A Week In Cedar Park, TX, On A $73,000 Salary

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Today: a nurse consultant working in government who makes $73,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on eggs. Click here for a follow-up interview with the OP.
Occupation: Nurse Consultant
Industry: Government
Age: 36
Location: Cedar Park, TX
Salary: $73,000
Paycheck Amount (Monthly): $4,700
Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,480 for our three-bedroom home. (I live with my wife and our 18-year-old son.)
Student Loan Payment: $248 (I am on IBR, on track for PSLF.)
Car Payment: $200
Car Insurance: $150
Netflix: $11.80
Cell Phones: $110
Water, Gas & Electricity: $74, $50, and $120
Internet: $52
Healthcare: $1,800 for two and a half months of COBRA (which is terrible and inefficient). When my new health insurance kicks in, my employer will pay 100%, and dental is $38 a month for the three of us, pre-tax.
Life Insurance: $20
Pension: $580 (This is taken out pre-tax and matched 100%.)
Savings: Whatever is left! We have about $10,000 saved.
Annual Expenses
Gym Membership: $200 (for my wife and I)

Day One

9 a.m. — It's finally not raining outside, so I spend the morning putting up Halloween decorations! We bought our first home earlier this year, and the novelty of truly being home owners hasn't worn off yet. My wife was in the military, so we were able to get a VA loan and not have to save up for a down payment. If we'd had to have one, I'm not sure we could've bought a home. It's a fixer-upper, and the fixer-upper-ing is a process. Sometimes I get frustrated with wanting certain things changed NOW, but I love our house and our ability to even have a house!
12 p.m. — My wife spends most of the day studying. She's back in school to follow her dream of physical therapy. She's able to form such great bonds with anyone she meets, so she's going to be SO amazing at it. I am eager to get to see her graduate and get started! She put me through nursing school, so now it's my turn. We'd anticipated she'd still be working a few times a month, but the program is strenuous enough that we decided she should just focus on school right now. This has meant tightening down on spending even more. Our son isn't working right now either because he needs to focus on college applications and a busy marching band season. He is very involved in band, and even though it's expensive, it's worth every penny! We wouldn't make him pay his own expenses, obviously, but he's got an intense Chick-fil-A habit he can no longer finance. So it's three people, two dogs, one income.
6 p.m. — We are going to a friend's house for a triple date. We've been a little too hermit-like lately, so we're really excited to go see them. We all used to work together, and have now all moved on, but have kept up the friendship. It's rare for six people to all get along so well! I have a freakout where I hate all my clothes, so I send my wife to pick up some items to bring with us while I ransack my closet. She gets chips, dip, and a cake sampler. $15.99
3 a.m. — We have a blast with our friends! Initially we only planned to stay til 11 p.m. That was a laughable goal, and we finally leave at about 2:30 a.m., after much talking, laughing, and a living room dance party. We had burgers earlier, and my tipsy self sure would love some Taco Cabana, but my wife gently discourages me. My wife didn't drink, so she drives us home. When we get there, our son is playing his instrument in the living room because “the acoustics are better.” He teases us for staying out so late, and I'm asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.
Daily Total: $15.99

Day Two

10 a.m. — I rarely drink or stay up so late, so I am moving slow this morning! My wife goes out to a study group and my son is sleeping like teenagers do, so I blob around the house a bit, cleaning and getting ready for the week ahead. I also spend a good amount of time laying around with our dogs, reading. I recently found Sharp Objects, a book I'd been wanting to read, in a Little Free Library while walking my dog, and every time I pick it up it feels like a little miracle to have found the book I wanted for free! I finish the book and pick out a few of my own to put into the library next time I pass by.
12 p.m. — When my wife gets back, we meal plan and go for groceries. We mostly stick to our list and get potatoes, yogurt, bread, milk, juice, broccoli, clementines, onions, salad fixings, kolaches for our son's breakfast, water for our fish bowl, chicken broth, beans, salsa, tortillas, soy sauce, and eggs to supplement what we already have. I always buy meat on sale and just freeze it, and we plan around what's available in our stash. We use coupons, sales, and get almost everything store brand. We are lucky to live in Texas and have HEB as our default store. They are really killing it with their store brand products! My son wrote cookies on the list, so I grab a package of slice-and-bake cookies that are on sale. I love baking, but it doesn't go well with my diabetes, so I rarely do it. $120.16
6 p.m. — I make breakfast for dinner with eggs, bacon, and pancakes since it's cheap and fun and uses food we already have. The hungry teen is quite satisfied by it, and we eat dinner together and talk, mainly about band and college plans — the two things we're obsessed with right now. My son makes the cookies, and they're pretty good! Not the healthiest dinner, but a good family time. I am already anxious about our upcoming empty nest, so I want as much family time as possible.
9 p.m. — I love sleeping so much. I try and say prayers and gratitude every night, but nearly always fall asleep mid-thought. I suppose I can be thankful that I'm so good at sleeping.
Daily Total: $120.16

Day Three

5:30 a.m. — I wake up and let out one dog. Regardless of the hour, this pup is always excited about waking humans, and I love her morning enthusiasm. She's a rescue, and it feels like the stars aligned for us to find one another. (Our other dog is a snuggler and will sleep until my wife gets up.) My work morning routine is pretty simple. I lay out my clothes and morning medicines the night before. Then I brush my teeth, brush my hair, and put on eye makeup and some concealer. Have some black coffee and I'm off to work.
7 a.m. — I recently accepted a job with the government, and it's a big change of pace from having worked in hospitals previously. I used to work three 12-hour shifts, plus PRN shifts when I wanted more money, but now I work a standard schedule at a desk job. I love my new job, but it is tough to give up the easy ability to pick up shifts. However, I changed jobs because work was dominating my life and taking a toll on my health, so I needed to give that up! Plus, I have a higher salary now and the benefits for government work are pretty top-notch!
10 a.m. — No meetings today, so I spend my day moving between various projects. I am a program and policy nurse with no direct patient care, but impact on people across the state. I take a lot of pride in being a nurse!
11:30 p.m. — Lunch is some leftover black beans and half a sweet potato. I make big batches of beans in the Crock-Pot and then freeze them to have easy lunches.
3:30 p.m. — I head to the pathology lab to get blood drawn for the tests for my specialist appointments every three months. I try not to be too “bossy nurse” when the phlebotomist seems to be struggling with my veins. I then call my mail-order prescription company to make sure my insulin will arrive on time; there have been some snags since I had to sign up for COBRA to cover the time before my new benefits kick in. The COBRA premiums are very expensive and definitely not something I wanted to have to pay for, but I have type 1 diabetes and healthcare just isn't optional. When I start to think of all the money, time, and emotional energy spent on keeping this defective body running, I have to make a conscious effort to flip my thinking and be grateful that this disease isn't the death sentence it used to be.
4 p.m. — My wife shows me a computer app she bought for school to help with muscles and movements ($13.52). She got it half-off after writing to the company, and I praise her skills. I am the bargain-hunter/haggler in the relationship, but I think I've rubbed off on her! $13.52
6 p.m. — I make chili for dinner, along with some of the sourdough bread and sautéed green beans. Our son is out with his band friends, so my wife and I eat together and talk about our days.
Daily Total: $13.52

Day Four

11:30 a.m. — Lunch is a sandwich with some low-carb bread I got on sale a week ago and natural peanut butter, as well as some leftover broccoli with Louisiana hot sauce that I'm eating solely to have a vegetable. The bread is not my favorite. I fantasize about buying a Coke Zero from the café in my office, but part of saving has been cutting out unnecessary items, like Cokes and sparkling water. It should be considered a win-win that water is free and the best for us to drink!
3:30 p.m. — I leave work in the rain and make a deal with myself that if it's not raining by my house, I'll go to the gym. My wife and I usually meet there when I get off work, and that helps with my motivation, but she's at home studying. I was a little concerned about transitioning from the active hospital world to a desk job, so we joined our city's rec center a few months back. I thought I was an “at home” workout person, but I've found that I exercise more now that I have the gym to go to. I suppose it's much harder to slack off when there's just the one thing to do when I walk in that door! Plus I get to watch HGTV while I work out!
5:30 p.m. — I get home and my son is getting ready for his senior portraits. He sure is handsome! I give him my credit card for the $30 fee, and make dorky jokes for him to think of later and do his “real smile, not your picture smile!” I make baked potato soup in the Crock-Pot and toast some sourdough bread. I am trying to have meatless meals a few nights a week to save money. $30
7 p.m. — I convince my wife to watch Dancing Queen on Netflix with me, as it combines so many of my loves: drag queens, elaborate costumes, competitive reality show drama, and the unique pageantry of Texan girlhood. We snuggle and talk and then she goes back to her office. Our son gets home and we visit for a bit. I am trying to nag him less since it's his last year at home, and instead just tell him that he can choose to clean his room or be grounded. I haven't always been the most firm mom, so I'm really lucky he's turned out so well!
Daily Total: $30

Day Five

10 a.m. — I get a notice that someone has made an offer on an item I have up for sale on eBay. It's lower than I want, but I haven't had much interest in this item and actual money is better than holding out for a few dollars more. I accept the offer for $43. I will sell nearly anything on eBay, and currently have auctions up for some vintage purses, a few watches, and some scrubs. My “job” while in nursing school was selling off my entire extensive childhood collection of original American Girl items. I played the heck out of them, but also carefully and lovingly wrapped them up in their original packaging, and that girlhood fastidiousness paid off! eBay money is never guaranteed though, so it's obviously inconsistent and I don't rely on it for anything more than extras.
11 a.m. — I cancel a hair appointment I made for this weekend and reschedule it for next month, when there will be more money available. Then I go to the bathroom in my office and convince myself my hair looks fine! My skin is another story though: I've been trying not to buy moisturizer, and instead use a concoction of regular lotion and sunscreen, and my skin looks dry. Considering I don't spend money on any other beauty expenses, I think I can call my experiment a fail and just buy the dang moisturizer.
11:30 a.m. — Lunch is baked potato soup, which got much thicker overnight.
1:15 p.m. — Wifey calls and I go for my afternoon walk while we're on the phone. I make sure to walk for at least 15 minutes twice a day while at work, to make up for the steps I lose not working on a busy hospital unit. I hit my 10,000 step goal every day! My wife is kind of glum about a test she took, and I try and be her cheerleader and help her keep things in perspective. We laugh about how the baked potato soup was essentially mashed potatoes but was still delicious!
6 p.m. — Dinner is leftovers. I managed to master a lot of skills when I became a surprise mama at a young age, but cooking healthy nightly dinners is not one that comes naturally to me. My childhood was lots of Southern comfort food, but we can't eat that way all the time!
7 p.m. — I do laundry and hang dry my clothes. I want them to last as long as possible. Prior to this job, I only wore scrubs to work. They could be identical three days in a row, and that was normal. When I got this job, I picked up a day at my PRN job in a ritzy, lake-front suburb so I could hit their thrift stores for rich people castoffs. I got lots of good quality, attractive pieces. I've recently been selected as the leader of my team, so I definitely want to look professional!
8:30 p.m. — My wife inserts the sensor for my continuous glucose monitor in the back of my arm. I joke that we can never get divorced, because who would do this for me? I have a state of the art insulin pump that's semi-autonomous and requires a weekly sensor change, as well as infusion set changes every three days. The equipment of diabetes is costly and not environmentally friendly, but I have no choice in the matter! As usual, since we find anything funny, the process gets us laughing, and we collapse into bed.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

5:30 a.m. — Wake up to a letter my son has left on the kitchen table. He was recently named a National Hispanic Scholar, and it's his first scholarship offer. It's a nice number to a school already on his radar, and I excitedly wake my wife up! Our college plan for him has included a college fund established when he was a baby, the credit hours my wife earned through the Hazlewood Act for being a Texas veteran, and then just patchworking the rest of it together. I took out a lot of student loans in order to be able to go to school and take care of him, and I don't want him to have any loans if we can avoid it. This is exciting stuff! During MY senior year, I was pregnant with him and barely scraping by to graduate. This kid is beyond my wildest dreams!
9:45 a.m. — I leave work to go to a doctor's appointment. I love that my work has sick leave. Getting sick or going to health appointments don't affect our vacation leave at all, so people are more likely to get preventive care or to keep their contagious selves home when needed! I pay a $30 copay that will be reimbursed by my HSA (it currently has $400 in it). I tell my doctor about my mail order issues and she gives me two vials of insulin. It is not lost on me that people in the US have literally died for lack of the medicine she just casually passed me for free. $30
11:30 a.m. — Lunch is more leftover soup, with chicken broth added in so it's not so thick. I eat outside in a courtyard every day and really enjoy getting to see trees while I eat and listen to true crime podcasts.
1:15 p.m. — Wifey calls me to say that she actually did well on that test she was worried about! I throw her a verbal party, and then we make plans to meet at the gym after work.
4 p.m. — It's really nice out, so my wife surprises me and brings our dog up to the gym so we can exercise outside on the trails around the pond and spend some time together. She really is my very best friend. Later she talks to her mom on the phone and, although I don't understand all of their rapid-fire Spanish, I hear her tell her mom what a supportive partner I am.
6 p.m. — Dinner is parmesan-crusted chicken with spinach, feta, pecan, and cranberry salad. Dessert is Siggi's triple cream yogurt and I marvel at its deliciousness at least three times. Wifey and I start a new season of the delightful The Great British Baking Show and pick our teams. (I actually already accidentally know who wins, but I don't tell her this, nor do I pick that person for my team.)
7:30 p.m. — Get an email requesting money for band goody bags and Homecoming mums. I give my son $20 towards it, and hope that's enough. $20
Daily Total: $50

Day Seven

7 a.m. — It's Friday! They recently installed my standing desk, and it is everything. I spend my mornings bopping in place while catching up on emails.
10 a.m. — I have a good meeting with my boss, a nice walk and talk with a colleague, and a little downtime that I spend going through boxes of papers left by my predecessor. I can't stand clutter or printing things, and it kills me when I see she actually printed large spreadsheets, as if she was what, going to tape them all up along a wall in her office in order to look at them?!
3:30 p.m. — I call my mom to check in on her and my dad. My mom beat cancer this year and I always have to make sure she's resting. She cares for my four nieces and nephews and also has a small farm of horses, llamas, goats, chickens, and donkeys, so it's easy for her to forget to take time for herself!
7 p.m. — Normally we'd go to the football game tonight, but there isn't one this week. I sold two eBay items for $100 total, so I ask my wife if she wants to get a little dinner, and we pick up wings! We signed up to bring snacks for my son's section of the band after practice. We pick up five pizzas from the Little Caesars near his school and go park out by the band hall. The kids are such a joy — so polite and appreciative! Kids have always liked us because we're younger and gayer than most of their parents. I'm not worried about this next generation, y'all! $45.91
8 p.m. — We swing by a friend's house to visit and play with her puppy. She's cleaning out her closet and gives me three pairs of pants and two pairs of boots, yay! We come home for more British Baking and chat with our son when he comes home. I round up packing supplies for my eBay sales. I am pretty proud of how we manage on one salary right now, and have for most of our marriage. When my wife is working full-time as well, we'll feel like millionaires!
Daily Total: $45.91
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