I am 33 years old and make $84,000 in Appalachia (Temporarily in Mobile, AL) as a Consultant : MoneyDiariesACTIVE

I am 33 years old and make $84,000 in Appalachia (Temporarily in Mobile, AL) as a Consultant : MoneyDiariesACTIVE

A quick note: during this diary, I’m living for a few months in Mobile, Alabama. My parents asked me to house sit for them (while they social distantly gallivant about in their Airstream) and I jumped at the opportunity to take a break from my normal life and my relationship (it’s been a rough year, y’all) to reevaluate what I truly want. I feel hashtag blessed to have this opportunity and I’m trying not to waste it. My life may look a little different in 6 months (if I leave the relationship, I plan on moving rather far away—maybe here? Who knows!), so this seemed like a good time to write the diary and perhaps give an update in six or seven months when I have a more solidified life.

Assets and Debt

Retirement Balance: $17,000 split between my job’s 401k, a Traditional IRA (former employer 401ks rolled into one account), and a Roth IRA.

Home Equity: N/A

Savings Accounts:

  • Emergency Account: $9,600

  • Car Savings: $2,700

  • Vacation: $450

  • Short Term Savings: $3,300

Checking Account Balance: I keep ~$100 in my checking as a “just in case” for cash withdrawals

Credit Card Debt: None. I charge everything to my cards and pay them off in full each pay period.

Student Loan Debt: None! Just paid off the last of my student loans last month. Originally had $27,000 between my undergrad and graduate degrees and it took me 12 years to pay them off (who the hell knows how much interest that entailed…my average rate, for Federal loans, was 6-7%).


Income Progression: This is worth an entire separate thread probably! I earned a joint BA in English and Environmental Studies and then completed a MFA in Creative Writing. Originally, I planned on entering academia and becoming a professor, but the crash of ’08 destroyed that idea. A few months before graduating with my MFA, I lined up a job working full time as a marketing coordinator ($30,000). Over the next few years, I increased pay (up to $48,000 after 3 job moves) to match my skillset (where I live, marketing means you do PR, code websites, create content, can design flashy print pieces, run social media, record videos, manage clients/angry people, etc. etc. It’s a one-person-do-it-all type role). Unfortunately, in 2016, I was recruited to a company (management level role! $60,000 salary!) that lied about its financial status and then laid me off several months later (I was the first of 70% to be axed). Living where I do, jobs are scarce and I was unemployed for 6 months. Eventually I found a job that was a big pay cut from my previous-previous role (back down to $45,000), and my boss was horribly abusive. After getting a nasty case of shingles, I was desperate for a new role. Thankfully, I quickly positioned myself into a lateral pay move with a huge title bump ($48,000 but an executive-level role in a local government) and used the next two years to work my butt off, network, and manage a few major crises (hello, being on live CNN is weird!). Two years into that job, I gave a presentation at a national conference and was recruited to my current role ($76,000 initial salary). After 1 year with the company, I’m now a project manager and was given a pay adjustment up to $84,000 which, honestly, feels like fake money and I still can’t really comprehend it.

Take Home Pay: In August, my monthly take home pay, after taxes & deductions, was $4,251 ($6,762 before taxes/deductions). Because I’m billable, I charge for every hour I work for a client. This means that, although I am salaried, I also am paid my hourly rate ($40/hour) for each overtime hour. Since I work some OT every pay period, I honestly have no idea what my base monthly salary is.

Pre-Tax Deductions:

  • 401k: $640 (my company provides a super small match…I think it’s only 1.5%)

  • Health& Dental Insurance: $145

  • FSA: $22 (I use this to pay for therapy co-pays)

  • Long & Short-Term Disability Insurance: $40

Approximate Tax Deductions (I withhold the max amount because I’ve was screwed before by a previous employer who did not correctly calculate things on their end which resulted in me owing the IRS a lot of money I didn’t have):

  • Federal: $1,000

  • Social Security: $430

  • Medicare: $100

  • State Income Tax: $320

Side Gig/Other Income: N/A (Until recently, I worked as a freelance as a writer, photographer, and marketing consultant prior to this job and that income helped pay for vacations and other splurges. Thankfully, I no longer need a second job)


Rent: I pay $290 per month for half of the house that my boyfriend owns. Yes, the mortgage is truly that low—welcome to Appalachia. Before, my rent was generally in the $800 range for a very nice 2 bed apartment in a larger town.

Retirement Contribution: $300 per month into a Roth IRA. Looking at increasing this until it is maxed out with any future salary increases. I’ll then circle back and max out my 401k after that occurs.

Savings Contributions:

  • Emergency Account: $200 per month

  • Car Savings: $200 per month

  • Vacation: $100 per month

  • Short Term Savings: Looking to contribute $2,000 per month as long as is possible – this is my GTFO account (if needed) and/or savings for a down payment

Debt Payments: N/A

Monthly Recurring Donations: $25 to my local Planned Parenthood clinic and $25 to a local wildlife rehabilitation clinic

Electric & Gas: ~$90 per month for my half

Water & Sewer: $55 per month for my half

Wifi: Paid for by work

Cellphone: Paid for by work

Car Insurance: $57 per month

Gym: $55 per month for the local YMCA (on hold due to C19)

Subscriptions: $10 for Spotify, $1 for Apple Storage, $60 per year for Strava Premium (I use a family member’s Netflix and boyfriend covers Hulu and our Britbox subscription on Prime)

Pet Expenses: Maybe ~$50 each month for my two cats? Not really sure…I also cover expenses for the dog now, but everyone is suuuuper minimal. It’s just food, litter, and any other little bits and bobs.

Therapy: Each session is a $30 copay which I pay for with pre-tax money in my FSA account. I average 2 sessions a month, but am currently on hold for complicated reasons (and also not being sure if I like her)

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Money Diary

Monday – Day 1

5:43 AM: Alarm goes off and the cats refuse to budge. Even the dog is unenthused. Manage to crawl out of bed by 6:15.

6:15 AM: Feed cats, walk the dog, and pull my bike out of the garage. Getting used to the super-hot weather here has been rough in terms of riding, so I’m trying to force myself to ride before work….not sure how this will go!

6:30 AM: Ride for about an hour (16 miles but oh-so-flat!) and only yell at two cars for buzzing me. I’ll never understand how drivers feel ok giving a cyclist no space (especially when the cyclist is on or to the right of the white line!). PSA: please give cyclists 2-3 feet of room when you pass them! You’re in a giant death machine going 45+ mph while the cyclist is completely unprotected!

8:00 AM: Make a smoothie (banana, scoop of peanut butter, mixed berries, spinach, almond milk) and start my laptop. There are waaaay too many emails for this early on a Monday morning,

10:00 AM: Coffee & a quick browse on Reddit. I miss my espresso machine back home. Caffeine is caffeine, but this drip stuff is just not the same (make a mental note to browse online for espresso machine prices in case I move out and need one down the road…)

11:00 AM: More coffee & a slice of banana bread (https://www.tastingtable.com/cook/recipes/brown-butter-banana-bread-recipe – but I added chocolate chips and chopped walnuts as well). Still just working my way through QA checks of work my team did over the weekend.

Noon: Starving, so I heat up the veggie curry I made the other night (mushrooms, carrots, onion, sliced cherry tomatoes, red potatoes, and snow peas in a Trader Joe’s yellow curry sauce – just using up whatever odds and ends my mom left in the fridge at this point!). Watch a short episode of Munchie’s The Pizza Show on YouTube with the dog (he has good taste in free content).

4:30 PM: The afternoon dragged by with QA work and team calls and, to be honest, I didn’t get as much done as I wanted. But I’m also at a point where I just can’t handle, so it’s time to turn off the laptop and let it be. Because it’s raining and apparently depression is on the menu tonight, I start the Hillary Clinton docuseries on Hulu. America, you coulda had a bad bitch (or at least a competent one) ☹

6:00 PM: Dinner & more Hillary. On the menu tonight: roasted broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and shrimp (tossed all with the Penzey’s Bangkok mix https://www.penzeys.com/online-catalog/bangkok-blend/c-24/p-13/pd-s , salt, and olive oil—roast the broccoli and tomatoes until done and then put the shrimp on the pan for ~2 minutes until done) with mashed potatoes.

10:00 PM: Take the dog outside and then go to bed.

Total Daily Spend: $0

Tuesday – Day 2

6:41 AM – Alarm. (Anyone else refuse to use “normal” times for their alarm?)

7:45 AM – Dog is adamant about wanting to go outside and I guess I should actually start work, so here we are!

8:00 AM – Coffee & work (today’s plan: powerpoints, client calls, and other random things like QA checks)

1:00 PM – I guess I should eat lunch? Typically, I try to eat around Noon, but with clients located in different time zones, I often end up eating at weird times between calls. Today is the final round of leftover veggie curry with some of the shrimp from last night on top.

1:15 PM – My Noon call resulted in a huuuuuge list of due-outs, so I’ll be focusing on that for the rest of the afternoon (mostly including: writing too many emails, creating calendar invites, talking to my team members to assign them work, etc.).

6:30 PM – Finally wrap up work (too many late afternoon phone calls) and decide to wash my car. I’ve been eying the 0% financing deals and figure if I’m going to show up to test drive, I might as well have a very clean car so that they give me a good offer. While I’d never normally buy a brand new car, between the money I can put down on it and a decent trade-in offer for my current car, it’s very tempting. Doubt I’ll purchase, but we’ll see!

7:30 PM – Leftover shrimp, broccoli, and mashed potatoes. Watch an old episode of Good Mythical Morning (Rhett and Link are terrible at blind taste testing frozen pizzas! Now I want a frozen pizza!).

8:00 PM – Talk with the boyfriend back home for an hour or so. Mostly discuss the various pets and I vent a little about work. It’s difficult to discuss our relationship on here, mostly because I think my heart just isn’t invested in it but my head keeps telling me that it “should be” good…Definitely hopeful that I can figure out my head-heart dialogue over the next two months.

9:30 PM – Bed! Best thing about living alone? Bed whenever you want it!

Total Daily Spend: $0

Wednesday – Day 3

5:43 AM – Alarm. Intended to go on a bike ride but didn’t sleep well last night so I decide to go back to sleep. The cats are very much ok with that situation.

7:30 AM – Coffee and starting my workday! I already worked for a fully remote team pre-C19, so it’s been fun to see everyone else get used to WFH. I love the freedom to roll out of bed and get the day going (and really love wearing sweatpants every day—game changer).

11:45 AM – It’s been a crazy morning of writing up performance reviews, talking with a team about a presentation we’re giving later today to our client’s executive suite, talking with another client about an upcoming deliverable, and editing materials for the meeting later today. At some point I make a smoothie (same as Day 1) and also take a mini-break to browse houses on the Oregon Coast…Anyone have NorCal/S. Oregon suggestions for a good place to live?

1:00 PM – Scrounge together lunch (last of the shrimp/broccoli leftovers made into a “southern burrito” with pimento cheese on a wrap—somehow it works!), take a midday shower, and back at my desk within 30 minutes.

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6:00 PM – Briefing went well! Boss calls to congratulate me on handling some difficult questions from the client and I power down my computer. It’s too hot to ride (100+ with the heat index) and I’m not feeling super hungry, so I pack a bottle of Sauv Blanc in a cooler, along with some crawfish dip I found at a local fish market here (it’s good but I could definitely make it better!), and head out to my mom’s sailboat. I feel incredibly lucky to have the boat (albeit docked and sail-less for the coming months while I house sit) at my disposal and love sitting on the deck with the dog and watching the sunset.

8:00 PM – Head home after a long conversation with the boyfriend (our couples therapy session is tomorrow morning and he wanted to talk about what we wanted to talk about which then became a pre-therapy discussion and was overall exhausting), watch at Escape to the Country episode, and head to bed around 9:30.

Total Daily Spend: $0

Wednesday – Day 4

5:43 AM – Alarm. Again, as is the theme this week, intended to go out riding but didn’t do it. I’m becoming increasingly frustrated at myself for this but am trying to give myself some grace since my body and mind really prefer riding in the evening and making the switch to morning is out of the norm.

7:00 AM – Start work early since I have a full day of meetings and the therapy session ahead of me. Sort and respond to emails and work on a few deliverables for my main client.

9:00 AM – Therapy session. Best part of remote therapy? Sitting with the dog and rubbing his head when I get stressed/upset. He’s the best. <3

10:00 AM – Straight off the therapy session and into my first of 4 individual hour-long calls for the day. Because of the time zone differences, I’m not able to take a lunch and instead heat up a leftover piece of lasagna that my mom left for me in the freezer. Frantically eat while getting documents and slides ready for my meeting at Noon.

4:00 PM – Finally off calls and feeling overwhelmed with the upcoming quarter. My team has been assigned to work on another client project with a very short turn-around but we’re already over-stretched with our workload (I’m at, on average, a 95% billable rate, even with vacation time or holidays factored in). As a PM, I’m not sure how I’m going to manage everyone’s workloads and not also lose my mind…but I guess that’s what they pay me the big bucks for?

5:00 PM – I give up on work, start marinating tempeh for tempeh shawarma tonight (loosely based on this recipe: https://bittersweetblog.com/2018/01/26/no-more-street-meat/), load up the cooler with the remaining half bottle of wine, and drive over to the boat for another solo happy hour. This time, I keep phone calls to a minimum and focus on watching the pelicans, waving at boaters as they scoot by (damn, must be nice to be on a movable boat!), and pet the dog. The dog is very pro the head scritches.

7:30 PM – Rice in the rice cooker (plain with salt, not like the recipe), tempeh in the pan to cook (I get it super caramelized almost to the point of burned, *chef’s kiss*), lettuce and tomatoes chopped, and white sauce whipped up (regular Greek yogurt, not vegan), and I settle in with food and a few Matty Mattheson episodes. Can we please discuss his bone marrow and tomato tartine? Holy hell, I want it.

9:00 PM – Did I mention that I love early bed?

Total Daily Spend: $0

Friday – Day 5

3:00 AM – Well, I’m awake (stress? Who knows) and turn off my alarm because there’s no way on earth that I’m getting up at 5-something to ride.

7:00 AM – Major cat snuggles with both cats for 30 minutes. Old lady cat scooches beneath my chin and I use her as a pillow which, I think, is truly the greatest way to lower anxiety.

8:00 AM – Pay day and 20 unread emails! Cool! What is time and why is everyone emailing me after 6 PM?! Move $1,000 into my short-term savings account, pay off my credit card purchases from the past two weeks, and do a quick check on all of my accounts to make sure that everything looks good. The past year has been a game changer for me in terms of financial security. I wasn’t exactly living paycheck-to-paycheck before, but my student debt seemed never ending and I wasn’t able to put much away in terms of retirement savings or emergency savings. Last year I paid for a bunch of house-related issues at my boyfriend’s house (insulation, a working bathroom sink, an a/c unit for my office, a working fridge, etc.) and didn’t focus on saving as much as I could. So I feel like I need to make up for lost time now (hence the huge focus on short-term savings). Since our relationship is rocky, I also want to make sure that I have enough to pay for movers for a major move and also have a cushion for a rental deposit and whatever else. Of course, if the relationship does work out, then the savings will be a huge boost towards me paying for a house in an area of the country that we want to live. So I guess I’m keeping one foot on both sides of the possibilities but seeing it as a win-win in terms of setting myself up for success no matter what.

Noon – Lunch happens at my desk while working (leftover tempeh shawarma).

3:00 PM – Take a quick break from writing technical reports to try on the Dickie’s order that arrived. Before you judge and think it’s weird, I ordered one of their t-shirts last year and fell in love with it. Decided to “splurge” last week and order a few more (I’m a minimalist when it comes to clothes). Unfortunately, though I thought I was buying the same shirt, they weren’t the same, and I hate the fabric and feel of the ones that arrived. Process the return and find the original shirt I wanted on the Kohl’s site. Before I hit “purchase,” I think to Google the name of the shirt and, lo and behold, there’s a Dickie’s outlet page that has them for only $9 each (as opposed to Kohl’s which was around $25 each). (Link to shirt for those of you who are in the market for a basic t-shirt that doesn’t hug your stomach/hips and isn’t too low of a v-neck: https://www.dickies.com/women/womens-heritage-short-sleeve-v-neck-t-shirt/FS098.html?dwvar_FS098_color=DMH#start=1) $42.85 for 4 t-shirts

4:30 PM – DONE for the week (can we get an amen?!). Debate checking out a local brewery (outside seating only, of course) and settle on one that claims to have a very large dog-friendly outdoor area.

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10:00 PM – Local brewery was a success! Over the course of many hours, I enjoyed one flight and two pints. The dog and I sat on the patio in the shade and I was able to read more of my current book (The Overstory by Richard Powers) and I think I’ll definitely go back again soon. $22

Total Daily Spend: $62.85

Saturday – Day 6

6:30 AM – Finally wake up and drag myself out of bed with enough time to ride before it gets super hot. Get all the animals settled, eat a tortilla and peanut butter for some quick calories, and head out.

8:30 AM – Back after a really good ride! Part of the route skirted the Bay and I can’t believe I temporarily live somewhere so beautiful.

10 AM – How is it not mid-afternoon? Eat the final leftover tempeh shawarma and putz around. Decide to try taking the dog to the beach in the evening.

Noon – Hottest part of the day means that maybe car dealerships won’t be so busy? Head over to Subaru to test drive a 2020 Impreza hatchback and then to a Toyota dealer to test drive a 2020 Corolla hatchback. I’m a Subaru fan girl but the Corolla’s features are really nice. The Toyota salespeople were super sleazy and annoying and low balled me on a trade-in quote and then quickly backpedaled when they realized I wasn’t going to be had. Left a bad taste in my mouth for sure and certainly won’t win them any future points if I decide to go with a Toyota.

2:00 PM – My uncle (step-in-law or something? Who knows how it all works) calls and asks if I want to go out on his boat (motor, not sail). Um, of course?! Pack up a cooler of Alabama beers and head over with the pup. It’s a glorious day out on the Bay – not too choppy, nice breeze – and we check out an island used for pelican nesting habitat (basically a real-life Jurassic Park because pelicans are actually tiny dinosaurs). The dog is VERY unsure of how to handle the boat but does manage to hang out in the bow with me for a bit and let his ears flap in the wind. Is he the best boy? Yes, yes he is.

10:00 PM – Time flies? After a few hours and beers on the boat, we head back to land and I hang out (outside, not getting close at all to anyone) with the folks at the yacht club (clarification: yes, technically a yacht club, but in reality more like a very laid-back, working class property with boat slips. I felt a little exposed with people around (10 or so), but justified it, maybe wrongly so, by keeping my distance and always being outside.) Head to bed around 10:30.

Total Daily Spend: $0

Sunday – Day 7

7:30 AM – Dog demands to go out so I crawl out of bed and take care of the pets. Crawl back into bed, am instantly covered in animals, and decide to spend awhile ignoring life as much as I can.

9:00 AM – Guess I should eat/make coffee? Frozen hash browns (shreds) with two sausage patties, and an egg over-easy (all pilfered from my mom’s chest freezer/grocery remains).

11:30 AM – Why do I still feel hungover even though I didn’t have that much to drink last night? Keep drinking water and fire up my computer to get some work done. I’d like to take next Friday off, so I’m working today and tomorrow to shift my holiday hours from Monday to Friday. I’m working on a fairly mindless report which doesn’t require me to feel 100%, so that’s a bonus.

5:30 PM – Finish up work and decide that it’s going to be a life admin kind of evening. Make crispy pan fried tofu (cornstarch!) in orange chicken sauce (https://dinnerthendessert.com/panda-express-orange-chicken-copycat/) with broccoli and snow peas. Spend the next few hours vacuuming, mopping, doing laundry, cleaning bathrooms, and tidying up.

8:30 PM – Pack the dog in the car because he’s been a good boy all day and he loves snoozing in cars and drive over to Publix to get groceries (mostly wine, tbh) for the week. The bill was pretty big (3 bottles of semi-decent wine, 1 six pack of local beer—this should last me at least two weeks) + assorted veggies, tofu, bread (BLTs are definitely on the menu next week), and etc. $101.49

9:30 PM – Exhausted, I call it a day with no-backing-out-allowed plans to wake up early and do a big ride in the morning for the free day off.

Total Daily Spend: $101.49

Weekly Totals:

Food & Drink: 123.01

Clothes & Beauty: $42.85

Total: $165.85

Overall, this was a normal week for me. I realize I should probably become more comfortable with spending money on myself, especially since my income has shifted so much in the past year, but I’m far more comfortable being frugal and investing in quality things every once in a blue moon. And with my future being so up in the air in terms of living and the associated costs of a potential move, I’m in “squirrel it away” mode for the foreseeable future.

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