The Money Snapshot: A Web Developer Shares Thoughts on Living Frugally

by koku_jin

text over icons: "A 23-Year-Old Web Developer & Designer Shares...Her Money Snapshot"

For today’s Money Snapshot, we’re talking salary, net worth,
and more with a web developer/designer in New Mexico! She notes:
“[My partner and I] pool 100% of our money and try to balance
different incomes as best as possible.”

By way of background: 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
, 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

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: LizLocation: Albuquerque, NMAge: 23Occupation: Frontend web developer/designerIncome: $68,000 + around $8,000–$12,000 a year
in freelancing and side workPartner’s age: 24, works in furniture
income: Around $100,000–$120,000Net worth: Joint net worth is around $100,000Net worth when started working: Worked multiple
side jobs through high school and college (no loans, fortunately,
positive net worth around $5,000–$15,000), transitioned to
teaching + freelance design + afterschool programs/summer camps +
grad school at 21 (saved 50% of my meager teaching income and paid
for grad school with side income, joint net worth around
$20,000–$50,000), switched to full-time web development +
freelancing at 23 (saved 60-70% of income and all side income).Living situation: Rent, costs right around $1,000
for 2/2 apartment with utilities each month


What does your debt picture look like?I
have never had debt. I will probably buy a house and have a
mortgage in a few years.

How did you pay for school?I was awarded a
90% tuition scholarship for academic achievement. I had enough
savings from working in high school to pay the first semester of
room & board and worked three part-time jobs my first year to
cover living expenses. My parents gifted me the cost of a dorm room
each semester, but by my sophomore year I picked up an internship
and an activity scholarship that required work throughout the
school week and on weekends in exchange for room and board. I saved
the money my parents gave me and worked a variety of side jobs to
cover other expenses during school. I graduated with a BA and BS
and got a small scholarship toward my MS, which I was able to use
side income and savings to pay for.

Savings, Investments & Retirement

How much do you save for retirement?
When I was teaching, I made a terribly low salary and maxed out my
Roth IRA to take advantage of my low tax rate. Now I contribute 9%
of my pre-tax income to a 401k and set aside 10% of my husband’s
and my post-tax income to split between our two Roth IRAs. It
usually ends up being about 2/3 of the limit by the end of the

How much money do you allocate to other tax-savvy
investments/accounts?My employer offers a $1,000/year
incentive to anyone who contributes the max (less $1,000) to their
HSA, so I do that.

How much do you save outside of retirement
accounts?Aside from retirement, my husband and I save
around $35,000 (about 40% of our post-tax income). We have set
spending budgets each month that we track with Mint and the
leftover amount, plus any side income is recorded in a spreadsheet
where we track all of our non-regular expenses (car repairs,
travel, moving, etc.) and savings categories. We have categories
for savings (vehicle, health, emergency, house, slush, etc.) and
set goals each year for each category. Every month we look at how
much money we have to save and decide what categories to add

What is your investment situation like?My
401k is an index fund and our Roth accounts are managed by some
sort of AI. We have talked about doing CD ladders, but since we are
saving up for a house most of our savings are liquid in the
highest-interest online savings account we could find.

Do you have an end goal for saving or are you just
saving for a rainy day?Right now our goals are to buy
a house, set aside as much as possible for retirement (since
setting money aside earlier = more growth later), and have an
emergency fund that could feasibly cover us for a year.

What’s the #1 thing you’re doing to save money,
limit spending, or live frugally?For a long time we
lived in the cheapest apartment we could find (sub-$500), which was
pretty crappy but enabled us to save a few hundred dollars every
month while my husband was finishing school and I was
teaching. Now we make two to three times as much and try to be
conscientious of lifestyle creep while sorting out
financially-related things like life insurance, wills, emergency
funds, etc.

When did you start saving seriously? How has your
savings strategy changed over the years?

I have always saved money, since I was a little kid. Some of my
birthday money from early elementary school didn’t get spent
until I needed it to pay college fees. When I was younger, I would
save everything and spend only after thoroughly researching what I
was buying. I really enjoyed my purchases and was able to take
advantage of sales or cool events because I had the money saved

Once I was living on my own, I needed to buy things more
frequently, which was a difficult shift mentally. Something that
helped me was to designate every dollar I made for some purpose.
Now instead of making money and just trying to save as much as
possible, I have budgets and savings categories. That helps me to
spend money where I need to, be generous with gift giving and
charity, purchase high-quality items, and have perspective on what
I am saving and spending. I’m not making the decision between an
individual purchase and my savings goals because I decided ahead of
time how much would go toward each. It makes my life much

For example, I drive a used car that is almost as old as I am. I
know that it doesn’t make sense to sink a lot of money into
repairs, but deciding between buying a new used vehicle and
replacing something is a hard decision to make in the moment,
especially while dealing with the stress of an accident/lack of
transportation/uncertainty/whatever. So my husband and I talked and
decided that we would put $X aside for repairs, and that if the
vehicle needed more than that we would be better off getting rid of
it. That completely removes the decision fatigue from the situation
so that if and when the car breaks down we can take care of it
without worrying about whether we’re throwing money away. The
money is there, set aside for the car, and that’s it.

How much do you have in cash that’s available
today?Just the $40 I keep in my wallet for
emergencies, plus $15 for an event I’m going to this weekend

How much do you have in cash that’s available in a
week?Around $70-$80k

How much is in your “emergency fund,” and where do
you keep it?$20-$30k, in an online savings account,
and yes

How much do you have in retirement
savings?Somewhere around $12-$15k in my individual
Roth and 401k, plus around $2,000 in an HSA if you count that

How much $ do you have in long-term investments and
savings (CDs, index funds, stocks) that are not behind a retirement
Maybe $200 in odd stocks that I don’t really mess with

If property values (home, car) are included in your net
worth, how much are those worth?I think my car is
worth like $800. If you included electronics (like things I would
sell if I desperately needed cash), maybe $3-$4k.

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

Groceries: $250
Restaurants, bars, takeout, and delivery: $60Clothing and accessories: Included in misc.Transportation: $45 rail pass, $44 car insurance,
$100 gas, $15 set aside for oil and tiresRent/living expenses: $1,100Entertainment: Phones $65, internet $45, $90 in
other entertainmentHealth care — premiums and other costs: Mine is
$82/month HDHP + $100 contribution to HSA; my husband’s is
through marketplace and is something like $250/month. We keep the
max out-of-pocket annual cost for each plan in savings (mine in the
HSA, his in a regular savings account), and also set aside
$50/month for health, hygiene, and fitness costs. 

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

Vacations – Range: $200–$1,000 for two
people, and we mostly camp and visit national parks. Strictly based
on opportunity–usually once a year, but if we both have off work
for some reason we will take advantage of it and head
Vacations – Average: $400

Individual items of clothing – Range:
$1–$100Individual items of clothing – Average: We
thrift shop as much as possible and spend less than $10 on skirts,
t-shirts, sweaters, work shirts, dresses, athletic clothes. Shoes
are usually around $50, jeans/pants are around $15–50, nicer
coats, boots, etc. can be as much as

Apartment or house – Range:
Apartment or house – Current main residence: $1,100
including all utilities and insurance

Car or other vehicle – Range:
$1,500–$8,000, purchased usedCar or other vehicle – Last purchase / current main
vehicle: Worth ~$800, purchased for around $1,500 years

Any other large personal expenses? What are
they?$100–$5,000 on moving/temporary storage each
year since I started college. Moving especially has a lot of
related costs (lots of takeout, random stuff that gets broken or
thrown away). Graduate school tuition was around $25,000 over 2.5

Fill in the blank on this question: I could save _____
if I stopped ______, but I don’t because _______.I
could save $100–$150 a month if I stopped eating out, but I
don’t because I enjoy it and use it as a way to get together with

If you’re married: When was your wedding, how much did
it cost (total), and how much did YOU pay?  Two
years ago, less than $10,000; I paid around

Tell us about your wedding!Had it at a tiny
church in the middle of nowhere (minimal venue costs), it was late
in the evening so we served hors d’oeuvres (no catering in the
middle of nowhere), my spouse and I DIYed everything (food trays,
decorations, invitations, etc.), his parents brought wine and beer,
I bought my dress at a consignment shop, we had a friend do
photography. If I could change one thing, I would hire a
professional photographer.

Money Strategy

Do you have a general money strategy? 
Live well below my means, invest early, have a plan for every

What are your favorite resources for personal
finance?I read all of my dad’s money books growing
up (think Millionaire Next Door, Richest Man in Babylon, etc.), but
now I mostly just google things or browse Reddit if I want to know

What advice would you give your younger self about
personal finance?
Try to find a university that will let you study what you’re
interested in and also develop lucrative job skills like computer

Photo credit: icons via Stencil. 

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