One Couple's Week In Memphis, TN, On A Joint $133,000 Salary

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Today, we're excited to share the Money Diary of a couple living in Memphis, TN. A. is a communications director at a nonprofit making $65,000, and her husband, C., is a public defender making $68,000 a year. They spend some of their money this week on drinks at a 34th birthday gathering for A. This is one of the diaries that we considered including in the Money Diaries book, but ultimately didn't make the final edit — it wasn't an easy decision. (You'll notice the diary was written in winter.) Tune in tomorrow for a follow-up Q&A with the couple. (Or, if you're a member of our Facebook group, you can get a sneak peek at the Q&A this evening.) Click here to read a Q&A with the couple.
A.'s Occupation: Director of Communications
Industry: Nonprofit
Age: 34
Location: Memphis, TN
Salary: $65,000
C.'s Occupation: Public Defender
Industry: County Government
Age: 36
Salary: $68,000
Total Monthly Combined Take-Home Pay: $7,633
Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $964
Utilities: $200+ (Our 1920s craftsman has many charms, but good insulation and energy efficient windows are not among them.)
Student Loan Payment: A. paid hers off. C.'s are technically $1,116/month, but are actually nothing. He went to a law school that pays them via their LRAP (loan repayment assistance program) for graduates who go into public service, which is AMAZING. After 10 years, the federal PSLF (public service loan forgiveness) program will kick in and clear the remaining balance of his debt.
Car Insurance: $118
Phone: $95
Internet: $80
Security System: $40
Sling: $22
Spotify: $16
Netflix: $11 (We trade our logins with friends who give us access to Hulu and HBO.)
The New York Times Subscription: $7.50
Donations: $40 to the ACLU, $30 to Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, $15 to NPR, and 1% of A.'s salary goes to the United Way
Horse Care: $100 (A. has a “pasture ornament” that her mom super generously takes care of back home. His expenses vary by season, but it generally shakes out to somewhere around $100/month.)
Savings: $1,000 (A. also has an account set up to put $1 in her savings every time she uses her debit card. Which is, admittedly, not that much…because we generally put everything on our credit card for the 1.5% cash back rewards).
Retirement: A. contributes 3% of her salary to her 401(k), and her employer contributes another 3%, plus they match her contribution 25 cents on the dollar, up to another 1% of her salary. A. also adds $50 to her Roth IRA monthly. C. puts $450 per month into a Roth IRA, and he has a government pension plan.

Day One (A.)

6 a.m. —Well lah dee frickin’ dah, it’s my birthday! 34, woof. I feel really old, but then I remember just how tight Helen Mirren is keeping it and take heart. Husb got me solid perfume from Le Labo, plus a bunch of fun smaller items from my favorite coffee shop/boutique here in Memphis, City & State.
8:15 a.m. — We head to work, late as usual. We only have one car. (We’d like to have a nicer one or a second vehicle, but we’ve paid this one off, so, meh…). We both work downtown, and our offices provide free parking, but usually I drop him off and park at mine.
10:30 a.m. — Breakfast: raw almonds from my desk drawer and a pear snagged from a Harry & David gift box in the kitchen.
12:30 p.m. — Home for lunch. It’s been obscenely cold here (for Memphis, at least) the past week, so I have to run the faucets every few hours. A couple of our friends have already had their pipes burst, and I am NOT tryna waste money on that. Or on lunch. I heat up a bowl of homemade beef stew that we made and froze awhile back, then follow it up with a couple spoonfuls of rainbow chip frosting out of the container.
3:30 p.m. — My office is all about staff appreciation and takes birthdays really seriously, which is awfully nice. They’re taking me out for brunch next week, but today my coworkers give me a pair of earrings, an awesome Babycreep planter, and a copy of The Elements of F*cking Style. They get me.
5:15 p.m. — Home to meet a neighbor who wants to buy a shirt I posted for sale on Nextdoor for $25. Now I am flush with caaaash (Jean-Ralphio style).
7 p.m. — The universe got me a bday present, too: the reboot premiere of my seminal childhood favorite, The X-Files. We’re TV-less (it got stolen in a break-in, and we just never replaced it) so a couple of us fans invade a friend’s house for a watch party. It’s an objectively bad episode (seriously, will someone just take this show away from Chris Carter already?), but I’m still totally jazzed to have new Mulder and Scully for my bday, plus bao buns and ramen from Lucky Cat. A friend treats, and I bring two bottles of cheap champagne I had at home.
Daily Total: $0

Day One (C.)

6:45 a.m. — It’s my wife’s birthday today, so when I wake up, I kiss her on the head and remind her that she’s the best. There are no presents to give her because I gave them to her yesterday. One of my gifts is not making her wait. I can assure you she appreciates this.
12 p.m. — I’ve been waiting in court for several hours to do a hearing on a case. I’m not sure when it’s going to start, so I go to the vending machine and buy some peanuts and a Diet Coke. I need a snack and a caffeine boost to get me through the next couple hours. $1.80
3:30 p.m. — My hearing doesn’t start until 2:30, and it lasts for an hour. I’m famished after it’s over. There’s a Subway inside the courthouse, which preys upon people like me who work inside the building. It’s just way too easy to eat there every day. They’ve got to be making Trump money there. $8.84
9:45 p.m. — Exhausted, I fall asleep reading The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind. Just some light bedtime tales about the Bush Administration's response to 9/11.
Daily Total: $10.64

Day Two (A.)

6:30 a.m. — Up after hitting snooze for an hour. Guzzle coffee and cross a few tasks off my Google Keep list for the day: closing a hard-to-reach gable window in the attic that blew open, changing the HVAC filter (gotta treat that furnace right when it’s single digits out), and taking trash and recycling out. Behold, the glamour of homeownership.
8:45 a.m. — A coworker brings me some eggcess from her backyard hens. Score!
10:45 a.m. — Not that hungry, but I eat three clementines to quell the coffee grumbles.
12:30 p.m. — I’m sitting in on a portion of another department’s winter retreat this afternoon, so I get free lunch from Farm Burger. My husband and I did Whole30 before the holidays, and we’re trying to keep it going on “regular days,” so I get the grass-fed beef patty with no bun, lots of veggies and an egg, plus sweet potato fries.
12:45 p.m. — Except then I accidentally buy a scoop of snickerdoodle ice cream. $3.48
5:30 p.m. — Once or twice a year, we do a six-week health challenge with our friends. It’s based on a Google spreadsheet (so friends all over the country can play) that allows everyone to set individual goals (for not only physical but also mental and spiritual health) and assign point values for accomplishing them (like one point per day for taking your birth control pill on time or 10 points for going to cardio barre). This time our theme is “parenting ourselves,” which was a line from that viral story about the unsexiness of self-care that was going around a few months ago. So people’s goals are things like “no screens in bed,” and “lay my clothes out the night before,” and “call my grandma.” Seeing everyone’s spreadsheet helps with accountability, and six weeks is long enough to help us form some new habits. We pay in $125 apiece, which creates a nice reward for the overall winner. $250
6 p.m. — Drive downtown to go for a run across the Big River Crossing bridge over to Arkansas, which turns out to be fairly terrifying at night — who knew? Then I pick my husband up from his after-work thing.
8 p.m. — I thaw out with my leftover ramen and bao, followed by a hot bath.
Daily Total: $253.48

Day Two (C.)

6:30 a.m. — I wake up and eat an Rxbar for breakfast. I tell myself that today is the day I’m going to start eating healthy again.
1:15 p.m. — Today is not the day I start eating healthy again. After a rough day in court, I order a foot-long steak-and-cheese sandwich from Subway. I think what’s on it could probably be categorized as meat only under the most generous of standards. $11.24
5:45 p.m. — I go to a local restaurant, Pearl’s Oyster House, for an event on criminal justice reform. A state senator tells me not to expect anything that could be properly described as “reform” any time in the near future. I fantasize leaving Tennessee as I eat a shrimp po' boy and fries. $17.98
10:30 p.m. — For the second night in a row, the War on Terror puts me to sleep.
Daily total: $29.22

Day Three (A.)

5:30 a.m. — Must. Get. Up. I try to do an hour of something productive most days before work: side hustle (freelance editing and writing for a magazine), volunteer work, contacting legislators, or online coursework. This morning I watch two lectures for the constitutional law class I’m doing via Coursera. I want to work for the ACLU when I grow up.
9:15 a.m. — Attempted clean eating day promptly ruined by oatmeal raisin cookie from gift basket in kitchen.
10:30 a.m. — If you’re wondering where most of our money goes each month, it’s into our pile o’ bricks. We bought a stupid big (1,900-square-feet, three-bedroom, two-bathroom) but beloved fixer-upper in 2015 for $140,000. Memphis is a great place for millennials to get their shit together and buy property. Long story short, this morning I follow up with a guy about some drywall and plaster work for our second bath, which is currently gutted down to the studs. He quotes me $425. I thank him and tell him I’m getting more quotes. I’m in a perpetual state of contractor meetings on various house projects, and I’m over it. I’ll probably just call him back in a couple days and go ahead and schedule the work.
11 a.m. — Apple and Rxbar from my desk stash.
2:30 p.m. — Finally get to head home for lunch (scrambled eggs, the saddest of the sad). I oughta go back to the office after, but being both an only child and childless, I generally get what I want, when I want it, and what I want right now is an elastic waistband, thank you very much.
5:30 p.m. — My husband hitches a ride home from a coworker and catches me in bed with our pit bull and an episode of Frasier.
8 p.m. —For dinner I make my go-to salad (arugula, fennel, and green apple with a homemade vinaigrette) and sauté a sweet potato with coconut oil. We revel in our introvertedness by doing basically nothing. I stay up late looking at Lonny home tours and reading some truly insane “Dear Prudence” columns on Slate.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three (C.)

6:15 a.m. —I wake up to our cat walking on my sideways body like she’s practicing her moves on the balance beam. Good morning to you, too, kitten.
12 p.m. —For lunch, a friend and I head to Bardog, a local tavern. I promise I don’t drink during lunch. I instead order a Diet Coke and a taco bowl. The term “taco bowl” is slightly misleading, as it’s a mix of taco ingredients served in something roughly the size of cement mixer. Nevertheless, I persist — and eat it all. $19.28
7:30 p.m. — Because I’ve spent so much money eating out this week, I eat dinner at home. Leftover beef stew. I think about how exciting my Friday nights are.
10 p.m. — We go to bed early. This week has taken its toll.
Daily Total: $19.28

Day Four (A.)

7:30 a.m. — Morning putter: coffee, candles, Weekend Edition, catching up on emails and thank you notes. Yesterday was payday for me, so I pay off last month’s credit card balance and then transfer $1,310 to savings. I make two eggs with garlicky kale and avocado and have some blueberries and mango. Then I get cracking on a press release for the social justice nonprofit that I serve on the board of. We have a board meeting at 10. Our anniversary dinner is coming up next weekend with Rosa Clemente as the keynote speaker.
12:15 p.m. — After the meeting, I run errands: pick up my prescription (free), get dog food ($57.98), and fill up on gas ($24.20). $82.18
1 p.m. — My last new piece of clothing arrives (hopefully, if I can stick to my no-shopping goal) for my upcoming trip to Norway! The low cost of living here allows us to travel pretty frequently, and I will totally choose mountains and snow over a tropical vacation any day, so three girlfriends and I are doing the Lofoten Islands and Tromsø next month… figured we should visit the Arctic Circle while it still exists.
1:30 p.m. — I make a loaf of pumpkin bread, then snuggle up with our pit bull and kitten (yep, they totally spoon) for a long winter’s nap. (We have a corgi too, but he harrumphs around a lot about having his own sleeping space.)
5:30 p.m. — Go for a run, then take my reward in the form of several fingers of Bulleit. Red beans and rice over a nice bed of greens for dinner.
9 p.m. — We head to a cocktail bar in our neighborhood for my belated birthday gathering. The turnout is way more than I expected — aw, shucks! We moved here knowing no one, and Memphis still doesn’t really feel like home, tbh. But I’m catching feelings looking around the table and seeing so many great people I’ve met over the past few years.
1:15 a.m. — We’d intended to go dancing next at the Mollie Fontaine, this three-story Victorian mansion with a DJ in the stairwell, but we got too comfy at the bar. By the time everyone’s paid, we’re ready to go home, because — oldness. I have four very stiff cocktails but only have to pay for two. $28.40
Daily Total: $110.58

Day Four (C.)

5:30 a.m. — I wake up early and let the dogs out. After feeding all of them, I go back to sleep.
10:30 a.m. — Wake back up. Even though I’ve gotten roughly 12 hours of sleep, you can tell from my face that I clearly need more. My wife comments on this.
12:30 p.m. — While I’m out running errands, I stop and eat lunch at City Market, a grocery store and deli in the Cooper-Young area. $12.53
1 p.m. — I’m in the process of organizing and redecorating my office. For some reason, I decided to buy a gigantic dry erase board from OfficeMax, a store that apparently still exists. $61.63
1:15 p.m. — I go to my office and hang up my dry erase board, as well as some framed artwork. I sort through my files and throw out things I don’t need while listening to some podcasts. Then I end up doing some actual work, calling clients and shooting off emails, and eventually leave at around 6 p.m.
9 p.m. — My wife and I go to Alchemy, a local restaurant, for her birthday party. The turnout is great — she’s a very popular person. Several of us hang out there until after midnight, and I drink far, far too much. I’m pretty sure they undercharge me, but I don’t say anything. $36
Daily Total: $110.16

Day Five (A.)

10 a.m. — Ah, the Sabbath, ye olde day of rest. I do about an hour of work to prep for tomorrow and I finish my Coursera lectures for the week, but in general we languish the day away as hungover slugs. I read a little (The Assassination of Fred Hampton), watch Lady Macbeth ($5.99) and a documentary about Lofoten ($3.99) on Amazon, and binge several episodes of Northern Exposure while perusing the Airbnb offerings in Denali National Park. $9.98
8:30 p.m. — I’m reading about the activists who are accompanying celebrities to the #TimesUp Golden Globes, and I see that Rosa Clemente is there as Susan Sarandon’s date! It’s so cool (and kind of surreal) to see Access Hollywood running a six-minute interview with a female activist about things of substance. So excited to have Rosa here next weekend!
Daily Total: $9.98

Day Five (C.)

6 a.m. — I get up early, and although I don’t feel too hungover, I clearly need some more sleep. I watch Will & Grace reruns on the couch until I pass out.
12:45 p.m. — Like any self-respecting person in his mid-30s, I wake up well after noon. I then convince my wife that I need another shrimp po' boy and that she needs something equally as unhealthy. We order from the Soul Fish Cafe. $39.55
1:30 p.m. — Remember when I said I wasn’t that hungover? Inaccurate. After stuffing my face with fried food, I fall asleep again.
5:45 p.m. — I wake up groggy, but feeling somewhat better.
12:15 a.m. — Because I accomplished absolutely nothing today, I have trouble getting to sleep. Work should be awesome tomorrow.
Daily Total: $39.55

Day Six (A.)

5:30 a.m. — Bring it on, Monday. I make coffee and feed the menagerie before turning the lights back off, lighting a candle, and opening my laptop. I like to work at my dining room table in the dark quiet and just letting the day gradually get light around me. I have lots to prep for a morning meeting with our CEO and VPs, and I don’t stop in time to get ready properly, which makes for a comically bad hair day.
9:30 a.m. — I have a cold-pressed beet/carrot/cuke juice from Aldi. BTW, if you’re not shopping at Aldi, WTH is wrong with you? They have awesome organic and gluten-free stuff, super produce, and are so effing cheap. I’m positively gleeful about every trip to Aldi. We don’t have a Trader Joe’s in Memphis, though they keep telling us it’s coming…
11 a.m. — Guhhh, this day is bananas. I’m swamped at work and swamped at home, and my former boss messages me to ask if I’ll take some more stories to freelance edit by Friday… I say yes, because it’s $35 an hour, and that’s about what an espresso costs in Norway. Meanwhile, brekkie consists of some raw mixed nuts and raisins while I maniacally cut and paste layout concepts for our annual report. My desk has that “serial killer crafting ransom note” je ne sais quoi quality to it.
12:45 p.m. — I feel like I should keep going and work through lunch, but today’s the first day of our health challenge, and I suspect I should step away for a moment of zen. I head home, eat a salad and some clementines, and listen to my daily podcast from the NYT.
4 p.m. — Pop over to our graphic designer’s office downtown to walk him through my changes. I have to park in a garage, but they validate.
5:30 p.m. — Go for a run really quick.
7 p.m. — Our friend ordered Zaxby’s catering for the NCAA football championship game, and I am going ALL IN on the Buffalo fingers and ranch.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six (C.)

7:15 a.m. — I sleep in. I’m still a little foggy from Saturday night, and not sleeping much didn’t help. Bouncing back from a hangover used to be easier. Luckily, I don’t have much to do today.
9 a.m. — I get a bag of trail mix from the vending machine. It looks healthy-ish. There’s nuts in it. $.90
11:45 a.m. — This courthouse Subway is a trap that I continue to fall into. $11.24
5:15 p.m. — My wife and I carpool to work, so we have to leave home and work at the same time. Today, I wanted to leave at 2:15, but my wife is a good employee. We both put in a full day.
7 p.m. — We go to a friend’s house to watch the college football championship game. Because we’re in the South, the party is catered by Zaxby’s. Fried food and football for everyone. I Venmo our host. $20
12 a.m. — Fuck Alabama.
Daily Total: $32.14

Day Seven (A.)

6:45 a.m. — Didn’t get to bed until midnight, and didn’t sleep well. My body also has a lot to say about me not treating it like a temple last night.
10 a.m. — Rxbar and clementines.
12:20 p.m. — I’ve got a meeting sandwich today and don’t have time to run home for lunch, but the cupboard is bare there anyway. I pop over to the deli on Mud Island and get the baked tilapia with Brussels sprouts and zucchini, plus a green juice for a visiting consultant who says she’ll get me back, but doesn’t. $13.57
5:30 p.m. —I’m a raging hangry monster by the time we get home, so I immediately go for the most satiating thing in the house: a big potato, chopped up and sautéed with some kale, bell pepper, and shallots. Apple and raisins for dessert.
7:30 p.m. — I am le tired. My husband does the grocery shopping, praised be, which means I can take a hot bath, get in bed, and fall asleep by 9.
Daily Total: $13.57

Day Seven (C.)

6:30 a.m. — Finally recovered from Saturday night, I wake up with a purpose: to not eat Subway today.
2 p.m. — I walk to Cafe Keough, a coffee shop and restaurant downtown, and order a smoked salmon salad to go. Mission Accomplished. $12.31
4:30 p.m. — Now it’s my wife who wants to leave work early. I oblige.
6 p.m. — I go to Aldi and then Kroger to do the grocery shopping for the week. Everything I buy is healthy — fruits, greens, and chicken. All the things I don’t want to eat. $133.67
8 p.m. — I make eggs and fruit for dinner. I’m pleased I haven’t completely imploded. Hoping to carry this momentum into tomorrow. I’m hopeful, but not promising anything. I’m a lawyer, so I’m careful.
Daily Total: $145.98
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