Posted on: February 21, 2024 Posted by: Comments: 0

For today’s Money Snapshot, we’re talking salary, net worth, debt, and more with reader D in the Midwest, who works as a government lawyer. A mom of two, she noted, “Kids don’t need ‘the best’ of everything — your time is the most important thing you can give them.”

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: D
Location: Midwest, MCOL
Age: 46
Occupation: Government lawyer
Around $160,000 per year ($140,000 from main job; $20,000 from side gig)
Family: Spouse, 43, married 12 years; two kids
Household income: Varies, but around $400,000
Net worth: Combined net worth is around $900,000
Net worth when started working: Age 14 — net worth of nothing
Living situation: Married, own home
If you have children, how much do you spend for childcare and/or education? Two kids, $25,000/year daycare, afterschool for elem.


What does your debt picture look like?
No debt other than mortgage — around $180,000

How much money are you spending each month to pay down debt?
Mortgage around $1,900/mo.

How did you pay for school?
Split cost of college with divorced parents (we each paid one third; I took out a small loan for my third). I paid grad school and law school without parental help through work study, scholarships, and loans. Always worked as well, except 1L year when prohibited.

Home debt: Share your theories and strategies with us (including any that lead you to rent rather than own). 
We chose a home that is much less than we could technically afford — it’s a weird house in a great neighborhood. We bought at a good time and at a very low rate. We’ve made modifications over the years to accommodate more kids, two home offices, etc.

Have you paid off any major debt? 
Paid off all grad/law school debt (around $100,000) within seven years of graduation by living frugally, making large payments, and (key) delaying mortgage/children until nearly paid off.

Have you ever done anything noteworthy to avoid or lessen debt, such as cashing out your 401K early?No

Savings, Investments & Retirement 

How much do you save each month or year in retirement vehicles like 401Ks, Roth IRAs, and others?
Max out 401K through work, contribute $500/mo. towards investments.

How much money do you allocate to other tax-savvy investments/accounts like HSAs, 529s, FSAs, and others?
We contribute at least $5,000 per year to kids’ 529s with refund from childcare account.

How much do you save outside of retirement accounts?
None, but we spend less than we make each month. Just sits in the account until we make large deposits once or twice a year into joint investment account.

Talk to us about investments. Do you have/use a financial adviser or planner?
We use a financial advisor and trust his allocation.

Do you have an end goal for saving or are you just saving for a rainy day?
Would love to retire early, but my youngest doesn’t graduate high school until I’m 60, so…

When did you start saving seriously? How has your savings strategy changed over the years?
Always. Grew up poor.

What’s the #1 thing you’re doing to save money, limit spending, or live frugally?
Limited expenses — public schools, eat most meals in, limited entertainment budget.

Do you have an estate plan in place? A trust? 
Not yet, but would like to get one set up for kids.

How much do you have in cash that’s available today?
At least $100,000

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

How much do you have in retirement savings?
$400,000 between the two of us

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

If property values (home, car) are included in your net worth, how much are those worth?
House, around $575,000 (purchased for $345,000 nine years ago); cars, negligible


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

Groceries: $800
Restaurants, bars, takeout, and delivery: 
Clothing and accessories: $50
Rent/living expenses: $1,900 mortgage
Entertainment: $50
Other major expenses: Travel 1–2 times per year, $5,000 annual
Health care – premiums and other costs: $250/month for family coverage (gov’t employer)

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

Vacations – Range: $1,000–$6,000
Vacations – Average:

Charity – Range of donations: n/a
Charity – Average donation or giving amount:

Apartment or house – Current main residence: $1,900/mo.

Fill in the blank on this question: I could save _____ if I stopped ______, but I don’t because _______.
I could save $250 month if I used drugstore-brand skin care and stopped yoga gym/occasional Botox, but I don’t because I’ve earned the right to spend a little on myself.

If you’re married: When was your wedding, how much did it cost (total), and how much did YOU pay?
Paid for ourselves, $5,000

Wedding: Tell us about it!
Small event in a local park, nice lunch for 40 or so guests

If you own, how much did your car cost?
$30,000 Honda CRV, paid cash

Have any large medical expenses (including nursing homes) for yourself or others played a role in your financial picture?
IVF: $30,000 for one procedure that, thankfully, worked

At any point in your life to date, has inheritance played a role in your money situation?
Not yet, but anticipated

How has your family provided financial support in your adult life, if any? (Or, do you provide support to them?)

Does your family provide any non-financial support? 
Occasional childcare, more by request from them than need from us

Money Strategy 

Do you have a general money strategy?
Be poor at least once in your life — no better way to learn how to manage expenses than if you have to by necessity.

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?
Spend on cleaning service — weekends are for family time. Also, kids don’t need “the best” of everything — your time is the most important thing you can give them.

What are your favorite resources for personal finance?

What advice would you give your younger self about personal finance?
Don’t live beyond your means. If you can, live frugally and spend down on debt before taking on expenses of a house/kids. Buying nicer groceries is still cheaper than eating out. Goodwill plus tailoring will serve you well for work clothes for a long while.

Icons via Stencil.

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