Posted on: May 22, 2024 Posted by: Comments: 0

For today’s Money Snapshot, we’re talking salary, net worth, debt, and public student loan forgiveness and more with reader M in Pasadena, CA, where she lives with her husband and three kids and works as a government lawyer. She noted, “I received public student loan forgiveness and it wiped out $190,000 of student loan 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: M
Location: Pasadena, CA
Age: 39
Occupation: Government lawyer
Family: Husband, 41 years old; 3 children, ages 7, 5, and 5. My husband is a stay-at-home dad and works part time. Our kids attend a great public school.
Household income: $215,000
Net worth: My husband’s and my net worth is $450,000.
Net worth when started working: My first career was in theatre. I’m pretty sure my net worth was $-15,000 for the loan balance from college.
Living situation: 


What does your debt picture look like?
Currently no debt. We aggressively paid off our credit cards and my husband’s student loans from 2017– 2020. My law school loans were forgiven [through PSLF]. I had a small loan from college that my parents paid off.

How much money are you spending each month to pay down debt?

How did you pay for school?
In college, my parents paid for it. I was cognizant of the amount previously saved and I went to a state school and worked a part-time job to cover rent and food. I borrowed $120,000 for law school which included two scholarships. It ballooned to $190,000 with interest, but it was recently forgiven under the public student loan forgiveness plan.

Do you own or rent? How much do you pay monthly?
We rent a house in a HCOL area with great schools for $4,500 a month.

Home debt: Share your theories and strategies with us (including any that lead you to rent rather than own). 
We rent because it is cheaper to do so in our city. We pay more rent for a better school district. We do not plan on buying a house in our area, but we might buy property elsewhere. Currently, we send more to our investments instead of a mortgage.

Have you paid off any major debt? 
We paid off $80,830 in three years on one income. During that time we had twins and paid cash for a vehicle and paid for preschool. It was tight, but we sacrificed and did it.

Have you ever done anything noteworthy to avoid or lessen debt, such as cashing out your 401(k) early?
I would never touch my retirement to pay off debt. We cut expenses and side-hustled more income.

Savings, Investments & Retirement 

How much do you save each month or year in retirement vehicles like 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, and others?
$5,000/month or so. $1,815 goes to my pension. $1,916 to max out my 457(b). The difference goes to our IRAs and then our brokerage account once that is maxed.

How much money do you allocate to other tax-savvy investments/accounts like HSAs, 529s, FSAs, and others?
We invest $5,000 a year for my son’s college. My daughters did some “acting” as babies and have a healthy start to their college fund. We set aside about $500 a year into our FSA.

How much do you save outside of retirement accounts?
We carry about $20,000 for an emergency fund. If we dip into it, we replenish quickly. We save $250 a month for our next vehicle. We also save for vacations and bigger costs throughout the year. It is not automatically. I transfer the money each month to a HYSA.

Talk to us about investments. Do you have/use a financial adviser/planner?
We do not use a financial adviser. I will have a pension and I treat that as the low-risk part of my portfolio. I then invest aggressively with the rest. We love Vanguard and put the rest into mostly VTI.

Do you have an end goal for saving or are you just saving for a rainy day?
We want to retire early. I would love to retire in 10–15 years. We expect to move to a LCOL area. I might keep working, but it will be part time and on my terms.

When did you start saving seriously? How has your savings strategy changed over the years?
I had a career in theatre before going to law school. I loved those days, but it was not financially great. We started seriously saving, investing, and paying off debt after I graduated law school at age 30.

What’s the #1 thing you’re doing to save money, limit spending, or live frugally?
We budget. We assign every dollar a job once it is received and try to stick to that. We use YNAB for budgeting. We do not eat out much. I do not buy expensive clothes or handbags. We drive used cars paid for in cash. We use credit cards to travel-hack. We have pinpointed a few areas that matter to us which are housing, experiences, and kid activities and try not to spend too much on the rest.

Have you ever made a big money move or investment with savings in mind, such as rolling over an older IRA into a Roth IRA or superfunding a 529?
No. Just slow and steady wins the race.

Do you have an estate plan in place? A trust? 
I need to get this done. I’m a lawyer without one! It’s on my 2024 to-do list.

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?
$20,000, partly in my checking and in a HYSA

How much do you have in retirement savings?
$400,000 between my pension, 401(k), 457(b), and IRAs

How much do you have in long-term investments and savings (CDs, index funds, stocks) that are not behind a retirement wall?
$7,000 in a brokerage. We prioritize the retirement accounts first.

If property values (home, car) are included in your net worth, how much are those worth?
Our vehicles are probably worth $20,000 total.


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

Groceries: $650
Restaurants, bars, takeout, and delivery: 
Clothing and accessories: $100
Rent/living expenses: $4,500 (rent)
Kid-related expenses: $1,000. This includes activities, saving for future bigger stuff like summer school, clothes, shoes, the occasional babysitter, etc.
Entertainment: We spend $50 for streaming services and subscriptions. We go to the theatre every month or so.
Other major expenses: We have some travel planned this year. I am setting aside $800 a month for that. Nothing else is really major.
Health care – premiums and other costs: $250 a month for copays, prescriptions, etc. As a government employee, my premiums are covered by my employer.

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

Vacations – Range: $200–$8,000
Vacations – Average:

Charity – Range of donations: $50–$500
Charity – Average donation or giving amount:

Individual items of clothing – Range: $20–$300
Individual items of clothing – Average:
$50. I buy good brands and quality on Poshmark or at local consignment shops. I do not skimp on shoes or bras.

Apartment or house – Current main residence: $4,500

Car or other vehicle – Current main vehicle: Our used Prius was $15,000. Our used minivan was $10,000. We paid cash.

Any other large personal expenses?
Not really. Rent, kids, and travel are the biggest categories this year.

Fill in the blank on this question: I could save _____ if I stopped ______, but I don’t because _______.
I could save $600 a year if I stopped buying organic, artisanal flour, but I don’t because I love my homemade sourdough.

If you’re married: When was your wedding, how much did it cost (total), and how much did YOU pay?
It cost about $15,000–$20,000. I don’t really know; my parents paid. We bought our rings for $1,000.

Wedding: Tell us about it!
We were fresh out of college. It was at the country club. Very classic. My parents paid for most of it. His parents paid for the rehearsal dinner. We paid for our rings. We had about 200 guests. You could not do the same wedding today for the same price!

Have any large medical expenses (including nursing homes) for yourself or others played a role in your financial picture?
Fortunately, no. My dad is an estate planning attorney, so I know he has that figured out. My husband’s parents do not talk about money, but I think they have it covered.

Are there any other large expenses in your life, now or previously?
We have a $5,000 electric cargo bike. We love it to cart the kids around. In our early 20s we cash-flowed a six-week backpacking trip in Europe. It was about $10,000, a lot of money for us back then. We want to spend a month in Ireland when the kids are older. That will probably cost a pretty penny. We plan to pay for college. We might buy a rental in an area where might later retire in the next few years. We’ll see.

At any point in your life to date, has inheritance played a role in your money situation?
No inheritance. When our parents pass we will probably receive a bit, but I’d rather that they stay alive as long as possible.

How has your family provided financial support in your adult life, if any? (Or, do you provide support to them?)
My parents paid for college, bought my first two cars, and are generous. For example, my mom will randomly pay for a kid activity, and they give us a check at Christmas and birthdays. My in-laws did not help my husband after he left for college. They will gift us a couple hundred at Christmas.

Does your family provide any non-financial support? 
We don’t live near family. Since having children, we had one vacation without kids and my in-laws flew out and watched the kids. My parents visit every few months and will watch the kids now and then. Sometimes my husband travels for work and my mom will fly out to help.

Money Strategy 

Do you have a general money strategy?
Keep expenses low. Invest the rest.

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?
I donate time to my law school and church. We don’t give as much financially. Sometimes I will pay for convenience items, but I like to make things from scratch and look for a deal.

What are your favorite resources for personal finance?
YNAB. The Simple Path to Wealth by J L Collins. I have a great like-minded community on Instagram.

What advice would you give your younger self about personal finance?
Live within your means. Invest a little, even if it’s only $20 a month. It all adds up.

Icons via Stencil.

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