A Week In Central Valley, CA, On A $216,100 Joint Income

Welcome to Money Diaries where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We’re asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.

Today: a technical reviewer who has a joint income of $216,100 per year and spends some of her money this week on a propane tank.

Occupation: Technical Reviewer
Industry: Research & Development
Age: 37
Location: Central Valley, CA
My Salary: $127,300
My Wife’s Salary: $88,800
Net Worth: ~$178,000 (Assets: ~$113,000 in house equity, (home value is ~$545,243), ~$118,000 in my 401(k), ~$10,500 in wife’s 401(k), ~$1,022 in an investment account, and about ~$8,900 in checking/savings minus debt). My wife and I share finances completely, with the exception of the child support she receives, that money goes to a separate account and is spent on the kids for medications, doctors, clothes, and any extracurricular activity (which are all on hold due to the pandemic). Excess child support funds are not included in our net worth because it isn’t ours, it belongs to the kids.
Debt: -$505,409.14 (Mortgage: $432,561.91, Student Loans: $58,140.71, Credit Card: $5,706.52, Car Loan: ~$9,000)
My Paycheck: $2,960 (after tax/deductions)
My Wife’s Paycheck: $1,885 (after tax/deductions)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $3,031 (We refinanced in July to a 20-year mortgage, which increased our payments by about $150, but it’s worth it to knock 10 years off the initial loan term.
Student Loan: $320 (in forbearance because of the pandemic, but we are still paying)
Car: $247
Utilities: $575 (we have a two-story house with a pool, so utilities are stupid high)
Cable/Internet: $218
Health Insurance: Through my wife’s employer, deducted from her paycheck
Car Insurance: $145 (this is for two vehicles)
Life Insurance: $316 (my wife and I both have term life policies with each other as the beneficiary and she has a separate policy with a trust for the kids as the beneficiary)
Home Warranty: $62 (this has saved us so much. We bought our house about 1.5 years ago and have used this for a new water heater, new pool equipment, and a plumbing issue. Once the AC/Furnace goes (it is about 20 years old) we will likely cancel this.)
Cell Phones: $375 (We have five phones with unlimited plans and an Apple Watch on this plan)
Yard Maintenance: $90 (this includes our bug guy too)
Credit Card: ~$750 (minimum payment is about ~$60, but we are trying to get this paid off ASAP)
Streaming: Netflix ($15.99), Amazon Prime ($10), Disney+ (free for a year with cell phone provider)

Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
It was never really discussed, but it was just assumed I would go to college. I am the first person in my family to go to college. Although, when I started right after high school, it was a total bust. I wound up stopping after about a year and then went back when I was 24. I got my bachelor’s and master’s degree at that point, financed with student loans. I feel like I will be paying for my education for a very long time, but it was worth it. Without my master’s degree, I wouldn’t have the job I have now.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
The only conversation I can recall was when my dad took me to set up my first checking account when I was 16. He taught me how to balance my checkbook and reminded me that he wouldn’t set up an account for my brother because he wasn’t responsible enough. Still makes me laugh.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was at McDonald’s as soon as I turned 16. I still have nightmares about dehydrated onions to this day. My parents bought us (very) used cars for our 16th birthdays, but we were responsible for insurance, maintenance, and gas. I got the job to pay for those things and to have spending money.

Did you worry about money growing up?
I was oblivious. My parents worked hard and we never wanted for anything. We didn’t have designer clothes or anything like that, but we had everything we needed. Each school year, we got a budget (about $300 for each for me and my brother) to spend on new clothes. Anything else we got came at birthdays or Christmas. I didn’t worry about money growing up, but we had a very modest childhood.

Do you worry about money now?
Some. We have a family of six, so I often worry about what would happen if one of us lost our jobs (unlikely, but still, if 2020 has taught me anything, it is to expect the unexpected). I am the budgeter and I am constantly keeping an eye on things. I really want us to be saving more, but man, growing kids eat a lot of food.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I was mostly financially responsible for myself once I turned 18. I paid all of my own bills, but I did live rent-free with my parents until about the age of 20 when I moved in with some friends. As far as a safety net goes, between my parents, my wife’s parents, and my grandmother, I think we would be okay.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Not really, but once I started college again, out of state, my parents sent me $100 per month. I worked full time and went to school full time so that extra $100 for those four years was greatly appreciated.

Day One

6:30 a.m. — Alarm goes off and I am pretty bummed by it. I was off last week and definitely was not ready to get back into the work grind. I’m working from home this week (my work is on maximum telework for the weeks following our annual winter break). My morning routine is simple — brush teeth, splash cold water on my face, put on comfy clothes other than what I slept in, grab something to drink (this morning it is a Peach-Pear La Croix), and plop myself at my desk (in my new comfy chair my wife, B., bought me for Christmas.)

9 a.m. — Realize we need groceries and neither of us has time to make it to the grocery store today. Thank you, Instacart! We place an order of chicken breasts, shrimp, cereal, random fresh veggies, milk, eggs, cheese, some Primal Kitchen sauces, snacks for the kids, frozen lasagna, and some other things I can’t remember. After delivery fee and tip, it comes to $260.99. $260.99

12 p.m. — The groceries have arrived and I put them away. After that, I grab B. a Coke and some chips (we share an office, but she works from home 100% of the time and always has) and reheat some chicken soup I made yesterday for myself. The kids are oddly incredibly quiet today, but I am not going to poke the beast. They are on vacation from school for one more week and are old enough to manage themselves during the day.

2:45 p.m. — The struggle is real today. I’m in the middle of reviewing a journal article for release. It is interesting, but my desire to sleep is stronger.

4:30 p.m. — Got that article finished, as well as a presentation. My job is basically me reviewing anything that is going outside our firewall for publication (articles, presentations, reports, etc.) to make sure they are appropriate, accurate, and look like something we want to represent the company. It sounds way more boring than it is…I swear! Time to put dinner in the oven (frozen lasagna) for the family and then a quick workout and shower before I make my dinner.

6:15 p.m. — Workout done and showered. I head downstairs to make my dinner -— Tuscan shrimp with cauliflower rice. The shrimp is made with sundried tomato, spinach, onion in a coconut milk sauce with some Italian spices. I do tweak the recipe a little by adding some red pepper flakes to spice it up.

8 p.m. — After dinner, B. and I run to Walgreens (masked, of course, you can rest easy knowing we wear masks everywhere we go and usually it is just to the grocery store for random last-minute things or a drive-thru) to pick up our New Year’s cards ($21.36). B. decides that Dairy Queen is in order, so we swing by and grab her a hot fudge sundae ($4.09). $25.45

9 p.m. — B. lovingly tells me I have serious dark circles under my eyes. She’s sweet. We crawl into bed to watch Celebrity IOU and chat about our days.

11:15 p.m. — Just kidding, we watched The Parent Trap instead. Man, I love that movie. Lights out!

Daily Total: $286.44

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — Alarm. Nope.

6:50 a.m. — Ugh. Fine, I am up. Do my morning routine, which, let’s be real, isn’t really a routine — it’s the bare minimum of personal hygiene. Put on a bra, brush my teeth, and apply deodorant. Yup, still in my pajamas. At my desk by 7. B. is already up and working. We both wear headphones so we can actually go the whole day without interacting too much. We both have jobs that require attention to detail so we try not to distract each other.

9:30 a.m. — My stomach tells me it is time for food. Leftover shrimp and rice from last night it is. I’m allergic to eggs, so I rarely eat typical breakfast foods. Our daughter, F. (14), is up and hanging with our pups on the couch. We chat a little about her driving class. She is taking it online during her winter break from school. She will be able to get her permit in March and we wanted to give her plenty of time to complete the class and study for the test. She is a planner and doesn’t like to be rushed.

9:55 a.m. — I grab some pickle spears and green olives to take back to work with me for a snack later. As I head back to work, I also start the dishwasher that B. loaded last night.

2 p.m. — I need a snack and a break. I head to the kitchen to grab a snack — applesauce with cinnamon, an orange, and a La Croix. Hoping this holds me over until dinner. While in the kitchen, I talk to our youngest, D. (10), about how much money he needs to build a gaming computer. He will not be building a gaming computer any time soon, but I listen and encourage saving money any chance I get. If you asked him last year what he was saving his money for, he would have told you a house, and as far as I can recall, he has spent about $5 since then.

4:30 p.m. — Done with work for the day. I grab some grapes and head up to relax for a bit until it’s time to make dinner. I turn on the TV to watch the Georgia Senate runoff results. All three of our pups join me, but I can’t convince the kids to do the same.

4:45 p.m. — That didn’t last long. B. finishes her day (she works incredibly long hours) and comes upstairs. I suggest we go for a walk, so we take two of our three pups with us and stroll around the park near our house. See exactly one other person and are able to distance easily. COVID cases are up in our area (aren’t they everywhere?) and we are trying to be super diligent.

5:30 p.m. — We are back home and start to make dinner. B. starts the fries going in the oven while I put away dishes and get the grill going. It’s an easy night tonight — hot dogs and french fries. I heat up some leftover chicken soup and make a small salad to go with it. We talk with the kids at dinner about whether they are ready to start school next week. Spoiler alert: they are not. And to be honest, neither am I. We have three kids attending three different schools with three different schedules. F. can manage herself, the two younger boys…cannot. They have ADHD and we are trying to maintain as much of a routine as possible, but distance learning is hard y’all!

7 p.m. — Dinner is cleaned up and B. is taking a bath. I decide to do an upper body stretch video from FitOn. A quick 10 minutes, but I feel pretty good. After that, we settle in to watch our shows on TLC (it is total trash TV, but I have to know what happens on Welcome to Plathville). Feeling pretty good about Georgia too!

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

5:15 a.m. — Wake up to B. coming back upstairs to say the internet is down. Not a good start to the day.

6:30 a.m. — Still no internet. This means we can’t work and B. is stressing a little bit. And she wants Starbucks, so we order for delivery. $19.58

8 a.m. — Really frustrated about the lack of internet, but we are having a nice leisurely morning. We watch the news about the election in Georgia (thank you, Stacey Abrams)!

10:30 a.m. — Guess what? Still no internet. B. decides she is just taking the day off and will deal with the mess tomorrow. I don’t have the same luxury today, so I’m patiently waiting for it to come back on. We are watching the news and getting more and more frustrated with the protest headed for the Capitol building.

12 p.m. — We have internet! Off to work I go while I also shed a tear about the fact the Capitol has been breached. I’m sad for our country. Also, a little embarrassed.

2:45 p.m. — A Ring notification about motion at our door catches the garbage truck in the background as it passes our house…We forgot to put the cans out. This is life these days.

4 p.m. — I wrap up my four-hour workday. Not going to lie, I wasn’t getting much done, but I did manage to attend the meeting that I needed to be there for today. I’ve been glued to the news and watching the disaster happening at the Capitol.

5:30 p.m. — B. and I head to the grocery store to get things for dinner. We get steak, potatoes, sour cream, bananas, oranges, vegetable oil, and orange juice. While we are out, the conversation turns to the dumpster fire that is America and ultimately my family. There are a lot of hurt feelings there because a couple of people in my family voted for Trump, and while I respect their right to do that, it isn’t lost on me they decided to vote for a candidate who represents a party that would just assume my marriage wasn’t legal. It is a tough pill to swallow. $59.08

8 p.m. — We sit down to eat dinner. Steak for everyone else and chicken for me, with potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Delicious. We have a really good conversation with the kids about what happened today, what Congress was trying to do when the Capitol was invaded, and how despite everything that happened today, Biden and Harris will take office on January 20.

9:15 p.m. — In bed and ready for sleep. This day has been utterly exhausting. Even if I only did work for four hours.

Daily Total: $78.66

Day Four

4 a.m. — Ugh, it is way too early for this. However, our oldest, Z. (23), needs a ride to the airport. He is a photographer and his first assignment of the year is in Texas. I suppose now is a good time to mention the kids are biologically B.’s from a previous relationship, but they have no physical contact with their other parent and all live with us full time.

4:45 a.m. — F. has decided she wants to ride with us to take her brother to the airport, so we load up and head out. They are hungry so we stop at McDonald’s on the way out of town. $18.21

8 a.m. — We are back home and I am hungry! I heat up some leftover shrimp and rice from earlier in the week. There is a little of this dish left, but I think I’ve eaten all I can manage. We shall see if I am able to finish it later for lunch. I get settled in for work (thank you for working internet)!

10:30 a.m. — Snack time! I get myself some pickles and green olives to hold me over until lunch.

1 p.m. — Time for lunch. I cut up some leftover chicken from last night and make a salad with it. It’s my grandma’s birthday today, so I spend my lunch break calling to wish her a happy birthday. I’m so grateful she is still with us and miss her terribly during this pandemic, but we are following protocol and she is staying in her independent living facility. She tells me she is scheduled to get the vaccine next week. I could cry I am so excited.

4:45 p.m. — Off work just in time for my therapy appointment. I just recently started going back to therapy, so I am not sure at this point how much it is helping, but I am determined to be happier and more well adjusted in 2021 than I was in 2020. $40

6:30 p.m. — Therapy goes well. We talk about my struggles with some of my family members. We also talked about how B. doesn’t feel connected to my family and I don’t know what to do about it.

7:15 p.m. — Now B. and I are discussing my appointment and she is just reiterating how isolated she feels around my family. My heart hurts because I genuinely believe they care, they just aren’t great at showing that in a way that resonates with her. Sometimes I think B. has gotten to the point that she just doesn’t care anymore and is too frustrated to see anything. This is rough.

8 p.m. — We realize we need to feed the kids. We run to McDonald’s for everyone — chicken nuggets all around! I don’t eat McDonald’s so I have a banana and a couple of oranges because I don’t feel like reheating anything. Pretty sure I pass out by 9. $34.48

Daily Total: $92.69

Day Five

6 a.m. — I wake up because I think I hear a dog whining. That usually means they are ready to be let out of whatever kid’s room they slept in the previous night. Except, it’s not a dog, it is our son H., crying in the hall bathroom. I finally get him calmed down enough to tell me what’s wrong. He says he woke up and his head hurt really bad. I give him an Advil and some water while delivering the bad news that a headache bad enough to wake him up means no screen time today. That will be a fight later, but for now, he just nods and crawls back into bed.

7 a.m. — I get back in bed and wind up oversleeping. Luckily, it is Friday and I have a pretty flexible schedule so it isn’t a big deal. I get up, brush my teeth and head downstairs.

7:05 a.m. — Ugh. One of the dogs threw up in her crate last night and it is pretty much everywhere. Gross. They don’t always sleep in their crates, but if none of the kids want them in their rooms, they do.

8 a.m. — Crate cleaned, dog cleaned, and I am finally at work. Again, flexible hours. I grab an orange and a banana before sitting down.

9:15 a.m. — B. decides she needed Starbucks again, so she places an order for delivery. $19.69

12 p.m. — I need food. I offer to make B. a grilled cheese sandwich and she accepts. As I am doing that, F. and D. come down. F. informs me that our pup threw up in her room, which is how she wound up in the crate. She also asks if I can make her some food too. Eggs and sausage for her and D. H. still isn’t feeling great so we let him sleep the day away. I heat up a bit of leftover chicken soup and head back to work about 45 minutes later.

4:45 p.m. — Off work and head upstairs to relax before making dinner. B. and I watch an episode of Celebrity IOU and it makes me tear up a little. Damn these pandemic quarantine emotions.

6 p.m. — Head downstairs to start making dinner. BBQ chicken, green beans, and mac & cheese. As I am cooking, my friend calls to catch up. It’s a great chat and we hang up just as I am working on getting everyone’s plates together. We all eat and chat about our days. No one is ready for school to start on Monday. Myself included.

8 p.m. — Dinner is done, dishes are cleaned, and the trash has been taken out. My chores for the day are done! We head upstairs to watch a movie. Wild Friday night in this house.

Daily Total: $19.69

Day Six

8:45 a.m. — Wake up from a text from my mom to call her. That’s never good. My uncle was just rushed to the hospital. He has cancer and is an alcoholic as well. We all knew this day was coming, but knowing it was coming and it being here are not the same thing.

9:15 a.m. — B. wants an omelet. I head downstairs to get breakfast going. I heat up leftover chicken and veggies for myself.

9:15 a.m. — B. and I are eating breakfast in bed and watching Wine Country on Netflix. It’s cute and takes us longer to watch because we constantly pause to ask questions to each other and chat.

2:45 p.m. — I want chicken wings, but we don’t have any. Off to the grocery store I go. I get chicken wings, oranges, grapes, cauliflower rice, BBQ sauce, green olives, bread, potatoes, corn on the cob, tortillas, and a box of Charleston Chews. $72.97

5:45 p.m. — I’ve never made chicken wings in our air fryer before and they turn out fantastic. We will definitely make these again.

7:15 p.m. — F. and D. decide they are still hungry and ask about dinner. I go downstairs to clean up the kitchen from my earlier adventure in wing making and get started making dinner. Tonight is hamburger horseshoes. A midwestern dish that consists of a hamburger patty atop a piece of Texas toast covered in french fries and cheese sauce. Basically, it is a heart attack on a plate, which is why we rarely have it. I eat a hamburger patty and leftover Brussels sprouts.

9:15 p.m. — Dinner is done and cleaned up. The boys are being total jerks to one another so we cut the internet to their electronics. The power! Needless to say, they aren’t happy, but B. and I are tired of dealing with the fighting. We try really hard to not let the constant bickering bother us because we know siblings fight, but after numerous warnings today, we are over it. Early bedtime for them.

9:30 p.m. — B. and I settle in to watch St. Vincent. I pass out about 30 minutes into it.

Daily Total: $72.97

Day Seven

8 a.m. — Wake up to use the bathroom. Contemplate getting up and being productive today. Immediately laugh and crawl back into bed.

10:45 a.m. — Okay, this is later than even I imagined. I suppose I should get up.

12 p.m. — Yep, should have gotten up. Instead, B. and I have a very emotionally draining conversation wherein nothing gets resolved (as per usual). She doesn’t think I understand her point of view and I feel the same. This day sucks.

3 p.m. — B. has some work to do so I get up and shower. I need to get dinner going. We are having ribs tonight and those take a while on the grill.

3:45 p.m. — I head down to get the ribs going and F. wants to help. I have her follow a recipe and mix up our dry rub for the ribs. It is garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, chili powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper (just a dash). She rubs it all over the ribs and we get them on the grill.

4:15 p.m. — Realize there won’t be enough propane and we need foil for the corn as well. Grab our empty propane tank and head to the corner store. Aaaaand they are out of propane tanks (it is a drop and swap place). I have just enough time to make it to the hardware store where they will just refill my tank ($13.55). Then head to the Walmart next door for foil ($10.77). $24.32

5:15 p.m. — I get the corn on the cob wrapped in foil with butter, salt, and pepper. I also poach two chicken breasts seasoned with Old Bay for tomorrow. I also cut up some potatoes and toss them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano for roasting.

6:20 p.m. — There it goes! Swap out tanks, put the corn on the grill, and add BBQ sauce to the ribs. Prep some asparagus and get that into a pan.

6:45 p.m. — Dinner is served. Ribs, corn on the cob, asparagus, and potatoes.

7:30 p.m. — Box up lunch for tomorrow. I do the dishes and clean up the kitchen. I am fried and I didn’t even really do anything today. Pass out about 9:30 and sleep terribly. B. and I resolved nothing before bed, and it’s weighing on my mind. Why is tomorrow Monday already?

Daily Total: $24.32

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