A Week In Berkeley, CA, On A $169,000 Joint Income

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Today: a communications director with a joint income of $169,000 who spends some of her money this week on pot.
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Occupation: Communications Director
Industry: Higher Education
Age: 52
Location: Berkeley, CA
Salary: $105,000 + $9,000 freelance editing + $55,000 consulting income between me and my husband
Net Worth: $1,765,000 — this includes cash savings, my husband's retirement fund, and equity in our house (minus debt below). In addition, I have a defined pension plan from my work. If I retire at 67, I can take either a $1.1 million lump sum (plus health insurance paid for life) or a monthly benefit of about $9,000 or so each month. My husband and I have been married for 15 years and our finances are completely merged.
Debt: $782,000 mortgage; $29,000 car loan; $10,000 credit card debt
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $6,289 after taxes plus about $750 freelance editing and $4,583 from consulting before taxes
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $3,592(I live with my husband, son, four cats, one dog, two guinea pigs)
Property Taxes: $1,200
Car Loan: $418
Credit Cards: $200
Cell Phones: $244
WiFi: $78
Utilities: $200
Educational Therapy: $750 (for my son)
College Savings: $300
Car + Home Insurance: $225
Life Insurance: $136
YMCA: $48 (paying half rate during COVID closure as donation)
Amazon Prime/Netflix/Apple Music: $39
Newspaper Subscriptions:
Donations: $60 ($25 to a local literary festival, $5 to a local bookstore to keep it open during COVID, $10 to a bicycle coalition, $10 to the National Resources Defense Council; $10 to Everytown for Gun Safety)
Health Insurance: $186.37 (this is pre-tax and I pay nothing for dental/vision for the whole family)
Medical Spending Plan: $125 pre-tax
Disability: $128 post-tax
Retirement: $681, pre-tax. (I pay 7% of my salary, my university pays double.)
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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?
Yes, I was always expected to go to college. Both my parents did, though my dad was the first in his family and my mom was second after her dad (her mother did not). I have an undergrad and grad degree, both from public universities. My parents paid for my undergraduate degree; I paid for my grad degree as I went part-time.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn't have a lot. My dad had a good salary; my mom stayed home when I was a kid. We had a big house and went to private school, but we didn't go on expensive vacations and rarely ate out. I used to help my mom write the checks for our monthly bills. I'd lick the stamps. There was a time when I was in middle school when some sort of investment my parents made went back. They were very tense for a year or so.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started babysitting when I was 12. My mom made me send out letters to all the parents at both church and school. I had lots of jobs! I had my first full-time office job the summer I was 16. It was not fun but I made a lot and spent it all on a week-long school trip to Europe the next spring (I went to private school).
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Did you worry about money growing up?
No.
Do you worry about money now?
Sometimes. My husband is going back to school in a month for a very late-career change. I had it all planned out finance-wise, but then COVID hit. We had been renting out the extra bedroom in our house to students to earn some extra income in preparation for this change. But because of COVID, we won't rent it out again for at least six more months.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
My parents paid for me to get through college, but when I graduated, I supported myself. That being said, I always knew they were there if something imploded. They have been very conservative financially because neither of them had parents who could help them financially. I lived abroad, moved across the country to live in New York City for nine years, and took lots of chances with my career. I wouldn't have done any of that if they weren't there in the back of my mind as a safety net.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes, my grandmother gave me a $10,000 inheritance before she died and my parents each gave me $10,000 so I could buy my first property (a tiny apartment in Manhattan) when I was about 30.

Day One

8:30 a.m. — Alarm goes off. Snooze. Snooze. Snooze again. Finally out of bed at 9:10. Throw on exercise clothes, feed dog and cats, remind my child to feed guinea pigs, make coffee, and eat Special K. I manage to start my live online 9:30 Zumba class by 9:37. During the Zumba class, I ask my child to walk the dog. He begrudgingly does so. Pay Zumba teacher $10. $10
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11 a.m. — I start on proofreading a freelance project. It's Sunday, but I need to get this done. At some point, my son, husband, and dog leave to go on an outdoor adventure. Eventually, I wander down to get food — a vegetarian tamale and a slice of zucchini bread my mom made. After lunch, I take a bath and read. I loooove baths. I get dressed in something decent for the outside world (a linen t-shirt, white jeans, metallic sneakers). I use Matrixyl serum and eye cream from Timeless skincare, then First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream.
2 p.m. — I mask up to go food shopping. We have almost nothing because we just came back from two weeks sheltering in place with my parents in L.A. I buy tofu, yogurt, cheddar cheese, instant ramen noodles, almond milk, ice cream, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, parsley for our guinea pigs (carrot tops will go to them, too), granola, blueberries, pluots, bananas, apples, rice candy, and Japanese soda with a good luck kitty on the label as fun treats for my son. $79.76
3 p.m. — Back home at the same time my family returns. My son and husband immediately make some of the ramen noodles for their late lunch. I head upstairs for more proofreading until my brain feels like it will explode. I hear my son sitting on one of our squeaky dining room chairs so I buy a product online to swell the wood in the joints/dowels to hopefully stop the squeaking. Then I turn to a non-profit consulting project. At first, I drag my heels, but then I get into it and whip a draft of a grant proposal into shape by about 6:30. $33.91
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7 p.m. — My husband makes dinner (he is the main cook in our house): tofu, miso soup, rice, cucumbers from my mother's garden, and cabbage salad. Sad discovery: we are almost out of soy sauce. After dinner, I take the dog on a walk, then go upstairs to fold laundry while watching a 30-year-old British crime drama (Silent Witness — it's so good!). I also look at our bank account and see my husband bought some pot from a dispensary. That's unusual! Floss/brush teeth and wash face with Cetaphil. Apply prescription-strength Retinol to my aging face. $46.76
11 p.m. — I don't get into bed until 11 and then have massive COVID insomnia. No idea what time it is when I finally fall asleep.
Daily Total: $170.43

Day Two

7:30 a.m. — It's Monday! Alarm goes off and I hit snooze repeatedly while the animals hold circus around me on the bed. At some point, my husband leaves to go on a hike (we are lucky enough to live very close to hiking trails!). My son comes in to ask if he can use my phone (which is also my alarm) to play a game. I get up, get dressed in real clothes because I have Zoom meetings (high waisted black jeans, graphic blue and green sweater tucked in, small gold and lapis earrings. I stay barefoot — whoopee!) Brush teeth, wash face, serum, eye cream, face lotion. I head downstairs to make coffee, eat a pumpernickel bagel with Smart Balance (because my husband can't eat dairy, we just all eat fake butter). My husband already fed the pets.
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9 a.m. — I head back upstairs, gather my cell from my son, and send him off to make himself breakfast and walk the dog. I start work and also see I've been charged for web hosting ($20) for the nonprofit consulting business my husband and I run. $20
11 a.m. — Quick break to water the plants in our front garden and remind my son to eat lunch before his Dungeons & Dragons online camp that starts at noon. Finding things to keep him occupied (other than YouTube) during the pandemic has been a challenge. This course is taught by a program in Colorado that my husband found.
12:10 p.m. — Computer freezes so I guess it's time for my own lunch. Grilled cheese on bread my mom baked with pickles and heirloom tomatoes! I see that I got a package from my dad — it's a book called Barkskins by Annie Proulx. My dad's parents were both French Canadians and this is a historical look at the settling of French Canada. By the time I'm done making my lunch and get back upstairs, my laptop has unfrozen. I skim the news while I eat. My dog watches me eat, sad I'm not sharing. Get back to work around 1.
2:15 p.m. — Another electronic disaster: my son's Chromebook dies. We knew there was something funky going on with his charger but now it has truly stopped charging. He has a meltdown over it despite his dad trying to calmly fix things. My husband drags out his old, very slow, very unsatisfactory laptop and we try to get our son set up on that for D&D. I can't even get my kid's email account up on the clunky old laptop so I let him use my work laptop while I try to do some troubleshooting on his Chromebook. Mystifying. I eat some zucchini bread and have a glass of water.
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3:30 p.m. — D&D is done and my husband's phone call is done, so the two of them go off to the computer repair place which is luckily just around the corner. They won't even look at it and say that we should just get a new one. Sad face. While my son and husband are out, they buy more food, including soy sauce, soups, frozen vegetables, wine, and I'm not sure what else. $47.18
5:30 p.m. — Finish work and buy some lint roller refills online. A lot of them. Then, I go back to my proofreading job. It's due tomorrow, so I don't have a choice although I wish I could relax! $52.34
6 p.m. — Dinnertime! I go downstairs and realize that one thing my husband did not buy is dog food. I'm slightly annoyed but leave for Safeway. It's actually nice to be out and walking after being stuck inside 99% of the day. I buy dog food and more hand sanitizer because it's on sale and our need for it doesn't seem to be vanishing anytime soon. When I get home, the dog is delighted to be fed and I'm delighted to feed myself a funny meal my husband knocked together of poached eggs, thick-cut baked french fries, sliced heirloom tomatoes and avocado, spicy green beans, and shiitake mushrooms. $27.56
7 p.m. — More proofreading until I call it done at 8:30 and take a bath. I put vitamin C serum and First Aid moisturizer on my face (I use retinol every other day, it's pretty strong) and get in bed to read my Icelandic noir novel, which is getting boring so I basically skim to the end. Lights out by 10.
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Daily Total: $147.08

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — Alarm, then snoozing. Son comes in the room and he and dog have a crazy rolling game on the bed so I'm finally up. I am horrible at waking up. Breakfast is the last (and somewhat stale) bagel and coffee. Husband is talking to a friend on speakerphone so we all say hi. They plan on doing an ab workout together via zoom later. Get dressed (blue jeans, black T-shirt, long gray cardigan/car coat, big hoop earrings), serums, moisturizer, makeup quickly applied (for me, the main thing these days is tinted moisturizer with SPF from Target, then very light powder blush, tight-lining my upper lash line with dark green eyeliner, then mascara for my blonde eyelashes), do my COVID surveys, then start work. First Zoom meeting starts at 9:30.
10:10 a.m. — my meeting ends and I grab some more coffee before my next meeting, which starts at 10:30. Get back upstairs to my laptop to see it's decided now is a good time to install a software update that will take 40 minutes. Argh. I email the person in charge of my next meeting, letting her know. I notice our street is being cleaned and they are giving out parking tickets. I tell my husband, who goes running downstairs and out to the car. Sadly, we already got a ticket ($52). But then my computer magically speeds itself up so I log into the meeting just five minutes after it starts! You lose some, you win some! $52
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12 p.m. — Downstairs for lunch. Son is starting his D&D camp. I make grilled cheese with tomato and pickle for me and plain grilled cheese for him. Eat sandwich, browse news, 15 minutes of proofreading, email proofreading client to tell her the project will be completed today, but not till after 5. I get another contract to sign for a new editing project. The doorbell rings, so I go downstairs to see my Target package with dog food and a new bedskirt arrived. Well, we have enough dog food for a month now.
4 p.m. — Son is done with D&D and I hear my husband downstairs getting him ready for his 4:15 session with his educational therapist. My son has dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD. We've put a lot of resources into helping him at school. He's a great reader now, but he wouldn't have gotten there without extra help. Go down to say hi and eat a banana.
4:30 p.m. — Mask up and set off to pick up some shoes I ordered and I take the dog with me. On the walk, I text my best friend (from college, a friendship more than 30 years old that's spanned three cities, two continents, two spouses, and three kids) to suggest a socially distanced meetup this weekend. After the walk, I go back to finish off work.
5:30 p.m. — My husband goes to pick up a prescription ($10, will be reimbursed through my medical spending plan) and our CSA veggie box; he also spends $20.20 at the grocery's butcher counter and $78.81 on food and wine (how do we spend so much on food?!). $98.81
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6:15 p.m. — I'm still trying to work out a work disaster when it's suddenly dinnertime. Taco Tuesday, y'all. I eat two chicken soft tacos with loads of veggies and then get back to proofing. Gotta finish tonight! I'm drinking a glass of wine while proofreading. Probably not recommended but I'm doing it anyhow!
8:45 p.m. — I finally finish and turn in the manuscript and my invoice. My son finishes taking a bath while I have another (large) glass of wine. Read to him for a while (he's 13 but we still both like reading aloud sometimes — he loves Greek myths so I'm reading Madeline Miller's Circe to him. After this, I wash my face and use retinol and then read about five pages of Hilary Mantel's third Thomas Cromwell novel, The Mirror and the Light (I had started it before the Icelandic noir — I tend to have a few books going at once), and then try to pass out with my special light-blocking eye mask on because my husband is still up reading.
Daily Total: $150.81

Day Four

7:30 a.m. — Alarm, snooze. Finally up and out of bed at 8:15. I go downstairs for coffee and zucchini bread then back up to put on jeans and a black-and-white striped sweater (summer in the Bay Area); vitamin C serum, eye cream, moisturizer, and makeup.
9 a.m. — I do my COVID surveys and start working.
10:30 a.m. — Head downstairs to make another coffee and see that my husband asked my son to clean the kitchen floor. He's done literally the worst job anyone has ever done cleaning a floor. He basically threw water on top of all the grime and bits on the floor and then swabbed it around. I literally laugh but then my son cries (he's a sensitive kid and this whole pandemic is hard on him even though we have not been sick) and I tell him I think the problem is he didn't get enough instructions/training and there's no shame in acknowledging you don't really know how to do something. My husband comes down to help him do a better job and they do the floor over again together while I go back upstairs to work.
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11:30 a.m. — Head downstairs to make my son cheese quesadillas for his lunch since his D&D camp starts at noon. I also make my own cheese and avocado quesadilla with a pluot on the side then clean out the guinea pig cage while listening to an online book talk produced by the literary nonprofit I used to work for. I miss working with literature but don't miss the salary. My husband has left the house to go do a physically distanced exercise class led by a friend of his and I can see he also sneakily ate at McDonald's ($7.21) and bought MORE food and lots of wine at Trader Joe's ($103.16). $110.37
1:15 p.m. — Back to work, assigning and planning some articles and trying to clean out my inbox. At about 2 my husband returns — he picked up our fish CSA box, which features cod that was caught off the coast about an hour drive from where we live. I love having a fish CSA! At 2:30, I have a snack of Special K with banana and milk and my son does, too.
5:15 p.m. — Knock off work, feed cats and dog, ask son to feed piggies. I take the dog on a leisurely 30-minute walk and let him sniff all he wants. I drop off that Icelandic noir novel at the little free library and find another book I would love to read. Score! COVID news today is awful but I am happy to see 100% of my neighbors out walking are wearing masks.
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6 p.m. — Dinnertime! Cod, herbed rice with corn, heirloom tomato salad (we got more in our box), white wine. After dinner, more British crime drama.
8 p.m. — Bath, vitamin C serum, moisturizer, then bed with another novel, The Infinite Blacktop by Sarah Gran.
Daily Total: $110.37

Day Five

7 a.m. — Wake up early today because I'm going volunteer shopping. For once I don't snooze because I am a big sucker for external motivation. Coffee and zucchini bread before I leave the house. I don't bother with makeup as I have no Zoom meetings today. My husband has already left for a hike and cleaned the kitchen before he left. I head to Whole Foods. The person I'm shopping for has very specific items she wants and specific brands, so I shop very carefully for her with a few text exchanges to make sure I'm getting the right stuff. At the last minute, throw in a bouquet of flowers for her and a case of La Croix water for me and pay for those separately ($20.84). I find her apartment complex and first thing she tells me is that she thought I'd be younger. Hmm. She'll reimburse me for the money ($80.82) I spent on her items. $20.84
9:30 a.m. — Back home, more coffee, work.
12 p.m. — Son starts his online camp but still hasn't eaten breakfast or lunch so I make him one quesadilla with avocado and one with pastrami (his choice). For myself, I heat up the last butternut squash tamale and take that upstairs with a La Croix and a pluot and work while eating.
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1:30 p.m. — Taking a break, I buy more tinted moisturizer, eyeliner, mascara from Sephora. I make apple with peanut butter for a snack. $76.47
5 p.m. — My husband and I have a quick meeting with a consulting client. I check my bank account and see my husband paid his friend who leads exercise classes ($257.55 — I hope that's a lot of exercise classes) and subscribed to a magazine about ADHD ($19.99). I give the dog a short walk. $277.54
6 p.m. — Dinnertime: a melange of leftovers. Everyone eats something different. I have herbed rice, mushrooms, green beans, and tofu. After dinner, my husband and I start talking about creating a pod so my son can learn with a friend or two once school begins. The isolation isn't good for him. We get into an argument because he thinks I'm not listening to him and I think he's being unrealistic. We just drop it for the moment. I clean up the dinner dishes.
8 p.m. — Outdoor walk with two friends and my dog. We walk to the university to sit on a bench with an amazing view of the moon and the bay and drink canned wine!
10:30 p.m. — I get home and everyone is asleep but I end up staying up for a while. I'm worried that the dog isn't feeling well. He keeps needing to go out. I put some retinol on my face and fall asleep on the couch in my office so I can better deal with the dog needing to go out. I'm up a lot through the night.
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Daily Total: $374.85

Day Six

8 a.m. — Wake up, let the dog out, back to bed.
9:30 a.m. — Husband comes to tell me it's already 9:30 and don't I need to work? But, haha, I'm taking the day off! I tell him about the dog and he says he'll make him some rice and chicken. I go back to sleep.
12 p.m. — Husband comes in again to see if I'm sick. I'm not, just a super sleeper who often doesn't get enough. And it was a rough night with the dog. Even though I'm not working, I check my email because there were a few things I was waiting to hear about. Then I poke around looking at the news and social media. I'm pretty shocked by the images coming out of Portland. Finally head downstairs to eat some yogurt with blueberries and granola, water the garden, watch some TV while my son is doing his D&D. I'm feeling highly unmotivated and in need of this day off.
3 p.m. — Decide to take a bath. While it's filling up, I clean the toilet and the light fixture over the sink (it needed it). My son and I share a bathroom, my husband uses the very small, shower-only bathroom off our bedroom. I think it's a total marriage saver! I bathe while reading Sarah Gran's novel and continue reading once out of the bath.
5:30 p.m. — Dinnertime — pasta with pesto, sliced tomatoes, and chicken apple sausage. Pretty tasty.
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6:30 p.m. — The kid and I walk the dog. The kid wants ice cream so he brings his own money to get some at Safeway while we're out. My dad gave him the outrageous sum of $500 for his birthday. We let him keep $100 in cash, donate $50 (he chose the animal charity where we got two of our cats), and the rest went into his bank account. We get back and I start working on the new editing job while drinking a La Croix. This manuscript is in much better condition and I edit seven chapters before realizing that I'm too tired to go on. Sometimes if I sleep a lot one night, I still need to go to sleep early the next. I get ready for bed, brush teeth, normal non-retinol face products. Get in bed and read more before turning off the light around 9.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8:15 a.m. — Wake up without my alarm feeling 100% better. I hear my son and husband banging things around in the kitchen and the dog and cats are very excited I am awake! I head downstairs to make coffee and yogurt with blueberries and granola and discover that my husband pulled our fridge out and has been cleaning out under it. Horrible discovery: The wall next to our fridge has black mold! Yikes. Husband and child are going to head off for a small dog meetup at the beach, so I say I'll try to tackle the mold. I look at my bank account and see that our payment for federal taxes was cashed. Somehow, last year, we weren't having enough taxes taken out of our paychecks. $2,000 and this is just the first payment. I'll pay $1,800 more in two installments. Ouch. I had funds saved up in our checking account for this. $2,000
9:30 a.m. — Online Zumba. $10
10:30 a.m. — Look at the mold again and despair. Go outside and water the garden and clean up some garden trimmings that were too much for the bin last week. I'm about to walk to the hardware store when my husband, son, and dog return. Apparently the beach wasn't much fun. They stopped on the way back to buy sandwiches and some deli items ($48.98). I mask up and take the car since it's now available. I mean to buy vinegar and a stiff brush to tackle the mold and maybe some painting supplies because I'm planning to paint our dining room walls. But this is the first time I've been in a hardware or home store since March so I spend $201.17 for hooks, vinegar, the brush, primer, painter's tape, paint trays, Spic and Span to clean the walls before priming, two sets of kitchen towels because ours are getting gross, bird food, an indoor plant and pot for my office, a planter shaped like a black cat for my son, and three potted herbs to plant in the yard. I spend so much they give me a bottle of wine as a prize! $250.15
1 p.m. — Back home, plant the new herbs, fill our bird feeder, distribute all the other stuff I bought around the house, and realize I'm very hungry. I make some ramen noodles with poached eggs and sliced scallions. While the water is boiling, I spray the mold with vinegar. After I eat, I scrub at it a little with the brush and it seems to be working. Spray more and will let it sit for an hour as the online instructions I found tell me to do.
2 p.m. — I go upstairs to take a bath and then henna my hair to cover the white hair that grows along my hairline. I have to wait around for an hour after this, so I check on the mold (it's coming off!) and do some editing. I also buy some books for my son and canned air to clean out some of our electronics. $39.76
4:30 p.m. — My best friend, M. comes over with her dog. We all hang out in the garden for a while talking (more than six feet apart). Then M. and I go on a long dog walk. My son comes along because he's desperate to talk to someone IRL who is not one of his parents. I get back home and my husband has made pozole with chicken. M. has dinner on the back patio with us. We're not wearing masks, and probably not six feet apart but we are all so desperate for quality human contact. It's lovely to sit outside with the dogs and a close friend. A cat makes a cameo appearance on the patio.
10 p.m. — Finally heading to bed after puttering around downstairs; son and husband are already asleep. I wash my face and slather on retinol, crawl in bed to read The Mirror and the Light for a while. Lights out by 11.
Daily Total: $301.91
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