Melissa McDonnell, 32, Marfa, Texas
Occupation: Director of external affairs for Ballroom Marfa, a nonprofit, and adjunct professor at the Texas Tech School of Architecture
Annual income: $65,000 (combined)
Home, sweet home: "Marfa's a tiny town — population 2,000 — known for art and design. I went to graduate school for architecture at Rice University, and I spent time on a project here. I loved it enough to move! My boyfriend, Carlos, and I split the $800 rent on a one-story house."
Bills, bills, bills: "Gas, water, and trash service cost $120 a month, electricity is $40, and wireless is $30. I put $500 in my savings account, send $700 to my grad-student loan plan, and pay $102 for iPhone service, plus $520 for my car loan. Gas is $65 a tank; I fill up every week when I head to the university in El Paso where I teach. Ballroom Marfa, the nonprofit where I work, covers my health care."
Meal plan: "Carlos and I make omelets first thing. He works nights at a bistro in town, so we meet up again for lunch at the Food Shark, a local food truck. For dinner, I get a salad or gnocchi and wine at his bistro, about $40."
The weekender: "Saturday, I'll take a yoga class, and then around 5 p.m., I walk to the Marfa Book Company for a reading and catered reception, which doubles as a free dinner. On Sunday, we drive 60 miles to Ojinaga, Mexico, to shop at El Super, a big grocery store. Just $40 gets you a full cart and a bottle of tequila."
Only in Marfa: "We're an arts community, so a lot of renowned artists come through. Feist played recently — tickets were $30. Other small towns don't have that kind of cultural programming. In a big city, it would cost more."
The shoe index: "We have a lot of gravel and dirt roads here, so everyone wears boots. I spent $400 on riding boots from Barneys."
The view from the ground: "At Ballroom Marfa, our funding is based on individual giving and grants from groups like the National Endowment for the Arts, so we're very aware of the economic mood. Right now visitors and giving are high, but we're not sure how the end of the Bush tax cuts could affect us." —Whitney Joiner
THE SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR
Jen Boulden, 39, Los Angeles, California
Occupation: Entrepreneur, green-living consultant
Annual income: More than $200,000
Home, sweet home: "I live in Silver Lake, the hipster area, in a three-bedroom house that I bought in 2009. When I renovated, I spent an obscene amount — $400,000, four times my budget! I was able to cash in some investments to cover it. Now my home office overlooks my chicken coop in the backyard."
Bills, bills, bills: "I pay $120 a month for my cell phone, $150 for cable, and $400 for a housekeeper. I've owned my Volkswagon Jetta since 2006; it gets 44 miles per gallon, so I go weeks without filling up."
Meal plan: "I have eggs from my chickens for breakfast and a smoothie for lunch. I go to an organic salad bar, about $12, for dinner."
The weekender: "I entertain a lot. On Saturday, I'm throwing a potluck dinner for one of my best friends. The guests will bring the food, I'll get the alcohol: 10 bottles of wine for about $100."
Only in Los Angeles: "Water's expensive here, and I wanted to reduce my consumption for environmental reasons. Xeriscaping, which uses native plants and drought-tolerant landscaping, cut my water bill 70 percent, to $75 a month."
Big splurge: "I own a horse, an Appendix named Lou; she cost $8,500. It's not for the faint of heart, this sport. Whenever little girls come pat Lou, I tell their parents, 'Run!'"
The shoe index: "I bought a pair of $850 Sigerson Morrison wedges for $250 on eBay. I love them, even though they hurt."
The view from the ground: "The recession hurt my business doing startup consulting and advising on green living; people were focused on putting food on the table. Going green for the sake of it doesn't fly; the changes need to be cost-comparable and convenient. My friends come over, see the tankless water system, and say, 'I want one.' It's not because they're green; it's because it saves money." —Lea Goldman
THE OUTDOOR ENTHUSIAST
Kiri Crane, 27, Vail, Colorado
Occupation: Snowboarding instructor
Annual income: $25,000 ($17 an hour plus tips)
Home, sweet home: "Most instructors live in employee housing, dorm-style apartments on the mountain, but I found a deal on a two-bedroom apartment nearby. I have a room to myself and my two roommates share the other one. We pay $500 each, including utilities."
Bills, bills, bills: "I have $2,400 in student loans, so I put $300 a month toward that. I pay almost $60 for our Internet and Hulu Plus. Insurance for my Toyota Forerunner is $60, and gas is about $60. I'm on my parents' iPhone plan — it's cheaper — so I send them $30 a month."
Meal plan: "I never pay for lunch. In a group lesson, the mountain covers my meals, and private clients take me to a restaurant. For dinner, I cook; I'm a vegetarian and love pasta and salad, so I only spend $50 a week on food."
The weekender: "Wednesdays and Thursdays are my days off, when I board or hike to the backcountry for powder. On Tuesday night, I go to a local bar and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer or vodka sodas, about $15."
Only in Vail: "All-season ski passes cost $700, but instructors ski free. We get gear discounts, too; boards are $500, but I got mine for $300."
Big splurge: "Weddings! I went to seven last summer. Plane tickets are $500 each. A dress, gift, and hotel can add another $700."
The shoe index: "My most expensive shoes are my lime green Ride snowboarding boots. They retail for about $200 but I got them for $100."
The view from the ground: "A lot of mountain jobs are tip-dependent; at the height of the season, half my income is from tips. They vary and rely on tourism — if nobody wants a lesson, I don't have a job for the day. On the flip side, I can get $20 from a group or up to $100 from a private lesson." —Ashley Ross
THE SOUTHERN HOSTESS
Alexa Wyatt, 23, Charleston, South Carolina
Occupation: Wedding and events coordinator
Annual income: $50,000
Home, sweet home: "I share an apartment with my best friend; we split the $1,300 rent. I do cake tastings at the bakery across the street."
Bills, bills, bills: "My half of the utilities including cable is $250. Every few months, I sign up for barre classes, about $200 a month. I drive an old white BMW 3-Series. My parents cover the insurance and my cell phone bill, about $225."
Meal plan: "I survive on Starbucks lattes for breakfast. At tastings, I try nine hors d'oeuvres, four entrÉes, and four cakes. That's lunch! For dinner, my roommate and I order pizza for $16."
The weekender: "I often work weddings every weekend for months. Otherwise, on Saturdays, I host friends for cocktails and we eat at a restaurant downtown. I spend around $50."
Only in Charleston: "The annual wine and food festival is great. A wine lover's pass is $300."
Big splurge: "My $35 monthly gel manicure."
The shoe index: "I own an amazing pair of $400 blush pink Kate Spade heels. I bought them to go with a dress I wore to a cocktail party."
The view from the ground: "The RSVP rate for Charleston weddings is higher than in other cities. It feels like a true destination! Everyone wants to get married here." —Lauren N. Williams
THE D.C. SOPHISTICATE
Dionna Dorsey, 32, Arlington, Virginia
Occupation: Graphic designer
Annual income: $85,000
Home, sweet home: "I pay $1,750 a month for my one-bedroom, less than it would cost in D.C. With the money I'm saving, I want to buy a condo next year — my budget is $400,000. I run my company, creating branding materials and websites for businesses, from home."
Bills, bills, bills: "Basic cable is included in my rent, but I added HBO so I can watch Boardwalk Empire. That plus Internet cost $70 per month. Gas, heat, and water bills are $125, as is health insurance. I drive a white CLK Mercedes, a hand-me-down from my sister. Gas is $60 a tank; insurance is $2,400 a year."
Meal plan: "Working from home allows me to make my own meals, like Korean beef barbecue, for dinner. I spend $65 a week at Whole Foods."
The weekender: "On Saturdays, I meet friends for dinner in Georgetown. On Sundays, I go to a service at the Alfred Street Baptist Church, where I tithe — give 10 percent of my earnings."
Only in Arlington: "Using a citywide bike-share program, I can rent a bicycle for $7. I love riding by the monuments on the National Mall."
Big splurge: "For $120 a month, I wax my eyebrows, armpits, upper lip, and bikini area."
The shoe index: "I spent $770 on a pair of pink satin Viktor & Rolf 5-inch heels."
The view from the ground: "Business comes through referrals, so I haven't advertised. If I'm doing well, I donate services to community groups; I just reworked the logo for a group that helps intellectually disabled athletes reach the Paralympics." —L.N.W.