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A Week In Huntsville, AL, On A $97,500 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 virtual teacher who has a joint income of $97,500 per year and spends some of her money this week on Thin Mints.
Occupation: Virtual Teacher
Industry: Education
Age: 28
Location: Huntsville, AL
My Salary: $45,000
My Husband's Salary: $52,500
Net Worth: $120,613 (Home value: $240,000, combined Roth IRA: $34,788, my Roth 401(k): $646, my husband's 401(k): $6,836, teacher retirement account: $5,634, stocks: $4,310, emergency fund: $18,000 minus debt. We have a joint bank account and everything is "our" money. We are both the sole beneficiaries on all our investments. All financial decisions over $100 are made together.)
Debt: $189,601 (mortgage balance)
My Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,202.17
My Husband's Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,522.46
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $1,062.23
Gas: $120.52
Electric and Trash: $95
Water: $50
Internet: $48.99
Pest Control: $33
Student Loans: $0 — we paid off our final student loan last May!
Church Tithe: $500
Cat Shelter Donation: $10
Roth IRAs: $900
Pure Barre: $99
Rock Climbing Gym: $109
Life Insurance Plans: $76.43
Combined Car Insurance: $107
Health Insurance: $36.90
Dental Insurance: $35.64
Vision Insurance: $6.68
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. From a young age, I thought college was what everyone did after high school. I always planned to go and didn't consider any other options. I also wanted to be an elementary teacher, which does require a bachelor's degree. My parents paid for as much of my education as they could. In the end, I came out with about $30,000 in student loans. My parents also mailed me a $100 check each month to help with living expenses. I did not plan to go to graduate school until I was offered a graduate assistant position that paid for half of my tuition. I did not expect my parents to help me with graduate school, however, they ended up paying the other half of my tuition and I hope they know how grateful I am. I absolutely loved college and am thankful for the financial security it has provided me.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents' actions with money were louder than any physical conversion. As far as I know, they never went into debt except for their mortgage. My mom is very resourceful and frugal but we were never in need of basic necessitates. We ate at home 95% of the time, shopped at consignment stores, and bought used cars. My parents spent any extra money on experiences as opposed to material items. Every summer we went on a one to two-week vacation and created amazing memories. I know certain times were more tight financially (hello, 2008), but being the anxious child I was, my parents did not share too much of their financial information with me.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started babysitting and pet sitting at age 12 after passing out handmade fliers to every house in my neighborhood (I still remember feeling so proud when I got three calls on the first day). As soon as I turned 16, I was expected to get a "real" job, so I started working at a fast-food chain. Since my parents paid for the majority of my expenses, I put most of the money I made into my savings account to help pay for college.
Did you worry about money growing up?
I started worrying about money when my parents enrolled me in an expensive private school when I entered high school. They never made me feel bad, but I knew it was a strain on their finances and I felt guilty. I also started a mental health journey in high school which involved my parents paying for a therapist and dietitian, neither of which were covered by insurance. Again, they never once made accusations about me being an expensive child, I created those feelings all by myself.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes. I know that for our age we are making wise choices (paying off student loans, investing, living within our means), but I worry about the future. I have always wanted to one day be a stay-at-home mom and I know we could not afford to live on my husband's salary alone. I also know we are supposed to invest (and we are), but I honestly do not understand it at all. I have this scarcity mindset where I just want to save every single cent for the worst-case scenario. Thankfully, I am married to a man who helps me loosen up a bit.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became completely financially responsible when I graduated college and graduate school at 23. I got married a month after graduate school, got a full-time job, and started putting my husband through law school. Our emergency fund of $18,000 is our safety net if one of us loses our job, the house breaks, etc. Our life insurance policies are an additional safety net. I know both our parents would help if something drastic happened, but that would be worst-case scenario and I would want to pay every cent back.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My maternal grandmother left me stocks that are currently valued at $4,310. This is the only inheritance/passive income I have received.

Day One

7 a.m. — Alarm goes off and I press snooze twice until one cat is meowing at the door and another is on top of me. I do my morning routine: feed, water, and medicate my three cats, pour a giant glass of water, and heat up the Nespresso machine. Skin care (cleanse, exfoliate, vitamin C serum, moisturize, sunscreen), floss and brush teeth, clip up freshly washed curls, and put on my work from home uniform (leggings with a semi-nice top). Zoom only sees what's going on up top.
8 a.m. — I make a latte with my new Nespresso machine (purchased last week for $50 on Facebook marketplace). The machine didn't come with a fancy milk steamer, so I heat up some lactose-free milk with a splash of half and half in the microwave. Time to work — I check emails, Teams, student messages, and my calendar. I do some quick tasks and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before I have to leave for my dreaded annual OBGYN appointment.
11 a.m. — Home from my OBGYN appointment. You know the drill, wait over an hour and then see the doctor for two minutes. Everything looks normal. I grab some blueberries and get to work. I live teach on Zoom, grade, lesson plan, and document communication.
12 p.m. — Lunch is express mac, carrots, and a multivitamin. More water. A few hours later I snack on clementines, dark chocolate, and pita chips.
6 p.m. — While my husband, R., cooks, I empty litter boxes, feed/water/medicate cats, and do some laundry. We eat a dinner of spicy chicken tacos and rice that R. prepared. I pour a glass of pinot noir, snuggle up with a cat, and watch two episodes of Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet on Disney Plus.
9 p.m. — Shower and get ready for bed. My evening skin-care routine is less robust — cleanse and moisturize. I grab a cat and read Beartown by Fredrik Backman in bed until my eyes can't stay open.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

7 a.m. — Press snooze three times today until a cat attacks my hair. Usual morning routine — take care of cats and get ready for work. I recently bought a bright orange sweater on ThredUp after my sister commented that my mostly gray and black wardrobe needed some life. Today is gloomy and gross, so I throw on my orange sweater for some cheer. No worries though, my socks and leggings are still black.
8 a.m. — Time to work. Emails, live teach on Zoom, grade, lesson plan, document communication with districts and parents…etc. I consume the same latte concoction as yesterday.
9 a.m. — A cat is meowing from the bedroom, signaling me to climb back in bed. Resisting temptation, I cuddle the cat and make another latte, this time with oat milk because I've already been to the bathroom twice this morning. Oat milk is disgusting. I add some maple syrup and whipped cream to mask the taste. Then, I throw together a quick yogurt bowl for breakfast: whole milk Greek yogurt, apples, chia seeds, walnuts, and cinnamon. Back to the grind.
1 p.m. — Lunchtime. I mix some leftover rice, snap peas, (soggy) tomatoes, shredded cheese, cilantro, salt, and pepper together. It's not great, but I am proud of myself for using up random items in the fridge. I place a Walmart pickup order for CeraVe lotion, chapstick, paper towels, toothbrush head replacements, toilet paper, dishcloths, laundry detergent, toothpaste, and tissues ($72.04). I usually do a large Walmart pickup order once a month for toiletries and household items. Since my husband is the cook of the house, he typically gets groceries from Kroger for higher-quality produce and meats. $72.04
5 p.m. — Head to Pure Barre class. I grab a spot in the back in an attempt to blend my Old Navy Activewear in with the sea of Lululemon.
6 p.m. — Home from Barre. I check back into work one last time before shutting down my laptop. Take out the trash, load the dishwasher, attend to the cats, fold laundry, and shower while R. makes chicken parmesan and spaghetti. (No, I didn't know he was a chef when I married him.) Snack on some carrots and blueberries before we eat.
8 p.m. — We watch a few episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and snack on dark chocolate, dried mango, and goldfish. I add eye drops to the Walmart order ($16.58). Read Beartown in bed until my eyes close $16.58
Daily Total: $88.62

Day Three

6 a.m. — Finally look at the clock after a terrible night of sleep. Worry consumed me and made sure sleep was not a priority. My husband's liver values are presenting as someone who is a heavy drinker, but he has never had a sip of alcohol in his life (personal reasons). His third liver panel this year came back with the same elevated values. He will now be referred to a hepatologist.
7 a.m. — I choose a coffee pod today that begins with “our most intense blend.” It's that kind of day. Sweeten with maple syrup and half and half. Throw on a gray sweater and black leggings to match my mood. Time to work.
10 a.m. — I make a peanut butter sandwich to eat on the way to Walmart pickup. I also stop at the eye doctor to pick up my glasses and run into the new Popshelf store that has replaced all our Dollar Generals. I browse and leave with a rug for our back door ($5.45). Take pictures of my receipts and upload them to Ibotta and Fetch Rewards. Home, unload, back to work. $5.45
1 p.m. — Lunch consists of express mac and a smoothie (Greek yogurt, frozen berries, banana, chia seeds, and cinnamon) while I FaceTime with my sister.
4 p.m. — I snack on a cheese stick, pita chips, and ginger tea before I head to hot yoga. A new studio opened up in town and they are offering a free class tonight.
6 p.m. — Immediately shower upon returning home from very hot yoga. We should go to our Thursday evening church group, but R. has a late doctor deposition and I'm still panicking that gas is over $4/gallon (and we live 30 minutes away.) I notify the leader we won't be there tonight (who is probably relieved that they can now freely discuss their children's developmental milestones since the only couple sans kids will be absent).
7 p.m. — R. picks up Chipotle (veggie bowl for me, chicken bowl for him, and an accidental order of queso) and we watch two episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I snack on some dark chocolate for something sweet. $18.15
Daily Total: $23.60

Day Four

8 a.m. — I set my alarm for 30 minutes later than usual and I press snooze for 30 minutes, so I guess it's time to get up. Fridays are meeting and admin days, so I do not have to prepare to live teach on Zoom. I throw in a load of laundry, make a latte, and get to work.
9 a.m. — FaceTime with my oldest sister and two-year-old nephew. Hammers and dump trucks are all rage right now. He loves to meow to my three cats (one of which meows back to him). He cries when I have to leave and says, “love you” in the most heart-melting way. I question again why I live so far away from my family.
10 a.m. — Make a quick breakfast of oatmeal and two clementines and sign into my next meeting. My company is so organized and #educatorfirst that I honestly can't imagine having to go back to brick-and-mortar classroom teaching. Do you know how much time is wasted at school just taking 20 first graders to the bathroom?? I've only had this job since October and have not looked back.
12 p.m. — The meeting is over. It is currently 66 degrees outside and I cannot pass up a walk. I walk for 30 minutes while listening to the latest What Should I Read Next podcast. While listening, I add Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir to my to-read list on Goodreads and place it on hold at the library. Once home, I brew some Lemon Lift tea, pour it over ice, and open four windows in the house. I tell myself I cannot leave my chair until I finish next week's lesson plans.
1 p.m. — Okay, I can't focus though if I am hungry so I heat up my leftover Chipotle, cover an apple in peanut butter, and then glue myself to my chair. I see R. had Taco Bell for lunch since I just got a notification from our credit card ($7.62). A few hours later I snack on goldfish and a banana. $7.62
6 p.m. — R. calls on his way home and I hint that ice cream for dinner sounds amazing. He says I'm welcome to go get some. Since those gas prices are still scaring me, I finish off a container of cool whip instead while I wrap up work. Dinner is leftover spaghetti.
8 p.m. — R. plays his computer games while I read, watch Home Town, and snack on graham crackers and a glass of wine.
Daily Total: $7.62

Day Five

9 a.m. — We have been laying in bed watching the snow outside (it was 70 degrees yesterday and we don't get snow often in Alabama). I tell R. I'll make pancakes for breakfast and go start my latte. Somehow he takes over pancake making (he has little faith in my cooking skills) so I sip my latte and tell him about my embarrassing call to the dentist yesterday. (I thought I had a ruptured blood vessel…turns out a chia seed was just really stuck. I did not figure this out until I had left SOS voicemails for R., my mom, and the dentist.)
12 p.m. — We have to bring dessert to a friend's house tomorrow so I head out to Aldi. I stop at a consignment store on the way and find the perfect wall piece for our kitchen. $43.60
12 p.m. — Girl Scouts are conveniently planted outside the store with cookie samples and complimentary coffee. I help myself to the samples and purchase two boxes — Thin Mints for me, Tagalongs for R. $8
12 p.m. — At Aldi, I grab cookie dough, bananas, and some sugar-laden cereal to mask the taste of the horrible oat milk I purchased ($5.85). I snack on almonds on the way home. $5.85
2 p.m. — Lunch is two eggs scrambled, carrots, a banana, and some Tagalongs. I hang up the wall piece and bake the cookies for tomorrow.
5 p.m. — I eat some express mac, a cheese stick, and another cookie before heading out to my Saturday night volunteer shift at our local non-profit cat lounge. After cuddling with all the adoptable kitties, I get to work emptying litter boxes, vacuuming, and cleaning (with intermittent cat cuddle breaks).
8 p.m. — When I arrive home, I heat up a bowl of potato, leek, and sausage soup that R. made for dinner. We grab the Girl Scout cookies and watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Daily Total: $57.45

Day Six

9 a.m. — We get ready for church and head out to teach second and third-grade Bible class. I drink coffee provided at the church. There are seven boys in class today and so much energy.
12 p.m. — We go over to a friend's house for lunch. We discuss the housing market (like adults) and how normal people can't afford to buy a modest house without going way out of their budget.
3 p.m. — I take a nap while R. places a Kroger pickup for this week's groceries ($44.82). He orders broccoli, a red bell pepper, mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, basil, diced tomatoes, spaghetti noodles, spicy shrimp noodles, two containers of ramen, chicken breasts, and salmon. $44.82
5 p.m. — After waking up to a cat stepping on my throat, I eat a bowl of cereal and an apple then vacuum, tidy, sanitize litter boxes, and shower. I have Sunday scaries, so I pull out my laptop to get a head start on work. While working, I eat some leftover spaghetti and Thin Mints. R. eats instant ramen and his Tagalongs.
8 p.m. — I get a notification that after a five-month wait, Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty is ready on Libby to download to my kindle. Reading takes up the rest of my evening.
Daily Total: $44.82

Day Seven

7 a.m. — It's hard to get out of bed this morning so I stumble to get coffee. My latte is a mix of lactose-free milk, half and half, and oat milk, which I would not recommend. However, I am my mother's daughter and I hate to waste anything.
9 a.m. — I receive a Rover notification for a drop-in visit for four dogs next Saturday. I pet sit on weekends and holidays to help bring in a little extra income. I verify that all four dogs get along and that I will not be breaking up any fights. The client assures me they are friendly and I book the service. After Rover takes their 20%, I will stand to make $29.60 for 30 minutes of time. (It's only after I secure the booking that the client informs me that one dog wears a diaper that I will have to change…)
10 a.m. — R. and I have marriage therapy today and I call the clinic because the invoice I received was for $100 and our copay is $20. I nervously wait as she places me on hold to figure out what happened. I picked this place because it was one of the only clinics to take our insurance and is close to R.'s work. Thankfully, she says it was an error on their side and she sends me a new invoice, which I pay ($20). It's a 30-minute drive for me so I finish up my current task, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and get ready to leave. $20
12 p.m. — We leave therapy with a quick kiss goodbye and head back to our respective places of work. I whisper a thank you to my parents for being so forward-thinking about mental health. I have nostalgic childhood memories of my mom taking me to get frozen yogurt after therapy, so I stop for a sassafrass strawberry tea on the way home. $4
12 p.m. — I notice R. picks up some sushi at Whole Foods ($13.94). At home, I heat up leftover soup for lunch and get back to work. $13.94
4 p.m. — I eat three clementines and then go to Pure Barre. On the way home, I stop and get my holds at the library.
6 p.m. — R. makes chicken and vegetable stir fry with Thai peanut sauce for dinner. After dinner, I attempt to pack for an upcoming trip home for my nephew's birthday. I procrastinate on very few things in life and packing is one of them. I end up playing with the cats and doing some laundry instead.
8 p.m. — I read Apples Never Fall (I'm hooked) with a cat on my lap until I fall asleep.
Daily Total: $37.94
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