Money Diaries logo

A Week In Bellingham, WA On A $410k 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.

This week: a senior writer and editor who makes $152,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on two toy snakes.
Occupation: Senior writer and editor
Industry: Tech (hospitality)
Age: 36
Location: Bellingham, WA
Salary: $152,000 (+ $40,000 bonus). Husband’s salary is $183,000 (+ $35,000 bonus).
Net Worth: ~$215,000 (home equity: $500,000; retirement: $150,000; savings: $30,000; apartment building investment equity: $100,000; car equity: $20,000, minus debt)
Debt: ~$585,000 (mortgage loan: $550,000; car loans: $30,000; credit card: $5,000)
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $4,000 (after deductions for health insurance, 401(k), and daycare FSA); husband’s paycheck is $5,300 (after 401(k) deduction.)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: $4,100 (mortgage)
Monthly Loan Payments: $700 (my car); $600 (husband’s car); $1,000 (credit card)
All Other Monthly Expenses:
Daycare: $3,900 (for two kids)
Internet: $90
Cell Phones: $150
Water/Waste Utilities: $130
Energy Utility: $120
Netflix: $17
Peloton Membership: $48
Spotify: $12
Life Insurance: $100
Car Insurance: $150
Savings: $2,000

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 and yes. I graduated from a four-year state university. My parents paid for 100% of my tuition and living expenses during college; they did the same for my sister. I’m not sure if there was ever a conversation about the option to NOT attend college — it was a family expectation, and I wanted to.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Conversations about finances were mostly about allowance and me getting my own bank account and job when I turned 16. I knew I got a certain amount of money from my parents each month and had to be careful about how to spend it, and I got a job during my last two years of high school to pay for extras.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I was a receptionist at a hotel for extra spending money.

Did you worry about money growing up?
No. I now know we had some lean years when I was a little kid, but by the time I was aware of money my parents were fairly well off.

Do you worry about money now?
I worry about money in an anxious way, not an existential way. I know I’m always going to be fine and my kids are going to be fine. It’s a privilege to feel that way. Still, I get anxiety about how much money we spend — on our mortgage, on daycare, on random kid activities, on food, on everything — and I don’t think it’s realistic to cut back right now. At least the daycare expenses will be mostly gone once my kids go to elementary school.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became mostly financially responsible for myself when I graduated from college at 22 and got my first job. At that time, I lived fairly frugally and with roommates because I was in low-paying journalism jobs. My parents paid for my cell phone bill and car insurance until I was about 25. If we were in dire financial straits, we would move in with either my parents or in-laws, who all live in other states.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I mentioned that my parents paid for my college tuition and living expenses. They also gifted me $10,000 toward a down payment when my husband and I bought our home. I received about $10,000 from my grandparents as a gift during college.

Day One

4:30 a.m. — I wake up in my four-year-old son, W.’s, bed, and try to go back to sleep. It’s Saturday! Give up and get up a half-hour later. Start a 45-minute Peloton ride. Halfway through, W. comes in and asks to be “set up,” which means I get him a pillow and blanket, warm milk, and his iPad. He thinks for a minute about what to watch, then decides on Toy Story 3. I get back on the bike.
6:30 a.m. — Take a shower, hurrying to finish before my son loses interest in the movie or my three-year-old daughter, S., wakes up. When I’m clean and dressed, S. is still asleep. Yay! My son and I head downstairs to play and let the dog outside. I make coffee for myself. After a few minutes, S. wanders downstairs. I try to meet her halfway to help her down the stairs but she yells “NO MOMMY I DO IT MYSELF.” I get her milk and she starts playing with her brother.
8 a.m. — My husband, J., comes downstairs and plays with the kids. I serve the kids a somewhat healthy breakfast of eggs, sausage, and apple slices. W. eats two bites, S. eats zero bites, then they insist on Lucky Charms instead. I eat their eggs and sausage.
9:30 a.m. — W. has been obsessing over a toy snake his daycare friend brought for show and tell. He wants the exact same snake, but we can’t figure out what exactly it is. All I know is the kid told W. he got it at “the children’s museum,” which could mean it’s available at the children’s museum or could mean he got it literally anywhere else, because he’s four. My husband tells him we’ll go look at Fred Meyer, so we all get in the car. They don’t have THE snake — or any snake. We tell the kids they can each get one small toy. They choose expensive race car sets. J. miraculously convinces them that getting one small cheap toy car each is cooler. $12.15
12 p.m. — After dropping off W. and J. at home, S. and I drive to my friend’s house. She’s having her first baby, and we drop off a bunch of hand-me-downs, then chat with her for a while. It feels good to say bye to our baby supplies, but it’s also sort of sad to never need a bassinet again. On the way home, we stop at Starbucks for a cake pop because S. loves them. It costs $3.26 for one tiny cake pop yet for some reason I keep getting them for her. $3.26
2:30 p.m. — J. and I take the kids for a bike ride to the park, then we try and fail to get them to eat lunch. I pack their lunches and additional snacks into bento boxes and put them in the car, and I eat a banana and protein bar. We drive to the nursery to look for pretty plants for two backyard planter boxes. J. and W. walk around the nursery; I sit in the car while S. naps in her car seat. J. reports that the only plants he liked cost $600 each. We decide we don’t need anything in those planter boxes after all. Randomly, there’s a petting zoo at the nursery, so we go there. S. makes people walking by laugh by waving and yelling, “How you doing, chickens!!” Each kid gets to pick out a snack at the nursery snack bar. My daughter picks an apple and orange, and my son picks an ice cream bar that we say no to. He throws a fit, J. carries him to the car, and I buy two apples and two oranges. $4
4 p.m. — After an entire day of hearing about the toy snake, J. and I decide to drive to the children’s museum to see if we get lucky. On the way, W. complains about not getting ice cream, then eventually eats the apple and orange. W. and I go into the gift shop. They have four different toy snakes. None of them are THE snake. W. pouts, but then realizes it’s either the wrong snake or no snake. He picks the biggest, most expensive one, of course. I buy a small snake for S., because she’ll start asking for one when she sees her brother’s. $28
5:30 p.m. — We get home and I start dinner, then give W. a bath. When he gets out, he says the only shirt he wants to wear is the red one he just took off. It’s dirty and smells like the petting zoo. I tell him he can’t wear that shirt because we have to wash it, and he gets upset because “I have no other shirts!” I lie all his shirts on his bedroom floor. There are 32. He finally chooses a different red shirt.
7 p.m. — We eat boring rice, boring chicken and boring broccoli for dinner. The kids also get chicken nuggets, cheese puffs and strawberries. They eat a few bites, which is par for the course. My husband and I are adults so we eat our whole dinner. Then we put on Moana. They watch and chase each around with the snakes, then ask for popcorn and trail mix because they’re hungry. We start the bedtime routine and get them to sleep by 8:30 p.m. I lie in W.’s bed because he insists on it. I read on my Kindle and pass out in there, as usual.
Daily Total: $47.41

Day Two

4:30 a.m. — Wake up, lie there, and read on my Kindle. Then I get up and do another 45-minute Peloton ride. S. comes in halfway through and wants to be set up. I put Moana on her iPad and pray that W. doesn’t come in, too; he gets mad when his sister beats him to the bike room. When I finish, I try to change S.’s pull-up. She gets upset because we’re all out of Moana pull-ups. I show her the tree diapers, banana diapers and Minnie Mouse diapers and she rejects all of them. I promise I’ll take her to the store later to buy Moana ones. If my son gets a huge unnecessary toy snake, she can get themed pull-ups. After about a half-hour she finally agrees to put on a tree diaper.
7 a.m. — W. gets up, we all go downstairs and I put on Minions. I let the dog outside and feed him. I’ll probably forget to mention dog stuff because these kids take up so much of my energy, but I promise he is always fed and taken outside! The dog is fine, except that my daughter yells at him a lot because he steals her dinner. (In the dog’s defense, it’s not like she eats it anyway.) I make breakfast: Eggo waffles, apple slices, bacon. The kids sit there and stare at the food; I eat.
9:30 a.m. — I get the kids ready to go to the bounce house. It’s pouring rain and there are limited indoor kid things to do around here. It’s annoying that bad weather equals paying to entertain the kids. Summer is amazing for many reasons; one of them is that taking the kids to parks and hikes and beaches is FREE! Buy bounce house tickets online. $28
10:30 a.m. — I watch the kids bounce. They mostly have fun, but get mad when other kids take their balls or get in their way. Sharing is hard. I coerced my friend to come with me, so we chat while they play. When the session is over, W. tells me I promised I would get them a “special snack” from the snack bar. I don’t remember saying that but OK. They say to choose your battles with kids; some days I choose to have no battles. Each kid gets Doritos ($4). J. is out and about; he picks up Moana pull-ups, snacks for the Super Bowl later today (the usual: wings, pizza, veggies), and some random house tool stuff because he’s always tinkering with something ($140.76). $144.76
1 p.m. — We all head back to the house, where my friend, the kids and I eat cheese and crackers for lunch. Then I take the kiddos for a car ride to a children’s consignment store located about 30 minutes away; the only way they’ll nap on the weekends is in the car. I have a bag of cute baby clothes to consign. When we get there, they tell me they don’t consign on Sundays. Oh well — I’ll add this stuff to the five bags of kids clothes and shoes we’re taking to Goodwill this week. That way I’ll avoid the embarrassment of the store telling me none of the clothes are good enough for them to buy.
3:30 p.m. — A few friends (with their kids) come over to watch the Super Bowl. The kids play hide and seek and discover some bubble wrap that keeps them busy while adults eat and watch the game. I’m reminded that Usher has some hits.
8 p.m. — After everyone leaves, we get the kids’ teeth brushed and they collapse into bed, exhausted. Then I lie down and read — I’m currently reading Kristin Hannah’s The Women. Fall asleep.
Daily Total: $172.76

Day Three

5 a.m. — I get up and do the Peloton. Are you sensing a pattern? Working out in the morning is how I (mostly) remain patient with the kiddos throughout the day. After a few minutes, S. gets up and wanders into the bike room. I get her set up with The Little Mermaid and milk, then finish Peloton. I shower and get dressed. BTW I wear a variation of the same mom uniform pretty much every day: ripped straight leg jeans, T-shirt, white Nikes, sweater or fleece jacket when I leave the house.
7 a.m. — I convince my daughter to take off the blue Little Mermaid T-shirt she’s been wearing for three weeks straight (including overnight) so I can wash it. We have to get her to take it off once every 48 hours so I can hand wash and dry it as fast as possible. She wears a pull-up and says she’ll “wait for the Ariel shirt” instead of putting on other clothes. Then W. wakes up. I feed the kids breakfast (English muffins and strawberries), play, then get them and all their stuff loaded into the car.
9 a.m. — Daycare drop off. Every day I try to get there by 8:30 a.m. and every day I get there at 9 a.m. I’m punctual except when it involves getting kids into car seats. When I get home, I eat a protein bar and get settled at my desk to work. I work from home full time and my husband usually works from home, though he drives to Seattle about once a week to go to his office.
12 p.m. — I take a break to vacuum the house and clean the kitchen, then eat lunch (cheese, crackers, apple). Take the dog for a walk around the block. I usually listen to podcasts while I walk the dog and when I’m driving alone; my favorites are advice podcasts (Oversharing and Dear Shandy).
1:30 p.m. — Work! At some point I get an email reminder about the kids’ classroom Valentine’s Day parties. Write “To” and “From” on the silly little boxes of conversation hearts I bought last week.
4 p.m. — I wrap up work for the day, and pick up the kids from daycare. It usually takes about 10 minutes to convince my son to go home because they play outside at this time, then another 10 minutes to get my daughter into her car seat because she has to do everything “BY MYSELF!” When we get home, the kids play and yell at each other and I start making dinner. When J. gets home, we convince the kids to come sit down for dinner: a random collection of nachos, refried beans, chicken and watermelon. They eat mostly watermelon. We talk about sharks and Moana characters. The kids ask for hot chocolate. I make them each a mug. They drink about half a sip before losing interest.
7 p.m. — I give S. a bath, then we start to wind down for bedtime. We follow our usual routine: J. puts our daughter to bed and I put my son to bed. We’re asleep by 9 p.m.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

4 a.m. — I wake up to sounds from my daughter’s room. I think she peed through her diaper; I hear my husband changing her sheets and getting her back down.
5 a.m. — After lying in bed for about an hour, I get up and Peloton. W. comes in halfway through and I set him up with an iPad.
7 a.m. — Get kids breakfast they don’t eat, play, wrestle them into the car — the usual. I eat a protein bar and the English muffin my daughter rejected.
9 a.m. — Daycare drop off. On the way the kids argue about whether it’s foggy outside or not (it is). Afterwards, I pop by the grocery store and get bananas, apples, kid snacks, and pull-ups. As I drive home, I realize I forgot to buy hot cocoa mix even though I promised W. I would. There will be hell to pay later. $32.76
10 a.m. — Work! Usually I sit down at my desk between 9:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., though I respond to messages and emails starting around 7 a.m. My job consists mostly of head-down writing and editing; much of it is technical and detail oriented. I have meetings here and there but my work is mostly independent.
12 p.m. — I see an email about a co-pay I owe for some random lab work I had at a physical last month. Pay that ($8.93), then remember I’ve been meaning to buy a new thermos to keep coffee hot; I use a Nordstrom gift card for that $36 purchase. Then I walk through and tidy the house, and take out all the garbage. Take the dog for a quick walk, then get back to work. I eat lunch — banana, peanut butter and jelly sandwich — while I’m working, and drink a La Croix. I drink approximately 1,000 La Croixs per day. $8.93
4:30 p.m. — I pick up the kids from daycare. On the way there, I chat with a friend on the phone. It takes even longer than usual to get out of there because first W. forgot to grab his new stuffed snake from his cubby, then once we got in the car he decided he needed to pee. Husband stops at a drugstore for cough syrup. $12.39
5 p.m. — When we get home, we have a package of Girl Scout cookies waiting. We ordered and paid for them last week. We play, eat a dinner of ravioli, chicken sausage and broccoli, and watch part of the Mario movie. Afterward, we follow the usual bedtime routine. I read and fall asleep. I finish The Women; highly recommend!
Daily Total: $54.08

Day Five

5:30 a.m. — W. wakes me up, asking to go to the bike room. I set him up with his iPad and do a Peloton workout. We chat about his classroom’s Valentine’s Day party. After a little while, S. joins us. I get them both a glass of milk. My son yells, “I don’t want this, why would you get me milk?” I don’t know, maybe because you’ve drank milk in the morning every single day since you were born?
7 a.m. — Shower, then make the kids heart-shaped pancakes for Valentine’s Day. They don’t eat even one bite. I eat my own breakfast, the usual morning chaos. I make and drink coffee, too — that happens every morning.
9 a.m. — Daycare drop off. My son asks how many sleeps until his birthday, I tell him about 150, and he gets upset. Pawn him off on his teacher.
9:30 a.m. — Work. Another day spent writing and editing on my computer. At some point in the morning my husband picks up W. from daycare and takes him to a doctor checkup, where he pays the co-pay. $20
12 p.m. — I eat lunch and book an Airbnb cabin for a long weekend coming up. It’s expensive. Everything is expensive. Then I work for the rest of the afternoon, taking a few breaks to do laundry. $1435
4:30 p.m. — Pick up kids — they had a blast at their Valentine’s Day parties but now we have a bunch of goody bags they’re going to fight over.
5 p.m. — Dinner, play with kiddos, clean kitchen, the usual! Tonight we have cheese quesadillas and the leftover chicken sausage from yesterday, plus orange slices. Then we get them ready for bed and we do our usual bedtime. I fall asleep by 9 p.m.
Daily Total: $1455

Day Six

5 a.m. — I get up and do some yoga. Then I take a shower. I always do my “skincare routine” in the shower: cheap soap, followed by cheap lotion. No makeup, nothing at night. I spend so much money on silly kid stuff like bounce house admission that I’ve decided there are certain areas where I can skimp. When I’m out of the shower, the kids are still sleeping, so I get coffee, sit at my computer and do some work.
7 a.m. — The kiddos get up. I attempt to get them to eat breakfast, eat their breakfast when they reject it, wrestle them into changing clothes, the usual.
9 a.m. — Daycare drop off, then stop at the grocery store. I buy apples, milk, coffee creamer, and Tylenol. $26.23
9:30 a.m. — Work! I spend most of the day at my desk, with a quick break for lunch and cleaning the kitchen.
3 p.m. — I have a routine doctor appointment. Pay the co-pay ($20). On the way, I fill up my car with gas. ($64.23). $84.23
4:30 p.m. — Daycare pickup. It’s the usual routine: 10 to 20 minutes to say bye to their friends, gather their stuffies and buckle themselves into their car seats.
5:30 p.m. — I take the kids to a nearby indoor playground; it’s cold and wet outside, but they seem like they need to get some energy out. J. meets us there. I have a full stamp card that pays admission for one of them; I pay for the other one ($13). I also buy them each a bag of chips ($5). $18
7 p.m. — We get home and get the kids dinner (a collection of leftovers from the week), then get them ready for bed. I sit in W.’s bed while he falls asleep, buy a new book on my Kindle and start reading it. (Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson.) $14.99
Daily Total: $143.45

Day Seven

5 a.m. — Wake up, Peloton, the usual! Cody the instructor says “Be hot, even if you’re at a kid’s birthday party. Someone has to be the MILF, why not you?” Yeah, why NOT me? I think. Then I remember that MILFs probably blowdry their hair and put on makeup, and I do neither. I shower, head downstairs, clean kitchen. Then the family gets up; we feed the kids a breakfast of Eggos and scrambled eggs (I eat most of it myself), and watch Minions.
9 a.m. — I drive the kiddos to daycare, then stop at the grocery store to stock up on food for the weekend. I buy bananas, grapes, oranges, carrot sticks, chicken, rice, milk, cereal, eggs, bacon, crackers, La Croix, ginger ale and some snacks. $97.36
10 a.m. — I get home and work. At some point I take the dog for a walk around the block; it’s a sunny, cold day. The dog chases some geese, which is a mistake because they chase him back. I eat lunch — usually I eat a random collection of fruit, cheese and crackers, mixed nuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and kids’ snacks. I should mention that our daycare provides snacks and lunch for the kids, so we don’t need to send it with them.
4:30 p.m. — Pick up the kiddos. When we get home, J. wraps up his work. I make a dinner of pesto, pasta, roasted chicken and roasted veggies while he plays with the kids. They’re playing some game that involves a lot of throwing balls inside the house and chasing each other around.
6 p.m. — After we eat dinner, J. and I give both kids a bath. The first half they play with bubbles together and giggle; the second half my son starts dunking his sister’s head underwater and we decide bath time is over. I spend some time getting the kids’ (and my) snow gear together. As long as everyone’s feeling good, I’m hoping to take the kids to play in the mountains tomorrow. They’ll probably play in the snow for 15 minutes then say they’re too cold. Then we get everyone ready for bed and go to sleep. Good night!
Daily Total: $97.36

The Breakdown

Weekly Total $$ Spent: $1970.05
Food & Drink: $313.36
Entertainment: $55.99
Home & Health: $101.47
Clothes & Beauty $0.00
Transportation $64.23
Other $1435
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