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 teacher working in education who makes $58,190 per year and spends some of her money this week on an ice cream sundae.
Location: New Jersey
Net Worth: ~`$215,700 (My net worth is half of my house value, $770,000, minus half of remaining mortgages, minus student loans for my older children, minus credit card debt, plus pension fund and savings.)
Debt: $291,688 (Credit card: $12,738, home equity loan: $118,000, primary mortgage: $77,000, student loans: $83,950)
Paycheck Amount (2x/month for 10 months): $1,883
Home Equity Loan: $1,900 (I pay the home equity loan, and my husband, L., pays the primary mortgage.)
Mortgage & Real Estate Taxes: $3,202 (L. pays)
Car & Home Insurance: $733.91 (L. pays)
Electric & Gas: ~$400 (L. pays)
Water: $45 (L. pays)
Family Cell Phones: $334.62 (L. pays)
Landline & Wifi: $119.15 (L. pays)
Cable: $140 (L. pays)
Student Loans: $125 (These loans are for my older children. Several others are not due yet or on pause.)
Union Dues: $127.60 (deducted from paycheck)
Family Health Insurance: $504.94 (deducted from paycheck)
Pension: $459.60 (deducted from paycheck)
Netflix: $21.31 (for the family)
Hulu: $6.99 (for the family)
NPR Donation: $10
Stitch Fix: $20
Family Amazon Prime: $109
The New York Times Crossword App: $39.95
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, I was a smart kid, so I knew I wanted to go to college. I went to a private high school where almost everyone went on to higher education. I paid in-state tuition at a state university with a combination of savings, summer jobs, school-year jobs, and loans.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
We didn’t not talk about money but didn’t have explicit conversations. My dad had a full-time job and many side jobs; my parents were frugal and had no debt other than their mortgage. We had savings accounts where the “birthday money” would go, plus savings bonds from relatives. We also bought stock in a relative’s company; that did not go well. Other than that, we learned that insurance was important, you should live within your means, and that you should balance your checkbook every month, which I no longer do.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started babysitting around age 12, mainly because my parents’ friends needed a sitter, not because I wanted the money. My parents opened a small business when I was in my early teens, and I worked there on and off for the next 10 years, mostly because they could pay my siblings and me less than minimum wage. When I was home from college, I found summer work that was more lucrative than what my parents could pay me.
Did you worry about money growing up?
My siblings have memories of overhearing anxious money conversations between our parents. But my dad always said that the key to a happy marriage was never to argue about money, so I’m pretty sure if things were difficult, us kids never really knew.
Do you worry about money now?
Every, every day. My husband and I have been in a cold war for a few years now. I’m not even sure how it started, but it definitely had something to do with money. We’ve always kept our money separate, even when I was a stay-at-home parent for about 15 years. L. was always able to pay all of our expenses, but he’s gotten more and more unwilling to do so over the years. As of now, he pays what he must to keep a roof over our heads, but not much more. For about the past 10 years, he has not contributed to any of the children’s college educations, nor to semi-discretionary expenses like clothing, birthday gifts, prom, AP tests, college application fees, dorm stuff, etc., which is why I have so much debt and no savings. He has no debt other than our mortgage and home equity loan, and approximately $450,000 in retirement accounts (I snuck a look at his statement for this diary). I don’t know how much he has in other savings, though I have to assume that it is quite a bit. He is self-employed and refuses to divulge how much he makes. I know that he declared $85,000 on our tax return this year, but in the past, it has been as much as $275,000. It’s a financially abusive relationship, and I can’t afford to get out. I am trying to save enough for an attorney, but that is proving to be almost impossible, given the high cost of children and education.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
My husband would say that I’ve never been financially responsible, because I went from living with my parents to being married. However, I did contribute to half of our expenses before we had children. I am trying to be as responsible as I can right now, though it is clear that I couldn’t afford to pay for housing for my children and myself based on my current salary. My dad would help, of course, but it is not his problem.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I received money from my parents when older relatives died; they passed on some of what they inherited. It’s probably totaled about $10,000 to $12,000 over the years. But the biggest gift was the gift of savings bonds and stocks for my children, from my parents and my in-laws, beginning when the oldest was an infant. By selling these, I was able to fund some of their college educations, therefore reducing the amount of debt I have.
9:45 a.m. — It’s Mother’s Day, so I sleep in. I wake up to texts from siblings, friends, and kids, so I spend a few minutes in bed responding and checking social media. I make myself avocado toast and coffee with a reusable K-Cup. Typically, this is the part of the weekend when I read The New York Times, but I’ve paused delivery as a cost-cutting measure. I play Words with Friends while I eat instead. I throw in laundry and print documents for a committee I’m on. More coffee. I also check out my Stitch Fix for the month, which is not a great fix. I’m only keeping one item ($28). Drop off paperwork to the committee members, pick up my high-school-age daughter, B., and head for the cemetery and then my dad’s for Mother’s Day dinner ($27.05 in tolls, E-ZPass pass to my husband’s credit card). $28
6 p.m. — While at my dad’s, I buy tix online for my family to see B.’s school play this weekend. $165.50
8 p.m. — Leave my dad’s, drop off B., and go to the newsstand for a copy of The New York Times. I see a mouse run by in the store and make a mental note not to buy snack food at this newsstand, ever. Read the paper and do the Monday crossword online. Do the Monday Wordle. Asleep a little after midnight. $6
Daily Total: $199.50
5 a.m. — The alarm goes off, and I snooze a little. Finally get up, shower, and dress in my work uniform of pants, blouse, cardigan. Do makeup (mainly eyebrows), have a cup of coffee, let the dog out and back in, grab my lunch box, and leave for work at 6.
6:30 a.m. — Arrive at work and make copies for the day. State testing today so I don’t have “classes” until the afternoon. Eat my overnight oats and read work emails. Share my Wordle in group chat with some of my kids.
8:15 a.m. — Students are in. Time for state testing.
11:30 a.m. — Testing is over, but we’re not having “class.” I rent a Spider-Man movie for the students on Amazon as a brain break before lunch. $6.39
12:15 p.m. — Lunch. I eat my string cheese and take my usual walk around the block. Today, I have a destination: the post office to return my Stitch Fix package.
4 p.m. — I’m home and tired. I eat crackers on the sofa while watching something I DVR’d. Then, I start dinner. I put black rice on to cook and then mix up a quick sauce of butter and lime juice to pour over frozen shrimp before I broil them. I have about a half serving of greens left so I put the shrimp over them on a plate and serve everything with leftover coleslaw. Mondays are light on veggies because I don’t always shop on the weekend.
6 p.m. — L. and I discuss how to get our college daughter, D., home from school. With gas prices the way they are, it makes more sense to fly her home instead of driving 12 hours/700 miles round trip. I book her a flight on Expedia for next week ($289, L. pays). B. comes home just as dinner is ready, and we talk about our day. After dinner, we watch Jeopardy together (we miss Mattea) and an episode and a half of Law & Order — that’s our thing. I do the dishes, pack overnight oats and string cheese for lunch, do Tuesday’s crossword, and read the rest of Sunday’s paper in bed. I am asleep by 10:30.
Daily Total: $6.39
9 a.m. — I’m off today because of a local election. I set the alarm for 9, but snooze until 9:30. I get up and dress because I’m meeting a friend, K., this morning. While I wait for her text, I do Wordle, drink home coffee, and read emails.
11:30 a.m. — K. cancels, so I vacuum my house instead. Then, I pick up B. for lunch. She’s been really busy and stressed, so I want to enjoy some time with her. We talk about what colleges we should see for her over the summer; she’s seen quite a few already when we visited with her older sibs. She’s also very aware of the financial situation: I can’t help much and her father won’t. This adds to her stress and worry. We go to a local place that’s been in business for over 100 years. We eat like toddlers, ordering sandwiches, roast beef for her and grilled cheese for me, and then ice cream sundaes. B. takes half her sundae home with her. We stop at home to put it in the freezer, and I drop her back at school. $51.27
1 p.m. — I head to the endocrinologist. Every woman I know, and a lot of men, are on thyroid meds, and I’m no exception. I see my doctor for yearly blood work and a dosage update. I leave with a prescription refill and a prescription for a thyroid ultrasound because thyroid cancer runs in my family. $5 (copay)
2:30 p.m. — I go to the supermarket for a weekly shop: fresh fruit, veggies, yogurt, toilet paper, dog treats, burgers, chicken sausage, five kinds of crackers, string cheese, and canned soup (for L.’s WFH lunch). I’m glad for the big lunch because it keeps me from impulse-purchasing junk food ($144.92 because I use a $30 prepaid Visa my doctor sent because I overpaid a bill last year). Though this is a lot, it will be much more beginning next week when two more kids are home for the summer. $144.92
6 p.m. — I check my bank account and transfer funds from savings to cover the groceries. L. and I eat dinner (mostly) in silence, though I do tell him about the doctor. We have cheeseburgers with pickles and sliced tomatoes. I eat mine bun-less but with a leftover baked potato because I hate food waste. As I’m finishing, K. calls and asks if we can have our coffee at her house now.
7 p.m. — Aborted coffee date. Just as I was walking into K.’s house, B. calls and asks me to pick her up at school and take her to her volunteer work. I take a few sips, say goodbye to K., and go do all that. Stop for gas. $40
7:15 p.m. — I pick up my new thyroid prescription on the way home. $5
8 p.m. — Do some school work for tomorrow. My basic lesson plans have been done for a few weeks; I just need to flesh them out. I also do some grading. I stop to watch This Is Us. B. comes home from volunteering and eats a cold burger and her leftover sundae. We watch Jeopardy together, but half-heartedly, because we’re still in Mattea withdrawal. Then I do the dishes, pack overnight oats and string cheese for tomorrow, do the Wednesday crossword, and head to bed around 12.
Daily Total: $246.19
5 a.m. — My alarm goes off, and I snooze it again. I’m up at 5:15 to shower, dress in pants and a sweater, do minimal makeup, drink coffee, and grab my lunchbox. I leave at 6. I’m listening to my audiobook in the car and distractedly and accidentally run a red light. Luckily, there is no traffic at this time of the morning (and no red light camera). I park and go in. Share Wordle, read email, make copies, eat overnight oats, do more grading. I make another cup of coffee on the staff machine with a K-Cup from home.
8 a.m. — Students. One comes in and asks to take a picture of us together because school is almost over. It isn’t, but I oblige, and then tell her to put her cell phone away before I have to confiscate it. Classes are uneventful, and I go for a lunchtime walk around the block with my string cheese, as usual. Afternoon classes are also drama free, except that I have to call a parent about some difficult behavior. I go to the gym and walk 1.8 miles on the treadmill.
5 p.m. — I make popover batter and put them in the oven while I sit down to read paperwork and make notes for a meeting I have tonight. Halfway through popover baking, I put chicken sausage in the oven and make a green salad with yesterday’s leftover tomatoes. I also heat up leftover Italian sausage and peppers. L. and I eat in silence. B. is not home.
8 p.m. — Zoom meeting. I take a cup of coffee and some Thin Mints to sustain me. I’m on a scholarship committee and I think a lot of students will be very happy with the outcome of our meeting. No financial outlay for me — I’m just in charge of allotting other people’s money. B. comes home while I’m in my meeting. She doesn’t want dinner, so I do the dishes. We watch Jeopardy, I do the Thursday crossword (four clues from finishing it), and then I go to the attic to find some of my spring/summer clothes. The winter work uniform is getting old. I find a few things, try them on, and decide on a dress for tomorrow. Go to bed at 11:30.
Daily Total: $0
8:15 a.m. — Snooze the alarm and get up at 5:20. I shower, put on the dress (my students will definitely say something about my outfit), do makeup, drink coffee, and leave before 6. There is literally no traffic at all, and I get to work early. I walk around the block because I really can’t bring myself to walk in before 6:30. I sign in, eat yogurt, make another cup of coffee, read emails, do Wordle. Students come in. No one mentions the dress. Morning classes are uneventful.
12:15 p.m. — Lunch. I walk to Dunkin’ and pick up a latte; no string cheese today. I pick up my afternoon class from the caf, and about six students comment on my clothes. And, apparently, my eyebrows look different today. These kids have no filter. Other than my “new look,” there is no drama in the afternoon. I actually make a review sheet while they are working quietly. A first. $4.25
3 p.m. — Go to Aldi after work because I want refrigerated pasta. No luck. But I leave with Aldi knockoff Cheez-Its and Aldi’s version of Trader Joe’s Mandarin chicken. There is a bit of traffic on the way home, but I don’t mind because I have my audiobook. $12.57
6 p.m. — I sit on the sofa and veg with the faux Cheez-Its. Then I put the Mandarin chicken in the oven and stir-fry frozen veggies and a can of water chestnuts. I dump it all in a bowl with the chicken and the sauce, and call it dinner. It’s not bad, but I was really feeling ravioli or gnocchi. More dinner silence. I do some non-work stuff online, like emailing prospects for an educational event I’m planning and checking my health insurance portal. They keep sending me checks that I need to turn over to a provider, but the numbers don’t jibe. I decide to keep the checks until I can get someone from the provider’s office on the phone. I pick up B. from school, and she makes herself ramen. I do the dishes, set up the Crockpot for chicken stew tomorrow, finish the Thursday crossword, and the Friday (for the first time), make overnight oats, watch Grey’s Anatomy, and go to bed around midnight.
Daily Total: $16.82
5 a.m. — Snooze the alarm and get up at 5:20. Shower, dress, and makeup. I put on another dress, one of those long, flowy, nap dresses that were popular during quarantine. I’m sure my students will have something to say about it. I drink coffee and take the prepped stew out of the fridge and turn on the Crockpot. Leave at 6 and listen to NPR on the drive; today is StoryCorps day. Park, sign in, check my bank balance. The direct deposit has come through for this pay period, so I venmo a colleague for the end-of-the-year party. This includes a gift for all of this year’s retirees as well. I eat my overnight oats. $110
8 a.m. — Students come in. One accidentally breaks something of mine, and I yell more than I should. The rest of the morning is uneventful, except that I am unexpectedly hungry and eat my string cheese during class. Lunch. Walk around the block. Afternoon classes are fine, but of course, the nap dress is big news. No one likes the shoes I’ve paired it with it. Like I said, no filter. We review for Monday’s test that I’ll have to create over the weekend. D. texts me from college that she doesn’t have enough money for this month’s rent. She doesn’t ask, but the implication is that I should send her some.
4 p.m. — Home from work. Check the stew. I drive B. back to school for her play and give her $40 to pay for dinner with the cast afterward. L. and I are not hungry enough to eat stew before the play. I have cereal, and he has toast. $40
9 p.m. — We are back from the play, and my girl was great! She is really talented. I scroll through my phone waiting for her to come home from the cast dinner. Go to bed around 11:30.
Daily Total: $150
7:20 a.m. — I had set the alarm for 7, but I snooze. I shower, dress, drink coffee, make another cup for the car, and grab a few granola bars. On my way out, I notice The New York Times on the sidewalk. I guess I forgot to pause this week. I have to drive 180 miles north to pick up my college son, P. I stop to fill up the car with gas and am on the road by 9. $86.41
9 a.m. — I buy candy at the gas station to snack on later. $1.81
12:45 p.m. — I have a granola bar in the car and make pretty good time. I finish my current audiobook on the way. I text my son and then go up to his room to pack it up. He’s done a decent bit, so we can leave pretty quickly. We’re kind of on a time crunch. We stop at Panera for sandwiches and drinks and are on our way back by 2. $28.25
6 p.m. — We stop for gas on the highway ($45) and make it home in time to clean up for B.’s play but with no time to empty the car ($13.41 tolls on L.’s credit card). P. and I are going, and we are meeting the rest of my family there. L. stays home. Closing night is great, and the family is proud. $45
7 p.m. — We see B. after the show, and I give her another $20 for dinner. $20
9:30 p.m. — We come home, and P. finally empties the car. The living room fills with stuff. I venmo D. $300 for rent, and we wait for B. to get home. I have cereal, and P. finds some leftovers. When B. returns, we talk about the play, and she catches up with her brother, who she hasn’t seen in a few months. I go to bed around 12:30. $300
Daily Total: $481.47
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