A Week In Pittsburgh, PA, On A $260,000 Joint Earnings

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: an unemployed person who has a joint income of $260,000 and spends some of her money this week on Ritual prenatal vitamins.

Occupation: Unemployed
Industry: N/A
Age: 34
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
My Salary: $0
My Husband’s Salary: $220,000 + $39,000-$48,000 (for a side job which varies)
Net Worth: $244,215 ($56,000 value of property we own, $162,440 in savings, $14,000 in 401(k)/retirement, $11,000 in a brokerage account, $1,400 in HSA. My husband and I have completely combined finances.)
Debt: $625 for Affirm (interest-free financing for a Dyson V11 outsize vacuum)
My Husband’s Paycheck Amount (Biweekly): $5,358.82 (salary job) + $3,300-4,000 monthly (side job)
Pronouns: She/Her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $930
Affirm: $125 (five payments left)
Utilities: $150-$190
Medical/Dental/Vision: $436.28 each pay period (deducted from my husband’s paycheck)
HSA: $250 each pay period (deducted from my husband’s paycheck)
401(k): $162.30 each pay period (deducted from my husband’s paycheck)
Cell Phone: $160
Internet: $54.97
Husband’s Therapy: $240
Couples Therapy: $555
Husband’s Medication: $28.34
Parsley Health Prenatal Vitamin Subscription: $67.45 (deducted from our HSA)
Seed Probiotic Subscription: $49.99
Pet Insurance: $36
We Feed Raw Pet Food Subscription: $150
Maev Raw Dog Food Subscription: $105
Sunbasket: $340
Bandzoogle: $19.95
iCloud Storage: $0.99
Car Insurance: $198.31 every six months
Renters Insurance: $140 annually
HOA fees for our land: $300 annually
Thrive Market Membership: $60 annually
AAA Membership: $48 annually
Website & Domain Fees for Husband’s Work Portfolio: $330 annually

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?
There was no expectation in my family to attend higher education. My parents are immigrants and they never had an opportunity to attend college and didn’t have any opinions about it. Despite this, I pursued a four-year university since it seemed like it was what you needed to do to get a good job. I ended up going to a private university and paid for it with loans, grants, and scholarships. I graduated with $17,000 in student loans which my mom and I both paid off. Five years after I graduated I took out $13,000 in loans to go back to school to pursue a degree in a different field but I was forced to drop out after a semester for health reasons.

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Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents never educated me about finances. My exposure to money centered around the mechanics of getting our bills paid like depositing money in the bank and writing checks to pay for bills. I learned how to do this to help my mom since her English wasn’t good. Not being educated about money definitely contributed to reckless spending habits which I have since worked hard to reform.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was in my family’s restaurant. I was obligated to work there at a young age, but as I got older, I received a small wage for helping out. I used part of my wage to buy clothes and my mom squirreled away part of it as savings in a box in my dresser.

Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes, we were poor since we lived on meager restaurant paychecks and my father had a gambling addiction so more often than not we lost entire paychecks to it. He would also steal money from the rest of the family by going into our money hiding places in the house when we weren’t home. We saved our money in cash at home rather than in a bank and in hindsight this was a very bad idea. This trauma taught me that we had serious money problems in our family and it was heartbreaking to process as a child. We relied on credit cards a lot to get by and kept our costs low by renting a too-small-for-us second floor of a two-family home for decades and never buying anything but essentials.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes, I worry a lot. Our goal is to build our forever home on our land and the potential costs associated with it gives me a lot of anxiety. I’m also concerned about saving enough for retirement since we are so behind. I used to be a veterinary technician, but I stopped working a couple of years ago due to my declining health and I feel so useless not being able to contribute monetarily. Every time I try to go back to work, I end up getting sicker so I have to constantly remind myself to accept it for what it is. I also remind myself that I contribute to our partnership by doing the cooking, cleaning, and managing of our finances/household but it’s still hard to escape the self-loathing that comes from feeling like I’m not contributing enough. My health is also the main reason we are in such a poor position financially despite my husband’s high salary. We spent almost all of our money on treatment, medicine, and doctor visits over an eight-year period, all of which were not covered by insurance. This was further exacerbated by living in a very HCOL city for 10 years prior to moving to Pennsylvania last year.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I was more or less financially responsible for myself after college at 21 years old, with the exception of my mom assisting with some of my student loan payments and healthcare bills. I believe my in-laws would be our safety net if we really needed it.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Last year, my mom cashed out my life insurance policy and wanted to apply the cash value of the policy to pay off the remainder of my student loans which totaled around $2,000. She also paid for some of my healthcare bills over a decade ago when I first got really sick which totaled around $1,000. I don’t anticipate any future inheritance since my mom also cashed out her and my brother’s life insurance policies and my family has zero assets.

Day One

10:15 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I groan because I hate mornings just like Garfield. I usually don’t set alarms to wake up but I’m going to get my second dose of the COVID vaccine today. I toss on an old chambray shirt with shoulder cutouts for vaccine-accessible attire. Grab a cardigan to wear over my shirt and take a couple of Yes Bars for easy road food for me and my husband, K.

11:30 a.m. — I check in at the pharmacy and receive my second shot. I’m eligible in my state since I am immunocompromised. I haven’t told anyone (besides family) I’ve gotten the vaccine because I don’t want to feel obligated to explain my health history to them when they inevitably ask me how I’m eligible. The woman that gives me my shot comments on how prepared I am with my shirt and we both laugh.

12 p.m. — K. drives us to Home Depot so I can return a plant. The plant is in great condition and grew so much while in my care but it’s too high maintenance for me, which gives me anxiety. K. and I joked about how I fostered the plant and now it will get a forever home.

12:50 p.m. — We get home and I start making us a very late breakfast. I’m making french toast with my homemade gluten-free sourdough bread with a side of eggs. We’ve been using this bread for everything since I cultivated my own starter earlier this month using Bakerita’s guide. Doing the work of taking care of the starter is a million times worth it to get this quality of bread.

1:10 p.m. — I’m about to plate our french toast when I get a call. It’s the construction company we are working with to design and engineer our home. We discuss the changes to our contract due to the special circumstances of the build. The fee will be $4,000 higher than anticipated so we make sure we thoroughly go through any lingering concerns and questions. After we hang up, we finally gobble down our breakfast.

3:20 p.m. — K.’s parents are in our neighborhood so they stop by to say hi. We meet them outside (masked) and take turns throwing the ball with our dog. We then go for a walk on the trails behind our townhouse and catch up. It’s nice to see them because it’s been so long since we had any social interaction. Before they leave, we check out their new car. We’re relieved they got it because their old car was really old and a bit of a safety hazard. After they leave, we commence our weekend Netflix binge. We just started watching The Sinner. We enjoy some snacks (cassava crackers and chocolate-covered almonds) and I take breaks occasionally to feed my sourdough starter and water my monstera.

6:10 p.m. — My vaccinated arm is getting really sore and I can’t lift my arm without it being in pain. K. volunteers to heat up leftovers for dinner. We have Downshiftology’s carrot ginger soup with my gluten-free sourdough rolls.

7:20 p.m. — I donate $50 to AAJC (Asian Americans Advancing Justice) after a family member makes a heartfelt post about her fears as an Asian American. I’ve been wanting to write something to share since the Atlanta shootings but I also wanted to give myself space to process all my feelings before I did. I start writing and in the end, I feel like it’s exactly what I need to say. I decide to put up the post tomorrow as a fundraiser for AAJC. $50

10:30 p.m. — Skincare routine before bed (Marie Veronique eo-free oil cleanser, Thayer’s toner, Biossance vitamin C and rose oil, and Acure rose argan oil followed with a gua sha facial massage). I apply YL progessence oil on my body and put on my Ava fertility tracker bracelet (we’ve been trying to conceive for eight months so we are willing to try anything and everything at this point). I settle into bed for some nighttime scrolling and reading.

11:20 p.m. — I’m unable to sleep since I’m starting to get some flu-like symptoms from the vaccine. The chills, headache, and body aches get progressively worse as the night wears on. I toss and turn till I finally fall asleep around 12:45 a.m.

Daily Total: $50

Day Two

7:10 a.m. — I wake up to our dog and cats clamoring for breakfast. I’m still not feeling great so I force myself back to sleep while K. takes care of feeding them.

10 a.m. — Feeling slightly better so I wake up but decide to stay in bed. I take some Tylenol while K. serves me avocado toast in bed. While I eat, I put up the fundraiser post for AAJC I wrote yesterday. K. asks me to read him my post and we also read a piece by Nicole Chung called My White Adoptive Parents Struggled to See Me as Korean, Would They Have Understood My Anger at the Rise of Anti-Asian Violence? It translates well for us as an interracial couple navigating these issues. I hope we can use the insights we learned to talk to his family about how to be better, more informed allies.

11:15 a.m. — Place an Instacart order to be delivered later today. I order strawberries, spring mix, mushrooms, garlic, brown rice flour, red onion, lettuce, asparagus, eggs, and chicken. $68.86

2:20 p.m. — I order the items lingering in my Thrive Market cart to get the free gift that comes with placing an order today. I get coconut cream, arborio rice, apple sauce, psyllium husk, almond flour, and chocolate-covered almonds. I am weak for the free gifts and find myself ordering more often than I should. $51.45

5:35 p.m. — Our Instacart order arrives and K. starts wiping everything down while I rinse the produce and put everything away. I know covid is unlikely to spread through surfaces but we feel better staying vigilant about sanitizing our groceries.

6:40 p.m. — I make pizza for dinner with homemade gluten-free sourdough pizza crust. Finding this recipe was the best thing to happen to my taste buds this year — thank you to Georgeats for the recipe. I haven’t had good pizza since I had to restrict my diet for health reasons so I’ve missed pizza dearly. I can’t eat dairy, gluten, refined sugars, soy, most meat (except for chicken and turkey), and I stay away from overly processed foods. If it weren’t for my diet changes, my symptoms would flare up and debilitate me. I pop the par-baked crust in the cast iron pan and brush it with garlic oil. Then I top the crust with vegan mozzarella, red pepper, mushrooms, kalamata olives, red onion, and pieces of chicken breast.

8:15 p.m. — I’m getting slight cramps and can foresee another month of not being pregnant. This journey isn’t easy especially on a day like today when I see multiple pregnancy announcements. Although I’m truly happy for such wonderful news, I’m also sad for myself and it can be difficult to reconcile those conflicting feelings.

10:50 p.m. — Before heading to bed, I make a batch of sourdough to ferment for baking tomorrow as well as another batch of sourdough pizza crust dough. I do my nighttime routine and climb into bed. I watch some Instagram stories and fall asleep around 2 a.m.

Daily Total: $120.31

Day Three

11 a.m. — I wake up still not feeling well from getting the vaccine. However, I’m greeted by my dog eagerly waiting for me next to my bed. She runs to get her favorite toy to give me as a present and we play for a couple of minutes. She’s such a mood-booster and I’m so grateful to have her in my life. I decide to check for any updates on what I posted yesterday and I get the warm fuzzies from all the support and love from my family and friends. We’ve raised almost $300 for AAJC. My cat has migrated on top of me while I scrolled so I whisper sorry as I place her in another comfy spot so I can get up.

11:35 a.m. — I get a call from our tax preparation office saying our return is ready to be submitted so I pay over the phone. I’m grateful we were able to get our taxes done with them remotely and eliminate any in-person interactions. $415

11:50 a.m. — I make maple oatmeal with sautéed cinnamon apples for K. and me. I mix in some collagen peptides, sprinkle on hemp seeds and walnuts, and drizzle each bowl with a spoonful of nut butter. I take my vitamins and prep the ingredients for the sourdough bread while the oatmeal cooks.

12:20 p.m. — I’ve been stalking vaccine appointments online for newly eligible family members that are having trouble getting an appointment. I was able to get appointments for almost all of my family members earlier this month so I am very familiar with this being an all-day endeavor. I can’t imagine the elderly trying to navigate this difficult process.

1:30 p.m. — I throw my sourdough into my Kitchenaid mixer and shape my dough to rise for four hours. I also start mixing up the batter for Sweet Laurel Bakery’s strawberry shortcake recipe. By the time I finish making the strawberry sauce and coconut whipped cream, the cakes are ready to be pulled out of the oven.

2:45 p.m. — We call to wish a happy birthday to K.’s dad. We decide to celebrate his birthday in person in three weeks after everyone who will be attending has had their vaccines plus two extra weeks for full effectiveness. Even though we will be getting together in a well-ventilated covered porch and there will only be seven of us, we were adamant about waiting the full time for the vaccines to do their jobs. We had to cancel his birthday last year completely so I’m glad we were able to make it work this year.

4:25 p.m. — I succumb yet again to the free gift and place another Thrive Market order for almond milk, olive oil, green goddess dressing, and maple syrup. $51.37

5:15 p.m. — It’s a beautiful day so we take a walk outside and throw the ball with the dog. We love our townhouse complex because it’s so quiet and as a bonus, we rarely see anyone out which makes us feel safer COVID-wise. When we get back, I put the sourdough in the oven to bake and start dinner. I’m making Veggiekins’ cacio e pepe recipe with mushrooms and asparagus. We have strawberry shortcake for dessert and spend the rest of the night on Netflix.

10:40 p.m. — I do my usual bedtime routine and jot down my to-dos in my notes app on my phone for tomorrow. It’s a habit that helps me from getting anxious about forgetting things which alleviates stress in the long run.

11:10 p.m. — Hello Aunt Flo. I climb back into bed feeling sad and defeated.

Daily Total: $466.37

Day Four

11 a.m. — I woke up in the middle of the night last night to the bane of my existence, period cramps. They are abnormally terrible and have always been bad regardless of what I do. I quickly take more Tylenol while I brace for them to return. My cat comes over to make biscuits on me. Bless her for trying to comfort me.

11:15 a.m. — I decide to quickly make some breakfast before my cramps take me down. I make us Purely Elizabeth collagen pancakes with a side of eggs. I put K.’s plate on a warm burner since he is currently on a work call.

1 p.m. — I noticed we are running out of CoQ10 Ubiquinol and order two bottles. We’ve been taking this to boost our fertility since last year and although the extra expense is not ideal, I’m willing to do anything to improve our chances of pregnancy. $71.98

1:45 p.m. — I get on a video call with my reproductive endocrinologist. It’s my second visit with her and since we’ve just done all the testing this last month, she is going over the results. I found out a couple of weeks ago they saw something abnormal in my uterus so I have to have surgery. Unfortunately, they don’t have an opening for another three and a half months which means any treatment we want to do will have to wait until after. It’s so disheartening to have to wait due to logistical issues. My RE says we can do a trial of monitored Clomid as a test run before surgery so I feel better we are doing something in the meantime. I’ll be billed for this appointment in full after it gets bounced from my insurance since my plan does not cover infertility.

2:30 p.m. — I take a pregnancy test so I can confirm to the nurse when she calls later that I’m not pregnant. Upon confirmation, she calls in the Clomid to the pharmacy for me.

6:45 p.m. — I’ve been in bed the last four hours in pain. Don’t worry, this is normal for me. Unfortunately, I still can’t get up without doubling over so K. makes us green goddess salads with roasted almonds and garlic bread for dinner. He brings up a tray with my salad so I can eat in bed. I shower him with compliments on the delicious dinner.

8:10 p.m. — I do my bedtime routine early and climb back into bed. I distract myself with season five of How To Get Away With Murder for several hours. This show keeps getting crazier and crazier but I’m living for the insanity. After some doom scrolling, I fall asleep around 1:30 a.m.

Daily Total: $71.98

Day Five

10:50 a.m. — I wake up and throw a load of laundry in the wash. I head down to the kitchen and make us chicken avocado lettuce wraps for a late breakfast. While I’m preparing the wraps, I preheat the oven so I can par-bake the sourdough pizza crusts. This recipe makes three crusts so I bake them one at a time in a cast iron pan. I wrap them up after they cool and put them in the freezer for future pizzas.

12:40 p.m. — Our Sunbasket arrives and we rescue the box from the rain and put the meals in the fridge. We get the ingredients and recipes for three meals a week and it helps to reduce my stress about figuring out meals for dinner every single night. Deducted already under monthly expenses.

2:35 p.m. — I call the pharmacy to confirm my Clomid is ready for pick up. I also pay for it over the phone so K. can do an easy curbside pickup later. My insurance doesn’t cover this medication but the pharmacist works her magic and gets me a generous discount so it doesn’t cost me over $30 for just five pills. I’m so thankful for her kindness. $9.33

4:05 p.m. — I order a bottle of Ritual prenatals to replace my current prenatals. I’ve been taking my current ones for almost a year and it’s way too expensive for not being pregnant. I’ve been researching alternatives for a while and heard good things about Ritual so it’ll be a good option while we are trying to conceive. I use a discount code to get 20% off. $28

4:30 p.m. — I get a Zillow notification of new houses in my desired neighborhoods. I spend way too long browsing houses and dreaming about how much simpler it would be to buy a house instead. Then I remember that the housing market is insane right now and nothing about this is simple so I mentally recommit to building our dream home instead.

6:50 p.m. — K. texts me that he’s starving while he is at the pharmacy so I get to work on dinner. We’re having one of our Sunbasket meals — turmeric pollock with tamarind green beans over spicy jalapeño rice. Afterward, we have strawberry shortcake for dessert. We continue watching The Sinner while we sip on our rooibos tea.

9 p.m. — I order a cute little book called Bunny’s Book Club to send to my best friend’s daughter for Easter. I still haven’t met her since she was born last year during the pandemic so I like to shower her with gifts instead. I think of my friend like a sister so I love her daughter as much as I would love my own. Hopefully, it will be safe to travel soon so I can meet her in person. $13.60

10:55 p.m. — I do my usual bedtime routine and get into bed. Instead of doing any actual sleeping, I end up scrolling Instagram and Facebook. I really need to do a social media detox again.

Daily Total: $50.93

Day Six

10:40 a.m. — It’s a new month and although the last couple days were definitely a bit of a rollercoaster for my body, I’m happy to wake up in good spirits. It’s national poetry month so I find a beautiful poem by Robert Hass called Iowa City: Early April and publish it on my personal online journal. For years, I’ve collected and added my favorite poetry to this journal. It’s for me to read and reread and I can only assume every once in a while someone stumbles upon it, and I hope whoever they are, they stay to enjoy the poetry.

11:30 a.m. — I head to the kitchen to make blueberry coconut oatmeal for K. and me. I also make a new batch of my seed cycling mix (flaxseed and pumpkin seed) in my Vitamix. I mix the seed cycle powder into my oatmeal and take my first dose of Clomid.

1:35 p.m. — I water my plants and lament about the scorched leaves on my pin-stripe calathea. I really hope it does better because I love the pretty pale pink stripes on the leaves. I do a few other household chores while I’m in clean-up mode. I also unpack and put away our Thrive Market orders that have been accumulating by our door. We let our packages sit for a couple days to decontaminate. We’re probably being overly cautious, but I figure it doesn’t hurt so we do it just in case.

3 p.m. — My arm feels back to normal so I can finally do some yoga. I do a 30-minute power vinyasa flow from Alo Yoga’s YouTube channel. My dog joins me for a sphinx pose but then gets too excited so K. has to call her away so I can finish my workout. When I’m done, I clean the bathroom and hop in for a quick shower.

4:25 p.m. — I prep and cook a big batch of rosemary chicken and veggies for K. to eat for lunches for the upcoming week. I also bake chocolate cake doughnuts. After they cool, I dip them in a caramel glaze, sprinkle them with Maldon sea salt flakes, and place them in the fridge to set. At this point, I realize I’ve spent so long in the kitchen that it’s almost dinner time. I start making another Sunbasket meal for dinner. Tonight we’re having Huli Huli chicken with a pineapple slaw.

7:10 p.m. — We have the chocolate doughnuts I baked earlier for dessert with some honeybush tea. Then we spend the rest of the night snuggled up on the couch watching The Sinner.

11:25 p.m. — Crawl into bed after my usual nighttime routine. I spend my after-bedtime personal time reading poems on my laptop in the dark while K. sleeps. After a while, I notice it’s almost 2:30 a.m. and decide to put the laptop away and go to sleep.

Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

10:35 a.m. — I wake up and post another new poem on my journal for today. I realized yesterday I didn’t have one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems posted yet so I publish A Pretty Song to my journal. Rest in peace, Mary.

11 a.m. — I realize I forgot to watch the new Law & Order: SVU last night. I’ve never been this excited about TV but it’s the long-awaited return of Elliot Stabler. But first, breakfast. I make apple cinnamon oatmeal again. I leave K.’s bowl on a burner to stay warm since he’s on a work call and start watching with my oatmeal in hand #teambensler.

1:40 p.m. — THAT CLIFFHANGER. While I was watching the show, I noticed that K.’s paycheck didn’t come through today. It turns out they have a payroll issue so we opt to wait until his next paycheck to receive what we’re owed. It’s slightly annoying but since there’s nothing we can do about it, I pull up our budget spreadsheet and shift some things around to make sure this hiccup won’t cause any issues.

4 p.m. — We go for a walk and play ball with the dog before it gets dark. We discuss how melancholy I am about this whole pregnancy thing. I was triggered earlier when I saw another pregnancy announcement so I’ve been a bit mopey all day. I’m having such a tough time because it’s supposed to be joyous news and I hate myself for being so upset. I feel so alone but I’m clinging to hope that the Clomid I’m taking will be a gamechanger for us.

7 p.m. — Another Sunbasket meal for dinner tonight. I make lemongrass chicken lettuce cups for us and we watch The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+ while we eat. We have chocolate doughnuts for dessert with peppermint tea.

11:30 p.m. — I place some items in my Instacart basket for an order I’ll make tomorrow. I get ingredients to make carrot cake for Easter this weekend as well as our usual groceries. We won’t be getting together with family for Easter this year, but I’d like to make the cake so K. can enjoy it since it’s his favorite dessert. I do my nighttime routine and scroll through Zillow, check on my Neopets, and read a little until I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $0

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