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A Week In NYC Suburbs On A $550,000 Joint Income

Photo: Dunkin Donuts.
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 physician who has a joint income of $550,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on donuts.
Occupation: Physician
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 34
Location: NYC suburbs
My Salary: $220,000
My Husband's Salary: $330,000
Net Worth: $1.16 million (401(k): $190,000, 403(b): $80,000 (from residency), HYSA: $30,000, Roth IRA: $40,000, brokerage: $80,000, husband's accounts: $300,000, home value: $1.1 million, minus mortgage).
Debt: $660,000 left of our $800,000 mortgage.
My Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $4,200
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $2,600
Lawn Maintenance: $120
Water: $50
Life/Disability Insurance: $400
Cell Phone: My husband's parents pay. They have all their kids included on their plan.
Electricity: $400-$600 (my in-laws live with us part-time, they like the house warm).
Tithe/Donations: 10% of our monthly take-home.
Sports/Music Lessons: $650 (for our kids).
Student Loans: $0 (I had $70,000, which my in-laws generously paid off).
Savings: I aim to put about $2,000-$3,000 a month in a brokerage account and $1,200 in our HYSA. I was bad about saving up until a few months ago and have been trying to become more financially wise and focus on long-term goals.
Netflix: $10
FreshDirect: $12
Costco Membership: $10
Amazon: $15
Disney+: $11
Blinkist: $7
Wall Street Journal: $4
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?
My mom was a big influence on my decision to go to college. She encouraged me to pursue a medical degree due to job stability and to choose a state school that would give me a full-ride scholarship at a time when my parents' combined income was high enough to disqualify us from need-based loans. Instead of choosing an Ivy League degree which would involve taking out loans, I am grateful she encouraged me to take a different path. Undergrad was paid for fully by scholarships and my parents were able to help me cover a majority of my in-state medical school tuition. I had about $70,000 in loans after graduating from medical school.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Yes, absolutely. My parents made about $40,000 a year for most of my childhood and there were times when we would go to the food bank to get canned goods. My dad was bad with money and a big spender. He and my mom would get into fights about saving and spending. When I was in high school, my mom got a slightly higher paying job. We had a few good years where “fancier” food like berries, brand-name cereal and pre-made meals were consistently in the fridge. Shortly after I graduated high school, my dad lost his job during the 2008 recession and he hasn't worked since. My mom took this opportunity to talk to me about the importance of supporting myself and never depending on a partner.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I did research at a summer internship that came with a stipend every summer of high school. My parents wouldn't allow me to work during the school year (school was my job), so I only worked during the summers.
Did you worry about money growing up?
I did not personally, we always had food on the table. However, I saw my mother worry constantly about money. Saturdays were spent going with her from store to store to get deals. She taught me how to pick out salvageable fruit and vegetables on the discount rack (I have many memories of eating rotten tomatoes). When we first immigrated to this country, I remember a time when we could not afford rice or noodles, and my parents made bread out of flour and ginkgo biloba they picked from a tree.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes and no. I don't worry about budgeting for food for the day but am aware of how I could be spending less and saving more. I try to make myself pay attention to prices at the grocery store and be mindful of overspending.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
My mid-20s when I started residency and got my first steady paycheck. My parents don't make a lot but I know I could always live with them if I needed. In college, my mom would cook food and bring it to my dorm so I could save money by not eating campus meals.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Both our parents gifted us about $10,000 when my husband and I purchased our home. My in-laws paid for our wedding and also gave us about $70,000, which we used to pay off my student loans. We recently bought an SUV for the six of us (two kids and in-laws) and both sets of parents gifted us $12,000 each for that. Our parents don't make a lot of income but culturally it is very common for parents to continue to support their children and for us to support them in their old age. It is understood that we will be caring for our parents if they become ill, unable to live on their own, etc. (it would be unthinkable to put them in a nursing home).

Day One

4 a.m. — I wake up at 4 a.m. every day. I get dressed, brush my teeth and take my fingers through my hair in my sleep-induced haze, grabbing anything that resembles something warm to wear to work. I use the flashlight on my phone to not wake my 4-year-old daughter who sleeps with us sometimes due to nightmares. I am out the door by 5 a.m. Mondays are incredibly busy and I work at a satellite clinic so no cheap lunch options there, so I bring a frozen meal for lunch.
5:20 a.m. — There goes half of the daily toll I use to get to work. I find street parking. I find parking by 6, and then try to snooze in the car for an hour. $10
7 a.m. — I need to use the bathroom and the clinic isn't open yet so I head to a nearby Starbucks and get a cappuccino while I'm there. I take the opportunity to do some CME questions on an app on my phone. (We renew our license by taking board exams every 10 years. I am three years out from graduation but have a fear of becoming stagnant/complacent in my medical knowledge so I try to make a point to do self-study questions.) Coffee shops are the perfect balance of ambient noise and calm and I am able to finish the monthly quiz. This credit gets automatically submitted to my licensing board — we need to complete a certain number of hours/activities per year to maintain “good standing” and I enjoy refreshing my knowledge. $5.50
7:30 a.m. — I get another coffee for the nurse on my team and head over to the clinic. She buzzes me in and we chat about her life and kids. $5
8 a.m. — I see scheduled patients, answer emails, answer messages that patients send through a patient portal, make phone calls about abnormal test results, and fill out forms. I love my job and love seeing patients make progress toward their personal goals. Before I know it, it's 4:30. I get a knock on the door from the nurse, asking if I am ready for them to close up shop. I will have to finish charting at home.

5 p.m. — The other half of the daily toll. I can take cheaper or non-toll routes but I pay for the shorter commute. I say hi to my in-laws and my kids and then we all have dinner together. $10

8 p.m. — I get my older daughter ready for bed while the in-laws help with the baby. We read a few books and then I get in bed.

9 p.m. — I suddenly wake up in a panic right before I fall asleep. We hire a driver to take my daughter to school on the days my husband is working and I want to make sure he is getting paid. My in-laws assure me that my husband already prepaid the driver ($40/day) last week. I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $30.50

Day Two

3 a.m. — The baby wakes up crying in hunger. I grab her a bottle of Pediasure and feed it to her with a straw. I hold her up for 30 minutes to minimize reflux, then change her diaper and put her back in her crib. By now it's close to 3:50 a.m. and I exhaustedly adjust my phone alarm to give me another 15 minutes of sleep.
4:05 a.m. — I am too exhausted to even prepare breakfast. I drive over to a 24-hour Dunkin' and order a cappuccino and a sausage, egg and cheese, and I tip $2 in cash. I listen to my morning podcast, This American Life. $10.40
6 a.m. — I work at two clinics and the rest of the week will be at the second, further away clinic. I pay $10 in tolls on my way in. I chart and eat breakfast. $10
12 p.m. — I need a break so a coworker and I head down to the cafeteria. I get the healthier burrito bowl option and a cup of fruit. $9.50
2 p.m. — I see a few patients over video call and then head out by 4:30. I pay another $10 in tolls. $10
7 p.m. — To my surprise, I see my husband has left me a dozen red roses on the kitchen counter with an adorable card he made with the kids. My father-in-law has food on the table and my mother-in-law is feeding the baby. I take a moment to feel gratitude for what I have in my life. After dinner, I put the baby to bed. I fall asleep in her room.
Daily Total: $39.90

Day Three

5 a.m. — Hoooray! It's Wednesday! Wednesday mornings I let myself sleep in an extra hour because my mornings are filled with meetings. I drive to work ($10) then I put on my leadership hat and work on navigating the politics of working in our hospital system and leading some projects. Lunch is $15 from a local taco spot. $25
1 p.m. — Back in the office to see patients.

5 p.m. — I am getting out a little later today because of a last-minute meeting. It's getting dark as I'm leaving. I pay for another toll. $10

7:30 p.m. — I am home only 30 minutes later today! I may need to play around with traffic patterns and figure out a better time to do my daily commute. The kids are already finished with dinner and luckily today my husband is home so they are already bathed and ready for bed. He looks exhausted so I muster up any additional energy I have after dinner to do the dishes and clear the table before I start to feel lightheaded. I need sleep and rush to bed by 9.

Daily Total: $35

Day Four

5 a.m. — I sleep through my alarm by accident! I quickly get dressed and rush out the door. I get to work by 6:45 a.m. ($10 in tolls). Luckily this morning's clinic doesn't start until 11 so I have time to run downstairs to the hospital cafeteria to grab breakfast ($7) and do some charting. $17
5 p.m. — After a whirlwind of a day, I head home. Another $10 for tolls. $10

7:30 p.m. — Before I get home, I quickly pull over to put in an Uber Eats order to have delivered to the house. It will get there before me and this way my father-in-law can take a break from cooking. $170

8 p.m. — I remind myself to log today's expenses in the running Excel spreadsheet my husband and I set up together. We don't have a strict budget but it helps when I see the number creep up to know to rein it in. We have goals to move out of this house into a bigger house that can accommodate my in-laws more comfortably on the days they are with us. We anticipate that they will eventually move in with us permanently. I quickly peruse Zillow for bigger homes in our area and the $2-$6+million price tags give me instant sticker shock. I remind myself I am grateful to have our current home despite feeling cramped at times. I don't know if I'm ready to take on a bigger mortgage.
8 p.m. — I chase our 4-year-old around the house and manage to convince her to clean up after herself so her baby sister doesn't trip over her toys. She requests my father-in-law read her a bedtime story so I head to bed on my own. I do a quick FaceTime with my parents before I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $197

Day Five

4 a.m. — Fridays I have to get in super early to prepare because I have a packed schedule. I grab leftovers to bring with me for lunch and pay the usual toll. $10
5:30 a.m. — I get to work and realize I forgot to bring breakfast so I Uber Eats a breakfast sandwich, coffee and some donuts for the nurses. $39
12 p.m. — Someone in my office is retiring and I chip in $20 for the retirement party. Then it's back to clinic until 4:30. I am bone tired. I spend my commute chatting with my mom. I pay the toll on the way back ($10). $30
8 p.m. — My husband was home today and the house is so clean. I want to hug him but the 4-year-old pounces on me before I can make it over and he laughs. We finally spend some quality time together, just the four of us. We end the night watching Tangled. I run around catching up on laundry and my husband does the dishes while the 4-year old stays glued to the screen. I cry at the part when the family is finally reunited and take a moment to be thankful for our loved ones and their health. We're all asleep by 9.
Daily Total: $79

Day Six

3 a.m. — I really wanted to sleep in today but the baby wakes me up early for milk. I make a mental note to read up on when kids should stop drinking milk overnight then promptly forget as I notice she has hives on her arms. I quickly undress her and see they have spread all over her abdomen and the side of her face. She is happy and smiling and we are reassured after a quick call to the pediatrician.
10 a.m. — It's time for my older daughter's weekly toddler ballet/tap dance lesson where they put on music and the kids seem to just bounce around shouting. The other mothers and I joke about how half the session is probably spent shuffling the kids to and from the bathroom and switching them from their ballet to tap shoes then back again.
3 p.m. — We grab an ice cream after dance and then we go to the library with my friend and her daughter. We let the kids play quietly while we chat. $10
5 p.m. — We find a book on pigs that sparks my daughter's attention. The sweet librarian gives her a bookmark and a little project to do at home with pig stickers. We head home and my husband has dinner waiting for us. We all eat and then get the kids in bed. My husband and I have a few hours of quality time together before falling asleep.
Daily Total: $10

Day Seven

9 a.m. — I sleep in today while my husband takes the 4-year-old to her ice skating lesson. The baby and I have fun making art and my mom comes over to drop off some mail and sweets for the kids. When my husband gets home we spend the afternoon running around the backyard and going for a walk.
8 p.m. — We are exhausted so we order in, sushi for the adults and hibachi for the kids. I pack some leftover rice and seafood for work tomorrow. $250
10 p.m. — A friend calls to remind me about our upcoming ski weekend on my week off. We Venmo over our share for the house, tickets, etc. My parents graciously offered to watch the kids and my husband and I are excited to spend some quality time together for a few days. I go to bed at 11, exhausted, mentally counting down the five hours until I have to be awake again. $900
Daily Total: $1,150
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