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A Week In Dallas, TX On A $77,910 Salary

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 writer/editor who makes $77,910 per year and spends some of her money this week on a Schitt’s Creek plant sign.
Occupation: Writer/editor
Industry: News media
Age: 41
Location: Dallas, TX
Salary: $77,910
Assets: Property: $400,000; checking: $2,307.12; high-yield savings account: $3,961.68; CD: $2,076; investments: $154,744.19 (a money market and Roth IRA); $29,634.81 in my company’s 401(k) (no match).
Debt: Mortgage: $182,028.62; car loan: $4,586.86; and credit card debt $28,687.87.
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $2,488.34; freelance anywhere from $200 to $2,000.
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: $1,600 mortgage for the house that I own and live in by myself.
Monthly Loan Payments: Credit cards/personal loan: $2,932 total; car payment: $315
All Other Monthly Expenses:
Security System: $21.64
Wifi: $55.58
Electricity: ~$50-$60 in the winter; as high as $250 in the summer
Gas: ~$30 in the summer; ~$170 in the winter
Water/Trash/Sewer: ~$70
Cell Phone: $89.52 (work reimburses me $50 of this)
iCloud Storage: $2.99
KERA (Local PBS) Donation: $10
Planned Parenthood Donation: $10
Energy Ogre: $10
Lawn Mowing: $80 (two visits at $40 each)
Home Camera Monitoring: $1.59
Patreon: $13.50 to support two podcasts
Savings Auto-Transfers:
~$100 split between house repair fund and pet costs fund; $120 into regular savings

Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
Absolutely, and I was very lucky that my parents offered to pay my tuition and expenses if I went in-state (I grew up in Colorado). So my brother, my parents, and myself all attended the same college (University of Colorado at Boulder), and I graduated with no student loans. But then of course I decided to go to grad school... At a private university (Syracuse University in New York)... And I paid for that myself through loans and scholarships. I did a juggling routine by rotating the balance among credit cards through zero-percent APR balance transfers until it was all paid off. The way government interest works, there’s no way I could have paid it off before age 60 otherwise.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent(s)/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My dad was a financial advisor, but surprisingly we barely talked about money. I remember my parents taking me to open a savings account when I was young, and they gave me a credit card when I was 16, but I was only allowed to use it for picking up groceries/running errands for them and gas for the car that was handed down to me from my brother, for which they also paid the insurance. When I was thrust out into the real world, I didn’t know a lot about how money worked.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
I was a hostess at On the Border at 16, because a) it was one of the few places that hired so young and b) all my high school friends worked there. I remember I wanted the job because I wanted to buy CDs. Unofficially, my whole family worked at a bingo parlor to help pay for my ice skating expenses as a kid. My mom sold the cards, my dad called out the numbers, and my brother and I sold dobbers.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Not at all — I saved that for adulthood! My family was relatively well off and my mother didn’t work, plus we often took trips, went out to eat, and my brother and I always had the clothes, food, hobby equipment, and entertainment we needed and wanted.

Do you worry about money now?
It’s better now that I have a plan for paying off debt, but it has really kept me up a lot of nights. I felt like I was drowning in a pool I filled myself. I’m constantly on the lookout for new job opportunities that might pay more, and I’m always hustling with freelance work. I’m on a very strict budget now and track every expense, even before doing this diary!

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I was 26 when I graduated with my master’s in journalism in 2008, at the height of the recession, so those first few years out were really tough. My then-boyfriend and I moved to Arizona so he could take a job... That disappeared six months later when the company shut down. I couldn’t get hired ANYWHERE, not even Target, so my parents truly supported me through that. From there we moved to Dallas, where my ex was from, and we lived with his mother for nearly a year. I was working part time at the mall, then got hired for my first professional writing/editing job, and from there was earning enough for us to get an apartment. I was nearly 30 before I really felt like I could stand on my own. I blew through a lot of my savings trying to pay off my debt, but I’m slowly building it back up. Once all my credit card debt is paid off, I plan to direct that money toward refilling my emergency expenses fund with at least six months’ worth. My parents aren’t really an option for financial support anymore, but my current boyfriend is extremely supportive (not to mention responsible with money!), so I know he would step in if necessary.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
My grandmother left me $40,000 when she died in 2001. That was immediately invested for me by my father into a money market fund, and I’ve only touched it to put an FHA down payment on my first house in 2011.

Day One

8 a.m. — I wake up and snuggle my two senior dogs — one had tumor removal surgery a week and a half ago, so I check that her stitches look okay before getting dressed and taking them for their morning walk. Once back, I brew a big pot of coffee (I like to drink it cold throughout the week) and sit down to work. My company went entirely remote during the pandemic, so I have a cozy home office setup that I also use — and can deduct a portion of on my taxes! — for freelance writing.
1 p.m. — I break for a quick lunch of soup and toast and check in for my virtual psychiatrist appointment. I see him every three to four months for a med check — these pills have seriously changed my life. I pay the $45 specialist co-pay, knowing I’ll have to pay the other $45 once insurance has processed my claim. Luckily my monthly therapist appointment is completely covered by insurance! $45
2:30 p.m. — Every day at 2:30 p.m. I walk my dogs to the neighborhood pet supply store where they receive a few small treats from the very kind owners. I like to support this small local business, so whenever I can I purchase a bag of treats (this time it’s bison bacon) and their big bags of food from there, even if it might be a bit more costly than buying from a big-box chain. $8.88
7 p.m. — I put myself into major debt during the pandemic, mostly due to buying things I absolutely did not need. Last summer, my boyfriend J. helped me map out a plan to be debt-free within 18 months. To help cut costs, J. has been helping me make a weekly meal plan and then food prep it on Sundays. So I have lasagne to reheat, along with carrots and tomatoes to chop and throw into a salad. J. and I talk a bit on the phone as he’s driving home from his night classes (he’s finishing up his bachelor’s, having quit 10 years ago to start working earlier — he does not recommend this, friends!), then the dogs and I crawl into bed to read for a bit (right now it’s Lessons in Chemistry, found in my neighborhood’s Little Free Library) before it’s lights out.
Daily Total: $53.88

Day Two

8:15 a.m. — Wake up and it’s another walk with the dogs. Today is the Gotcha Day for the older one — I can’t believe I’ve had him for 14 years now! — so I excitedly remind him of this often while he casually sniffs everything, completely nonplussed. At home, I pour copious amounts of creamer into my “iced” coffee, then start my workday. I was never a coffee drinker until I met J. nearly three years ago, but he’s slowly been converting me. However, I still need my coffee to taste like a milkshake. Log onto my laptop and see that my wifi has auto-paid. I’m generally against auto-pay, because often I had to pay bills only when I knew I had the money in my account. But this saves me $5 a month, so I tolerate it but also track the payments intently.
4:45 p.m. — Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and J. has class, so I’m a little in my feels about being alone and go to the grocery store to help fill the hole. I buy chocolate brownie cookies, a sushi sampler, baked potato chips, a two-pack of Reese’s Hearts, more creamer, and a bottle of rosé. Look, I know it’s bad for my health and my budget, but I likely blacked out and I do plan on sharing the cookies and Reese’s with J. when he comes over this weekend. $43.65
6 p.m. — I have three nieces in Colorado, and the middle one is turning 10 next week. I write a little message in her birthday card and add a crisp $20 before sealing and addressing the envelope. I established a few years ago that I was the Money Aunt, and it’s really fun for me to see what they choose to spend the cash on. I pop the card in my mailbox for USPS to collect tomorrow. Then I get changed and head out for a run around the neighborhood. I famously hated running for most of my life, but my boyfriend’s a runner so I kind of picked it up from him. Now I actually enjoy it, and running outdoors is free! Thankful for the warm Texas weather that makes outdoor exercise in February possible. $20
Daily Total: $63.65

Day Three

10 a.m. — Valentine’s Day! I am very excited about having a cookie for breakfast, but also notice that the CO2 in my SodaStream is running low. I live on seltzer and wait until I have four empty cylinders to exchange, because that’s the threshold for free shipping. I used to exchange them in person at Bed Bath & Beyond, where I could also use the famous 20% off coupons, but alas that’s no longer an option. $73.57
3 p.m. — When I bought my first home I had grand plans of mowing the lawn myself, but quickly realized it was worth the cost to pay someone to do it quicker (and better) than I ever could. Now, in my second home, I have a great guy who comes every other week and is finished within 30 minutes. It’s completely money well spent, especially since my backyard is large and my front yard has a few small hills. I zelle him the money before I can forget. $40
8 p.m. — It’s irrational, but I’m still a little blue about being alone on this totally commercial holiday. After a glass of rosé I decide to get on Etsy (dangerous) and order myself a small present. I recently finished watching Schitt’s Creek so I’m tickled by a brass plant sign that says “I have asked you thrice for water.” In just a few short weeks, one of my office plants will be channeling David Rose. $17.54
Daily Total: $131.11

Day Four

8 a.m. — Final morning walk for the surgery pup, who is VERY ready to be out of the cone of shame. We walk by a neighbor who recently lost her own dog, so she calls for me to stop while she goes inside to get treats for my dogs. It makes me happy that my dogs can give her some small measure of comfort, so we stay and chat for a bit while she loves on them. I got paid today, but almost immediately my mortgage and car payment are taken out so the total in my checking account is way less satisfying than it could be.
12:30 p.m. — My dog was a champ at the vet, so we stop at McDonald’s on the way home. I exclusively use the app so I can earn points, and order a six-piece chicken nuggets meal in which most of the French fries go to my dogs. The app saved me 20%, so it’s a little treat for everyone! $5.26
7 p.m. — It’s another night of reheated lasagne and salad, following by watching a few episodes of Upload. I’m planning on getting rid of Amazon Prime before it renews in April — the free shipping is too tempting to me, plus I don’t like that there are now ads in the TV shows and movies.
Daily Total: $5.26

Day Five

10 a.m. — I have my yearly physical today, so I make sure to fast and not drink my creamer-laden coffee. My doctor is in a large medical complex near downtown, so it costs $5 to park (boo) but at least the physical will be free. $5
11:30 a.m. — I am starving after a morning of fasting and getting blood drawn, so I walk next-door to the attached Potbelly for an early lunch. My love of rewards club apps has paid off, and I have a free sandwich to use so I only end up paying for the chips and drink. $4.21
7:30 p.m. — J. typically stays with me on the weekends, so he arrives after work (with belated Valentine’s flowers!) and we do our Friday night ritual of dinner out. We go to a favorite Mexican spot and notice that they’ve raised their prices — with this new total, it might be a while before we go back. We swing by the nearby pie shop to take advantage of their after-Valentine’s sale, and I offer to pay since he got dinner. J. has been extremely supportive about me paying back my debt, so he often covers meals if we go out on the weekend, but I sometimes feel guilty that I can’t be more equal with money right now. The pies aren’t as cheap as we thought they’d be, but we consider it and the dinner our V-Day gift to each other. $54.12
Daily Total: $63.33

Day Six

8 a.m. — We’re up early to walk the dogs before heading to the gym — I’m on J’.s membership, and we like to go work out together on the weekends if we can. He makes a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast while I hop in the shower, since we have a full day of errands planned.
11 a.m. — I’ve been putting off getting an oil change for a while, but a nearby dealership sent me a great coupon for $29.99. But after waiting for nearly two hours for them to be done with my car, J. and I swear to never go to the dealership again, no matter how tempting the deal. Drive-thru oil changes only from now on! $36.57
1:30 p.m. — My neighborhood pet supply store is having its grand opening celebration today — it recently moved into a bigger building — so we stop by. There are animal adoptions, an elote cart handing out free cups, and lots of samples from different pet brands. It’s also doing 20% off the brand of food I feed my dogs, so I buy a huge bag that should last them several months. $77.90
2:30 p.m. — I’ve been meaning to be better about my oral health, so we head into CVS so I can buy some mouthwash to round out my current brushing and water flossing routine. While there, we also pick up more ibuprofen and two cans of Celsius (J. is low-key addicted). We then take some of my clothing donations to Goodwill. I’m slowly but surely decluttering my house in anticipation of J. moving in, so donating things I no longer wear feels great for several reasons. $26.46
Daily Total: $140.93

Day Seven

10 a.m. — We both sleep in, then make coffee. My brother and SIL got J. and me a coffee grinder for Christmas, and I love how excited he gets to use it to make us fresh coffee on the weekends. Another work out at the gym and a walk for the dogs before spending most of the day being lazy watching TV and movies on the couch.
2 p.m. — Time for our weekly grocery shopping trip! This week’s menu is using some ingredients I already have (chickpeas, couscous) so I mainly just need to buy carrots, tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, a red bell pepper, and more olive oil to round it all out. We roast the chickpeas, carrots, and bell pepper with spices, then chop the rest of the veggies to make into a salad tomorrow night. I’ll also make the couscous fresh then. $13.87
4 p.m. — I had a very good month of freelance writing, so I decide to make an extra payment on one of my credit cards. In the past, I would have split it up among all the cards, not realizing that doing so wouldn’t make much of a dent. Now I know to direct it all toward one account (in this case, one of the two with the highest APR) to really make a difference. J. and I do a quick finance check-in to see how I’m faring so far this month, and talk a little about the vacation we want to take later in the year to celebrate my paying off three more accounts by then. It feels amazing that debt-free is getting closer and closer to being a reality. $600
6 p.m. — J. and I go out to dinner, this time to another favorite Mexican spot (we love our Mexican food here in Texas!). I get shrimp tacos and J. orders chicken enchiladas, and I get a big margarita. Since J. is sober, I send him $10 to cover my drink — it doesn’t feel fair that he should have to pay for my alcohol, and it’s my way to contribute at least a little to the bill. We finish the night by watching a few episodes of Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy on Max. We’re planning to cancel that subscription soon too (J. and I pre-paid for six months and split the cost), so we’re trying to cram as much in from it as possible before it’s gone. $10
Daily Total: $623.87

The Breakdown

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