A Week In Portland, OR, On A $122,000 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 Digital Communications Specialist who has a joint income of $122,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a rose gold microphone.
Occupation: Digital Communications Specialist
Industry: Labor
Age: 31
Location: Portland, OR
My Salary: $52,000
My Husband's Salary: $70,000
Net Worth: $180,000 (Includes the $125,000 we got from the recent sale of our house, $55,000 in my husband's 401(k), $32,000 in my 401(k), $27,000 in my pension, and $11,000 in our joint savings. Minus debt below.)
Debt: About $70,000 including my $50,000 in student loan debt and $20,000 between us in car loans.
My Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,968 (gross)
My Husband's Paycheck Amount: $2,307 (gross), plus an average of $500 in commissions monthly.
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: $0. We currently live in a travel trailer parked outside my husband's parents' house.
Car Payment: $480
Student Loans: $150 (but they are currently in forbearance)
401(k): About $1,200 per month between the two of us (pre-tax)
Union Dues: $44 (pre-tax)
FSA: $66 (pre-tax)
Internet: $80 (I pay for super-fast internet for the whole house because all four of us work from home.)
Cell Phone: $47
Hulu Live: $45
Netflix: $14
Pet Insurance: $42
Car/Bike/Trailer Insurance: $160
Donations: $50-$100
OpenFit Subscription: $10 (accidentally forgot to cancel last month, so I'm stuck with another 6-month subscription!)
Apple Storage: $.99
Apple Music: $7.50 (We split a family plan with my cousin)
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 grew up with a single mother who collected disability and my childhood was very unstable. School was an escape for me and a path out of the cycle of poverty and trauma that I experienced. My mom definitely wanted us to go to college, but I knew that I would have to figure out how to pay for it myself. I got a few scholarships and grants to cover some of my college expenses, but I took about $10,000 per year out in student loans to pay for my Bachelor's degree. I have been avoiding paying them off in hopes that one day they will be canceled (Come on, Joe Biden!), my most shameful financial practice by far, and they have gained nearly $10,000 in interest since I graduated.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My mom taught me next to nothing about finances and she herself was a terrible manager of money. She also was very private about our financial situation and would get very upset when I would ask questions about money.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I lied about my age when I was 15 and got hired at a fast-food restaurant in the next town. I got a job to pay for my own expenses in high school (school clothes, supplies, sports fees, eating out) and I sometimes helped my mom pay for groceries. I was very embarrassed about how poor we were, so I wanted to make sure I could afford to wear nicer clothes and buy lunch every day.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Every day of my life. I had a general sense of the dire financial situation we were in for most of my childhood. We lived a very feast/famine lifestyle. We would get food stamps at the beginning of each month and my mom would buy all the treats and tasty things we wanted and save nothing for the end of the month, and we would rely on food boxes to survive. She would spend hundreds of dollars on Christmas gifts and then have no money to pay our phone bill so we would be cut off from our friends and family. That "spend it while you've got it" attitude was ingrained into my own money habits, and it has taken me literally decades of making mistakes and learning the hard way to heal my tenuous relationship with money.
Do you worry about money now?
Consciously, no. After years of reconditioning myself, I am in a place where I know I have enough and I can always find a way to make money. I've been doing it my whole life. On the flip side, I have always had a lot of anxiety surrounding security in general. It has kept me from taking many risks that would put my financial security in jeopardy, which has led to a lot of regrets that I didn't get some of the life experience that I wanted.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became responsible for myself the day I graduated high school. I moved in with my boyfriend at age 17 and I have been responsible for making my own way since then. We basically live with my husband's parents for free right now, so I'd say yes, we do have a safety net. It's a sometimes uncomfortable concept for me and it has definitely caused tension between my husband and me at times.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Day One

10 a.m. — We get to break quarantine today and I am so ready to get out of this trailer! My husband (R.) and I bought a 21-foot travel trailer in the summertime with grand visions of doing a cross-country trip in the fall, but with the explosion of COVID-19 cases nationwide, we decided to put a halt on that until it's safe. Too bad we already sold our house. This is our home now, parked in R.'s parents' driveway. We went to visit my best friend in Seattle for two weeks at the beginning of November, during which time both Oregon and Washington imposed travel restrictions and quarantine orders — lucky me! After a week of quarantine, we both need a shower real, REAL bad. I let R. go first, mostly because I'm tired of smelling him. I make a cup of coffee in his parents' kitchen.
12 p.m. — I make myself a hemp-milk London Fog and crack open two hard-boiled eggs for breakfast then remember that today is payday. I have a balance of about $2,000 across three credit cards, but roughly $600 of that is quarantine-related binge purchasing that I will most likely return. Who needs a new wardrobe when there's nowhere to go and no one to see?? I pay $675 on my Chase Sapphire card and another $250 on my AMEX and Apple cards. I try to pay off most of my balance every month, but I know I have a Christmas bonus coming. I transfer the remaining $500 in my account to savings. I feel so fortunate to still have a job and also to not have a mortgage right now, so I set up a $25 monthly recurring donation to the Black Resilience Fund (in monthly expenses).
2 p.m. — Packages started to arrive while we were still in quarantine...R. is not pleased by how many brown boxes have come for me. He is the spendthrift in our relationship and I am the treat-yo-self queen. Since we got married five years ago, I have been working hard to evaluate my relationship with money and consumption as a coping mechanism, but the pressure of this year has really sent me into a tailspin. I reassure him that most of this stuff is probably going back. Plus, we have less than zero room to store any of it in the trailer. Luckily, my MIL is also a shopaholic with many good hiding places around the house, so she will let me put some of it in her sewing room.
4 p.m. — A seller on Poshmark countered my offer on a Madewell dress that I've been eyeing, and it's a good deal. I pay $24 including shipping. I swear to myself that this is the last piece of clothing I'll buy until after Christmas. We go for a walk with R.'s parents and his dad starts a fire in the back yard so we can enjoy the last bits of sunshine. $24
5 p.m. — R.'s dad suggests burgers from our favorite local joint for dinner tonight. His mom and dad are so generous with us, so I always insist on paying for meals out with them. The total is $60, and I let them cover the tip because they always fight me. $60
6 p.m. — Our niece is staying the night tonight, so we all gather in the family room and watch Despicable Me 1 and 2, her favorites. I start passing out at the beginning of the second installment, so I go to our trailer to fall asleep with Netflix in the background. I end up staying awake until 2:30 a.m. watching Lovesick.
Daily Total: $84

Day Two

10 a.m. — I know I'm going to pay dearly for these late nights come Monday morning. I finally make my way into the house and make a cup of coffee while I eat my usual two hard-boiled eggs. Then I start making my way through my Christmas shopping list. I buy a print of Mount Hood from a local artists' virtual craft fair for my brother ($20), a pair of Vans Sk8 Hi-tops and an American Eagle gift card for my sister ($75), a French press for my mom ($50), and a few small things for R.'s mom and dad from a Portland-based kitchen store that I love ($35). I make a plan to go with R. to get the leaf-blower my stepdad wants because he has a coupon for the hardware store. I also cave and buy myself the Herbivore Bachukiol serum ($58) because I'm almost out of my retinol eye cream and I've been wanting to try it. I immediately feel guilty afterward. My spending is getting out of hand. $238
1 p.m. — We make mimosas and put on The Happiest Season on Hulu (R.'s mom loves Dan Levy), then pretend to start decorating the house for Christmas, but actually get day-drunk instead. My MIL (P.) is legitimately one of my best friends. We hung out a lot anyway before we moved into their driveway, but now we pretty much spend every day together. I have a very strained relationship with my own mother, so I cherish the one I have with P.
5 p.m. — P. and I are too drunk to make anything fancy for dinner. I throw some kielbasa and cabbage in a massive frying pan, then throw some dijon mustard on top for serving — one of my favorite drunk foods.
9 p.m. — I'm drunk and full of cabbage and sausage. I get a notification from Venmo that an offer I made on two pairs of Madewell heels was accepted. I blame this one on the Prosecco and then delete the app! I fall asleep watching Imposters on Netflix, honestly a solid show that I need to give a proper watch. $57
Daily Total: $295

Day Three

10 a.m. — Tomorrow I have to be up at 7 for work, and after five days of sleeping in, I know I'm in for a rough one. I need to plan meals and grocery shop for the week, so I pull out a notepad as I eat my hard-boiled eggs and a banana and get on Fred Meyer Clicklist. I buy raspberries, bananas, bell peppers, romaine lettuce, English cucumbers, a red onion, French bread, Sun Chips, two pounds of ground turkey, the expensive-ass probiotics that R. and I take, yogurts, Tom's dental floss, some SorBabes Raznberry sorbet, and Frank's Red Hot. The total comes to $115, and I have to pick it up at 4. $115
11 a.m. — After so little was accomplished on the Christmas decorations front yesterday, P. and I make a second cup of coffee and start doing work. The woman has detailed notes and photos of every room in the house so she can ensure peak Christmas spirit at every turn. It's almost unnerving. After an hour or so, R. and I take our dog out for a 45-minute walk and enjoy the crisp sunshine.
1 p.m. — R. makes a turkey sandwich for lunch, and I eat a handful of cheese slices with crackers. I'm tired from our walk and decide it's time for another Christmas movie. I pull up my list on Hulu and select A Christmas Movie Christmas, which is about two sisters who get trapped in a Hallmark-style Christmas narrative. Very meta, I like it.
3:30 p.m. — It's time to go pick up my grocery order, and I feel so grateful that I don't have to go into the store. Our state has a relatively low number of COVID cases, but my mom, sister, brother, and aunt all tested positive last week, so I'm trying to take as few chances as possible.
5:30 p.m. — I start a pot of brown rice and bust out the wok for some chicken stir fry. I chop half of a head of cabbage, one red bell pepper, and a pound of broccoli, along with a pound of chicken thighs. I cook the chicken in some sesame oil and ponzu sauce, then add the veggies and more sesame oil. For the sauce, I mix ponzu and sriracha. So simple, but very flavorful. R. goes for seconds, so I know it was a hit. I made a ton of it so we can all eat it for lunch tomorrow, too.
7:30 p.m. — I head into the trailer to listen to my audiobook for a few hours before bed. I'm listening to Dune right now, and I am enjoying it so far. It's a 21-hour book and I've only listened to about an hour, so I need to hustle to get it finished before it's due. I use a free app from our local library to listen to books, which means I only get three weeks to finish each one. I listen to two more hours tonight, then R. comes in and we brush our teeth and get in bed. My skincare routine has been skipped yet again because I forgot to turn on the water heater and I'm not waiting 20 minutes. I do 15 minutes of Duolingo (I'm taking French), then turn out the lights and do a ten-minute Headspace meditation. I lay in the dark, struggling to find sleep, until about 11:30.
Daily Total: $115

Day Four

7:05 a.m. — The alarm just went off, but I've been awake for twenty minutes or so. R. is already at work on his laptop in here and I'm enjoying a snuggle with the dog before I have to get up and lug all my work shit into the house. Working in the trailer together is not an option for us, space-wise, so P. lets me use the second living room in their house as my workspace. I only allow myself to part with this little pup for a cup of sweet, sweet bean juice and two hard-boiled eggs (I know, I'm a real creature of habit) and then begrudgingly get my laptop set up on my makeshift desk. At least I get to work in my pajamas.
10 a.m. — I answer two emails and that's about all I can take from work this morning, so I decide to try to finish my Christmas shopping. I buy P. the perfume she likes ($28) and a set of four funny Christmas mugs from Target ($20). I also buy some cute boxer briefs for R. so I can get free shipping ($16). I forgot to update my address on the Target app, so I quickly try to fix it but they're asking for my actual credit card number (like on the back of the card??) so I have to go all the way out to the trailer to fetch my wallet. I am building up my Amazon cart for the one single order I am allowing myself this year. I want to buy as many gifts as possible locally, especially from small businesses, but there are a few things on my list that I won't be able to find anywhere else (like a rose-gold karaoke microphone for my niece!). I snack on a banana and a handful of Goldfish crackers. $64
12:30 p.m. — I have a work meeting at 1 so it's time to grab some lunch. I heat up some stir-fry from last night and scarf it down before going out to the trailer to pull on a chunky knit sweater and a beanie so I don't look like I'm still wearing my pajamas (I am), and log into my work meeting. I miss my two colleagues SO MUCH! Before the office shut down in March, we hung out very regularly outside of work, and they are definitely the thing I miss most about working at the office. As the communications team for the statewide educator union, we have been going nonstop since the start of the pandemic, and it shows. We're all fresh off a five-day weekend, but it's clear that none of us want to be in this meeting. Our boss keeps it short, which we appreciate. After the team call, I FaceTime my crew and we talk for another hour.
5 p.m. — A big box of clothes came for me! I immediately pull everything out and try it on, of course. I love one of the dresses, but the other one is going back. I also got two sweaters, a pair of slingback flats, and a jumpsuit that I went out on a limb for because it was on super-clearance. It ends up being my favorite article in the haul, even though R. says I look like a garbage truck operator. I won't be told about fashion from a man who still wears cargo shorts, so I'm keeping it! I get a notification that the shoes I ordered my sister have shipped, but I realize that I bought them in a men's size. I quickly find the right ones, but the website is sold out of her size, so I have to do some digging around to find other options online and pay $20 more than I wanted to. I double-check the original website to make sure I can return the wrong-sized ones. $65
7 p.m. — A friend of R.'s parents brought us some fresh crab from their trip to the coast last weekend, so we are feasting tonight! Oregon Dungeness crab can't be beat, y'all. After dinner, I put the finishing touches on my Amazon cart so I can finally be done with my Christmas shopping. I get the karaoke microphone for our niece ($31), a Blazers jacket for our nephew ($45), some wooden stir spoons for my mom's French press ($8), a new leather belt for R. ($20), and a frame for the print I got my brother ($13). Now we just need to find another small gift for R.'s dad and we'll be done! $122
9 p.m. — Time to make a dent in that audiobook. I just got a notification that another of my holds is available, which means I have five books in the queue after Dune. I don't know why I do this to myself. I am clearly not going to listen to six books in the next 21 days, but I will accept the hold anyway because I already waited so long for this title. I listen for three hours before I realize it's midnight!
Daily Total: $251

Day Five

7:45 a.m. — I am dragging a bit this morning; bring on the caffeine! I am really glad P.'s fancy coffee maker has a single-cup setting so I don't have to mess with the French press, grinder, and kettle today. I've decided that I probably don't even know how to use the press properly because my coffee never tastes this good. I grab my hard-boiled eggs and some raspberries and settle in at my laptop. After yesterday's farce of a workday, I get straight on to check my email and fire off a few responses before drilling into my animation project. I am determined to have something to show by the end of the week. I check my personal email and see a donation email from the Oregon Food Bank. I used to volunteer there sometimes, but haven't been able to since COVID-19 came along. I go to their website and sign up for a $25 monthly donation. $25
11 a.m. — As I resurface from an Adobe Animate reverie, I get a Marco Polo notification from my best friend, B. I realize I haven't ordered her Christmas present yet either. She loves The Goldbergs and I found a hilarious cookbook based on some of the recipes from the show. I know she will love it, so I order it from and have it shipped directly to her. I pay extra to have it gift wrapped, and with shipping and sales tax (UGH, Washington), the total comes to $26. I really think I'm done Christmas shopping now! $26
1 p.m. — As I'm scrolling on Insta on my lunch (more leftover stir-fry), I see a post from one of my old serving buddies who has cancer. His wife has set up a GoFundMe to help them cover lost income while he goes through chemo, and I donate $50. I read all of the sweet messages from the people who used to work at the restaurant with us and remember all the fun we had slinging pasta. $50
1:45 p.m. — I get a call from my specialty pharmacy to remind me it's time to refill my medication. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in April of last year, but the disease has been controlled fairly well by the medicine I've been taking for a year now. My insurance covers most of it, but I pay $5 a month for the copay. $5
3:30 p.m. — It's going to be sunny and clear all week, so uncharacteristic of Oregon this time of year! I lace up and take the pup out for a long walk because this can't last forever and she doesn't get very many walks once the rainy season comes. She is a pampered princess who does NOT like getting wet and will not go outside for longer than one minute if it's raining.
5 p.m. — R.'s parents are not used to having planned dinner menus every week, so I have been doing most of the cooking in the weeks that we've been here. His dad buys things in bulk when they're on sale (I'm talking twelve blocks of Tillamook cheese), so their freezer and outside fridge are stuffed with food, but there's never a plan to use it! It makes me crazy. Tonight is taco night, so I get to work browning the ground turkey and chopping up veggies. I actually enjoy cooking, but it does annoy me that R. never offers to help, especially now that we're staying with his parents. I file that one away to bring up later.
6:30 p.m. — I FaceTime my cousin to find out what she wants for Christmas. She and I have been tight since childhood, and she's more like a sister to me. I haven't seen her since February, but we talk on no less than three different apps every single day. Her longtime boyfriend is in the army and deployed until January, so I make sure to check in with her at least once or twice a week with a video call since she's living alone right now. I order her some baking supplies and a baseball t-shirt for her boyfriend, then add some organic beef treats for her dogs to my Amazon cart. I feel guilty for not thinking ahead and being forced to order from Amazon again, but I wouldn't have time to get things for her and then ship them before Christmas. $111
Daily Total: $217

Day Six

8 a.m. — I got a bit of a late start this morning because I accidentally stayed up past midnight listening to my book again. I make my perfunctory cup of coffee, crack two hard-boiled eggs, and grab a clamshell of raspberries from the fridge. I check both of my work email accounts and see that I have another email from a vendor indicating that we are past due on a payment. I know I sent that invoice in for processing, but I double-check just to make sure. This has been happening a lot in the last two months. I send an email to our A/P clerk to find out what's going on.
12:30 p.m. — Leftover taco fixings become my lunchtime taco salad as I get ready for my 1 p.m. meeting. We check in twice a week, but honestly, everyone is checked out for the holidays already. I have one project and one 1500-word article to write for the magazine before we break for Christmas in two and a half weeks. During the meeting, I open and browse for gifts for my two work besties. I decide that I'm just going to buy them both some wine instead.
1:45 p.m. — I have to get my vehicle registration renewed, which means a trip to the Department of Environmental Quality aka DEQ — a fun, every-other-year pastime for all Oregonians. I decide that I need to make the most of this trip into "town," so I make a stop at Trader Joe's for a few things that we need. I grab coffee, bananas, the hummus R. likes, fiber bars, dried mango, hemp milk for my coffee, cottage cheese, hazelnuts and pistachios for snackin', microwaveable lentil packs, five bottles of red wine for R.'s dad, and HOLY SHIT THEY GOT JINGLE JANGLE! It's not Christmas without a tin of Jingle Jangle. Plus, I like to use the tins for cookie exchanges. $86.53
2:30 p.m. — I leave TJ's and mentally prepare myself for a long line at DEQ, but it's surprisingly empty! Two Christmas miracles today. I get through in less than twenty minutes (a record??). $217
5:30 p.m. — I spend an hour on Marco Polo with my best friend, B. She has gone through so much in the last year, COVID notwithstanding. She and her husband took in their nephew for over a year as a foster child, and she had to quit her job because of the huge time commitment that came with navigating the foster system. Now that he's back home with his mom, she's still providing a ton of support for their family even though she just started a new job a few weeks ago. I decide to gift her a year subscription to Headspace, and I see that the subscription was on sale for $49. I pay for it and send her the link via email. $49
6:30 p.m. — I am making our favorite chicken Caprese sandwiches for dinner tonight. I pull out a bag of Trader Joe's breaded chicken tenders from the freezer and place them in the oven. When they are nearly done, I layer fresh mozzarella on some hoagie rolls and put them in the oven to toast and melt the cheese. Then I chop fresh basil and sun-dried tomatoes very finely and mix them into a small bowl of mayonnaise. I also slice two Roma tomatoes thinly and halve some kalamata olives. The chicken and hoagies come out of the oven, and I spread the basil tomato aioli onto the bread, then add the crispy chicken pieces, the tomatoes, and the olives. Duh-licious.
8 p.m. — I snag some Oreos on my way out to the trailer for my nightly listening session. I have traded out Dune for a Kevin Kwan novel to break up the pace.
Daily Total: $352.53

Day Seven

8 a.m. — Coffee, hard-boiled eggs, banana, as usual. It's going to be a short working day for me because I have to go to Best Buy at 1:30 for an installation appointment. I bought R. a remote start for his truck for Christmas, and I have been trying to be sneaky about getting it installed, but I had to ask him to borrow the truck and I think he's onto me. I check email, process a couple of vendor invoices, and get back into my animation project. I am finally starting to see it take some shape, so that's exciting!
11:45 a.m. — I can hear the leftover half-sandwich in the fridge, calling my name. I decide it's not too early to eat lunch because I have to leave the house in an hour and a half anyway. I FaceTime my cousin and we talk about her upcoming 30th birthday. I am really sad that I can't go to see her. I need to figure out a way to do something really special for her.
1 p.m. — The installer at Best Buy calls to let me know that he had a cancellation and that I can bring the truck early if I want to. I bring it in and sit on a bench for two hours while the installation happens.
3 p.m. — Still haven't heard from Best Buy...My back is killing me from sitting on this bench. I decide to walk over to a grocery store nearby and get a bottle of water because I'm starting to get a headache. I also have heartburn from that delicious damned Caprese sandwich, so I grab a small pack of antacid chews to quell the flames. $3.06
4 p.m. — Finally home. That was a thoroughly soul-sucking experience — what's Christmas without an infuriating mall trip?? R. is excited to test out his new toy, turning the truck on and off several times before he is satisfied. I guess it's nice to be able to warm up the car before you leave in the morning, but we haven't driven to work in nine months, so it kind of seems like a waste of a gift this year. I still have a bit of a headache, so I make a cup of Earl Grey tea, take a couple of ibuprofen, and lie down on the couch with a sappy Christmas movie going in the background.
6:30 p.m. — I was supposed to make chili tonight, but I totally forgot to put everything in the crockpot because I left earlier than I had planned. Looks like it's leftovers night. I throw together some rice from Monday's stir-fry, ground turkey from taco Tuesday, open a can of black beans, and make a pretty decent burrito bowl with salsa and sour cream.
7:30 p.m. — I can tell I'm about to start my period because of the headache and the immense craving for sweet things. I got a copper IUD at the beginning of the year, and my period has come every two or three weeks since. It's a nightmare, but I am trying to give it a year to regulate before I try something else. R. offers to go to McDonald's and get us chocolate milkshakes, what a guy :) I buy since he is driving. $7.88
Daily Total: $10.94
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