A Week In Philadelphia, PA, On A $174,000 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: a part-time medical laboratory scientist working in healthcare who has a $174,000 joint income and spends some of her money this week on baby formula.
Occupation: Part-Time Medical Laboratory Scientist
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 23
Location: Philadelphia, PA
My Salary: $33,000 (My base salary is $28 an hour. I work on a per-diem basis, so my hours vary greatly. Last year, I worked full-time and made $65,000. This year I'm working part-time because I recently had a baby.)
My Husband's Salary: $141,000 ($121,800 plus bonus)
Net Worth: $64,760 (Husband's 401(k): $62,000, my 403(b): $6,512, Roth IRA: $2,838, our son's 529: $800, savings: $13,000, checking account: $3,000, value of my car: $21,000, value of my husband's car: $9,000, minus debt)
Debt: $53,390 ($27,000 student loans, $20,390 car loan, $6,000 personal loan)
My Paycheck Amount: Varies
My Husband's Paycheck Amount: (2x/month): $2,376
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,525 (for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house I share with my husband, K., our infant son, L., and three cats)
Utilities: $150
Internet: $79.99
Personal Loan: $265
Car Loan: $330.10
Student Loan: $0 (I'm not currently making payments.)
New York Times Subscription: $4
Spotify: $13.99
Phone: $120 (for both our phones)
Health Insurance: $636.88
Savings: $1,200

Semi-Annual Expenses:
Car Insurance: $1,315 (comprehensive coverage for two cars)


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 went to college, and I was regarded as a bright kid, so I was expected to go. My mom didn't have any money whatsoever, so I went to the state university on various scholarships that paid for all of my room and board, plus a big chunk of tuition. I also got the full Pell Grant. My senior year, I was determined to be an independent student. I took out the full amount of federal loans each year. I tried to study something I knew would have a good return on investment. I worked a couple of part-time jobs in college just for groceries because my scholarships and loans covered everything else.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
All of our conversations were based on fear — fear of becoming homeless, mainly. I developed a very hand-to-mouth mindset as a result. My parents had a messy divorce. My family went from being wealthy to being on food stamps around the time I was born. After my dad got clean, he owed a lot of back child support, most of which we never saw. We were always in survival mode. We sometimes did not have enough food to eat or we'd have to spend winter nights in friends' houses because we didn't always have heat or running water. Things got better when I was in high school and our original house sold, but I'm traumatized. My family taught me to resent people with more privilege, and it took a lot of unlearning to let go of that when I met my husband, who comes from a far more privileged background.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
Besides dog walking and babysitting, I worked fast food starting at age 15. I got the job so I could start saving up for college and pay for my phone bill and some of my own groceries. I worked there through half of college as well. In college, I did a lot of random jobs: chemistry TA for ELL students, catering, figure modeling (got practically disowned for this one, not joking even a little), call centers, and summer camp counseling (came with housing). My first job out of college was at a trauma center in a rough area, on night shift. It made me tough, I'll put it that way.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes, existentially so.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes. I worry that we don't save enough. I'm frustrated that healthcare and childcare are so expensive. I wish my maternity leave was paid. The US is so hostile to families. My husband and I are working on getting our son dual citizenship (my husband has EU citizenship and grew up abroad) so that we can move somewhere more friendly when it's time to have another baby.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
At age 19, when I left home for good. I was essentially homeless when school wasn't in session, but I don't regret leaving home early at all. I don't have much of a safety net besides my husband. I think his parents would be willing to help if we were in dire straits, but I can't imagine ever asking them to.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
No, but my MIL watches our son so I can work. That's more valuable to me than anything.
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Day One

7:45 a.m. — I'm woken up by my three-month-old son, L. I change his diaper, give him a bottle, and put him back down. He does not usually sleep this late! I take a shower and have a cup of iced coffee before heading to my doctor's appointment.
10 a.m. — My doctor's visit is all done (covered by insurance). I have to stop and get bloodwork done, so I go to the laboratory. After my blood is collected, I realize I have not eaten, so I get a breakfast sandwich from the coffee shop next door. $3.07
2 p.m. — I have another mug of iced coffee. I notice that the cleaning service we used for a move-out clean at our last apartment charged my card instead of refunding me. The cleaning was done so poorly that our landlord docked us on our inspection. I'll have to call them. L. wakes up screaming as soon as I start my call, so I fetch him a bottle. K. tells me he emailed our landlord to tell him he can show the house whenever. We just moved last month, but we're moving again. Someone broke into our current place the night before we moved in, and we found them and had to call the police. We decided to break our lease (with pretty lenient terms) and move somewhere less soul-sucking. We found a small but cute apartment in a much better location and are moving next month. Our last month of rent here is paid already. It's kind of an expensive process, but it'll be worth it to live somewhere more friendly and walkable. And safer, hopefully.
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4:30 p.m. — L. has been playing, snacking, and sleeping for the past couple of hours. I poach an egg to go with my Maruchan Instant Lunch. Yes, I'm embarrassed by how often we eat these; having a baby is hard! I have to share my chair with our 20-pound cat.
6:30 p.m. — We go for a walk on the path by the river, then go to Wegmans. K. hasn't eaten yet, so he buys a salad and a water bottle. We also buy kale, apples, bananas, chocolate, and Vaseline. $32.68
9 p.m. — L. hangs out on his play mat, and K. folds laundry while I snack on Swedish fish. L. has a bottle and a story, then falls asleep.
Daily Total: $35.75

Day Two

7 a.m. — L. wakes up and has a change and a bottle, and we go back to bed.
10 a.m. — I finally get up, have iced coffee and an apple with a giant glob of peanut butter, and do some chores.
2 p.m. — The weather is gross, so I take L. for a walk at our local mega mall. I get him a summer hat and myself some hair clips. I resist the urge to buy bubble tea or a snack while there. $6.59
5 p.m. — We're home and hungry. K. buys himself a quesadilla from Wawa and brings home butter. I have brown rice with butter and nutritional yeast because my period has me feeling like hot garbage. I spill tea all over the bed. L. has a bath and farts himself to sleep. $11.49
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Daily Total: $18.08

Day Three

6:45 a.m. — L. wakes up and has his usual breakfast. We snug and then both go back to bed.
10 a.m. — I wake up and decide iced coffee from the fridge just won't do, so K. goes to Wawa for coffee and breakfast. We have one within walking distance. $10.72
10:45 p.m. — I text my MIL and ask if there's anything she wants me to get for her from Trader Joe's. She's coming to stay with us, so I can work. She asks for multigrain bread. L. farts profusely and drinks a giant bottle. I need to get formula today, but it's been hard to track down in stores lately. Spooky.
12 p.m. — I send K. some weird car listings I find online. We are both enthusiasts. My last car was a total money pit, but we loved it.
2 p.m. — I'm finally organized enough to leave the house. L. and I go to TJ's, where we buy leeks, frozen dinners, kitchari, and bread. At Target, I buy pretzels and chocolate. I couldn't find formula. L. poops on the backseat while I change him. $41.79
6:30 p.m. — Home. I cook mujadara with leeks and greens. Our cats take over the TJ's bags. K. goes out to Walmart and buys water because our house's water is apparently not safe for the baby to drink. Another good reason to move. He also buys formula and Hot Wheels. $69.79
Daily Total: $122.30
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Day Four

9 a.m. — I just put L. down for his morning nap when I get a call that I'm supposed to work the day shift today, not the evening shift. Miscommunication. I go in, but stop for snacks first. $7.50
11 a.m. — Work is uneventful. I take a break and have my apple slices with cheese. My afternoon is occupied by a body fluid workup, and I pride myself on how gorgeous my stained slides turned out. My boss sometimes saves my slides for students and trainees to work with.
5 p.m. — Rainy drive home. We have homemade vegetable soup and store-bought ice cream. Cozy night in with MIL.
Daily Total: $7.50

Day Five

6:45 a.m. — Wake up and snuggle L. before I shower and leave for work. As I'm about to put my car in reverse, my neighbor walks up to my car and tells me she's backed into my husband's car. I call him, he wakes up and comes downstairs to talk to her. Her insurance is lapsed, but we have comprehensive coverage and uninsured/underinsured coverage, even though my husband's car is older. I'm fuming, but he's more level-headed. He recently bought that car, too. It was pretty much immaculately maintained before this, and we have every single service record on the car since it was new, which was 2002, and it's a rare model. I stop for gas and coffee and snacks on my way in to work. $42.79
11 a.m. — My workday is typical. I have a student, but I know she has nasty exams coming up, so I give her the afternoon to study and write essays. K. and I both got paid today, plus we got our tax refunds. But we owe state taxes, so that eats up all of our federal refund. Oh well.
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3:30 p.m. — I drive home, and it's beautiful out. K. makes mushroom and tofu stir-fry, and we vent to MIL about our sketchy neighbors.
6:30 p.m. — MIL leaves, K. and L. and I go for a walk and get ice cream. When we get home, L. has a bath. $10
Daily Total: $52.79

Day Six

6:30 a.m. — L. wakes up, has a bottle, plays, and falls asleep again. K. gets breakfast and coffee for both of us from Wawa. $15
11 a.m. — We go for a walk, but it's almost p.m. by the time we manage to get L. out of the house. He eats twice, wants to play, and spits up on himself twice. After our walk, we go to Target for baby socks, a chew toy, and chocolate. $24.97
4:30 p.m. — K. gets Halal Guys on the way home. $16
4:47 p.m. — I bite the bullet and buy touch-up paint for my car. I am meticulous about maintenance, and I hate that little scratches are showing up. I think we have potentially more than one careless neighbor. Sad purchase. $17.34
6 p.m. — We get home. I have leftover mujadara, and I'm sad it's gone. K. and I both have chocolate. L, of course, has a bottle, and falls asleep. K. and I talk about car stuff. We agree to turn over all of the service records on his car in hopes that the insurance company will include them in their valuation. I believe we would never be able to find another example of that particular car as clean as his, and we'll be devastated if it's totaled out. It looks like a pretty sizeable amount of damage, and the neighbor must have been backing out at speed to inflict it.
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Daily Total: $73.31

Day Seven

6:30 a.m. — K. wakes up with L. I go to Wegmans and buy whipped cream and blackberries. I install my dash cam when I get home — I figure it's about time. $7.39
10 a.m. — I get K. coffee. Our landlord lets us know he wants to show the house today, so we do some minor tidying up. $2.07
12 p.m. — We meet up with our old neighbors and have waffles, berries, whipped cream, and bacon. L. has fun being Social Baby, and we warn our neighbors that the landlord likes to find asinine reasons to keep security deposits, and he's done so to all of his tenants that we know of, including us.
2 p.m. — K., L., and I have bubble tea because we can't go back to our house yet without running into a bunch of people. The showing is a success, apparently. $11
5 p.m. — Home. I heat up leftover stir-fry for K. and kitchari for me, and fry some eggs. Afterwards, we eat, like, a lot of chocolate, and L. is fussy.
Daily Total: $20.46
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