Posted on: March 20, 2024 Posted by: Comments: 0

For today’s Money Snapshot, we’re talking salary, net worth, debt, and more with reader L, who is 36 and works as a non-equity partner at an AmLaw 200 law firm. She lives in the suburbs of Minneapolis with her family of five.

She noted:

We knew from the beginning of our marriage that we would want someone home with the kids and that we would send them to private (religious) school, so that has informed many of our choices. I work an 80% schedule. My parents were poor when I was young but frugal and upwardly mobile and are now well-off in retirement and occasionally give us monetary gifts in the range of a few hundred to a thousand dollars. My husband’s parents were professional class when he was growing up but bigger spenders, and we anticipate needing to help them financially in the next 10–15 years.

About This Series

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: L
Location: Minneapolis suburbs
Age: 36
Occupation: Non-equity partner at an AmLaw 200 law firm (80% schedule)
$280,000 — I am theoretically bonus-eligible but my firm does not pay large bonuses and my transactional practice area has big swings in hours, so I never count on it.
Family: Husband is also 36; he is a stay-at-home dad to our three children and has been for almost a decade.
Household income:
Household net worth: ~$300,000
Net worth when started working:
I started working at age 15, when my net worth was 0. My parents paid my college tuition but I paid for my living expenses. I got married after college and worked part time for a few years before law school. I graduated from law school and started working at a BigLaw firm when I was 27.
Living situation: Own home


How much debt do you have currently?
$300,000 left on our mortgage and $60,000 left on my law school loans. No car payment or credit card debt.

What does your debt picture look like?
We have never had credit card debt. I had about $160,000 in law school debt when I graduated. I’ve refinanced a couple times when interest rates were favorable, and we’ve been making the scheduled payments; we have about four years left on it. We bought a house for $375,000 two years ago and have a standard 30-year mortgage on which we make the scheduled payments.

How much money are you spending each month to pay down debt?
We pay $2,150 on our mortgage and $1,250 on my student loans. Both are at very low interest rates so we are not paying them down aggressively.

How did you pay for school?
My husband and I both had National Merit scholarships for undergrad and our parents paid the remaining tuition. We both paid for our own living expenses with part-time jobs and debt, so we had some debt when we graduated, which we paid off before I started law school. I again had about a 33% scholarship for law school (I paid out-of-state tuition at a state school); my husband worked full time (while he went to school too) while I was in law school, which paid our living expenses, and I took out loans for the remaining tuition.

Do you own or rent? How much do you pay monthly?
We own. In addition to our $2,150/month mortgage, we average about $550/month for utilities.

Home debt: Share your theories and strategies with us (including any that lead you to rent rather than own). 
We rented for many years while we lived in a higher-cost-of-living city; in retrospect we probably should have bought but we valued our mobility/ease of switching jobs, etc., at that time and didn’t want to be encumbered with a mortgage.

We purchased a house two years ago before interest rates started to rise, and because our interest rate is so low we have no intention of paying it off early; it will still be paid off before we hit retirement age. We bought much less house than we could have technically afforded because my husband stays home, we have a nanny, and our kids go to private school, and we are not willing to compromise on any of those things, so we keep our housing expenses down.

Have you paid off any major debt? 
No dramatic success stories, just the normal college and law school debt.

Have you ever done anything noteworthy to avoid or lessen debt?
I joke that we live a 1950s middle-class lifestyle — we have one income, one stay-at-home spouse, one old car in a one-car garage, a small 1950s house in a not-fancy, first-ring suburb, one small television and one radio, one road trip summer vacation, one push mower, and a handy husband who can fix most things himself. It’s a good life!

Savings, Investments & Retirement 

How much do you save each month or year in retirement vehicles like 401Ks, Roth IRAs, and others?
About $25,000/year. Our accountant is always pushing us to save more, and we should, but we don’t.

How much money do you allocate to other tax-savvy investments/accounts like HSAs, 529s, FSAs, and others?
$7,750 to our HSA

How much do you save outside of retirement accounts?
We use YNAB so all our money has a job; we don’t have amorphous “savings.” We have about $90,000 sitting in high-yield checking/savings accounts at any given time, and $40,000 in a brokerage account, but that money is allocated to known upcoming expenses, like estimated quarterly tax payments, private school tuition paid in a lump sum in August, a $50,000 home renovation project we have planned.

Talk to us about investments: Do you have/use a financial adviser or planner?
We do not currently have a financial adviser. My husband is a hobbyist and manages everything himself, and has outperformed the market for the last 12 years so I let him do it.

Do you have an end goal for saving or are you just saving for a rainy day?
We do not really “save.” We have some small retirement savings, although I don’t know if I will ever be really ready to retire — I love working. We have a lot of more immediate needs like home renovation projects and private school tuition and summer camp.

Our plan is basically for my husband to get a job if we need more money for the kids when they are in college — we don’t have extra money for college savings now. I hope to be an equity partner with a higher income at some point, or could go back to a full-time schedule if we really needed the money.

When did you start saving seriously? How has your savings strategy changed over the years?
Other than retirement savings and an emergency fund equal to three months’ expenses, we don’t have any extra income beyond what we need for each year’s expenses. We have amounts earmarked for vacations, home repairs, a new car, etc., but I don’t really consider that “savings” because we will definitely need a new car at some point, our house will definitely need maintenance and repair, we will definitely take a vacation — these things are not unknowable expenses so we just budget for them in advance.

What’s the #1 thing you’re doing to save money, limit spending, or live frugally?
I think the big thing is living in an average house in an average-cost-of-living area — that keeps all our other expenses down.

Do you have an estate plan in place? A trust? 
We have a simple estate plan but there isn’t much in our “estate” — house, life insurance, and retirement accounts — so it’s not complicated.

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

How much do you have in cash that’s available in a week? 
An additional $40,000

How much is in your “emergency fund,” and did you include it in the previous question?
$25,000 in a high-yield savings account (included in the $90,000 available cash)

How much do you have in retirement savings?
$225,000 between me and my husband

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 is worth about $375,000.


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

Groceries: $2,235
Restaurants, bars, takeout, and delivery: 
Clothing and accessories: $583
$300 (car insurance, vehicle maintenance, gas, transit, parking)
Rent/living expenses: $2,627
Kid-related expenses: $4,000
Entertainment: $361

Health care – premiums and other costs: Our premium for a high-deductible plan is $16,487 for a family of five. We contribute $7,750 to an HSA and typically need all of that for deductibles and co-pays. (We have two family members with complicated and treatment-intensive chronic medical conditions.) We also spend about $120/month on supplements and alternative treatments not covered by health insurance or reimbursable through the HSA.

Other major expenses:

$800 for home renovation/home maintenance (budgeted each month, often spent in a chunk on a single project/issue)

$700 for what I call “household and personal care” — linens, makeup, soap, trash bags, home décor, haircuts, toothpaste, etc. — things that are not groceries and not clothing but ordinary expenses of living

$500 for life and disability insurance

$350 for housecleaning

$350 for travel (budgeted, often spent in a chunk one to two times per year)

$250 for phone (including landline so our children can talk to their friends), internet, streaming services and website hosting fees (for our family website)

$200 for entertaining expenses above groceries — We host big parties a couple times a year and have 10–15 people for dinner weekly.

$150 household gym membership

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

Vacations – Range: Most of our travel is to visit family and costs less than $3,000 per trip. Our honeymoon on Maui would have been our most expensive trip except it was mostly paid for by family as a wedding present. We also took a bar trip but that also cost about $3,000.
Vacations – Average:

Charity – Average donation or giving amount: $600/month, $400 of which goes to our church

Individual items of clothing – Range: $0–$600

Apartment or house – Current main residence: $375,000

Car or other vehicle – current main vehicle: $14,000 for our minivan (bought from a family member below-market as a baby gift)

Fill in the blank on this question: I could save _____ if I stopped ______, but I don’t because _______.
I could save $650/month if I stopped buying the majority of our groceries directly from sustainable farmers, but I don’t because the nutrition and ethical commitment of sustainable and traditional foodways are important values for our family.

If you’re married: When was your wedding, how much did it cost (total), and how much did YOU pay?
We got married in 2010. I think our wedding cost about $11,000 for close to 200 guests; we paid about $500 (for my dress and tailoring on his suit), and my parents paid the rest. My husband’s parents paid for the rehearsal dinner and some activities for out-of-town guests the day before the wedding; I’m not sure how much that cost altogether but likely less than $1,500 (but this was 13 years ago so who knows!).

Wedding: Tell us about it!
Not fancy, very religious. I am definitely of the opinion that when it comes to weddings, the more children there are running around and the less money you spend, the more likely your marriage is to be successful. (I know, I know, everyone has many counterexamples to this, it’s fine, your marriage is fine, I’m happy for you.)

Have any large medical expenses (including nursing homes) for yourself or others played a role in your financial picture?
We just plan to hit our deductible every year and plan accordingly.

How has your family provided financial support in your adult life, if any? (Or, do you provide support to them?)
We’ve received small gifts from parents at critical points — a few hundred up to a thousand here or there when we were first married and needed a major car repair, or when we needed just a bit more to have a full down payment for our house.

Does your family provide any non-financial support? 
My mom and dad live a couple hours away but are very involved and supportive of our life! We leave the kids with them or they come watch the kids when one or both of us is traveling, and they occasionally pay for a summer family vacation in lieu of Christmas/birthday presents so that we can be together with all my siblings and their children.

Money Strategy 

Do you have a general money strategy?
YNAB — give every dollar a job! We have kept track of every last cent together since we got married 13+ years ago and it helps us make sure we are spending in line with our values and are prepared for the normal expenses of living.

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?
Yes, we have a very high value on our time while our children are young — they are only little for such a short time and, hopefully, we will be able to work for a very long time. (We are heavily insured with disability/life insurance if not.)

So we have prioritized being able to spend meaningful time with our kids while they live in our house, participating in their education and giving them an unhurried childhood at home. I could work full time and make way more money; my husband could work and we could increase our household income by 75% (based on his salary before he stayed home), but we would miss so much more of our kids’ lives then and it is not worth it to us.

What are your favorite resources for personal finance?
My husband! He has read a master’s-degree worth of economics and personal finance books.

What advice would you give your younger self about personal finance?
Probably should have done what we could to have bought a house earlier… but we didn’t want to. So.

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