Underwater on a vet tech's pay
Personal accounts: A technicians money journal reviews a week in Phoenix on a $24,816 salary.
Editor's note: Money management is all about choices. Where you live, the job you take, what you spend. But when it feels like the money's drifting out of the bank account much quicker than it flows in, it's hard to get a handle on where it all goes. We asked several veterinary professionals from different jobs and areas of the country to track their spending for one week. Our goal: to share what they've learned from a deep dive into the cost of living and the choices we make every day. Read them all here.
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DAY 1 Sunday
1 p.m. It's the weekend! I wake up at my usual time, which is way later than most people. I teach until 10 p.m. and then come home and watch TV, cook dinner, and putz around until about 4 a.m. I've always been a night owl. I've been forced to fight my nocturnal tendencies because my work schedule has been during daylight hours, but now I get to enjoy “my normal.” I've tried working overnights in an emergency practice, but it just really wasn't my thing.
2 p.m. Polished up and submitted an article I've been working on. I always get super detail-oriented with these. Once I finish the main piece I read the whole thing, then make any needed changes. Then I read it out loud to hear how it flows and make any more needed changes. Then I read it out loud to someone else, usually my housemate, and make any final changes if she finds something confusing or hard to follow. If my housemate is unavailable I read it to my cat. She gives less feedback. After I submit the article I make chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese and eat it in front of the TV.
3 p.m. Cleaned the house. I really hate cleaning it because no matter how well I do, my pets will have it looking just the same within two days. It feels like a waste of time, but I put on some loud and fast music and get on with it.
6 p.m. Sat down to work on crafts. I really like working on these projects. Every friend and family member I have is pretty well stocked on the things I make, so selling them was a logical step. I recently found a little boutique that has been buying my crafts to resell, which is great because my Etsy page hasn't been getting much traffic. I turn on the Breaking Bad marathon that AMC is airing while I work on my latest project. I've already seen the entire series, but who can resist the hijinks of Walt and Jesse?
10 p.m. Made and ate some frozen potstickers even though they had some pretty bad freezer burn. The fridge/freezer died, then came back to life, then died, then got repaired, so the poor potstickers have been through some troubled times. But they're usually pretty decent and I'm really hungry, so I'm eating them. Plus, they're not too bad with sauce.
11:30 p.m. Fed the animals. I gave everyone some crappy wet food that's absolute trash, but that they love as a special treat. It's my cat's birthday, so I sing Happy Birthday to her.
Daily total: $0
Day 2 Monday
12 p.m. Got up because I couldn't sleep anymore. I can never sleep the night before a new class starts. I get nervous that I'm forgetting something or that I'll look flaky or unprepared. I'm not sure where this comes from; maybe I'm holding myself to too high of a standard? I did my hair in a complicated updo that I love the look of, but that takes a while to do. But with my new schedule I have time to spare before work so I go for it. I feed the animals and do some light cleaning around the house.
2 p.m. Quick run to the grocery store for milk and a couple of things to get through the week until I can put together some recipe ideas and plan out what I need. I also stop at Costco to pick up a prescription. I don't have a Costco membership, but I save a ton of money getting my prescriptions there instead of Walgreens. It's a much farther drive to Costco, but I'm literally saving more than a hundred dollars a month. $37
3 p.m. Decided to treat myself to a special lunch out for my first day at my new job. I go to Chili's because I have a coupon for a free appetizer with the purchase of an entrée. I eat part of the appetizer and part of the entrée, leaving me with enough food for another meal and a snack. $17.50 including tip
4 p.m. I get to work and familiarize myself with what I'll be teaching that night. I've already gone over it twice, but I want to look prepared. My nerves are starting to really ramp up.
11:15 p.m. I ate my leftovers after work. I'm hungrier than usual; maybe all that nervous energy made me burn through my lunch.
Daily total: $54.50
Day 3 Tuesday
1 p.m. It's my birthday month so I'm getting coupons in my email for free meals all over town. I use one of them today to get a free burger and fries at Red Robin. The restaurant is freezing cold and I have an air vent blowing right on me, so I don't hang around to read after I finish eating. $6.25 for drink and tip
3 p.m. Even though I don't start work until 5 p.m., I want to get there early to grade homework and familiarize myself with today's curriculum. I know all the material because I've been living it for the 12 years I've been a vet tech, but I need to teach the right topics in the right order to match up with the tests. This is a lot more stressful and detail-oriented than you'd think.
7:30 p.m. Class isn't going that well and I've just sent the students on their break. I feel a little less sure of myself today. Because yesterday was the first day of class, it was a lot of talking about rules, expectations and schedules. Today is the first day of solid curriculum. I'm teaching two classes: anatomy and lab skills, both of which I love. But we're starting with cell biology, which is hard to teach because there's nothing to dissect or show the students except for models and pictures. I'm doing my best to make it interesting, but my nerves are getting to me and I feel like the students are bored.
10:30 p.m. I stop at Circle K to fill gas. It's not the best part of town, but it's the cheapest gas around. I used to drive for Uber and am still part of the Uber drivers' Facebook group where I get tips on the best gas prices in town. With my new job I'm driving 38 miles every day, so even with my compact car I empty my gas tank every week. $17
11:00 p.m. I reheat some crescent chicken rollups that I made a few days ago and eat them while watching Breaking Bad. I wonder if Walter White was as nervous teaching as I am some days.
Daily total: $23.25
Day 4 Wednesday
3 p.m. I've been reading this amazing book and I'm desperate to finish it. I stop at the McDonald's that's right by my school. This place is cool! There are kiosks for ordering your meal. I've heard about these but have never seen them. An employee brings my meal out to me. There are fresh flowers on the tables. This is definitely different from other McDonald's that I've been to. $8
3:30 p.m. My sweet tooth is acting up, so I go get a sundae. Extra fudge, please. I fight back tears as I read this one part in my book about a dog finally finding a home with the main character. I read a lot, but always dread starting a new book. I worry that it'll be boring or poorly written, even though I can count on one hand the number of books I've given up on partway through. $2
4 p.m. I get to work and immediately start stressing out that I don't have enough material to cover to take up the entire four-hour class time. The tests and homework are about certain topics, so I can't move on and teach anything new until the week it's assigned in. I get some ideas from the other instructors.
7:30 p.m. Cat emergency! No break for me. A coworker's cat had full mouth extractions and has developed an abscess. The school's veterinarian is on the phone giving me orders to follow for a flush and antibiotics. I treat the cat and send him home with his worried mama.
8:07 p.m. I now have three minutes until class resumes and I have no idea what I'm going to do with my students for another hour and 45 minutes. I grab two miniature whiteboards and head to class. We play a review game, which ends up not only helping the students with the material, but gets them to talk to each other, be silly and bond a little. They'll be together for their entire program, so this is an important step. I silently congratulate myself for my quick thinking.
11 p.m. I get home and bake a Totino's Party Pizza that I eat while watching So You Think You Can Dance. God, those kids are bendy. When I was lifting a dog nine years ago, she moved just the wrong way and I felt something in my back snap. I ended up paying for physical therapy myself. I didn't feel right asking my work to cover it, since I should have been team-lifting that dog anyway. I'd grown really attached to her while she was hospitalized and wanted to carry her out to the car myself. I learned an important lesson that day about protecting myself on the job. My back has never been completely pain-free since then.
3 a.m. I count this at still the same day because I haven't been to bed yet. I have raging cramps, so I soak in the bathtub and eat chocolate while I read my book. Sometimes it's good to be a grown up.
Daily total: $10
Day 5 Thursday
10 a.m. I'm groggy because I had to get up three hours earlier than usual. Luckily, I don't have to do anything with my hair because I'm getting it cut today.
11:30 a.m. I have lunch at On the Border. It's one of my favorite restaurants because of their queso. I'm still hungry after the queso, so I order an entrée. I feel a pang of guilt because I've been eating out so much this week. I live far away from this restaurant and only get to eat here every six months or so, so I dismiss the feeling, telling myself I'll do better next week. $18 with tip
1 p.m. My stylist recently left the corporate environment she was working in and opened her own shop. She's really good and I like her a lot, so I've followed her here. Her prices really aren't any different, plus she's the only one at her new place, so I don't feel like I'm getting my hair cut in the middle of a store. I am indecisive and think I want to grow my hair out a little; she gives it some shape and puts in nice layers so I can still put it up when I teach in the lab. $39 with tip.
3 p.m. I get to work early so I can plan the day's lab activities. A monsoon storm is brewing, and we get periodic violent downpours. Students have started contacting me to ask if class is cancelled. Nope.
11 p.m. I ate lunch 11 hours ago, so I'm famished. I do the math and realize that with my drive home and the time it will take to make dinner I'm looking at another 1½-2 hours before I get to eat, so I drive through McDonald's for a cheeseburger and an apple pie. No fries, so I feel marginally better about my decision to eat at McDonald's yet again this week. $2.50
Daily total: $59.50
Day 6 Friday
11:30 a.m. There's no night classes on Fridays, so I have today off. I get up early to take my dog to the vet.
1 p.m. My 4½ year old Chihuahua was born with hydrocephalus and has been under the care of a neurologist almost her entire life. She was super sweet as a puppy, but when she was 10 months old it was like something snapped in her mind; she became extremely aggressive toward everyone except me and my housemate. She's been urinating a lot more than usual and is stumbling and falling almost daily. I'm concerned that all the medications she's on have affected her liver or kidneys. $104 on Care Credit
1:30 p.m. The neurologist has drawn a blood sample for me so I can send it out through my work, saving myself a couple of hundred dollars. He doesn't think her organs have been affected by the medications, but said it's still a good idea to check her labs; they were almost perfect seven months ago, so I'm really hoping there's nothing bad on the new ones. He tells me that he'd hoped she'd make it to 10 to 12 years old (a lot shorter than an average Chihuahua life span, but still pretty good considering the severity of her disease), but because of how fast her condition is progressing he's not sure how much longer she'll have. He's confident she'll have a few more years, but anything beyond that is just a guess. I'm trying really hard to hold myself together because if I cry it'll scare her even more than she already is just being at the hospital.
3:30 p.m. I brought my dog home but couldn't stop thinking about losing her. I kept switching between crying and being angry at the unfairness of such a terrible condition affecting such a wonderful dog. I take my book to Panda Express where I sit for a couple of hours to read and forget over my plate of sweet and sticky chow. $12 after coupon
4 p.m. I bought my dog a new bed at Petco. She deserves to be comfortable and it makes me feel like I'm doing something to help her. $27
4:30 p.m. I organize my coupons and hit the grocery store. I started becoming interested in cooking a couple of years ago, and it turns out that I'm pretty good at it. I don't have the imagination to become a chef, nor the stamina for the endless hours on my feet or the heat of a kitchen, but I'm a rock star at following a recipe and making adjustments for personalization. I combine coupons and sales to get enough groceries to last two or three weeks. $55
5 p.m. A friend of mine has gotten me hooked on a new show called Live PD. She lives far from me, but we watch it together while texting about what's happening on the show. We catch up on last week's episode and watch tonight's live as it airs. It's a three-hour show, and we watch both episodes back-to-back.
Daily total: $198, but only paid $94 today
Day 7 Saturday
2 p.m. My Live PD friend and I meet at the mall and spend the rest of the day walking around. We aren't here to buy anything, but we miss spending time together; now that I'm working nights and she's working days, we don't see each other as much. She finds some toys she buys as Christmas gifts for her nieces and I buy a purse. $25
6 p.m. For the birthday of a mutual friend last February, we went to one of those Brazilian steakhouses where the handsome men bring you skewer after skewer of meat until you tell them to stop. Their sweet and spicy chicken is what dreams are made of, so when I landed my new job my friend told me she'd take me back there to celebrate. We eat piles of succulent and flavorful meat until we're so stuffed that we feel a little bit gross. $0-she treated
Daily total: $25
Daily expenditures: $370.25
Monthly bills: $1,676
$21.75 left over … How am I living on this???