A Week In Northern Virginia On A $204,000 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 social worker with a joint income of $204,000 who spends some of her money this week on antique doorknobs.
Occupation: Social Worker
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 26
Location: Northern Virginia
My Salary: $54,000
My Husband's Salary: $150,000
Net Worth: ~$718,000 ($27,000 in our joint checking/savings account (this is our only checking/savings account, we have joint finances), $30,000 in my 401(k) + Roth IRA, $150,000 in my husband's retirement (he also has a pension and TBH I'm not sure how this is broken up for retirement/what kind of account he has), $511,000 is the approximate value of our home, $500,000 recent inheritance, minus debt below)
Debt: $445,000 left of our mortgage, $40,000 in my student loans, $2,000 in my credit card debt, $300 in my husband's credit card debt, $12,000 for my husband's car loan
My Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,449
My Husband's Paycheck Amount (2x/month): Between $3,000-$4,500
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $2,500
Electric: $90 (We keep our house on the colder side during the winter. This was our most recent electric bill and we were surprised by how low it was. I will probably use this as leverage to keep the house a little warmer!)
Water: ~$35
Student Loans: $600
Credit Card Debt: $300 (0% interest card)
Husband's Car Payment: $400
Retirement: My husband and I both put 10% of our income into retirement accounts. I also have a Roth IRA that I contribute $500/month to.
Savings: $250 per paycheck goes to emergency savings
Gym: $15
Netflix/Hulu: $20
Dog Walker: This varies, but is usually around $100
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. My parents both have master's degrees and placed a heavy emphasis on school. I never questioned that I would go to college and graduate school. Looking back though, I think my parents would have been very accepting if I had decided to go a different route, like a trade school, and while I don't think that would have changed my decision, I wish I had at least thought about it. I have also recently come to the realization that never questioning that I would go to higher ed was SUCH a privilege. I knew that my family would have the means to support me and I definitely took that for granted. My parents paid for 90% of my undergraduate degree (this left me with $10,000 in student loans) and sent me a monthly allowance/paid for my apartment. I did have a job in undergrad but it definitely wasn't necessary. I paid for the entirety of my graduate degree through a combo of loans and a part-time job at the university.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Yes, my parents were transparent about money and did their best to teach me and my siblings how to budget. I was expected to get a job when I turned 16 and to put 10% of that money into my savings. My parents also opened a Roth IRA for me when I first became employed and contributed to it up until the age of 22. I am eternally grateful for that because I started ahead on the retirement game. My parents lived below their means but splurged on the things that mattered to them (i.e taking the family to Europe). I still call my parents for financial help and 100% trust their advice.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was at a local coffee shop/bakery. I was expected to get a job when I turned 16 but the money was mine to keep.
Did you worry about money growing up?
No, I never worried about money. My dad had a high-powered career and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. We had nice things and regularly did things like take vacations to Europe. Looking back, I realize how good my parents were financially and it made my childhood feel very secure.
Do you worry about money now?
No, I do not. My husband and I both have stable careers and healthy emergency savings. I also know that we have my parents to fall back on should something catastrophic happen.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
This is a tricky question for me to answer. I became financially independent from my parents at 22 after I graduated from college. That being said, I relied on my now-husband financially while I was in graduate school. We made the decision that he would take care of pretty much all expenses (housing, groceries, etc.) and I would focus on school and use my part-time job money to pay off school. I do have a financial safety net in my parents.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes. My husband's mom died a few months ago. His grandmother also died this year and had a large inheritance to pass along to his mom. We recently found out that since his mom died, this money is going to us instead of his dad. We are still in shock and honestly, this feels like a really shitty consolation prize.

Day One

4 a.m. — My husband, G.'s, alarm for work goes off and wakes me up. He hits snooze before getting up and getting ready for work. I doze back off and wake up for real around 8:30 a.m. My dogs (I have two of the most adorable dogs you will ever meet) hear me wake up and get excited for food. I feed them both and let them out. I make coffee and breakfast (cereal this morning) and watch the news. I've been trying to keep up with the news to stay informed, but honestly, sometimes it is too depressing. I turn the news off and watch Say Yes To The Dress until I'm ready to start my day.
11 a.m. — My older dog starts bugging me for a walk so I gear up for the cold weather and take them on a 30-minute walk. My older dog manages to find a bone and eat it before I can get it out of his mouth (UGH) and I hope it doesn't cause any issues. I then decide to go to Target and Lowe's. I go to Target first and am relieved it is not insanely busy the Sunday before Christmas. I stock up on some household essentials, groceries, and decor for our recently renovated powder room. My haul includes tweezers, deodorant, body lotion, hand cream, a glass vase, hand towels, chicken thighs, steak, rice, and a sweater that is on sale ($113). I pick up a plant and planter from Lowe's to feed my obsession ($22). I also get gas on my way home ($23). $158
5 p.m. — We recently moved and converted our garage into a gym so I decide to workout. It is freezing in our gym but I quickly warm up. Afterward, I take a shower and then meal prep for the week ahead. I make steak fajitas for my lunch this week. I am still going into the office and I know if I don't meal prep I will order out all week. I also switch the laundry I started this morning. I am missing G. more than I usually do. He works 24-hour shifts so I am used to him being gone for a day at a time, but we usually spend Sundays together watching football and baking. I snuggle with my dogs on the couch, watch football alone, and text with him instead.
8 p.m. — I LOVE sleeping so I usually head to bed fairly early if there isn't anything else going on. Both of my dogs join me tonight and I enjoy the extra warmth while I read my book. I check our joint bank account and see that G. spent $18 at a grocery store and $7 at 7-Eleven. I know the grocery store purchase is for his shift's dinner. Everyone at work pitches in $5 for dinner so he will be reimbursed $13. G. confirms that he really only spent $5. $5
Daily Total: $163

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — My alarm goes off at 6:30 and I hit snooze once. I drag myself out of bed and sleepily put on my moisturizer, vitamin C serum, and sunscreen. I recently got hip to a skincare routine and honestly, it makes me feel like an official adult. I get dressed for work, feed my dogs and let them out, and am out the door for work at 7. Once I am at the office, I make my coffee and oatmeal and catch up on emails to get prepared for my sessions/groups. I am a mental health therapist and I work in an acute setting with teens. I love my job but it can be exhausting at times. I mentally prepare myself for a family session that I am anticipating will be rough.
12:30 p.m. — After a morning of sessions and notes, I quickly eat a lunch of steak, onion, and rice before logging onto a virtual meeting with my direct supervisor. Recently I was approached by my supervisor to switch positions to one that has more responsibility and independence. I know this is a good step up for my career (and my development as a clinician!) but I still give in to my anxiety that I'm not good enough for the position. I quickly do some reality testing (i.e they wouldn't have approached me about the job if they didn't think I would be a good fit) and join the meeting about my transfer hoping I can fake it till I make it!
4 p.m. — I leave work and am home by 4:30. G. is working out when I get home so I join him in our garage gym and get in a quick workout. For Christmas, I did our two dogs' DNA tests as a surprise for G. The results came in yesterday and I am dying to know so I tell him about his present early after our workout. We sit down and view the results. Our dogs are as follows (drumroll please!) — our older dog is mostly Staffordshire terrier, some American bulldog, and boxer, our younger dog is 100% Staffordshire terrier. We play with the dogs in our snow-covered yard for a little. Afterward, G. lets me know that he spent $200 on bourbon. He usually makes a run to the liquor store every other month so this is a pretty normal haul for him. $200
7 p.m. — Since the pandemic began, we have been trying to eat locally once a week. Today, we decide on our favorite Peruvian chicken place. I LOVE plantain fries and I am looking forwards to devouring some. G. is busy studying for a promotion at work so I go and pick the food up. Once I'm back, we decide between watching Somebody Feed Phil and The Great British Bake Off. We decide to watch GBBO. Since G.'s mom passed away, we have been really into watching easy, wholesome shows. This whole year has been so rough and sad that we don't have the bandwidth to watch something more dramatic. $22
9 p.m. — G. and I decide to go upstairs and watch some football. We are discussing Christmas gifts and I remember that I haven't done anything for my family yet. This year, we have all agreed to donate to the local food bank in place of gifts. I donate $100 per family member. Donating makes me feel good so I donate an extra $100 for G.'s mom. I snuggle up with G. and our dogs decide to join us. I try my hardest to stay awake but the combination of G. and my dogs makes me fall asleep quickly. $500
Daily Total: $722

Day Three

6:40 a.m. — My alarm goes off and I feel like I've been woken from the dead. I must've slept pretty hard last night. I have been having a lot of anxiety since G.'s mom passed and this has really affected my sleep, so I am grateful that I was able to get some good quality sleep last night. I hit snooze once and then drag myself out of bed. I go through my normal skincare routine, get dressed, and shoot beams of envy at my still sleeping husband. Then, I'm out the door and at work by 7:30.
3 p.m. — Work goes by pretty quickly today. Tuesdays are when we have our weekly staff meeting so our teens leave the program early and I am able to play catch up on notes. I am SO busy at work and I feel like I am constantly behind. I am currently training for my new position, training the person who is replacing me, and carrying a full caseload. Usually, I love being busy but this is even too much for me. I feel like I'm not able to be my best therapist self and can feel myself getting frustrated. Luckily I have amazing coworkers, so I chat with them for the last hour of the day.
5 p.m. — G. is currently on his four days off so that means lots of quality time with my hubs! I get home, workout, and we take the dogs on a quick walk. G. is a man of many talents, and I am so lucky to have him as a life partner, but something I especially love is that he is a great cook. Tonight we are having homemade ramen! G. lets me know he spent $73.57 at Wegmans. He got ramen noodles, chicken broth, pork belly, green onions, eggs, soy sauce, miso, garlic, chicken thighs, a bottle of chardonnay, and probably some other things that I am forgetting about. We have yet to master the art of going to the grocery store once per week, so we tend to go every other day. Someday we will reach full adulthood and plan meals for the entire week. $73.57
7 p.m. — Ramen is ready! We sit down to eat dinner and watch some TV afterward. We decide to watch Chef's Table. We end up getting distracted and don't end up watching most of the episode (oops.) We talk a little bit about G.'s mom but I can tell he is ready to change the subject. Something I am working on is letting him grieve at his own pace. I am a talker and I want to talk everything out and then some. He is the opposite. In the past, I probably would've kept the conversation going but I am trying to be more mindful that my way of coping is not everyone's way. It has been about a month since she passed and I can tell he is hurting, but I am letting him set the pace.
9:30 p.m. — I end up falling asleep on the couch and G. wakes me up and tells me to go to bed. I go upstairs, use my facial cleanser, moisturizer, and facial oil. I have dry skin that gets way worse in the winter so I tend to slather on the moisturizing products. I brush my teeth and then settle into bed. G. wakes me up an hour or two later and joins me in bed. Our younger dog joins us as well and I drift off to sleep.
Daily Total: $73.57

Day Four

5 a.m. — G. and I are woken up by our younger dog vomiting. Awesome, but such is the life of a dog owner. G. is a love and gets up to clean it so I can go back to sleep. I don't know how I landed such a great man but I am eternally grateful for him. My alarm goes off at 6:30. I get up and do my morning routine. I leave on time for once!
3:30 p.m. — Another incredibly busy day. I leave early to go to my parents' office. I haven't seen them in a few months due to COVID-19 but they own a company and have rapid tests available! G., G.'s dad, and I are all getting rapid tests so we can have dinner together on Christmas Eve with my family. Luckily, they are free, a perk having parents who work in healthcare!
4:30 p.m. — I stop by the local grocery store on my way home to pick up birthday cards. My family has the audacity to have their birthdays all in the same week (the week of Christmas no less!) so I spend $38.63 on four birthday cards, a Christmas card for my best friends, and a bouquet of flowers to bring to my parents' house. My family and I don't do presents anymore, but I think it is important to acknowledge their birthdays with cards. I marvel at how expensive paper is, then leave the store to go home. $38.63
5 p.m. — G. beats me home and has started on dinner. Today it is beef roulade stuffed with ricotta cheese, walnuts. and spinach topped with blistered tomatoes. Yum. He lets me know he spent $72 at the grocery store today. This included our steaks, ricotta cheese, spinach, his lunch, more wine, and some food for his work. He is working Christmas day so he is making some bread and a broccolini slaw. He finishes making dinner at around 6. Afterward, I do the dishes and clean the kitchen. It is a golden rule in our house that whoever cooks does not clean so most often I am cleaning up. I don't mind at all because fair is fair and G. is by far the better cook. $72
7 p.m. — G. and I decide to make a fire. We have a wood-burning fireplace in our house and love it. It is also nice that we don't have a TV in that room so we end up enjoying each other's company. We are on the hunt for a sideboard/bar so we spend some time looking on the internet. G. and I can't find anything we like so we decide to go to some antique stores over the weekend. We spend the rest of the night drinking wine (me) and bourbon (G.) and get a little drunker than anticipated.
9:30 p.m. — With the fire still going strong, we talk a little bit about what to do with the inheritance we got from his mom. We feel overwhelmed with the amount of money and a little guilty that it isn't going to his dad, despite his dad wanting us to have it. We decide we are going to spend some of the money taking G.'s dad on a trip next year (COVID-willing). We are also going to pay off the rest of our credit card debt and my student loans. We talk a little bit about using a financial advisor that my parents recommended to figure out where to put the rest of the money. We decide to table this conversation and then tackle it sometime in the new year. I'm not tired but it is nearing 11 (a miracle I'm still awake!) so I go to bed because I have to work in the morning. G. and both of our dogs join us and I quickly fall asleep.
Daily Total: $110.63

Day Five

6:30 a.m. — You guessed it! Alarm goes off, hit snooze, finally get up, feel envious of my sleeping husband, pack a lunch, and out the door. Today is Christmas Eve and I am feeling bitter that I have to work but at least we get to leave at 2! I chat with my coworkers in the morning and take a call from a worried dad.
2 p.m. — Every parent is on time to pick up their teen, which is a Christmas miracle! I say bye to my coworkers and I am out the door by 2:10. I get home, throw on some nicer clothes, pack up Christmas cards and the flowers, and am out the door with my husband and two dogs. We are headed to my parents' house and I am SO excited to see them and my brothers. G.'s dad is also joining us and I feel grateful that he won't be spending Christmas Eve alone.
6 p.m. — My parents treat us to a Christmas Eve dinner they got from their country club. It is delicious. I can feel my stress melt away as I chat with my brothers and parents. My mom really is one of my best friends and my family is a lot of fun. We are loud and chatty and the house always feels so full and happy. When G. and I first started dating eight years ago, he was so uncomfortable with my family because his was never loud or talkative. Now, he seems way more comfortable and playfully spars with my siblings and parents. It really fills my heart to see everyone getting along.
10 p.m. — Oops, stayed way too late and drank a little bit too much wine. I apologize to G. on how late we stayed since he has work in the morning but he laughs and says he was having fun too. We gather up the pups and head home. We are back by 10:30. I take care of the dogs and put away leftovers so G. can get to bed first. I do my skincare routine, brush my teeth, and then join him in bed. I am feeling happy and content and while this is probably partly due to the glasses of wine I had, I also know it is because I finally got to see my family. There really is no place like home.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

8:30 a.m. — I wake up to my dog panting under the covers. Our little dog insists on sleeping under the covers but she also gets hot easily. This usually results in her remaining under the covers and panting audibly. It is pretty funny but I also sometimes worry about her breathing so I move the blanket from her head. I lounge in bed on my phone for another hour. I feed the dogs and let them out and then spend the rest of the morning being very lazy and watching T.V.
12:30 p.m. — I finally motivate myself to get up and workout. About 10 minutes into my workout, I get an alert from our ring doorbell that someone is at our door. This is weird in the COVID era and I scramble to find a mask and open the door. Turns out it is a woman dropping off flowers. They are flowers sending condolences for G.'s mom. I read the card and immediately start sobbing. When she died, I expected grief to be all-consuming and ever-present. It hasn't been that way for me. Instead, it comes in bits and pieces that leave me breathless and feeling empty. She was such a kind, loving person and it just isn't fair that she died as young as she did. From diagnosis to death, it was about three months and I think sometimes I am still in shock from it. I am no longer in the mood to workout and go back to watching T.V.
4 p.m. — Back when I thought I wouldn't see my parents for Christmas, I made plans with my friend to spend Christmas together. I am feeling sad that I can't see G. today but am happy for the company. I make a charcuterie board (already purchased) and mini sausage pies with leftover puff pastry. My friend, C., comes over and we spend the rest of the night watching Christmas movies. I am still feeling sad when C. leaves so I call G. and talk to him for a little. Then, I drift off to sleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

6:30 a.m. — G. wakes me up when he gets home. He immediately passes out next to me which means he had a rough night and didn't get much sleep. I fall back asleep and wake up around 9:30. We both get up and get ready for the day. I am getting my COVID-19 vaccination today and then we are going to go to a few antique stores. Honestly, I am a little nervous about the vaccine since I've had reactions in the past, but I am way more worried about getting/spreading COVID to let that stop me.
1 p.m. — My vaccination is quick and surprisingly doesn't hurt very much. I wait the required 15 minutes and then walk back to the car. I am trying to move my arm a lot because my coworkers told me this vaccine makes your arm really sore. G. and I head to an antique store in Maryland. We are looking for old shaker-style doors and something we could use as a bar cabinet. This store is huge but not really an antique store. Mostly they have doors and old radiators. We end up finding two perfect doors and antique doorknobs but no luck with a bar. $107.48
5 p.m. — G. and I spend the rest of the day lounging around and watching Saturday football. We end up scrounging up some pasta and pasta sauce and make an easy dinner. We snuggle on the couch until it is time for G. to go to bed (he has work in the morning and gets up at 4:30). I browse some couches on Wayfair and then decide to go to bed as well.
Daily Total: $107.48
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