How I Survive In Portland On A $50K Salary: Realistic ‘Money Diaries’

As long as Refinery29 keeps recruiting socialites to write about their budgeting woes for their Money Diaries segment, we will keep flaunting the finances of our freelancers to remind the world what suffering really looks like. While not nearly as expensive as LA, New York, or San Francisco, Portland, OR, where I currently live, is rapidly moving up the ranks of American cities that young people flock to for overpriced beverages and an astronomical disparity between their rent and wages. Thanks, Portlandia. Here’s what a typical day looks like in the Pacific Northwest’s second favorite city (fuck you, Seattle).

 

The Basics

Occupation: Officially I’m a global communications planner at a media agency, which is one of those made up titles that means I majored in journalism in college and then shrugged my way into job. It’s worked out spectacularly well for me thus far, so if everyone could keep their mouths shut and not ruin that, I’d be very appreciative.

Industry: Advertising. My office could not be more stereotypically “millennial advertising” if we tried. Portland’s latest warehouse loft-turned-office has it all: exposed brick. unfinished floors. open floor plans. a three-legged dog who named Cooper who loves burritos as much as any of the rest of us. Welcome to media, it’s just as glamorous as you were promised.

Age: 26
Location: Portland, OR
Salary: Approx. $50K
Paychecks: I get paid twice a month, on the 15th and the 30th. Sometimes this seems like a rational spacing of time, and sometimes it seems like four years have passed between the 15th and the 17th. If pay day happens to fall on a Friday, I am guaranteed to be starving for the next week and a half because my drunk self has no concept of not spending her entire paycheck mere seconds after she receives it on drinks for her all her friends.

Bonus: Much like debt-free college and social security, bonuses are a myth perpetuated by baby boomers to make us hate ourselves. No one tell them how well it’s working.

Shit I Pay For

 

Rent: For rent and utilities, I pay a grand total of $705 a month. I realize that this is a screaming deal, and there’s likely a reason. I live in the corner apartment of a building on a bustling street that hosts no less than four ambulance parties a night. We have no dishwasher, which means I could be stricken down with salmonella at any given moment. About once a month, someone tries to break into our basement storage/laundry room, which means I am unable to clean my clothes or access my storage unit for days at a time while the door is being replaced. Sometimes this means you have to wrap your cat in a blanket and carry her to her vet appointment because you physically cannot access her carrier. Don’t mind me, the quirky twentysomething strolling down a busy thoroughfare, gripping a struggling, screaming, overweight cat as if her life depended on it. I’m a rom com waiting to happen.

 

Car: I’d say I fill my car up about twice a month, and it’s probably $40 each time because I wait until there are literal tumbleweeds rolling around in the tank before coasting to the gas station that is only slightly downhill from my apartment.

 

Comcast: I pay $40 a month for moderately reliable wifi and access to the most basic cable package so that I can watch two shows in real time: Riverdale and anything from The Bachelor franchise. I initially positioned this as a work necessity, just in case I have to write a recap or reactionary piece. That has never happened. I’m just trash who needs immediate access to Riverdale and The Bachelor.

I'm The Worst

Hulu: My first big move into adulthood was taking over my family’s Hulu payment because it felt weird making my grandma pay for it while I handed out the password to all my friends. You could say I’m selfless. We sprang for the $11/month plan so that we can skip commercials. This is how the other side lives, my friends.

 

Gym Membership: I pay $89/month for a Class Pass membership that gets halfhearted use at best. Some weeks I’ll remember that one day the sun will return to this god forsaken city, and I go to barre religiously for four days in a row. Then I discover Hawaiian food and don’t move for another three weeks. Moderation is everything.

 

Going Out/Eating/Stupid Shit: I’m so offended that you would even think I’d subject myself to the trauma of checking these numbers. It’s too much okay? Is that enough? Are you not entertained?

 

Savings: I try to put away anywhere from $200 – $400 a month for a month long trip I have booked in October. “Try” is the operative word here, because I usually end up dipping back into that savings a couple days before pay day. My Mint app is furiously buzzing just hearing me type this.

 

Student Loans: I have come to accept that I will be paying these until the day I die. My 10-year plan is that the United States government crumbles in some kind of YA dystopian anarchy plotline, and I don’t have to finish paying for my college degree. That’s it. That’s as far as I’ve gotten in the realm of financial planning.

 

 

A Typical Day

8:00am – Eat what I’ve convinced myself is a healthy cereal alternative but what I know deep in my heart to just be a Trader Joe’s branded version of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Sprinkle a couple blackberries on top and voilà, I am a health guru.

8:20am – Get into my car and notice that my gas light is on. How long has it been on? Only God knows. Immediately decide that this is a problem for later me to deal with.

8:35am – Stop on my way to work to buy an iced latte that I can hardly justify because our office provides coffee. But it’s the closest thing Portland has to Blue Bottle and so we all have to make our scarifies, I guess. My favorite part about spending $5.75 on an iced latte is that it only takes me 30 seconds to drink it and immediately wish that I had another one. Sure, it could have been $4.75, but I tipped a full dollar in my ongoing efforts to get the hot barista to remember me. This strategy has yet to pan out.
8:37am – While waiting for my latte, I openly gawk at a woman at a nearby table who has managed to pull off the heavy bang/oversized overall/struggling yet chic artist look that I was convinced, until this moment, only worked on people like Alexa Chung and Rachel McAdams. I wonder if she also tipped the barista a dollar.
10:00am – Walk to the cafe by my office because it’s such a nice day and why not get some fresh air! Definitely no ulterior motives here! Just accompanying a friend and basking in that sweet Oregon sunshine!
10:05am – Order a side of bacon, because I’m a growing 26-year-old girl and if keto taught me anything, it’s that we should be celebrating this perfect piece of meat.
12:30pm – Ventured to New Seasons to stock up on cheese for my weekly Riverdale viewing party. If you don’t spend your Wednesday nights devouring entire wedges of jalapeño gouda and mocking Archie Andrews, I honestly don’t know what to tell you other than to get your shit together.
Get Your Shit Together
While there, I realize that I have yet to drink a single liquid today that isn’t coffee, something that is definitely not helping eradicate the cold that has slowly taken over my body in the last 24 hours. In the name of self-care, I spend $4 on 11 oz. of hand squeeze orange juice and another $2.50 on a giant-ass bottle of Fiji water. I recognize that spitting in the face of sustainability is a bold choice to make in Portland, but I don’t have a dishwasher and don’t trust my own paltry cleaning skills to remove whatever bacteria may have accumulated in the four reusable bottles I actually own after months of use/baking in the backseat of my car.

 

I didn’t buy lunch because Tuesday night I decided to meal prep for the week to make myself feel better about a solid week straight of takeout. This didn’t stop me from standing in front of the hot bar mac and cheese and just sighing for five straight minutes. But, in the spirit of full disclosure, if we were talking a typical day I’d spend five minutes hemming and hawing about saving money and then drop $9 on a boxed salad, likely rife with e. Coli.

 

2:30pm – Consider eating the “afternoon snack” I packed this morning. It’s a healthy and dissatisfying combo of carrot sticks and white bean basil hummus, something that sounded enjoyable while I was furiously grocery shopping the night before but now just makes me want to die.
2:40pm – Eat it anyway. Even Cooper is unimpressed.
4:30pm – I head to the store to buy some stupid expensive sunscreen for my stupid pale skin because the stupid lovely sun came out in Portland for the first time this stupid year. God forbid I go to an outdoor happy hour before slathering myself in SPF60 and praying that whatever well alcohol I’ve selected for myself won’t interact with the sun and result in a cute rash across my chest.
4:45pm – It is now time for later me to deal with the fact that my car is running on literal fumes. I stop at the gas station near my office where the taxis fill up, because it’s cheaper and still pull the “just $10 regular” move because I have never heard of foresight. Sounds like a problem for two-days-from-now me.
6:30pm – Spend the entire drive to happy hour convincing myself to just get whatever cheap cider they have on draft and then don’t even hesitate before ordering the $10 cocktail special because it sounds festive and tropical. I also spring for an order of chips and salsa for the table because I’m the backbone of my friend group and also plan on eating them almost entirely by myself.

 

7:20pm – Head to my friend’s house for our Riverdale viewing party, where I eat no less than five different kinds of cheese. It’s easier to listen to Veronica say “Daddy” 150 times per episode when you’re uncomfortably full of brie and jalapeño gouda.
8:15pm – This episode is dark. Like, are we really all going to pretend we cared that much about Midge? And are we going to have to spend the rest of this season dealing with the return of tortured Archie? Because there isn’t enough cheese in all of New Seasons to make that okay.
9:30pm – Have to physically restrain myself from getting ice cream on the way home. I don’t know when I became this monster that eats entire meals consisting solely of dairy, but I blame Whole30. There’s no logic there, I just like to blame them for anything that goes wrong in my life.

 

Total Spending for One Weekday: Not counting the sunscreen but including the salad I typically would have bought, we’re looking at $49.42. I’ve had worse days, but it’s still not great.
Total Spending for One Week if I Spent Like This Every Day: $345.94. Refinery29, if you’re still looking for people with zero understanding of how money works, give me a call.

 

It probably goes without saying, but this could have been a lot worse. If you factored a weekend brunch into this plus even the tamest of nighttime activities, were’ looking at $500 a week. Who do I think I am? Bill Gates?

 

I know that, compared to a lot of people in a lot of places, I’m doing pretty well. I have an apartment that is cute when I actually clean it. I manage to eat enough food to feel bad about myself. My cat goes to a vet that’s nicer than my actual doctor. I feel safe spending at least $7 extra dollars a week just to gain the affection of a barista who will never know my name. I’ve done okay for myself.

 

Shout out to people living in more expensive cities with less means. You’re the real MVP’s. Feel free to teach my your ways, unless they require that I stop spending $20 a week on extravagant cheeses to accompany my CW shows. That’s just not a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

 

Images: Giphy (5)

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