A Week In New Brunswick, NJ, On A $38,264 Freelance Income

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

Today: an actor/teacher/social media manager who makes $38,264 a year and spends some of their money this week on black tights.

Occupation: Professional Actor/Teaching Artist/Social Media Manager/Tutor
Industry: Arts Education
Age: 23
Location: New Brunswick, NJ
Salary: In 2019 I made $38,264.08
Paycheck: Completely varies since I have so many jobs, my social media job gives me a paycheck of $1,050 a month.
Gender Identity: Non-Binary

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $775 (for a single room in a two-bedroom apartment with one roommate)
Car Loan: $250 (My parents took the loan out against their HELOC, so I pay them back with interest)
Netflix: $0 (we have a shared family account)
Optimum: $39.15 (I pay the bill monthly, then my roommate and upstairs neighbors reimburse me for their shares. It comes to $9.79/person.)
Utilities: ~$35.89 for my half
Audible Gold Monthly Membership: $14.95
Spotify Premium: $9.99

Day One

10:36 a.m. — After snoozing since 8:30, I’m awake for real this time. Check messages, brush my teeth, and wash my face with my La Roche Posay Effeclar face wash. Since I have nothing on the calendar this morning, I move slowly through the rest of my morning routine: Effeclar toner, CosRX snail mucin, and Neutrogena CityShield water gel with 25 SPF. I threw my back out on Thursday and the fact that it’s still sore today freaks me out, so I do some “Lower Back Love” from “Yoga with Adrienne.” The routine takes about 26 minutes, then I get dressed in black leggings, a black cami, and a navy and maroon sweater I got from Nordstrom Rack like six years ago.

12:06 p.m. — I was planning to prep rice and veggies for Buddha Bowls, but I still have a serving of rice from last week, so I decide to make a tuna bowl instead. I grate a carrot over the rice, along with a can of tuna and two green onions, plus a generous handful of banana peppers and sesame seeds. I top the whole thing with some homemade spicy mayo and chia seeds. I listen to the NYT audio digest (included in my Audible subscription) and go through my inbox. I check in with one of my tutoring students to see if she plans to meet this evening, post a digital flyer for my upcoming show on Facebook, and read the Smarter Living newsletter and my R29 horoscope. It says Saturday I could make some critical moves for my future, so far I have nothing on my calendar, but I cross my fingers.

1:51 p.m. — My student doesn’t want to meet today, and isn’t sure when she’ll want to pick sessions back up. I like being a tutor — it’s good money and allows me to keep my schedule flexible. But that flexibility also means inconsistent income. I’ve been pounding mugs of tea and working on scheduling my remaining students. I’ve also planned a meeting with my best friend, L., for Saturday (may the stars align) to offer her a position as my assistant director for a fifth grade musical. I landed the job last week, and I’m pretty intimidated by the amount of work it will entail since the district basically has no plans for me to latch onto. My BFF L. and I have been roommates and traveled pretty extensively together, but we’ve never worked this closely on a project together.

4:23 p.m. — I’ve gone through a few gear shifts — first I work on analytics for the podcasts I publish for my family business, then I move to the incredibly thorough onboarding paperwork for the elementary school job. The new W4 is very confusing. I still have to make an appointment for a TB test and get fingerprinted Friday. I’ve been guzzling tea the whole time (I’m very well hydrated when I work from home) and I also snack on some fat-free Savoritz cracker (the Aldi-brand Cheeze-It). I’m getting pretty hungry so I make myself a quick quesadilla. I fill my last tortilla with a couple strips of rotisserie chicken, a handful of pickled jalapeños, and the last of my shredded cheese and serve it with a generous helping of cream cheese.

4:40 p.m. — While I’m eating my quesadilla I text my dad for tips on working with the accountant for our family business since that W4 put taxes on my brain. I held more than six paid positions in 2019 and I’m glad I’ll have some help. I also schedule my TB test for Thursday, and while I’m at it I decide to schedule a couple of other appointments I’ve been putting off including an OBGYN check-up and a dermatologist check-up.

8:09 p.m. — I clock out for the day and heat up some butternut squash soup and rotisserie chicken. After dinner and some mind-numbing Instagram scrolling, I watch a documentary about Ellis Island on YouTube. I don’t really learn anything new.

10:05 p.m. — I’ve been trying to enforce a screen-time curfew at 10 for myself, so I close down my laptop and take a bath. I also do a tea-tree oil mask my friend, L., gave me way back in August. It stings a little bit, and I kinda wish I’d patch tested it. Oh well. After my bath, I finish my night face routine (same as the morning, except with the addition of Differin and the non-SPF version of the Neutrogena Watergel) then do my nightly bullet journal routine and tuck myself in by 11:44.

Daily Total: $0

Day Two

8:15 a.m. — Okay, I’m up. I get dressed for a workout in yoga pants and a teal t-shirt. I turn on the heat, brush my teeth, and go through my morning face routine while listening to the NYT audio digest. Breakfast is a hard-boiled egg and a banana that’s browner than I’d prefer.

9 a.m. — Personal training session with my friend, Y. He’s also an actor, and I was friends with him and his wife before I started working with him. We take it easy because my back is still sore. I have paid for five sessions in advance ($150), so this one’s covered. Home after the session, I wash my hair with Ouidad Vitalcurl and dry it in a t-shirt. Afterward, I comb through some Garnier leave-in conditioner.

11:30 a.m. — I hop on a marketing call with the biggest client for our family business. Bad news: a major project has been delayed. Good news is that frees up some space in the budget! Around 1:20, I decide to get myself some lunch. We’re supposed to have another call at 2, so I don’t have time to do the meal-prep I was planning. Instead, I heat up more rotisserie chicken and soup.

1:45 p.m. — Hooray! The call at 2 is canceled. I can barely keep my eyes open, and since the rest of my afternoon is now free, I go down for a nap and I go down hard.

4:40 p.m. — I’m awake! I usually don’t nap like that, so I wonder if I’m coming down with something. Then I realize my period just started, which explains a lot. I prep my Buddha Bowl ingredients: brown rice, plus sliced sweet potatoes, onion and spinach baked at 350 for 25 minutes. I also whip up some homemade peanut sauce from peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. I’m still working on scheduling social media channels. At 6:13, I eat my Buddha Bowl with two tablespoons of chia seeds for extra protein. My work is taking way longer than expected and I want to be done for the day so badly, but there’s no use procrastinating, it would just push back into a busier day.

7:17 p.m. — I give up. Social media is an insatiable maw and my brain is a soup of hormones and physical discomfort. I decide to save my energy for tomorrow, and instead switch gears to prepping for the after-school drama class I teach on Wednesdays.

10:05 p.m. — After wasting a couple hours on Instagram and Doomsday preppers, I decide to blow through my curfew to knock one more thing off my to-do list. I read a script for a Shakespeare group I’m involved in and email them expressing my interest. I wrap up around 11:30 and somehow it takes me another hour to get to bed.

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

9:30 a.m. — After a very complicated series of snoozes, I am up! I have to tutor online at 10, so I’ve cut it as close as I can. Quick breakfast of two hard-boiled eggs and an apple, plus my morning toilette.

10 a.m. — I tutor Student One, a high school senior prepping for college-level writing courses. At 11:45, I have Student Two for the day, a nurse going back to school for an advanced degree. She really needs support, so we have a two-hour session plus plan to meet for another two hours on Friday to go over her drafted paper. For the first session, I make $22.50, for the two-hour one I make $30.

2:10 p.m. — I scarf down my leftover Buddha Bowl stuff with a can of tuna and some hastily-assembled spicy mayo (mayo, chili powder, a splash of vinegar, and a half a lime worth of juice). I gotta get on the road to teach my drama class. By 2:30 I’m headed north to the elementary school.

6 p.m. — Ugh, it took me 45 minutes to get home from my class, because it’s the middle of rush hour. After a lengthy break, I finally get around to publishing two Instagram posts that were scheduled for today. We’ve now hit three out of my four current jobs today. My brain is fried.

8:20 p.m. — I watch an episode and a half of Doomsday Preppers and eat the last of my soup with some rotisserie chicken and a green bell pepper with sour cream dip. My roommate comes home! She’s been with her boyfriend since last Thursday so it’s good to see her.

10 p.m. — Screen curfew time! I grab my guitar and tootle around. I get distracted by my phone, even though I should have turned it off. I decide to start winding down for real by 11:49, but first my evening face routine and some quick journaling.

12:55 a.m. — Okay, it turns into some serious journaling. I do a little cat-cow before tucking in, per my trainer’s instructions to protect my healing back, and I microwave my hot pack just for comfort. Bedtime for real this time!

Daily Total: $0

Day Four

9 a.m. — I left my phone across the room overnight to try to stop myself from snoozing. It doesn’t work.

10 a.m. — Okay, time to get rolling. I shower and do my morning routine. I waffle about doing a “Yoga with Adrienne” and decide I have time. Yoga and meditation complete, I put on some dark wash jeans, a rumpled white button-down, and a maroon cable knit sweater. I toss my hair into a dutch braid then make myself some bacon and throw together a quick spinach omelette in the grease. My grape tomatoes are almost shriveled, so I go to town on those as well. The whole thing turns out a little greasy, but good! The day is getting away from me here and I need to go to Aldi before my rehearsal this afternoon. I consult my BuJo for my meal plans and make my list.

12:43 p.m. — Before I go, I drop my monthly audible credit on Digital Minimalism. I have to finish my errands and get back by 2:30 so I can get down to my rehearsal on time. On the way to Aldi, I stop at Rite Aid and pick up two pairs of black tights I’ll need for the show. $11.98

1:22 p.m. — In and out! I picked up more Savoritz, two cucumbers, a big container of Greek yogurt, kidney beans, two cans of black beans, canned roasted tomatoes, more tortillas, celery, spinach, lettuce, kiwi, bananas, peanut butter, and a pack of prosciutto. I also treat myself to two packs of chocolate because let’s be honest… I deserve it. Back at the ranch, I snack on the prosciutto while I try to quickly get some chili into the slow cooker for dinner. I toss a can of black beans, the kidney beans, and roasted tomatoes into my crockpot with a hunk of ground beef. I chop up an onion and green bell pepper and toss those in there with the last of my jalapeños and half a bottle of beer and set it to cook on low for seven hours. I have just enough time to grab grape tomatoes and brie. Yikes, the brie is very old and moldy, but I just cut off the gross parts and finish it anyway. I throw my water bottle and costume pieces into my backpack and head out the door by 2:28. $38.36

3:19 p.m. — I have just enough time to pop down to the beach before rehearsal starts! I grew up outside Chicago, so being able to just go to the ocean is really cool for me! Then it’s back to the school where my show will open next weekend.

7:50 p.m. — It takes an hour to get back and my street is so packed with cars I almost back into one trying to park. I eat a couple of dark chocolate hazelnut bars and check my chili. It’s really soupy, so I take the lid off for the last hour to let some of the extra liquid evaporate. I still need to post two things on social media today before I can clock out. Also, did I mention I got a job offer for the summer? The arts camp where I’ve taught for the last two Augusts is expanding, and they want me to come on board for the whole summer, which would be great. They’re offering $750/week for their new locations and $650/week for the regular camp dates. I have to check in with my usual July gig to see which one is a better offer. Man, so many logistics.

9:17 p.m. — Chili time! I eat it with huge globs of sour cream and the other half of the Yeungling I used in the chili while browsing tactics to actually make myself get up in the morning. I also update my time tracker to reflect my rehearsal, errands, and commuting time. Last week, I spent more than 20% of my clocked time in the car driving around to my various commitments. Becoming more diligent about tracking my time the last few months has really helped me feel more productive and less like my time is all pouring down the drain.

10:37 p.m. — Kitchen and Crock-Pot cleaned, and my brain feeling better than yesterday, I have a quick phone call with my mom then change into my PJs. I do a little journaling and get to bed by 12!

Daily Total: $50.34

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — I did it!!! I got out of bed without snoozing my alarm! It means I have time to do another day of “Yoga with Adrienne” and meditate for a few minutes before starting my day. I get dressed in a pair of gray men’s jeans, a gray cami, and a blue button-down. I have just enough time to throw some yogurt, blackberries, honey, chia seeds, oatmeal, and pistachios in a bowl for breakfast. I scarf it down just in time to run out the door at 9:45 on my way to my fingerprinting appointment.

10:02 a.m. — I’ve already paid the $66 charge for the fingerprinting services during my initial on-boarding, so all I need to do is show up. My friend, C., is also here getting fingerprinted! What a world. Afterward, we decide to walk over to a Panera in the same strip mall and catch up.

10:20 a.m. — I get a hazelnut coffee and treat myself to a cinnamon roll. I haven’t gotten to hang out with C. for a while, so I set an alarm for 10:42 and milk our 20-minute catch-up! I am supposed to tutor my nursing student at 11. $5.74

10:55 a.m. — My student calls and needs to reschedule for another time today. After several update calls, I squeeze her in this afternoon from 4:30-6:30 after my TB test. This gives me time to stop for gas before my tank gets too low. $17.88

12:07 p.m. — I’m using my suddenly free mid-day hours to do some quick accounting, email, and social media scheduling. My dad is talking about the property value of our neighborhood in the family group chat, lol, then texts me individually to discuss my upcoming raise. We’ve been waiting on budget numbers from our client for 2020 in order to finalize it. My pay is going up 4% this year, which is a generous raise and will definitely help… but since my monthly paycheck is only about $1,050, it’s not like it’s gonna put me in a new tax bracket. I’m also messaging the leadership team for the Shakespeare company I run. Later tonight, I have to release a company-wide survey I’ve been meaning to get around to for like a year, plus applications for our spring shows. It’s hard to concentrate in this narrow window of time and I still need to schedule two posts. Ugh, I hope I can get everything done today.

12:57 p.m. — I get half the materials scheduled for the social media channels, plus I publish the survey! I need to drive half an hour for an in-person tutoring session at 1:30 with a sweet homeschooled kid who is working on Hamlet. I put on my shoes, grab my water bottle, and go.

3 p.m. — I dash out the door to make it to my 3:30 TB test appointment. The receptionist is very confused, but not too confused to charge me my $20 copay. By 4:15, I still haven’t seen the doctor…this is ridiculous. I still have to tutor my student at 4:30, so I make a new appointment for next Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. and bail, keeping the receipt for my copay. $20

4:41 p.m. — Traffic is AWFUL getting home. I don’t even take my boots off, I just run in and flip-up my computer. An exhausting two-hour session later, we have a solid outline for her paper and I cross my fingers she’ll be able to polish it off herself. I don’t have the energy to invoice right now, but I’ll get $42 for my in-person session this afternoon and another $30 for the 4:30 session.

7:40 p.m. — I knock out the last two posts and have a bowl of leftover chili. At 8, I call my friend, F., who moved to Boston in July. It feels great to catch up!

10:20 p.m. — Ooof, how do I still have things to do today? I eat the last of my blackberries and a chocolate hazelnut bar for dessert, then send out the application materials for the spring shows. Starting my last leg at 11:05, I prep for my meeting with L. tomorrow. I need to write out a scope of work for the AD position as much for my own sanity as for hers. I crack a beer and get to work. By 11:58, I’m finally done for the day, and not sure how to wind down. I peruse a few options on Netflix but decide to just call it a night.

2:04 a.m. — Well, I just spent two hours on my Instagram discover page. So much for digital minimalism.

Daily Total: $43.62

Day Six

10:05 a.m. — I wake up feeling gross and am immediately able to blame the weather. It’s in the 40s and absolutely pouring, which is the worst combo. L. lets me know she’s running late for our meeting, so I dawdle. My hair is super greasy, so I take a risk and put it in a crown braid. I put on a slim-cut gray button-down with red and blue dots and a pair of skinny men’s khakis.

11:17 a.m. — The entrance to this Panera is hard to find, but I manage it. L. won’t be here until 12 because of the weather and some road closures, so I buy a coffee while I wait and go over my notes. Inspired by Digital Minimalism, I also reconfigure all the notification settings on my phone. $2.34

12:05 p.m. — L. arrives! We order on my account to get $2 off in rewards, but she offers to pay with a gift card. I get a you-pick-2 French onion soup and Cuban sandwich and she gets a quinoa bowl. We hang out for about three hours, then map out the arc of a screenplay we’ve been working on for about 90 minutes. I give her the scope of work and she says she’ll let me know.

5 p.m. — I call my friend from home on the phone, and throw some frozen veggie scraps into a strainer and start them boiling. I’m gonna make stock with them and the carcass of my rotisserie chicken. Once the stock is done, around 6:30, I toss in some carrots, celery, and an onion. Meanwhile, I hop in the shower and wash my hair. My friend, H., is having a party tonight. When I asked for the dress code she responded on a hot pepper scale: serrano.

7:27 p.m. — Soup’s done. I watch a couple episodes of The Good Place and eat a bowl — it’s kinda bitter. My roommate’s boyfriend (via the phone) suggests I cut it with some lime juice, which helps a little! This party doesn’t start until 10 so I have some time to kill. H. is still a senior in college and this start time makes me feel old, but I know a bunch of our other mutual friends will be there. By 10:06, I’ve walked the four blocks over with a huge unopened bottle of Pinot Grigio in a tote bag.

12:30 a.m. — I’ve had several drinks and several servings of chips.

2:50 a.m. — I stayed way later than I meant to. My good friend, M., offers to drop me off at home so I don’t have to walk.

4:23 a.m. — So in my compromised decision-making state, I thought it would be a good idea to finish season two of The Good Place. Yikes, my DnD crew (which includes M.) will be at my house in a little over five hours. I set my alarm for 8:45 and drift off to sleep.

Daily Total: $2.34

Day Seven

8:10 a.m. — I wake up full of sugar that used to be alcohol. I text M. to see if he’s on his way — he was planning to come over early and make us all pancakes. Oops, he slept through his alarm and is just getting up now. I walk to the corner store and pick up seven bagels and a brick of cream cheese. By 9:30, the crew starts rolling up and M. starts making pancakes. Meanwhile, I eat a bagel and cream cheese and a banana. Another player brought a box of Starbucks and I pour myself a cup. $10.99

3:37 p.m. — After several uproarious hours that include imaginary games of possum cornhole, defending a fantasy frat from party crashers, and other shenanigans, we call the game for today. I’ve eaten two chocolate chip pancakes with syrup, and a couple fistfuls of Savoritz, plus a second cup of coffee. We messed around so much, we didn’t finish the adventure and schedule a follow up in two weeks. Ugh, I love these dice goblins.

4:14 p.m. — With the kitchen cleaned and sink empty, I change from my t-shirt into a nicer baseball tee. It’s my friend, I.’s, birthday dinner tonight and it will be my first time trying hot pot! I’m out the door by 4:45.

5:01 p.m. — I arrive and meet some of I.’s other friends, as well as some folks I already know. We order a HUGE meal! The girl guiding us through the ordering process is throwing tons of stuff at us, seemingly without paying any attention to the prices. I’m not stressing about it though, I’ve got some space left in my discretionary spending budget for the month, and only a week left to use it in, so I feel comfortable celebrating this special occasion with a little splurge.

7:20 p.m. — The bill comes to around $260, but split between seven people it’s only $35.81, which isn’t too bad at all. Hot pot is cool and fun — all those things we ordered off the menu came along with both mild and spicy broth, and we all dipped various meats, veggies, and noodles in until they were cooked. The soup got more savory over time, and I tried a bunch of new things including tripe! I Venmo I., but not before offering to pay with cash, deciding not to, and almost losing a $20 bill on the ground. A group of us walk over to a bubble tea place in the same mall. I go along but decline to indulge, pleading my full stomach. By 8 p.m., I’m feeling the length of my day and say my goodbyes. $35.81

8:15 p.m. — Home, I crawl into bed and watch an episode of Doomsday Preppers before begrudgingly admitting to myself that I need to do my BuJo for the week before my screen-time curfew kicks in. Ugh. I work on transferring all my events from my google calendar first so that I can shut my laptop at 10.

11:22 p.m. — All done! I’m trying some new things this week, including blocking out time to work on major projects from home the same way I’d block out an appointment, writing in morning yoga as an event, and blocking out the time it takes to drive from place to place. By 11:49, I’m exhausted and in bed by 12:15.

Daily Total: $46.80

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