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Money Journal: One Week In the Southern ‘Burbs On a $60K Salary

See how far the dollars of a 41-year-old web editor go.

Micheile Dot Com via Unsplash

Welcome to Racket’s new Money Journal series, where you can snoop on the finances of an anonymous Twin Cities neighbor. Interested in submitting your own? Email jay@racketmn.com for instructions on over-sharing the monetary details of your life! H/T to Refinery29 for pioneering a tremendous concept that we’re excited to localize.

Personal Info

Job: Web editor (self-employed)
Age: 41
Neighborhood: South-of-the-river suburbs (I can’t afford to live in the city)
Education: Bachelor’s Degree
Salary: $60,000 
Partner’s salary: N/A (recently divorced, not by my choice)
Dependents: Four (two teens, one toddler, one infant)
Estimated net worth: $50,000

Debt

Student loans: $49,000

House: $181,000, split-level circa 1967. Purchased for $139K in 2013, but I did a cash-out refinance to buy out ex in divorce.

Assets

House: $250,000 (current market value)

Vehicles: 2016 Toyota Corolla, which I drive (I don’t know the purchase price because I leased it new for three years, then bought it) and 2007 Mazda 3, which my older teen drives (bought used for $3,900 but it has been an ongoing money pit).

Non-401K savings: $30,000

Monthly Income

Paycheck amount: $5,000 (pre-tax)

Child support: $1,358

Teen part-time job: $900 (net)

Monthly Expenses

Mortgage: $1,430 

Utilities:

  • Electric: $58
  • Gas: $113
  • Water/Sewer: $40  
  • Trash: $44
  • Phone: $65
  • Internet: $35

Insurance:

  • Health: $0 (Covered under Medical Assistance) 
  • Dental: $0 (Kids covered under Medical Assistance. I pay out of pocket for my dental care.)
  • Life: $38 (Term. $250,000 policy)
  • Car: $150 (Three drivers, two cars) 
  • House: $138 (Rolled into mortgage payment)

Childcare: $1,882 per month. Full-time daycare for infant with 40% income-based discount plus part-time sitter for toddler, who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder and doesn’t do well in daycare.

Student loan payments: $0 Income-based repayment amount. I will likely die with these loans unpaid.

401K/retirement: Ha. I wish. Cashed out $7,000 Roth IRA to pay for divorce attorney.

Subscriptions: N/A

Money Talk Q&A

Did your family talk about money growing up?

No. I somehow gleaned that my mom made more than my dad, and that my mom had a “spending problem” that she went to financial counseling for, but we didn’t talk about money. We didn’t talk about anything. We’re Scandinavian!

Did you worry about money growing up?

Not really. We were middle class. Some of my friends had nicer homes/cars/clothes than my family did but some were lower income than us. We were average. I started working in my teens and enjoyed it for the sense of purpose more than for the money. I wish I had been more concerned about money in my college years because I took on a lot of student loan debt without fully understanding how difficult it would be to pay back. I also didn’t fully understand how credit card debt worked and got into trouble with that in my 20s and had to declare bankruptcy. 

At what age did you become financially independent?

I’ll let you know when I get there. (Kidding. Kind of.)

It depends on what you mean by “financially independent.” Even though I have worked full-time almost continuously since I was 16 years old, I have had intermittent help with finances, be it from partners, parents, or (now) one of my teens. I also rely on assistance programs, food shelves, and the generosity of non-profits and churches to make ends meet. Maybe that means I’m not “financially independent,” but I try not to feel ashamed about accepting help. Society isn’t set up to help single moms succeed financially–in fact, society is actively working against us. (Rant for another time.) I guess you could say I am “financially interdependent.”

I feel like this question is problematic because no one is an island. (Well, I guess some people are; must be nice?) I probably look like a financial mess on paper, but it was never my intention to be a single mom. If I had been able to stay married, my financial life would look very different right now. I am currently making the most annual income I have ever made as a freelancer; however, my expenses are also at an all-time high. 

How did you learn how to budget your life?

I first learned how to budget in a high school economics class. I do not find it very helpful because finances, like the rest of life, is messy and unpredictable. (Or is that just my life?) As a single mom, a budget is a nice idea, but one unexpected house or car repair, one uncovered medical expense, and the whole budget falls apart. Most of my adult life I have been in a low-income bracket. There is never enough money coming in. I don’t need a budget to tell me that.

Have you ever received inherited income, major financial gifts, or large insurance payouts?

I received a malpractice insurance payout when I was in my 20s, but it went to paying off credit card debt incurred during a period of underemployment.

Do you worry about money now?

All. The. Time. It keeps me up at night. 

I worried about money a lot when I was married, and those worries have only been amplified since the divorce. I worry a lot about what would happen to me and my kids if I became unemployed or was unable to work.

Barring a financial miracle, I will not be able to retire. I will likely be a financial burden to my children as I age. Financially, I often feel like a failure even though I work full-time and am caring for four kids without any paternal involvement.

How much do you think a person or household needs to earn to live comfortably in the Twin Cities?

Depends on how many people are in the household. I would say at least $100,000 for one to two people. If there are children (and especially childcare expenses) involved, double that.

Day 1 

9:15 a.m.: Sam’s Club: Frozen food, cleaning supplies, baby wipes, facial tissue. $133.45

2:35 p.m.: Parks and Rec: Ticket for upcoming Halloween event for toddler. $6

Total: $139.45

Day 2

8:30 a.m.: Handyman: Carlos and I have been seeing a lot of each other lately. Today he fixed some vertical blinds that became unanchored from the wall. $40

1:30 p.m.: Amazon: Faster nipples because daycare providers are complaining that infant’s bottles “take too long.” $19.22.

Total: $59.22

Day 3

11:25 a.m.: TaskRabbit: Yardwork I don’t have the time or childcare in order to do myself. $73.

4:30 p.m.: Great Clips: “Karen” haircut, according to my teens. $23.

5:05 p.m.: Target: OTC allergy medicine, kid snacks, Raisin Bran (aka dinner), oranges. $37.66.

Total: $133.66

Day 4

12:15 p.m.: Mechanic: Oil change for Corolla. Used a coupon. $45.63.

4:45 p.m.: Midwest Radiology: Co-pay for chest X-ray from recent ER visit. $6.06.

Total: $51.69

Day 5

9:15 a.m. Target: Eggs, bananas, peanut butter, teething crackers (aka edible pacifiers for infant), dark chocolate (aka edible pacifiers for me). $37.24.

4 p.m.: Old Navy: Puffer coat. Bought the unflattering gender-neutral design because it was the cheapest option. $38.50.

4:45 p.m.: Walgreens: Co-pay for anti-anxiety and sleep medications. $3.

Total: $78.74

Day 6

4 p.m. Plunkett’s: Splurged on the “Mouse Special” because a sneaky little rodent has been terrorizing us and evading my glue traps. Considered buying a cat, but can’t handle cleaning up anymore poop. $349.

Total: $349

Day 7

5:45 p.m.: College cafeteria: Family dinner at my son’s college campus. We thought he could use the extra meals on his meal plan on us but nope. Kind of pricey for pizza, salad, and cookies. Probably won’t make this a habit. $24.16.

7:15 p.m.: Holiday: Gas. Can usually get by on one tank a week. $29.72.

Total: $53.88

Weekly total: $865.64