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A Week In Tacoma, Washington, On A $75,000 Salary

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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 program manager who makes $75,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on pepper seedlings.
All currency in USD.
Occupation: Program Manager
Industry: Education Nonprofit
Age: 34
Location: Tacoma, Washington
Salary: $75,000
Net Worth: ~$324,900 ($5,500 in checking, $8,000 in HYSA, $19,000 in Roth IRA, $131,000 in 403(b), $32,000 in Wealthfront, $9,000 current car value, $370,000 current house value, minus mortgage debt.)
Debt: $249,600 (mortgage)
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $2,100 after 6% 403(b) contribution and health/dental premiums
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,490
Utilities (Electric, Water, Trash, and Gas): $170
Car Insurance: $75
Car Payment: $0 (I paid cash for a used car)
Cell Phone: $40, but reimbursed by my employer
Internet: $45
Spotify/Hulu: $11
Donations: $100 (recipient varies by month, usually local education or environment.)
Roth IRA: $500
Wealthfront Contribution: $300
403b Contribution: 6% of salary (company matches 5%)

Annual Expenses
HBO Max/Netflix: $120, I split with my mother and a friend
Local Newspaper: $75, I split with a friend
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?
I'm the first person in my family to graduate college. I come from a working class background, but have always been bookish and interested in everything academic, so there was no question about me going to college. Thankfully, I received several very generous needs-based scholarships and grants and only had to take out about $10,000 in loans to pay for housing, which I paid off with some help from my grandfather. For my master's, I worked full time while going to school full time (which I wouldn't recommend, but it allowed me to pay tuition as I went). My family is very proud of me, though they don't understand why I needed a second degree when I already had the first one — a question I sometimes ask myself as well!
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My mother had pretty limited education about finances, but from being in some less-than-healthy relationships when she was young, she taught me early the importance of saving whenever possible and always having some money of my own on hand to get myself out of any bad situations. I did a lot of self-education about finance in my 20s, through workshops and blogs, and now help her manage her finances.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I've held at least a part-time job since I was 13. At various times I was a nanny, tutor, farmhand, waitress, dog walker, cashier, and retail employee. I was aware very early on that I would need to help pay for college expenses, so I tried to save as much as I could throughout high school.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Constantly. I was raised by a single mother who worked as a janitor, and support from my father wasn't consistent. I never worried about having a roof over my head, but we didn't have any wiggle room in the budget and rarely had health coverage (solution: don't go to the doctor unless you've broken a bone). I'm very grateful to have health benefits with my job now but sincerely wish coverage wasn't tied to employment.
Do you worry about money now?
Less than I used to, but more than I should. I was extremely stressed about money through my 20s, and have continued a lot of the intensely frugal habits that I had at the time. I have been focused the last few years on building up my own retirement savings (for a while I was contributing 20% pre-tax, hence the healthy amount in my accounts) since I will likely need to help my mother financially in her retirement relatively soon. Owning my own house has helped me loosen my purse strings a bit, now that the dreaded down payment is over with and I feel like I have more financial security. I spent five years saving up for a 20% down payment in order to minimize my monthly mortgage payments, but the house has increased in value quite a bit with the insane real estate market, so it was worth the investment. Since buying, I've also been contributing more to a Wealthfront account, which is where I'm keeping my house and vacation funds because it's pretty easy to transfer money to and from when needed.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I've been fully financially responsible for myself since I was 22 when I graduated from college. During undergrad, my mom paid for my meal plan and cell phone and I had several part-time jobs that paid for the rest of my expenses like textbooks and clothes. I didn't have health insurance for years, since I couldn't afford it and it was pre-Affordable Care Act. Now, if I was in serious need, I could move in with my mom, but at this point, since I own my house, she'd be more likely to move in with me.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My grandfather helped me pay off about $4,000 of my $10,000 undergrad loans, and I received $12,000 when my aunt died last year. Since I had already paid the down payment on my house from my old Roth IRA funds (plus pulling from a few other accounts), this all went back into my Roth IRA.

Day One

6 a.m. — Oh god, why am I awake so early? It's supposed to be a nice day, though, so I reluctantly lever myself out of bed, take my meds, and stretch for a few minutes while my cat, Q., does a great job getting in the way.
6:30 a.m. — I head out on a run. Since school is out for summer, I get the local high school track to myself for my three-mile run. After I get back home, I spend 15 minutes working on my arms and abs with dumbbells and then take a shower. I skim through the news and depress myself about the state of the world while eating Trader Joe's praline granola with yoghurt and peach slices.
8 a.m. — Time for work, coffee in hands. I've been working from home because of the pandemic, and thankfully it looks like my company's work-from-home policy is going to continue indefinitely. I love the flexibility and do not miss the loud open office plan, though it can be difficult to focus when it's so nice out.
11:30 a.m. — Lunch break. I bike over to the grocery store to pick up some produce and perishables that I'm running low on (milk, yoghurt, sourdough bread, bananas, peaches, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, frozen veggies, salad greens) and optimistically add some popsicles and sunscreen to the cart. I usually do one big grocery run per month at the bulk store for staples and supplement with produce and Trader Joe's treats as needed. Back at home, I make a salad with goat cheese, apple slices, and chicken, and sit out in my yard to enjoy the sun. I can practically feel the vitamin D seeping into my skin. I have a popsicle for dessert. $44.82
1 p.m. — Back at work and half-listening to an overly long webinar while I do data entry. I check my personal email and see a job rejection for a position I was a finalist for. I knew the job was a little bit of a stretch, but I did well the interviews and the rejection still stings. I console myself with some Hershey's kisses and an hour later, still grumpy, end up buying two sweaters from thredUP that I've had my eye on. $43.38
6 p.m. — Done with work for the day, but I have a Zoom meeting with a nonprofit board I serve on, so I'm still tethered to the computer for another hour to discuss annual budgets and personnel changes.
7:30 p.m. — Finally I'm able to tear myself away from the screen. I heat up some leftover pizza for dinner then spend an hour weeding in my garden while listening to Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. I get all my audiobooks from the library through the Libby app and usually have one going while I'm doing chores.
9 p.m. — I wind down with two episodes of Schitt's Creek, then head to bed around 10.
Daily Total: $88.20

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — We're back to our regularly scheduled rain today. I stay in bed after my alarm, snuggling with Q. and scrolling through social media.
8 a.m. — I do a 20-minute yoga session with the Down Dog yoga app and only curse at the instructor twice for going into challenging poses. My own fault for choosing a session above my level. I do my morning skincare routine, which I keep pretty basic: Cetaphil cleanser, the Ordinary Vitamin C serum, La Roche-Posay moisturiser with sunscreen, and some concealer. I have my usual cold-weather breakfast of oatmeal with peanut butter and banana and watch some Seth Meyers on YouTube as a less-stressful way to catch up on the news.
9:30 a.m. — Okay, fine, gotta start work. I'm running two meetings today, so I make sure to proofread my slides and confirm Zoom info before getting sucked into a vortex of emails and event planning.
12 p.m. — Lunchtime! Generally my favourite time of day. I grab some cubed tofu I've been marinating with turmeric and chilli and stir fry it with some veggies from the freezer, then I catch up on texts from friends. One friend shares a photo from her wedding dress fitting and I tell her she looks like a goddamn goddess because she does. Another friend texts about a sketching class coming up in two weeks and we decide to buy tickets. I'm a terrible artist, but determined to get better. $25
3 p.m. — My brain is numb from grant writing and I'm still smarting from the job rejection, so I eat a Toblerone, which is basically medicine. I do genuinely like my current job, but I know I need to move on at some point if I want to grow in my career and I haven't received a significant pay increase in four years. I'm a hopeless do-gooder and work in nonprofits because I really do want to make a difference, but nonprofits also tend to feed off your life force in the name of following your passion and I don't want to stall in my career.
6 p.m. — Done for the day and I video chat with a friend who's having some medical issues. She's laid up for the next few weeks, so after I get off the phone I order her a few crossword and adult colouring books to keep her entertained. My friends are truly the bedrock of my life and I'm always disappointed we don't celebrate friendships the same way we celebrate romantic relationships. $29.43
7 p.m. — While heating up some minestrone soup that I made over the weekend for my dinner, I get a text from T., a guy I went on a date with last week, and we make plans to get together again tomorrow. I didn't date much during the pandemic, and can't say I miss the dating scene much, but he seems like a genuinely nice and emotionally mature person so I'm cautiously looking forward to it.
9 p.m. — After an aloe vera face mask and my nighttime skin routine (Cetaphil, prescription retinol, Trader Joe's eye cream, and La Roche-Posay moisturiser) I head to bed early so I can get started on one of the new library books I picked up last weekend — The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi.
Daily Total: $54.43

Day Three

8:30 a.m. — It's Friday and I feel like an absolute slug. I would like to curl up in a nest of blankets and read all day, but alas, grant deadlines beckon. Breakfast today is peanut butter toast with sliced bananas accompanied by the Try Guys on YouTube.
9 a.m. — Work. I stare at spreadsheets until Q. badgers me into giving her some extra treats, and then I stare at some different spreadsheets.
12 p.m. — Lunchtime, and after eating a salad, I take a walk around the neighbourhood while listening to my audiobook. I see some gorgeous irises in another yard and make a mental note to pick up some bulbs for next year. A friend, B., emails me about a camping reservation she just snagged for a small group, so I add the weekend to my calendar and agree that I'll make breakfast for the group as my camping contribution.
6 p.m. — I meet up with T. over pizza and beer and we chat about work and family and hiking. I'm a little flustered because I haven't been on a date in a while, but I have a good time. It would take a very good man to lure me away from my relaxed and comfortable single life, but we'll see where this goes. We split the bill (which is my preference) and I get a kiss on the cheek goodnight. $31.99
Daily Total: $31.99

Day Four

9:30 a.m. — Up and at ‘em. I video chat with my mom while making a southwestern-ish sweet potato and bell pepper hash, which I top with a fried egg and salsa for breakfast. After I eat, I spend some time cleaning the kitchen.
11 a.m. — I meet up with my friend, N., for a neighbourhood cleanup event. We wear oh-so-stylish safety vests while cleaning up trash, crack a lot of jokes, then grab a beer at a nearby brewery after. I get the lowest-ABV option on the menu since I have to drive later this afternoon. I pay since N. paid last time. $16.80
3 p.m. — Getting hungry, but it's late enough that I just eat a granola bar from my car stash. I drive to Lowe's in order to buy some paint samples and end up buying way too many plants as usual, including some pepper starts because I want to try to make my own hot sauce ($72.02). I also stop by the thrift store and pick up a little side table for my guest room that I may repaint ($25). $97.02
6 p.m. — Back home and I get most of the new plants in the ground before making a creamy mushroom pasta and watching Pleasantville on Hulu. Then some more reading before bed.
Daily Total: $113.82

Day Five

10 a.m. — I head to a (masked) service at my fellowship, which I chose after I moved into my house because it was the most liberal and progressive religious service I could find in my area. I like connecting with people in the community and having thoughtful discussions about the Big Questions. I add $10 to the donation basket when it comes around and chat with folks after the service over coffee and cookies. My petrol tank is still half full, but I see a better-than-usual gas price on the way home and fill the rest of the tank ($32.05). $42.05
1 p.m. — I have some leftover pasta for lunch and start cleaning the house, but give up pretty quickly after taking out the trash/recycling/compost and instead doodle and scroll Instagram while listening to my audiobook.
3 p.m. — I try to carve out some time on Sundays to get my head organised. I check my finances in Personal Capital, add money to my Roth, plan my schedule and daily priorities for next week, and spend some time journalling about where my head is at. I snack on trail mix while trying to collect my thoughts.
4 p.m. — My neighbour texts asking if I'd like to join her for a beer, so I grab a few bottles from my fridge and meet her and two other neighbours in her yard. One of the gals brought snacks, so we munch happily on cheese, crackers, and hummus. I'm younger than most of the folks in my neighborhood, but they've been very welcoming.
7 p.m. — I'm not very hungry after the amount of cheese I ate, so I munch on apple slices while trying to decide what audiobooks I want to listen to after I finish Caste. I put a few on hold at the library, then borrow Know My Name by Chanel Miller, which a friend recommended. I make some popcorn and watch some episodes of Russian Doll before bed.
Daily Total: $42.05

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — I get a friendly paw to the face upon waking, so I get up, stretch a bit, feed the furry monster, and have some more breakfast hash with a fried egg. While scrolling through Facebook, I notice someone has posted a table lamp for free on the local Buy Nothing group and I ask if it's still available.
8:30 a.m. — At my computer with several back-to-back work meetings and more budget review.
11 a.m. — I take an early break for a lunchtime run, this time down near the waterfront while running against a stiff breeze off the Sound. Lunch is veggie fried rice. I grab my mail, which includes one of the sweaters I bought earlier in the week (such a pretty colour!), and notice a bill from my dentist for my last cleaning that should have been covered by insurance.
12 p.m. — I call the dentist's office to discuss the bill and they agree it should have been covered by insurance and will cancel the bill. Yay! Always good to check. I also text T. to see when he'd like to get together again. Sounds like Thursday may work.
1 p.m. — Back at work but unable to focus, so I call to make an appointment for a facial this weekend. The maskne is real. Then I take a quick stretch break and try to focus on work again. The neighbour in the Buy Nothing Group messages to say the lamp is mine and we arrange for me to pick it up after work.
5:30 p.m. — I walk over to pick up the lamp, which will be a nice addition to my guest room that I'm slowly setting up. I'm not feeling up to cooking for dinner, so I place an order for two dishes at the local Thai place and wander over to pick them up ($27.37). I text an out-of-state friend about a destination wedding we're both attending this summer and we agree to look for a hotel room to split. I idly flip through job postings online to see if there are any that call to me, then watch This is Life with Lisa Ling on HBO before turning in at 10.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

7:30 a.m. — Cursing with yoga again because side planks are evil. Thank goodness for savasana. I have oatmeal with peach slices while reading my book, and for once manage to wash the dishes immediately after eating instead of abandoning them in the sink.
8 a.m. — One of my work projects has been on a tear while another is stalled, so I send out the necessary "friendly reminder" emails before my morning meetings. They come off as unnecessarily perky as I try to dress up the phrase “do this soon” in a professional email, so I delete a few exclamation marks before hitting send.
12:30 p.m. — Leftover Thai food and some homemade iced tea for lunch. I text with B., who lives in the next town over, and we make plans to go see a movie on Friday.
3 p.m. — I'm having difficulty focusing again, so I decide to take two PTO hours and go for a short local hike. Being around the trees and spring flowers is relaxing. I bring my sketchbook and some trail mix so I'm able to take a drawing and snacking break on a bench before heading back.
6:30 p.m. — Grilled cheese with a side salad for dinner, and a few chocolate truffles for dessert. I read next to the window until it gets dark, then clean up the kitchen before reading in bed because I'm determined to finish the book tonight.
Daily Total: $0
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