A Week In Ulster County, NY, On A $86,000 Salary

Debora Carley

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 career nanny and freelance writer who makes $86,000 per year and spends some […]

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 career nanny and freelance writer who makes $86,000 per year and spends some of their money this week on Lagunitas.

Occupation: Career Nanny, transitioning into freelance writing
Industry: Household
Age: 32
Location: Ulster County, NY
Salary: $86,000 (nannying and writing combined)
Net Worth: $11,200 in savings
Debt: $12,000 in school loans, $2,700 in credit card debt
Paycheck Amount (1x/week for nannying): $1,300 cash (plus whatever freelance money I make, usually $2,000/month)
Pronouns: They/them

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $875 for a house with one housemate
Student Loans: $0 (deferred)
Car Lease: $195
Car Insurance: $75
Utilities: $75
Internet: $33
Credit Card: anywhere from $200-$450
Savings: $800
Personal Cell: $110 (on a family plan with friends, more expensive than usual because I recently bought a new phone to be paid in installments)
New York Times Subscription: $7.78 (crossword + monthly plan)
Local Co-Op: $10
Spotify: $9.99
Therapy: $200

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, there was an expectation for me to attend higher education, but it was clear that I was to take out loans for this. I also needed to support myself in New York City while going to school. Working full-time while also going to school full-time just wasn’t an option for me. I was exhausted and couldn’t swing it and eventually dropping out.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I didn’t have any conversations about money. My father loves to have tons of conversations with me about it now, but growing up, I didn’t understand the value of saving or that I should be saving to get larger-ticket items. I think I’m really just coming into an understanding of how saving can help you move forward in life. It’s taken me a long time!

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was at a drive-up hot dog stand in my hometown. Nearly everyone in my family has worked there. My brother and all of my cousins have worked there, so it made sense for me too.

Did you worry about money growing up?
There were so many things I wanted to do but couldn’t do due to my family’s finances. My family had to file for bankruptcy after my mother ran several credit cards into the ground. It’s still a sore spot for my father. I attended a private magnet school for high school, but only because I was awarded a scholarship.

Do you worry about money now?
This fluctuates. I think because I came from a poorer family, I look at what I have and what I earn and I’m very thankful. I’m able to live so comfortably. That said, I still struggle with saving and understanding that I should be putting away for “retirement.” A friend of mine once said that when you grow up poor and you come into money, you spend it as quickly as possible because you think it will go away at any moment. That’s pretty much how I used to live up until a couple of years ago. I’m now starting to save better, hoping one day to own property.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
At age 18, my parents said “GOOD LUCK,” you’re on your own. I haven’t asked for a dime since then, and it’s a point of pride. I first felt financially responsible when I finally moved into my own apartment in New York City. When I started traveling on my own dime, it also had the “I Made It” feeling. I do not have a financial safety net. My parents constantly remind me that were I ever to go broke or need any assistance that I’m always welcome to move back in with one of them. I was also in an incredibly violent relationship in which a good amount of my savings was stolen. I have an amazing group of friends that helped me pay rent that month, with me paying them back eventually. I may not have a proper financial safety net, but understand when it comes down to it there are several folks who would help me in a flash.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Negative. But I wish!!

Day One

6:30 a.m. — I get up and have my usual fruit and seed bread with hummus, melon on the side. I take the morning to review the writing I did last night. I’m happy with a piece I’ve been working on and submit it to a literary magazine before leaving for my nanny gig at 7:45.

8 a.m. — On my way to work, I refill my gas tank — a concept I’m still getting used to since I just purchased my car a little over a month ago. Gas costs $25.08 and it costs $1.25 to cross the bridge to work, but I get reimbursed for gas. On my 30-minute drive through the backroads, I chug my iced coffee and blast some 90s country to get me energized. ($26.33 expensed)

8:30 a.m. — So starts the day with the kids; a three-year-old and one-year-old. The last time I nannied full-time was from ages 24-30. It’s been insane getting my 32-year-old body adjusted back into running mode. Apparently treading water with a three-year-old clinging to your back is not as easy in your 30s as it is in your 20s.

6 p.m. — After work, I swing by Target to pick up household items I’m still lacking — garbage bags, band-aids, laundry detergent, toothbrush, NS ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies with the kids tomorrow. $23.66

7: 15 p.m. — I unwind with my housemate as we both make dinner. I’m trying to cook more and made an incredible dish from Ottolenghi’s Simple cookbook a few nights ago. This cookbook is becoming a quick favorite. I heat up my leftover braised tofu and string beans and relax for an hour before I start on my editing work. For an hour of editing, I charge $50. While I’m working for two literary magazines, I usually try to pull four hours of editing work a night, two hours for each magazine. Since I added nannying into the rotation, I fell behind on this work and am starting to kick myself for taking on essentially two full-time jobs.

10:30 p.m. — I hit a wall tonight, absolutely exhausted from all the activity with the kids. I clocked in three hours of editing work and use my other hour to shop online for clothing I am lacking. In the area where I now live, hiking and swimming are king, and I’ve found I don’t really have clothes for strenuous walking and swimming. I’m particular about clothes, as I’ve been fluctuating within my gender for the past two years. It’s extremely important to me to keep my chest covered in swimsuits and to have full support when wearing flimsy hiking gear. I order a swim rash guard from Hakea, an Australian swim company I have several suits from ($74.06), a raincoat and two pairs of shorts from Dick’s Sporting Goods ($169.02), and two sticks of sunscreen to keep in my car at all times ($23.32). I get into bed and attempt to read a bit from Amelia Gray’s Gutshot, but can barely make it through a page. I pass out quickly. $266.40

Daily Total: $290.06

Day Two

8:30 a.m. — It’s Friday and I’m beyond excited to have a break from the kids for the weekend. I spend the day with them on a hike in a neighboring town and bring the ingredients over for that chocolate chip project. The day flies while we are busying ourselves.

5:30 p.m. — When I leave work, I text a friend who is visiting. They meet me in the back lot of my apartment building and I drive us to a swimming hole I’ve just discovered. We calculate the risk of it pouring rain on us, but both agree that we’re in the mood for a rain swim.

7 p.m. — We catch-up on love interests while we swim and have about an hour of drizzling grey skies before it starts sideways pouring. As I leave the swimming hole, I order pizza ($16.20) and prepare to get cozy in dry clothes with my comfort food. After I pick the pizza up, I grab some Lagunitas ($12.49) on my way home. It is Friday after all! $28.49

9 p.m. — At home, I catch up on the news while eating and afterward settle in for a couple of hours of writing.

Daily Total: $28.49

Day Three

9 a.m. — It’s farmer’s market day, a true highlight of my week. My housemate and I sit down together to cull through cookbooks over our breakfasts (another fruit and seed bread morning, this time with lox and peaches on the side) and we both make a long list of meals we’ll make this week and the ingredients we need to buy for those recipes. I’ve taken to this system recently and have found if I choose meals that inspire me, planning them as lunch or supper, I actually come home excited to cook. It also streamlines what I buy and makes my grocery trips a bit cheaper. This upcoming week, I’m going on a family vacation, so my list will be longer and a tad more expensive since I’ve signed up to make two dinners and two breakfasts for our six family members. My four recipes come from the Ottolenghi book, Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy, and The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook (2007 edition).

10:15 a.m. — We arrive at the farmer’s market and do our loop, seeing what’s in season and forming a strategy. We ogle over greens with some of our favorite vendors and stop by to see friends at their herb farm tent. My last vendor at the market is always the tamales stand where I usually get my low-key lunch for the day. I pick up two tamales ($3/ea), one for myself and one for a friend I’m going to spend the day with. I spend $26 at the market total and take home loads. Bless the market prices. $26

12 p.m. — I pack a simple lunch of tamales, peaches, chocolate chip cookies, and leftover Lagunitas and head to scoop my friend. We drive about 30 minutes to a swimming hole that is new for me and a regular for her. Swimming holes are sacred here, and she says she’ll show this spot to me in exchange for one of my swim spots. We swear each other to secrecy. We spend the entire afternoon in the mermaid pools and pack up around 6 p.m. When I drop her off, she gives me some greens from her garden that I’ll add into my salad rotation.

7:30 p.m. — I arrive back at my apartment and make myself a big salad — homemade blue cheese dressing, roasted almonds, apples over arugula. I’m incredibly hungry and super tired from the day of lounging in the sun. I catch myself up on the day’s news and debate whether I want to write tonight, but give myself the night off and instead watch a movie after I take a cool shower to settle my sun-soaked skin.

9:30 p.m. — I re-watch The Talented Mr. Ripley, desperate for a dark thriller with a good Italian wardrobe. I stay up past midnight, which feels like a luxury, knowing I don’t need to get up at 6 a.m. tomorrow.

Daily Total: $26

Day Four

8 a.m. — I wake up fully understanding I need to spend a good amount of today in my office catching up on writing projects. On my way to work last week, I heard an advertisement on our local radio station for a well-known liberal college in the area. They’re giving a handful of scholarships to adult learners for the upcoming school year, and it immediately piqued my interest. I never completed my degree because I’ve always had to focus on working full-time to support myself. I could never stretch my energy or time or finances for school and work both. This morning, I look into their application before I’ve even had my breakfast and start thinking of how I’ll format my personal essay.

9 a.m. — I make myself a bowl of yogurt and farm honey and toss in blueberries and these beautiful pink currants I bought at the farmer’s market last week. They’re about to spoil, and I’m intent on using them before they hit that marker. During breakfast, I start on the Sunday crossword. Thankfully this week’s is a little easier than last and my confidence returns.

10 a.m. — I start reviewing writing contracts I have out, and I send out an invoice for one of the literary magazines I work for. I mark down that I should have about $950 coming in this week. When that money will drop, one never knows. Not having stability in pay always deters me from making the leap to writing full-time. I also take this hour to pay down my credit card and take care of savings for the week. I shift $1,500 into savings and put $450 towards my credit card. I’m close to a balance of $0 and am trying to aggressively pay it down so that I’m credit card debt free by January 2021. Before I run my errands for the day, I place an order for wine through our specialty wine store. I have an allergy to sulfites and I usually need to pay attention to organic and natural labels. I order five bottles for our family vacation next week. $110.75

11:30 a.m. — My housemate and I make our weekly trip to the grocery store. This particular store is a hub between farms and the public. Most fruits, vegetables, and meat come from surrounding farms and dry products are sourced within the area as well. Surprisingly, it is always cheaper than the big chain stores. I usually try to keep my weekly groceries under $75. Since this week is an exception with vacation, I’m trying to keep the total under $100. The farmhouse we rented for our vacation is, in an odd twist, only an hour from my new home. It will be great to trek further into nature though, and I’m happy to have this respite, particularly since I’ve been so exhausted working both my nanny and writing gigs. $77.82

12:30 p.m. — The grocery store has a nursery attached to it, and my housemate and I head over to scope plants. We’ve been slowly collecting new ones for our new space. We have nine windows in our common area alone and plants are totally over the moon in our home. I’m on the lookout for an aloe plant since I know sunburns will be in my future given how often I’m going swimming. I get an aloe plant and a simple terracotta planter. $20.92

1 p.m. — We swing by Home Depot so my housemate can pick up a table saw she ordered. She’s an architect, and we tend to do a lot of home renovations and projects within our own skillsets. After Home Depot, we pick up my wine order and then take a drive around a neighborhood we have not explored yet within our town.

2 p.m. — I’m back in the apartment and heat up pizza leftovers to quickly eat while I continue writing and editing work. I take a minute to toss some laundry in and go to work on an essay. I edit for about an hour and then start to outline my college application for the scholarship. I also email a friend who’s generously offered to update my website with website examples I admire.

5 p.m. — I frantically try for 45 minutes to handwash dirt out of the bathing suit that I wore during yesterday’s swim. Apparently you can’t be too precious with garments when you’re sliding your ass on rusted river rocks.

6 p.m. — I give up washing, excitedly close my laptop, and change into my swimsuit (a black one so there’s no possibility of stains tonight). I reward my writing work with a solo drive out to my swim hole to have my last Lagunita with an evening swim. I bring The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel with me and read about 10 pages. I swear I’ve been reading this book for two months now. When you read, write, and edit for a living, it becomes a lot more difficult to pleasure read.

7:30 p.m. — Back home, tonight’s dinner is another recipe from Ottolenghi (can you tell I’ve just purchased this book?). I make a chilled cucumber, ginger, cauliflower soup, and a tomato, bread, anchovy, and caper salad for the side. It’s a perfect summer supper.

9:30 p.m. — I do one more pass of editing before calling it at night at 11:30.

Daily Total: $209.49

Day Five

7 a.m. — I pack my lunch, salad with leftover blue cheese dressing, almonds, and apple, and slice a peach to eat in the car. I fill my coffee mug and away to work. I need to stop again for gas since I used it quite freely this weekend. Whoops. My toll to get to work is $1.25 daily. My employers reimburse me for both gas and tolls, which I find incredibly generous and will never say no to.

10 a.m. — I always do a morning adventure with the kids. When I say morning adventure I mean, I take them somewhere I want to explore. We go to a well-known park with loads of walking trails in the town over. When I say we go walking, I mean it’s me carrying a one-year-old the entire way in a sling and coaxing the three-year-old along with 15,000 snacks.

5:30 p.m. — As I’m leaving work, I notice I have an acceptance to a pitch I put out a week and a half ago waiting in my inbox. Then I see the deadline is in four days and start to anxiety spiral. Why I would choose to nanny full-time while tackling writing full-time is beyond me. I put some Magnetic Fields on for the drive home to soothe my brain.

7 p.m. — I heat up leftover salmon and cook the beet greens my friend gave me over the weekend. I find insanely good hibiscus tea my housemate made in the fridge, and I sip on that while reviewing my contract for this new article. I start to scheme how I can take an extra day of nannying off so that I’m not writing through my vacation.

7:30 p.m. — While eating dinner, I remember I also have to fill out that undergraduate application. Ugh. The deadline is in one week.

7:45 p.m. — Then I think about my health insurance I still need to research. Yep. Pray I don’t get into any accidents while I figure this one out. When will my to-do list get down to a zero count? Ever??

Daily Total: $0

Day Six

8:30 a.m. — Today was a chill day with the kids. We stayed at home the entire day, playing board games, swimming, going on scavenger hunts around the house. I pay my normal $1.25 to get over the bridge to work, but will be reimbursed.

6 p.m. — I arrive home and frantically pack all of my clothing for vacation and all the groceries I’ve bought. I want to leave before sundown. Driving through mountains at night is among my least favorite things, not to mention extremely dangerous. While I pack, I mentally make notes of writing tasks I need to start and finish while I’m away.

8 p.m. — Arriving at our rented farmhouse instantly takes away my worries. The mountains rise up behind our house, you can hear the river flowing through the back of the property, my family has a fire already burning outside of the barn, and the wine is flowing. I manage to get buzzed and let loose, telling loud stories around the fire.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

1:30 a.m. — My father calls my brother and me with an emergency — he’s experiencing a back spasm and is wondering if my brother can pick him up to take him to the hospital, not knowing my brother and I are on vacation, hours away from our hometown. My brother and I talk to my dad about the logistics of calling 911 to be taken hospital during the COVID pandemic. My sleep goes out of the window. So much for relaxing tonight.

2 a.m. — The EMTs arrive at my father’s and take his vitals, then call his regular doctor. Instead of going to the hospital, my father is able to make an appointment with his doctor first thing in the morning. I can sleep a bit easier tonight and tell him I’ll check in with him as soon as I wake.

7 a.m. — Internal alarm clocks are truly the worse, huh? I wake up to a beautiful bagel spread, pop some lox on, and have a long, lingering breakfast with family. I’m thankful it’s not my turn to cook breakfast!

9 a.m. — I mourn my leisure time and drag myself upstairs to take a shower and start on the piece of writing that was assigned to me a couple of days ago. Its deadline is in three days, and I need to fully flesh out the article by the end of the day so that I have one full day of editing available before submitting to my editor. It shouldn’t be too bad given the assignment is only 500-1,000 words.

12 p.m. — I finish my writing and come in for an early lunch. Last night my brother told me our elementary gym teacher had retired a couple of weeks ago. The night he retired his home burned down. I was so shocked and saddened by the news and have super fond memories of Jump Rope For Heart with our gym teacher. My brother sends me a GoFundMe for our teacher, and I send over $50. He’s already gone past the donation goal, and I’m hoping he can get to rebuilding soon. $50

2 p.m. — We head to the swimming hole half a mile from the property. It is otherworldly beautiful. The water is crystal clear, ice-cold, and the deepest point goes down at least 20 feet. Absolute heaven! My brother and I are among the brave that jump in, and we spend the afternoon drinking beer, eating barbeque chips, swimming, and gossiping.

6 p.m. — We walk back from the swimming hole to change for dinner. Tonight it’s my mom and her husband’s turn to cook. They’re making their famous pizzas and, per usual, it’s delicious. My mom makes me a birthday cake since my birthday is in a week and a half. Creamsicle flavor! Didn’t know that existed! The family is sufficiently stuffed.

8 p.m. — Time for the games, baby. We play Codenames until I call it a day, absolutely exhausted from day drinking and sun.

10 p.m. — I have the sweetest sunburn on my chest and consider it a victory from a day of pure relaxation. I drift off early, happy to have had time to focus on my writing, happy to have sun to look forward to, and ready to get a full night’s rest.

Daily Total: $50

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