Money Diaries logo

A Week In Brooklyn, NY, On A $197,000 Joint Income & Life Insurance Settlement

Photo: Getty Images.
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 investigative journalist who has a joint income of $197,000 and spends some of her money this week on an incense bowl.
Occupation: Investigative Journalist
Industry: Media
Age: 35
Location: Brooklyn, NY
My Salary: $130,000
My Husband's Salary: $67,000
Net Worth: ~$1,000,000 (Cash savings: $49,000, investments and retirement accounts: $503,000 across an IRA, rollover IRA from my first job, and investments that I received when I turned 18. One-bedroom apartment: $350,000 (paid off), country home (a pandemic purchase): $460,000 minus debt. My husband and I have separate finances.)
Debt: $280,000 mortgage on the country home
My Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $10,875 (freelance income pre-tax)
My Husband's Paycheck Amount (1x/month): ~$5,400 (he is an independent creative so this varies)
Pronouns: She/her
Monthly Expenses
Apartment Costs: I bought my one-bedroom in cash when I was 26 for $250,000 and renovated it. It is in a co-op that does not allow renting so it will always be under market rate. My husband pays the maintenance and utilities, which add up to about $650 a month.
Country House Mortgage: $3,500
Charity: $400
Internet: $99
Gym Memberships: $250
IRA Contributions: $500
Health Insurance: $1,300 (This covers my husband and me, purchased through the marketplace. I don't know why it is so expensive. I suppose it's worth it because it covered a $55,000 out of a $60,000 emergency surgery a few years back for me, but between us we have like two prescriptions for dandruff shampoo and hair loss.)
Spotify/Netflix/Hulu: $25
Car Insurance: $335
Money Sent To My Husband's Family: $200
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, my family is very well-educated. I'm the only one without a graduate degree, but graduate degrees in journalism have a terrible return, so as much as I would love to stay a permanent student, it seems frivolous. My father passed away when I was very young and he had a very robust life insurance plan. The life insurance settlement gave me $100,000 a year during my four years of college, so I paid cash for a private college education.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My mom came from an upper-middle-class background and has always been very practical about money. She taught me to get a prenup and to not buy and sell stocks on a whim. My dad came from a poor background and was rather extravagant with his executive salary (he once bought a small airplane without telling my mom), but he passed away when I was little. My mom was very adamant that he had good life insurance and when he passed the settlement allowed her to remain a stay-at-home mom until we both graduated.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was in advertising after college. I was fired after a short time and rolled through a series of internships until I landed my first editorial job which paid $34,000 a year.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No, not at all. My mom would go on savings kicks every once in a while, but I never wanted for anything.
Do you worry about money now?
Worry? No. I got a financial planner when I moved to New York who helped me strike a balance between spending and saving. I do get in, ahem, heated discussions with my husband about what's a fair balance between us when it comes to paying for things? Yes. I would like him to stick up for himself and leave this low-paying, stressful job for a better one, but I think my financial support has made him rather lethargic in that regard. We keep our fun money separate, but sometimes if I want to do something fun and expensive (like go with our friends to Mexico) so I end up just paying for it so we can do the thing. It doesn't feel great but I haven't figured out a good solution. After all, it's not like I deserve this money any more than he does. I try not to spend it on stupid things.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
At age 18, my investments passed over to me, and so did the monthly payments. And yes, if it's not yet clear, I have the best financial safety net of all time — a middle-class income until the day I die from my father's life insurance pay out. It's allowed me to have a career I love and that I think actually adds something to the world. My health is perfect because I can get preventative care and buy all the healthy food I need. I can walk away from unsafe situations. It's why I deeply believe in a universal basic income. I think everyone should have the same freedoms to make healthy choices.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
At age 18, I received a $450,000 payout from my father's life insurance. I invested this money and have used it to purchase a home in cash and a second home during the pandemic. From ages 18-22, I received $100,000 a year to pay for college. I received my next pay out of $150,000 at age 30 and will receive $150,000 every five years from now on. I am deeply aware of the privilege I have and do what I can to give back and be generous.

Day One

8 a.m. — I get up and get right to work. I used to rent a desk at a coworking space before the pandemic, but now I work from home. When I boot up my laptop the pages that load include all my basic work apps, plus my budgeting software which I check for transactions. The first thing I see is a foreign transaction fee. I don't care enough to figure out which stupid company I paid is secretly headquartered abroad. $4.78
2 p.m. — After a morning filled with work, I go on the Williams Sonoma website to pick out a set of farmhouse black silverware. Before the pandemic, we lived solely in a one-bedroom in Brooklyn so I didn't buy many things for the home since we didn't have room. However, ever since I bought the country house, I keep finding excuses to buy pretty things and calling them investments. I only want high-quality things that will last ten years (that's a huge NO to IKEA), but it's a lot of cash outlay upfront. $616.22
7 p.m. — My husband, D., comes home. I cook dinner for us and then we have a quiet evening in.
Daily Total: $621

Day Two

9 a.m. — I wake up and boot up my laptop. My friends are talking about cryptocurrency in our group chat. I still feel like cryptocurrency is a pyramid scheme, but if I had listened to my friends in 2011 or any time since then... I guess I could have bought a bigger apartment? I don't know. I'm definitely feeling the FOMO, so I set up a Coinbase account and a monthly buy for three different currencies. I'm going to treat it like investment diversification and not spend any mental space following the crypto bro hype machine. There, done. Now I never want to think about it again. $900
12 p.m. — I sit down and work on some writing while I eat around the house.
3 p.m. — I grab a latte ($6.88 whew, inflation!) on my way to take the subway to Manhattan ($2.75 each way) to pick up my tailoring (already paid for last week) and print some papers at FedEx ($9.37). $21.75
6 p.m. — I get home and make dinner for D. and me. We eat and then have a chill evening.
Daily Total: $921.75

Day Three

8 a.m. — I get up and get ready for a day of working and errands.
2 p.m. — I go to the shoe repair place to pick up a purse, shoes, and a fancy leather garter belt and the guy tells me they only take cash. I run to the ATM and pull out $200 for future, annoying cash-only NYC purchases. $135
6 p.m. — D. decides last minute to go into Manhattan for a workshop so I'm left alone at home. I'm bored and it's gorgeous outside so I decide to have an evening out. I'm past the age where my friends haven't booked our evenings week in advance, so I make a couple of half-hearted attempts to see what my friends are up to. Two of my friends are free but not until later in the evening. I wander down to the park near my apartment. I stop at a restaurant near the park and get a to-go cocktail and a bottle of sparkly water. I grab a bench to watch the sunset and read. $24.49
7 p.m. — Next, I go to a new restaurant I've been meaning to try and treat myself to a nice dinner and two more cocktails. I'm fairly tipsy by the time I pay my bill. Carrie Bradshaw would be proud. $69.57
8 p.m. — Two friends, A. and R., meet up with me outside the restaurant and we walk back to A.'s apartment. I'm craving chocolate, so I dip into the convenience store and get us a variety of candy. We make it to A.'s apartment and she brings out a bottle of champagne to share with us. We hang out for a while and then I eventually walk home around 10. $13.08
Daily Total: $242.14

Day Four

9 a.m. — Get up and get ready for brunch. We let the cleaning lady in around 10 a.m.
11 a.m. — D. and I take the subway ($2.75) to brunch with our friends. $2.75
1 p.m. — Brunch is lovely and D. and I put it on our shared card, so I will pay for my half. $51.07
4 p.m. — The weekly Rent-a-Center charge hits for the bed I rented for our country house. I'm gonna get some nice furniture from my mom's storage unit out this summer, but until then, I'm renting the essentials. $42.63
4 p.m. — The cleaning lady is finishing up so I get ready to pay her. She's pricey, and my husband always complains at the end of the month when he reviews our shared credit card bill, but unless he's going to scrub down the apartment himself without complaining, this is for the happiness of our marriage. She takes six hours to clean our one-bedroom, but it's worth it. $287.69
4:30 p.m. — I head out to my flea market and buy some vintage posters. At $13 a piece, they're a steal. I know it will cost me way more to have them properly framed. $52
5 p.m. — I take the ferry to my friend's moving-away-take-my-stuff party. We all talk about real estate and how crazy it's gotten, and a couple talks about raising their baby in their one-bedroom. I feel grateful that we own our own place and have no intention of ever leaving... or having a baby. Sorry, I like our life just the way it is and don't want to pay $20,000 a year in childcare or have to buy a bigger apartment. I walk away with a throw pillow, vase, frame, and a belly full of cocktails cobbled together from their bar cart. $2.75
8 p.m. — I meet D. at a friend's birthday party at a penthouse suite. She asks for a $50 suggested donation. I look around and decide that this party must cost at least $200 per person, if not way more. I have no idea how she is paying for this. I've learned that if a friend doesn't loudly and actively complain about shared costs for things, they either work in tech or have family money. I send her some money and we enjoy the party until we go home at 11. $50
Daily Total: $488.89

Day Five

8 a.m. — Our weekly CSA food subscription charge ($80.64) and organic wine subscription ($92.49) hits my account. I pay for both because my husband considers them both too expensive for his budget. If it were up to him, we would subsist on pasta and red sauce and Tecate beer, so I eat this cost. $173.13
11 a.m. — We go to a friend's house for their kid's surprise birthday party. We stop for coffee and pastries (my half is $12.13) to soothe our hangovers. Once we have our coffees we realize we're late so we call a Lyft ($33.96) to get there on time for the surprise. On the way over, I realize I left my full and very expensive latte outside on the construction barrier. Our friends supply pizza and beer for the adults, then we head home in the late afternoon via the subway to adult. We make dinner at home and discuss renovation plans before going to bed. $46.09
Daily Total: $219.22

Day Six

9 a.m. — It's Monday, so I'm back at my desk all day.
12 p.m. — Still at my desk, eat lunch at home, work, work, work.
6 p.m. — I make dinner for D. and me. Our wine opener broke and I still haven't replaced it, so I borrow one from our neighbor to crack open a bottle of beautiful organic wine. After a few glasses it's off to bed.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

9 a.m. — I get up and get to work. I eat lunch around the house at some point.
2 p.m. — I pop in my favorite woo-woo shop for incense and walk out with a ridiculous amount of accessories: mushroom stones, incense, incense bowls, sacred geometry candles, and a book of Buddhist sayings. We haven't had an acid day at the country house yet but when we do, it will be SO high vibe. $237.29
3 p.m. — I've planned out our meals based on the CSA box, so next I head to the grocery store for the missing ingredients and some basics: tea, olive oil, sparkling water, bread, etc. I put it all on our shared card even though I put my personal purchase of argan oil in there. I'm entitled to treat myself since I support so much of our awesome lifestyle. I call my husband to tell him his favorite brand of oat milk is out and he'll have to get it himself if he wants it. He scours the neighborhood and can't find it and then meets me at the grocery store to help me carry everything home. Later, after a funny group chat about the oat milk shortage, our neighbor stops by with oat milk. To say thank you, we feed him dinner. $72.87
9 p.m. — I'm served an ad for a monogrammed reusable tote and decide my mom would love it. She loves her reusable totes. I pay for the customization and expedited shipping. My Instagram algorithm gets me, which is why I block it from my phone for 20 hours out of the day so I don't make more stupid purchases. $53.21
Daily Total: $363.37
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