- Michelle Juergen is a freelance writer and editor in Los Angeles who was recently let go from her job at a travel trade publication.
- Her current monthly income is about $US4,000 with unemployment benefits, and her minimum monthly expenses come to around $US3,100.
- For Business Insider’s “Real Money” series, Juergen tracked her spending for a week. Between groceries, business purchases, and personal items, she spent $US682.84.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
My monthly expenses usually total $US3,078, and are broken down into these categories:
Miscellaneous items include my $US60 cell phone bill, $US120 yoga membership, Netflix and Spotify Premium accounts, random Amazon orders, and emergency costs like DMV or doctor visits.
But before I share a snapshot of my spending as a newly unemployed person, I must address something crucial you’ll see: $US16 bacon.
Yes, I paid $US16 for slices of fatty meat I could have gotten for $US5 at an ordinary grocery store. But these are unsure times, and fancy bacon is a small, superfluous luxury that, writ large, assuages – even if just for the time it takes to eat breakfast – my constant unease about the future of my life and the world around me.
I was let go rather suddenly from my job as a Los Angeles-based writer and editor for a travel trade magazine, as the pandemic and travel’s uncertain future forced the company to downsize. But determining how to wisely spend my income – which, as of April 1, comes from unemployment insurance (UI), a couple freelance gigs, and some severance pay – isn’t new to me. I’ve always had a tighter budget because of student loans and car payments (both of which I paid off last fall), so I’m used to leaner finances. When I splurged, it was often on food: dinners and drinks with friends, or solo steak frites and wine after a long work week.
So although I’ve had to make tweaks to my monthly budget after being let go, and am keenly more aware of every dollar I spend, I’ve not had to profoundly change my spending habits. And thanks to the CARES Act, which adds $US600 per week to the $US450 I receive from UI (the maximum allowance in California), I’m actually making more per month than I did as senior editor of the travel magazine.
While simultaneously elevated and disheartened by this fact, I’ve been able to save more per month than I was formerly able, as well as had time to pursue creative projects like contributing unpaid time into “Fly Brother,” a new travel show on public television; joining free online writing seminars; and duct-taping my iPhone to the ceiling to experiment with self-portraits.
My spending will, however, have to decrease in the coming months, especially as the CARES Act’s extra $US600 ends July 31. But I plan to mitigate this by increasing my freelance work and moving somewhere more affordable.
Here’s how I spent my money during a recent week in May.
Bobo’s Oat Bars: $US32.89
Every day is Blursday now, but somehow, my inner Garfield always feels the acute Weltschmerz of a Monday. During this particular one, I sweat and stress-ate my way through a freelance copywriting project I was on deadline for. During my frenetic sprint, I received a “We miss you!” email with an offer for 30% off from Bobo’s, a Boulder, Colorado maker of tasty oat bars. The sentiment worked: I bought protein and oat bars, a purchase that will count toward my grocery budget.
Lady & Larder groceries: $US61.70
Maybe it was the aftermath of a Monday, but Tuesday begat the $US16 bacon binge. I do most of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, but as the product of two organic-food-loving parents, I’ve built certain splurges into my dining budget for things like $US9 cherries from small farms, a $US10 loaf of locally-made sourdough bread, and, yes, $US16 pasture-raised, antibiotic-free, non-GMO bacon from a nearby purveyor. (Side note: Though I do pay more for certain grocery items, I’d never actually bought expensive bacon before.) I picked up these and a few other purchases from Lady & Larder, a local cheese shop that pivoted into a takeout store when the coronavirus severely impacted its business.
After assembling and savouring an epic BLT, I joined my therapist online for our weekly video session. Therapy has been built into my budget for the last five or so years, and I’ve been fortunate to find sliding-scale clinics and counselors that work with my finances. I anticipate the cost will become tougher to maintain in the coming months, but it has been so essential to maintaining my well-being (particularly now, as I navigate constant uncertainty) that I’ll make it work.
Paula’s Choice retinol: $US45.55
Before the pandemic, performing the ubiquitous lengthy skincare regime for which women are often mocked was keeping my skin clear. Now, I’m dealing with rogue breakouts that seem to magnify the haphazardness of life these days.
And it’s not just me: Experiencing adult acne in isolation is a thing – one that’s making headlines. So while the pixelation of weekly Zoom calls hides my blemishes from friends, it doesn’t conceal the ever-present unease I feel over my growing list of Things I Can’t Control.
Thus, a $US45 purchase of Paula’s Choice retinol. When it comes to beauty- and household-related spending, I generally only buy things that I’ve researched thoroughly and aren’t full price. So I made sure to get a deal: I used a code that snagged me a 20% discount, free shipping, and a bonus travel size retinol.
Laptop down payment: $US452.70
Blue Apron meals: $US30
My family doesn’t financially support me (even as a kid, I had to pull weeds to earn my allowance), but a privilege I’m grateful for is making payment plans with my mum and dad when finances are tight. Every so often, they will lay out money for me for a big purchase, and we’ll configure a repayment system that’s interest-free and follows an agreed-upon timeline. They did this for me when I bought my first real mattress at age 24, an extended warranty for my second car at age 27, and, now, a laptop at age 33.
My jobs have always provided me with a work laptop, so I haven’t owned a personal one since college. But because I had to return my laptop to my former employer, I needed one of my own for the first time in a decade. I held out for the newly revamped 13″ MacBook Pro, which debuted in May and was going to cost me nearly $US2,000. My dad offered to make the purchase, asking for an initial down payment of $US452.70 to cover the tax and Apple Care. It’s a win-win for us both: He gets beaucoup points on his credit card, and I can space out my payments.
On Thursday, I also Venmo’d my roommate for a few Blue Apron meals we’d shared. As much as I love to eat, I find making three meals per day tedious, so I try to break it up with more accessible options or affordable takeout (I prefer gigantic burritos that can make multiple meals).
Angeles National Forest hiking: $US0
One way my routine has significantly changed since becoming unemployed is that I am now able to get into nature on weekdays. I used to spend weekends camping, or on long solo hikes or road trips, but I had to contend for quietude with all the other urbanites seeking the same. That all changed when Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti closed the city’s beaches and hiking trails, and I found myself taking frantic daily 4-mile walks around my neighbourhood to quell my need for extended time alone and outside.
But now that the city is beginning to reopen public lands, and I have the flexibility of unemployment, I’ve been heading to the Angeles National Forest on weekdays to avoid crowds and hit some of my beloved haunts. On Friday, I trekked up Mount Williamson and found myself gloriously alone for most of the 6-mile hike, hearing nothing but chirping birds and wind rustling through pine trees. (Note: Permits are required to park in certain areas, but an annual $US80 America the Beautiful pass or annual $US30 Forest Adventure Pass covers this cost.)
Unlike $US16 bacon, my hike cost no money (and was cholesterol-free), but the feelings both things evoke have something in common: They serve as a reminder that, no matter if I’m financially stable or pitching and rolling in a sea of change, small joys – however brief – are worth the investment.
Week total: $US682.84
Los Angeles-based Michelle Juergen began her career at Entrepreneur and most recently served as senior editor of TravelAge West, an award-winning travel trade magazine. Today, she’s a freelance writer, editor, copywriter, copyeditor, and ghostwriter. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.