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Money Journal: 1 Week In Richfield On a $160K Salary

How far do the dollars of a 44-year-old healthcare IT pro go?

Emilio Takas via Unsplash

Welcome to Racket’s Money Journal series, where you can snoop on the finances of an anonymous Twin Cities neighbor. Interested in submitting your own? Email jay@racketmn.com for instructions on over-sharing the monetary details of your life! H/T to Refinery29 for pioneering a tremendous concept that we’re excited to localize.

Personal Information

Job: Healthcare IT professional
Age: 44
Neighborhood: Richfield
Education: Bachelor’s
Salary: $160,200 
Partner’s salary: $0 (homemaker)
Dependents: Two kids, 5 and 8
Estimated net worth: Around $900,000-$1M between various retirement accounts and home equity. 

Debt

Credit cards: $4,800, which is a little above average after some recent expenses. We pay off all of our CC debt each month, even if it means moving some money out of savings. 

Vehicle: None. Very happy to not have any car payments for the first time in a good while.

Loans: Just the mortgage.

Assets

Retirement accounts: $700K across a vibrant mix of 401Ks, 403Bs, IRAs, common stock, and indexed investment accounts.

Non-retirement cash (spend and savings accounts): $40,000 between checking, savings, and money market accounts.

Miscellaneous things: Home equity, cars, priceless heirlooms, an attic’s worth of baby clothes, etc.

Monthly Income

Paycheck amount: $3,805 every two weeks (after taxes/SS, insurance, 403B, HSA and 529 withholdings). 

Monthly Expenses

Mortgage: $900.

Utilities:

  • Electric: $90 (winter), $200 (summer)
  • Gas: $190 (winter), $40 (summer)
  • Trash/recycling, water/sewer: $80
  • Phone: $107 (2 lines)
  • Internet: $70 

Insurances (monthly):

  • Health: $600, which doesn’t pay for squat before $3K yet still, somehow, this might be considered a good plan…
  • Dental: $60
  • Disability: $82
  • Life (myself, wife, kids): $42
  • Car, homeowners bundled total: $220

Retirement: Seven-percent of my pre-tax salary every pay period goes into my 403B; my employer matches 3%. I also try to stash $1,000 each month for the sole purpose of maxing out our IRAs in the spring. 

Gas: $160.

Groceries: $200.

Subscriptions: Purple Insider ($64/year), The Athletic (trial, $20/year), Channel 6 ($100/year), Defector ($120/year), Heavy Table ($10), Racket ($5) [Editor’s note: Hell yeah], Paramount+ ($10), Netflix ($12), HBO Max ($15), Amazon Prime ($139/year), Hulu ($15), Peacock ($5—COYG!!), YouTube TV ($65), Disney+ (part of phone sub) iTunes (part of phone sub), Lifetime ($300), scheduled monthly charitable donations ($150). 

Money Talk Q&A

Did your family talk about money growing up?

For sure. My dad was a CPA and my mom handled all the finances, so I got lessons from both that were unique and reflected their respective attitudes toward money. I was given very pragmatic advice on investing by my dad early on—to just invest what you can and forget about it until you’re 65. He has a very laidback attitude with money, which is amusing to me given his upbringing in comparison to my mother’s. My mom, who once got a literal pony for Christmas, taught me how to balance a checkbook, how to budget for the coming months, etc. and was generally much more conservative in how we spent money as a family. We received weekly allowances growing up that we were expected to use toward whatever games or toys we wanted. I think I also learned to not take things for granted and to appreciate how lucky we were from her, too. 

Did you worry about money growing up?

Yes, but never in a way that felt like there was an imminent threat to our stability. I grew up comfortably middle class and my dad for the most part had a good job while my mom was a teacher’s aid and, despite being criminally underpaid, always had great benefits. However, while I was in middle school and again in high school, my dad was laid off and also changed jobs once or twice during that time to find better fits (he worked for a full-on psychopath for about nine months there). So, there were times when things were a bit uneasy and budgets slimmed down quite a bit for spells here and there, but I never sensed that my parents were ever seriously worried. The worst for me was the first layoff; it was during my “formative” years when it was important to wear Girbaud and Z Cavaricci and I was sporting Wranglers and Brittania. While the middle school urge to fit in was strong and I can still remember being ashamed of trivial shit like the brands of clothes that I wore, now that I’m older I’ve come to realize that it’s all for the best that there aren’t any photos of me wearing Hammer pants floating around.

My grandparents’ wealth was obviously something that’s always really impacted my life and shielded me from ever feeling like we were ever at too much risk financially. While my parents never found themselves in a position of needing to be bailed out, even when my dad was looking for work, it was always kind of there in the back of everyone’s mind that they’d be there for us if we needed it. I remember that they even took our family on vacation to see them in Phoenix during all this, so we still got to partake in a big splurge like family travel during one of the most “austere” times of my life. 

At what age did you become financially independent?

I’ve supported myself financially since I graduated from college, but that really oversimplifies the importance of being able to leave college debt-free or any number of the conveniences I’ve experienced downstream of that point that have really allowed me and my family to live so much more comfortably than we would have were we to still have that debt hanging over us. In the same way debt can snowball, being free of it when you enter the workforce can have the same effects on long-term growth. 

So yeah, we should absolutely cancel student loan debt and make post-secondary education free and accessible to everyone for the simple reason that it’s worth it to provide some financial freedom to as many people as possible to choose a path that’s right for them. [Editor’s note: HELL, yeah.]

How did you learn how to budget your life?

I’ve been living on my own or with roommates basically since I left for college. I think the day-to-day lessons of budgeting for at least a few weeks or months out that I learned from my mom helped a lot early on when I was living paycheck-to-paycheck, where the lessons on investing from my dad have helped to ensure I feel comfortable where I am now heading into the latter half of my career being confident that I can retire and hopeful that my kids will be fortunate enough to leave school debt-free like my wife (full ride on an athletic scholarship) and I both were. 

Oh, right…

Have you ever received inherited income, major financial gifts, or large insurance payouts?

Yup. 

In addition to funding my college, my grandparents passed soon after graduation and I inherited $100K which I only ever dipped into to help with a down payment on my first house. So, in addition to being debt free after college—free to be young, dick around, then finally grow up a bit and start saving in earnest—I was also given a head start on my retirement and an easy pathway into home ownership and building equity much earlier than would have been otherwise possible. My parents have remained thrifty throughout their retirement and will probably be able to provide a similar head start for my kids, which is great for us, but still somewhat unnerving in all of its seemingly randomly apportioned inequity. 

This is all to say that generational wealth has probably had a bigger impact on my overall financial comfort and happiness than my actual job. (But having a kickass job that pays well is pretty cool, too.)

Do you worry about money now?

Only in ways that might seem trivial to a majority of your readers. I’d love to be able to save money for home improvements and family travel all while maxing out our IRAs, etc. In the meantime, I guess I’m more than content rebuilding my fence myself, vacationing in Duluth, and only putting $10K into the IRAs. Hard to complain, really.

How much do you think a person or household needs to earn to live comfortably in the Twin Cities?

While I think comfortable is relative to the person, there’s definitely a threshold somewhere. I’ve felt comfortable for a long time and on much lower salaries. Probably first felt comfortable while on my own with an income around $50-60K (add 14 years of inflation), we lived extravagantly on two salaries without kids (around $150K), and are doing plenty fine on one salary with one/two kids today ($100K-$160K). Is financial comfort governed by the same induced demand that affects our highways? Ask an economist. 

I’m punting on this because I doubt I’m a good judge of this given the privileges I’ve been afforded in my life. On one hand, some medical emergency has probably bankrupted a family more comfortable than we are, but I also know that there are a number of extravagances in our life that we could make do without in a pinch and make it out just fine. 

Money Journal

Day 1

No purchases.

Day 2

9 a.m.: $137.04 for two post-deductible medical bills.

10:30 a.m.: $3.63 for a Starbucks coffee.

5 p.m.: $39.84 for a board game on Amazon.

Day 3

9 a.m.: $178.77 for our quarterly utility payment to the city (water, sewer, etc.).

10:45 a.m.: $59.62 for gas.

11 a.m.: $30.34 for groceries from Target.

Day 4

9: a.m.: $10.74 for a Paramount+ subscription I thought I already canceled.

10 a.m.: $93.93 for groceries at Lakewinds Co-Op.

Day 5

Noon: $21 for a T-shirt for one of the kids.

4 p.m.: $62.30 for an oil change/tune up on the snow blower.

4:15 p.m.: $47.53 for two packs of WLD WTR (weed juice) from Wild Minds.

4:30 p.m.: $90.30 for groceries and home goods from Target.

7:15 p.m. $48.17 for dinner at Kabob’s Indian Grill.

Day 6

11:30 a.m.: $39.70 for school lunches.

Day 7

10 a.m.: $10 for ski pass at Fort Snelling State Park.

Total: $872.91