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A Week In Montana On A $150,000 Joint Income

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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 self-employed attorney who has a joint income of $150,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on an americano.
Occupation: Self-employed attorney
Industry: Law
Age: 33
Location: Montana
Joint Salary: $350,000 joint revenue on average; we take about $150,000 as joint income (we own two businesses together, a law firm and a coffee shop).
Net Worth: $566,000 (including $250,000 equity in house, $71,000 in my SEP IRA, $82,000 in husband's, $35,000 in 529s for our three kids, $114,000 in Ally invest, $90,000 in checking, savings, and CDs, minus $65,000 left in student loans). We share finances, down to the last dollar and we are 50/50 partners in both businesses we own.
Debt: $65,000 left in husband's student loans
Paycheck Amount (usually monthly, self-employed so we pull when we need): $6,000
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: We paid off our mortgage in 2019 in a lump sum after we won a big civil case. We pay $637 in homeowners insurance and $1,087 in property taxes twice a year.
Student Loans: $500
Electricity: $35 this time of year (I don't have AC!)
Sewer/Garbage/Water: $55
Internet: $64 (which feels like highway robbery given our connection speed)
Cell Phones: $25 each on Visible (check these guys out! Truly a great deal) but paid for by the law firm
Netflix: $13.99
Amazon Prime: $199/year (paid for by the coffee shop because we're always ordering supplies)
Daycare: $2,700 for three kids in full time care
Barre: $300 for three-month unlimited "new mommy" package
Gym: $59 for my husband, U.'s, solo membership
Health Insurance: $1,300 for bare-bones coverage for our family of five (paid for by the law firm)
Auto Insurance: $383 every six months
Back Then App: $4.99 (I'm not on social media and I got sick of texting photos and videos to all the important people in my kids' lives, so I subscribe to this photo-sharing service so I only have to upload photos once and everyone with the password can see them. Highly recommend this solution!)
Cleaners: $180
529 Contributions: $500/kid ($1,500 total)
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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, both of my parents have graduate degrees and I always assumed I would as well. I attended a private four-year university (tuition and room and board paid for by my parents), a one-year graduate program abroad (again paid for by parents), and law school (paid for with incredible scholarships and a generous work-study program).
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We did not have explicit conversations about money, but I enjoyed helping my dad pay the bills and balance his checkbook every month. In hindsight, I realize I wasn't actually helping him, of course, but it was nice of him to include me. He was very open with me about our family expenses but very opaque about his income, so I didn't get the full picture.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started babysitting at 14 because my mom told me stories about her babysitting jobs and it sounded like something I could do that would help me feel more grown up.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No, never. We always had enough, though I never knew how much that was. I do remember money being a sore spot between my parents because my dad earned the money and my mom raised three kids. He was a saver, she was a spender. That dynamic led to a lot of tension.
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Do you worry about money now?
I don't worry about money, but it occupies a lot of my time and attention because both my husband and I are self-employed. We never know how we will do month-to-month and that causes some anxiety. But business has improved every year and I can feel myself starting to relax about our financial future.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Age 22, when I graduated from a graduate program. I always knew that if I badly needed help, my folks would be there for me. Thankfully, I've never had to test that.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes, I received $20,000 from my dad when I graduated from law school. He knew we wanted to buy a house and open our own firm and that we would need some start-up capital if we wanted to do it sooner than later. I invested that money for a couple of years and then used it plus our own savings from a couple of years of W-2 employment to make a down payment on a house and to get the law firm off the ground.

Day One

5:15 a.m. — I hear the baby fussing. When the older kids were this age, I usually let them fuss for a bit before I went in to soothe them. But we have all three kids sharing a room and if I don't get my tail in there now now now, the toddler will wake up and my hopes of snoozing for another 30 mins will go up in smoke. I hustle into the kids' room and give the baby a bottle. I lay him back down when he's finished — fingers crossed!
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5:45 a.m. — Success! All three kids remain asleep for another 30 minutes, so I get to wake up slowly. I know the jig is up when I hear two sets of small feet sneaking around. I rustle my husband, U., awake and acknowledge his groan that means "this is so early." Cue morning routine. Food always comes first around here. Greek yogurt for the baby (eight months), bagel with cream cheese and nectarines for the bigger kids (two and almost four). Then two diaper changes, three sets of clothing changes, quick wet hand through tousled bed hair, shoes for everyone (why is there always at least one shoe missing?!), pop baby in his car seat, grab two cups of baby food on the way out the door, drive all three kids to daycare.
7:15 a.m. — After drop-off, I usually drive to our coffee shop to grab an espresso and check in on the barista who opened. Even if I do say so myself, this espresso is delicious. (Side note: even though we own the coffee shop, I think it is better for morale that the boss has to pay too and doesn't appear to be a freeloader.) Head home to shower and get some light housework done. Finish folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, and wiping down sticky surfaces. Quick shower, blow-dry with the life-changing Dyson hair dryer, make-up, suit. $2.25
8:30 a.m. — Make it to the office in time to have an americano in the coffee shop before heading to court. Bump into my mom! She is so supportive of our various endeavors and it's always nice to see family enjoying good espresso in our shop. Have a brief catch-up with her before hustling off to court. $3
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10:30 a.m. — My case is finally called. Got a great outcome for this client. Now back to the office. Catch up with my assistant and U., who came in around 10 after the gym. Handle a couple of brush fires, then settle in to work on an appellate brief.
11:45 a.m. — Good thing I set an alarm! I lost track of time, and my barre class starts in 15 minutes. Quick change in my office bathroom, power walk down the street to barre. This is the best workout for postpartum me. Having three babies in under four years destroyed by core strength. Barre is slowly helping me regain some strength and alleviate lower back pain. But my oh my does it kick my butt.
1 p.m. — Walking back to the office from barre, I spot some corn relish in the display case of a deli. I love this stuff. Grab a bottle to put on a salad tonight. $7.50
1:15 p.m. — Quick refresh in the office bathroom. Grab a caprese panini and some fresh-squeezed OJ from the coffee shop. The convenience of having the shop near our office has yet to get old. Afterward, I'm ready to settle back into work on this appellate brief. I am trying so hard not to be distracted by incoming calls and e-mails, but it gets harder as the afternoon wears on. $11
4 p.m. — This is the point in the day when my brain becomes useless and I try to handle some calls or attend to personal matters like paying bills and scheduling appointments. Today it's a doctor bill for the baby ($117) and a weed/feed treatment for our lawn ($45). $162
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5:15 p.m. — Phone catch up with my dad while driving to the daycare. I pick the kids up and get them all home and unloaded. I tend to spend this time playing with them and really being intentionally present. U. gets home around 5:30 most days and usually makes dinner. Tonight, it's an arugula salad with spiced chickpeas, roasted chicken, corn relish, avocado, cashews, boursin cheese, and aged balsamic. The kids like it as much as we do and the baby is mad that I won't share.
6:15 p.m. — Bath, bottle, and bed for the baby. Great alliteration there. While I'm getting baby down, U. bathes the other two. Then it's a tickle fest on our bed while we're attempting to get lotion, pull-ups, and pajamas on. I love this time of day if the kids are in a good mood. Next is bedtime stories with the toddler and off to bed for kid number two.
7 p.m. — This time of night is a chance to bond with our oldest. We watch a movie together or read books or sit on the porch and tell stories or make dessert. Tonight we watch the movie Redwall. Then it's bedtime for the preschooler. Hallelujah!
8:15 p.m. — Time to relax on the porch with U. and a glass of wine. I was planning to read for a bit, but I'm too tired. Bedtime routine, including Kiehl's midnight recovery serum, prep a bottle in case the baby needs a midnight snack, and I'm out like a light by 10. U. stays up to watch something on Netflix.
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Daily Total: $185.75

Day Two

5:15 a.m. — Babies have built-in alarm clocks that seem to go off at exactly the same time every day. I hustle in to give him a bottle and then lay him back down so I can snooze until the bigger kids wake up. By 6, the toddler is up and fussing loudly for the oldest to join him on the bottom bunk. I'll indulge these little unsupervised hangouts until someone starts to cry.
6:15 — Breakfast time. U. makes breakfast sandwiches with veggie sausage and I cut up strawberries. Then it's the diaper, clothes, shoes, and we're out the door. Baby gets quinoa, roasted yams, and red peppers today, and a banana blueberry peanut butter concoction that U. dreamed up.
7:15 a.m. — Stop in to the coffee shop for my usual espresso and chat with the barista. Pick up a loaf of sourdough from the local baker's bread rack that we feature in the shop. Make it back home, clean up around the house, get dressed for work. I don't have court today so I'm tempted to dress casually, but doing that always means I'll get called into an unexpected hearing and will have to run home to change. So I suck it up and dress like a professional. $9.20
8 a.m.— Back down at the coffee shop for an americano before heading to the office. U. makes it to the office by 9, and we have a firm meeting to make sure we've got a handle on all our cases before we take some time off for small summer vacations. Then it's back to brief writing. $3
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1 p.m. — Hard to believe I haven't moved from my desk in three hours. When I hit my stride I lose track of time. Decide to pop down to the coffee shop for a grilled cheese with bacon jam. Check up on my Robinhood app while I'm eating. U. and I started this competition in which we both got $500 to open Robinhood accounts and the goal is to make as much money as possible in 30 days. This game incentivizes day trading, penny stocks, crypto, IPOs, meme stocks, and all the riskiest sorts of gambling. My account has hit a high of $680 this month and a low of $450. Now I'm hovering around $530 and tomorrow is the big reveal. I think I'll win because U. fell hard for meme stocks. $8
2 p.m. — I walk up the block to my monthly eyebrow wax appointment. $21.60
2:20 p.m. — Back to the office to squeeze in 90 more minutes of brief writing. Can't wait to finish this thing. Pause to write a check for the guy who just tiled our kitchen. We bought materials last week but I owe him for the labor. $560
4 p.m.— My brain is now officially fried. Time to handle admin stuff. Today I renew our firm's malpractice insurance policy. I also apply for a global entry card for the baby and pay the monthly credit card bills. $100

5:15 p.m. — I meet my mom at my house. U. and I have a standing date night on Thursdays. We get the baby down and then my mom comes over to hang with the big kids. They have a marvelous time together and U. and I always enjoy our dinner dates. Tonight U. is out of town for work, but I asked my mom to come over anyway so I could meet my cousins for a drink. For the kids' dinner, I cook some pasta to go with the bolognese sauce U. made before he left. Then I get the kids' pajamas and pull-ups laid out and prep a bottle for the baby before thanking my mom and heading to a craft cocktail lounge for a cucumber melon margarita, some guacamole, and a good catch up. $26

9 p.m.— Make it back home and thank my mom for being so willing to watch my kids. They adore her. Chat on the phone with U. to hear about his day, kiss all the sleeping babies, then bedtime routine, and I crash.

Daily Total: $727.80
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Day Three

6 a.m. — All the kids are up and asking for breakfast in their own ways. I make a round of cinnamon raisin English muffins with peanut butter and slice an apple for them. The baby gets Greek yogurt again, and some spiced black beans I had lying around. Then it's diapers, clothes, shoes, and car seats. Baby gets coconut sweet potatoes and more bolognese sauce for his meals today.
7:15 a.m. — Drop off goes smoothly and I head down to the coffee shop. The barista must have slept through her alarm because the shop is closed. Not good when you're a new business trying to build a reputation. I call her and she apologizes and assures me she's 10 minutes away. So, no espresso for me today, and I now have a “talk” to look forward to with the barista. Head home for housework, shower, blow dry with my miracle dryer, make up, suit.
8:15 a.m. — Coffee shop is now open and I get my usual americano. Before I can sit down to finish the brief I've been working on, I need to make sure I'm ready for court on Monday morning. I have a ton of hearings set that morning and I use this morning to get up to speed on my cases, contact my clients, talk with opposing counsel, and basically get my shit together so Monday goes smoothly. $3
11:45 a.m. — That process took longer than I would have liked. I'm ready though, and now it's time for barre. Change in my office and book it down the street. I'm getting stronger every day and — dramatic pause — today I completed the first full sit-up without hands in FOUR YEARS. I've been pregnant or postpartum with no core muscles for four years straight and I completely forgot what my body used to be capable of. This feels amazing.
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1 p.m.— When I get back to the office, my assistant tells me about a strange walk-in and she and I have some good laughs together for a bit. Then I hear my stomach rumble and decide to get a burrito. I eat half now and save half for the kids' dinner. $9.50
2 p.m.— I finally sit down to finish this brief. I love the feeling of getting a big project out the door on Friday afternoon. Since U. is still out of the office and it's just me and my assistant, I suggest we duck out early and grab a beer. She's all in. There's a rotating flavor I'm obsessed with at our local bar — grapefruit mint cider. We have one each. $11
5:15 p.m. — Home with the kids. I turn the sprinkler on and let the older ones strip down and run through it while I unload the dishwasher, fold laundry, and pick up the house with the baby in tow. They're out there for an hour, and from the sound of it, they're having a blast.
6 p.m.— Bottle for the baby and he's down for the count. I heat up the burrito quarters and add some avocado and corn relish. I also mix peanut butter and honey together for a dipping sauce and slice a banana for them. Then it's bedtime routine for the toddler.
8:15 p.m. — I put the preschooler to bed, then I call U. to catch up on how his day was and to have the big Robinhood reveal. I am the winner! After a month of highs and lows, I come out with $507.05. Not much to show for it, but a damn sight better than U.'s $443.24. We decided to renew the contest for the next 30 days. Game on.
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10 p.m.— Read a New Yorker article about baby sleep that is SO relatable. Bedtime routine and I'm asleep in under a minute.
Daily Total: $23.50

Day Four

5:45 a.m. — Baby has slept in, but the toddler is awake. Since U. is still out of town, I let the toddler snuggle in bed with me. This lasts until he starts talking non-stop and tickling my toes. Fine, I'm up.
6:45 a.m. — My mom texts to ask if we "need" a doughnut delivery from the best bakery in town. Is this a trick question? She delivers, bless her, and I venmo her. $9
9:30 a.m. — When the baby wakes up from his morning nap, I'm feeling confident enough to brave the farmer's market as a solo parent. I get a lot of sympathetic looks from fellow parents and I must make quite the sight. I'm wearing the baby in a front pack, pushing the toddler in a stroller, and holding the preschooler's hand. We get carrots, corn, rhubarb, cilantro, tortillas, and honey, and the kids get a BBQ chicken skewer each ($12). On the way back to the car, we stop in the coffee shop and get a fresh OJ ($9). $21
12 p.m. — I make bean and corn quesadillas with some of the corn from the market. After lunch, I wipe everyone and everything down and it's nap time. I catch up on housework and get a load of laundry started.
4 p.m. — U. is home! The kids are so excited to see him. We have the older two "help" unpack the car. It takes longer when they are involved, but we like to reinforce the message that families help each other.
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6 p.m. — My mom calls to ask if I want to join her and two of her sisters for cocktails. U. knows it's been a long couple days for me and he encourages me to go. I get the baby down to sleep and then join my mom and aunts for margaritas, tostadas, and guac. My aunt buys, very nice of her.
8:30 p.m. — By the time I get home, U. has the older kids down for the night. He disappears downstairs to work on a computer he is building (he is a man of many talents and interests) and I read a couple of chapters in my book. Bedtime routine, and bed by 10.
Daily Total: $30

Day Five

7 a.m. — Miracle of miracles, the kids slept in! Baby had his usual bottle at 5:15, but then he let us all snooze. When the circus does begin, U. makes french toast.
8 a.m. — While I'm supervising the consumption of breakfast, U. runs to the coffee shop. He gets an espresso and brings me back an americano. $5.25
9 a.m. — I make my weekly run to the grocery store with the two oldest and the baby stays with U. We make occasional trips to Costco so we have staples like olive oil, pasta, beans, rice, etc. always on hand. Then we get the perishable stuff on a weekly basis. Today we get broccoli, peppers, carrots, cauliflower, fennel, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, yams, cilantro, dill, arugula, avocados, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, shallots, bananas, nectarines, apples, grapes, raspberries, lemons, limes, tortillas, chicken, beef kielbasa, veggie sausage, english muffins, yogurt, cheese, eggs, milk, cream, finger food for the baby (cereal puffs, yogurt melts), kettle corn, beer, wine, and popsicles. $167
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10 a.m. — Quick stop at Target for two sizes of diapers ($56) and gas up on the way home ($27). $83
12 p.m. — Naptime! While the two younger are sleeping and the oldest is on the tablet, I make baby food for the week. My basic recipe is one fruit + one roasted vegetable + one grain + one oil + one spice. I divvy them up into four-ounce portions that I send to daycare with the baby on Mondays. This week, baby gets pumpkin/banana/cinnamon, yam/red pepper/yellow curry, apple/cauliflower/fennel, sweet potato/coconut/cumin, and carrot/yam/ginger. When nap time is over, U. mows the lawn. We wait until the kids are up because they love this activity. It's an easy way to entertain them for an hour and get something productive done.
3:30 p.m. — We load the big kids up and walk them two blocks to my mom's house. She takes the older ones for two hours every Sunday so U. and I can run some errands or have some time together and not have to worry about making dinner. U. and I decide to have a beer and some nachos at the brewery. Baby eats all our guac. $32
5 p.m.— We pick the kids up and it sounds like they ate well and had a ball. Bath time, bedtime routine, storytime, and night night! When the younger two are down for the night, I iron shirts. The dry cleaners want $8/shirt and I just can't stomach that cost since U. goes through five collared shirts a week and I use two or three. So for now, I do this myself.
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Daily Total: $287.25

Day Six

6 a.m. — Breakfast time! Today, it's breakfast sandwiches with veggie sausage and a hodgepodge of fruit. Greek yogurt for the baby, as always. Clothes, shoes, car seat, baby food, out the door.
7 a.m. — I have court at 8 this morning, so I don't get to have my leisurely coffee and housework routine. I have an americano while I prep for court. $3
8 a.m.— This is the court calendar that will not end. As I suspect, I'm here all morning. I have to race to get changed and barely make it to barre.
12:50 p.m. — Grab a fresh OJ in the coffee shop before doing a quick refresh in the office bathroom. Then it's back to court for the afternoon calendar. $4.50
4 p.m. — The end of the month is this week, so I spend a couple of minutes paying law firm bills, coffee shop bills, and household bills. These are all recurring monthly expenses, so they're all accounted for in our budget.
5 p.m. — When I get home with the boys, I set up a kiddie pool and let them soak and eat popsicles while I make dinner. U. has to work late because he was stuck in court all day too and didn't finish a brief that's due tonight. The kids get quesadillas again because I already have the mixture made.
9 p.m. — U. gets home and we open a bottle of wine. I do a quick edit of his brief before e-filing it and we have a nice catch up before bed.
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Daily Total: $7.50

Day Seven

5:30 a.m. — It's the usual bottle and breakfast routine. The boys get oatmeal with blueberries and the resulting mess is epic.
7:30 a.m. — I make my circuit from daycare to coffee shop to home to office. I'm so glad I live in a small town where this loop takes under 30 minutes. $3
8 a.m. — U. and I are both in court all morning. He has a big trial coming up that is consuming a lot of his energy and attention, so when all but one of his cases is done, I offer to cover the last one for him so he can duck out. It's very handy to be up to speed on each other's cases so we can cover for the other when needed.
12 p.m. — I text U. and ask if he wants to meet me for lunch. Score! He does. We share a spring greens salad with chicken and a glass of rosé. $32
1 p.m. — Back to the office to start on a new brief. The writing work never ends around here. At 3:30, I take a break from brief writing to have our end-of-the-month meeting with our coffee shop manager. She reports to us about sales trends, new items we're trying out, upcoming events, and marketing campaigns, etc. And I report to her and U. about the financials. (The manager is the COO, I'm the CFO, and U. is the CEO.)
5 p.m. — It's really hot today, so when we get home and drop our stuff off, I walk the kids up to the corner store for an ice cream. The baby is envious. $4.50
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5:30 p.m. — U. is working late again tonight, so I put the baby down and send the kids downstairs to play in the playroom that is audible from the kitchen. Then I make kung pao lentils with rice, veggies, and cashews for our dinner. It's a big hit, and there's some leftover for the baby's lunch tomorrow. We read stories and then it's bedtime for the kids. Once they're down, I turn on HBO to watch an episode of Insecure while I fold laundry.
10 p.m. — U. is home! Long day for him. We have a brief catch-up before I head to bed. While in bed, I browse Amazon and put a couple things in our cart that are likely to go on sale on Prime day but I don't pull the trigger yet. I fall asleep hoping for a decent night's sleep.
Daily Total: $39.50
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