isolation selfie.JPG michelle juergen.JPGCourtesy of Michelle Juergen

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 $4,000 with unemployment benefits, and her minimum monthly expenses come to around $3,100. 
For Business Insider’s “Real Money” series, Juergen tracked her spending for a week. Between groceries, business purchases, and personal items, she spent $682.84.
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My monthly expenses usually total $3,078, and are broken down into these categories:

Juergen monthly budget chart

Miscellaneous items include my $60 cell phone bill, $120 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: $16 bacon. 

Yes, I paid $16 for slices of fatty meat I could have gotten for $5 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 $600 per week to the $450 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 $600 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.

Monday: $32.89
Courtesy of Michelle Juergen

Bobo’s Oat Bars: $32.89

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.

Tuesday: $121.70
Courtesy of Michelle Juergen

Lady & Larder groceries: $61.70

Therapy: $60

Maybe it was the aftermath of a Monday, but Tuesday begat the $16 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 $9 cherries from small farms, a $10 loaf of locally-made sourdough bread, and, yes, $16 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 savoring 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.

Wednesday: $45.55
Courtesy of Michelle Juergen

Paula’s Choice retinol: $45.55

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 $45 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. 

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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SEE ALSO: I live in rural Costa Rica and spend $1,000 a month on travel. Here’s exactly where my money goes in a typical week.


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