A Week In Saint Paul, MN, On A $168,000 Joint Income

Photo: Getty Images.
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 screenwriter working in Film/TV who makes $168,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on watermelon.
Occupation: Screenwriter
Industry: Film/TV
Age: 34
Location: Saint Paul, MN
Joint Income: $168,000 total household; $80,000 from me and $88,000 from my husband
Net Worth: $444,000 total; $337,000 in an investment portfolio (individual account, my SEP IRA, my Roth IRA, my inherited IRA), $30,000 from husband's 401(k), and $77,000 in a high-yield savings account. No debt.
Debt: $0 (We live off my husband’s paycheck and use my income for savings/retirement. We recently used 3/4 of a years’ worth of my income to pay off all student loans.)
Husband's Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,700
My Paycheck: I get paid by project and it greatly fluctuates, I usually get a paycheck every few months
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $2,290 for a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment and storage unit
Utilities: $175 (approx.)
Internet: $75
Netflix: $13
Apple Storage: $1
Vimeo: $11
NY Times: $8
Local Newspaper: $12
G Suite: $12
Cell Phones: $100
Prime: $10
Doctors Without Borders Donation: $50
ACLU Donation: $30
NRDC Donation: $25
Southern Poverty Law Center Donation: $50
Advertisement
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?
It was always assumed I would get both a bachelor's and master's degree. My parents had advanced degrees and placed very high expectations on myself and my sister regarding our education. My family was very well off and I lived a very privileged life. I received some scholarship for both my undergraduate and graduate programs, and the rest was covered by my parents. Culturally, it was assumed they would provide for me until I was entirely done with my education or I was married.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I was not given any financial education until much later in life. My parents weren't reckless with money so neither was I, but they made it easy to forget that money was a precious resource. I spent what I needed and didn't think much about it. My parents didn't encourage financial discussion and I finally got my own bank account at 18 simply because I was interested in having one. Later in life when finances became a much bigger focus/concern for me, my father gave me some advice on how to handle investments and savings.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was managing my college's TV station at 19. It was an easy gig and worked well with my interest in filmmaking. I saved all my earnings as my expenses were covered by my parents. My first real job was as a transporter at the hospital my mom worked at as a doctor when I was 22. I took the job to earn extra money to build up by bank account funds and become more financially independent. While I was given preferential treatment by people who knew my mother, it was still a tough, stressful job and I'm very glad I had that experience.
Advertisement
Did you worry about money growing up?
I barely thought about money growing up. One concept my dad did instill in me is while money should be spent, it should never be wasted. We had a very nice house but bought clothes at Costco or Target. Food was never wasted and we didn't eat out often when I was young. The luxury cars my parents drove were used for 20+ years. Lavish items like fancy clothes or jewelry weren't prized in my family, and I mainly spent money on books and movies. My parents spent heavily on experiences. We had memberships to most of the museums in Chicago, as well as season passes to a local theater. We traveled at least once a year, usually international. I valued experiences over material goods at an early age.
Do you worry about money now?
Because of my relationship with my wonderful husband, H., I am far more aware of money now. H.. came from a lower middle class background and didn't have half the financial privilege I enjoyed. When we got married we shared his remaining $60,000 of school debt and paid it off together. It was the first time I had to manage debt. We live a much less extravagant life than what I grew up with but we are building our financial nest and are very thoughtful about how we spend the money we have. I am far more interested in finances since starting my new family and pay very close attention to our budget and investments.
Advertisement
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
This is embarrassing. I focused on getting my master's in a field that makes almost no money, at least in the beginning, so my parents supported me for a lot longer than is normal. I became entirely financially responsible for myself at 29. However, out of all the women in my generation in my extended family, my sister and I are the only ones who became financially independent. Whether or not I have a financial safety net is a sticky question. For now, yes, there is no question I have an ample safety net from my mother who is quite wealthy. However our relationship is very tenuous and there's a chance contact is cut in the future. If that were the case, I would no longer have any net to speak of.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My parents created a UTMA account and began investing on my behalf when I was in grade school. That account is now worth $200,000. My dad also started a Roth IRA for me when I was young which is worth $67,000. He very much wanted us to have a solid foundation for retirement even before we established ourselves as working adults. We had issues a year before he passed because I wanted to take control of my UTMA account, not to use the money but to begin independently investing. It was clear this account came with strings attached and even though I was legally meant to take over the account at 18 he wanted to stay in charge and control my financial planning. Before he died, he did eventually allow me to control my account. H. and I have kept everything he's built for us as the bulk of our retirement savings. In the next few years, I hope to substantially build that up on my own through my earnings. After my dad passed away last year, my mother rejected his IRA retirement account so it would immediately pass to my sister and me. My share is worth $41,000.
Advertisement

Day One

7 a.m. — I'm up way before H., my husband. Since moving a few months ago, I've become a morning person and H. has stayed a night owl. I get up to go on my daily walk but H. sleepily begs me to cuddle him and I can't resist. A few minutes later I'm officially up.
8 a.m. — I'm out the door and on my daily morning walk, hoping to get in my usual five or six miles. We're not using the gym right now, so long walks are my main form of exercise. Halfway through, I realize I need to get groceries. We're spending the weekend at a lake cabin with a couple of friends in our bubble who've been as cautious about social distancing as us. We share meal duties and I've got a decent amount to buy, which means two trips so I can carry everything. I head to our nearby store and pick up cinnamon bread, cheese, butternut squash, several ears of corn, thyme, lemons, brown sugar, and walnuts. Oof, carrying all this back is a pain. $42.06
10 a.m. — I get back to the apartment to shower and make a necessary cup of tea. Today I'm pitching a big production company on a new storyline for one of their films that needs a rewrite. It's a big deal and I've been working nonstop on getting my pitch perfect (hah). I go over my notes, definitely nervous. H. rushes out of his office five minutes before to give me a big kiss and wish me good luck. Fingers crossed!
Advertisement
1:30 p.m. — That went really well! The producers and director were impressed by my level of detail and how I thought through the whole story. After the pitch, we brainstormed ideas for specific scenes, character arcs, etc. The conversation felt really productive. They'll get back to me in a couple of weeks but I'm feeling good! Hooray! I celebrate by making chocolate chip cookies for our cabin trip. My tip: brown your butter, it makes all the difference. I make my usual brunch/lunch — two medium boiled eggs (Vital Farms, they're the best), crackers with cheese, a small bowl of fruit (cherries this time), and a mug of sweet milky black tea.
3:30 p.m. — I've got a job starting tomorrow so I take the rest of the day off. H. texts me about “State Fair to Go” packages so you can re-create the Minnesota State Fair at home. I was really excited to go to the fair for the first time and was a little bummed I'll have to wait till next year. The kit includes some fair food highlights: local corn, cheese curds, corn dogs, fries, mini doughnuts, and chocolate chip cookies. I excitedly place an order. It's a huge amount of food so we'll be enjoying the fair for quite a few meals. $64.07
5 p.m. — I lounge by the pool at our apartment complex with my latest library book, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. It's a brutal, engrossing read and the writing is beautiful. It's super windy so I only stay out for a little bit.
Advertisement
6:30 p.m. — Since we're leaving tomorrow, I make sure to use up all the bits and pieces in our fridge for dinner. Sauteed green beans, roast broccoli, mashed potatoes, and crispy tofu. H. and I debate the future of the Republican party over dinner. I'm optimistic for revolutionary change in the next decade, his views are a lot darker.
7:30 p.m. — I hop onto a Zoom with two of my best friends from New York City. It's wonderful to talk to them. They ask how things are since we moved to Minnesota and I get real for a little bit. As a woman of color moving from Queens, a mecca of diversity, to Saint Paul, which is pretty darn white, the transition has been a little rocky. I've been confronted with more racial microaggressions (some not so micro) in the past three months than I had in my twelve years in New York. H. is white but also struggles with how to deal with the racial ignorance we're confronting. We're taking it day by day. My friends are really supportive and their empathy definitely helps.
10:30 p.m. — Phew, that was a marathon of a Zoom! Somewhere in the middle, I grabbed some prunes (gotta stay regular) and cookies. One of us had a lot of problems unmuting themselves and was teased mercilessly. I'm exhausted when I get off, but also super happy.
Daily Total: $106.13

Day Two

7 a.m. — I'm up early since there's a lot to get done before we head out this evening. I walk to Whole Foods and pick up the remaining groceries we need. I get more butternut squash, kale, tortilla chips, farro, parchment paper, taco dip, apple juice, and broccoli slaw. $66.14
Advertisement
9 a.m. — I head south to a bakery to pick up hamburger buns. I know, I could buy buns for much cheaper at any grocery store, but I try to support local food stores like bakeries, butchers, and seafood markets. The buns look delicious and I'm excited to make burgers this weekend! $6.70
9:30 a.m. — I take a bus home since it'll take forever to walk back, but I get off one stop early to get in just a tiny bit more of a walk. Just enough time to finish off my podcast. $2.50
10 a.m. — I've got a few hours before I get on a work call about my new contract. I whip up what will be lunch for the next few days at the cabin — farro and kale salad with roast butternut squash, toasted walnuts, and aged cheddar. I prep all the ingredients, let them cool, toss them together, and add super generous amounts of olive oil and lemon juice. Not to brag, but it's fantastic.
12 p.m. — I get on my work call with the creator of a TV show I wrote on earlier this year. The episodes are finally being filmed (delayed because of COVID) and they need a quick rewrite on mine. It's just a few days of work and I'm grateful the notes aren't extensive, but I'll need to work over the weekend. As soon as I get off the call, I start working so I can get as much done this afternoon as possible.
Advertisement
5 p.m. — H. and I are done with work but we've still got to pack and clean up. Plenty to do. Our eyes meet, he raises one eyebrow. You can fill in the rest.
6:30 p.m. — We've packed, done a few loads of laundry, run the dishwasher (my god how did we live over a decade without these machines), and tidied up the apartment. I really love coming back to a clean home after a trip, even a mini one. All the food is packed, we've got sandwiches to eat on the way, off we go!
7 p.m. — We quickly stop to fill the tires of our car. We're borrowing an old car from a friend as we haven't committed to buying a new one since our careers were affected by the pandemic. The car has some problems and one of them is the tires need to be refilled constantly. $1.50
7:30 p.m. — One last stop to pick up a necessity for a lake cabin weekend — beer. We're beer snobs and H. picks up some really nice ones from a local brewery. $25
9 p.m. — We finally arrive at the cabin. Our friends K. and S. greet us with a roaring fire. We grab drinks and I make myself a s'more with a dark chocolate Reese's thin instead of Hershey's. It's a revelation. We enjoy the fire and at some point head out on the dock to stare at the massive blanket of stars. You can even see the Milky Way. It's gorgeous. Around midnight my exhaustion catches up with me and I call it a night.
Advertisement
Daily Total: $101.84

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — I let myself sleep in a little. I conked out last night and slept like a log. I finally get up and hang out with K. who's up and feeding breakfast to their two daughters. I grab my computer and decide to get work done in the morning and hopefully have the rest of the day free to relax.
9:30 a.m. — I take a quick break to toast up some cinnamon bread and make a mug of tea. The bread is delicious, definitely glad I went with that for a quick breakfast option. I'm getting through the rewrite at a good clip thankfully and should be done before my deadline in three days.
11 a.m. — Done with work! I put on my swimsuit and head out to the lake where K. is with the girls. The water is bracing, but in the hot sun it feels amazing. We swim around, then head in for lunch with H. and S. My farro salad is a success. We have ice cold watermelon for dessert. There's lots of talk about politics and remote teaching.
2 p.m. — I've only taken a thousand steps today so I decide to go for a walk. I barely make it a mile before turning back, it's so hot, but the walk does me good. I head back and straight out into the lake. It feels amazing to swim in the cold water.
4 p.m. — Snack time! The first tub of taco dip gets eaten in five minutes flat. K. and S. head back into the lake with the girls. H. and I hang out on the deck for a bit, him finishing work and me reading my book. H. returned to his job part-time after four months on furlough, and we're both worried “part-time” will be a title his company uses loosely even though he's still only being paid part-time. We briefly discuss his options and decide not to make any decisions until we find out if I get the job rewriting the feature film. We finally join everyone in the water and have a great time splashing about, reminiscing about funny stories from years ago.
Advertisement
6 p.m. — It's our night to take care of dinner. We grill burgers along with corn on the cob and have the broccoli slaw on the side. The burgers are massive and I'm in pain by the end of dinner.
7:30 p.m. — A storm is coming so no fire pit tonight. We go inside and I realize all I want is to keep reading The Underground Railroad. H. plays board games with our friends. I promise everyone I'll join in tomorrow night. I indulge in a cookie and a microwave s'more.
11 p.m. — I got totally lost in my book and am exhausted. Time for bed!
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

7:30 a.m. — I wake up and laze about in bed a bit. I get up and put on some gym clothes. I figure taking a walk in the morning is going to be infinitely more comfortable now than at midday. It's really nice out and I listen to a film podcast while walking along the road.
9 a.m. — I get back with a grumbly stomach. I put the kettle on for tea, toast up some cinnamon bread, and replace my gym clothes with my swimsuit and a sundress. I eat while chatting with H. and K.
10 a.m. — I see an email from my TV show's creator with lengthy notes on my ideas for how to tackle my rewrite. I start to take care of the changes now instead of waiting till the last minute.
Advertisement
11 a.m. — I take a quick look at our finances. We've been doing okay even with his job on hold. My work picked up this year and we've been aggressively saving the past few years. We normally live off H.'s income and use my earnings for retirement and savings, so we budget with half our household income in mind. I check our spreadsheet and we're doing well this month, just like last. We usually budget a significant amount for travel and since we haven't gone anywhere, we've been consistently under budget. I check our Fidelity portfolio, which is strong since the market's been rebounding. Our high-yield savings account is earning a dismal .8%. While we're in a good place, with all the volatility we're still being extra cautious. We have the funds to buy a new car but we're going to buy the old car we're borrowing from our friend for a couple thousand. It'll get us through the winter and into 2021, and then we can trade it in for a newer vehicle.
7 p.m. — The entire day is spent between relaxing in the sun and taking refreshing dips in the lake. A pretty much perfect day. At some point, we grab sulfate-free shampoo/conditioner/soap and K. and I enjoy a “lake shower.” It feels great to have clean hair again. Halfway through the afternoon, H. goes to the gas station to fill up the car and grab some snacks, which we tear into as soon as he returns. $48
Advertisement
8:30 p.m. — Dinner runs late. S. grills up a few filets of halibut and K. roasts potatoes and makes a salad. It's delicious and reminds me I need to add more fish to our usual diet.
9 p.m. — We start up the fire pit and watch a massive thunderstorm in the distance light up the sky. Best fireworks ever. More beers, more s'mores (of course), and more conversation. We turn in at midnight.
Daily Total: $48

Day Five

7:30 a.m. — I wake up and laze in bed for a while. I get up and grab two of the last pieces of cinnamon bread. I enjoy the quiet morning on the deck with K. and S. and one of their girls.
9:30 a.m. — H. and I start packing up for the drive back home. I leave the rest of the farro salad for our friends to enjoy for lunch. We throw our linens into the wash and get all our stuff into the car.
10:30 a.m. — Time to hit the road! We say goodbye and head out for yet another lake cabin. This one is owned by H.'s dad and aunt. They've invited us over for lunch and since it's on our way back to the Twin Cities we happily agree.
12 p.m. — H.'s dad, J., comes out as soon as we park in front of the cabin. He's so excited to see us even though we met up a week ago at a socially distanced picnic. It's really awesome having a father-in-law who is so happy to spend time with his kids, both his and the ones married in. H.'s aunt is close behind and ready with some ice cold sodas, which are much appreciated as today's a scorcher. We hang out by the lake and chat. Lunch is brats, pork burgers, and baked beans.
Advertisement
7 p.m. — We stop at Jimmy John's to grab a quick dinner. I get a turkey sandwich with lots of veggies. $16.16
9 p.m. — I spend some time looking over my rewrite and feel good about the work I've done. I'll take one more pass before sending it out tomorrow. I've only got thirty pages left of The Underground Railroad and I can't wait to finish it!
10:30 p.m. — I finish the book and need several moments to contemplate. It's truly a wonderful read, I highly recommend it to anyone. I'm totally spent, it's definitely time to call it a night. H. is asleep on the couch. I try to wake him but he sleepily bats me away, saying he's still watching TV. Sure. I let him stay on the couch and head to bed.
Daily Total: $16.16

Day Six

7 a.m. — I get up as soon as my alarm goes off. I want to finish my rewrite before heading out for my walk. I go over the script, make a few changes, then send it out.
9:30 a.m. — As I walk I listen to a bunch of podcasts. It's been a few days since I took a long walk and didn't realize how much I missed it. I head to the library which has partially opened. I follow the rules for picking up my books on hold and drop off The Underground Railroad.
11:30 a.m. — I stop by the grocery store on the way home and grab broccolini, asparagus, mixed greens, limes, cilantro, potatoes, green beans, prunes, and watermelon. Oof, carrying all this and three library books back is challenging my weak arms. $38.83
Advertisement
12 p.m. — I make my usual lunch and treat H. by making him a nice lunch of toast with mascarpone and smoked salmon, partially because I love him and partially because I'm avoiding work. He's super grumpy because our AC is not keeping up with the heatwave.
3 p.m. — Phew, I'm mentally pooped. I'm working on a presentation for a meeting with a streaming service. They really liked my writing and approached me about creating a new show. There's a slim chance they'll actually put up the money to make it, but it's a good sign they're interested in my work. I take a break, grab some leftover strawberry rhubarb cobbler, and watch La Llorona, a horror film by a great Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante.
7 p.m. — I'm excited to make dinner tonight. Seven years ago, H. and I went to an Indonesian food festival and had a vegetable dish we loved but we never found out the name. I finally stumbled upon the answer: gado gado! A sort of “salad” with vegetables, tofu, eggs tossed in a peanut satay-like sauce. I whip up the sauce first in the blender then bake potatoes and tofu and blanch asparagus, green beans, and broccolini. At the last minute, I boil a couple of eggs for good measure. It's a massive platter of veggies, protein, and sauce and it's totally delicious. After dinner, H. apologizes for being a grumpy butt the whole day. We kiss and make up.
9 p.m. — I curl up with one of my new library books, Stephen King's The Institute. By 10:30, I'm exhausted and decide to turn in. In a surprise twist, H. does too! Perhaps I'll turn him into an early bird.
Advertisement
Daily Total: $38.83

Day Seven

7 a.m. — I'm up and out for my walk. I call my mom to see how she's doing. We have a very tenuous relationship; she actively campaigned against my relationship with H. (for absolutely no reasons that involve him) and made my life a nightmare for years. Even before that she was certainly not a model mother. My dad died about a year ago and since then, she's tried to be a better parent. I'm extremely hesitant to make real space for her in my life again, but taking things day by day. We talk about my work and a memorial she's having for my dad via Zoom on Saturday. She's performing a religious Sikh ceremony at her home with a few family members and friends socially distanced, and everyone else including myself will be participating on Zoom.
9:30 a.m. — Back at home I check email then shower. I make my usual eggs, which H. has as well. I get a notification that my laundry detergent subscription is sending me a new box of detergent pods. I love this service. All natural laundry pods packaged in a recyclable box get delivered to me every few months. So easy. $17.26
12 p.m. — I have a Zoom call with the organizers and participants for a writing residency I've been accepted to. This is a super-selective program and I can't believe I got in and am so excited. It's a month-long residency with all expenses covered. The other residents seem really warm and great collaborators. We'll be focusing on our own projects but sharing our work with each other.
1 p.m. — H. and I head out to run errands. We stop at REI for curbside pickup of some winter clothes I got on sale. We then head to a nearby store where H. surprises me with an early anniversary gift — a replacement for my favorite mug that I broke a few months ago. I'm psyched. This mug fits so much more tea than the one I've been using! $17.20
2:30 p.m. — Stop to fill tires and get gas. $19.50
3:30 p.m. — Our last stop is curbside pickup at our local seafood market which is having a sale. Their fish is fantastic and I splurge on ahi tuna for tonight and wild salmon for tomorrow. $43.66
4 p.m. — Back home, H. and I research health insurance plans. We've been on my husband's COBRA plan which has luckily been retroactive (we only pay if we need it and we didn't), but that will expire in September. On October 1 we will officially be on my union's healthcare plan which is excellent, but we need something for the month in between. We're looking for basic coverage so if heaven forbid we're in an accident we won't go bankrupt trying keep an arm and/or a leg. Man, this country.
5 p.m. — It's way too hot and our AC isn't keeping up. I head to the pool to cool off. The quick dip is super refreshing. I get a little bit of work done and email an Asian American film collective here in Minnesota about my interest in participating in their organization. I'd love to be part of the Asian creative community in my new home and hopefully get a chance to mentor new filmmakers/writers in their craft. This is such a crazy/brutal business, I know any guidance and support can be super valuable, especially when starting out.
6:30 p.m. — Poke time! I cut up the tuna into big chunks and toss with smoked soy sauce, ponzu, and sesame seeds. My trusty rice cooker is already on the job while I blend jalapeno, cilantro, honey, lime juice, and olive oil for a delicious dressing. I toss some local greens in my dressing, scoop rice into bowls, and top with the tuna. I add some chili crisp onto my bowl because it's the greatest condiment ever. Ugh. It's all so good.
8:30 p.m. — It's a chill night. H. watches fancy cocktail videos on YouTube while I start She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore and immediately love the voice of the writing. It's rich and feels like I'm reading a beautifully told fable.
10 p.m. — I keep up a video message chain with a group of female writer friends and notice several videos came into my app over the past few days. I record a response while getting ready for bed. It's wonderful to have the support of other women writers and we are great cheerleaders for each other. I tell them how excited I am for their projects and talk a bit about the work I'm doing. I curl up in bed at 10:30 and H. joins me soon after. I fall asleep better when he's near me so I conk out pretty soon after that.
Daily Total: $97.62
Money Diaries are meant to reflect an individual's experience and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

The first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend — to try on your own, check out our guide to managing your money every day. For more money diaries, click here.

Do you have a Money Diary you'd like to share? Submit it with us here.

Have questions about how to submit or our publishing process? Read our Money Diaries FAQ doc here or email us here.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series

Button: Register To Vote