Skip to main content

The Dollar Diary: College Life On $18,720 Per Year
Professional Services

The Dollar Diary: College Life On $18,720 Per Year

See how much money a 22-year-old Bay Area college student spends during a typical week.



12 min read

August 11, 2019

A 20-year-old works several jobs (as an events and logistics assistant, a museum intern, and a college dorm R.A.) in the Bay Area making $12 per hour, resulting in a biweekly paycheck of about $720 for this snack enthusiast. This is how she spent her money during a recent week. 

*The city of residence and other details have been removed or changed in this story to retain the author’s anonymity. 

Average Monthly Expenses

Rent : $0 (the perks of being an R.A.)

Wi-Fi: $0

Textbooks: $200 (paid quarterly)

Cell Phone: $90 (thanks for choosing the most expensive plan ever, brother)

Health Insurance: $0 (included in tuition)

Netflix & Hulu: $5 (student rate)

Amazon Prime: $5 (student rate)

Apple Store: $0.99

Gas: $35

Recomended businesses

Show me
Recommended Businesses near

Discover the best of California. Our recommended businesses are top-quality and are committed to their communities.

Day 1: Wednesday

8 a.m.

I wake up to the sound of my alarm blaring on the bedside table and the echoing noise of rowdy students in the hall, though it will never make sense to me how they could have so much energy at this hour. I spend the next 10 minutes pondering what my life would look like if I still had a soul and less responsibility. This is definitely not the college experience I was expecting, but I am still grateful for having the opportunity to go.

8:10 a.m. 

I roll out of bed, wash my face, and put on an episode of Seinfeld in the background. Before I know it, I’ve watched half the episode and haven’t even gotten dressed yet; it’s just too good of a show to actually be background noise. Eventually, I throw on some pants, a sweater, and my Birkenstocks—basically my daily uniform, regardless of the weather—and figure out what needs to be done today.  

8:30 a.m.

There are 10 pages to read and a few questions to answer before class, so I close the window, turn off the TV, and attempt to limit the distractions around me. 

8:45 a.m.

After a slight panic attack and some unplanned tears, I actually get around to reading, which doesn’t take as long as expected. Thankfully, it’s just the one class today, so I should have time to knock out a few pages of my thesis and get back on track.

9:20 a.m. 

Homework completed for now, I move on to brushing my teeth and am able to leave my dorm room with plenty of time left before class. I head over to the R.A. office to visit with my supervisor and scavenge for food—I’ve become a racoon over the last three years and avoided starving because of it. After finishing a bagel and a cup of black coffee (a symptom of having no soul), I walk over to class. 

While it is incredibly convenient to live, work, and go to school in the same place, I could do without everyone knowing who I am and telling me their report-worthy stories at all hours of the day.

9:45 a.m.

Having narrowly escaped another resident incident on the way to class, I arrive on time and count the days until I don’t have to see these same 15 people all the time. Some of them are actually cool, but the majority are divided into two groups: the wealthy, pretentious Ph.D. people and the seniors who still have not learned what anthropology is. 

Though the people in the latter group are quite frustrating, they actually make me feel better about my graduation status. Those in the former group, however, are the embodiment of my pet peeves. Obviously, if I had the time and money to focus entirely on school, I would pursue a Ph.D.,  too. But being one of the five financially independent students on campus takes a toll, and while there isn’t a day I don’t think about my mom, it’s days like this that I wish I’d never gotten out of bed. 

11:15 a.m. 

Despite my classmates’ attempts to derail the entire lecture, class ended up being interesting today, and there is very little homework assigned. I get caught up in thinking about the new topics we just covered, so it takes me an extra minute to get my life together and leave the classroom. 

Unfortunately for me, this gives my residents enough time to muster the courage to come over and start filing an incident report for their roommate’s best friend, who they suspect has a domestically abusive partner. These are the worst stories to listen to, and aside from filing the report, there is little I can do to help in the moment, so I take down their information and we part ways. With such a small campus, I know we will run into each other again soon, so I can check in to see how things are going.

11:40 a.m.

Since I have about 20 minutes before work starts, I hit up the vending machine (conveniently located right outside of my classroom) to get my favorite college lunch: Doritos and Cheetos. Together, this costs me $4. I am trash, but there’s nowhere else on campus to get a quick and cheap lunch between class and work, so it’s the best I can do.

12 p.m.

I make it to work on time, but my boss doesn’t really care. She’s only a few years older than me and thinks way too highly of herself for being in charge of the events and logistics department. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a glamorous job. 

4 p.m. 

After four hours of hearing snide remarks, listening to my boss roast my coworkers, and screwing on a smile when I really just want to throw up, my shift has finally come to an end. I now have the longest break in my whole day, and I can’t wait to sit on the couch and binge-watch Stranger Things before R.A. duty begins. 

6:30 p.m.

The scent of freshly cooked pasta and marinara sauce wafts through the dorm room as I remain on the couch, two hours into my TV marathon. Thank you, universe, for giving me a boyfriend who is a pasta-making king. We eat together, discuss our days, and imagine how different everything will be once I join him in the alumni network. Of course, this downtime ends up being too good to be true: A brilliant college student sets off the fire alarm, and as an R.A., I have to make sure everyone gets out of the building and is unharmed before we can all be cleared to reenter. 

7 p.m.

We make it back inside with about an hour and a half left before I have to start work again, so we turn on one last episode and forget the world exists.

8:30 p.m.

Where did that last hour and a half go? I am officially ready to do nothing, but I open the door anyway and prepare myself for what is to come. If it weren’t for the free tuition, this job would not be worth it. Since the fire alarm startled everyone, it’s turning out to be a slow night, so I take the opportunity to work on the thesis I’ve been procrastinating on. 

10:45 p.m.

Well, my intentions were pure. But by 10:30, I am asleep on the couch, having accomplished a mere fraction of what I had planned. I didn’t even know I’d fallen asleep until I was woken up by a stumbling resident offering me pizza, and though it sounds amazing, I decline his offer and wait for 11 o’clock to come.

11 p.m. 

The day’s work is finally done, so I grab one of my boyfriend’s gray T-shirts, throw it on, and hit the hay.

Daily total spent: $4

Day 2: Thursday

7:55 a.m.

I wake up to the sun shining through the window and the sound of birds chirping instead of the usual buzzing noises of the alarm clock. It’s a refreshing change, though I will undoubtedly be tired by the end of the day. 

8:30 a.m. 

After doing my usual morning routine, I try my best to get some homework accomplished, but today is not the day. It doesn’t take long before I begin to freak out about everything that needs to be done in the next couple of weeks, and to make matters worse, my head starts spinning as I freak out about not having the time to freak out. 

9:00 a.m.

I have composed myself and given in to my fate.

9:20 a.m. 

As I walk over to the R.A. office, I hope my supervisor (who also happens to live next door to me) is there so I can talk to him. To my disappointment, he’s nowhere to be found, but a cup of still-warm coffee and several bags of unwanted snacks help me drown my sorrows as I wander over toward class.

11 a.m.

That went smoothly, thank goodness. Now, I just have to make it through a few hours with the cliques at work before I can crash on the couch. Thanks to the morning snacks, I’m not too hungry, so I opt for Doritos alone today, which only costs me $2. 

12 p.m.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the universe swoops in to prove you wrong. After dealing with the usual petty office antics, I hear an old woman walk in and ask about an event happening over the weekend. I am busy with other tasks, so one of the few coworkers I actually like goes over to help her. After a short exchange, my friend asks the woman to spit out her gum (office policy), and to everyone’s surprise, she does—right into my coworker’s hand! Who does that? I sit with my mouth open, in awe of what I’d just witnessed, but I snap out of it and get back to my work for fear that she may see me looking on.

3:55 p.m.

I get ready to leave a few minutes early; the office has been pretty empty since the gum incident. Please let there be no fire alarm today so I can relax in peace. 

5 p.m.

So far, so good. I decide to warm up some macaroni and cheese tonight so my boyfriend doesn’t have to do anything when he comes over. Though he isn’t allowed to live with me in the dorm, he stays here most nights so we can spend more time together. 

8:30 p.m.

The uninterrupted time has left me feeling more confident about passing my classes and graduating. Hopefully, there’s nothing too pressing tonight that pushes me back off track.

9 p.m.

I really need to finish my homework for tomorrow, but I keep getting distracted and focusing on other things. While it is endearing, the way my boyfriend constantly sings his thoughts, it is so distracting that I banish him back to his place for the night. 

11 p.m.

Shockingly, I make it through the whole shift without passing out. I consider documenting this momentous day before closing my door and heading to bed. 

Daily total spent: $2

Day 3: Friday

8 a.m.

It’s finally Friday! This week has felt incredibly long and unproductive, so I am looking forward to the weekend. The excitement has me rushing through my daily routine and getting me out of the shower with enough time to style my hair. 

9:10 a.m.

I leave the dorm room a bit early today in hopes of catching up with my R.A. friends before we all go off in different directions. I get my usual cup of coffee but know today is a two cup kind of day. After downing the first round and picking the best-looking bagel, I refill my cup, say goodbye to the only people on campus who make me feel sane, and slowly make my way to class. 

10:45 a.m. 

It seems like everyone is antsy today. We have a break starting Monday, so after turning in our assignments and taking a dreaded test, class is done is a bit earlier than usual.

12 p.m.

Today is my last day at this cringe-worthy job, but nobody knows it yet. It’s been almost two years since my first day, and back then I had no idea I would be dressing brides-to-be and getting yelled at by elderly folks—or that the amazing director would step away, leaving the department in incompetent hands. All of this aside, I can’t help but feel grateful for the experience because it prepared me for a new job that I officially accepted on Tuesday. 

3:45 p.m. 

My palms are sweating as I walk up to my boss with my two weeks’ notice in hand. The timing is strange since we go on break after today, but it still seems polite to give my two weeks. In her true nature, she doesn’t seem to care as I tell her the news, but I’m so relieved it’s over.

5 p.m.

My boyfriend is just as happy as I am that I have left that draining job behind, so we decide to go out and celebrate. Cuban food is always the right answer for occasions like this, so we drive a few towns over and order some creamy queso fundido. Before we know it, we’ve been at the restaurant for two hours, so it’s time to get the bill. After the queso fundido, empanadas, and guacamole, our bill is $35.56, but with tip, the total comes to $43. 

8:30 p.m.

Tonight has been amazing so far, but it’s a long one since R.A. duty goes until 1 a.m. on Fridays. We settle in on the couch and decide to do a Simpsons marathon to help me get through the shift. 

10:45 p.m.

I did it again: I fell asleep. My boyfriend was nice enough to wake me up before I started drooling with the door open, but we still have about two hours before the work day is done.

Daily total spent: $43

Day 4: Saturday

1 a.m. 

R.A. duty is finally over, so I change into comfortable pajamas and jump into bed. 

9 a.m.

Since I wake up early during the week, my body is trained to do the same on the weekends. Today, however, I wake up to the smell of banana pancakes, and it’s clear the weekend is upon us. 

11 a.m. 

After a leisurely morning, I’m off to compile a work-appropriate wardrobe for my new job. While I don’t want to look like the 70-year-olds who used to visit the special events office, I also don’t want to appear unprofessional.

12 p.m.

Why is all of the inexpensive clothing neon-colored or cropped? Shopping is exhausting, and I officially feel old. Maybe I should switch careers and become a fashion designer since there is clearly a gap in the market. Nope, I’m so done. I have to leave this store.

2 p.m.

A few hours and $325.96 later, I finally have a small wardrobe to work with. It’s time to drive home and wash everything so I don’t have to worry about it tomorrow.

2:30 p.m. 

I unwrap and warm up the last remaining burrito from my freezer and make a note to buy more tomorrow. I have to switch over my laundry in half an hour, but until then, the time is all mine. Since it’s the only day I’m free from R.A. duty, I need to make the most of the evening, but maybe I should take a nap after doing my laundry.

3 p.m. 

I feel so violated: Somebody touched my laundry. I came over to get it five minutes after my alarm went off, and it was already plopped on top of the dryer. Luckily, I saw someone cleaning the laundry room when I put everything in the washer; otherwise, I’d have to start from scratch. Counting down the days until graduation.

4:30 p.m. 

With laundry finished and put away, the plan is to do nothing for the rest of the day.

Daily total spent: $325.96

Day 5: Sunday

9:20 a.m.

I wake up to a group text inviting me to get coffee and do homework at 10:30. I say yes and start getting ready for the day, knowing I need to go to the grocery store immediately afterward. 

10:05 a.m.

I leave the dorms, dreaming of the days when I will have enough free time to read the trashy John Green novels on Sundays instead of making homework dates. 

10:30 a.m. 

I make it right on time and forgo my usual black coffee for the mint mojito cold brew, which is double the price but worth every delicious penny. After shelling out the $5, I find my friends and attempt to get to work.

1 p.m. 

Yikes. Two and a half hours have passed and I am nowhere near being done with my homework. Thankfully, this break gives us a buffer to relax a bit and work at a more leisurely pace, but with graduation coming up quickly, we know we need to focus. 

2 p.m. 

I still have to go to the grocery store and need some time to recharge at home before starting work tomorrow, so I say my goodbyes and drive out. Grocery shopping is literally the worst, but 29-cent burritos, white cheddar popcorn, and frozen mac and cheese will not replace themselves. This sustenance costs me $39.97, and with that, I am homebound.

2:45 p.m.

All the groceries are put away, so it’s time to chill before the workweek craziness begins again. 

8:30 p.m. 

The remaining residents are partying their hearts out tonight since there aren’t any classes tomorrow. I’m cautiously hopeful that there won’t be any crazy incidents tonight that I’ll have to report, but I’m not holding my breath. After an exhausting day at work, my boyfriend is on his way over, and I’m so glad I won’t be alone during the chaos. 

10 p.m. 

To my surprise, the noise has died down and nothing seems to have gone wrong. I leave my room to do my rounds, hoping that everything is as good as it seems.  

11:45 p.m. 

Tired from the long day, I go to bed—even though I know I won’t be able to sleep well since I’m feeling excited and nervous about starting a new job tomorrow. On top of starting the new position, I have to work a short shift for my internship in the evening and, of course, R.A. duty later in the night. The anxiety is mounting, but after doing some yoga, taking a shower, and flipping over in bed a thousand times, my mind finally calms enough to fall asleep. 6:20 a.m. is sure to come far too soon.

Daily total spent: $44.97


5-Day Total Spent: $419.93

Need help with a home improvement project? Get a free quote today!

Enter Your Zip Code

Enter Your Zip Code

RELATED Articles

Discover More

fueled by the power of California love
We're committed to helping you discover the places, people and businesses that make our state Golden. Our online publication, updated daily, brings you all the content you need to live your California dreams. And that's just the beginning…
Purpose section
Purpose section