Money Diaries Logo

A Week In Chicago On A $210,000 Joint Income

Photo: Courtesy of Home Depot.
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 PR account director on maternity leave who has a $210,000 joint income and spends some of her money this week on a smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
Occupation: Account director (currently on maternity leave)
Industry: Public relations
Age: 32
Location: Chicago
My Salary: $105,000
My Husband’s Salary: $95,000 (He’ll receive a ~$10,000 commission bonus around the end of the year.)
Net Worth: $279,000 (home value: $570,000; my 401(k) and IRA: $65,000; husband’s retirement accounts: $50,000; savings: $12,000 — this took a hit earlier this year due to hospital expenses, plus our dog got sick — we’re working to rebuild.)
Debt: $418,000 (mortgage: $395,000; 0% APR credit card: $13,000; home renovation labor: $8,000; hospital bill: $2,000)
My Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $2,644.43
My Husband’s Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $2,505.26
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage, Property Taxes & Home Insurance: $2,979.49
Loan Payments: ~$2,000 (varies month to month for the credit card and home reno labor)
Electricity: ~$125
Gas: ~$100
Water & Trash Collection: ~$50
Internet: $85
Car Lease: $360
Car Insurance: $128.60
Health & Dental Insurance: $576 ($476 for me and my son, and $100 for my husband)
Phones: $216.76
Pet Insurance: $46.91
Peloton Subscription: $44
Netflix, Hulu + Live TV, Spotify, Apple Storage: ~$140
Hospital: $500 (This debt will be paid in four months.)

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 was a good student, so there was never any question that I’d attend a four-year college after high school. Because of that expectation, getting as much scholarship money as I possibly could was drilled into me from the start of high school. My parents pushed me to have a “robust résumé” that included good grades, plenty of clubs, and community service. It worked out: I attended a private university out of state, funded by a 50% academic scholarship. The remaining balance was split between a few smaller grants, some federal student loans (paid off in 2021), and my parents graciously covering a portion (I don’t have an exact figure but probably about 25%).

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I don’t remember having explicit conversations about money, but my parents (Dad, specifically) would sprinkle in tidbits here and there, like contributing to your 401(k) as soon as you qualify and making sure to reach the employer contribution maximum, having a credit card and paying off the balance each month, etc.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was working the concession stand at the local swim club at 13 or 14. I got it mainly because all of my friends were also working at the swim club, and it was the cool thing to do. We didn’t even make minimum wage, but the extra spending money was nice. Toward the end of high school, I got a summer job as a camp counselor and saved that money for college living expenses.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No. My parents were always solidly middle class. In order to maintain a job in his industry, my dad had to work out of town for a few years, so he’d be gone most of the week and return on the weekends. My mom did a mix of full- and part-time work while I was growing up, but if there were actual money concerns, they were kept from us kids. We never did anything super lavish, but my siblings and I were always able to participate in extracurriculars, we’d go on vacation usually once a year, and we ate out frequently, plus my parents contributed to all of our higher-education pursuits.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes. I worry specifically that we don’t have enough in savings if something drastic comes up, and I feel this more acutely now that we have a kid. Day to day, I tend not to worry about money too much. We’ve never had an issue covering our bills and always have enough for necessities and the not-as-necessary treats. I do anticipate needing to be more focused on our spending and trim non-essentials once the kid starts daycare next year — it’s so expensive — and we continue to pay off the bulk of our home renovation expenses.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
It was a slow progression through my 20s. In college, I paid for all my living expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, et cetera), then once I had a full-time job at 23, I got off my parents’ insurance. Finally, around 27, I got off their phone plan, which was the last remaining regular bill they covered for me. I do have a financial safety net in my husband, W. I would hope there’s never a case in which we’re both unemployed, and, in an emergency, both sets of parents would do what they can to help us out. Our parents do still find little ways to support us, like treating us to dinner when they’re in town or covering the cost of a shared Airbnb. Plus, my mom loves to shop a sale, so she’s always picking up clothes for our son or little things for our house without the expectation of being paid back. Gift giving is definitely her love language.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I have never received a lump-sum inheritance, but my parents did pay for a portion of my college tuition and for the majority of our wedding. Their significant financial contributions to our wedding helped us become homeowners sooner than we expected because we were able to reallocate the majority of our wedding savings toward a home down payment, while still having the wedding we hoped for.

Day One

4:30 a.m. — Up bright and early to the sound of our four-month-old son, D., fussing. He’s not interested in a bottle and refuses to lay back down in the crib alone, so we opt for snuggling on the couch where D. promptly falls asleep in my arms. Our dog, R., joins for the snuggle session.
7:30 a.m. — D. lets me know that it’s now time to wake up and eat by screaming in my face. I warm up a bottle. Once he’s finished, he gets popped into the baby seat while I pump, pour an iced coffee with almond milk, and make a bowl of oatmeal. My husband, W., gets up around this time, too.
9:30 a.m. — D. goes down for his morning nap. He averages about a 30-minute nap in the crib, so the clock is ticking. I get myself ready for a baby “sprinkle” this afternoon: shower, light makeup (skin tint, concealer, brow gel, mascara, lip gloss), and blowdry my hair for the first time in months. Once D. is back up, I get him dressed, pack the diaper bag, and prep the gift for the expectant family. We make it out the door on time at 12:15 p.m., which feels like a first since D. came along.
1 p.m. — We join our friends at the sprinkle for their second child. Their oldest was born during the height of the COVID-19 restrictions, so they didn’t have a baby shower and are making up for lost time. Gifts are not expected, but I’ve brought a DoorDash gift card and a small pack of diapers I picked up last week; this was probably around $40 altogether. I plan to get something else once the baby arrives in a couple of months, too. Overall, it’s a good time catching up with friends. We have pizza, salad, and cake, while playing some surprisingly hard baby-themed trivia games.
4 p.m. — We get gas on the way home. $53.58
6 p.m. — The rest of the day has been lazy. D. napped in my arms, while W. turned on some septuagenarian buddy comedy with Robert DeNiro and Morgan Freeman, and R. sulked because it was too rainy for a walk. Finally, I throw together dinner: a southwestern-ish soup using leftover tomato soup, plus a can of black beans, frozen corn, onion, and jalapeño. I also add leftover Spanish rice, which takes the whole thing to more of a stew place, but it’s still tasty and, most importantly, fast.
7:30 p.m. — I start D.’s bedtime routine: bath, bottle, burp, bed. He’s down around 8:30 p.m. I clean up the kitchen, do my skincare routine, and settle in for my last pump of the night. I read while I pump; I’ve been making my way through The Nix by Nathan Hill, which I picked up at a library book sale a few weeks ago. Lights out by 10 p.m.
Daily Total: $53.58

Day Two

4 a.m. — D. is up again and not interested in a bottle or being left alone, so we’re back on the couch snuggling. I shouldn’t complain because he goes down relatively easily and stays asleep for the majority of the night, but I’d love to lose these 4 a.m. wake-up calls.
7:30 a.m. — Now we’re ready to eat. Same deal as yesterday: D. gets a bottle and then I pump. W. gets up and starts prepping a brisket for smoking; this is probably the last weekend for outdoor cooking in Chicago. We’ve been getting our meat through Butcher Box for the last year or so; I didn’t include this in monthly expenses because the schedule is pretty irregular, but every six to eight weeks we get another box with about 13 pounds of meat for $170. This has been more cost effective for our grocery bill, plus I think the quality of meat is better.
8:30 a.m. — We’re out of coffee, so we take a family walk to Starbucks for iced coffees and breakfast sandwiches. $28.90
11 a.m. — W. is running low on wood chips for his smoker, so now it’s time for a family trip to Home Depot. R. is especially thrilled because she gets to come and gets all sorts of attention. In addition to the wood chips, we get new smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. $82.68
12 p.m. — On the way home, we stop by a local pumpkin patch (read: An empty lot that has pumpkins for sale). We get cute fall pictures of D. and R. to share with the grandmas and pick two large-ish pumpkins. They’re $50(!), which seems extreme even for the city, but after using the site for a little photo session, I don’t feel like we should skip out on purchasing pumpkins. W. reminds me that we would have paid the same amount to go to a real pumpkin patch anyway between parking and entry fees, plus this was at least close to our house. Totally justified, right? $50
1 p.m. — D. and R. are both ready for naps after all the excitement. While they’re sleeping, W. and I have leftover sausage and lentil stew from earlier this week. After, I pump and fold laundry, while W. tends to the brisket.
3 p.m. — It’s unseasonably warm in Chicago right now, so D. and I meet up with one of my coworkers on the patio of a local wine bar. I have a glass of chenin blanc while catching up on all the tea while I’ve been on maternity leave. D. has a bottle and a nap in the stroller, totally unfazed by our location next to the L. $15
5:45 p.m. — Back home in time for brisket. W. did an awesome job; the meat is perfectly cooked, and he pairs it with roasted vegetables.
7:30 p.m. — Same bedtime routine for D. After I finish laundry, get ready for bed and pump, I turn the lights out around 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $176.58

Day Three

4:45 a.m. — D. is hungry this morning! He has a bottle, and then we snuggle on the couch with R. until W. gets up for work around 7:30 a.m. I feel very fortunate that my company gives 16 fully paid weeks off to new parents, plus some regular PTO is allowing me to stay home with D. for four months (and it’s sadly coming to an end soon). W. also gets leave, which he’s taking after I go back to work. His leave, plus a little help from family, is allowing us to hold off on sending D. to daycare until he’s six months old. It’s great to have him home while he’s so young, and also this is a massive short-term savings for us because childcare around here is basically a second mortgage: around $2,500 a month!
8:20 a.m. — I finally pump and have breakfast (iced coffee and oatmeal, which has been my maternity-leave staple because oats are supposed to help with breast-milk supply). D. hangs out in his baby seat while I get dressed in my maternity-leave uniform: leggings and an oversized sweatshirt.
10:15 a.m. — I pick up an iced latte at a local coffee shop before D. and I walk to the library for story time. Getting coffee on our walks started as a reward for making it out of the house and now it’s become almost a Pavlovian response to every walk we take. I’ll kick the habit once I’m back at work $6.50
11:30 a.m. — Home from the library. D. goes down for a nap after having a bottle. While he sleeps, I pump and warm up last night’s leftovers for lunch.
1:15 p.m. — I head back out with D. for a doctor’s appointment. We’re in and out in under 15 minutes; validated parking for the garage is $5. $5
2 p.m. — On our way home, I pick up grocery orders I placed at Mariano’s and Aldi. First stop is Mariano’s where we stock up on Diet Coke, Vitamin Water, watermelon LaCroix, and body wash, all of which I had coupons for ($91.77). This beverage stash should last us through the new year. At Aldi, I get everything else for meals this week: udon noodles, black beans, chicken broth, eggs, sour cream, almond milk, frozen stir-fry vegetables, and aluminium foil ($39.95). This shop feels kind of light, but we still have a fair amount of produce from last week. $131.72
3 p.m. — I finally take R. on a long walk with D. She’s been bummed that we’ve left without her twice today already. I attempt to stop at my favorite café with a walk-up window for an afternoon pick-me-up only to realize it’s closed on Mondays. It’s for the best. I don’t need to buy two treats in one day.
4:15 p.m. — Home. D. gets a bottle, R. gets a treat, and I feed my sourdough starter. I think about making bread, but D. gets fussy, so I opt not to.
6 p.m. — W. is finished with work, and I’m able to hand off D. and make dinner: teriyaki salmon with zucchini and rice. I prep enough salmon and rice for lunches later this week, too.
7:30 p.m. — We’re nothing if not consistent: D.’s same bedtime routine, followed by light cleaning, a little TV, final pumping session, and lights out by 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $143.22

Day Four

4:30 a.m. — D. wakes up crying but miraculously falls back to sleep in his bed once given a pacifier, allowing me to crawl back into bed. I already feel like we’re getting the day off to a hot start.
7:30 a.m. — We’re awake for real and — you guessed it — it’s time for a bottle, followed by pumping and breakfast.
9:30 a.m. — D. goes down for a nap, and I take the break to shower and get ready for the day.
10:50 a.m. — D. and I are out the door on time to walk to baby music class. I bought a pack of five classes for $100 earlier this month, and, once I go back to work, we won’t be able to do this anymore. It seems kind of silly to bring a baby who can’t even sit alone to a music class, but I think D. usually has a good time watching the other babies, plus it’s an excuse to get out of the house.
11:25 a.m. — Disaster strikes as soon as we get to music class. D. has the worst diaper blowout he’s ever had, and no amount of wipes will salvage this situation. We turn around and head back home before class starts (and the instructor nicely says that we can come back later in the week for a make-up class). When we get home, it’s straight into the tub for D., and clothes directly into the washing machine. W. finds the story hilarious.
12:45 p.m. — D. goes down for a nap, and I make spicy salmon bowls for lunch. I mix last night’s salmon with equal parts sriracha and mayo and serve it on rice with sliced cucumber, grated carrots, and scallions.
1:15 p.m. — D. wakes up and is still sleepy but won’t sleep in the crib any longer, so holds me hostage in the rocker for the rest of his nap. I use this time to order R. more food and heartworm medication through Chewy. It’s $62.73 with a 20% off coupon. $62.73
5:30 p.m. — It’s another beautiful afternoon, so I convince W. we should go out for a walk and sit on a patio for happy hour. We try to stop by a wine bar first, but the patio is closed (fair, who is expecting 70-degree weather right now?) and instead end up at a small brewery. R. is with us and is in heaven because of all the attention again, and D. loves the people watching. W. and I each get a beer and split a big pretzel. $38.54
7 p.m. — We’re home. Neither W. nor I are really hungry, but we feel like we should have a real dinner, so I throw together gnocchi and leftover kale pesto from the farmer’s market. It’s very much just okay. After, it’s time for D.’s bedtime routine.
9 p.m. — My mom’s birthday is coming up, and I still need a gift. I order a frame on Amazon ($24.31) and plan to include a couple of baby photos. Walgreens is having a 50% off all prints sale, so I go a little crazy and order over a hundred pictures, including what I need for my mom’s gift ($25.46). I also text my dad for additional gift ideas. I go to bed and turn out the lights at 10:30 p.m. $49.77
Daily Total: $151.04

Day Five

5:30 a.m. — Woo! This feels like sleeping in. D. gets a bottle, I pump and have breakfast, then we snuggle.
9:30 a.m. — D. goes down for a nap and stays asleep for two hours on his own. What is going on with this day? This is amazing. W. leaves for a haircut around 11:15 a.m. ($40 with tip). $40
12:15 p.m. — Lunch for everyone: spicy salmon bowls for me and W. and a bottle for D.
1 p.m. — We all go for a walk to pick up the photos I ordered last night along with the dry cleaning I dropped off last week ($44). Once we’re home, it’s more of the same: bottles and naps for D. and pumping for me. $44
6 p.m. — The chicken I planned to roast for dinner is still frozen, oops. Instead, dinner is a fast stir fry with udon noodles and frozen vegetables, one of my favorite standbys.
7 p.m. — D.’s bedtime routine goes super smoothly, and he’s down quickly. If everyday could be this perfect for his sleep, this whole newborn thing would be a piece of cake.
8 p.m. — I bake a loaf of pumpkin bread (’tis the season), while W. watches Lego Masters. Normal clean-up, pumping, and skincare before lights out at 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $84

Day Six

5:45 a.m. — And we’re all up. A bottle for D. and pumpkin bread and iced coffees for me and W. (I’m pumping, per usual).
9 a.m. — After D.’s nap, I take him and R. for a walk to our local Target to pick up a few things not included in our grocery haul. $26.47
11 a.m. — When you have breakfast before 6 a.m., 11 a.m. becomes lunchtime. D. is down for a nap, and I make quesadillas with cheese and black beans.
1:30 a.m. — D. and I are walking to his pediatrician appointment and, per usual, I want to stop for coffee. I mean to just get an iced coffee, but the almond croissants look so tempting. I eat my croissant on the rest of our walk to the doctor, which is decidedly un-Parisian of me. $11.64
2 p.m. — Clean bill of health and on-target growth for this little one! D. is a champ during his shots, too. No co-pay or other payments at this appointment (but we’ll see if I get a bill later on). D. and I walk home and narrowly avoid getting caught in the rain.
4:30 p.m. — The chicken is defrosted, so I roast it for dinner, along with mashed potatoes (which I had frozen from previous leftovers) and roasted Brussels sprouts. D. naps while W. and I eat, which is a first. Usually one of us holds him or tries to distract him through dinner.
7 p.m. — Bedtime routine for D. isn’t as easy as last night. W. and I try to watch Little Shop of Horrors, but it’s pretty stop-and-go until around 8:45 p.m. when D. officially goes to sleep. After the movie, it’s normal bedtime routine for the grown-ups and we’re in bed by 10:30 p.m.
Daily Total: $38.11

Day Seven

6:15 a.m. — Repeat of yesterday’s morning: We’re all up, D. gets a bottle, and W. and I enjoy pumpkin bread again. I toss the chicken from last night’s dinner in a pot, along with onions, carrots, and celery, to start soup for lunch today.
7:55 a.m. — D. is down for another pretty long nap, so I have time to shower, clean the bathroom, and even read a few pages of my book before he’s up again. I hope this habit keeps up!
10:30 a.m. — D. and I head to the library for story time, and I pick up an iced coffee (again). $6.50
11:30 a.m. — Home from the library, and D. is back down for a nap. I finish up the soup, straining the broth, and adding diced chicken, carrots, celery, and egg noodles.
2 p.m. — D., R., and I are back out for a long walk.
5:45 p.m. — I throw together calzones with pizza dough I had in the freezer, leftover pasta sauce, spicy salami, and green olives for dinner. We were supposed to have dinner with friends, but they text him that the kids are sick and they need a rain check.
7 p.m. — Friday nights have become pretty quiet. Bath, bottle, and bed for D., followed by cleaning up the kitchen, pumping, and reading for me. Lights out at 11 p.m. — wild night over here.
Daily Total: $6.50
Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual’s experience and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29’s point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more Money Diaries, click here.

Do you have a Money Diary you’d like to share? Submit it with us here.

Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here or email us here.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series