A Week In Houston, TX, On A $1,089,000 Joint Income

Photo: Courtesy of CVS.
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 critical care physician and clinical scientist working in medicine who has a $1,089,000 joint income and spends some of her money this week on prenatal vitamins.
Occupation: Critical Care Physician & Clinical Scientist
Industry: Medicine
Age: 36
Location: Houston, TX
My Salary: $289,000
My Husband's Salary: $350,000
My Husband's Annual Bonus: $450,000
Net Worth: $8,018,203 (real estate: $1,127,000 for the four-bedroom house my husband, M., and I bought for $1.61 million and split slightly asymmetrically; my checking account: $12,841; M.'s checking account: $28,671; combined savings: ~$280,000; my 403(b): $102,891; M.'s retirement savings: $830,000; M.'s investments, mostly non-liquid equity: $6,200,000; car: $17,800; minus my debt listed below)
Debt: $581,000 (mortgage: $483,000; my student loan: $98,000)
My Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $8,721.48
My Husband's Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $9,350 (His bonus is paid annually.)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $5,541 (M. and I share our home with our two — soon to be three — children and a large rescue dog. I pay $4,000 of the monthly mortgage because M. pays for daycare and several other expenses listed below.)
Med School Loans: $2,000–$3,000 (The minimum payment is $1,600, but I'm trying to pay off my student loans aggressively.)
Daycare: $3,268 (M. pays)
Internet & Cable: $120 (M. pays)
Phones: $64 (This is for mine. M. works in finance and runs his bill up past $300, but his work covers it.)
Car Insurance: $70 (M. pays)
Electricity: $184 (This varies a lot. M. pays)
Water & Waste: $46 (M. pays)
Health Insurance: $0 (I'm covered by my employer without fees, but the kids are covered under M.'s plan, which is also completely covered without fees.)
Dental Insurance: $0 (The kids and I are covered under M.'s plan, which doesn't have fees.)
My Charitable Contributions: $650 (This goes to Planned Parenthood, NPR, the NAACP, and Lilith Fund. We usually give another $20,000–$25,000 in November to a single local charity after M.'s bonus comes in. I know he donates to the ACLU and WWF and some other charities but I don't really track his contributions. He does our taxes.)
House Cleaner: $500 (M. pays)
Doggie Daycare: $120
Support For My Parents: $5,000 (M. pays.)
Support For M.'s Dad: $2,500 (M. pays.)
My 403(b) Retirement Contribution: $1,700 (with 7% employer match)

Annual Expenses
House Insurance: $12,800 (The price went way up this year.)
Property Taxes: $28,000
Amazon Prime: $99
Houston Zoo: $149
Houston Arboretum & Nature Centre: $129
Houston Museum of Natural Sciences: $99
Soccer: $750
Swim: $1,450
Dance: $950 (The above lessons are for our oldest kid. The younger one will join next year.)
Annual Bonuses For Babysitter, House Cleaner & Daycare Teachers: 10% of their wages (M. pays)

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. Both my parents were the first people in their families to go to college, so the importance of education was heavily ingrained in me and my three siblings. I'm the only one of us to go, though. My father gave me $350 a month while I was in college, and I paid for the rest using loans and working two jobs (in a museum and as a nurse's assistant). After college, I was on my own completely and paid for medical school through loans and scholarships. When I graduated from medical school, I was $248,000 in debt, and my six-year residency training only paid $42,000 a year. It was brutal.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
No. Each of my parents made a solid middle-class salary, but their spending habits were erratic. Both racked up considerable credit card debt on frivolous things, like new cars and clothes. They divorced when I was quite young, and I believe had serious psychological problems that contributed to their behaviors. So, as a kid, we would have a new car, but my mother would restrict food and heating, saying we didn't have enough to cover the bills. It was a very chaotic home and it inspired my two primary financial goals: 1) never go into credit card debt and 2) save as much as humanly possible as to create stability.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
When I was 17, my mother threw me out of her house and, apart from my father's $350 a month, I was on my own for everything else. To help get me through high school, I got a job initially as a McDonald's server, then as a barista.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes. See above.

Do you worry about money now?
In the long term, I worry about supporting my parents and my in-laws because none of them have saved for retirement. But I feel incredibly lucky and grateful that M. and I have stable and well-paying jobs, and we are able to meet our family's needs and wants and have enough to save for emergencies and retirement.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially independent at age 21. When I graduated from college, my father stopped sending me the monthly $350, and I was completely solo. It was 2008, and, despite graduating with two STEM degrees, all the private-sector job offers I had were rescinded in the crash. I continued to work as a nursing assistant and took a second job at a grocery store. Now, I know that M. would support me if I lost my job, and our joint savings would last for a few years if we both lost our jobs, so I feel secure.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Day One

6:30 a.m. — Our kids wake us up daily at 6:30 no matter the day by crawling into bed with us and our dog. We get dressed and get the kids chocolate PeadiaSure, clementines, and cheese sticks (they have a second breakfast at school as well). Then we take them to daycare, and M. and I go to our neighborhood coffee shop where I buy him a latte and a breakfast taco. I order an orange juice as well. $12.41
2:20 p.m. — I'm not seeing patients regularly this week and am instead conducting research. Therefore, I decide to spend the day working from home. I'm in the zone and forget to eat until my alarm goes off for my doctor's appointment. I make a berry and spinach smoothie and grab a cheese stick to eat in the car.
2:45 p.m. — My OB/GYN asks me to pay the sum for my prenatal care today. This total doesn't include delivery and hospital costs — just the clinic prenatal care. It's weird being on the patient side of things and seeing how complicated the costs can get. My last pregnancy cost $8,000 without complications. Baby looks good, and I get another anti-nausea medication prescription. I pick up the kids at 5:30. $267.90
5:50 p.m. — I take them to Whole Foods to buy groceries for the week: spinach, salad mix, apples, strawberries, nectarines, bananas, avocados, milk, orange juice, pesto, whole wheat pasta, cheddar cheese, goat cheese, sliced bread, frozen peas, broccoli, marinara sauce, butternut squash, black beans, popsicles, and a Mario magazine for the kiddos to share. This should cover meals for the week combined with what we already have at home. I make pesto pasta with peas and slice up nectarines for dinner. The adults have salad with goat cheese as well. M. and I bathe the kids and get them to bed by 8 sharp. We eat popsicles while watching TV before we go to bed at 9:30. $193.78
Daily Total: $474.09

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — Same routine: kiddo wake-up cuddles followed by breakfast and daycare drop off. M. and I then walk our dog around the neighborhood. I'm too nauseated to eat anything so I shower and hit the office at 8:30.
10:20 a.m. — My nausea meds kick in enough for me to eat something, so I walk to a sandwich shop and get a bowl of tomato soup and toast ($8.41). I head back to my office to keep doing data analysis and chart reviews. $8.41
4:40 p.m. — Our dog has hip dysplasia and takes pain medication, which I need to refill. I pay over the phone and remind my husband to pick up the medication from the vet on his way home. $45
5:45 p.m. — I make veggie hash with butternut squash, onions, black beans, and spinach topped with Greek yogurt. I serve it with strawberries, and the kids finish the pint. After bath and bedtime, I run to CVS to pick up prescription meds for me and one of the kids, prenatal vitamins, baby aspirin, calcium supplements, children's ibuprofen, and children's Tylenol. I also get Jolly Ranchers and mint Lifesavers to help with nausea. I go home to M., and we fall asleep watching TV. He wakes me up at 11 to go to bed. $97.05
Daily Total: $150.46

Day Three

6:30 a.m. — We do the same morning routine. This time, we walk our dog to the coffee shop, and M. buys himself a latte and an orange juice for me ($12.40). We shower and get dressed together. I'm vomiting and I have to work later so I take it easy at home this morning. $12.40
12 p.m. — I have leftover pesto pasta, orange juice, and chocolate-covered almonds before I head out to the hospital.
1 p.m. — I cover for a coworker on the ICU floor and teach a student class, then start my actual call shift. I go to the cafeteria and pick out two Cokes, chips, guacamole, hummus, and oatmeal ($10 covered by work). I slowly snack on this, plus microwavable broccoli and macaroni throughout the night to keep my energy up until my relief comes at 8 tomorrow morning. ($10 expensed)
Daily Total: $12.40

Day Four

8:30 a.m. — My colleague comes to relieve me from my call shift, and I drive home. I spent the night on my feet running everywhere and am exhausted. I try to drink a smoothie when I get home but I throw it up (argh, pregnancy) so I take my anti-nausea meds, which make me sleepy. I take a nap.
1:40 p.m. — I wake up feeling awful. Post-call naps feel like the worst hangover. I try to make myself eat by going to my favorite bistro for a solo lunch. I order a veggie sandwich, fries, grapefruit juice, hot tea, and a chocolate chip cookie. I gulp down juice and water, sip tea, and only eat half the sandwich and some fries. I try to wait out the nausea in the bistro. I check up on some patients and do some administrative work but I just feel more sick so I go home to sleep. $38.90
4:50 p.m.— I pick up the kiddos from daycare, make grilled-cheese sandwiches with sliced apples and avocado for their dinner, and settle down with mint tea to try to feel better. M. gets home at 6:45 p.m., and I ask him to watch kids so I can lie down for a nap. He lets me sleep until morning. This is my love language.
Daily Total: $38.90

Day Five

6:30 a.m. — Same wake-up, same breakfast for the kids, same drop-off. M. and I decide to walk the dog to a gluten-free bakery we've been meaning to try. He orders a latte with a smoothie bowl, and I order orange juice and scrambled eggs on toast ($28.97). It's pretty awful. We shower, and I head to work for my meeting at 9. $28.97
9 a.m. — A coworker brings pastries, and I take a banana-nut muffin to make up for the disappointing breakfast.
11:30 a.m. — I have a psychiatry appointment to deal with the stresses of my job; seeing a lot of suffering and death takes a toll on my psyche. In our state, we're supposed to disclose the use of mental health services to the medical board, but the board can use that information against us, so I pay in cash and don't get insurance reimbursement. Most of the physicians I work with see psychiatrists or therapists, so it's pretty normalized. $299
12:35 p.m. — I grab my usual tomato soup and toast with black tea on the way back to work. $15.30
4:30 p.m. — I get off work at 4:30 and pick up the kids to meet M. at our usual Friday-night pizza place. M. buys a medium pepperoni pizza for him and the kiddos, plus two sodas for the grown ups ($23.96). The pizza makes my stomach turn, so I make an avocado and pineapple smoothie when we get home and eat handfuls of walnuts.$23.96
6:30 p.m. — Elemental is out on Amazon and it's the kiddos choice for family movie night ($19.99). We let them stay up until 8:30, and they are wild children. After they go down, M. and I watch a horror movie and fall asleep on the couch again. $19.99
Daily Total: $387.22

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — The kids wake up at their usual time, but they get to come to the coffee shop with us on weekends. We buy two cookies, a latte, and orange juice, plus a loaf of apple bread for a playdate later. $32.98
9:45 a.m. — We take one kid to soccer and the other to a playdate at the park. It's our turn to bring snacks, so we slice the apple bread, apples, bananas, and leftover strawberries.
12:40 p.m. — I'm craving Lebanese food so I get us take-out falafel, hummus, labneh, tabbouleh, chickpea salad, pickled beets, and potatoes ($101.04). We always have leftovers, which never go to waste, so I don't feel guilty ordering so much. While one kid goes down for a nap with me, M. takes the other one to Costco to buy diapers, wipes, cleaning supplies, mangoes, toothpaste, popsicles, Topo Chico, avocados, and cereal ($349). $450.04
5 p.m. — We have a monthly date night, so our babysitter watches the kids for five hours. We pay her $30 an hour and round up to $200 because she's amazing and saving for school; she also comes on evenings and weekends when I'm on call. We go to an Indian tapas place and get two cocktails (him), two mocktails (me), three tapas plates, and one dessert ($227.89, rounded up to $300 with the tip). Afterward, we see a horror movie at the theatre ($39). $539
Daily Total: $1,022.02

Day Seven

6:30 a.m. — We wake up with the usual morning cuddles and coffee shop walk (two cookies, a latte, and OJ). We walk home to drop off the dog and take the kiddos to a nearby park to run off the sugar. $18.72
12:30 p.m. — After the park and playing soccer in the backyard, we are all wiped out. For lunch, I heat up Lebanese leftovers and cut up nectarines and apples. We all take a two-hour nap.
3 p.m. — The kids wake up full of energy, so I give them granola bars and milk, and we head to the neighborhood pool, while M. does some work.
5:30 p.m. — M. bathes the kiddos while I make spaghetti and salad. The kids also eat avocados (they will eat avocados with anything). We watch The Little Mermaid for the billionth time and get them to bed at 8. After they go down, I buy our dog's dry and wet food for next six weeks, a dog nail trimmer, treats, and a few dog toys. $329.84
Daily Total: $348.56
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