bills, bills, bills #9
A week in the life and wallet of a theatre critic turned film studio assistant in Los Angeles
Bills, Bills, Bills is a monthly series of anonymous money diaries from theatre workers curated and edited by Jenna Clark Embrey.
Editor’s Note: In most Bills, Bills, Bills columns, I try to anonymize the location of the contributor as much as possible, which is why you will see things like “a mid-sized city in the mid-Atlantic” or “a large city in the Northwest.” New York and Los Angeles are the two exceptions to this rule, as the very nature of those cities can’t be hidden in our day-to-day lives. And much like the use of the subway that is a dead giveaway for New York, this month’s contributor has a life that revolves around the drama of driving and parking in arguably the most car-centric big city in America. This month’s column also features the first theater-adjacent career pivot, and while the columnist stills puts in many hours for their freelance criticism work, they’ve also managed to utilize the many transferable skills of dramaturgy in a film studio position that pays above the living wage for a single adult in Los Angeles (currently calculated at $45,536). While the specter of student loans still looms heavily in this month’s column, one can also see the immense room for growing income.
This month’s Bills, Bills, Bills contributor requested that their honorarium be donated to the Entertainment Community Fund, formerly known as the Actor’s Fund.
Job/Position: Freelance theater critic & executive assistant at a film studio. I love seeing and writing about theater, but realized soon after undergrad that unless I became one of the five or so staffed theater critics in America, I wouldn’t be able to make a living from it. I went back to school to get a degree in film producing, because development in Hollywood is functionally similar to dramaturgy, but pays better. I write about almost everything I see (unless it’s something my employer’s parent company had a hand in) in my free newsletter. Occasionally, I write reviews for a local publication, for which I’m paid $50. They also pay me $25 if I make a podcast appearance discussing what I’ve seen recently. I’m a member of two groups that give out theater awards, so I get comp tickets to every show I see in my city.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Yearly Income: $78,161/year before taxes, $52,100/year after taxes. My base salary is around $60K, but I’m an hourly employee and work around 7 hours of overtime a week. I’m paid weekly and my take-home is usually $1,000/week, give or take $100 depending on how much overtime I work. So far this year, I’ve made $225 from my theatre criticism.
Student Loan Balance: $123,470. Most of this is from grad school (I got a degree in film producing) and all federal loans, so payments have been paused for a while. Pre-pandemic, my Pay As You Earn monthly payment was $203/month, but that’s based on my previous job, where I made significantly less money—we’ll see how it changes in 2023 now that I make more money, but the payment will capped at 5% of discretionary income vs. 10%. My parents agreed to pay for undergrad, but took out $20K in loans in my name. They say they will repay those, but have yet to do so. When my grandmother died and left my dad money, I requested that I use some of that money to pay off my grad school loans and they agreed, but as the payments have been paused since March 2020, they have not made any moves on that front.
Car Lease: $575. I have enough in savings to cover the life of the lease, and my payments are auto-deducted from that account and don’t impact my cash flow. I will probably buy out the car at the end of the lease, but will cross that bridge when I get to it, two years from now!
Roth IRA: $12,777
Brokerage account: $461
401(k): $17,514. I contribute 7% of my base pay and my employer contributes 2%.
Retirement savings plan: $5,842. My company contributes 3% of my base pay, which has vested quarterly since my third anniversary.
Savings account: $4,948
Certificate of deposit: $6,770. This is the money for the duration of my car lease, but I figured my money should make a little money while I wait for those payments to be withdrawn.
Rent: $1,625 for a one bedroom
Apple One Premier (Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple News, Apple Arcade, Apple Fitness for me, my parents, and a friend): $29.95
Hulu, Peacock, and Washington Post: $0. I use my parents’ logins (they use my logins for my other digital subscriptions).
Sirius XM: $7.27
AMC A-List: $23.95
Local NPR affiliate: $20. Because I donate at this level, I also have a NYT digital subscriber account.
Cell phone: $0. My parents generously still cover this, and I’m not inclined to be the squeaky wheel!
Fuel: $0. My car is electric and includes free charging.
Car & renters’ insurance: $245
Total Monthly Bills: $2101.66
Disney Plus, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Dropbox, NY Mag, email newsletter subscriptions, credit card annual fees: $798
I’m in an employee choir at work, and a few of my friends from the choir and I volunteered to sing at a company event this weekend that’s around 40 miles away. We had a rehearsal at the venue last night that went until 10:30pm and our call time for today was 7:45am, so I decided a couple weeks ago that I’d get a hotel room for Saturday night, rather than do that drive twice, tired. I’m splitting the room with another friend from choir, who will Venmo me. I had a late dinner after rehearsal and check in to the hotel around 12:30am. I take a quick shower and go to sleep, before waking again at 7am. I know it’s going to be a long day, so I take advantage of the free breakfast the hotel offers, and fill my water bottle. I look over the hotel bill ($236.12) they emailed me early in the morning, and am happy to see that even though my friend and I drove separately, they only charged us a parking fee for one car.
I drive over to the venue, park, and arrive around 7:55am (whoops!). It’s fine that I’m late, because we won’t perform until around noon, but they want to do a last blocking and music rehearsal. There are a few breakfast options in our holding area, but they don’t look too appetizing. I sit with my friends and chat backstage, occasionally popping out for a bathroom break to for a peek at the monitors to see what’s happening on stage before we go on. I wish they’d put a monitor in our holding area! Finally, it’s close to our time to perform, and we do. I get a huge adrenaline and emotional rush right before I go on stage — goosebumps and wanting to laugh and cry all at once! I’m glad that I’m allowed to wear a mask at this performance, both because I very much don’t wish to get COVID and because it helps literally mask all the emotions I’m feeling in the moment. The performance is quick and exhilarating.
My friends and I turn our costumes in, and decide to check out the rest of the event we performed at. We spend a few hours wandering around, and then grab some lunch. Our options are limited, but there are some food trucks outside. I opt for teriyaki chicken served over garlic noodles, and because the trucks have a captive audience, the meal is pretty expensive ($19.55). I stick around for a bit, and head home.
I think about what I want for dinner. Nothing at home appeals to me and I don’t want to get take-out, since this is one of the few nights I’ll be home this week. I remember I’m running low on eggs, and the battery on my electric car is pretty low, so I decide to charge it at a big chain grocery store. I rarely cook involved meals anymore because the apartment I moved to last year doesn’t have a dishwasher, so I tend to buy shelf-stable ingredients in bulk and visit a grocery store as needed for perishables. I don’t love shopping at big chain grocery stores, because even when I buy store brand, I end up paying more than I would at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but I need a few things and have 40 minutes to kill while my car charges. I pick up organic eggs, lactose-free milk (easier on my digestion and also has a longer shelf life), a few pounds of chicken, and some other ingredients for meals I hope to make in the next week or two, and check out ($42.95). I spend the rest of the time my car is charging scrolling my phone.
After I get home and put the groceries away, I make pasta for dinner with some ingredients I just bought, and some I had on hand already. I watch an episode of Derry Girls and read a script by a writer I’ve been wanting to check out.
Daily Total: $298.62
I eat a bagel for breakfast at the office and get to work. It’s busy, as most Mondays are. I’m still tired from the weekend and contemplate ordering an iced coffee from the Starbucks at work, but I get a second wind. For lunch, I go to the cafeteria at work and order a grilled chicken sandwich with onion rings ($12.57). This is one of my go-to hearty meals I get at work that will keep me full for a while. Someone brought cupcakes to the office, and I snag one of those in the afternoon. My boss is giving a big presentation tomorrow, so going to the tech rehearsal and making edits and getting new assets for that takes up most of my afternoon. After work, I’m still satiated from lunch and afternoon snacks, and don’t feel compelled to prepare dinner. I realized recently that I need to watch more movies from before I was born, so I stream a Hitchcock movie I haven’t seen before.
Daily Total: $12.57
I head into the office and toast an English muffin from the kitchen for breakfast. For lunch, I order an egg salad sandwich from the cafeteria with a tiny side salad ($7.88), but I have to eat it quickly to get everything ready for my boss’ presentation. The monthly fee for my AMC A-List get charged ($23.95). I was supposed to go to choir practice tonight, and then my choir friends and I always go out after rehearsal for late night happy hour, but I have a sore throat (I’ve been wearing a mask all day), so I decide it’s better to go home and take a rapid COVID test, which thankfully comes back negative. I cook some boxed mac & cheese and watch an episode of A League of Their Own before calling an early night.
Daily Total: $31.83
I wake up and my throat is feeling much better, thankfully! I’ll still mask up all day, though (I run an air purifier in my cubicle at work, and we haven’t had any workplace spread of COVID, so when I’m feeling well, I tend to go maskless at my desk). We have an off-site event for work this morning, where they serve breakfast and popcorn (popcorn is weird before noon but I’m not mad!). My boss is in a long meeting this afternoon, so I worked with one of the other assistants to order a catered lunch for the people in the meeting, and I’m counting on there being leftovers after the meeting. I pay $1 to re-subscribe to the LA Times for 6 months, so I can read a subscriber-only article.
At lunchtime, I go to the cafeteria and build a “medium” sized salad from the salad bar with plenty of protein ($6.89). We set up lunch for the execs, and afterwards, thankfully, there are indeed leftover sandwiches, so I snag one. I mean to grab another one before I head out, but I’m still full and the evening gets away from me. I’m seeing a show tonight and a little tight for time, so I park at a lot that’s close to the theatre ($25). I thought this lot was $20, so that’s a bummer, and lots a little further away are closer to $10. Welp. There’s a technical delay during the show and an opening night speech after, so it runs long, and I don’t get home until 11:30pm or so, at which point I take another COVID test (still negative) and get ready for bed. I contemplate writing up my thoughts on the show, but I’m tired, and decide I’ll do that later. An annual subscription fee for an email newsletter I subscribe to hits ($100). I think I can get work to reimburse me for that again this year, but I’ll need to look into it next week. My Sirius XM and Netflix bills get charged today as well ($7.27 and $15.49, respectively).
Daily Total: $155.65
Unfortunately, as I anticipated last night, I wake up to find I’ve pretty much lost my voice, so I’ll try to be on vocal rest as much as possible today. My work covers one fast-turnaround PCR a week, which I take advantage of to do surveillance testing, usually on Wednesdays on my way in to the office. I didn’t go yesterday because of the off-site event, but stop by on my way in today. At the office, I grab some peanut butter sandwich crackers and apple juice (shoutout to our office manager for stocking Martinelli’s!) for breakfast. Our workplace expects everyone to be in Mondays through Wednesdays, with the option to work from home Thursdays and Fridays. My boss likes to come into the office, and my apartment is poorly insulated and nearby, so he and I are usually in 4-5 days a week. Today, only a handful of people are in the office.
My friend hasn’t Venmo’d me for the hotel yet, and I realize that’s because though I texted her a copy of the folio, the file name is just a bunch of numbers, so it absolutely looks like a spam text she should not open. I send her a Venmo request for $118.06. In the afternoon, I have a dermatologist appointment I made a couple of months ago, so I drive across town for that. The doctor’s office doesn’t validate for parking, and the garage downstairs is $2 per 15 minutes, so I’m thankful when I get lucky and find a meter spot out front. I pay $2 to bring the time on the meter up to 2 hours. I don’t think my appointment will take 2 hours, but I’ll pay it forward for the next person to take the spot! The co-pay for the appointment is $40, which I put on the debit card I have for my HSA. After the appointment, I drive home and get a late lunch from a Cuban restaurant I love ($16.10). I pay my car & renter’s insurance twice a month, and one of those charges hits today ($122.77). My PCR from this morning comes back negative, so I figure I’m clear to see the show tonight. I work from home for the rest of the day, and then my friend picks me up for the show. He pays for parking ($9, which he can expense for work). A few of my friends are already there, as they were invited for a pre-show influencer party, and one of them sneaks us cookies from the party. We see the show, which I don’t care for at all, and head home.
Daily Total: $140.87, excluding $40 from my HSA
I’m working from home today. I use that as an excuse to lay in bed until the last possible moment. A friend who I saw at the show last night asks/tells me to take another rapid test, which comes back negative (regardless, I was masked the entire time last night, except for the 30 seconds I ate the cookie, outside). I learn that my coworker is going through a significant tragedy right now, so all the assistants chip in to get her a food delivery gift card, so she doesn’t have to worry about preparing food at a time like this. I Venmo $25 to my friend who’s organizing the gift. I heat up a Trader Joe’s frozen appetizer for lunch. I’m charged for my internet bill ($69.99), which has gone up from the promotional rate—I need to call the provider and negotiate a better rate. I read two scripts in the afternoon and order Chinese food take-out from a local restaurant I haven’t tried yet ($28.30) for dinner. I eat some, and save the rest for tomorrow. After work, I watch a new movie on Netflix.
Daily Total: $123.29
I have a meeting for one of the theatre awards groups I’m in in the morning. Since we’ve moved to Zoom, the meetings have typically run under an hour, but that is not the case today, as we clock in at 100 minutes. I reheat the rest of last night’s takeout for lunch and work on my reviews from Wednesday and Thursday’s shows. My friend Venmos me back for her half of last weekend’s hotel room (+$118.06). I decide I should see a movie so I have something to talk about in our Monday morning meeting, and pop over to a nearby AMC to see this week’s new big movie, which I read the script of a couple years ago and liked. I don’t get concessions, but do refill my water bottle at a Coke Freestyle machine. My ticket is covered, because I have AMC A-List, and I parked at a nearby free garage and walked over rather than paying for parking. I got lucky and found a spot with a Level 2 charger too, so I plug my car in and my battery goes from 50% to 72% while I’m watching the movie.
After the movie, I pop into Target to pick up a few things I need: insoles for my fashionable but uncomfortable sneakers, Zyrtec, a little cheese plate to tide me over until after the show I’m seeing tonight, and some stuff my dermatologist recommended. It comes to $48.80, but swiping my HSA debit card takes $16.54 off. I pay the remaining balance ($32.26). I head over to the show I’m seeing nearby. I’m running late, so I take the first street spot I see and fast-walk over to the theatre. Parking in this area is free, which I appreciate. The show starts late but is short, and because it’s opening night, there’s a reception afterwards with wine, cheese, etc., but the other critics I know who are at the show have already left, and I didn’t bring a guest. I always feel awkward loitering around a post-show reception when I don’t know anyone, so I head home and make pasta for dinner. I work on my reviews and publish all three.
Daily Total: $32.26 before Venmo, +$85.80 net.
Total for the week: $677.03
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