A Week In New York City On $13.50/Hour
This is a callout post.
Welcome to Broke & Mad About It, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern humans: money. I’m telling you how this millennial spends her hard-earned money during a seven-day period — even though you didn’t ask — as a counter to this beautiful nugget of baffling affluence.
Today: a smoothie maker working in food service who makes $13.50/hour and spends some of her money this week on nothing.
Occupation: Smoothie Maker
Industry: Food service
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Paycheck Amount (Weekly): $325, but that’s a rough average — some weeks I make $375 if I worked a double or made sure to clock out at least 30 minutes after I was supposed to to make up for the loss from my 30-minute lunch breaks.
Additional Income: On top of my hourly rate, my parents give me a $0/month allowance because I’m estranged from them, and my grandpa also wires me $0 every month because my grandparents are retired and could die at any moment (#stressed).
Rent: I live in a two bedroom/zero den apartment. The total rent is $1,850. My share is $925 (my parents hate me) and my roommate’s share is $925. (She lives in the den.)
Student Loan Payment: $0 (I defaulted on my loans, but the total amount is $9,239.)
Health Insurance: $0 (I’m on Medicaid.)
MoviePass: $0 (I don’t have time to see movies.)
Sugared + Bronzed Pass: $0 (what is this)
Equinox Membership: $0
Phone Bill: $81
Netflix, Spotify, Amazon: $10 (I only have Netflix, my splurge)
5:00 a.m. — My alarm goes off for work. It’s the day after the 4th of July, and I’m beat from working all day yesterday. I also had a panic attack last night and am still feeling a little off. Thankfully, I have to get up and go to work so I don’t have time to let my depression & anxiety fully drive me to the brink.
5:30 a.m. — I am on the train trying to sleep standing up. For breakfast, I will eat the leftovers of the first smoothie I make that morning or I dig through our “waste” to find something free that expired yesterday. I’ve found that this combo keeps me very satisfied until lunch, which is another dig through the “waste.”
6:30 a.m. — Being that everyone had the day off yesterday, I have to be on top of it at work because we’ll definitely have a lot more customers. I don’t stop in anywhere or buy anything. I wait for my manager to unlock the door so I can clock in, because every minute I’m not clocked in is money I’m losing.
11:26 a.m. —I have been making smoothies nonstop for the last five hours. My shoulder is beginning to ache from the repeat motion and I find myself sarcastically mumbling because another customer ordered a smoothie with no banana, when the real sweetener they should be afraid of is in the syrup they overlooked. Perk of being in food service is that the customers don’t realize you exist, unless they’re the ones who watch you like a hawk, ready to jump if they think you’re doing it wrong. Which never happens. But I do find myself ready to lose it, almost constantly. Nobody tips.
12:30 p.m. — I take my lunch break, late because we got a rush when I would have normally taken my break. My savings “app” is a Joe’s Crab Shack jar full of coins from tips and what I find in the street. So far, I’ve saved almost a full jar! It’s sick! It also reminds me that I need to buy coin papers so I can deposit the money in my bank before I overdraft again.
12:35 p.m. — Decide to just have some of the coffee we use for smoothies as my lunch, even though it’s frowned upon.
12:45 p.m. — I take my coffee and sit in the back office. My coworker comes in to ask me about a delivery order that was done ages ago but that he’s having trouble with. I walk out with him to fix the problem. By the time I’m done, I’m late clocking back in from lunch. I down the rest of the coffee and wash my hands before heading back into making smoothies.
1:05 p.m. — My shoulder is aching again, but just one more hour.
3:30 p.m. — I’m still at work to make up for that lost 33-minute lunch break. I’m washing blender beakers and catch myself staring off at nothing, feeling nothing, thinking nothing. A burdensome darkness surrounds me. I take a deep breath and blink a few times before heading back to the smoothie area, arms drenched and hands screaming for some lotion to compensate for all the bleach water they’ve been in. I hit a wall every day at this time, and no amount of caffeine can dig me out of it.
4:42 p.m. — I’m on the train home. I’ve learned to position my feet in such a way that my knees don’t buckle once I finally stand up to get off at my stop.
5:01 p.m. — I’m at home, sitting with my feet up and staring at a corner of my apartment between the dresser we use as a TV stand and the wall. My cat meows incessantly for attention. I think I pet him, but I’m not sure. I’m not really sure of anything anymore.
5:45 p.m. — I run a quick calculation of how long I can stay up before I have to go to sleep. I have to be up tomorrow at 3:30am because I have to open at 5:45 and my train is shut down until 5, so I have to get up earlier to catch a bus to another train that will take an extra 30 minutes to get to work. I send my manager a quick email letting her know I might be late depending on the bus, but I’ll do my best.
7 p.m. — I spend the rest of my “afternoon” winding down before bed. My roommate is home now. I feel bad that I can’t stay up chatting with her. She quietly prepared dinner for herself and casually offers it to me. She knows I can’t afford groceries right now, so she does little things like this to make me feel comfortable getting a share of her food.
7:33 p.m. — I am in bed. 8 hours until I have to be up for work. I’m on Twitter, taking in the day’s news and trying to crack some jokes before I get too tired to remain conscious. This is how I’ve learned to fall asleep, otherwise I just lay there tossing back and forth. I think about what my life was like when I was in school. How it was hard, but a different kind of hard. I think about the student loans I’ve defaulted on for a degree I couldn’t afford to complete. I imagine the recipes I’d prepare if I could afford groceries. I remember that I forgot to put cortisone cream on my hands before bed, a necessary step to combat the eczema I developed from washing dishes for a living. I’m too tired to climb out of bed.
11:36 p.m. — I woke up to pee. My roommate is still up. She’s off tomorrow. Sounds nice.
Daily Total: $5.50 (for the train)
3:30 a.m. — My alarm goes off.
3:45 a.m. — My second alarm goes off.
4:00 a.m. — My alarm that says WAKE UP THE TRAIN IS FUCKED goes off. I sit up at the edge of my bed. I wait to find my equilibrium. Then I’m up and shuffle to the bathroom for a quick shower. I brush my teeth as I pack socks into my backpack to switch into once I get to work. Crocs without socks is a bigtime no-no. I doublecheck to make sure my work hat is in my bag and I’m off.
5:48 a.m. — I’m at work, under the 7 minute grace period! I shoot my manager an email because the location I’m at has had problems with the clock-in system. She’s not awake yet, but at least the email has a timestamp of when I got in so I don’t lose those hours on my paycheck like I did last week.
10:33 a.m. — I’ve been at work for nearly five hours now, alone. All my usual customers have stopped by. Only one — the guy who orders 4 smoothies every Friday — tips. Today, he tips me $2. At this point, the writer of the original “money diary” mentions: “After working for a bit at my boyfriend’s place, we head over to a local juice bar for acai bowls and smoothies.” There’s a good chance I’ve made her smoothie. She never tips.
12:15 p.m. — Two hours until I’m off work and I just got a rush. When you’re just one person with 2 blender bases, a rush is any time there’s more than 3 smoothies that need to be made. I ring everyone up before I start in on their orders so no one walks away while waiting. A customer calls me a “smoothie queen” as I seamlessly dart and weave my arms between beakers, calling out order after order while my hands never stop moving. I smile and say “It’s almost like it’s my job!” That gets a laugh. Another one that always gets a laugh: “Sorry, I’m card only. I mean, I’ll happily take your cash. [a beat] But I can’t charge you with it.” I don’t get a lunch break because I’m by myself so there’s no one to cover me. I eat some waste from the day before.
1:34 p.m. — The rush is over so I’m washing beakers in the back. I suddenly remember I have to submit today’s inventory. I drop what I’m doing to run a quick count, using the inventory/waste sheet I created specifically for this location in between orders during one particularly slow shift. Customers step in front of me to examine the goods I’m counting. I wait for them to finish. They decide not to get anything. I recount the product I left off at.
2:05 p.m. — Inventory is done and the closer is putting on his uniform. I tidy up and restock the smoothie station. Once he’s ready, I give him my mental rundown of things to know: We’re low on a slew of things, so I placed an order but it won’t arrive until Monday. I can’t find the key to storage to restock our cups. I made almond milk but I just realized I forgot to refill the filtered water jug. Do we have more gloves? I’m going to drop off the laundry before I head out. Do you know what size tomorrow’s opener wears so I can leave a uniform for him?
3:30 p.m. — I was scheduled to be off at 2, but it’s always helpful to stick around a little longer so the closer can settle in. After I dropped off the laundry and clock out (via email to my manager, again), I sit for the first time all day. My hips hurt. I could fall asleep right there, but I decide to head home. I groan standing up again and shuffle off. I stop by another location that has more product — more product means more waste, and more waste means I have dinner for the night.
5 p.m. — I’m finally home. I spend thirty minutes just sitting before I get up and sort my laundry. I’m too tired to slog it to the laundromat today, but I’ve found separating pants from tops results in slightly cleaner clothes and at least having it ready makes it easier to talk myself into it tomorrow.
6:09 p.m. — I’m debating on whether or not I should go to bed. I don’t have work until 8, so if I sleep now I’ll end up waking up at 3 again and I’ll run out of gas before my shift ends. I resolve to find something to watch on Netflix, straining to stay up until it’s time for bed. These days, it’s all about getting to exactly 8 hours before I have to wake up or, on days I have to clopen, using the train ride home as my “winding down” time so I can just get home and fall asleep to make up for the loss of sleep that comes from getting home at 11:30 and having to be awake at 4:30. I suddenly remember I have to pay rent today or I’ll get slammed with a late fee. I check my bank account and there’s just enough. I pay $925, plus a $2 fee for paying online. I’m asleep before my phone buzzes with the payment confirmation email.
Daily Total: $5.50 (for the train), plus $927 (rent).
Work. Work work. Work.
It’s my day off! At last! I sleep in until 6 a.m., make some coffee, then realize my body is still too sore to be upright. I spend the rest of the day in bed.
Time is irrelevant — It’s my day off again! I am so grateful I told my manager early on that no matter when my days off are, I absolutely need them to be consecutive. Otherwise my brain breaks, you see.
Time is irrelevant — I get an email from my manager asking me to work a different shift. I say Sure, no prob! She says Great! I check the schedule and notice someone is scheduled to close by themselves one day this week. I shoot my manager an email letting her know, noting that I can’t do it because I open too early the next day but if someone else gets switched to close instead, she can do it because she doesn’t work until 11 the next day. My manager responds: Great catch! Could you open instead of me and then I’ll close? I say: Sure, no prob!
I run the numbers to see how long I have until I have to be in bed. The cycle starts up again.
If you are experiencing anxiety or depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1–800–826–3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1–775–784–8090.
If you liked this piece and would like to buy me a coffee, I’d gladly appreciate it.