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A Week In Shanghai, China On A $40,000 Salary

Refinery29 logo Refinery29 3/25/2020 Refinery29

Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.

Today: a tech consultant who makes $40,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on Cerave lotion.

Editor’s Note: All currency has been converted to USD.

Occupation: Consultant

Industry: Tech

Age: 27

Location: Shanghai, China

Salary: $40,000 base + $4,000 bonus (all net numbers after tax and insurance. I also have two roundtrip flights to visit my home country included in my compensation, on top of my salary.)

Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $3,300 (after taxes)

Gender: Woman

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $125 (I live with my partner who gets $1,125 per month from his company for housing allowance as part of his compensation. Together our rent is $1,250 excluding utilities.)

Student Loans: $0 (Thank you scholarships and parents)

Cleaning Person: $100 (she comes once a week, this is essential for us because it saves us from lots of fights)

Cell Phone: $12.50

Gym: $200 (membership to a regular gym + classes)

Internet: $9 (for my half)

Electricity: ~$50 (for my half)

Water: $10 (for my half)

Rental Scooter: $35 (I rent an electric scooter for a monthly fee that includes repairs and replacements for stolen scooters)

Nail Salon Membership: $20/year

Savings: $2,000 (I try to save about 60% of my income per month since I am lucky to have little fixed expenses and I would like to also spend less on discretionary purchases to have more to put into funds)

Day One

7:30 a.m. — Wake up for Monday! I am actually looking forward to going to the office since I have basically been under quarantine (official and non-official) for at least six weeks. Honestly, who’s counting at this point? I got a new (to me) scooter from the rental company last week, so I am excited about that. Lots of people in Shanghai buy their own scooters, but I prefer to rent because I am paranoid about it getting stolen and paying almost a thousand dollars for a replacement. I don’t eat breakfast at home since convenience stores are really convenient here with hot food, and there’s one right in my office building. I get ready with light makeup, cuddle my cat, and leave for work on my scooter. It’s finally spring weather, so the ride is very pleasant.

8:45 a.m. — I arrive at my building, park my scooter, and head to the convenience store for some food. I get two hard-boiled eggs and a coconut water. Each day on the scooter, I have at least two almost-accidents. Although the streets are still relatively empty since the virus started, it is getting more crowded every day, and people have not changed their driving habits (i.e. no signaling, cutting you off at any time about once per block, going in the wrong direction on the wrong side of the street). I drive slowly but I seriously think I should get a helmet, which I have also been putting off because of the long delivery times during the virus. $1.75

9:05 a.m. — I order a helmet online from Taobao (kind of like Amazon + eBay + Etsy in one platform) because I don’t want to get into an accident and break my teeth again. I had an accident while on a motorbike in 2017. I ended up breaking my front teeth and had to get approx 20 hours of dental surgery over a couple of months. Not fun and dental is not covered by insurance. Anyways, time to work. We always start with a team meeting on Mondays and I have lots to do before Wednesday this week. The virus is really shutting businesses and projects are slow, but this is a great opportunity to work on internal processes and projects which have been put aside when client work gets busy. $25

12:50 p.m. — Lunchtime! Usually, I would order or eat out because I need to get out of the building when the sun is shining. But since the virus, people are becoming more cautious about eating out and ordering food so I have been influenced by that. I heat up leftovers from yesterday night’s beef stew with some rice for lunch and have a nectarine for dessert.

3 p.m. — I am dragging yet overwhelmed at the same time with the amount of things I have to do. Since I have to lead a lot of web development projects, I am easily overwhelmed by the amount of detail and planning needed. I am getting better at it the more I understand the links between the backend and front end, but sometimes it just feels like so much that I don’t want to do ANY of it. I go downstairs for a latte and also for some air. $3.15

3:30 p.m. — I see that a print shop near my office has reopened! I have put up a picture wall in the apartment and we don’t have many things on there yet so I print a bunch of photos and will pick it up tomorrow. I’m feeling happy and nostalgic about the ~carefree~ days as I look through my phone’s photo albums. $5.60

5 p.m. — On a roll, but taking another snack break. I put a bunch of fruit at work so that I can have healthier snacks rather than getting crisps and biscuits from the all too convenient store downstairs. I see that my favorite Japanese nail salon has opened again! I book a mani-pedi for tonight because I haven’t had my nails done in four weeks and it is not pretty.

7 p.m. — Mani-pedi time! I head there on the scooter and get a dark red for both my hands and feet. It takes two and a half hours in total because they are so meticulous. They have nice massage chairs so it’s fine by me. The girls and I talk about the virus situation and how it’s affecting businesses. It is really sad. I have many chef friends, who have been established chefs in the city for more than 10 years, that had to close their restaurants because they were just losing so much money since they never knew if they were allowed to open the next day or not (the city and zone governments decide day by day whether restaurants are allowed to do dine-in, takeaway only, or even open for business). I get a discounted price on nail and lash services here since I’m a member (I pay $20/year for this). $35

10 p.m. — Arrive home!! Long day, and I forgot to eat dinner again. This happens frequently because it gets cold at night still and when it gets cold I just don’t want to eat/move/do anything. My partner, V., makes me eat some eggs for dinner because it is not good to skip dinner (truth). I do my night skincare with a double cleanse, three layers of hydration, and a facial oil. Bedtime around 11:30.

Daily Total: $70.50

Day Two

7:45 a.m. — Time to get up! It dropped 10 degrees Celsius overnight and I am freezing. I bundle up in cashmere and wool for the ride to the office in the cold cold wind. I get two eggs again at the store and put it into some warm oats that I keep at the office for breakfast. I remembered to pack coffee from home (making use of that Nespresso!) so I have that with the oats. I continue working on dev work and answer some emails. Seems like things may be picking up again with our newest but also most easygoing client. I had a proposal out for projects with them since January, but nothing really happened since then. They want to have a call! I’m optimistic we may have a new project starting. $0.50

12:30 p.m. — I have lunch plans with an acquaintance. We met at a job fair two years ago. Because of the virus, he was fired recently. We both have thoughts about moving to another country, but he has fewer options than me because he has a wife and family here. I treat him to lunch to cheer him up and we vow to meet again in June for updates. $20

3 p.m. — The dreaded 3 p.m. lull. I browse Taobao (I’m addicted) for some spring clothes even though it feels like winter again today. I am optimistic it will be nice soon! I find a skirt and a top that I like so I order them. There is a lot of variation in quality on Taobao from different sellers but this one has consistently been good so I trust them. And they always do free returns so it’s easy. $80

7 p.m. — The day flies past with some meetings and discussions. V. and I decide to eat at a historical restaurant that has been around since 1849 near the bund. However, when I leave the office and check my scooter, I only have 14% battery left! I forgot to charge it last night and the charging stations and shops in the area don’t support this brand. I briefly contemplate going over to one of the branded stores to charge (like how I always go to an Apple store in a mall to charge my iPhone/MacBook because I forget), but we decide to cook at home and try the restaurant again tomorrow since the weather is getting worse and I don’t want to be caught in the rain while on my bike.

7:45 p.m. — Arrive home together (me on scooter and V. on bike). We cook some chicken stir fry with some soba noodles for dinner. I make three portions so that I can bring some to the office tomorrow for lunch. My helmet has arrived! I am relieved because I’ve been anxious on the roads. Rainy roads are also very slippery here, and most scooters/bikes are not maintained well so it’s easy to skid.

10 p.m. — I order some groceries from a delivery app for the fridge since we are running low on both meat and vegetables. I get a bunch of chicken breasts, fish filets, minced beef, and leafy vegetables. I wait for the delivery to arrive, do my skincare, and head to bed around 11. $28.50

Daily Total: $129

Day Three

8 a.m. — Getting up later and later each day as the week goes on. It is always like this. Today it is drizzling but not too cold. I do my usual makeup and head out. Eggs and oats with home coffee for breakfast again. Easy peasy. $0.50

12 p.m. — Lunch from home! I love soba noodles and soy sauce. I realize I forgot to pick up the photos from Monday, so I go downstairs to get them and some fresh air. I walk past a juice shop and decide to get a carrot juice for some vitamins. $1.80

7 p.m. — Time for dinner! V. and I scoot/bike to the restaurant we wanted to go to yesterday. I am very excited because I checked it online and it looks amazing! However, when we arrive, it is closed. The staff told us they had to close at 6:30 because the police came around again. We leave in disappointment and vow to return for lunch one day. We find a nearby noodle and dumpling shop and have a cheap and quick meal before going home. I pay for both of us because I feel like it’s my fault for missing the restaurant by not charging the scooter yesterday. $6.25

9 p.m. — V. and I discuss our future plans as I really want to find a new job/leave China. I had a lot of stress this month about deciding where to go and finding jobs/frantically messaging people on LinkedIn. I had planned to leave by August because that’s when our lease ends, which means we would both have to both find a job before then. But now it’s not looking great since no one is really hiring and the economy is not moving. I panic cry and V. tells me it’s going to be okay. He pours himself a whiskey and a tea for me. We cuddle on the couch then head to bed.

1 p.m. — I text with my friend K. about whether our home country is going into lockdown, and whether China will close its borders. I had a mini panic moment in February when I thought China was going to close the borders so I booked a flight the same day and rushed out. However, when I arrived in my home country, I was not allowed to enter without going into government quarantine, so I went for a small trip and came back to China after a week. We have been shut down since the last week of January with police closing shops everywhere, handing out warnings and notices, and people just all around panicking.

Daily Total: $8.55

Day Four

8 a.m. — I wake up to a notification from my Alipay that my electricity bill is ready. I pay online and log it in our shared expense tracker (in monthly expenses). I make some coffee in my usable thermal cup and scoot to work. It is sunny and nice out with not too many cars. It’s days like this that I appreciate this city.

10 a.m. — I see my scaly arms/legs and I remember that I ran out of body lotion for a week now without getting a replacement. I order some Cerave lotion on Taobao, which costs probably two times what it would cost in the US. But okay, it lasts a long time and it works. $16

12 p.m. — V. texts me to ask if I want to lunch with him. Our offices are a block away from each other so it’s easy for us to meet during lunch. I appreciate that he does that because he knows that I have been feeling very vulnerable about us/the moving situation recently. We meet up at a salad place with outdoor seating and have salads in the sun. V. pays for both of us. We talk about our friends who are coming back to China from Europe/US and their ridiculous transfer flights. Basically everybody is flying through Moscow or Dubai. I feel thankful that I don’t have to deal with airports right now. You have to wait four to eight hours between touching down and exiting the airport.

7 p.m. — Work work work is finally done. It feels good to be productive after being stuck inside for so long. We scoot home and defrost some chicken for dinner. Since gyms are not yet open, we decide to take advantage of the nice weather and empty-ish streets and go for a run tonight. I hate running but honestly, at this point, it feels really nice to sweat and move now. We run (me slowly and him quickly) and then make some rice for dinner. I just discovered sesame oil fried rice, life-changing.

9 p.m. — I am so tired I head to bed after skincare and showering. V. stays up to watch a documentary and work on some documents for his side business.

Daily Total: $16

Day Five

8:15 a.m. — The last day of the workweek and the latest wakeup time, lol obviously. I have a doctor’s appointment today at 9 and I will head to the office after. I get dressed and scoot there, but obviously, in my non-caffeinated state, I go east instead of west. When I arrive at the crossroad where the building is supposed to be, I can’t find it (meaning: I can’t tell which building is the right one). After some temperature checks and registration, I arrive at the appointment 10 minutes late.

9:45 a.m. — Doctor’s goes well. I get a coffee from the Starbucks below their office and sit there people watching (from a safe distance). I scoot to the office around 10 and get in at 10:15. $3.25

12:30 p.m. — It’s raining a little and I can’t decide whether to order into the office or go out to eat. A really nice cafe housed in an old printing press with lots of colonial details has recently reopened. I decide to scoot there in the rain to get pasta. Besides, I have my helmet to protect me from getting too wet/cold. BUT I get into an accident almost immediately. A van cuts me off and I fall. I immediately burst into tears and some kind person help to get my scooter off me. I can’t move and I am crying. They help me to the side of the road and I call V. to come get me.

12:45 p.m. — V. arrives in a cab and takes me to the doctor. He also brings some ice from his office. I get a couple of x-rays done and it seems like nothing is broken but I get crutches anyway because I can’t walk on my own. I feel stupid for getting into this accident but thankful for good health insurance. Also, my helmet saved my teeth as I had hoped. The helmet got pretty scratched up so I guess it was not a soft fall.

3 p.m. — V. takes me home and then goes to both our offices to pick up laptops and things. I have to be on crutches for a week and I need to work on some things over the weekend. In the meantime, I alternate between icing my knee and baking banana bread. I hate to lay down and do nothing and I feel like I still have too much adrenaline to lay down. V. helps me take a shower when he gets back and cleans my wounds again.

7 p.m. — V. orders dinner for both of us. He continues working from home while I watch some vlogs on YouTube. I’m feeling tired now and V. brings me to bed.

Daily Total: $3.25

Day Six

9 a.m. — I wake up slowly, feeling woozy. I Google “head concussion” and conclude that I have a slight concussion, so I use this as a reason to “order” V. to bring me tea while I lay on the couch. I order some soup and porridge for breakfast while listening to chill music. $12.15

1 p.m. — I spend the morning laying on the couch and changing bandages. It is a beautiful day and I want to go outside to enjoy the sun! I slowly get dressed. V. and I head to a cafe for lunch. We are walking at a glacial pace because of my crutches. I am not enjoying the attention and stares people are giving me. I have a burger with a side salad. V. has pasta and we split a mango cake. I pay for both of us since V.’s phone is dead and he basically rescued me yesterday. We stay at the cafe people watching and talking until it starts to get dark. $21.75

5 p.m. — We head home and I am feeling emotionally drained from this week. Our friends start messaging in a group chat about having a beer. I encourage V. to go while I watch some movies at home. I don’t feel social and I don’t want V. to get my negativity. V. graciously cooks us a dinner of fish curry and rice before heading out. I spend the evening journaling, and organizing my digital inbox, folders, and desktop, before going to bed at 9. Perfect Saturday night.

Daily Total: $33.90

Day Seven

10 a.m. — I wake up around 8:30, but I chill in bed until I am too hungry to lay down anymore. We slowly get up talk about our evenings. It is a beautiful day again and I want to go into the sun but I am feeling more pain today and lower energy than yesterday. We compromise by putting out some chairs in our sunroom and sitting there with Nespresso coffee and Oatly milk. I make scrambled eggs and toast. It feels good to have the sun on my skin.

1 p.m. — Friends are texting that they are at an outdoor cafe with beers and great cheesecakes. My will to go out is stronger than the inconvenience of the crutches, bruises, and pain. We gear up to head out and get a car there. I get a soda water and a cake and V. gets a beer and a coffee. It’s buzzing and everybody is happy. $2.50

4 p.m. — We get kicked out of the cafe because there are too many people and the police are circling the area. There are many cafes around and they are all packed. It’s nice to see people and make jokes to lighten the mood about the situation of the stock market and virus globally. We are all feeling the impact, even more than when it was bad in China. It is now actually feeling good in China, but friends and family back home are more vocal about it and asking lots of questions about how we dealt with it here in January and February. We take a car home and poke around in the fridge to see what’s for dinner. We settle on some beef pasta with broccoli. $2.50

7 p.m. — Dinner is served! We watch a long historical movie while eating dinner, pausing to discuss how history repeats itself.

10 p.m. — We receive a message that one of our friends in the cafe group just now has been suspected of having the virus. She just arrived in Shanghai a few days ago and was given clearance to move around freely. However, now they have found that five people on her flight have tested positive and she has been put into government quarantine. This means that it would be best if we self-quarantine as well. I am sad for her and her husband because they have been apart for two months now and the conditions in the government quarantine facilities can range from acceptable to terrible.

11 p.m. — V. and I discuss what we should do. I already have leave on Monday due to my accident but we think it’s best that we don’t go into the office until she has been tested and cleared. I am surprisingly okay with this. When we came back from our mini panic vacation, we had to quarantine for two weeks as well. But maybe this is also a sign that I should give my knee some rest and chill out. My period comes and I take it as yet another sign to take it easy and stay at home in self-quarantine. All the pieces are slowly and surely falling into place.

Daily Total: $5

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