A Week In San Diego, CA On A Joint $160,000 Income

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Today: an attorney working at a university who makes $160,000 a year and spends some of her money this week on La Croix seltzer.

Occupation: Attorney
Industry: Public University
Age: 34
Location: San Diego, CA
Combined Income: $160,000
My Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $6,375
My Partner’s Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $4,612
Gender Identity: Femme

Monthly Expenses
Monthly Housing Costs: $665 (My wealthy in-laws lent us $170,000 at the bottom of the housing crash to scoop up a tiny, foreclosed-upon condo. We paid them back $800/month for a couple of years. Our current monthly payment is a combination of our HOA fee, property taxes, utilities, and homeowners’ insurance.)
Loans: $780 (Law school student loans)
Health Insurance: $175
Pension Contribution: $1,047
Partner’s 403(b) Contribution: $264
My 403(b) Contribution: $400
Parking Permit: $93
Daycare: $2,067 (we have two young kids)
Cell Phones: $95
Netflix/Audible/Spotify: $25
Family Zoo Membership: $25
Savings: $1,900 ($700 for my partner’s grad school, $500 for a new home downpayment, and $700 miscellaneous savings)

Day One

6 a.m. — Rise and shine! Any other parent of small children knows young kids wake up freaking early. It takes us a full hour to wake up, eat breakfast, and get dressed. Me, my partner, and both our kiddos need to be out the door by 7 in order to have enough time for us to drop off the kids at daycare and then drive to work. Luckily, my partner and I work for the same large public university and try to carpool as much as possible.

7:15 a.m. — We arrive at the kiddos’ daycare to drop them off, and I see that the classroom moms are requesting extra money to buy costumes for the daycare’s spring recital (or should I say, “recital”). I quickly Venmo the classroom moms $25 for each kid. $50

7:30 a.m. — Crap. I forgot to eat anything before rushing out the door with the kids. I make sure to stop at the drive-thru fast food restaurant on my way to work for my favorite breakfast sandwich and iced coffee ($7.68). Truth be told, I love fast food breakfasts and would stop every single day, but I’ve been trying to reduce my spending on eating out because my partner and I have aggressive savings goals. $7.68

9 a.m. — Woohoo, I get an email stating my health FSA reimbursement went through! The reimbursement is for a $25 doctor visit from last week. As I check my bank account to confirm the reimbursement was deposited, I see that my partner spent $50 on a 10-day parking permit at our work. We won’t be able to carpool much over the next couple of weeks due to some upcoming doctor appointments, so we will need the second parking permit. $50

12 p.m. — I heat up my lunch that I brought from home. We usually batch cook 2-3 recipes a week and eat the leftovers for lunch. Today, I’m eating some leftover chicken and dumplings from a tried and true Martha Stewart recipe. Yummm.

2 p.m. — The afternoon sun comes right into my office window and onto my desk, instantly making me sleepy. I head downstairs to the a frozen yogurt shop in my building and buy a cold, sugary little pick me up. $4.45

5 p.m. — The evening commute is always longer than the morning commute. It takes a full 75 minutes to collect my partner, pick up our kids from daycare, and get home. It’s also been raining so the commute is extra slow.

7 p.m. — THE KIDS ARE IN BED, TIME TO CELEBRATE. And by celebrate, I mean get ready for the next day. I assemble lunches for me, my partner, and my kids for the next day. Then, I put out everybody’s clothes for the following day, do the dishes, and pop an edible (Woohoo for a legal state!) before catching up on Game of Thrones.

Daily Total: $112.13

Day Two

6 a.m. — Did I mention my kids like to wake up early? Because they do. Always. We do the same routine of making the kids’ breakfast, getting them dressed, and heading out to the car. At least this time I remember to make myself a cup of coffee and eat a couple of scrambled eggs, so I don’t end up buying breakfast again.

8:30 a.m. — While doing my daily check of our bank statements and updating my budgeting app, I realize, OOF, it’s Tuesday a.k.a. our weekly daycare payment day. Goodbye $477. Thank goodness we LOVE love love our daycare providers and would pay even more for our kids to stay in their care. But shhhh, don’t tell them that.

9 a.m. — My morning client cancelled on me, so I go to the coffee shop on campus and re-caffeinate! I splurge on a fancy mocha. $4.45

12:30 p.m. — Today is another exciting re-heated chicken and dumplings for lunch. I’m glad I’ll be cooking a new batch of lunches tonight. I’m a little bit sick of this recipe.

4 p.m. — My partner heads off to their part-time evening Ed.D. program, which means two predictable expenses: a full tank of gas for the long commute ($39) and paying for parking at the other university ($6.35) $45.35

4:30 p.m. — It’s time to leave work to go get the kiddos from daycare. My partner has class all evening, so I enjoy the solo ride in my car. I listen to my favorite podcast ( Pod Save America) and mentally prep for a chaotic night of solo parenting.

7 p.m. — THE KIDS ARE IN BED (this never stops being amazing). I spend a couple hours making my favorite homemade pasta sauce (shout out to Budget Bytes!), garlic bread, pasta, and some steak for my partner to eat when they get home later. I get sucked into the latest Armchair Expert podcast episode while I cook and end up buying the guest speaker’s Kindle book because I find the interview so fascinating. $10.99

9:30 p.m. — This old lady hits the hay after reading a few pages of my new Kindle book. The book is as interesting as I had hoped, but it’s still a heavy duty non-fiction book. I can only take a few pages before I feel my eyes getting heavy.

Daily Total: $60.79

Day Three

6 a.m. — Did I mention I have kids that pop up wide awake every single dang morning at 6 a.m.? However, because I’m working late tonight, I don’t have to head into my office until 11. Our pace this morning is leisurely as I make sure all four of us get some breakfast.

8 a.m. — Do any other parents use their PTO to catch up on general parenting/house stuff? I’m using this weekday morning to avoid big crowds and get the grocery shopping out of the way so I don’t have to shop this weekend when I’d rather be adventuring with my kids. First stop is Trader Joe’s for some non-bulk groceries. I can’t help but grab a bag (or two) of frozen orange chicken. My other expensive grocery splurge is the prepared tuna salad. I know, I know, I could make it myself, but sometimes you pay for convenience, am I right? My Trader Joe’s trip costs $73.42, which is pretty typical for our weekly trips. $73.42

9 a.m. — Next up, Costco! We tend to buy the same specific items in bulk every week. This includes 2 dozen eggs, organic whole milk for the kiddos, La Croix by the case, frozen seafood, frozen dino chicken nuggets, and yogurt tubes. Why my kids won’t eat yogurt from a cup but will slurp it out of a plastic tube is beyond me, but I guess as long as they’re eating something! I decide to splurge on a bouquet of roses. When my partner is with me they usually talk me out of buying flowers (why spend money on things that end up dying?), but they’re not here and I feel like buying myself flowers. $142.32

11 a.m. — I finally get to the office and heat up one of the frozen Trader Joe’s bambino pizzas. If I didn’t have a partner or kids, I could very happily live alone on just frozen Trader Joe’s food. Alas, my freezer is only so big and these little frozen meals are not exactly economical for four people.

3 p.m. — I get a fraud notice text from my bank and immediately panic. Upon signing into my bank account while on the phone with a customer rep from my bank, I realize it was all an innocent mistake. My partner bought reserved parking online in downtown LA for a conference they are attending next week and the bank mistook the charges as suspicious. Multiple days of parking ended up totaling $80. $80

8:30 p.m. — I finally leave work after a late evening workshop. I have been craving my favorite ice cream from a local shop and end up grabbing a pint on my way home ($11.60 with tax and tip). By the time I get home, my partner has already put the kids to bed and they are plugging away at their homework. I heat up some of the kids’ dino chicken nuggets for myself (they’re delicious). We get through half an episode of Game of Thrones before I start nodding off. $11.60

Daily Total: $307.34

Day Four

6 a.m. — Spoiler Alert: The kids get up at 6, raring to go. One of them has a runny nose, and I pray to the daycare gods she doesn’t spike a fever and get sent home early. I have some important doctor’s appointments later today that will go much more smoothly without a two-year-old in tow! Continuing on last night’s theme of eating the kids’ food, I sit down with my coffee to have a big ol’ bowl of Froot Loops before doing the daycare run and morning commute.

7:45 a.m. — I have a little Friday tradition — before heading into the office I stop at the local Starbucks for a nice big mocha. I like to take my time and savor my mocha, so I sit down at a table and leisurely scroll Instagram. I know that the second I step foot in my office at least one person will be needing something from me, so I take a few moments to recharge my batteries. $5.65

12:30 p.m. — It’s been a packed morning with back-to-back client meetings. I’m now inhaling the second Trader Joe’s bambino pizza I had in the office freezer. I only have an hour to write up my notes and answer emails before I have to leave for the doctor.

2 p.m. — I’ll be having surgery next month and this afternoon was ear-marked for me to visit with three different medical professionals to clear me for surgery. (Don’t worry, I’m okay! It’s not an emergency situation!) We have wonderful health insurance so the entire afternoon of appointments only costs $20. I celebrated my medical clearance with a trip to the artisanal burger shop in the neighborhood. I’m feeling guilty about how much money I’ve spent on eating out this week, so I decide to skip the pricey side of fries and soda. The total comes out to $13.59 including tax and tip. $33.59

6 p.m. — It’s the start of the weekend! I get home 30 minutes before my partner and kids, so I whip up some scrambled eggs, jasmine rice, and soy sauce (one of the kids’ favorite meals) while snacking on a low-dose edible. I used to be a major wine consumer but even cheap wine can add up! I was easily spending ~$150-$200/month on wine for a couple of years. Plus, even one glass of wine messes with my sleep and leaves me with a headache in the morning. Remember those tiny 6 a.m. risers I live with? Having a headache makes caring for them a lot harder!

7:30 p.m. — The edible kicks in, as does my massive crush on Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard. I read on social media that they’ve started a new eco-friendly baby product line called Hello Bello and decide I want to splurge on some adorable printed disposable diapers for my daughter. I use a promo code I see on social media, so the whole month’s box of diapers and wipes comes to $52.28. We currently spend about $35/month on Up&Up (Target) brand diapers, but I’ve been curious about the various diaper subscription services out there. I would love to never do another midnight diaper run ever again! $52.28

10:30 p.m. — Things are getting crazy over here, my partner and I are staying up past 9:30! We couldn’t help it, we’re trying to catch up on all seven seasons of Game of Thrones before the next season premieres. It’s a hard job, but someone’s gotta do it!

Daily Total: $91.52

Day Five

6 a.m. — Don’t toddlers know that weekends are for sleeping in? Hahaha NOPE. At least on the weekend we don’t have to hustle. Instead, we all lounge on the couch as a family for a couple hours watching Blippi, Transformers, Frozen, and other various forms of parental torture. It’s such a luxury to have multiple, hot cups of coffee in one morning. On weekends, I like to make buttermilk pancakes for the kids with surprise cups of chocolate milk. I take the time to make my favorite breakfast for myself (scrambled eggs with cubed ham and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese, with a buttermilk biscuit on the side) and get ready for a whole weekend together as a family.

10 a.m. — All four of us are finally dressed and headed outside. Finding cheap or free things to do with kids can sometimes be difficult — thank goodness my kids love good ol’ fashioned trips to the park. We have five or six favorite parks around San Diego. This morning we head to a lakeside playground with lots of ducks and lizards. It’s been raining a lot in southern California so we’re all wearing our boots and are ready to stomp in some puddles and mud!

12:30 p.m. — The kids are down for their naps, and I heat up some of that Trader Joe’s frozen orange chicken for my partner and I to eat for lunch. My two-year-old has just figured out how to climb out of her crib (F%*@#) so last week we ordered a set of “big kid beds” (i.e. twin size beds) for each kid. Today, my partner and I sat down to price out bed linen and comforters for the beds. We end up finding things we like and impulsively place a large Amazon order of two comforters, four sheet sets, and some waterproof linings. We have money left over on a gift card we received from my in-laws for Lunar New Year, so we only end up paying $103.08. $103.08

2:30 p.m. — It’s laundry time! One of the downsides to our current living situation is we don’t have our own washer and dryer. On the weekends, we average between four and seven loads of laundry. I know we only have two kids but who knew such small humans could generate so much laundry?? Our community laundry facility uses pre-paid laundry cards, and it’s time to refill it ($41). $41

4:30 p.m. — While trying to survive my kiddos watching another round of Frozen, I end up online shopping on my phone. I’ve gotten better over the years, but I still spend more than I would like on stickers. This afternoon I get lost down an Etsy rabbit hole and find some planner stickers I simply cannot live without ($43.10). Planning my weeks with stickers in my Erin Condren planner is one of the few hobbies that survived both my kids’ toddlerhoods, so I’m okay with the sticker expenses for now. Hopefully, when my kids are older and less dependent on me, I can pursue hobbies outside the home, but for now the stickers are silly and fun. $43.10

6 p.m. — Because weekends are for partying, my partner and I heat up a frozen pizza to eat with the kids. We wrap up the evening with some dancing to some of my son’s favorite songs (Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”). My secret plan works as the kids fall asleep quickly after all that pizza and dancing. Now my partner and I can get straight into Game of Thrones! We love to gossip about the show and throw out possible ridiculous endings to the franchise.

Daily Total: $187.18

Day Six

6 a.m. — For once my kids aren’t wide awake at 6 a.m. BUT that’s because it’s a Daylight Savings Time day and their little bodies believe it is still 5. Uuugggh. As painful as it is, I wake up both kids to try to get them to adjust to the time change. I needed every single ounce of coffee this morning.

9 a.m. — Time for the zoo! Our local zoo is amazing; most local folks I know with kids pay for annual family passes and visit the zoo frequently. Even this morning as we head straight to the Children’s Zoo area, we run into a few of my son’s preschool buddies. The kids hug like they haven’t seen each other in YEARS while us parents chat and caffeinate. I grabbed a mocha in the Starbucks drive-thru on our way to the zoo ($5.65), and I’m grateful for a chance to sit and drink it while my kids tire themselves out on some playground equipment. $5.65

1 p.m. — Now that the four of us are nice and tired from our zoo excursion, it’s nap time! My partner and I had plans to watch some more Game of Thrones and meal prep while the kids napped, but we both ended up napping when the kids did. Oops. #noregrets

3 p.m. — As much as we wanted to go out and play after nap time, it’s started raining again. We’re southern Californians and don’t do well in the rain, so we decide to stay in, build a pillow fort, and watch Frozen. Again. While my partner is keeping everyone happy in the pillow fort, I am able to meal prep like I meant to do earlier before my surprise nap. This week the kids will be having dino nuggets and meatballs for lunch, with sides of honeydew, edamame, pretzels, and yogurt tubes. For my partner and I, I grill up some hamburger patties and salmon steaks for the next few days of dinners and lunches. Sundays bring out the goal setter in me and I’m determined to spend less money eating out! At this point, my partner hits their limit with Frozen and impulse buys Finding Nemo through our Amazon Fire Stick. ($12.99). Love ya, Elsa, but I love Dory even more! (OMG, who have I turned into….) $12.99

5 p.m. — Crap. We ran out of fruit snacks, a favorite splurge that I like to put in the kids’ lunches. Since I’m planning to head to the Ralphs down the street for the fruit snacks, I brainstorm a couple of other meals we might eat this week. I’ve been craving pulled pork sandwiches, so I add buns, pork shoulder, and barbecue sauce to my grocery list. I keep the shopping trip focused and only buy the items on my list. $38.19

7 p.m. — Like most Sunday nights after the kids go to bed we make sure lunches are assembled, clothes are set out, and laundry is put away. Sunday nights are always so melancholic around here, no one wants to believe the fun weekend is coming to an end.

Daily Total: $56.83

Day Seven

6 a.m. — I had to wake up the kids again, thanks to the cruelty of Daylight Savings Time. Their bodies still think it’s 5 a.m., and my older one especially hates being woken up. However, it’s a weekday and we’ve got places to go and people to see! I get their breakfasts prepared, the kiddos clothed, and everyone is out the door on time.

7:30 a.m. — Eff. Remember my goal last night to spend less money? Well I forgot to eat breakfast again in the hubbub of the Monday morning chaos. So, it’s another trip to the drive-thru for a cheap sandwich and iced coffee ($7.68). I think the employee is starting to recognize me now because of how frequently I am here. $7.68

7:50 a.m. — Gas refill! Luckily I don’t have to refill our minivan that often (oh yes, I drive a mom-mobile), since it can be expensive ($45.) This tank should last us the week. $45

12 p.m. — For lunch I’m reheating a couple of the burger patties I cooked last night, along with some grilled asparagus. I prefer to ditch the bun all together and just use a fork and knife to eat the burger patties with a slice of American cheese. It’s delicious and cheap.

3 p.m. — I’m leaving the office a smidge early for my semi-weekly therapy appointment. The only crappy part about my health insurance is that it has terrible mental health coverage. I end up paying out of pocket for my therapist who I adore. It adds up quickly, so I only see her once every other week, unless I’m having an emotionally difficult month. Seeing a therapist regularly is my ultimate form of self care, it keeps me sane and allows me to process the frustrations I have being an employee, partner, and mom. $120

5 p.m. — Since my partner is doing the daycare pick up today, I take advantage of my being alone and head over to Target for a pair of shoes for my son. I don’t know if all four-year-olds go through shoes as quickly as mine does, but I swear he rips holes into his sneakers within months of getting them. Despite getting a new pair around Christmas time, he already needs to replace them and the Target phone app has a 20% off coupon for shoes. I just hope I remembered what size he wears, he’s growing so quickly! While at Target, I pick up a new lipstick my sister recommended and a new box of Biz (my secret weapon for stains). $36.14

6:30 p.m. — Home for the evening. I help my partner wrap up the kiddos’ bedtime routines and kiss them goodnight. My partner needs to order a new textbook on Audible (with all the solo driving we’ve been doing lately, audio versions of their required reading has been a godsend!). This book cost $14.99. Like most evenings, while my partner studies I prep the next day’s lunches and outfits, and then sneak in one more episode of Game of Thrones. I also use this time to text with my sister and get updates/photos of my adorable nephew. Being a working parent of young kids can be isolating, and I’ve learned to be really intentional in keeping up the friendships that matter most to me, even if it’s just evening texts and sending each other parenting memes through Instagram. $14.99

Daily Total: $223.81

The Breakdown

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