A Week In Billings, MT, On A $85,000 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 product director who has a joint income of $85,000 and spends some of her money this week on a school bus.
Occupation: Product Director
Industry: Retail
Age: 35
Location: Billings, MT
Salary: $50,000 + bonus in December
My Husband's Salary: $35,000 + overtime
Net Worth: $3,340.18 (savings: $10,032.33, second savings account: $22,743.74, 401(k): $2,298.60, IRA: $10,265.51 minus debt.)
Debt: ~$42,000 (personal loan: $15,000, husband's hospital bill: ~$2,000, husband's personal loan: ~$25,000)
My Paycheck (biweekly): $1,436.91
Husband's Paycheck Amount (biweekly): ~$1,200

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,005
Loan Payments: $1,008.37
Kindle Unlimited: $9.99
YouTube Premium: $17.99
Netflix: $17.99
Hulu: $11.99
Google Fi Cell Phone Plan: $60 - $90
Car/Renters/Trailer/RV Insurance: $109
Amazon Prime: $119 yearly
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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?
Absolutely. My dad finished high school then went straight to farming. My mom took a few semesters of college, but then dropped out when she got married. She always told my sister and me that we had to get our college degrees before we even thought about getting married. We both achieved that goal for her. My parents paid for a portion of my undergrad and I took out loans to pay for the rest. I went to a small public university, so it wasn't too much. When my grandfather passed, I got $10,000 to go straight to those loans. I managed to pay off the rest of my school loans by the time I turned 27. My husband paid for his school completely with loans. He wanted to get all the money he still owes out of the government's hands, so he took out a personal loan and paid off his student loans. We're hoping to finish paying those off within the next five years. I'm gonna be pretty pissed if the U.S. actually gets tuition reimbursement, but at least the interest is lower now.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
None. Credit cards were always used freely, which is why I got into so much debt in college. Growing up in a farming family, we never knew what kind of harvest we would get, so sometimes the gamble paid off and we could pay off lots of notes. Sometimes it was a bad year, and we just hoped nothing bad happened until the next harvest.
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What was your first job and why did you get it?
I was a waitress at a BBQ restaurant. In our family, you worked. Whether that was on the farm, helping the family, or for yourself for money. Part of me getting the job was so I wouldn't have to help out on the farm as much. Part of it was for the extra cash. And a bit was for the experience.
Did you worry about money growing up?
My parents shielded me and my sister from many financial troubles. I never really asked for much growing up, but if I did ask for something, I usually got it.
Do you worry about money now?
My husband does more than I do. He grew up extremely poor and never wants to be back in that position. He gets really anxious when he thinks about all of our debt. I manage the money for us, so I know the entire amount we have across all accounts. We have never missed or been late on any payment we've ever had, so in my book, I always think all is well.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I started to become fully responsible when I went to college, but my parents still paid for my health insurance, car insurance, sometimes extra spending money, and some of my college expenses. Once I graduated, I took on my student loans, moved into an apartment, started my first big girl job, and eventually cut myself off from their help slowly. I think I truly cut all the financial strings around 24 or 25.
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Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents paid for a good chunk of my college — one of the trade-offs of working on the farm my entire life, in other words, they did that instead of an allowance for every summer I spent chopping cotton. I received $10,000 when my maternal grandfather passed that went straight to my student loans. When my paternal grandmother passed, I was gifted about $20,000 in chunks.

Day One

7:45 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm, which is not surprising. Today is the last day of our Christmas promotion at work, and I have to make products live soon. The anxiety of oversleeping never lets me sleep late during drop days. I roll out of bed, take care of bathroom business, and get the kettle going to make my daily tea. Tea is life, coffee taste like dirt to me. Yes, I've tried coffee 10,000 different ways, but it still is gross.
11 a.m. — Product drop and promos go live as planned. Glad those are finally almost over, the stress is real during this time of year. Go ahead and get my usual board made for lunch — pepperoni slices, cheddar cheese, sliced pickles, green olives, pickled okra, carrot slices, celery, ranch dressing, and a cup of homemade chicken bone broth.
4 p.m. — The rest of my workday has been uneventful. I've prepared the rest of the week's promos and wrapped up some projects. I sign off but keep checking email and Teams on my phone while I watch some YouTube. I follow a lot of people and gotta catch up from the last few days since I've been swamped with work. My husband and I got fed up with all of the political ads running on YouTube back in October, so we upgraded to YouTube Premium. I know it's ridiculous to pay for YouTube, but no commercials is AMAZING. I also pay our credit cards today. We put EVERYTHING on our cards for the points, and then pay them off in full.
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7:35 p.m. — My husband finally signs off of work and we get some food for the night. I heat up some leftover pizza while he figures out what he wants. I usually meal prep on Sunday or Monday for the whole week, and we grab and go when we can. Both of us are horrible about eating while we work, so us eating separately is not unusual.
9:30 p.m. — Crawl into bed and read for a bit. I try to read every night before going to sleep to get my brain to shut down. Just as I think it's that time to knock out, my neighbors turn their music up. I stomp to the bathroom to see if they get the point. Usually, it works. This time it does not. I have a feeling it's going to be a long night.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — I think I got around two hours of sleep. Our lovely neighbors below us decided to play their music until about 3. I really don't like them. Today is not going to be fun. Get my bathroom business done and log onto my computer for the day while making my tea. No product drops, but we still have promos going on through the 18th, so I still need to make sure those go as planned along with two Zoom meetings.
11:30 — Same lunch as usual. I'm a creature of habit with my lunch. The less I have to think about what to eat, the less stress I have at work. I'm sure it's not healthy to have the same thing every day five days a week, but it works for me. First Zoom meeting goes well, but I am dragging. Make myself an iced tea to hopefully help me make it through the rest of the day.
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4:45 p.m. — I close my laptop and take a nap. I'm exhausted from a busy day and not getting much sleep the night before. I throw on the YouTubes and fall asleep to tiny living tours. After dozing off and on for about two hours, I scrounge up a meal of leftovers/meal-prepped food.
9 p.m. — I crawl into bed again because I can't keep my eyes open any longer. Even with a nap, I'm simply exhausted. I knock out without even reading.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

6 a.m. — Without bass shaking my bed, I get an amazing amount of sleep. Log onto my computer while water boils for my tea. Today is the last day of my work week since I took tomorrow off. After so many drops and promos with our website, I need a break. And, I need to run some errands to get ready for our road trip.
12 p.m. — My husband and I have to pull out cash for a massive purchase we're making this weekend. We head to a small bank that is a shared branch to our bank. We never switched from the original bank from when we met. We've never had a problem with them so we kept them. The first bank we go to doesn't have enough cash to be able to allow us to withdraw. Since we are using a shared branch, we can only withdraw $4,500 each a day. Because of the cash shortage (thanks, COVID-19), we have to go to the main bank downtown. We hustle since my husband can't be gone from his computer for long. Luckily, you can get anywhere in Billings within 10 minutes. We are finally able to withdraw all of the cash we need and get back to work.
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7 p.m. — I'm just now wrapping up the day. I had to make sure everything was good to go so I can sign off without worry. I know I will still worry and check things periodically throughout the weekend because I have no willpower. I make myself a salad and watch some YouTubes. Crawl into bed and crash out around 11.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

8:20 a.m. — I actually sleep in. Yes, this is sleeping in for me, mostly thanks to my bladder. I have a lot of errands to get done today before we book it west.
10 a.m. — The Husband and I head downtown to rent a car. We have a car that is our pride and joy, but it is our only vehicle, so we don't want to put extra miles on it.
10:20 a.m. — Get the car and I swing by the bank to get the last of the money we need for the big purchase. Don't worry, you'll get to know about this mysterious purchase below. I also swing by the hole-in-the-wall Mexican place to pick up tamales for Christmas dinner ($72). We're originally from Texas, so tradition and all. Next is Costco for gas ($27.84), Bakery for bread ($1.99), Winco for other groceries ($63.97), and a stop at the UPS store. We have a postal box there and it's time for renewal ($90 for six months). $255.80
1 p.m. — I finally make it home and eat a salad for lunch. It's one of the last things in the fridge. I ask the husband if he wants anything else and then start tossing things that will go bad while we're gone. Take the trash out, start the dishwasher, and go pack. I don't know if we're going to be sleeping in the car or if we're actually going to get hotel rooms while on the road. I prepare for everything just as I was taught by my farmer father and the Girl Scouts.
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4 p.m. — We hit the road for Oregon — we're going to buy a bus. Yes, we're those people who are going to turn the inside into our home. We both get antsy if we stay in one place for too long, so we decided to get a home on wheels so we can change locations as much as we want. We know we can do this because we lived in our car with a pop-up tent on top of a trailer when we moved two years ago.
10 p.m. — After stopping a few times for gas ($36.27), bathroom breaks, and snacks ($31.91), we're still driving. Crossing all of Montana, the top of Idaho (mountain passes in December — yikes), and into Washington is starting to get to me. During these overnight drives, the husband does all of the driving. He wants to keep going, but I do not. I can sleep in the car, but sometimes it makes me car sick. Finally, I convince him to stop for the night at the border of Oregon. $68.18
Daily Total: $323.98

Day Five

6 a.m. — Up super early to get back on the road. We ended up at a La Quinta. We racked up a lot of points on their app from a previous road trip, so I use some of those to get us a discounted night ($67.03). Grab some free tea and coffee (for the husband) since they still aren't serving the usual breakfast (thanks again, COVID-19). $67.03
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10:15 a.m. — We make it into Oregon after a beautiful drive. I love seeing this part of the country — everything is so green! First stop is food. I order Chik-fil-A through the app to be picked up in a parking spot. Their interior isn't open and we prefer to stay away from people anyway (again, thanks COVID-19). The closest Chik-fil-A we have in Billings is eight hours away, so this is a necessary first stop for us. Crossing our fingers one gets built in Billings soon!! $22.99
11:30 a.m. — We make it to the guy's house where the bus lives. We do the usual walk around, speak shop, and then get some privacy for me and the husband to decide if we're doing this. We make the decision like we always do for big events in our life — we say, "F it! What's the worst that could happen??" We are now proud owners of a '90s school bus ($18,000). After the husband gets some quick lessons in driving the behemoth, we hit the road again and, of course, get some more gas ($165.29). I also sign us up for Good Sam, just in case ($79.95). $18,245.24
9:30 p.m. — Done. We are done driving. Wow. We had to go through a mountain pass, in the dark in a snow storm. We both are fine with driving in winter conditions, but that was insane. We both get gas (I'm following in the rental car) and decide to call it a day at Super 8. $118.02
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Daily Total: $18,453.28

Day Six

6 a.m. — That bed was horrible. My hips and back do not like me this morning. After a quick checkout ($61.80 thanks to discount through the app) and a free tea, we hit the road again. Pretty sure they shut the road down behind us because we are the only ones going this direction. Glad we got through the pass when we did! $61.80
11 a.m. — While we are stopped at a rest stop for a potty break and to get snacks ($2), the husband voices his concerns about the oil. He says it is lower than he wants and thinks we need to leave the bus in Boise for the winter. We hit the road and I call every auto store to see if they have the oil we need in stock. Of course, the bus needs specialty oil that NO ONE has. We stop at the next rest stop to make sandwiches and to check the oil again. I ask the husband if he checked to see if the previous owner left extra oil anywhere in the bus. He says yes, but I check the cabinets anyway. Guess what, there is extra oil in the cabinets. Sigh. He fills the oil tank with half a gallon and we hit the road again. $2
7 p.m. — I feel like we've been driving forever. Maybe because we have. We decide to keep trucking and make it back to Montana tonight. I go through about 100 sticks of gum to keep myself awake. We stop at multiple gas stations for gas ($243.97) and snacks ($11.40 mostly caffeine) and finally make it to Billings at 1 a.m. We drop the bus off at the storage gate and will deal with that in the morning. We go drop off the rental car tonight so we don't have to get up super early to do that in the morning ($126.33). $381.70
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Daily Total: $445.50

Day Seven

8:15 a.m. — Ugh, what day is it? Oh yeah, Monday again. Yay. I finally got to bed around 3 a.m. After decontaminating myself in a scalding shower, my head hit my pillow and it was lights out. I roll out of bed and get water boiling for the necessary caffeine boost I need to survive the day. Gear up for my morning meeting and wait for the comments to roll in about the bus and my appearance. I know I look scary, but I just don't care.
10 a.m. — The husband and I hustle over to the storage yard to get the bus squared away in a parking spot. The owner of the yard is awesome to let us park overnight outside the gate, but he jokes we don't have to wear masks anymore since we are back in Montana. I almost snap, but hold it in and just raise my eyebrows. I just don't understand people these days. Pay the prorated rate for the month ($20) and hurry back home to get back to work. $20
10:30 a.m. — Eat my usual board. I work on central time, so technically it is lunchtime, even if it is 10:30 my time. I am so on the struggle bus today. Get my life in order by making my list of to-do items for the week.
5:20 p.m. — Check out of work but still watch my email and Teams. Head to Kohl's to get my Christmas present from my husband to me. This works better for us — I get what I want and he doesn't have to battle the stores. I get myself a pullover from the men's section because they don't have what I want in the women's ($11.99). It's so cheap because it's on sale and I have Kohl's Cash along with coupons. $11.99
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9:15 p.m. — I give up and crawl into bed. I still can't believe we bought a bus. Was it a mistake? Possibly, but who cares? We're crazy and excited. Read for a bit before conking out for the night.
Daily Total: $31.99
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