Michigan Money Confessions – One Family’s Week of Spending on a $71,000 Salary in Grand Rapids

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Our Michigan Money Confessions series takes an anonymous, personal look at how families around West Michigan spend their money over the course of a week.

This series is 100% volunteer-based and anonymous; if you’re interested in tracking your spending for a week and having it featured, email April at [email protected] We welcome all income levels and family structures.

This Family Thrives Through Meal Planning and Careful Budgeting

This month’s diary is from a family in Dorr. They raise 5 kids on $72,000 a year (plus inconsistent child support). While it’s extremely expensive to feed 7 people (including 4 teenagers!), this mom makes it work by meal planning each Sunday and shopping the deals at Meijer and Aldi.

“I want others to know that it is possible to live below your means and still enjoy life and be able to save and go on vacations and all of that,” she told me.

Here’s a look at her family’s spending:

About the Family

Town: Dorr
 Hers – Information Management | His – Alcohol Distribution
Position: Hers – Inside Sales | His – Laborer
Salary: Hers – $33,000 | His – $38,000
Child Support: $750. I don’t always receive this, so when we do we save it for vacation or doing things together as a family, like bowling and movies.
Savings: $1,170. We just crossed our one year with our CD so we pulled it instead of reinvesting, as the terms weren’t that great.
Age: She is 37 and he is 40.
Children: 5  (Four teenagers and one under 10)

Monthly Expenses

Mortgage | $1,614
Utilities | $300 – gas, electric, and garbage.  We have well water and septic but we make sure enough money is in savings to cover the cost of emptying the septic every 3 years.
Car Payment | $441. One car is paid off. 
Insurance | Car – $175, Child Life Insurance – $34
TV/Cable | $107.00. We have a very basic local cable package so we can have unlimited internet. We also have Netflix ($14).
Phone | $220
Gas | $100
Retirement | $150
Savings | $528
Kids’ sports/activities | $200 annually for basketball 
Other Bills | $359.00/month, This includes chiropractic care for our middle son ($86), Gym membership ($23), an investment account for our retirement ($150), and 3 credit cards (totaling $100 per month).

Spending Diary


Ahhh Sunday.  The day when I love to sleep in but my husband always wakes me up and tells me to get the coffee on so we can beat the weekend rush at Meijer. We always look at the ad and see what is on sale and then I meal plan for the week.  This takes me at least an hour as my husband and youngest are picky eaters, my oldest is a vegan and I have 3 teenage boys who eat a lot!!

We spent $54 at Meijer and $53 at Aldi.  Then we went to Walmart and picked up gloves and beanies for everyone. I also grabbed a rice cooker, as my oldest loves to burn rice to the bottom of my nice pans. The rice cooker is a great investment!  At Walmart we spent $93. ($20 of that was cash back for my husband, as he likes to have cash if he goes to lunch during the week.)  All in all a great shopping day with great deals.


Today the ladies from work and I ordered lunch from Panera Bread. This lunch with delivery cost $13.  We do lunch once a week together, and the rest of the week I pack a lunch.

This morning my son informed me that basketball pictures were this evening and that I did not have to buy pictures but that he really wanted one of the team. So I purchased a $20 package with a couple of pictures included. After I picked him up from practice we received a text with the link to order the team shoes. Their first game is 1.5 weeks away so I need to get them ordered and shipped as soon as possible. These shoes cost around $120 but with the discount from the school code, they were $90 with shipping. Yikes. I am pretty sure I have never spent $90 on a pair of shoes in my life!  This is his first year on the high school team and I had no idea they even needed team shoes. Mom fail.

Monday night’s dinner takes longer than other nights because I cook something a little more intricate but it was fabulous.


Zero dollars.  I didn’t need to purchase anything and we had a fantastic meal at home cooked by yours truly.  It is a great feeling not having to pull out your wallet.


Today is my payday. I always put $250 from my paycheck into savings. I don’t see and I don’t budget it. It just sits until an emergency or until we need something. I also send $808 towards the mortgage. I pay it every two weeks as it works great for our budgeting schedule and I also get in one extra payment per year.  On those months with 5 Wednesdays, I always call the mortgage place and let them know that the next payment needs to go to the principal amount.  They take care of the rest.

I spent $30 on gas.  Easy and wholesome already planned dinner at home.  I love meal planning.  It takes the “what do you want for dinner” query off the table.


I pay our $220 cell phone bill.  This is the last payment for two of the phones on the account: my husband’s and my son’s.  My husband does not want a new one; my son wants an upgrade for Christmas. I worked in the wireless industry for many years so I know the best deals are Black Friday and the week before Christmas. I am going to get him a new one when the deals are good.  So our cell phone will stay relatively the same amount after the upgrade.

I also pay our $93 internet bill, the last bill for our old address. I will go up by $10 per month with the new company but I am getting a lot more for my buck so it isn’t a loss for us. Have I mentioned that the meal planning I did on Sunday is a huge help? Tonight one of my boys cooked dinner as they need to learn how to cook for themselves. I washed the dishes since I didn’t cook.


I put $28 from my husband’s paycheck into savings. Friday nights are our eating out nights. My coupon helped us score Jet’s Pizza for $45. I actually ate a salad from ingredients I had in the fridge because I don’t like to eat pizza that often. I paid DTE $52 for our gas bill.

I paid my $23 gym membership and got a hydro massage after I was done.  What a miracle – those beds feel fantastic!


Saturdays are pretty chill. I wake up early to spend some time by myself before the hustle and bustle of the kids. This Saturday we decided to not go anywhere or do anything and just relax. I started a new show on Netflix and got all of the laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away. I also cleaned out the fridge of any leftovers and whatever else sitting in there in preparation of our Sunday ritual. On Saturdays we eat the leftovers from the week. Then we aren’t wasting anything.

Total Spent

Food | $210 ($107 – groceries + $103 eating out)

Gas | $30

Mortgage | $808

Shopping | $73 – winter gear and rice cooker

Bills | $388 ($220 cell phone + $93 internet + $52 gas bill + $23 gym membership)

Allowance | $20 for husband

Sports | $200 for annual basketball fee

Savings | $278

Total Spent | $1,757. I know this seems like a huge number but we also had two paydays this week. I also had money in checking to help cover the expensive bills as I budget monthly instead of weekly.


Basketball shoes are expensive! I am glad this is only a once a year purchase.

This was a wonderful opportunity to have an account of what happens on daily basis and to see where our money goes.  Remember meal planning is the way to go if you budget the same amount each week for groceries. Just not having to think about what I have to cook for 7 people every day is a win for me.

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