A Week In The Midwest On A $121,000 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 school social worker who has a joint income of $120,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on NTRGLD hair products.
Trigger Warning: This Money Diary mentions an eating disorder.
Occupation: School Social Worker
Industry: Education
Age: 26
Location: Midwest
My Salary: $61,000
My Husband's Salary: $60,000
Net Worth: -$99,300 (We currently have $15,000 in savings and investments and we owe:~$90,000 on our home, ~$7,300 on our car (one paid off, one we have a loan), and ~$17,000 in student loans.)
Debt: ~$114,300
My Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $1,404 (after health insurance, taxes, retirement, etc.)
My Husband's Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,723 (After retirement and taxes.)
Pronouns: She/her/hers

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,082
Car Loan: $220
Student Loans: $500-$700 (combined)
Phone: $100 (we are on a plan with my mom and sister, $50/per person a month)
Heating: $130
Water: ~$175-$210 quarterly
Down Payment Loan: $250 (we paid 10% of our down payment and my dad insisted on loaning us the other half so we wouldn't have to pay for mortgage insurance. We are paying it back through monthly payments to him. We're paying more monthly than we would have had to pay for mortgage insurance because we both have really good credit, but in the long run, this saves us money.)
Car Insurance: $152
Internet: $62
Disney+/Hulu/ESPN: $13
Apple Music: $10
Home Insurance: $706 annually
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, there was an expectation for me to attend college, but I really wanted to as well. My dad worked so hard to provide us with the opportunities we needed to reach our goals and I never wanted to take that lightly. There are four of us kids: my older sister and I both have our Master's and our other two siblings both did a semester or two in college but ultimately decided it was not for them and do not have any type of college degree. I received both academic and athletic scholarships, as well as a small scholarship for my ethnicity. I took out loans for the rest of the cost. For graduate school, I planned to pay entirely with loans but my extremely generous parents ended up paying a large portion of them out of nowhere. I have a little under $6,000 total left to pay off, which I plan to do within one year by making $500 payments (starting when loan deferment is over in Jan 2021). My husband received athletic scholarships which helped a lot with his college tuition but had over $35,000 in loans when he graduated in 2013. We have about $11,000 left to pay off on his loans. He will be applying for a loan forgiveness grant since he is a teacher, which can be up to $5,000. Fingers crossed!
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Looking back, it's surprising that my parents did not educate us on finances, but they didn't. I wonder if it's because my dad grew up in poverty and never wanted us to have to worry about anything. My mom worked until we were born, then was a stay at home mom for several years, and went back to work after we were all in school. I remember her always having a huge coupon book when we went shopping and looking for the best deals. When we shopped for clothes, she would take us to the clearance racks and never bought anything at full price. I remember being shocked when I filled out my FAFSA with my mom and found out my dad made six figures. He definitely didn't his entire life, but I feel like their spending habits for our family never changed even as he moved up the ladder and made more money. That's why they are so well off now! Once I became financially independent at age 22, I frequently went to my parents for financial and budgeting advice and feel like I am in a really good place with it now.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was babysitting, which I started when I was 12. But my first "real" job was as a bagger at a grocery store in my hometown at age 16. Honestly, I got this job because all of my friends were working and I wanted money of my own to spend on things my parents wouldn't buy me, even though they always bought us what we needed. So it was for extra stuff, like going to the movies or the mall with my friends. I might have thought about college at this point but I really can't remember.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No, I didn't worry about money. I am so thankful to my parents and acknowledge the socioeconomically-privileged upbringing I had.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes, I worry about money constantly. I struggle to allow myself to spend the money that I work hard to earn. My husband grew up in poverty and says he has a poverty mentality, which can go one of two ways: hoarding money or spending it impulsively because it's fleeting. Now that we make a good amount of money, he is always wanting to purchase the newest Apple products or expensive clothing. We both are working on meeting somewhere in the middle of our two extremes. I budget like crazy and agonize over purchases. We bought a house as soon as possible because I could not handle the thought of paying rent every month and never making a penny of it back. I do feel like I am getting better, though, especially now that we will be financially stable for the foreseeable future.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible when I moved out of the house at age 22. My parents are our safety net. They are extremely generous and would be there (and have been there) if we ever needed them for anything.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Day One

6:15 a.m. — I guess I can consider this sleeping in for a Saturday. One of two things wakes me up in the mornings: my three cats wanting their breakfast or my bladder. I get up, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, put my contacts in, apply FaceTheory moisturizer, and go to feed the cats. I do a little bit of morning yoga and watch an episode of A Million Little Things until my husband, G., gets up and comes downstairs for breakfast.
8:30 a.m. — I make us some vegan pancakes. G.'s have chocolate chips and mine have pecans. We eat and talk about how excited we are to meet our friends' baby who was born yesterday morning. I work on setting up a meal train for them so they have one less thing to worry about when they come home within the next few days. I add in a note asking that people consider giving a gift card for restaurant delivery in order to reduce contact between the baby/new parents and the outside world.
9:30 a.m. — G. and I snuggle up on the couch and watch a few episodes of Schitt's Creek until about 10:30 when we get restless and decide to start cleaning up around the house. We end up cleaning out closets, cleaning out cabinets and the fridge, vacuuming, mopping, and cleaning the kitchen. While cleaning, we realize we are in need of some organizational bins and shoe racks and plan a trip to Target later on.
12:15 p.m. — I FaceTime my dad. We talk for about 20 minutes. He will be in town next weekend to visit and I'm so excited to see him soon! My dad immigrated to the U.S. alone when he was 19 years old. He worked two jobs to get himself and his younger brother through undergrad and himself through grad school. After graduating, he moved his parents to the U.S. as well and helped them get their citizenship. He is the hardest working and most generous person I know. G. and I always love talking to him.
2 p.m. — We take a break from cleaning for lunch. I make us some wraps with vegan chicken tenders from Aldi, vegan mayo, bbq sauce, Giardiniera, and lettuce. I also make some seasoned fries in the air fryer (best purchase ever). We watch an episode of Schitt's Creek while eating.
3 p.m. — Back to cleaning for a bit longer until we are over it. Then we lounge on the couch watching Schitt's Creek.
6:30 p.m. — After feeding the cats their dinner, we mask up and head out to Target hoping it'll be less crowded as it's a bit later in the evening. We end up buying six organizational bins and baskets, two shoe racks, some snacks to add to a gift basket for my friend who had her baby, a kombucha for G., a loofa, and some hangers. I have minor anxiety about how much it will all cost but remind myself that we are now making a steady income and it's okay to buy things we might not absolutely need but will use and appreciate. $132.52
8 p.m. — We stop at Chipotle on the way home for dinner. I order a sofritas burrito bowl and G. orders a steak burrito. I have been meatless for four years now and vegan for three and a half. G. only eats meat and dairy products when we go out to eat or if it's being served at a family dinner/party. Yes, it is a point of contention between us because I am the biggest animal lover and it breaks my heart that animals are still eaten by people who have so many alternatives available (I completely understand that veganism/vegetarianism is not accessible for everyone). But I appreciate him so much for eating vegan 95% of the time and never complaining about me not using animal products at home. He is a super adventurous eater so he is always up to try my weird, experimental vegan meals (like tofu quiche or cashew queso!). $22.43
8:30 p.m. — We get home and eat Chipotle while watching an episode of Ratched. This show is definitely more G.'s type than mine but I'm surprisingly enjoying it more than I thought I would.
9:30 p.m. — I take a shower, floss and brush my teeth, moisturize with FaceTheory night cream, and take my meds — allergy pill, birth control, antidepressant/anti-anxiety. I have diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and binge eating disorder. I also take a vegan Vitamin D supplement to help with my depression, vegan B12 (all vegans should take this), and a vegan flaxseed oil pill for omegas.
10 p.m. — I snuggle up with my three babies and drift off to sleep.
Daily Total: $154.95

Day Two

7:15 a.m. — Are you serious?! My cats let me sleep in. I lay in bed for a few minutes snuggling with them, then get up to feed them breakfast. One of my cats has a history of urine crystals so he has to eat wet food twice a day and eats a special kind for cats with his condition. So of course the others get wet food twice a day as well. We also have a grain-free dry food bowl for them to free feed during the day. I watch an episode of A Million Little Things.
8:30 a.m. — We have cereal with plant milk for breakfast and continue our cleaning spree from yesterday. We use our new organizing baskets which I'm too excited about. G. is being super rude this morning and we get in an argument. After about 10 minutes apart we talk about the argument and both apologize.
9:30 a.m. — I meal prep for the week for us and double everything to make a large batch for my friends who just had a baby. I make stuffed shells with vegan ground "beef," salad, and garlic bread. I also bake them a pan of brownies. We will deliver all of it tomorrow evening. Meanwhile, G. starts a load of laundry and cleans the kitty litters.
12 p.m. — We eat some of the pasta I meal prepped for lunch. G. and I watch another episode of Ratched and it's getting way too gross for me. I cover my face for like half the episode.
5 p.m. — It's a hair wash day for me. I've been following the curly hair method for a few months now. I wash with Love Beauty & Planet shampoo, then condition with Giovanni 2Chic Frizz Be Gone conditioner. To style, I separate my hair into equal parts, rake L.A. Looks gel into my hair, then use a Denman Brush to form defined curl clumps and distribute the gel evenly. I do this with all the sections of my hair, then use Eco Gel to scrunch a lot while right side up. Then, I flip over and scrunch with Cake the Curl Whip mousse. I scrunch until my hands physically hurt, and then I "microplop" with a microfiber towel. After that, I "plop" in a cotton t-shirt for 30 minutes. Then, I diffuse on high speed/low heat, which can take 30-60 minutes. When it's dry, my hair has a gel cast and is super crunchy. I put it up in a silk bonnet for the rest of the evening and to sleep in. In the morning, I "scrunch out the crunch" with some oil, breaking the gel cast and leaving me with soft, defined curls.
6:30 p.m. — I receive a call from a number I don't recognize. I answer and it's a mental health inpatient facility stating that one of my students would like to talk to me. I accept the call and talk with him for about thirty minutes. Afterward, G. and I watch another episode of Ratched while I eat some crackers for dinner since my stomach doesn't feel super well. G. eats two spicy Boca "chicken" patties. I'm starting to get hooked on this show, despite the gore that I typically hate.
8 p.m. — I lay out my outfit for work tomorrow, brush and floss my teeth, moisturize, take my meds, and get into bed. I scroll Instagram for a while, read for a bit, and start to try to fall asleep at 9. I don't end up falling asleep until probably 10:30 with my mind racing about my students.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

5:45 a.m. — Wake up, brush teeth, put in contacts, feed cats, get dressed, do hair, apply Tarteist Lash Paint mascara, and fill in my eyebrows with e.l.f. eyebrow gel. I pack soy yogurt, strawberries, and granola for breakfast and an apple and peanut butter for lunch, head out to work by 7.
7:25 a.m. — Arrive at work. This is my second month at the job and I really love it so far. My only issue with the job is that they have us coming into the school every day even though the students are all virtual. I pretty much stay in my office all day long and attend meetings virtually. I do Google Meets with students throughout the day to check in on them and see how they are doing. Today I have a lot of virtual meetings with students who are habitually truant. The meetings are held with the student, parent, administrator, counselor, and me. I offer support to the student/family if they need it. We have free counseling services to offer students, I can set up weekly meetings with the student to provide emotional support and I can also advocate to teachers on the students' behalf if they have outside issues preventing them from attending.
11:15 a.m. — During a quick break from meetings while eating lunch, I buy a pack of six knotted headbands from Amazon that have been in my cart for a while. $15.29
3:45 p.m. — I had a special education staff meeting after school so I'm leaving later than usual today. I also would usually stay after to work out in the workout center at the school, but I have to take the food over to my friends who just had their baby tonight, so I will skip my workout. On my drive home, I call the inpatient center to talk to my student and his social worker there.
4:45 p.m. — Feed the cats, quickly eat two stuffed shells, pack up the food I made for my friends, and grab the big gift basket for the new mama and baby. It has baby clothes, a baby blanket, baby bow headbands, lots of my friend's favorite snacks, plus some bath bombs and a lavender face mask. We head over to their apartment. I'm glad I have something to do right now because I am very stressed and I felt the urge to binge eat when I got home.
5:15 p.m. — We arrive at our friends' apartment and have our friend come out to grab the stuff. We are so sad we can't go in to see their baby in person, but there's no way we can risk her being exposed to COVID. We agree to FaceTime later tonight.
6 p.m. — Back home and G. decides he wants pancakes for dinner. He asks to cook together and gets really excited. He wants two with chocolate chips, two with blueberries, and two with strawberries. I have one with blueberries and one with strawberries. I always joke that he's like a puppy and I'm a cat. He has so much fun in life and thinks everything is exciting. It's a lot of fun being married to him. For anyone who is into the Enneagram, he is a Type 7 to the fullest extent! We eat while watching another episode of Ratched.
7:30 p.m. — News that Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed to the Supreme Court pops up on our phones. We knew it was coming but it still feels like a punch to the gut. I am enraged and vent to G. about how incredibly disappointed I am with the complete hypocrisy of the Republican Party, denying Obama a supreme court pick months before the 2016 election but then confirming one of their own just days before the 2020 election.
8:15 p.m. — We FaceTime our friends and see our (non-blood related) niece. We can't wait to meet her in person, whenever that might be!
9:30 p.m. — Shower, brush, floss, moisturize, meds, and in bed by 9:30.
Daily Total: $15.29

Day Four

5:45 a.m. — Wake up, same morning routine as yesterday. I pack a gym bag for after work. G. eats a bagel with Kite Hill cream cheese and has some matcha tea made with oat milk while I get ready to leave. We listen to NPR news updates. He doesn't have to go into work until an hour later than I do. He is also currently working from the office, but all his students are virtual.
7:25 a.m. — Arrive at work, log on for a day of meetings. Eat my soy yogurt, strawberries, and granola. I receive notification that another one of my students has been admitted to an inpatient mental health facility. :( They provide me with the contact number so I schedule some time to check in with her around 11. Then, I contact Child Protective Services to report a situation a student disclosed to me.
3 p.m. — Head over to the school's workout center with one of my coworkers. We spread out as far as possible (it's a large space) and do our workouts.
5 p.m. — I heat up stuffed shells and garlic bread and make a salad for dinner. We eat while catching up on our days. We spend the rest of the evening not doing much, we finish up Ratched (I end up really enjoying it), scroll through social media, and talk.
8:30 p.m. — Nighttime routine and in bed by 9. Sex then sleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

5:45 a.m. — Wake up, normal morning routine. I pack soy yogurt, strawberries, and granola for lunch and baby carrots for a snack. I eat a bowl of cereal with oat milk for breakfast.
7:25 a.m. — Arrive at work. Today I have more truancy meetings and I'm doing a virtual Social-Emotional Learning Group with a 10th-grade class. Today's topic is mindfulness, one I know so much about yet suck at doing personally. I also have two hours of home visits blocked off in my schedule for this afternoon. Home visits in the time of COVID are much different than the ones I did during my internship pre-COVID. They're more like lawn visits or porch visits. The purpose is to touch base with parents and students who are struggling with virtual learning or attendance. I get home visit referrals from the administration, the school counselors, and teachers. Today I'm taking a grocery store gift card, tampons, and donated clothes to a student who needs some assistance right now. I get mileage reimbursement for home visits which is nice.
3 p.m. — Work out and head home.
5 p.m. — For dinner, I season cubed tofu in garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, paprika, and liquid smoke and air fry for 20 minutes until super crispy, shaking it up halfway through. Then I toss in BBQ sauce. I make mashed potatoes with vegan butter and green beans with garlic salt.
5:45 p.m. — We work on our November budget. My dad taught me to pay ourselves first and stay a month ahead on expenses. That is the way we have been budgeting for a couple of years now. For the month of October, we made $6,600. Our monthly expenses calculated for November is $3,800. That means we have $2,800 to put towards savings (but we discuss and decide to make a payment toward each of our student loans before interest kicks back in so it will be less in savings). During November, as paychecks come in, we will use that for December's budget, and we continue that cycle each month.
6:15 p.m. — Another hair wash day and I repeat the same routine as last time. Hair up in my silk bonnet, I head back downstairs. In between wash days, I will try to "refresh" my curls with a spray bottle of water and product. Sometimes they cooperate and look decent enough to wear my hair down again. If not, I wear it up in a messy bun.
7:30 p.m. — We watch The Bachelorette episode that was on last night. Oh, Clare. I love that G. watches these shows with me. His commentary is hilarious and he secretly gets really into it.
9 p.m. — After I moisturize, brush, floss, and take my meds, I scroll Instagram for a little bit, talk with G., we have sex, and fall asleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

5:45 a.m. — Same morning routine as usual.. D. drinks his oat milk matcha latte as we listen to NPR on our Google Home. I pack up my yogurt and granola, apple and peanut butter, and carrots for a snack.
7:25 a.m. — Lots of virtual meetings today and virtual check-ins with students. I will likely just be in my office all day long.
8 a.m. — I check our bank account. We have quite a bit of money left over in our October spending account. I will need to fill up my gas tank again before the end of the month and go grocery shopping for a few items on Saturday so I take that into account. E. bought an expensive sweater he had been wanting earlier this month and also purchased some nice hair products from a black-owned business called NTRGLD. I text him and ask how he feels about me making a big purchase from SHEIN and he tells me that I haven't bought clothes in a while and I deserve it. I have nine sweatshirts, sweaters, and work blouses in my cart. I have free shipping and a 15% off code. I quadruple check my cart over and over to make sure I really want to buy all of this and spend this amount of money. $127.49
3 p.m. — Get a work out in and then head home.
5 p.m. — For dinner tonight I make a big chopped salad with coleslaw, romaine lettuce, black beans, fire-roasted corn, red pepper, roasted sweet potatoes (spiced with garlic and onion powder, salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder), black eyed peas, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas and a ton of cilantro. I make a vegan BBQ ranch dressing to go on top. We eat while continuing Schiit's Creek.
6 p.m. — I am so tired. I also feel stressed and feel an urge to binge eat. I verbalize this to G. and tell him I am going to go upstairs to remove myself from proximity to the kitchen. I go upstairs, take a shower, get ready for bed, and watch an episode of A Million Little Things. I watch Reels on Instagram and fall asleep by 8.
Daily Total: $127.49

Day Seven

5:30 a.m. — I wake up a little early since I fell asleep earlier than usual last night. All three cats are snuggled up with me and it's so warm. I snuggle with them for a while until it's time to get up. G. and I have blueberry bagels with Kite Hill cream cheese for breakfast. We listen to NPR while he has his oat milk matcha latte. Neither of us drinks coffee, but G. loves tea. I think our lack of coffee drinking saves us a lot of money.
7:25 a.m. — Another day of virtual meetings. The core team I work with consists of the school counselors, school psychologists, and administrators. Today we are working on a PowerPoint for the presentation we are doing at our staff meeting next week about students' mental health. COVID has definitely negatively affected the mental health of so many people, and many of the students we are working with are suffering from severe depression, anxiety, and loneliness. I check in with a few students throughout the morning. For one student who is really behind on his schoolwork, we make a Google Doc listing all his missing assignments and list which ones have the most points to start focusing on first.
11:30 a.m. — On Fridays, my coworkers and I order lunch together. Today we decide to order Panera. I order the Mediterranean Bowl with no feta, no yogurt, and extra hummus ($10.48). G. orders lunch with his coworkers too ($11.15). $21.63
3 p.m. — All meetings are done and I am exhausted from this week. I head home. I am so tempted to pull into every grocery store parking lot and buy a huge bag of chips or popcorn to eat when I get home. I know I need to start seeing a therapist. I had done the intake process for an eating disorder clinic back before COVID hit. I also turned 26 right around that time and had to join G.'s work insurance, which the eating disorder clinic didn't accept. We recently joined my new job's insurance and I will need to check to see if any treatment options will be covered by my insurance and what is available currently with COVID still raging. I don't stop and thankfully G. is home when I get home. I eat some peanut butter filled pretzels and an apple.
4:30 p.m. — We take a walk before dinner time.
6 p.m. — My dad is here! We order Thai food from this place near our house. He and G. order two different types of curry. I order a tofu dish with an amazing sauce, cashews, lots of veggies, and rice. My dad pays.
9 p.m. — I am so tired. I get ready for bed and scroll Instagram for a bit before falling asleep.
Daily Total: $21.63
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text "NEDA" to 741741.
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