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Cash Snapshot: A Paralegal within the Midwest Shares Her Ideas on Saving, Renting, and Debt

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For today’s Money Snapshot, we’re talking salary, net worth, debt, and more with reader AL in the Midwest, who works as a paralegal. She noted, “I truly do appreciate anyone’s advice on what I can do better financial-wise!”

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

house ad for readers' most-bought items last month; photo shows a collage of women wearing 1) a pink blouse with a ruffle collar, 2) a navy floral v-neck puff sleeve top, 3) a navy blue sheath dress with an asymmetric hem, and 4) a white short-sleeve sweater

Name: AL
Location: Midwest, MCOL
Age: 28
Occupation: Paralegal
Net worth: $70,000 I think ($30,000 in retirement, $35,000 in bank, $5,000 car per Kelly Blue Book)
Net worth when started working: 16, $200; but I started my first post-college job at 22 and was -$60,000
Living situation: Rent; $1,100 per month


What does your debt picture look like?
$0! Paid off my student loans ($60,000) at age 26 thanks to working two jobs.

How did you pay for school?
I received around $1,000 a year from scholarships and worked two jobs while in college as well as after college.

Do you own or rent? How much do you pay monthly?
Rent, $1,100

Home debt: Share your theories and strategies with us (including any that lead you to rent rather than own). 
I am saving for a house down payment now, which is why I am currently renting!

Have you paid off any major debt? 
Had $60,000 in student loans and then $10,000 in car loan. Paid it all off by age 26/27 by working two jobs and living with several roommates to cut down on rent

Have you ever done anything noteworthy to avoid or lessen debt?
Just working more than one job consistently and having multiple roommates to cut down on rent.

Savings, Investments & Retirement 

How much do you save each month or year in retirement vehicles like 401Ks, Roth IRAs, and others?
$600 per month

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

How much do you save outside of retirement accounts?
I am trying to save $1,000 per month for a house down payment, but it is averaging out to be more around $700 per month.

Talk to us about investments: Do you have/use a financial adviser or planner?

Do you have an end goal for saving or are you just saving for a rainy day?
House down payment, travels, and eventual retirement

When did you start saving seriously? How has your savings strategy changed over the years?
22; my savings strategy has just been making what I believe to be good decisions, such as paying off debt, renting, and not spending extravagantly.

What’s the #1 thing you’re doing to save money, limit spending, or live frugally?

Do you have an estate plan in place? A trust? 

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?
$15,000, savings account; yes I did

How much do you have in retirement savings?

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?
Car is worth $5,000 according to Kelley Blue Book


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

Groceries: $400
Restaurants, bars, takeout, and delivery: 
Clothing and accessories: $100
$50 for gas
Rent/living expenses: $1,100 rent
Entertainment: $50
Other major expenses: None, I would love to get into horse riding, but that is not in the budget!
Health care – premiums and other costs: $60 a month, maybe around $300 a year

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

Vacations – Range: $0–$3,500
Vacations – Average:

Charity – Range of donations: $20–$100
Charity – Average donation or giving amount:

Individual items of clothing – Range: $15–$100
Individual items of clothing – Average:

Apartment or house – Range: $500 (when I had roommates when paying off debt) to $1,100
Apartment or house – Current main residence: $1,100

Car or other vehicle – Current main vehicle: Bought used Hyundai in 2015 for $10,000; still going strong(ish).

Any other large personal expenses?
Vacations, I love traveling.

Fill in the blank on this question: I could save _____ if I stopped ______, but I don’t because _______.
I could save $3,000 a year if I stopped traveling, but I don’t because it brings me so much joy.

Have any large medical expenses (including nursing homes) for yourself or others played a role in your financial picture?
No, thankfully myself and my family have been (relatively) healthy.

At any point in your life to date, has inheritance played a role in your money situation? f
No, my family lived paycheck to paycheck growing up (and they still do now) so were not able to financially assist in any way.

How has your family provided financial support in your adult life, if any? (Or, do you provide support to them?)
I will most likely need to provide some financial support to them once they retire.

Does your family provide any non-financial support? 
They have helped me move in the past so I did not need to hire movers.

Money Strategy 

Do you have a general money strategy?
No debt, have a good emergency fund, and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

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 take a more balanced approach. I hire a cleaning service twice a year for a deep clean but otherwise I do things myself, but will occasionally spend for convenience/joy rather than time saved, I would say.

What are your favorite resources for personal finance?
I really don’t have any favorites, I just go with what sounds right to me, but I do read the “popular” finance books and try to stay up to date on financial issues, mainly through social media.

What advice would you give your younger self about personal finance?
I would have saved more when I was younger (16–22), went to a cheaper college or applied for more scholarships, and tried saving sooner for a house down payment.

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