to my limited time to sleep, but nothing can be done for it now. I toss on leggings and a hoodie, take the dogs for a short walk, down a Red Bull to try to clear my head of its heavy drowsiness, and drive over to the COVID clinic.

7 p.m. — After a bit of a wait and a swab of my nose, I’m headed home to await my results. I shower and once again weigh the risks of going to work. After I dry off and do my morning skincare routine I text my co-workers. They all agree that I can have my role shifted to ICU tonight and one of the other technicians can cover my spot in the ER. They feel confident that they can shift my share of the patients to a separate ward and stay distanced. My test results come back negative and I decide, with my co-workers’ encouragement, that I can go in while still being safe. I assemble my breakfast sandwich to eat on my way in, grab my lunch, and drive to work.

8:15 p.m. — I clock in, a little late after waiting for my test results. The doctor who received his positive tests this morning was supposed to work tonight and they were unable to find a senior doctor to cover the ER. They have an intern covering and to make it more manageable for him, they’ve been turning away non-critical cases all day to lighten his caseload. After so many months of being overwhelmingly busy, it’s strange to walk into a quiet hospital, and even stranger to be secluded by myself in my own ward.

2 a.m. — I eat my lunch of pho between treatments for my patients. This shift is feeling incredibly long and lonely, but I try to be positive. I remind myself I’m staying secluded to keep my coworkers safe while keeping myself out of financial risk. I pass the rest of my shift by concentrating on my patients and keeping the doctor updated using our internal phone system.

8:30 a.m. — Clock out and head home. I call my parents to update them on everything while I take the dogs for their morning walk. My boss emailed this morning to update the staff on the plan moving forward. Upper management plans to be in conference calls all day with corporate and will update us when they’ve determined the next steps. I hope they come up with something more cautious than our current approach. I take some melatonin and my sleep aid and fall asleep around 10:30 a.m.

Daily Total: $0

Day Five

5:30 p.m. — I wake up an hour before my alarm and decide to check my email before trying to sleep some more. I’m glad I do because they’ve made some MAJOR announcements while I slept. They’re splitting the staff into groups and implementing a “pod schedule.” They’ve outlined that each “pod” will work three days (or nights) in a row and then have three days off, while the other half of the staff works. The day shift and night shift of each pod will also be kept as separate as possible. More details to come in a staff meeting that starts via Microsoft teams at 7! I wasn’t expecting to need to be at work until 8, but if I want to attend this meeting, I’ll need to try to get there by 7. I jump out of bed, take the quickest of showers, dry shampoo will have to suffice for my hair, and throw on my scrubs. I decide to bring my dogs to work since I don’t have time to give them a proper walk. I’m out the door, dogs in tow, by 6:30.

7 p.m. — I clock in just in time for the meeting. I find an empty exam room, log in to Teams, and eat my breakfast while I listen to the updates. The rest of the staff joins from home or from various locations scattered around the hospital.

8 p.m. — The meeting wraps up. LOTS of (hopefully temporary) changes. We’re suspending all services other than ER and ICU and we’re all getting tested. We also get split into our groups and my group is one of the smaller ones. It feels a little overwhelming, but I understand it’s based on exposure risk and there’s not much to be done for it. I start my shift feeling both comforted by the seriousness of the action and apprehensive about how it will work.

2 a.m. — Another long shift being isolated from my co-workers. I break for lunch and at least my pho is still delicious. I take my dogs to our outdoor area and play fetch with them. Seeing them happy helps ease my anxieties.

7:15 a.m. — Clock out and leave as the daytime group arrives. It feels incomplete to leave without verbally updating them on all of my patients, but in order to limit interaction between the groups, I’ve left them written notes for each patient. I tell them to call or text with any questions. I drive home and call my parents again to update them. I walk the dogs and would love to fall into bed, but I have my PCR test scheduled at 9:50 a.m. so no rest for the weary just yet. I decide to take a proper shower to make up for my rushed shower last night.

9:30 a.m. — Leave for my appointment. I arrive early but wait in a line of cars for nearly an hour anyways. I receive my test and while they take my insurance information, there is no charge to me for this test. They let me know I’ll get my test results in three or four days. I drive home and immediately go to bed around 11. Exhausted in every sense of the word.

Daily Total: $0

Day Six

5:30 p.m. — Wake up to my alarm. I want more sleep, but the new pod schedule has me assigned to work tonight. Coffee for me and a walk for the dogs. I get ready for work and make myself oatmeal with sliced banana that I quickly eat before heading out the door. I wasn’t expecting to work tonight so I’m low on meal-prepped food. Thankfully, I never ate my pho during my Saturday shift so I still have some of that to bring for my lunch. I also grab some Goldfish Crackers in case I need a snack.

7 p.m. — Clock in. Although the ER is finally back in full swing after a few nights of limiting patients, having the rest of the departments shut down makes for fewer patients in the ICU. It’s still oddly quiet after being so busy for so long. My coworkers once again arrange for me to work ICU and for my share of patients to be kept in a separate ward. I prefer my ER work, and being alone for these long shifts has been very draining, but I soldier on. After tonight I get three nights off.

2 a.m. — Lunchtime again. Pho again. I’m ready for this shift to be over.

7:05 a.m. — We handoff to day shift. Today, it’s the other half of day shift that comes in and it doesn’t go as smoothly as the day before. We’re definitely still working out the kinks. There’s some panic when our client care specialists see the overnight staff logged in to their computers. They’ve apparently forgotten that we still have to take payments at night and are outraged that we would touch their area. I have a tense conversation (over the internal phone) trying to reassure them that everything was sanitized after each use, but that their computers are the only ones that we can process payments on. Some calm is restored and we all agree to find and implement a workaround to avoid this issue moving forward.

7:30 a.m. — I head home, take the dogs for a halfhearted walk while venting to Z. on the phone about the whole ordeal of the past four days. He’s wonderfully sympathetic and I start to feel better until we realize that we won’t be able to see each other until I get my test results back. I go to bed around 9:30 a.m. feeling defeated.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

3:30 p.m. — I wake up to my alarm. Again, I want more sleep, but there’s nothing to be done for that right now. I let the dogs meander on my small, gated patio while I make my coffee and log in for another Teams meeting. I’m not considered upper management at my hospital, but I’m a shift leader and we have our bi-weekly meeting at 4. I log in, unapologetically still in my pajamas.

5 p.m. — The meeting wraps up. We’ve addressed some of the small hiccups we’ve had with the pod schedule so far. We find a workaround for taking payments at night and a more workable solution for the handoff of patients than relying on written notes. My boss brings up keeping employee morale up during this transition and asks for ideas on fun activities. I make the mistake of volunteering an idea and find myself unofficially in charge of employee morale. Quite the challenge considering my own current level of morale, but I start brainstorming more ideas anyway. We hang up and I make myself oatmeal for breakfast.

7 p.m. — I start some laundry and sit down to plan my meal prep for the upcoming shifts this week. I decide I’ll make a potato and egg casserole for breakfast, pasta with asparagus and lemon garlic sauce topped with goat cheese and pine nuts for my entrée, and parfaits for my snack. I plan to quarantine until I have my test results so I place an order on Instacart for asparagus, raspberries, blueberries, Greek yogurt, lemons, fresh rosemary, pine nuts, goat cheese, cheddar cheese, salami, crackers, frozen breakfast potatoes, linguine, eggs, iced tea, coffee, two Lindt chocolate bars, frozen edamame, and two Birds Eye Power Blend frozen meals. I set the delivery for tomorrow afternoon. I let A Simple Favor play in the background. I have a total crush on Blake Lively and will watch anything she’s in. $71.15

9 p.m. — I decide one of my morale-boosting ideas will be an egg hunt. Each group in the pod schedule can hide eggs around the hospital for the other groups to find during their next group of shifts. I don’t care that it’s winter and egg hunts are typically a spring activity. Seasons be damned in the COVID craziness. I order a 100-pack of plastic eggs and a giant bag of candy off amazon. It comes to $40.01, work will reimburse me. ($40.01 expensed)

9:45 p.m. — I try to start a free YouTube yoga tutorial and give up halfway through. I’m just not feeling it tonight. I opt instead for a face mask followed by a long shower. I talk to Z. until he needs to go to bed and then catch up on some journaling. I decide tonight will be a lazy night and binge The Crown and snack on popcorn until I feel tired enough for bed around 3 a.m.

Daily Total: $71.15

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