What It Costs to Be Me: Women's Average Salaries

Five women from across the world reveal how they spend their monthly paychecks.


 Advertising rep for Sulake, a social-networking company

Annual income: $54,000 (converted from euros)

Average income for a woman in Finland: $28,992

Home sweet home: "I own a large two-bedroom apartment with my fiancé. We split the mortgage, about $1200 each per month, which includes utilities. That's pricey for Helsinki, but we live in a nice neighborhood about 10 minutes from the city center, where all the action is."

Bills, bills, bills: "My monthly iPhone service is about $120 a month. That's a lot, but mobile Internet access isn't cheap here. And I'm constantly on the Web."

Only in Finland: "Every three months, everyone with a TV set is charged $120 for access to public television. A lot of young people lie about having one so they won't have to pay for it."

Meal plan: "Helsinki is ridiculously expensive. I buy lunch — usually sushi — near my office, which can cost as much as $18. My fiancé and I don't eat dinner out as much as we used to, but when we do, we go all the way. My favorite restaurant is Demo, one of the top restaurants in Helsinki. It's about $150 for dinner for two. It's a once-in-a-while splurge we never regret."

The weekender: "A lot of young Finns have parents who own a second place in the country, so you'll get invited over for an extended out-of-town house party."

Jeans Index: "I once spent $300 on a pair of jeans I bought in New York City."

Recessionomics: "I used to shop quite a bit, but lately, I'm thinking more about money, buying only quality items that I know will last a really long time."

Checks and balances: "We're not short on money right now, but we're not saving at all. My fiancé and I feel that while we're young, we'll spend our money on travel, which is a passion of ours. We should start saving, though...at the moment, we've got nothing in the bank!


 Copywriter for Publicis, a global ad agency

Annual income: $28,500 (converted from Ghanaian cedi)

Average income for a woman in Ghana: $1133

Home sweet home: "I rent a section of a large house, including a bedroom, kitchen, living room, and bathroom, for about $100 a month. A lot of landlords have reservations about renting to a single woman — most think it isn't safe. But I went to college in the U.S. and am used to having independence."

Bills, bills, bills: "I have to pay for my own water and electricity, but it's really cheap — my last electric bill was $5. My company pays for my cell phone. I have trouble getting up in the morning, so I often end up taking a cab to work. It definitely adds up. Every month I probably spend about $200 on cabs and bus fare."

Only in Ghana: "You don't rent on a month-to-month basis here. Landlords typically ask for two years' worth of rent up front. That's why it's so difficult for young people to move out of their parents' homes."

Meal plan: "I have no time to cook during the week, so I'll just buy something to eat on the street, like curried rice or fufu [cassava and yams]. Nothing costs more than $1."

The weekender: "Most people in Ghana don't have washing machines — you have to do your laundry by hand. So I'll let it pile up for a month, or until I have nothing left to wear. Then it takes about three hours to wash and hang dry. On Saturday nights, I'll go out for dinner, which costs me at most $10, and then to a bar with friends. Drinks typically cost about $3...I'm not much of a drinker, so I never end up spending much money."

Jeans Index: "I once spent $155 for a pair of Seven jeans."

Recessionomics: "Ghana has a pretty isolated economy, and we haven't taken much of a hit. Mostly I'm hearing about Ghanaians who were living in the U.S. coming back home because they can't make any money there."

Checks and balances: "I spend about a quarter of my monthly income; the rest I save. I'm trying to start a clothing manufacturing business with a friend, and I'd like to build my own home before I am 35. I could take out a loan, but interest rates here are about 70 percent...that's insane! I know how to live simply, but I've got big plans that I'm really excited about.


 Sales exec for a software firm

Annual income: $65,000, plus commissions

Average income for a woman in the U.S.: $34,996

Home sweet home: "I live in the Philadelphia suburbs, in an absolutely gorgeous, brand-new loft apartment that overlooks the Schuylkill River. I pay $1465 per month for it, which is about $400 more than my last place. It's expensive, but it has a gym and a pool and is in a ritzy area."

Bills, bills, bills: "I lease a Mazda 6, which costs me $323 a month, plus another $60 a month for car insurance. Cable, utilities, and my cell phone cost me another $400 per month. I always pay these bills before they're due. Every single penny I spend is logged in an Excel spreadsheet."

Only in America: "My parents helped me out during my freshman year of college, but after that, I was basically on my own. My student loans set me back $130 a month — which I'll likely be paying over the next 30 years."

Meal plan: "I work from home two days a week, so I do a lot of cooking. Every three weeks or so, I'll spend about $250 on groceries. Sounds like a lot, but I prepare my own lunches and dinners. Who wants to go out and spend $11 on a salad, right?"

The weekender: "On Saturdays, I'll always try to do some yoga or Pilates, maybe get in a load of laundry. Saturday nights are all about bar-hopping — I call it My Night to Shine. I can easily blow $150 on cover charges and picking up a round of drinks for friends."

Jeans Index: "The most expensive jeans I've ever purchased were from William Rast for $189."

Recessionomics: "I never used to look at the price tag on anything — if I wanted it, I'd just buy it. But over the last year, the recession has taken a toll on my commissions. I used to get checks for $14,000 — now they're in the hundreds. I'm cutting back on everything and even using coupons for the first time in my life. I never thought I would be that girl, but now I am."

Checks and balances: "I always pay off my credit card balances and put a chunk of money into my savings. But some things I'll never skimp on, like my hair. Every six weeks, I have a standing appointment at La Vita Bella for a cut and highlights for $210, including tips. I'd sooner starve for a month than skip a hair appointment."


 Broadcast journalist and publicist

Annual income: $14,700 (converted from Egyptian pounds)

Average income for a woman in Egypt: $2286

Home sweet home: "I pay $160 a month for a three-bedroom apartment I share with two roommates. It's very unusual for a woman to live on her own here — usually you live with your parents until you're married. But mine moved to the U.K. My landlord was very suspicious. He worried we'd be entertaining "gentleman callers."

Bills, bills, bills: "My single biggest monthly expense is my cell phone, which I use relentlessly for work. It costs me $80 a month, about 10 times what the typical person in Cairo pays."

Only in Egypt: "We have a free health-care system, but it's pretty bad. If you want to see a good doctor, you pay privately, which can cost as much as $20 a visit. That's a big hit to the average Egyptian's monthly income. So most people just don't go to doctors."

Meal plan: "As a journalist, I often get invited to press conferences where food is typically provided. Or I'll just grab some pizza in our cafeteria. Lunch rarely costs me more than $2. And when I can, I'll make dinner at home."

The weekender: "On my nights off, I'll go to a café with my friends, get a drink, and smoke a shisha [hookah]. Depending on the neighborhood we're in, I can spend as little as $1. If I'm with a guy, I never pay for anything. It's very bad form in Egypt for a man to let a woman pay, even if he's nothing more than a friend."

Jeans Index: "My priciest pair of jeans cost just $55 — but I don't wear them too often because of my profession."

Recessionomics: "Our economy was in such bad shape to begin with and was never really tied to the fate of the U.S. — I can't say it's affected me at all."

Checks and balances: "I never know how much I'll earn each month. Since I freelance for Egypt's national TV station, I get paid by the state, which is notoriously unreliable. Plus, the media business here is seasonal. The month of Ramadan, for instance, is a killer — no work at all. I live frugally, since I don't know what tomorrow will bring.


 Buyer for a multinational import/export firm

Annual income: $30,000 (converted from Brazilian reais)

Average income for a woman in Brazil: $7190

Home sweet home: "I live at home with my parents and brother. That's common here — it's just too expensive for a woman to live on her own. I don't pay any rent, I've got my own room, and I come and go as I please."

Bills, bills, bills: "I kick in about $300 per month for electricity, water, and groceries. My car is my other big expense. Every year I have to pay about $1200 up front for car insurance, and gas runs me something like $6 per gallon. But it's a necessity — it sometimes takes me over an hour to get to work if there's traffic."

Only in Brazil: "Most companies provide free lunch for their employees. Mine also serves breakfast. I eat really well at work."

Meal plan: "I usually have dinner at home with my family. The only time I ever pay for a meal is if I'm out with friends. But I don't order big, heavy meals — maybe a salad or a piece of fish. I rarely spend more than $25."

The weekender: "Every weekend I go to the shore — my parents own a beach house about two hours outside the city. Saturday nights are always insanely expensive, even outside São Paulo. Between dinner, drinks, club cover charges, and parking, I usually spend at least $60. That's quite a lot of money here!"

Jeans Index: "I once paid $120 for jeans — I don't even remember the brand."

Recessionomics: "We haven't felt it all that much. I still see people traveling and spending money. It's business as usual here."

Checks and balances: "For the past 10 years, I've been saving up to buy an apartment. Each month, I put 25 percent of my paycheck in the bank. I've worked so hard for so long and now I'm almost ready — this may be the year."