A Week In The Florida Panhandle On A $156,000 Salary

Welcome to Money Diaries where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We’re asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.

Today: a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who makes $156,000 per year and spends some of their money this week on a Microsoft Surface Pro.

Occupation: Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Industry: Mental Health
Age: 35
Location: Florida Panhandle
Salary: $156,000
Net Worth: $167,000 (House value: $250,000, investments: $7,000, savings: $45,000, SEP IRA: $20,000 minus debt)
Debt: Student Loans: $78,000, Mortgage: $77,000
Paycheck Amount (1x/week): $3,300
Pronouns: They/she

Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $800 includes homeowners insurance and taxes
Student Loans: currently frozen (normally pay $649)
Hulu: $15
Netflix: $15
Amazon Prime: $139 per year
Electric Bill: $140
Gas: $60
Water: $10
Trash/Sewer: $45
Health Insurance: $671
Internet: $100
Retirement SEP IRA: $500
Investments: $200
Savings: $5,000
Estimated Taxes: $3,000
Housekeeper: $300
Car Insurance: $95

Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
Growing up, I was taught that I always had to go to college. I’m the typical “elder” millennial who was told that the world was our oyster, and that we had to go to school, get a degree, and get a good job. As such, I went on to get my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, so that I could become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. My undergraduate degree was paid for completely by financial aid while my graduate education was funded exclusively by student loans.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I had an odd relationship with money growing up. My extended family was quite wealthy and privileged, and my parents retained that mindset. Once the trust funds my parents had ran out, poverty was the name of the game, and we relied solely on social security payments (about $1,100 a month), Medicaid, and food stamps, for most of my childhood. Lights were turned off frequently and we had to grow a lot of our own food. My parents ended up declaring bankruptcy. I was told that credit cards were evil, but a necessary evil, because that is sometimes how we managed to make ends meet. This ended up really messing me up as a young adult, when I accumulated about $45,000 in credit card debt, that I have since paid off. I was never taught how to budget or balance a checkbook. All of this learning came later, on my own, with a significant amount of pain involved.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first two jobs were when I was 16. I was shipped off to my grandparents for the summer, and they got me a job at a grocery store and a restaurant. I saved up to buy my supplies for the upcoming school year. I was in advanced classes and needed special items, such as a fancy graphing calculator, that was not in the typical budget. I was not able to work during the school year as I lived in a very rural area and my parents were not willing to transport me. When I was 18, I got a full-time job at a gas station where I worked throughout my first two years of college. When I eventually moved for the second half of my degree, I got several jobs as a caregiver and worked 60+ hours a week on top of school so I could afford rent payments and food.

Did you worry about money growing up?
I worried about money all the time growing up. Being in advanced classes, there were many times I was unable to complete assignments, simply because I lacked the means to do so. Our electricity was frequently turned off, and all of my clothes were thrifted or hand-me-downs. Food was available but restricted. We didn’t have a lot of splurges.

Do you worry about money now?
Yes, all the time. I’m admittedly in a very privileged place with money. I work really hard, but I am terrified of being homeless. I have $45,000 in my savings account, the equivalent of a year’s salary at my last job, but I still worry about losing my job, breezing through the money, and becoming homeless. I relentlessly monitor my spending. It’s taken a while, but I’m finally at the place where I can afford some luxuries and no longer have to panic if I get a flat tire.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I was financially responsible for myself at 18. At 18, I did not have a financial safety net. I’ve been on my own for many, many years. My family has never been in a position to really help me. Now, I do have a financial safety net, as a result of a lot of hard work. If I lost my job, or went on disability, I can rely on myself.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
When I bought my house, my grandparents gifted me $1,000 for inspections. I bought my house under the Florida First Time Homeowner’s program, which gave me a grant of $7,500 for the down payment and closing costs. I bought my house at precisely the right time before the market shot up. My house was $83,000. It’s now worth $250,000. Other than that, no excessive monetary gifts, or an inheritance. I’m not counting the trust fund my mother spent when I was a child. Man, if only I had actually had access to that as an adult, my life would have been totally different.

Day One

6:30 a.m. — I wake up at 6:30 and do a morning grounding exercise that I teach my clients and have my first cup of tea for the day. I log on to my telehealth platform, return messages, and get ready to see my first client at 7:30. I see about nine clients a day, Monday through Friday, then six on Saturday. I’m an independent contractor and get to set my own hours, and usually just try to accommodate my clients’ schedules.

10:30 a.m. — After seeing three clients, it’s time for me to leave my house and reward myself with a cup of coffee. I go to a local coffee shop five minutes away, get my favorite frozen espresso drink (white chocolate with cinnamon and a double shot of espresso), and run home to see my next client at 11:15. $6

2 p.m. — I’m getting hungry, so I order DoorDash for lunch and dinner because I have a gift card. Lunch is grilled shrimp with a salad. With tip, the total comes out to $20 and the gift card is $30, so I still have a credit to use. Yay! I eat half of the meal for lunch and will eat the rest for dinner.

7 p.m. — I finish up seeing clients and it’s time for dinner and a movie. I scroll through Amazon and see a movie that I want to rent, so I pony up $5 and turn it on. I fall asleep halfway through. $5

Daily Total: $11

Day Two

7 a.m. — I wake up and find out that my first client of the day has canceled because they are sick with COVID. I take this time to go grab a coffee and then spend the next hour returning messages. My next client isn’t until 2, so I take a nap and finish my movie from last night. $5

4 p.m. — Another client cancels at 4. I’ve been a good worker bee in my private practice, so I’m caught up on all my admin tasks and don’t have another client until 5. I notice a piece of new art from an artist that I love go up for sale on Facebook. I run over to his Etsy page, check my bank account, check my budget, and decide that I can afford to buy the original. But, because this will go in my office, I get to write the cost off! The benefit of working for myself. $275

6:30 p.m. — Finally done with the day and it’s time to put in a grocery order. I do my grocery order on Shipt, buying fresh meats and veggies, dog toys, and a sandwich for dinner. With delivery and tip, the total comes out to $150. $150

Daily Total: $430

Day Three

6 a.m. — Wake up and go over my schedule for the rest of the week. Take the time to cook up some grilled salmon for breakfast and chicken for my dogs and cats. I also cook up some veggies, and now I have my meals for the rest of the day.

10 a.m. — I bought a Playstation 5 last year as one of my splurge purchases. I’m making up for lost time, apparently, from my days in poverty. Buying nice things still feels really weird. Well, it’s time to buy a game, so I buy Elden Ring and get it set to download. It’ll be finished downloading in a few hours and I can play. $75

7 p.m. — I realize that I haven’t bought gas in a while, and I should probably go get some before I need to run errands. I have a bad habit of procrastinating and know that I’ll be self-sabotaging if I do my normal routine and wait until tomorrow to get gas at the last minute. So, with pajama pants and no bra, I run up to the gas station a couple of streets away and fill up my tank. I wince at paying $4 a gallon, but I’m luckier than most. I only go through about a tank of gas a month at this point since I work from home. $35

7:30 p.m. — I realize that I’m getting cranky and annoyed, so while I’m out getting gas, I stop and grab a vape pen. It’s $10, but will last me a week or more. $10

9 p.m. — After spending an hour in Elden Ring creating a character, my attention gets diverted to my socks. I realize it’s sensory hell, and need to buy new socks because these are old. This ends up with me buying a couple of shirts, a pair of leggings, socks, and a costume for my dogs from an online store. Eh, that’s life. $100

Daily Total: $220

Day Four

7 a.m. — It’s housekeeping day and I’m so excited. I wake up at 7 and get my laundry and dishes started. Laundry and dishes are my only responsibility because my housekeeper handles the rest of my bigger issues. It’s a godsend for a neurodivergent person who works all the time and has executive functioning issues. I go ahead and send my housekeeper their payment for the day. This includes a tip for all of her hard work, and for breaking down my boxes that I’ve let get piled up.

9 a.m. — After meeting with a client, I’m on Amazon and look up a book they recommended, so I buy it. But since a client recommended it, and it’s related to work, I get to record this as a work expense. Yay for reducing my tax burden! $10

4 p.m. — I noticed that my lawn was getting a bit out of control, so I call my neighbor and ask if he can mow it. I run him over $60 for taking care of my lawn maintenance for me. $60

Daily Total: $70

Day Five

5 a.m. — Something is weighing on me. There is a disturbance in the force. I boot up my tablet since I’m awake and may as well do some work admin tasks while I drink my tea. Except, my tablet is giving me a blue screen of death. This makes sense since I found it on the floor — it seems we have a victim of dog zoomies. Welp, I guess it’s time to dip into the work account and buy a new tablet, so 20 minutes later, a new Surface Pro is ordered. Since I use it exclusively for work, it’s another write-off! I get the best version possible because I’m telehealth only. $800

7:30 a.m. — I run to the doctor for their first appointment of the day. They order some lab work, so I pay my co-pays for the visit and labs. My shoulder has been spasming out, so the doctor takes a look, confirms that yes, a muscle relaxer might be helpful, and sends in an order for me. I run to the pharmacy to pick it up. $200

3 p.m. — I notice that Ninja CREAMi is on sale on Woot, and since I wanted an ice cream maker, I buy it as my reward for seeing nine clients in five hours. $120

4:40 p.m. — It’s time to check in with my psychiatrist. I try to schedule all my health appointments to occur on the same day wherever possible. We talk for 10 minutes via telehealth and I get my prescriptions renewed for Prozac and emergency Xanax. I won’t pick these up until the following week since I still have a week left on my Prozac and I don’t need my rescue medication at the moment. I pay my copay. $20

7 p.m. — It’s been a long week, so I meet a colleague for dinner, and we talk about work. I grab a sweet tea and a salad with shrimp. Of course, I can’t eat everything, so I box up the leftovers for a second dinner and/or breakfast. Because it’s networking and case collaboration, this is a write-off. I’m a sneaky and well-seasoned business person. $30

Daily Total: $1,170

Day Six

10 a.m. — I realize I’m out of pens and notebooks, so I hop on Amazon for two-day delivery. Because it’s for work, yet another write-off that I’ve found! $15

3 p.m. — Ah, the best time of the week has arrived — my massage. I work six days a week, and every Saturday after I’m done for the day, I go see the best massage therapist known to man. For 90 blissful minutes, he manipulates my muscles into compliance, and I’m able to walk again without pain. One day, I’ll figure out how to make this a business expense. Hmm… we do talk about networking the entire time since he works out of an office with other mental health therapists. $150

5 p.m. — After my massage, I’m feeling good, so I hit up a local farmer’s market. It’s late in the day, but I’m able to score some really nice broccoli, free-range chicken, a pork butt, and some organic dog treats for the puppers. I go home, throw the chicken and broccoli in their respective marinades, and then grill them up on my indoor grill. I get the pork butt all nice and prepared to go on my smoker at 9 p.m. for an overnight cook. $50

Daily Total: $215

Day Seven

10 a.m. — Ah, Sunday. My traditional day of rest. It’s not because I’m religious, but rather because it is convenient for my business. Not a whole lot of people want to do counseling on Sunday. For me, Sunday is a sleep-in day. Once I’m up, it’s time for my biweekly pedicure and gel fill. I decided to make this part of my self-care because I discovered that I really like my painted toes and they end up being just for me. The nails are a byproduct of accommodating my body. Bonus, can’t pick my cuticles that way. After an hour and a half of pampering, my fingers and toes are glittery purple. I just let my tech choose the color at this point. As long as it has glitter, I’m good. $120

2 p.m. — Living in Florida pisses me off sometimes, as a nonbinary and queer human being. The recent “Don’t Say Gay” law that passed has inspired me to make the queerest front yard ever (with bonus points since I live down the street from a school and all the buses get to go past). I go online on Target and buy all the Pride yard decor. I think my neighborhood is going to know where I stand and I refuse to be shamed for who I am. Bonus: I realized that human tutus will fit my dogs, plus they are cheaper than the dog ones, so I grab two. $237

3 p.m. — It’s time. I’ve put off playing Elden Ring for far too long. It’s downloaded and ready to go. When it’s break time, I order a stuffed crust pizza and a gallon of lemonade. With tip, it comes out to $30. My temp alarm goes off for my pork butt in the smoker. I pull it, wrap it, and shove it in a cooler for a few hours. It’ll make a great dinner that I can share with my neighbor. He always knows when I’m smoking and makes sure to make his existence known. Honestly, it’s a pity my stomach isn’t working well anymore, because I am a fantastic cook. $30

Daily Total: $387

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