A Week In Belgium On A $56,700 Joint Income

Refinery29
·15 min read

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 master’s student who has a joint income of $56,700 and spends some of her money this week on frozen durian.

Editor’s Note: All currency has been converted to USD.

Occupation: Unemployed Master’s Student
Industry: Science
Age: 32
Location: Belgium
My Salary: $0
My Husband’s Salary: $56,700
Net Worth: $32,000 ($15,000 in two investments account + $15,000 in cash. We also have a car that can be sold for approximately $2,000 + my husband’s pension (I don’t really understand how the system works so I don’t include it.))
Debt: $0
My Husband’s Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $3,400 + $120 from the government for having a child under 18
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,030 (including utilities)
Loans $0
Scribd Subscription: $10
Donation to ShareTheMeal by WFP: $35
Childcare: $400
Savings: $1,000
Internet: $0 (husband’s company pays)
Phone: I have a pay-as-you-go phone. I don’t have much demand for phone calls, so I sometimes just top up $12 and use it for several months. My husband’s phone is paid for by work.
Health Insurance: $125 annually for the whole family (deducted from paycheck)
Car Insurance: $850 annually

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?
Absolutely yes. I grew up with high expectations of academic achievements from my parents. Moreover, in my country, going to university is absolutely the first choice or else your path to a future career is super narrow. My parents paid for my four-year university tuition and expenses. It is quite normal in my country that parents pay for their kids until they graduate because the costs are not so expensive. I then got my MBA in the U.S. with a 30%-tuition scholarship, I paid for flights to and from the U.S., my parents gave me $10,000, and my uncle gave me a loan of $10,000, which my husband and I manage to pay off last year.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My mom always said that she is frugal and that was all. I grew up seeing my dad spend wildly and go into a lot of debt, which was later paid off by my mom. My parents were not good at managing money and had zero knowledge of investing. As a result, they are currently living in a big house with no savings (as far as I know) and a very small pension.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was as a tour guide assistant when I was in high school. I was randomly introduced to the position when studying English at an education center. At that time, my mom paid for my expenses so I just put whatever I earned into my saving account.

Did you worry about money growing up?
I did not worry about money until I graduated from university at age 22. Before that, my parents provided me with things that I needed such as food, education, clothes, and healthcare. However, after I graduated and started working, my spending habits were wild. I bought clothes and cosmetics and ate at whatever restaurants I wanted. I also spent too much on traveling to foreign countries and to various states during the time I studied in the U.S.

Do you worry about money now?
Not really. My whole family is now living a minimalist lifestyle (after many years of my crazy spending habits). Besides nice food (fresh and of decent quality, I don’t mean nice foods from expensive restaurants), my family doesn’t spend a lot. I just think of money because I want to increase our income so that we can live with financial freedom and I can support my parents too.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I officially started earning my own income when I was 22. Later, my parents gave me some money for my MBA and now I am a dependant of my husband. My parents-in-law could help us if we needed it.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I think I haven’t inherited anything yet. My parents made a testament that I will inherit 1/5 of the house value after they die, but I (and maybe my siblings) have no intention to sell the house to share money. My parents-in-law also say that they will help us with a house down-payment but my husband and I agree that we won’t ask for money from anyone else.

Day One

6 a.m. — I wake up to my husband snoring. I planned to wake up at 4 a.m. to study for an exam, but my thick warm blanket and a husband to snuggle are too alluring to get out of bed in this cold weather. I quickly run to the kitchen to turn on the stove to boil water. While waiting, I brush my teeth, wash my face, and put away clean dishes. Voila, boiling water is ready. I prepare coffee for my husband and me using little Vietnamese coffee filters. I use the remaining water to warm up milk for my toddler daughter.

6:30 a.m. — I meditate for 15 minutes but hardly focus, so I try to practice slow breathing instead. I’m trying to meditate again, but it’s hard. I seldom can focus on my meditation, but I just do it with a mindset of “patience pays off.”

7 a.m. — I prepare breakfast and lunch. I stir-fry beef with garlic powder and soy sauce and reheat veggie broth for pho. Turning my head, I see my daughter, M., quietly standing right behind me. I ask her to do some quick morning stretches together, sing her favorite songs, and tell her to wake up her papa. I usually have only a coffee latte for breakfast. My husband and daughter have pho. My husband gets M. dressed while I pack beef sandwiches with cheese slices, cucumber, and pickled carrot for his lunchbox. He then takes M. to her daycare on his way to work. He needs to conduct testing works in the lab, so it is impossible to work from home.

8:30 a.m. — I clean up the kitchen and turn on our iRobot to clean the floor. Our iRobot was really a good investment for a house because I love a clean house but hate vacuuming.

8:45 a.m. — It is time for my morning self-care routine with a quick shower, hydrating lotion, Vitamin C, moisturizer, and a spray of perfume. I always do this routine in the morning, even if I stay home. I sit down to study, but get distracted and do less than I planned.

12 p.m. — Time for lunch. I hang laundry out in the backyard because it is quite sunny today and I fold dry clothes (which I hung next to the heater last night). Due to these methods, I don’t have to buy a dryer and save a lot of energy. I have pho, a Neocell liquid collagen supplement, and a small cup of Vietnamese coffee left by my husband in the morning. After a delicious meal, I return to studying.

5 p.m. — My husband texts me that he is on his way to pick up M. So I jump to the kitchen to prepare Korean veggie pancakes with all-purpose flour, sweet potato, green onion, mushroom, and egg. I am trying to cook more plant-based dishes these days because it is good for our health and budget.

7 p.m. — After dinner, my husband cleans up the kitchen while I read some books to M. I prepare some ginger tea and saltwater (for washing the throat), set up coffee filters for tomorrow morning, and go to the bathroom. I brush my teeth, take a shower, and do my nighttime skincare routine — AHA, retinol serum, moisturizer, and body lotion. Then we do M.’s nighttime routine — brushing her teeth, washing her throat with salt water, taking a shower, applying lotion, cleaning the nose with saline water, and drying her hair. It may sound bothersome with too many steps, but given that my toddler sleeps well through the night and seldom gets sick, the routine is really worth the effort.

9:30 p.m. — M. is asleep finally, after an hour of talking with herself in meaningless words and singing some self-composed rhythm. I normally go to sleep at 10, but today I don’t feel sleepy (maybe because of the afternoon nap), so I watch YouTube until 11:30.

Daily Total: $0

Day Two

6:30 a.m. — Fail to wake up early again, procrastinating to get out the bed. I prepare the coffee, do a 15-minute meditation, and prepare for my French oral exam.

9 a.m. — My French oral exam starts after some trouble with logging into the Zoom meeting. According to my teacher, I am not responsive enough in conversation because I’m not as familiar with French accents. She suggests that I practice watching and listening to more French content. The exam results drag my mood down. The feeling of not doing something good enough is not comfortable for me.

11 a.m. — I ask my husband to drive me to the supermarket. While I just bought groceries a few days ago, I still end up with a bill of $42 for organic milk, coconut milk, a pot of organic cilantro, broccoli, cucumber, celery root, oranges, Gillette razors, chicken, king oyster mushroom, brown beech mushroom, and dish soap. $42

12 p.m. — Arriving home, I cook lunch and arrange things into the fridge while my husband plays with our toddler. We have white rice, baked chicken wings, and garlic broccoli for lunch.

3:30 p.m. — M. wakes up from her nap, so I peel some grapes and squeeze orange juice for afternoon snacks, but she still seems sleepy and refuses to eat. I pack the grapes in a box. We drive to the Asian supermarket. My husband and my daughter wait in the car while I shop inside. I buy coconut-cream-coated peanuts (for my husband), frozen durian (for me), Vietnamese rice noodles, hoisin sauce, and frozen maize. $21

7 p.m. — I cook Korean veggie japchae for dinner. We have mango for dessert. After our evening routine, my husband takes M. to her bed. I read until I fall asleep.

Daily Total: $63

Day Three

6 a.m. — I wake up, lie on the bed for thirty more minutes, then jump out for a morning routine. I watch YouTube videos and read a few articles until everyone wakes up.

10:30 a.m. — My husband and daughter wake up late today. We have roasted pork belly and fine rice vermicelli for brunch.

4 p.m. — A friend tells me that she made fish cakes and a sweet dessert for me. My husband takes our daughter to go pick them up so I can have some time to study. I am really grateful that God always brings nice friends to my life, wherever I go. I also have a wonderful husband and supporting family-in-law.

6 p.m. — My husband comes home with nice foods from our friends. I cook sour soup with the fishcakes and make crispy tofu stirred in tomato sauce to pair with rice. I get in bed early around 7.

Daily Total: $0

Day Four

5:30 a.m. — I wake up to my alarm and feel frightened from a nightmare of someone being kidnapped. I prepare coffee then turn on music and meditate to calm down.

7 a.m. — Time for breakfast and lunch prep. M. wakes up, so I feed her warm milk with corn pops while making fried rice for the lunch box and steam maizes for breakfast.

11 a.m. — I receive an email from the local library informing me that the books I borrowed for my daughter are overdue. I ride my bike to the library to return books, pay the late-returning fee ($1), and borrow some new ones. $1

12 p.m. — On the way home, I stop at the supermarket to buy bean sprouts and mangoes ($4). I warm up leftover pho for lunch and squeeze a glass of orange juice. Then, I clean the kitchen and return to my study at 1. $4

6 p.m. — Husband and daughter arrive home. My daughter looks super excited today. We have rice vermicelli in tomato soup with fishcakes, dessert is mango.

Daily Total: $5

Day Five

5 a.m. — I wake up and do my morning routine as always. This morning I decide to continue reading my book while drinking a latte then take 30 minutes to listen to some French videos.

7 a.m. — My baby and husband wake up. I cook soup for their breakfast, and prepare a lunch of Mongolian beef noodles for my husband, and leave a portion for myself as well.

10 a.m. — My husband’s paycheck arrives. I allocate money into different budgets. I pay $150 for my three-month French course. The healthcare and education costs in Belgium are so inexpensive so I absolutely understand its heavy tax rate. My husband and I decided to send $300 to my mom so that she has some money to spend on Lunar New Year (We sent “lucky money” to my parents-in-law last month already). While I am really content with my life now, being unable to financially support my parents monthly for their retirement really makes me sad. Therefore, my husband always agrees whenever I say that I want to send them some money because he knows that makes me happy. $450

6 p.m. — I spend the whole afternoon studying for my exam. My husband and M. arrive home. We have dinner which is rice, Korean kimchi jjigae soup, and baked fish.

Daily Total: $450

Day Six

7 a.m. — We have homemade pizza for breakfast and I also prepare sushi for the lunchbox. My husband asks if I can make cinnamon rolls for breakfast tomorrow, so I head to the grocery store for ingredients and some fresh air.

8 a.m. — I buy groceries at the supermarket close to our apartment. The total is $40 for flour, tofu, organic raisin, mushroom, oranges, clementine, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, arugula, spreadable butter, cream cheese, frozen fish, brown bread, and tulips. $40

12 p.m. — I have a sushi roll and a glass of fresh orange juice for lunch. Then I do laundry and study.

6 p.m. — I cook Japanese karaage chicken today, which is a favorite dish of my husband and daughter. They are both so excited when they get home. I try to feed my daughter a little bit of veggie soup but she refuses to eat it, so I give her mango slices so she doesn’t just have fried chicken for dinner.

Daily Total: $40

Day Seven

5 a.m. — I wake up and start to have miscellaneous thoughts. I recently realized that I have too many random thoughts running in my mind that make me focus less on the present and sometimes cause unnecessary stress. I decide to jump out the bed and start my morning routine so that I can cut off this procrastination and those random thoughts.

7 a.m. — My husband and my daughter have cinnamon rolls for breakfast while I make chicken sandwiches for my husband’s lunch.

9 a.m. — I feel stuck in tiredness and boredom, which is quite strange for my current peaceful situation. This feeling sometimes happens to me for no apparent reason. I decide to take a walk in the rain instead of studying. I stop by the Asian grocery to buy fish sauce, sriracha, condensed milk, and a spearmint bunch. $14

12 p.m. — I cook porridge to warm up my stomach, then go back to studying.

6 p.m. — We have rice paper rolls with steamed fish and fresh herbs. After the evening routine, I sleep early, while my husband takes M. to bed.

Daily Total: $14

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