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Money Diaries follow-up A data scientist on $175K who has moved to the US for work

This week, our reader revisits the money diary after keeping one in 2020. Life has changed a lot.

WELCOME TO HOW I Spend My Money, a series on The Journal that looks at how people in Ireland really handle their finances.

We’re asking readers to keep a record of how much they earn, what they save if anything, and what they’re spending their money on over the course of one week.

Are you a spender, a saver or a splurger? We’re looking for readers who will keep a money diary for a week. If you’re interested send a mail to money@thejournal.ie. We would love to hear from you. Each money diary is submitted by readers just like you.

When reading and commenting, bear in mind that their situation will not be relatable for everyone, it is simply an account of a week in their shoes, so let’s be kind.

Last time around, we heard from a 23-year-old mechanical engineer living and working in London. This week, a data scientist on $175K who wrote a diary for us before in 2020 has written a new one. Life has changed and this diary keeper has now moved to the US for work.

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Our lives have changed considerably since my last money diary. Last time we had just bought our apartment, we were in the middle of lockdown, and my partner had been reduced to a four-day week so we were somewhat financially conservative. Last year we were given the opportunity to move with our jobs to the US (the dog came too), which substantially increased our incomes, and increased our spending too. Around half of my income is paid to me in stocks which can fluctuate in value throughout the year. They only vest twice a year and I sell them immediately to redistribute to more diversified investments. My income is the larger income so I do the bulk of the saving while we pay for most daily things with joint credit cards.

Taxes and financial planning are very different here. We pay less tax than we did in Ireland, both on our incomes and on any investments, so we can save much more quickly. We can also earn a return on our savings that is greater than some of the interest we pay, like our mortgage at home or our car loan, so in some cases, it makes sense to not pay off debt. We let out the apartment we bought in Dublin and we rent our house here. With mortgage interest, property tax, and other homeowner costs in the US; it is not always as clear a financial decision to rent or buy as it is in Ireland. Renting currently makes the most sense for us and with the complexity of immigration policies I doubt we will ever buy something here. If our incomes stay the same, we can save around $200,000 per year that we live here depending on the stock price.

I want to acknowledge our immense privilege in the opportunities we have been given. We are very aware of how lucky we are but we do miss our families, our friends, and other parts of our lives back home. There is a perpetual risk of losing our jobs at any moment with no notice and being given 30 days to leave the country. We are our own safety net. We will save what we can while enjoying the experience and then move back to Europe at some point, but we are still undecided on whether that will be Ireland. We are saving primarily to give us financial independence. We ultimately want to be able to leave our corporate jobs to do something more meaningful while being able to help out and spend more time with our families.

Occupation: Data scientist

Age: 30

Location: West Coast, USA

Salary: $175,000 + ~$180,000 in stocks annually

Rental income: €2,300 monthly

Monthly pay (net): $11,000

Monthly expenses 

Transport: Bus pass and e-bike lease paid for by work

Car: $560 loan, $100 insurance, $40 tax

Rent: $3,880

Mortgage: €332

Household bills: $70 internet, $120 water/sewage/waste, $20 gas, $75 electricity

Phone bill: $110 (work reimburses my half)

Health insurance: Paid for by work

Dental insurance: Paid for by work

Groceries: $800

Subscriptions: Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ all included with phone plan/credit cards. $25  – Apple family plan, $10 – VPN.

Cleaner: $340

***

Monday

7.00 am: I wake up and take the dogs out for a walk. We are looking after a friend’s dog for the weekend while they are in Las Vegas. We like to swap dog-sitting as it costs us $80 a night to use boarding.

7.30 am: I get back and have breakfast and get ready for work. We do our grocery shopping at the weekend so the fridge is full.

8.00 am: Start work at home and have meetings pretty much the whole day.

1.30 pm: I skip a meeting just to have lunch. I have some leftover pizza from the weekend.

4.00 pm: Finally finish all my meetings so I can actually do some productive work.

6.00 pm: Start making dinner while finishing off some work. I’m not great at multitasking so my partner takes over.

7.00 pm: We go to Target to get a couple of things. You can buy everything at Target and always end up buying more than you need. We leave having spent $62.49 and not a whole lot to show for it. I got a nice candle, some deodorant, and a few other bits.

8.00 pm: Stop and get petrol on the way home. It’s much cheaper here to fill the tank but the car seems to use twice as much as our car at home did so it nearly works out the same overall ($53.72).

8.30 pm: I am now required to go back to the office for three days per week. I try to bring in lunch with me every day but it’s easier to make it all in one go, so I meal prep on Monday evenings for the week. I also like to cook and it means I can try out new things. I do it primarily for health reasons but buying lunch out every day can get very expensive. I make a curry and portion it out into boxes for the three days.

9.30 pm: I’m already tired so head to bed and watch some Netflix before falling asleep.

Today’s total: $116.21

Tuesday

6.00 am: I wake up early this morning but stay in bed for a while listening to the rain.

7.00 am: Get up and walk the dogs again. Our lodger is going home today. As much as he can be fun to have around, he is extra work.

8.00 am: Work pays for an e-bike lease for me as a commuting option. I much prefer it over the bus and I cycled to work when I lived in Dublin too. It usually takes about 20 minutes and there is a two-lane cycle path completely separated from the road the whole way to my office. Drivers here are also generally very considerate towards cyclists.

8.30 am: Arrive at work and again meetings the whole morning.

12.00 pm: I have my meal prep lunch. Working culture here means that many people don’t take a lunch break but it’s my one hard rule. I will never eat lunch at my desk.

2.00 pm: We get free coffee from the café downstairs so I head down and order a latte. I have some work to finish before tomorrow so might be staying a bit late.

6.30 pm: I leave the office and start cycling home. It starts raining but I don’t get too wet. I am very fortunate to arrive home with my dinner ready and on the table for me.

7.00 pm: We have visitors arriving tomorrow so we get the spare room ready. My partner starts ironing the pillow cases. We have never ironed a pillow case for as long as we’ve lived together yet here we are.

9.00 pm: I go to bed with the intent of browsing on my laptop but fall asleep instead.

Today’s total: $0.00

Wednesday

5.00 am: I get woken by the rain outside. With the time difference everything happens at home overnight, so I often wake up to texts and emails from home. It’s nice that I can chat to people if I’m up early. I’ve received an email from the management agency we use for our apartment. They’re letting me know that they sent a rent review to our tenants and are increasing the rent by 2% in line with the regulations. I didn’t consent to this and am mildly annoyed that they didn’t explicitly ask me first before sending it. I make a mental note to discuss with my partner later. I’m not entirely sure if I would have agreed had they actually asked me but rent controls incentivise abnormal decisions. I am also a tenant, and I value the trust of a good tenant more than the extra 2%.

7.00 am: Get up and try to take the dog out but she refuses to leave the house when it’s raining. I manage to drag her out to at least go to the toilet but she wants to go straight back in again.

8.00 am: I resign myself to getting the bus to work today because of the rain. I prefer to cycle because it’s quicker but work pays for an unlimited bus pass so it also costs me nothing.

8.30 am: Arrive to another boring morning of meetings.

12.00 pm: I have lunch with a friend in work. We complain about our jobs and agree to go for drinks after work to complain further.

2.00 pm: I get my free coffee from downstairs and get a snack from the vending machine ($1.25).

4.00 pm: We leave work and get a bus downtown where there are better bars. Free again with the bus pass.

6.00 pm: I leave to get the bus home having had a cocktail, a pint and we split an appetiser. It’s $39.72 for my share including tax and tip. Even tipping has inflated in the US and most places expect at least 20% now.

6.30 pm: Our visitors have arrived so we go out for dinner to a local restaurant. It’s $4.50 for parking but we are treated to dinner.

9.00 pm: We arrive home and chat for a bit but head to bed shortly after. Everyone is tired.

Today’s total: $45.47

Thursday

5.00 am: It’s still raining and I wake up early again. At least I have more time to catch up with friends and family from home.

6.30 am: I get up and walk the dog, have breakfast, and make my way to the bus stop to be in the office for a meeting at 8 am. The meeting does not go well.

12.00 pm: I had arranged to go out for lunch with another friend but they cancelled last minute because of work commitments. I would’ve brought lunch with me had they cancelled earlier but now I have to go find something else. I get some chicken and rice from a local food truck ($19.62 with tip).

2.00 pm: The usual free coffee from downstairs.

3.00 pm: I go pick up a rental car for our visitors as they’re going exploring at the weekend and I get a good discount through work. It’s $156.12 for the week.

4.00 pm: I drive home and work from home for the rest of the day.

6.30 pm: We head out for dinner again to another local restaurant. No parking because we walked. We pay this time ($93.78).

8.00 pm: I pay $10 per month for a VPN so I can get all the channels from home and elsewhere. Great British Bake Off started this week so we all settle down to watch it before heading to bed fairly early again.

Today’s total: $269.52

Friday

7.00 am: Get up and walk the dog as usual. I’m working from home today so can go on a bit of a longer walk. I get breakfast and start work at 8 am.

12.00 pm: My partner works from home every day and we usually go out for lunch together every Friday as a treat to ourselves. We have lots of food leftover after being out so much this week so we eat lunch at home instead.

1.30 pm: I go to the doctor for an annual checkup. It’s just a general checkup and they do blood tests too to make sure there is nothing unusual. It’s considered preventative so covered entirely by my insurance and I get my flu vaccine for free while I’m there. Healthcare in the US is often a very controversial topic but my experience so far has been very good. Admittedly I have good insurance but any healthcare I have received has been covered almost entirely by my insurance with the remainder paid for using my HSA. This is a tax advantaged investment account that means I can save and invest for any contributions that I have to make to my healthcare, and my employer contributes to it too.

4.00 pm: Finish up work a little early as it’s been a long week. The rain has finally stopped and it’s lovely and sunny so we take the dog for an extra-long walk in a local park.

7.00 pm: We get back very hungry to throw together a quick dinner, have a few drinks, and just watch TV. Normally we’d get a takeaway but there’s still loads of food in the fridge that would be wasted otherwise.

Today’s total: $0.00

Saturday

5.00 am: I wake up early again and can’t tell if it’s because I’m stressed, hungover, or some mild side effects of the flu vaccine. I head downstairs and hang out with the dog on the couch for a while.

9.00 am: I go to the shop to get some bread and milk. I’m still shocked at the quality and price of bread in this country. It’s really difficult to get bread that doesn’t have sugar in it. I pay $7 for the privilege of a sugar-free loaf and $4 for some milk to go with it.

1.00 pm: After a very lazy morning we have some leftovers for lunch. I have to remember to pay rent. Banking systems here are appalling. I used to pay rent to my landlord using a manual wire transfer but it cost me $20 each time and he complained that it cost him $10 to receive it. Now I use Venmo which is kind of like Revolut but much slower and less reliable, and I still have to do it manually. I send $3,880 which includes the pet rent.

3.00 pm: We go to Home Depot to pick up some DIY supplies to fix our gate. We rent our home but we usually fix stuff ourselves because we don’t trust our DIY landlord to do it properly himself. We get some wood for free and pick up some screws for $7.91.

4.00 pm: We do some DIY jobs at home and enjoy the sun.

6.00 pm: We almost always go out for dinner on Saturdays with friends or on our own but we have no plans this evening so we stay home and cook.

9.00 pm: We are currently planning our honeymoon for next year so I spend some time researching hotels and activities. I get overwhelmed and tired with all the decisions and have an early night after my early awakening this morning. A wild Saturday night.

Today’s total: $18.91

Sunday

7.00 am: After a much better sleep we get up to take the dog to the dog park. We meet a group for a dog walk every Sunday morning when we are around. It’s an early start but the dog loves it and we first started doing it to meet new people.

9.30 am: The dog is filthy after taking a tumble mid-chase at the park so we bundle her into the shower, much to her protest.

10.00 am: We treat ourselves to a breakfast out after cooking every other meal so far this weekend. We get pancakes at our local chain ($46.32).

11.00 am: There isn’t much of a pub culture here so most of the time when organising to meet friends the first suggestion for an activity is something that doesn’t involve drinking. Either that’s novel or I’m just getting older. We’re meetings some friends at the zoo today. Tickets are on offer this weekend for $27.50 for the both of us.

3.00 pm: After a fun afternoon at the zoo, we go to the grocery store to do our weekly shop. It took us a long time to settle on a regular grocery store. They vary wildly both in price and quality, and can be surprisingly overwhelming with the size and choice. We usually go to one that is much smaller so we don’t have to choose from 20 different brands of everything we buy. It isn’t too expensive and has good quality produce and meat. It still costs $18.94 for a whole chicken we are planning on using for a Sunday roast. Total is $121.94. This is mostly just fresh food as we buy all the other things in bulk from Costco every couple of months.

6.00 pm: We cook a Sunday roast that tries to mimic one from home to the greatest extent possible. We really miss the food from home. It’s most of the way there but it’s never quite the same.

7.00 pm: I got paid so I have to sort out all of my finances for the month. I’ve already paid the rent, so I check the joint account to make sure there is enough for all of our credit card bills to come out. We had an expensive month with some travelling and honeymoon expenses. I transfer $5,000 to my broker account and place an order for some mutual fund shares that are equivalent to an ETF. Tax treatment of ETFs and similar investment vehicles here is very different so it incentivises different investment decisions. It’s not all about property.

10.00 pm: I’m already getting emails from work. Sunday evening is a common time for people to “get ahead” in work for the week. People here like to “get ahead” in general at any opportunity. I try my best to ignore them and go to bed. It can always wait until Monday.

Today’s total: $195.76

Weekly subtotal: $626.25

***

What I learned –

  • This is a fairly typical week of regular spending for me. It does not however, include any travel spend which we do frequently. We are very much here to enjoy ourselves as much as we are to save, we are using the opportunity to explore new places and experiences too.
  • In total, I think we spend over $120,000 a year, with almost half of it on rent. Our incomes have of course increased significantly but it’s still somewhat surprising to know quite how much it is. We have definitely felt the lifestyle inflation and the rampant consumerism that exists here.
  • Certain things are much more expensive here and my perception of cost has shifted a lot as a result. I constantly remind myself of how much further the same money can go back home for my own family. Doing this money diary has put it even more into perspective how staggering the difference can be. We are very lucky.

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