Cash Confessional: A week of spending in Charlotte on a combined $350,000+ salary

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Our Cash Confessional series, in partnership with Bank of America, takes a personal and anonymous look into how people of all ages and incomes spend their money in the span of seven days.

To see the other installments of Cash Confessional, click here. This series is completely volunteer-based; if you’re interested in keeping track of your own spending and having it featured, email Lauren at lauren@charlotteagenda.com. This week, I spoke with a married couple in their 30s. He’s in finance and she’s in media. They’re the parents of two young children. Here’s how they spend their money.

Basics

Industry:

Him – Finance
Her – Media

Position:

Him – Manager
Her – Freelance

Salary:

Him – $300,000
Her – $37,000-$58,000 (it fluctuates depending on the work coming in)

Age:

Him – 37
Her-  30

Savings:

Her – max out my IRA at end of year: $5,500 (works out to $458 a month but I always end up doing it in one big chunk)
Him – $18,500 into 401k (max) + employer match -> ~$27000 annually, ~$1400 into general investment monthly, $500 a month into general savings, $650 a month into kids’ 529 plans

Monthly expenses

Mortgage: $2,900 ($400 property tax wrapped in, $125 for home insurance)
Number of roommates: Two toddlers
Neighborhood: Elizabeth
Utilities: Cable – $50
Water, gas, electric: ~ $200 a month
Student loans: None. He paid them off after 10 years, she had a fellowship to pay hers off.
Car payments: None. Paid them off after three years.
Car insurance: $1,000 per year
Insurance: Homeowner’s insurance costs $1,500 a year (wrapped into mortgage)
Life insurance: $150 a month
Phone: $188 a month
Subscriptions: Amazon Prime, Family Music, Freetime, Hulu, two newspapers, ACLU, public radio. Total cost: $130.50 a month
Fitness: YMCA and Beach Body Workout plan. Total cost: $125 a month
Child-related expenses: Two half-days of preschool, full-time nanny, payroll service, museum family membership. Total cost: $3,010 a month
Work costs: Co-working space, Dropbox, parking. Total cost: $224 a month
House stuff: Security alarm, house cleaner. Total cost: $365 a month
Credit card fees: $45 a month

Three of your biggest financial goals:

Her – Get a better sense of our finances. Calculate and set aside taxes. As a freelancer no one is withholding taxes for me.

Him – Have a solid emergency fund with six months of expenses set aside.

Both – Make a plan for charity contributions. Right now we just randomly give money when we feel like it to various causes.

Money diary: How we spent our money last week

Day one: Sunday

Her: I’m out of town for a conference this weekend so spending is a little different. Woke up late so I ate a Kind Bar while jogging to the conference.

Had lunch at the conference (I paid for this conference so it’s not like it’s free) and in the evening is a reception with appetizers. I take a Lyft ($11.24) to meet a friend for dinner. I spend $27 at dinner. Afterwards, I get a $13 drink with a college friend I haven’t seen in two years, and then I take a Lyft back to the hotel ($9.80). I guess if I lived here I would bike like my friends did.

Him: I went to breakfast at Fenwick’s with family for a birthday. They covered. I get gas at 7-Eleven for $44.55, then swing by Harris Teeter. I spend $10 to fill a prescription, then spend $45.52. I make boxed mac and cheese with frozen corn for dinner with the kids, put them down for bed, and stay in and do a little work mixed with watching Netflix.

Total spent: $161.11

Day two: Monday

Her: I try the conference breakfast. I literally spit it out. I buy a yogurt parfait from Starbucks for $4.13 instead. I do some work, then grab crepes with a friend for $8.80 while we walk to a museum for the afternoon. We saved cash by walking 35 minutes. I could’ve walked the 40 minutes each way last night instead of taking a Lyft, but strange city at night alone…

Him: I ate a Kind Bar at home, plus some Siggi yogurt and made espresso.  Lunch was Energy Cafe, which cost $8.93 for a sandwich. I should bring lunch more. I pick up a couple of pairs of pants from the dry cleaner for $12.88. This is pretty infrequent, but pricey when we do it.

We pay $104 for a kids’ gym monthly membership, including a signup fee for $25 (we save $50 by signing up before 5 pm). Daughter tried it with the nanny this morning and loved it, so we will keep sending her.

Her: I thought I was so smart paying $0.75 to refill my Metrocard to get to the airport exactly one hour before flight. DISASTER. I went to the wrong airport! This city has three airports and my tickets fly into one and out of another. I’m on standby for the 5AM flight tomorrow out of the other airport, which means I’ll have to pay for an Uber to get there since the metro doesn’t run that early. Luckily my friend is staying one more night at this conference.

Anyway, $5 on metro and then $111 for an extremely indulgent Thai food dinner. I treat my friend for letting me crash in her hotel room. We each have two expensive cocktails, and the bartender gives us free champagne because of my sad missed flight story.

Amazon auto-drafted $3.21 for the kids’ Kindle subscription that we only use on airplanes (but it’s sooooo useful on airplanes). YMCA auto-drafted $114 for our memberships. We use this YMCA subscription a few times a month so it’s not worth it in that sense, but the YMCA does good for the community so it seems like a worthwhile use of our money.

Total spent: $372.70

Day three: Tuesday

Her: I’m up! It’s 3AM! I slept for four hours! The Lyft to the airport costs $51.46. I was hoping to try breaking in my Priority Pass to go to a lounge, but they’re all closed. Too bad; I want to see what it looks like in the fancy area at this airport.

This pass came with our fancy Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card which costs a lot, it’s $450 a year. It’s our first expensive credit card. I’m rambling because it’s 4AM and my flight leaves in an hour. Might as well get some work done while I’m sitting here. $28 parking at airport when I get into CLT.

Kind bar and a shower before going to the fundraiser that I’m covering. I’m so tired. I send some follow-up emails and set up interviews after the fundraiser, and stop at the ATM to get $140 for the housecleaners. Every time friends get married I ask if they want married person advice, and when they say yes I tell them to pay for a housecleaner once a month. We upped it to twice a month back when our now 4-year-old learned to throw things. Interview at Panera, so I get a sandwich and a coffee for $7.99.

Him: Cereal and coffee with the 4-year-old for breakfast. Lunch is $6 at the halal food cart downtown. I take a break in the afternoon and walk to Not Just Coffee for a coffee, which costs $3.79. We have a happy hour after work, and I get a glass of wine and some yummy hors d’oeuvres courtesy of the company.

Her: I make a snack dinner (crackers, cheese, grapes, carrots, etc.) for me and the kids. His dad comes over to watch the kids so we can go to a concert!  We’re cool!

Him: I spend $4 on a bottle of water at the concert. It was desperately needed, if very overpriced. Parking is $5.

Lots of monthly auto-drafts today in our credit card statements:

Hulu auto-drafts $8.70. ACLU auto-drafts $25. Life insurance drafts $154.91. One of the 529 accounts takes $400 today.

Total spent: $834.85

Day four: Wednesday

Him: I have eggs and coffee with the 4-year-old (he made coffee with me, he doesn’t drink it thankfully).

Her: Up early to cover an event. I eat some yogurt at red lights on the way. Back home for a phone interview and an apple.

I need to fill out a W4 and do a bunch of paperwork for a client, so I Google allowances and try to guess at husband’s withholding from his paychecks. I probably should call him and he’d tell me to put 0 allowances. He’s the finance whiz, and I feel guilty for not being financially literate.

Him: I spend $9.72 for a salad for lunch. Audible auto-drafts $16.03 per month today.  It was cheaper for me to sign up last month for this than to buy the book on tape that I wanted, even though it charged me for two months.  But I have to cancel this subscription because we don’t use it.

Her: I make ramen for lunch as I’m working at home today. While I wait the three minutes I donate $80 to Friendship Trays (Charlotte’s version of Meals on Wheels) and $20 to the Act On fund with Foundation for the Carolinas.

In the afternoon I get an email that PUBLIC RADIO NERD t-shirts are on sale! I grab one for $21.65 because I have no self control. I get a large because it’ll either fit me or husband. He informs me that he is a medium. I guess I’m sleeping in this shirt.

I make fried rice before covering an evening event. After we get the kids in bed I realize I haven’t eaten. I eat potato chips, a can of sardines, and a cucumber. The grocery situation is pretty dire. Husband smells my sardines and makes a face, then pops a can of tuna and eats it across the kitchen. Very dire.

Nanny took the kids to the pumpkin patch today and they took a hay ride and bought donuts for $14.50. She sends us very cute pictures. And the leftover apple cider donuts are great!

Total spent: $161.90

Day five: Thursday

Her: I have yogurt and the kids have cereal. I work from home in the morning because I’m heading to South Carolina this afternoon. I stop at Waffle House. We never go to Waffle House because husband likes being “healthy” or something. $7.

Him: Breakfast is yogurt and jam with a few flakes of cereal the toddler decides I need. I have coffee at work. Lunch is a salad at Devon & Blakely for $10.33. It’s expensive, but good and convenient.

Her: Client pays for coffee and for dinner, then I drive home. I get an email that a travel reimbursement from an August trip has come through, so +$325.27 to me. Yay! And in two months I’ll get reimbursed for mileage for the trip today.

Tonight public radio auto-drafts $7.50 from my credit card. The exterminator came to spray yesterday, so charge $79 to the card. They charge this every other month no matter how often they come.

Him: I make boxed mac and cheese with frozen corn again for dinner with the kids. I skip bath night with the kids and just get them to bed.

Time Warner Cable auto-drafts $49.99 today.

Total spent: $153.82

Day six: Friday

Her: Eggs with the kids, and I cut up the last apple in the house. If there’s time during the workday I’ll stop by Harris Teeter for groceries, otherwise I’ll go after the kids are in bed tonight.

Leftover fried rice and beets, just sad, plain beets, for lunch. Our nanny has been feeding the kids lunch at her house and I told her to take some money for her groceries.

Him: Breakfast was some yogurt and coffee. Very late lunch, $10.33 salad again at Devon and Blakely. In the afternoon, $9.29 for coffee and a cake-croissant thing at Not Just Coffee.

Her: I spend $88.21 at Harris Teeter. I plan out sesame noodles, pot roast, mac and cheese with sausage, bratwurst and sauerkraut and rolls. So this should get us through 4 days of dinners.

Sesame noodles for dinner, standard extremely pleasant walk and then an exhausting one-hour bedtime fiasco, and then we watch TV and sit. Haven’t seen each other that much all week so it’s nice to hang out. We read about the FIRE (financial independence retire early) movement and chat about savings. We save around 55k a year. We get mad about stupid FIRE ideas like ‘people wouldn’t be poor if they didn’t spend $10 on lattes,’ as if it’s not societal factors and lots of luck and circumstances that mostly decide how much money you end up with. We’re obviously super lucky because I got a scholarship that paid off all my student loans and he got a merit-based scholarship for college, and we haven’t had to support other family members or had kids while in school, no serious health problems, etc.

Nanny takes $40: $18 for taking kids to lunch at Midwood Smokehouse and $22 for groceries.

Natural Gas auto-drafts $25.55

Nanny paycheck + taxes is auto-drafted for $992.82

Total spent: $1166.20

Day seven: Saturday

Her: We go to Undercurrent for breakfast. We usually love the grit bowl but it’s cold today. We don’t say anything as we’re juggling the kids. Baby gobbles up a day-old pastry and most of a little omelet thing and my apple cider. Toddler refuses to eat but that’s more (delicious) peanut butter toast for us! Husband has an excellent shot of espresso. $33

We drop the kids at their grandparents for a few hours while I volunteer and he takes a class. We pick them up and visit a few houses with the Elizabeth Home and Garden tour before nap time. The kids and he ate at the grandparents’, so I eat the leftover sesame noodles.

While the kids are napping I make the pot roast and clean a little bit. Obviously the cleaners do a ton, but they pile things up nicely instead of actually throwing things like old newspapers out.

Toddler wants Crispy Banh Mi for dinner so I get us three sandwiches, fries, and dessert for $28. I like pot roast better on day two so I can take out the fat anyway, so we’ll eat it tomorrow. Or I’m justifying getting bossed around by a four-year-old. After evening walk, bath time, and bedtime, we do some workout videos and watch half a boring Netflix movie.

Total spent: $61

Weekly total spent: $2911.58

The breakdown:

$486.04 – food
$155.80 – transportation
$152.88 – cleaning expenses
$602.39 – recurring bills
$992.82 – nanny/childcare

What we learned

Her: I’m glad that we went through the monthly and recurring expenses we have. Obviously we spend a ton of money and I did not have a good sense of that. I did get closer (?) to my goal of understanding my taxes: I’m going to put aside 55% of each paycheck into a savings account (32% for federal income tax, 5.75% for NC income tax, and 15.3% for self-employment tax) so I can pay taxes in April.

We were fine on his paycheck before I started working again, so I was thinking of turning the remaining 45% into our charity fund.  But we also want to give our amazing nanny a raise, which he’s said my earnings would offset. We need to pick up the charity conversation again.

For the record I have never missed a flight like this! So I don’t normally spend $100+ on a random non-special-event meal (but of course we spent $60 on Saturday for breakfast and dinner for the four of us…)

Him: It was pretty close to what I expected. It is always good to go through and gut-check how much we are spending and saving. I should try to start bringing lunch at least once a week. I’m spending about $12 a day on lunch, and while I’m trading convenience for cost, it ends up being more expensive than I think when I’m hungry late in the day or can’t find time to go out and grab food. There are some miscellaneous monthly expenses we should cut back or should make more use of (the YMCA, for example, or the Audible one-off ) but for the most part I think we’re getting some value out of them. I’ve been fortunate in that my salary has gone up a lot in the past few years, so finding the right balance of saving more and donating more is something to keep figuring out.

Us: We spend a ton of money on childcare, but it’s worth it for us. We used to have toddler in daycare and he was sick all the time, and we had issues with daycare (kid shuffled around, supervisors telling us how bad our kid was, constant teacher turnover) and decided to try a nanny and she is wonderful.


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