Posted on: January 8, 2024 Posted by: Comments: 0

For today’s Money Snapshot, we’re talking salary, net worth, debt, and more with reader Elisabeth, who lives in a LCOL area in the Mid-Atlantic and works as an in-house counsel. She noted, “I was born into what would now be considered upper middle class. In 1980 it was probably middle class. I was very privileged and fortunate that my parents paid for my undergrad education and I graduated with no debt.”

We got a few requests from readers to launch our own “money diary” series, so we’ve asked willing readers to fill out a form with lots of details about debt, spending, saving, and more! If you’d like to fill out the form and be considered for a future personal money snapshot, please click here to submit your response! You can see a PDF of the questions if you want to review them ahead of time. See others in the Personal Money Snapshot series here.

Please remember that this is is a real person who has feelings and isn’t gaining anything from this, unlike your usual friendly (soul-deadened, thick-skinned, cold-hearted, money-grubbing) blogger — so please be kind with any comments. Thank you! — Kat

Name: Elisabeth
Location: Mid-Atlantic region, LCOL area
Age: 43
Occupation: Sports marketing to lawyer, now in-house counsel
$204,000 base salary, 20% target bonus (Last year paid out at $63,000 and I expect it will be similar this year. The bonus is mostly based on company performance. There is a formula I never have really understood!)
Net worth: $385,000 (includes debt for mortgage and student loans, but not car value)
Net worth when started working: 22 years old, right after college, if we are talking FT work. I worked PT jobs since I was 15. Net worth at 22 was close to zero. No debt, but also no real savings.
Living situation: Single; own home


How much debt do you have currently?
$147,000 left on mortgage and $83,000 in student loans

How much money are you spending each month to pay down debt?
$1,000 for mortgage and $830 for student loans

What does your debt picture look like?
I incurred student loans from law school. I wasn’t very smart and even though I had a partial scholarship, I took out the full amount I could each year and then also a private bar loan. Not great but oh well. The house I own now is my second house (not concurrently). I used the gains from the sale of my first house towards my second but did not put a huge down payment down (3% maybe?) because the rates were good and the overall price was low. The house was $170,000 mostly financed.

How did you pay for school?
Undergrad was paid in full by my parents. Law school was a combination of federal loans and a partial scholarship ($17,000/yr.) earned for my 2L and 3L years based on 1L year grades. I also took out a $12,000 private bar loan.

Do you own or rent? How much do you pay monthly for your house or apartment?
Own, $1,000/mo. mortgage which includes escrow for taxes, etc.

Home debt: Share your theories and strategies with us (including any that lead you to rent rather than own). 
Mortgage payment is $1,000/mo. on a 30-yr. fixed rate. I refinanced after the first year to 4.25%, which I am hanging on to as long as possible. I didn’t do any calculations for how much I could spend — just had a general ballpark in mind for monthly payments and guesstimated what that meant for price point. I was approved for way more than I was comfortable spending, of course. Principal is $296, escrow is $309, interest is $368, and I round up to $1,000. I think it will end up being $1,000 in [2024] because of an escrow adjustment. So for now I pay a little more but I will keep it at $1,000 most likely.

Have you paid off any major debt? 
I had about $12,000 in credit card debt after law school, based on some bad spending decisions. I paid that off within two years of law school thanks to my midlaw salary that went far in my LCOL region. I also paid off my private bar loan within a couple of years of graduating. I financed one car and ended up paying that off in a lump sum of about $7,000 with a bonus one year.

Savings, Investments & Retirement 

How much do you save each month or year in retirement vehicles like 401Ks, Roth IRAs, and others?
401k maxed out at $22,500, IRA maxed out at $6,500, and starting in 2024 I will also be deferring 5% of my comp (was nervous to do more than that as I am new to the whole deferred comp thing).

How much money do you allocate to other tax-savvy investments/accounts like HSAs, 529s, FSAs, and others?
HSA maxed out at $4,150; I have $2,000 in a CD right now.

How much do you save outside of retirement accounts?
$2,000 per month gets direct deposited straight into a HYSA.

Talk to us about investments. Do you have a financial adviser or planner?
No financial planner. I set my retirement accounts to a target date plan with max risk. I pretty much leave everything alone. I have a robo investment account but it doesn’t have much money in it right now.

Do you have an end goal for saving or are you just saving for a rainy day?
I am a one-pot saver so I use my savings for home repairs, vacations, emergencies, large horse vet bills, etc.

When did you start saving seriously? How has your savings strategy changed over the years?
Hmmm probably not until I was in my 30s. Now I try to max out the retirement vehicles, have a good chunk in my savings, and then enjoy my life.

What’s the #1 thing you’re doing to save money, limit spending, or live frugally?
Directly diverting into a savings account

Do you have an estate plan in place? A trust? 
I have a will to ensure my animals are taken care of. My life insurance and retirement beneficiaries include those who have offered to take an animal, my godson, and my new niece. Otherwise, because I am single with no kids, no planning.

How much do you have in cash that’s available today?

How much do you have in cash that’s available in a week? 

How much is in your “emergency fund,” and did you include it in the previous question?
Same as above. All one pot.

How much do you have in retirement savings?

How much do you have in long-term investments and savings (CDs, index funds, stocks) that are not behind a retirement wall?
$2,000 (in a CD)

If property values (home, car) are included in your net worth, how much are those worth?
Property value is, and the house is currently valued around $250,000. The car is not, but KBB says I could get around $6,500 in a private sale for it.


How much do you spend on the following categories on a monthly basis?

Groceries: $550
Restaurants, bars, takeout, and delivery: 
Clothing and accessories: $150
Rent/living expenses: $80 ($1,000 mortgage payment)
Entertainment: $50
Other major expenses: Horse board $750, farrier $155, lessons $340 (all per month); other pets (two dogs, two cats), $300/mo. between special food and meds (they are old). $170/mo. on Orangetheory. ~$200/yr. on running races.
Health care – premiums and other costs: Dental $16/mo., health insurance premiums $260/mo. (single, no dependents), vision $8/mo., concierge doc $1,250/yr., $650/yr. on appt. costs, $200/yr. on meds

What’s your spending range for these things? What’s your average?

Vacations – Range: $1,500–$5,000
Vacations – Average:

Charity – Range of donations: $50–$1,000
Charity – Average donation or giving amount:

Individual items of clothing – Range: $50–$300
Individual items of clothing – Average:

Apartment or house – Range: $150,000–$170,000
Apartment or house – Current main residence: $170,000

Car or other vehicle – Range: $15,000–$50,000 (buying new car this year)
Car or other vehicle – Current main vehicle: $16,000

Any other large personal expenses?
I buy original art, which usually sets me back about $5,000 per year, as well as jewelry, which sets me back about $2,000 a year.

Fill in the blank on this question: I could save _____ if I stopped ______, but I don’t because _______.
I could save thousands per year if I didn’t buy art and unique/custom-made jewelry, but I don’t because they bring me joy and I want to support female and underrepresented community artists.

At any point in your life to date, has inheritance played a role in your money situation?
I inherited $10,000 when my maternal grandmother died, and it allowed me to buy a car outright.

How has your family provided financial support in your adult life, if any? (Or, do you provide support to them?)
They paid for college, which is huge. I have occasionally borrowed a couple thousand from my parents interest-free but I always pay them back (when buying and selling a house at the same time). They have allowed me to live with them when I had a bad breakup and had to move immediately. Same with after some medical issues when I needed care and could not be independent.

Does your family provide any non-financial support? 
Pet sitting for longer vacations

Money Strategy 

Do you have a general money strategy?
Save, but also live!

Time vs. money — do you spend money to save time (e.g., cleaning service)? Do you donate your time instead of money? What else does this phrase mean to you?
Absolutely. I have a cleaning team who comes every two weeks and a neighborhood teen who mows my lawn. I do pro bono legal work because I think it is very important, but I also donate to charity.

What are your favorite resources for personal finance?
I don’t really have any, but I do enjoy Vivian Tu! (Your Rich BFF)

What advice would you give your younger self about personal finance?
Don’t get arrested lol (that’s how my credit card debt started), and also don’t take out the max law school loans when you don’t need to!

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