A Week In New Orleans, LA, On A $70,000 Salary

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 assistant professor who makes $70,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on kayaks.

Occupation: Assistant Professor
Industry: Education
Age: 37
Location: New Orleans, LA
Salary: $70,000
Net Worth: Right around $0 (up from a very negative number!). I have $10,000 in retirement savings, but it’s canceled out by undergrad and grad school debt. I don’t own property or have any inheritances. My partner and I split expenses pretty equally using Splitwise but keep separate finances. We make identical salaries right now so it makes sense to us to divide pretty much everything around the house 50/50.
Debt: $10,000 (undergrad loans and credit card debt incurred during grad school)
Paycheck Amount (1x month): $4,474
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $515 (shared mortgage with my partner)
Loans: $170 to Navient (undergrad loan); variable credit card payments (down to two cards to pay off)
Utilities: $100
Cell Phone: $70
Hulu and HBO: $27 (partner covers Netflix)
Spotify: $10
Washington Post: $10
Pet Insurance: $45 (a scam that I still pay for, for some reason)
National Network of Abortion Funds: $5
House of Tulip: $10 (collective working to provide housing solutions for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals in New Orleans)

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. Education was a big deal in our household. I got a fantastic (for the U.S.) financial aid package from my undergraduate institution. I started undergrad in 2001 and personally took out a $1,800 loan to pay for a laptop; my parents took out I think $20–$30,000 in loans for their portion (for all four years). Once I finally got a stable job in 2016. I took over the remainder of the loans my parents took out (around $10,000 when I took over, I think).

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Very, very limited conversations. I was expected to work from the time I was legally able to, but it was for fun money (I bought most of my clothes and CDs and stuff with the money I earned but my parents paid for everything else). I didn’t really learn to balance a budget or how to treat credit cards until my late 20s, through trial and (lots of) error.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first adult job was as an assistant editor at a small national magazine. I majored in English and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduated from college, but I thought publishing might be a viable career path. I didn’t enjoy it and went to grad school for a Ph.D. in English after one year in that job. Many years of very low salaries (between $19,000 and $25,000 most years) ensued.

Did you worry about money growing up?
To an extent. We always had our major material needs met and were never unhoused or hungry, but finances were definitely stressful for my parents and that stress was palpable at times.

Do you worry about money now?
As of this year, for the first time, no. I don’t have adequate retirement savings (thanks, grad school and early career precarity and exploitation!), but for the first time, I’m not struggling to pay down debts or to put aside some savings each month. Everyone deserves at least $70,000 a year. It’s life-changing.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
23. Not really? My parents have helped out when I’ve really been squeezed, but it’s difficult for them to come up with extra money too and I hate asking them for help. My partner could help out in a pinch but I also don’t want to put that burden on him.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
No.

Day One

8 a.m. — The alarm goes off as I wake up from a dream about being late for a race (?). Kiss my partner, T., and the dog, then roll out of bed and get coffee started. It’s a writing day (summers on the tenure track in the humanities mean working on turning the dissertation into a book), so I feed my two cats and eat a quick bowl of cereal then plop myself down in front of my computer for a few hours. The boss cat sits on my lap and claws at me while I work.

10 a.m. — Reading blogs has me idly browsing the internet for a cheap pearl pendant necklace (after a blog recommends one that costs $375 lolololololol). I remember I’ve put on “real” clothes and jewelry maybe five times since COVID hit and close the browser tab.

11:30 a.m. — I make a big kale salad for T. and myself as we both get ready for lunchtime Zoom calls/webinars (he’s mostly back at regular work but is able to work at home from time to time). The bossy cat screams at me for making her get up. Today is a mercifully light Zoom day.

5:30 p.m. — Costco run! We get three cases of seltzer (our only vice), salad kits, fruit, Lactaid, bourbon and rye, and some snacks (the giant tub of peanut M&Ms was probably a bad idea but it had to be done). Total is $200, split evenly with T. NOLA COVID cases are still really high right now (130ish+/day) so we try to limit outings like this. $100

9 p.m. — Time to catch up on Perry Mason. I’m so ready for the spinoff shows about Della and Lupe!

10 p.m. — We take care of the pets then get ready for bed. My nighttime skincare routine is to wash with Trader Joe’s argan oil, cheap sensitive skin cleanser from Target, then ROC deep wrinkle night cream and eye cream and multi correxion (lol marketing spelling) night cream. I read a little (I, Rigoberta Menchu) before falling asleep.

Daily Total: $100

Day Two

 a.m. — Up, kisses, coffee, cereal, computer. I have a bunch of Zoom meetings in the afternoon and my attention wanders from writing way too much. I think I wrote maybe five sentences? Sigh. It happens. I download N.K. Jemisin’s How Long ’til Black Future Month? from the Libby app and consider it productive procrastination since I’m thinking about teaching one of the stories from it in one of my fall classes.

11:45 a.m. — I reheat some Trader Joe’s orange chicken before the Zoom onslaught starts. First up is a reading/working group, then a webinar, then a class, then a faculty meeting. Some of these things are better than others.

4 p.m. — About a month into the pandemic, when daily temperatures down here started getting into the 100s pretty regularly, I splurged and bought a fancy f*cking treadmill. I lace up my shoes for a long walk/jog. I alternate between Gentleman Jack (I have a lot of thoughts about this show but I’ll spare you the dissertation) and a Zoom faculty meeting to keep myself entertained. I have some ongoing guilt/shock around big purchases since I spent so long being severely underpaid as a grad student/adjunct/visiting assistant professor and I want desperately to finish paying off my credit card debt. I’d originally planned to spend around $600 on a basic model, but all the good ones were back-ordered until September, so I held my nose and bought a $1,600 model. This beast is so, so worth every penny (I use it basically every day and my mood has improved 1000%) and yet I still feel weird about having spent so much money on it.

8 p.m. — Scrabble and scotch. My partner thoroughly kicks my ass. We listen to “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” on the record player while we play. Usual nighttime routine around 10.

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

8 a.m. — Payday! Since I get paid once a month, most of my expenses hit on payday (aside from groceries, house stuff, and books, I’m not buying a lot right now). Coffee, cereal, feed the cats, and I’m at the computer to pay bills before writing. I send my partner money for the mortgage and utilities, pay my student loan payment, and pay off all of my credit cards but one (down to one $2,000 balance on one card!!!! this is momentous!!!). I got a small bonus ($500) for some extra work I took on over the summer, so I’m feeling extra flush this month. I know I should be contributing to retirement savings. Once that last card is paid off (should be in two months), the money that was going to cards will go to retirement and regular savings accounts.

10 a.m. — Paying bills got me surfing the internet, and since I’m feeling so good about having some extra cash, I treat myself to a pair of earrings and a lapel pin I’ve been eyeing on Etsy (Kristina Micotti’s designs are the cutest). I do a little more procrastinating (desk clearing, bookshelf rearranging, laundry) and then finally settle in for a writing session. $47

11:30 a.m. — There’s a farmers market near us that’s been doing a no-contact Sunday drive-through market. Orders are due today and I put in for beef short ribs, a produce variety box, tomatoes, oyster mushrooms, and two chocolate almond croissants for breakfast on pickup morning. Total is $60.32, split with T. I also take this opportunity to finally brush my teeth, wash my face, and do my daytime skin routine (just started using The Ordinary Buffet, then Neutrogena hydrogel extra dry moisturizer and Versed mineral sunscreen (the Versed is also a new purchase and I think it’s irritating my skin). No Zoom calls today so no makeup, which is usually just mascara and sometimes some Glossier skin tint). I also decide it’s lunchtime. I listen to The Adventure Zone podcast while I make a chicken sandwich with a side of baby carrots and jerk-style plantain chips. $30.16

4 p.m. — Social media makes me feel bad for not having participated in any of the actions that have been happening in the city in protest of police violence (if you don’t know the story of Modesto Reyes, which doesn’t seem to be well known outside of New Orleans, I’d encourage you to look it up) and evictions during a pandemic (housing is a human right all the time, but especially right now, good lord!). I set up a $5 monthly donation to the New Orleans Safety and Freedom Fund (revolving community bail fund) and donate $10 to the City Waste Union (hoppers are striking for PPE, hazard pay, and a better living wage). $15

7 p.m. — A friend comes over for a socially distanced outdoor barbecue hang. T. picks up grilling supplies and charges me half through Splitwise. We enjoy a shockingly breezy and not boiling Louisiana summer evening and grill sausages, veggie burgers, eggplant, corn, potatoes, and pineapple. We’re lucky to have a backyard where we can see a few people now and again in a responsible way. $34.50

Daily Total: $126.66

Day Four

8:30 a.m. — Wake up to the little cat screaming for food. Try not to give in but the group text is also blowing up so I just get up and start coffee. T. wants to sleep in longer so I feed the cats and take out the dog.

10 a.m. — T. gets up and makes us pancakes. While we eat, we continue a conversation about buying kayaks (he’s wanted one for a while and since we can’t travel for his upcoming milestone birthday as intended, he’s decided he wants to spend the day kayaking here). Turns out this is another thing people have been pandemic buying so stock is super low. T. makes some calls and finds exactly two of the model he’s been looking at in stock at a sports store about an hour away. We decide to just go get them before someone else does.

12:30 p.m. — “I’m not really buying much these days,” she says. Ha! The kayaks are on sale for $359 each. Paddles are $60, and we also get some straps for the roof rack ($15) and bilge balls (I laugh, for I am a child. $10). With tax, this all comes out to $491.45. This goes on a credit card that I’ll pay off next month. T. is so happy already, it’s money well spent. $491.45

1 p.m. — While the kayaks get loaded up, I go back into the store to look for sun protective clothing (we’ll be kayaking mostly in an unshaded bayou and it takes all of three minutes for me to burn). I get two shirts, a skort, and a big old hat. We’re starving by the end of all this and see an Arby’s. We are trash people and can’t resist the siren song of seasoned curlies. T. treats. $151.23

6 p.m. — We spend the rest of the afternoon lazing and having sexy times. Saturday evenings we usually have a Zoom social hour with some of my friends on the east coast, but the scheduling doesn’t work this week so we’re on our own for entertainment. We eat leftovers for dinner and then put on The Watermelon Woman on the Kanopy app (I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to finally watch this! It’s so good). Lights out around 10:30 after reading more of How Long ’til Black Future Month.

Daily Total: $642.68

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — It’s our first kayaking day! T. makes coffee while I get ready. We strap the kayaks to the roof rack and get a cold bag ready for our farmers market pick up (the farmers market and the bayou are very close to each other so it doesn’t make sense to do two trips). We finally get out the door around 10. I’m feeling anxious — did I mention that I’m mildly terrified of murky water and that we’ll be kayaking on a bayou where alligators live? — but I know I’ll enjoy it once we’re out there.

10:45 a.m. — We realize we need dry bags for our phones and keys so we stop at a sports store in town after we get our farmers market goodies. We eat our croissants in the car and get covered in powdered sugar. $27.34

12:30 p.m. — This is amaaaaazing! It feels so good to be out on the water and the kayaks we bought are great (super stable, easy to maneuver, room for cargo). We alternate between cruising with our beers and paddling hard enough to feel the burn.

2 p.m. — ALLIGATOR. ENORMOUS F*CKING ALLIGATOR. HELP. T. is very calm but I’m ready to jump out of my skin and turn around to head back to the car. This turns out to be the right move, as a huge thunderstorm is brewing behind us. We make it back to the car and get the kayaks strapped in just before the deluge.

4 p.m. — We are SHOT after a couple of hours in the full midday sun. We thought we’d spend another afternoon having sexy times but lol that’s not happening today. I shower, read more of How Long ’til Black Futures Month, and eventually get myself on a Zoom call with friends who’ve been doing a skillshare on Sundays (today’s is on world-building and it’s super fun).

6 p.m. — Even though we’ve got an incredible farmers market haul, neither of us can muster the energy to cook. We order from a falafel place (T. gets a falafel sandwich and I get a doner kebab sandwich). We catch up on I May Destroy You and then end with an episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to lighten the mood (I’m rewatching CEG and T. is watching for the first time). We’re in bed by 10:30. I make it through maybe five pages of my book and I am OUT. That alligator adrenaline really took it out of me. $15

Daily Total: $42.34

Day Six

8 a.m. — T. has a dentist appointment this morning and has to be up and out early so I take care of the pets. Coffee, cereal, computer. I have to work on my syllabi today (I’ve been putting this off because my school’s response to the pandemic has been…chaotic, to put it mildly. It hasn’t made sense to try to make concrete plans for the semester until now). I’m teaching classes I’ve taught before, but I want to make the readings shorter and create some alternative assignments because it’s going to be a terribly stressful semester for everyone, one way or another.

12:10 p.m. — I make a chicken sandwich and a kale salad, forgetting that I have leftover doner kebab in the fridge. I talk to T. about pandemic syllabus redesign and some of the demands for real, concrete changes coming from the Black Student Union at my institution.

5:15 p.m. — I’ve got a draft revised version of one of two syllabi and feel pretty good. Treadmill time, then foam rolling and stretching.

8 p.m. — We eat leftovers for dinner with a side of cucumber and tomato salad made from the farmers market box. After dinner, we let the pets chase the laser pointer for a bit (all three of them go nuts for it), then put on the latest Perry Mason. Sexy times, bedtime routine, and then for some reason, I toss and turn for what feels like forever before falling asleep.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8 a.m. — Kisses, coffee, cereal, computer. It’s another syllabus day and I need to build out my course websites. I hate this part of preparing for the semester. Uploading files takes forever, especially now that there are more video files involved than usual.

12 p.m. — Ugh. I’m already sick of the interface we have to use to build course websites. I eat the leftover cucumber and tomato salad from last night, plus a veggie burger and 10,000 peanut M&Ms.

3:30 p.m. — Not even close to done and officially very cranky. I open a Limoncello La Croix and try not to go back to the M&M trough.

6 p.m. — Oof. Did not handle that workday well. I should have taken a break and walked or done yoga or something because now my shoulders hurt from hunching at the computer all day and I still didn’t get done what I wanted to get done. T. wants pizza and I have no motivation to cook, but every place we try ends up being closed. Eventually, we give in and just scrounge up some dinner. I make a bagel with vegan cream cheese and cucumber from the farmers market. T. goes out to run some errands and I mindlessly scroll TikTok, and when he gets back we watch some Billy on the Street. Pet playtime, bedtime routine, more I, Rigoberta Menchu, and lights out.

Daily Total: $0

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