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The Dollar Diary: An Oakland Workweek on $16 Per Hour
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The Dollar Diary: An Oakland Workweek on $16 Per Hour

See how much money a 25-year-old living in the Bay Area typically spends during the workweek.



14 min read

August 04, 2019

A 25-year-old programs specialist works for a nonprofit company in Oakland making $16 per hour, which means this coffee-obsessed marketer is paid about $850 biweekly. Here's how much she spends in a typical week.

Average Monthly Expenses

Rent (my portion): $750 

Wi-Fi (my portion): $40.96

PG&E (my portion): $28.65

Cell Phone: $0 (I'm on my parents’ plan) 

Health Insurance: $0 (I'm on my parents’ plan)

Clipper Card: $165

Netflix: $0 (thanks, mom and dad)

Spotify: $0 (thanks, bro)

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Day 1

7:10 a.m.

I reach over to stop my phone alarm from ringing for the second (and final) time. The first alarm goes off at 7 a.m., but I can never motivate myself to actually wake up at that time. You could say I’m not a morning person. After reading my personal emails in bed, it’s finally time to get up. I walk into the kitchen and start making my daily coffee. While that is brewing, I sit in my chair and practice Italian with Duolingo. 

7:30 a.m. 

Feeling accomplished already, it is finally time to throw together an outfit, brush my teeth, and get my stuff together. 

8:45 a.m. 

I arrive at the office after a 15-minute walk to BART, a 30-minute ride on the crowded train, a 5-minute walk to the office, a short elevator ride, and a quick stop in the restroom. (Why there aren’t any available stairs will never make sense to me—a creepy man and I were the only ones in the elevator this morning, so my heart was pounding the entire time.) After surviving this uncomfortable experience, I go to the restroom to wash the BART off my hands, just to find that my red lipstick has smeared, making me look like the crazy one. 

9:00 a.m. 

I sit at my desk like nothing has happened and pull out my computer from the metal drawer I have to keep it in overnight. I’m pretty sure my desk neighbor thinks she owns the drawers, even though she comes into the office maybe once per week, but  the dirty looks have finally stopped. 

10:30 a.m. 

I spend my morning parsing through emails, perfecting flyers, and attending conference meetings. I wish there was more for me to do, but you can only ask so many times before losing some amount of hope. So I re-check work that has been completed for days, and switch between tabs to make sure I haven’t missed anything. Still: Nothing in my inbox. 

11:45 a.m. 

The Slack messages begin to confirm lunch plans with my coworkers. We eat together every day but still check each others’ availability before heading into the kitchen.

12 p.m.

We each pull out our salads that we made in the morning before rushing out the door, and grab forks from the kitchen drawer before sitting at the end of the row of tables. There is a company lunch co-op that I’m pretty sure is something between a cult and a clique, so naturally, I keep my distance. After eating the salad, we are still hungry and decide to go downstairs to check out the nearby restaurants. I bring my wallet but end up not getting anything. My coworker grabs some falafel and hummus, and we head back up.

12:30 p.m.

Back to work we go. Neither of us has much work to do, but we try to stay busy. It seems to be how contract work goes.

2 p.m. 

I’m still checking my emails over and over again, but I have finally been given a task by another manager. It takes me less than an hour to complete, but I am grateful to be contributing something.

3 p.m.

My coworkers and I are all restless and in need of some sunshine. Since we are all contractors, the workload is pretty light for now, so we head out for a cup of coffee at Awaken Cafe & Roasting. I end up with a soy latte and a vegan donut, which are enough to put a pep in my step and get me through the afternoon. With tip, my pick-me-up comes out to $10.95.

5:30 p.m.

The day’s work is over. It wasn’t terribly eventful, but I feel good about what I have accomplished considering what I was given.

5:40 p.m.

The train is packed, and yet another man with a bicycle is trying to squeeze in, so I have to move. (I prefer standing in the bike area because I can lean against it instead of having to hold on to some grimy pole or fabric strap that is undoubtedly coated in something I’d rather not think about.) So I move over and touch the gross strap, and try to focus on reading during the short period of time I have. 

6:10 p.m. 

Wild is getting good, so it is hard to stop reading as I exit the train. Yes, I’m that person walking down the stairs with my nose in a book, but no, I did not fall or push anyone in the process, so I’d call that a win. I walk home and call my mom, a daily ritual we both enjoy.

6:30 p.m. 

With mom still on the phone, I start preparing dinner. My boyfriend will be home any minute, and on the days I actually decide to cook, I like to have dinner done around the time he arrives. Tonight we are having turkey burgers, so it doesn’t take too much effort. Thank you, speakerphone, for allowing me to do both of these tasks at the same time.

8 p.m.

The Bachelorette is on and takes my mind off of work, my future, and all the other things swirling around up there. I change, put on a face mask, and begin to relax. This ritual is the girliest thing about me, but I wouldn’t give it up—no matter how much I’m made fun of for it. 

10:30 p.m.

It’s my bedtime so I finish getting ready for bed, take my vitamins, turn on Friends, and lay my head down for the night.

Daily total spent: $10.95

Day 2

7:10 a.m. 

Why is getting up even harder today? I roll over and do my best not to fall back asleep, but I need 10 more minutes before I can convince myself to get up.

7:30 a.m.

Since I stayed in bed longer, I have to rush through my emails, coffee making, and Italian learning, but I surprisingly finish at my usual time. 

9 a.m.

I get to work and open up my emails. We have a weekly meeting at 10 a.m., which never shows up on my calendar for some reason, so I get caught up in my small tasks and forget about it half of the time. Thank you, friends, for reminding me on Slack, or today would have been another one of those days. 

11 a.m. 

My manager has finally gotten our list of schools approved, and I begin my outreach efforts to encourage students to join our program. This is the first big challenge I’ve been given, and it is something I’ve never had to do before. 

12 p.m. 

After a few Slacks back and forth, my coworkers and I decide to take lunch at 12:15 today. We all have salads again, but one girl put salami in hers today—a bold move I have been scared to make around so many (slightly judgemental and incredibly environmentally conscious) vegetarians.

1 p.m. 

Students actually seem interested in our program and have emailed me to set up introductory phone calls—another first for me. And though I am extraordinarily awkward on the phone, we make it through, and they commit to participating. 

2 p.m.

The adrenaline from that first call has worn off, and the chatter-boxes a row over are distracting me from my outreach. I head over to the quiet area of the office in hopes of getting some inspiration for my next emails. There are so many plants and books in the room, which makes it feel homey, but the large windows and people passing by outside capture my attention for a minute or two. I snap out of the daze and start considering which events I’d like to set up for the conference. 

3:30 p.m. 

I need some water and a snack, so I return to my noisy desk. I eat some trail mix and contemplate my next move before my afternoon meeting. I end up researching more activities because I can easily pop in and out of it without needing to think about it for too long. 

4 p.m. 

Our meeting was short, per usual. We seem to be on the same track with everything, and my manager is happy with my performance. I ask for more projects again, and she is surprised I still do not have enough tasks to fill my days. 

5:30 p.m. 

I finally made a few decisions and planned the events for the conference, but I have to get approval for budget and search for the additional supplies before I’m done with the project altogether. BART seems a bit less crowded today, so I get to lean on my preferred bike rack all the way home. 

6:15 p.m.

It’s leftovers night, so I can relax and not have to think about what to make. I pull out the ingredients for burritos that I prepared a few nights ago, warm them up, and call it a day. 

7 p.m. 

My boyfriend and I finish eating and decide to go on a walk. After leisurely strolling around the downtown area, we take a little jog through the neighborhood before heading home. 

8 p.m. 

I hop in the shower, get into pajamas, and spend the next hour drying my hair in a towel as we watch reruns of Parks and Recreation on Netflix. 

10 p.m.

Feeling tired from the jog and work, I decide to head to bed a bit early. As it turns out, my body is a bit restless and I can’t fall asleep, so I read for a few minutes to help me wind down.

Daily total spent: $0

Day 3

7 a.m.

Thanks to the bit of exercise and good relaxation before bed, I am up earlier than usual. I read through my emails, check Instagram, and do my Italian lesson before going into the kitchen. I make my coffee but have to use regular soy milk because I ran out of my non-dairy creamer. 

7:50 a.m.

Leaving for work, I expect it to be a good day, but before I even get out of the parking lot, I slip and fall. I chip the bottom of my KeepCup, though luckily not enough to cause any spills, and I start to feel sore as soon as I make my way to my feet. It’s going to be one of those days. 

10 a.m.

Though work is more interesting today—my conference ideas were approved, so I get to begin planning for real—the morning has me shaken and I’m in need of some extra caffeine. I ask my marketing and tech friends to come along, and we head across the street to Modern Coffee for almond-milk lattes, which cost $5.50 each. 

10:25 a.m. 

After returning to the office, I find myself scrounging through cupboards and suitcases for conference supplies. I’m surprised to find so many of the odd things on my list, but I’m even more surprised at how little organization exists in these cabinets. 

11:50 a.m.

I decided to be bold today by putting chicken in my salad. I’m afraid of the judgement I’ll get in the kitchen, and I’m worried my patience is too low to not respond to snarky comments, so I eat at my desk for a change. I remember that I packed some chocolate, too, and get very excited about it, but I force myself to finish the salad first. 

12:15 p.m.

My coworkers and I meet up and go downstairs to walk around downtown Oakland. The office feels extra dreary today, and we desperately need some sunshine to lift our spirits. Our contracts are ending soon, and we are all focused on finding work when we are not in the office. One of my coworkers wants some freshly pressed juice, so we scour the area until we find a spot. 

2 p.m. 

I’m back to checking emails and scheduling appointments for calls with students. This task is becoming more frustrating the closer we get to the deadlines and the fewer the untapped resources get. 

4 p.m. 

I have another call, and this one is all by myself, but it is surprisingly less nerve-wracking than having my boss there next to me during it. I don’t have much time to think about it though; we have a meeting together in a few minutes to discuss the entire conference with the whole team.

5 p.m.

In an attempt for the team to bond before the conference prep gets crazy, we all head out to play bocce at a nearby venue. There’s an arcade, bowling, and cornhole as well, but the place is surprisingly busy, so we stick to bocce. The brussels sprouts and nachos taste delicious, though it takes far too long to make sure everything is vegetarian so nobody gets offended. 

6:45 p.m. 

Getting to know everyone better is fun, but I’m more than ready to be home. I share an Uber with a coworker back to the BART station, but we can’t get the share-fare feature to work. I offer to buy her a coffee the next day instead, and she agrees. 

7:30 p.m.

I finally get home and am exhausted. My boyfriend was sweet enough to make me mac and cheese before I arrive, and we scarf it down together while telling each other about our long days. 

9 p.m. 

We get ready for bed early and watch TV for a bit before falling asleep. 

Daily total spent: $5.50

Day 4

7:10 a.m.

Despite getting to bed early, waking up is a struggle today. I am relieved that the week is more than halfway over, but it feels like the weekend will never come. We are taking a short trip to Lake Tahoe, so Saturday cannot come soon enough.

7:25 a.m.

I daydream for too long about the weekend and actually begin to pack before realizing I will be late if I don’t start getting ready.

8:55 a.m. 

I wait 5 minutes for the elevator, just to go up one floor. Everyone looks at me funny when I press 2 and gets upset when I have to push my way out so I don’t miss my floor. I wonder again why I can’t just take the stairs, so I decide to ask the security guards at the front desk when I see them again.

9:20 a.m. 

Everyone is distracted today because the office manager brought in donuts to celebrate the upcoming birthdays. We have an all-staff meeting at 10, and nobody can wait until then to start congregating.

9:55 a.m.

It’s safe to say that nothing really got accomplished this morning. I send out another email before walking over to the meeting. 

11:05 a.m. 

Why are there icebreaker games at work get-togethers? It’s always an awkward circle of people who don’t really want to tell you where they’re from and where they traveled to last, and yet these games keep coming back to haunt. With an hour left before lunch, I start putting together instruction packets for each of the activities and finish up a form for students who want to apply to participate in another program.

12:35 p.m. 

I decide to eat lunch at my desk after going on a walk during my lunch break. There is something magical about sunflower seeds and blue cheese dressing, but they also seem to get everywhere. Or is it just me? 

2 p.m. 

I have finished everything on my plate for the day, so I offer to help a few friends with their work. One takes me up on it, and we begin to brainstorm keynote speakers to fill our last few spots. We come up with a whole list, only a few of which are actually invited to come. 

3:30 p.m.

As promised, I take her out for coffee. This time, we go to Slojoy Coffee Roasters so we can take a bit of a longer walk. It comes out to $12 for two oat-milk lattes and the tip. Whether from the coffee or from getting out of the office, we both feel refreshed and ready to get back to work.

5:30 p.m. 

This afternoon was the most productive all week. With my headphones in and the joyful rhythms of Sylvan Esso to help me along, I complete the instructions for all but one of my activities. The BART train is crowded again when I head home, as everyone who doesn’t work on Fridays gets out of town early. 

7 p.m. 

Feeling too lazy to cook, I order a pizza and it comes out to $27 with tip (I always round to whole dollars when possible). My boyfriend and I find old episodes of The Challenge and binge-watch it for the rest of the night, feeling inspired to do wall sits during the commercial breaks. 

Daily total spent: $39

Day 5

7 a.m. 

Now that it is finally Friday, I feel an extra ounce of energy that wakes me up even before my alarm. I put on some music and dance around the kitchen as I make my coffee, excited that the weekend is nearly upon us. 

8 a.m. 

BART is less crowded than a typical Friday, but I decide to stand like always. Thanks to delays, I get to read for a few more minutes and nearly miss my stop because my book is starting to get really good. 

9:15 a.m.

I have one last call scheduled for the week and take a couple of minutes to prepare before jumping on the phone. It goes smoothly, and the student asks a lot of good questions that I am actually able to answer. 

10 a.m. 

Relieved that the hard work is behind me, I focus on finishing up the materials that will be printed for the conference. I go between a few different programs, not sure which will work the best, but I eventually decide to email our graphic designer to see if he can spare a few hours in the coming weeks to make them look amazing and on theme. 

11:10 a.m.

The designer agrees to help, and I am so excited to have that item checked off my list. I switch my attention to the written copy and bust out the instructional information for the activity leaders. 

12 p.m. 

Since it’s Friday, half of the people in the office walk down to the farmers market for lunch. The crowds can get crazy, and the line for Cholita Linda is already at least 20 customers deep, but I can’t not eat there. I stand in line as everyone else decides what they want to eat today. After 10  minutes or so, I place my order for one pork and one tofu taco with a strawberry agua fresca, which all comes out to $12 with tip. It’s another 10 minutes before I am able to pick up my food, but everyone else is on the same page, so we decide to sit and eat for a few minutes before heading back to the office. 

1 p.m. 

Farmers market days really make the time pass quickly. Mostly everyone packs up early on Fridays to get a jump on the weekend and avoid the traffic getting out of town. I spend the rest of the afternoon completing the instructional manuals and ordering the finishing touches that we need to pull off each activity. 

5 p.m.

I have one final check-in with my team, and we are on track for the week. We all decide to pack up a few minutes early and walk over to BART together. 

5:25 p.m.

My coworkers’ train gets to the station as soon as we arrive, but mine is 7 minutes behind. I find a spot on the middle of the platform and open my book. Reading about the protagonist's outdoor adventures makes me even more excited for my upcoming trip, and I consider taking a long hike or learning how to rock climb before snapping back into reality. 

7 p.m.

We have taco salad for dinner so we can use up our ingredients before leaving town. Since I cooked, my boyfriend cleans up the kitchen, and we both finish packing.

9 p.m. 

Finally done with everything we needed to accomplish before our trip, we sit down and cheers to vacation. 

10:30 p.m.

Exhausted and excited, we go to bed earlier than expected so we can begin our drive to Tahoe early in the morning. 

Daily total spent: $12

Workweek total Spent: $67.45

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