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Money Journal: 1 Week In the ‘Burbs On a $178K Salary

How far do the dollars of a 45-year-old nonprofit VP go?

Fabian Blank 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: Nonprofit vice president
Age: 45
Neighborhood: First-ring suburb
Education: Master’s degree
Salary: $168,100 plus $10,000 for other work
Partner’s salary: N/A, I have been divorced for a year
Dependents: N/A
Estimated net worth: It ebbs and flows with the market since it’s almost all in retirement accounts, currently around $700K.

Debt

Credit cards: I put bigger expenses (like tires this week) on a travel-oriented card to earn miles and travel perks but pay off the balance every month.

Vehicle: I owe $13,000 on my 2019 Volvo and have a monthly car payment of $550.48.

Divorce agreement: $1,400 per month to my ex; one year down, one year to go.

Assets

Retirement accounts: Around $670,000 across 403b and Roth IRA accounts.

Non-retirement cash (spend and savings accounts): $16,410.

Miscellaneous things: Like my car’s value and jewelry.

Monthly Income

Paycheck amount: $3,536 twice a month ($700 per paycheck goes straight to my ex and is already taken out before it hits my bank account)

Monthly Expenses

Rent: $1,856 plus $50 per month for indoor parking.

Utilities:

  • Electric: $53
  • Gas, water, trash/recycling, sewer: $43
  • Phone: $91
  • Internet: $50

Insurances:

  • Health: $60.16
  • Dental: $8.16
  • Disability: $66.20
  • Car, renters, life bundled total: $177.04

Retirement: 10% of my pre-tax salary every pay period goes into my 403b; my employer matches 5%.

Gas: $100.

Groceries: $150.

Subscriptions: New York Times digital (gifted), Washington Post digital ($12), Star Tribune print ($52), the New York Magazine digital universe ($8), Racket ($5) [Editor’s note: Hell yeah], Netflix ($15), Apple TV ($7), HBO Max (part of my phone plan), Spotify ($10), Amazon Prime ($15), Peloton ($44 but my health insurance reimburses me the membership cost)… writing it all out like this is wildly overwhelming (so.much.content!). [Editor’s note: It’s important and healthy to keep many subscriptions and never unsubscribe from the cheapest ones.]

Money Talk Q&A

Did your family talk about money growing up?

Not really. A few years ago one of my cousins said how surprising it was that no one really talked to us about money growing up since multiple family members work in finance, and that he might have made different decisions when we were younger if there were more open conversations. That’s really stuck with me, and since then I’ve tried to change some of those patterns by talking more openly about money with people in my life. It’s not always easy, and I can definitely get defensive, but I think it’s been better for me and hopefully helpful to others—it’s the main reason I volunteered sharing all of this information even though I will want to crawl into a hole when it’s published.

Did you worry about money growing up?

No. The financial reality for my family changed pretty radically after my dad graduated from college when I was four or five but I didn’t fully understand how much things had changed until the first time I saw the new house we moved to when I was in junior high and realized holy $*@!, we have money now?! It was disorienting, going from being conscious of not having some of the things my friends had (Central air! Cable TV! Esprit shirts!) to looking at colleges without worrying how much they cost. I have thought a lot in the years since about how much the dichotomy between my younger years and teenage years has affected my relationship with money.

At what age did you become financially independent?

When I graduated from college. I was making $24K and some really questionable decisions on a lot of dimensions of life, but I think the only financial support was the occasional plane ticket to come home for the holidays and that ended by the time I was in my mid-20s. 

How did you learn how to budget your life?

The embarrassing but true answer is that I’m learning right now. It’s the first time I’ve really had an intentional approach to finances and what I want to spend and save. My ex ran the financial side of things for the entirety of our marriage, and I told myself that I wasn’t good at that kind of thing anyways so didn’t need to worry about it. A step I took alongside divorce was getting a financial planner, and it was important for me to work with someone I trusted and could be open with about my (self perceived to be stupid) questions, concerns, and long term plans. It’s been really helpful in providing me with a budget framework as well as a big picture understanding of my finances, and I feel far more competent and in control already. Having half of my net worth go away after being the income earner for the duration of my marriage was hard, to put it mildly and without expletives. I’ve worked at finding peace with it and instead focus on the good that I can do with what I have and what I want to be true for my financial future. I still have huge advantages in so many different ways.

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

The entirety of my obscenely expensive undergrad education was paid for by my parents. (I paid for grad school and have been loan-free for five years.)

Do you worry about money now?

Yes, and it’s wild to me now that I didn’t really think or worry about money when my salary was supporting a whole other person and home ownership. I think it comes down to feeling more on my own, for everything. And that’s mostly very freeing but yes, I worry about the financial long term for myself much more than I ever have before.

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

“Comfortably” is definitely the key word here. I make more now than I ever dreamed I would, but I’ve also gotten used to it—I have developed some expensive habits and coping mechanisms (travel, primarily). I’m working on that! I think for me as a single person, especially once the payments to my ex are done, I could take a huge pay cut and still be very comfortable.

Money Journal

Day 1

9 a.m.: $64.47 for Yoto cards and a travel case. (A Xmas gift for a little one in my life; I bought the mini player part of the gift last week.)

4 p.m.: $57.30 for a Trader Joe’s run, probably the only grocery shopping I’ll need to do for the next two weeks with the holidays.

Day 2

9:15 a.m.: $15.86 for a pair of earrings at J.Crew.com.

8 p.m.: $43.88 for gas at Speedway.

Day 3

10 a.m.: $49.22 for Saturday Dumpling Club.

5:30 p.m.: $10.30 for a sandwich at Davanni’s, the location of a rousing game of dominos.

11 p.m.: $10.75 for Billie razor auto-refills.

Day 4

12 p.m.: $1,146.23 for four new tires and alignment at Poquet Auto.

6 p.m.: $404.25 to the MN Department of Public Safety for my car registration renewal.

I’ve known both of these expenses (one big one) was coming, so I decided to pay them on the same day and get it over with.

Day 5

Nothing; all my plans for the day were either made virtual or postponed because of weather.

Day 6

12:30 p.m.: $29.03 at Asian Mart in Asia Mall for Xmas gifts.

2:30 p.m.: $37.48 for a pair of pants and sunglasses on sale at J.Crew; they got me when I went in to pick up the earrings (which I didn’t like and am returning next week).

Day 7

10 a.m.: $10.70 to SpotHero for a parking spot downtown for a show this afternoon.

Total: $1,879.47