A Week In Bay Area, CA, On A $120,000 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: an independent consultant who has a joint income of $120,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on pastry boxes.
Occupation: Independent Consultant
Industry: Nonprofit
Age: 49
Location: Bay Area, CA
Salary: $120,000
Net Worth: ~$1.6 million joint (cash: $100,000; non-retirement investments: $300,000; retirement accounts: $450,000; home value: $1.1m (purchased for $500,000) minus mortgage. My husband and I share finances, although we maintain individual checking, savings, and credit card accounts as well as joint ones. I'm fortunate to work part-time and cover our major expenses (i.e., mortgage, utilities, groceries, etc.). My husband earns much less working temporary jobs here and there, and his income is not reflected in our annual salary. He chips in for gas and healthcare, plus pays for his own personal expenses (i.e., clothing, hobbies, etc.).)
Debt: $300,000 mortgage balance
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $7,000
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,329
Property Tax: $750
Homeowners Insurance: $100
Gas & Electric: $142
Water: $119
Trash: $43
Health Insurance: $800
Dental Insurance: $58.16
HBO Max: $15
Gym: $10
Cell Phone: $24.54
MMO Game: $4.85

Annual Expenses
Car Insurance: $900
Umbrella Insurance: $240
Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card: $550
AAA Roadside Assistance: $94
Costco Membership: $60
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?
Education mattered a lot to my parents, so academic excellence was drilled into me from an early age. There was never any question about attending college — I was raised without any idea that other paths could exist for me. My parents set aside money for my undergraduate education and footed the bill, but it helped that I received a 75% four-year, merit-based tuition scholarship. I used an inheritance to pay for graduate school.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
There were no direct conversations about money growing up. My parents vehemently believed that money was meant to be saved, not spent, so what was there to talk about? My mother in particular was very rigid about saving as much as possible. If spending money could not be avoided, she chose the cheapest possible option, whether that was for food, clothing, gifts, etc. When I was seven years old, she took me to the bank to open a savings account and that's where Christmas and birthday money was deposited. That was pretty much the extent of my financial education.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
At age 16, I got my first job slinging fried chicken at a fast food restaurant. I wanted a leather jacket and it wasn't the kind of thing my parents would have bought for me, so I chose to work for it.
Did you worry about money growing up?
I didn't worry about money in the sense of feeling insecure about housing or my next meal, but I was scared that it would tear my family apart. There was a stark economic contrast between my mother and father's side of the family. Although both of my parents grew up poor, my maternal grandfather ended up being quite successful, although this didn't happen until I was a teenager. My paternal grandfather was heavily in debt and my father would give him the money that my maternal grandfather sent. My mother was hugely resentful of this and the conflict and ensuing arguments pervaded our house for years.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes and no. I'm fortunate to have enough tucked away that unexpected expenses, like an emergency vet or car repair bill, wouldn't throw me off. The worries I have are on a larger scale. What if I have major medical issues and can't work? What if I don't save enough to retire? What if my husband or I need long-term care?
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible for myself right after college graduation. I am my own financial safety net.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
At age 21, I received an inheritance of roughly $160,000. I was young and dumb, and the money felt freeing after years of deprivation. I foolishly spent some of that money on stupid stuff like a fancy car, spa visits, etc. But I also invested in myself, using that money to pay for graduate school and international travel. Before I had a falling out with my father, my family gifted me about $300,000 over the course of two decades. I used that money for a down payment on a house and major expenses like home repairs, braces, etc. Somehow I'd always known that being cut off from family relationships and wealth was a possibility, so I stashed away a good chunk.

Day One

9 a.m. — I wake up earlier than I want to, stiff from a gym workout and being knocked over by a dog yesterday. My husband, L., is already awake and eating breakfast. He makes me scrambled eggs while I do a yoga video to stretch my body out. I eat my eggs with a tangerine and figs from our garden and read the news at my desk.
10:40 a.m. — After showering, I head to a meeting with a client. This is a rarity! The vast majority of my meetings have been virtual since the pandemic started. While I'm perfectly happy with this setup, it's actually really nice to see the team in person. We have a productive working session and the client orders lunch for us (salad with fish for me).
3 p.m. — When I arrived home, L. reports that our electrician replaced the lights and dimmer switches in our bathroom. We bought our house “as is” several years ago and while it was fundamentally in solid shape, it needed renovations. We've slowly worked on major systems (like plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc.) and are only now getting around to fun improvements. The mail comes and it contains a Rakuten rebate check which essentially covers the electrician bill. Yay! $210
4:30 p.m. — Determined to be super productive, I complete a flurry of tasks, sending off work emails, scheduling a hair appointment, and answering phone calls. I order six tank tops from Gap ($50.31) and place an order with Amazon ($31.46) for craft pastry boxes and Command hooks. $81.77
5:30 p.m. — After a nap, I take a bath and get ready for a date with my partner, B. L. kindly vacates the house. During the pandemic, we renovated our freestanding garage and converted it into a bonus room. We'd originally intended to use the space to host company but L. adopted it as his man cave so that's where he usually heads when I have visitors.
7 p.m. — B. arrives and I'm excited to see him! His job is demanding and we're lucky to see each other a couple of times a month. Knowing that my day was busy, he brought tacos for dinner. We eat in the dining room and catch up.
11:30 p.m. — B. and I fall asleep together cuddling. His alarm wakes him up, then he gives me a huge hug and heads home because he has to take his kids to school in the morning. I stay up for a while longer playing video games, then brush my teeth and do my basic skin-care routine before bed (iS Clinical cleansing complex, Thayer's witch hazel toner, Arbordoun calendula cream).
Daily Total: $291.77

Day Two

9 a.m. — Up and at ‘em an hour before my first meeting of the day. L. is an angel and rustles up corned beef hash and scrambled eggs for my breakfast. I take a deep breath and begin attending to work tasks.
12 p.m. — Being self-employed, work tends to ebb and flow, and this is definitely high tide. I've barely had time to look up from my screen. I keep plugging away at my projects.
2 p.m. — L. was going to make us lunch but he's having an off day so I offer to buy us burritos. He's happy about this and goes to pick them up for us. I longingly eye my carne asada burrito during my Zoom meeting. I attack it as soon as the session ends. $20
3 p.m. — A client requests help with a rush job. The timing isn't ideal as I'm already stretched thin working on a large project. I rarely take on last-minute projects but this one is important to the client and the subject matter is interesting to me, so I accept. The client tells me to add a rush charge which means it will cover the cost of takeout for the next few days plus a massage afterward.
4:30 p.m. — I'm done working for the day! My neck is stiff from the extended period of concentrated work. It's time for a nap.
7 p.m. — When I wake up, the world feels like it's moving slowly after today's mad rush. Eventually, I pull myself up and visit our garden. It's my first time outside today. I snack on figs and tangerines from our trees while L. makes shrimp pasta alfredo and spinach for dinner.
10 p.m. — After dinner, I lie in bed with one of our cats and fall asleep re-watching House of the Dragon.
Daily Total: $20

Day Three

8:30 a.m. — Up early for Zoom meetings! I shower and eat the rest of my burrito for breakfast. It's evident that this will be the kind of high-stress day that's not great for my overall health.
11 a.m. — I meet with the client for the rush job, receive my marching orders, and dive into the project.
2 p.m. — Still working. L. returns from running errands for us. He's purchased sanding sugar and a sandwich from the grocery store. He heats up leftover pasta for my lunch then I take a brief nap before launching into another Zoom meeting. $10.98
4 p.m. — L. gives me half of his turkey sandwich which I eat while working. I'm not used to sitting at the desk this much and my back and neck are really feeling the strain.
7:30 p.m. — Done for the day! L. I have spinach and zucchini for dinner. Over dinner, we chat about our upcoming travel plans. Then I text friends for a bit and do some yoga to work out the kinks in my back.
10 p.m. — Okay, I'm not quite done yet. I start looking at my client's project and before I know it, an hour has flown by. Enough is enough. I pop a Tylenol PM, retrieve an ice pack for my neck, and lie in bed with our cats watching the rest of House of the Dragon.
Daily Total: $10.98

Day Four

9:30 a.m. — Rise and shine! Breakfast is scrambled eggs and tangerines which I eat while digging into work projects. Fortunately, the pace isn't as frantic as yesterday.
11 a.m. — I take a break to shower, then dive right back into work. L. leaves to run errands and pick up lunch.
2:00 p.m. — For the moment, all is calm. After a nap, I eat the lunch that L. has bought: a gorgeous, brightly colored vegetarian mezze sampler platter for me and chicken shawarma for him ($29.35). L. has been busy going to the bank, stopping at the hardware store for neem oil and downspout guards ($29.73), and picking up beer at the grocery store ($12.46). $71.54
5 p.m. — Done with work! L. and I lie in bed chatting, then I take a brief nap. Once I'm up, I pluck fruit from the garden and then get ready for a date with my other partner, T. I'm excited to see him even though I'm mentally exhausted.
7 p.m. — T. picks me up and we head out for a hearty dinner at a brewery. He has roast beef and I choose corned beef. I pay ($45.05). T. will soon be leaving on a two-week trip. He knows that I have separation anxiety, so we discuss communication while he's away and schedule dates directly before and after his trip. $45.05
9 p.m. — After dinner, T. and I return to my place. We lounge around the house, cuddling and talking. He drinks a beer and I smoke some flower. It feels great to let my hair down after the madness at work. Around midnight we fall asleep snuggled together.
Daily Total: $116.59

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — After morning cuddles, T. takes off. I shower and start work. L. comes in and we make a survival plan for the day. I was hoping today would be a little slower but I'm essentially working double duty on two major projects.
11 a.m. — L. returns from the grocery store with almonds, broccoli, a whole chicken, and two sandwiches. L. has been doing a lot of work this week to keep the household running and I'm grateful for him. Between polyamory and non-traditional gender roles, our partnership is unconventional but it works well for us. I eat half a sandwich for lunch, along with some parmesan crisps. $32.19
4 p.m. — I polish off the second half of my sandwich while writing emails to my clients, then wrap up for the day. Nap time!
7:30 p.m. — L. and I are too tired to cook so we order Burmese takeout. While waiting for the food to arrive, I do laundry, wash the dishes, and tidy up. The food arrives (chicken curry, bok choy and mushrooms, roti, brown rice) and it's meh, but we still have a good time laughing and chatting over dinner. $69.02
9 p.m. — The last thing I want to do is hit the gym but I know it will make me feel better so I go and lift weights. After returning home, I take a shower. L. and I curl up in bed to watch Westworld, then lights out.
Daily Total: $101.21

Day Six

9 a.m. — I wake up, shower, and get ready to go out for brunch with my godmother. It's nice of her to pick me up but I'd forgotten that she's an absolutely awful driver. I cling to the door handle as we lurch our way to the restaurant, which, thankfully, is not far away. While backing into a parking spot, my godmother hits the car behind us, but luckily there's no damage to either vehicle. I pay for metered parking ($3). We dine on the outdoor patio, enjoying our smoked salmon benedict with arugula salad. My godmother treats.
1:30 p.m. — After brunch, we jerkily make our way to a nail salon for mani-pedicures, this time avoiding collisions. It feels great to be pampered! This is a belated gift so I pay the salon bill ($140) and metered parking ($5). I make it home alive to find L. eating an early lunch before he heads to work. I'm already hungry so I sit down with him and eat the rest of the Burmese food. $145
4 p.m. — Even though it's the weekend, I wrap up a couple of hours of work. I nibble on a tangerine and string cheese before lying down for my daily nap.
7 p.m. — I make cherry and peach filling for turnovers. Our neighbors recently did something nice for us and this is our way of thanking them. Cooking and baking are so grounding and a welcome change of pace. For dinner, I roast chicken using Thomas Keller's recipe, toss orzo with butter and parmesan cheese, and steam broccoli. While waiting for the food to cook, I place an online order for Fresca from Target and use a $5 gift card ($31.41). Over dinner, L. and I chat about our day. $31.41
9 p.m. — L. wants popcorn but the smell makes me queasy so he's banished to his man cave to make it. We giggle over the absurdity of it, but I appreciate his flexibility. Our ability to laugh together is perhaps the best part of our relationship. We watch Westworld together and I fall asleep somewhere in the middle of the second episode.
Daily Total: $179.41

Day Seven

9 a.m. — My cat wakes me up. We have a good cuddle session, then I catch up with friends by text. I mull over whether to call my mom. Despite doing lots of individual therapy, our relationship is strained. Still, I worry about her since she's getting older. I grit my teeth and make the call. It's unfulfilling, but at least I've done my duty.
10 a.m. — L. joins me in bed for a moment then kisses me and leaves for work. After I roll out of bed, I putter around the house, tidying up and doing laundry, then I finish baking the turnovers. They smell heavenly and I really hope the neighbors like them. I text a photo of them to T. and promise to save him one.
12 p.m. — I munch on a piece of leftover chicken along with passionfruit and tangerines from outside while mulling over what to do today. It's been a busy week with hardly any downtime, so free time feels foreign. I decide to indulge in playing video games.
2 p.m. — The pastries have cooled so I pack them into boxes and deliver them to the neighbor. I do some bookkeeping tasks for my business and take care of personal budgeting, then water the yard and clean the cats' teeth (really!). I also do a yoga video.
7 p.m. — L. comes home from work. I kiss him goodbye then head to T.'s house. He happily scarfs down the pastry, then we curl up to watch the latest House of the Dragon episode.
Daily Total: $0
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