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.
Editor’s Note: Last year, this writer from Cleveland wrote this Money Diary and readers loved her for her wit, her voice, and her ability to really save. Readers were also in awe of her low cost of living, despite having three kids. Ahead, we caught up with the diarist and got a few updates about her life since her first diary as well as a follow-up diary of her current pandemic life.
When we last spoke to you, you were working part-time as a writer, what are you doing now?
Well the biggest update is I lost my job. They told me in January and I was officially laid off on March 1st. We did a lot of our business through a factory in China and when that shut down because of COVID, they cut most part-time workers including me. They cut part-time workers first because they didn’t have to pay us severance. They ended up furloughing 75% of the company and cutting the rest of the part-time staff by June.
How has losing your job affected your life?
My husband still has his job with great benefits so thank god for that. I’ve had freelance jobs here and there and I collect unemployment when I don’t have work. We’ve lowered our retirement contribution and had to pause our charitable donations, which makes me sad, but I know we have to do it right now. Beyond that, we’re okay right now. Financially speaking, I could take a break from job hunting/the workforce and just be with the kids, but I can’t do that for myself. I need to have my thing.
How has the job market been?
At first, I was confident, I have 17 years of experience and I was like, “I got this.” But then the pandemic hit full swing and the job market was flooded. I’ve had interviews and made contacts, but it’s difficult because I don’t know what’s going to happen with my kids’ school. I need to have a remote job so I can be flexible in case things change, especially because my husband is an essential worker.
You have three kids, how has this back-to-school time been for your family?
They’ve been out of school since March and they’re really missing teachers who can help them. Originally they were supposed to go back to school this week, but it got pushed until after Labor Day. They’ll be doing a hybrid version of school so half in school and half remote from home. I feel nervous about sending them back, but I do think it will be good for them academically — it’s just not the same from home.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Ahead, the diarist does a follow up.
In today’s follow up diary: an unemployed writer with a joint income of $73,000 per year who spends some of her money this week on a bike helmet.
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
My Salary: $0 (I am currently unemployed so I don’t have a steady income. Right now, I can claim $350 per week plus the additional $600 from the CARES Act during weeks I do not work.)
My Husband’s Salary: $30/hour (in 2019, he made $73,000 gross, including overtime)
Net Worth: Total Assets – Total Debt = $1,086,000 (total assets include my 401(k): $243,000, husband’s 401(k): $405,000, husband’s ROTH IRA: $120,000, kids’ 529: $74,000, house: $265,000, two cars: 27,000, joint checking account: $6,000. My husband and I have completely joint finances and accounts.)
Debt: $54,000 (Mortgage: $19,000, Home Equity Line of Credit: $35,000)
My paycheck Amount (weekly): $350 from unemployment
My Husband’s Paycheck (2x/month): $2,800 (gross)
Cell Phones: $118 (for both of us)
New York Times Subscription: $17
NPR Donation: $10
401(k): My husband saves 10% per paycheck. I am not saving anything right now.
Annual Property Taxes: $5,500
Annual Home Insurance: $800
Annual Car Insurance: $840
Annual Health Insurance: $4,300
Annual Washington Post Subscription: $99
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. My parents wanted me to go to college, but since I was the first person in my immediate or extended family to graduate from college, they had little or no understanding of how to help me. I saved money by attending a local university and living at home. I took out government loans. My grandma bought me a $10,000 savings bond, which I was able to use for the first year and a half because I qualified for need-based aid in the beginning. When that money ran out, my parents paid the balance of my tuition bills (roughly $20,000 in total). I graduated with about $17,000 in student loans, which I paid off within three years. I was able to earn a graduate degree debt-free because my job had a program that offered tuition reimbursement.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Growing up, spending not saving was modeled in my household. My husband is much more fiscally responsible than me and I’ve become a saver over the years because of his influence.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first “grown-up” job was the writing job I got laid off from in March. I was there for almost 17 years, and I truly loved it.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Not really. I sensed that my parents were in over their head when it came to money, but also knew that they would go into debt to buy us whatever we needed, so we would never do without. It’s a very childish way of looking at money.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes and no. I was in a complete panic when I lost my job in March. My part-time income brought in about $35,000 a year, which is a lot of money for a family of five to lose when you’ve made choices and decisions around the expectation of having that job and that income. Obviously, we’re not big spenders, so we can survive off my husband’s income right now. The fact that I’m able to claim unemployment if I’m not working helps me to panic less. This way I can feel like I’m contributing something to the family —financially that is.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 22 and got married when I was 23, so I would say that’s when I became totally and completely financially responsible for myself. Of course, when you’re married, you have a partner who acts as a safety net. Because we were a two-income household, it wasn’t an utter tragedy when I lost my job.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Yes. My grandmother left me $10,000 for college.
9 a.m. — I wake up and start scrolling through my phone. My husband, T., is already up and making breakfast downstairs with my daughters M., B., and L. (ages 6-12).
9:30 a.m. — Time to shower and get ready for the day. In the before times, we would go to church on Sundays, but we haven’t been since they closed in March. Our parish opened about a month ago with lots of restrictions. We’re still not comfortable being with the bigger crowd right now. Plus, they’re live streaming mass and who doesn’t love praying in pajamas? I watch this morning’s mass while I shower and get dressed.
10 a.m. — M. is having a friend over today, so I start tidying up the house. L. heads outside to play with a neighbor. B. is sleeping over a friend’s house tonight. Wow. Not one of my kids is social distancing today. When everything closed down, we were very strict about no playdates, but relaxed this summer because the girls missed human companionship. Staring at mom and dad every night was not cutting it.
11:30 a.m. — I didn’t work this week, so I go online and file for unemployment. So fun! I lost my job back in March, which is an extreme bummer because I loved the work and it was good money. Since then, I’ve been trying to take on some freelance projects and apply for new positions. Regular unemployment (with the bonus $600) has been a big help during weeks I haven’t been able to pick up any freelance work.
12 p.m. — My Mac needs to be updated, which means I need to buy a new version of Microsoft Office. I’ve been using the 2008 version for years and it’s extremely buggy. I finally bite the bullet and purchase Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2019. $161.98
1 p.m. — T. is going golfing with some friends, so I make lunch for myself and the kids. It’s just frozen chicken nuggets but then I decide to get fancy and whip up some homemade mac and cheese. (Mostly because I’m out of boxed Kraft macaroni and cheese.) I have a big bowl of the mac and cheese and a Little Debbie Nutty Buddy (this is one of my go-to snacks during quarantine because it gives me a delightful hit of chocolate and peanut butter).
3 p.m. — M.’s friend heads home and I sit down to browse job sites. Right now, I’m just looking for remote jobs because I’m not sure what’s going to happen next year with school. T. is an essential worker and, while his full-time job is pretty secure and he carries our health benefits, he has to work outside the house. It’s up to me to make sure that child care is covered if the kids can’t be in school.
4:30 p.m. — B. asks me for the millionth time if we can go, so we finally leave to head to her friend’s house for the sleepover. By the time I get back home, T. has returned from golf.
5:30 p.m. — I warm up some leftover pasta for dinner as T. tells me about his day. He went to a country club, where one of the people in his group is a member, and there was lots of pro-Trump talk. We both throw up in our mouths a little.
7 p.m. — After dinner, T. takes the kids for a bike ride and I watch Betsy DeVos being interviewed by Dana Bash. What a disgrace.
7:30 p.m. — The interview gives me an idea for an article I’d like to pitch to a school magazine though. So, thanks, Betsy DeVos? Nah.
9:30 p.m. — I finish up the day by reading The Ickabog on my phone in bed. It’s cute.
Daily Total: $161.98
8 a.m. — I wake up when I hear T. getting ready for work, then close my eyes again. When I finally open them, it’s only to browse Facebook and Twitter for a bit before actually getting out of bed.
9:30 a.m. — I listen to the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast in the shower then make a peach banana smoothie for myself and the girls. It has way too much honey, but I drink it anyway while thinking about bees, which is unsettling. I also eat a Nutty Buddy.
10 a.m. — I sit down at the computer to figure out what I need to work on today. I decide to write a grant application for my daughters’ elementary school. The PTA can’t do its usual in-person fundraiser event this year, so I’m looking into other options. Maybe if I write a convincing letter, we’ll be awarded enough money to buy extra classroom supplies for teachers. Fingers crossed.
1 p.m. — Did I mention we have a pool in our backyard? It’s come in handy during the summer of social distancing. I’m running low on chemicals, so I head over to the pool store to buy a bunch. $68.95
1:30 p.m. — I pick up B. from her friend’s house and get all the details on the sleepover (spoiler alert: it was awesome!). We also swing by the church and get books for the homeschool PSR program I will need to lead them through next week. (It’s basically Catholic church school for kids.) In-person summer classes are canceled, so this is our only option. The cost is $150 for my two oldest daughters, but I prepaid a few weeks ago.
2 p.m. — Back at home, I order B. a rainbow loom bracelet kit she has been bugging me about ($17.27) and two replacement Wii remotes ($66.94). Yes, we still have a Wii from 2005. The kids love playing family games with us on it, so there’s no reason to upgrade to anything fancier. $84.21
3:30 p.m. — A freelance client emails me to tell me that they’re super happy with the work I did for them last month. Yay! They’d also like me to help with some upcoming projects. This gig pays really well, so I tell them to send over the details and also say a quick thank you prayer to unemployment Jesus.
4:30 p.m. — My best friend and I go out to dinner to celebrate my 40th birthday, which was two weeks ago. This is only my second time eating at a restaurant since March. They won’t let us make a reservation on the patio, so we go early to get outdoor seating. Masks just became mandatory in my county last week (thank God and science), so we wear them except when we’re eating and drinking. I get a pretzel cheeseburger, sweet potato fries, and strawberry cassata cake (a unique-to-Cleveland dessert). Dinner is on my bestie.
6:30 p.m. — Back at home, T. bought pizza for himself and the kids for dinner. The two of us chat and take the cat for a walk on his leash. Hey, it gives the neighbors something to gossip about. $8.50
8:00 p.m. — The family decides to watch the first few episodes of The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix. My children are puzzled by phones with cords and I enjoy this way more than I should.
9:30 p.m. — I clean up a bit before bed, eat another Nutty Buddy, then text with a former co-worker. T. and I get a little sexy before we both fall asleep.
Daily Total: $161.66
7:30 a.m. — Wake up to hear T. getting ready for work. I check my emails to see that someone from unemployment has processed my claims from the last two weeks. I had a break in my claim because I had income from a freelance project I worked on in June, but then didn’t work for two weeks. Now $950 per week ($1,900) will be deposited into my bank account in a few days. I would much rather be working than filing unemployment, but since I don’t know when my next job is coming, I’m stocking away these funds for a rainy day.
9:30 a.m. — I finally get out of bed after browsing for news and jobs on my phone and answering some texts. I start the day listening to Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend in the shower.
10 a.m. — The kids have already gotten themselves sorted out for breakfast, so I just get myself some water and a Nutty Buddy and sit down at the computer to manage some social media posts for the PTA and share information about the virtual school board meeting tonight. I also apply for a remote editor position that a recruiter contacts me about.
12 p.m. — I have a bowl of pretzel crisps and peanut butter for lunch. The girls request Steak-Ums, so I make that for lunch, too.
1 p.m. — I have to run out because I want to drop off the two grant application letters in person. The girls come with me for some fresh air. We all stop at Target on the way back and buy some extra shorts, tank tops, hand sanitizer, and board games. All three of my kids wear masks in public with no issue. We’ve been practicing all summer because I know this virus is not going away and, if they want to leave the house, they’re going to need to get used to masks. Before the mandatory mask order, we’d probably see anywhere from 25-75% of people wearing masks depending on the store. Today, it’s 99%. $168.04
5 p.m. — I warm up the leftover mac and cheese for the kids so I can watch the remote school board meeting in peace. They’re discussing the reopening plan for next year. It seems like our district is going to switch between three plans depending on what the state of Ohio says COVID-19 cases look like for our county. It will either be a) five days a week in school, b) two days a week in school with three days a week online, or c) five days a week online. The district has an all-online option, too. They will also mandate masks for all staff and all students, which makes me happy because now my girls, their classmates, and teachers will have increased protection in the building.
7:30 p.m. — The meeting is finally over and I am discussing with T. and texting with other mom friends. There is a very mixed reaction but, overall, I think the school district is doing the best they can. Obviously, they want the kids to get in-person instruction, but it seems like they’re setting up a good system to reduce or shut down school as the virus gets more severe.
9 p.m. — B. needs to show off her new bracelet kit, so she sets up “Bracelet School,” where I make a gorgeous rainbow loom charm anklet. We also play all the new board games we got from Target. Yeti in My Spaghetti is an instant fan favorite.
10 p.m. — Shit. I didn’t eat anything for dinner and now I have a raging migraine. This school stuff is also stressing me out. I warm up the last of the mac and cheese and take some prescription migraine medicine. T. and I talk about his work and school options in bed before finally drifting off to sleep.
Daily Total: $168.04
7:30 a.m. — I wake up with the same headache from last night. I take some more migraine medicine and go back to sleep.
10 a.m. — Okay, migraine gone. Time to start the day. I listen to the FiveThirtyEight podcast in the shower.
10:30 a.m. — The girls want scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast. I make myself a strawberry banana smoothie.
11 a.m. — Check emails. Ooh, an online financial site wants to interview me about an editing position I applied for. Also, my freelance client sent along some projects for me to work on, which makes me feel like I’m not a complete and utter failure.
1 p.m. — All right, my house is a disaster. Time to clean. Someone has pushed a cupcake into the couch cushion, reminding me how much I love being a mom. I drink a ton of water while I work and pause to eat a peach for lunch.
3 p.m. — L. comes over to me and tells me that the rash on the back of her leg still itches. She’s had this rash for at least two weeks and, while it’s looking a little better, the skin around it is starting to discolor. I set up an online visit through our doctor’s office. Turns out she has an infection on the back of her leg and we’ll have to apply a cream twice a day for two weeks. The clinic makes me prepay for the visit when I know our insurance will cover most of it. Now we’re going to have to try to get a partial refund. $55
6:30 p.m. — T. brings home Chipotle for dinner. The bill is $14.75 but we have a gift card from my birthday so it doesn’t cost us anything. I have half a burrito bowl with chips and guacamole. He also picks up L.’s prescription from the pharmacy. $10
7 p.m. — Wii remotes have arrived. We play Mario Party 9 to test them out. One won’t sync properly so I’ll have to return it to Amazon. Hmm… maybe it is time to upgrade the video game system?
9 p.m. — I put the prescription cream on L.’s rash and she bursts into tears. She says it burns, which is one of the side effects. Poor kid.
Daily Total: $65
5 a.m. — I wake up with another migraine. I swallow more medicine and fall back asleep.
9 a.m. — L. is in my room and wants to play the Red Light, Green Light board game we bought from Target. She hands me a deck of cards with all red-light cards. The little cheater! Now we have to have a conversation about fair play and honesty. Thank God my migraine is gone.
9:30 a.m. — Now I’m out of bed and listening to Pod Save America as I get dressed. The girls made themselves confetti sprinkle pancakes for breakfast, so I pick up after everyone and then run the Roomba. The robot maid puts the cats on high alert.
10:30 a.m. — I schedule a Zoom job interview for next week with the financial website. It’s a full-time position, which I have no idea how I will manage with three kids who are going to be both in school and remote learning depending on how severe this virus gets. I’d love for my daughters to be in school, but I also want them (and their friends and teachers) to be safe. If possible, it would be nice not to destroy my career and run myself ragged while doing those things, too. This entire upcoming school year is going to be a shitshow.
11 a.m. — I return the Wii remote on Amazon. Then I write a letter to my state senator asking him to oppose an upcoming bill that would allow teachers with no firearms training to bring guns in the classroom. Seriously, Ohio lawmakers?
12 p.m. — The kids want taquitos for lunch, so I warm those up. I have an apple with some peanut butter.
12:30 p.m. — I go hang out in the pool while the kids go swimming. It’s actually pretty dirty out here, so I end up vacuuming the bottom, brushing the sides, and cleaning the filter. Along with all my other duties, I am also the family pool girl.
3 p.m. — The graduation party we were invited to has been canceled on account of the plague. So I need to buy a greeting card and mail the grad a $100 check. I also have to pick up a $15 gift card for a birthday party my daughter won’t be attending and a birthday card for a friend I won’t be seeing. Thank goodness for the mail. #SaveUSPS $123.25
6 p.m. — I order Panera for curbside pickup and T. brings it home. They have a nice family meal which has four sandwiches, a big salad, a tub of soup, a baguette, and four cookies. It’s $33, but I have a $5 coupon. I have a turkey bacon bravo sandwich, a bowl of broccoli cheddar soup, and a Caesar salad for dinner. $28
7:30 p.m. — I go on Mint to look over old bills and see that our net worth is still hovering above $1 million. At the end of 2018, we were at $900,000, but we were contributing 30% to retirement accounts, so we crossed over the million-dollar mark in early-2019. When I lost my job, we cut our savings rate to 10%. We also stopped giving almost $200 per month to various charities, which really hurt my heart.
8:30 p.m. — I’m trying to talk T. back into giving again. Joe Biden has been texting me non-stop lately. (What a dreamboat!) So, I suggest setting up a recurring contribution to his campaign. We decide on $5 a week, which isn’t a lot, but it’s something. Small-dollar donors are people, too. $5
9 p.m. — The kids watch A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix for the millionth time. I don’t mind because I honestly love this show and I’m secretly proud of my children for being so obsessed with it.
Daily Total: $156.25
8:30 a.m. — I wake up and browse some job listings. I apply for two jobs in my pajamas. Make a mental note to add “mind-blowing multi-tasking skills” to my resume.
9:30 a.m. — I listen to the new How Did This Get Made podcast in the shower. Once I get dressed, I realize that L. has spilled a glass of orange juice in the hallway. I clean it up with a wet rag but realize I’ll need to mop the whole area… later. Later is good.
10 a.m. — Time to tidy up the house and run the Roomba. I make strawberry banana smoothies for everyone for breakfast. Then I put more cream on L.’s rash. It still burns but not as much. She is being a total trooper about this.
11 a.m. — I finally sit down at the computer to do some work. I’d like to start mapping out ideas for that freelance project and polish a few more pitches.
12 p.m. — The kids want me to make them cornbread. This is why working at home while trying to watch kids is so tough. There are only a few things I need to get started today and I’ve probably been interrupted ten times this hour alone. I stop and make them some lunch.
3 p.m. — Finally achieve my writing goal for the day. I check Facebook and volunteer to write out some postcards and drop literature for a local candidate running for the Ohio statehouse. When I first lost my job and everything went into lockdown, I felt awful. Volunteering for political causes helps me feel productive and involved, even when I can barely leave the house.
5:30 p.m. — T. gets home from work and I realize that our school has sent out their official reopening plan. Parents are freaking out on social media because that is what parents do best. And also because the reopening plan mandates masks and groups our community in with the entire county. The horror!
6:30 p.m. — I write a quick letter to the school board thanking them for mandating masks and begging them not to cave into the science deniers screaming, “but my first grader doesn’t want to wear a mask!” My first grader doesn’t want to wear pants, but I’m pretty sure the other families wouldn’t like it if I sent her to school in underwear.
7 p.m. — We take a family bike ride and then cool down in the pool. T. and I talk about what we plan to do with the kids this school year. On the one hand, it would be safer to have them learning at home. On the other hand, I am a lousy teacher and my kids would do a whole lot better in a classroom with actual trained educators. There are no good choices.
8:30 p.m. — I make a late dinner of pierogis, green beans, and peaches. After dinner, I text with the other mom I lead a Girl Scout troop with. Now that the school has released its plan, we can meet to figure out how we’re going to do meetings and activities with the girls next year.
9:30 p.m. — After dinner, T. and I get the kids to bed. Before we fall asleep, he tells me about the Mary Trump book he’s been reading. It’s not exactly the stuff of sweet dreams.
Daily Total: $0
8:30 a.m. — T. is getting ready for work, so I wake up, too. I scroll through my phone checking out news and trying to figure out what I need to do today.
10 a.m. — I’m out of bed and off to pick up the groceries I ordered yesterday. I’ve been doing curbside pickup for groceries for a couple of years and I love it, but the wait times got super long during the height of the pandemic. Now, we’re back to same-day or next-day groceries. I pick up a small order — mostly bread, milk, fruit, veggies, meat, and a few special requests for the girls. $117.76
10:30 a.m. — My fridge and pantry are a horror show, so I take some time to clean those out before putting away the new food.
12 p.m. — I have to attend an in-person school meeting today, so I grab my supplies and mask. We’re going over the financials from last year. Luckily, no one has been embezzling school funds, so it’s quick and easy.
1 p.m. — Back at home, I make corn dogs for the girls for lunch. I have a strawberry banana smoothie and one corn dog (they taste so delicious when they’re toasted in the oven). B. tells me she needs a new bike helmet. Sounds pretty important, so I order one online for her. Then L. and I hang out in the pool. $25.60
3:30 p.m. — I email even more Ohio state senators about the bill allowing untrained teachers to have firearms in school. Apparently, a legislative committee is having a hearing about the bill on Tuesday. I start every letter with, “Listen, motherf*ckers, I vote…” Just kidding. But I secretly want to.
6:30 p.m. — T. gets home from work. Apparently, he also stopped and picked up some groceries because he wanted some food for his lunch this week and treats for himself. Mainly ice cream, which is his one true weakness. $66.98
7 p.m. — Our neighbors invite us over for an outdoor cookout, so we head to their house. They also have three kids, so it’s nice for our girls to be able to play for a little bit. I have a hamburger, potato salad, and a bunch of desserts.
10 p.m. — We head back home and get the kids ready for bed. Tomorrow is supposed to be lava hot, so we make plans just to lay around and go in the pool. T. and I lock our bedroom door and get sexy again (twice in one week — high five!) before drifting off to sleep.
Daily Total: $210.34
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