How a Foodie Bakery Manager Does Money

Lilith (not her real name) is a 30-year-old bakery manager in South King County, Washington State.

So, Lilith, tell us a bit about your finances.

I work in a Whole Foods-esque grocery chain and I run the bakery department in my store. It sounds fancier than it actually is, considering I’m one of three people! We like to call our sub-department “the little bakery that could” because of the logistical challenges of producing pastry in our tiny little space while staying profitable and making/breaking sales records.

Anyway, I make about $52,000 annually. I’m not sure what the real figure is because I get performance based bi-annual bonus checks. Our bosses have made it clear many times that bonuses were not a sure thing, and it can get pulled any time. So I tend to not anticipate the bonus checks, but I’ve received checks between $250 to $1,000. I also pull in quite a bit of overtime. Last month I worked six days a week for the entire month. I was a very tired and grumpy baker, for sure.

I’m in the database of several focus groups in the Seattle area and the whole time I was doing all this overtime, I kept getting calls to participate ($100-$150 for an hour or so of focus group work), but I had to decline. On average, I make about an extra $300 (a month) on focus group-type stuff. I’m also on a catering company’s speed dial, so I get calls/emails from them quite often, but the pay is lower ($12 an hour) than my full-time job hourly wage so I never really pick up gigs from them anymore, save for one gig last Christmas that I ended up working 8 hours at my regular job and then 11 hours at a Christmas party — never again! I had the day off the next day but I looked and felt like a POW. Turning down extra work when I’m physically and mentally exhausted is something I’m actively working on.

As a side note, I’ve only started making “okay” money the past three years. Prior to that, I was a proud worker of the tipping economy. So please, tip your server!

What’s your living situation like? Are you satisfied with your home, or do you want something bigger/nicer/with fewer roommates?

I’ve only lived in my house for about two years. It’s a split-level (massive) house in an upscale, Pleasantville-type neighborhood, which is funny considering only a few blocks away is a neighborhood where guns and crime is commonplace. Everything is separate in my place (entrance, parking, etc.), and what I like about my place is you don’t really know that it exists until you go into the main house and take the steps downstairs to my place.

I really lucked out on my place; it came fully furnished with fabulous IKEA furniture including IKEA plates, silverware, what have you. My landlady has a teenage daughter (currently away at some fancy boarding school I’ve never heard of) and now she is engaged to a man she met a year ago and just had a baby. They treat me like family and I reciprocate by leaving pastries and paying my rent two weeks ahead of time.

I’m a first generation Asian immigrant and I’ve only lived in the U.S. for 13 years. Prior to my fabulous living situation, I lived with my mom and my sister in a house a few miles from where we live now. The cultural expectation is for daughters to live with their family until they’re married off, (very progressive, I know), so I was stuck in the family house for years and I was unhappy with that living situation. I’ve always had a tense and complicated relationship with my mom and sister, but the cultural guilt grounded me for years. But now, I’m very content with my living situation, I especially like living in a “nice” neighborhood and getting in and out of my car off-hours isn’t scary.

How much of your income goes towards overhead? Rent, utilities, food, etc.

I used to keep track of my expenses on Excel but found that it was too stressful, so my monthly accounting sheet isn’t exact. I pay $1,100 a month in rent which includes everything (rent, electricity, internet, water, and garbage). I like writing one check and forgetting about it. Car insurance is $57.50. Gas is about $70-$80. I’m an introvert and avoid social situations so my gas bill is minimal. Union fees are $50.50. Medical and dental is $23. Gym membership is $30 (I had a very painful back injury this time last year, and regular exercise is the only thing that helped me recover, totally worth the expense.) Phone is $52. Massage is $20 co-pay (see: working on your feet 8-plus hours a day, plus heavy lifting). Pedicure is $35-$40 (see: working on your feet 8-plus hours a day). Acupuncture is $20 co-pay (on an as-needed basis; right now, every other month).

My food budget is where it gets tricky, because I get a lot of free food stuffs at work. I also get unlimited free coffee and tea, which is fantastic because just like most Seattle-ites, I’m a coffee fanatic. I want to say $250-$300 a month? I also don’t drink. My type of Asian can’t digest alcohol, just the smell of beer makes me nauseous, so no alcohol funds. Just like any food worker, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook, so most of my food stuffs is the pre-made variety.

For a while, I bought most of my food at work, but it’s an outrageously expensive joint: $10 a pound for regular old (albeit delicious) chicken salad is unsustainable, even for my union wages. I’ve started going to an Asian deli and I buy noodles, rice, chicken, and stir-fried vegetables which last me a few meals for $20. I’ve only recently started working as a bakery manager, and I work at 2 a.m., which changed my diet considerably. For the past month, I’ve only started eating two square meals. I also avoid snacking (it’s a Mireille Guiliano thing). But I use food as a means to treat myself. On my days off, I almost always go to a restaurant to decompress, but my bill rarely exceeds $25.

I should mention I’m in a long distance Serious Relationship, and I’ve been flying out to see my boyfriend every 3 months or so. Last year, I flew to Montreal twice at about $600 a pop, not including all the meals and fun stuff we shared together. I just got back from the South and I spent close to $600 to fly out there, and spent over $300 on a hotel room for a few days. This is also tricky because my person subsidizes my tickets and hotel rooms, and he ends up depositing random cash into my checking account which I don’t discover until a few days after the fact. So I’m not entirely sure how much I spend on our relationship. He also makes $250,000 annually (this in itself merits a Billfold post).

Do you have a savings account? Do you add to it regularly? How do you know how much to add?

Right now, I have $8,000 in my regular savings account, although I’m more comfortable with $10,000. I have $5,000 in my 401(k). Every paycheck, I direct deposit $100 into my 401(k). It’s sadly unmatched; I heard it’s only matched for the higher level employees (assistant store director and above). I also have a Roth IRA which has $22,000. I try to put away 25 percent of every paycheck, but I heard 30 percent is the norm, although this doesn’t include the money I put in my 401(k).

What about debt? If you have debt, do you have a plan to pay it off? How do you feel about debt, and what types of situations might cause you to choose to take on debt in the future?

I don’t have any debt, and I’m very happy to type this out. I paid for my Bachelor’s degree with cash, grants, and scholarship money. I only received my degree two years ago, which as we all know, makes me extremely fortunate to have zero student loans. I pay off my credit card every month. My car is paid off. My dad bought the SUV a few years ago, and gave it to me once he was tired of it. The men in my family are car fanatics and like to trade up. I, however, could care less. I might have to buy a slightly-used car in a few years, as my SUV is 15 years old but so far it still runs like a dream.

When I was a teenager and given a credit card for the first time, I ended up with $8,000 in debt. I managed to pay it off in months. I worked like an animal, borrowed money from my brother (which I paid back with extra cash for my endless gratitude), and never got into that mindless consumption ever again. I think about buying a condo once in a while, but I’m pretty ambivalent about it. I’ve lived in houses most of my life, and I like the stability of it, but I also like the idea of packing up one suitcase and be out and gone in less than a day. Owning a house/condo will prevent me from doing that, so for now, home ownership is largely an afterthought.

So you told us that you were a foodie. What does that mean to you? How does your interest in food affect your spending?

I read an article in (Seattle’s) The Stranger about how Asians have been foodies for thousands of years and people are acting like it’s a Big Deal. That pretty much encompasses my feelings about the foodie culture. I’ve been a foodie since I was born, and to me that means having respect for food, the land, and the people who grow and make the food.

I grew up in a residential area inside a massive, bustling city in Asia, and I woke up every morning to the smell of freshly baked bread. There’s a bakery a few doors from our ancestral house, our neighbor across the street grew chickens for food, and a few doors from him is our butcher. Across the butcher is the lady who makes school lunches for all the neighborhood kids whose parents didn’t want to pack lunches anymore. We go to school with her kids, her kids eat the same stuff we do.

I try to spend my money on small businesses with ethical labor practices as much as possible. Luckily, they are abundant in this town. I get my coffee at a shop that my friend owns and he’s still making coffee a few days a week. He order his coffee from a Fair Trade small town roaster. I’m also fortunate to work in a place that matches my social values. Our cupcakes are a few dollars more than Fred Meyer cupcakes, but our cupcakes are only made with butter, sugar, flour, and vanilla. We make our scones with the freshest ingredients every morning. Sure, it’s more expensive than Starbucks, but you’ll be glad to know that the bakers make a living wage with fantastic medical insurance. We don’t pass on any of our life stress into your food.

I go to Violet Sweet Shoppe (a vegan bakery), and I’m very happy to pay $4 for her cupcakes. The owner does everything in her little shop and I’m always willing to pay a premium to support womentrepreneurs. Obviously, this is a privileged POV, but if you’re able to spend a few more dollars on food, do so. It’s like that New York Times article about nail salons: any time you pay rock bottom prices on anything, it’s gotta come out somewhere.

How do you decide how much you can afford to spend on food and other budget line items? Do you plan your spending in advance? Do you find that your actual spending matches up with your plans?

I mostly eat out by myself since I consider it my “me” time; most of the time I never pay more than $25 on a meal out, it just ends up being that way. Not drinking factors in a lot, since I usually only order water or maybe diet soda. I only order an entree, which is not really a money thing, it’s more of a French Women Don’t Get Fat thing. My frustration with restaurants is everything is entree-sized so even if I want to try an appetizer, I decline because of the portion size. I also don’t order dessert anymore. I found out last year I have egg and dairy allergies, and restaurants (save for vegan places) never have dairy-free desserts. I tend to plan my spending in advance, because I’d look at the business website and figure out what I will order, but this changes when I go to a bakery. I have a raging sweet tooth and I ALWAYS spend more in a patisserie.

Last Mother’s Day, I took my mom and sister out to celebrate. They are both mothers and I wanted to pay for dinner. I spent $170 on dinner for four, which was definitely way more than I planned on spending, but my mom is visiting from Asia and it’s a once-a-year deal, so I was mostly OK with that. I’m also a 20–25 percent tipper. I was a tipped worker for years and I lived on tips, so I’m sympathetic to their plight.

What financial lessons have you learned since you started Doing Money as an adult? What surprised you?

I’ve learned lots of financial things as an adult. My mom was a stay-at-home mom all her life so I never had any role models on having a career and budgeting as a woman in the workplace. Everything I learned is definitely trial by fire. I’m a reader so I read a lot of personal finance books, although as an adult I now realize some of their advice is a bit out of touch. Not everybody buys a latte every day, sometimes life ruin happens and money almost always figures into that (thank you, Helaine Olen). One important thing I learned is always putting away some money into savings, even if it’s $10 a week. Just having that buffer is good for peace of mind.

Also, I thought having an Excel spreadsheet will help me but it ended up stressing me out too much. I always felt like a Bad Person whenever I spent over what I had budgeted. I found out that I actually saved more money not following a spreadsheet. I wish I opened an IRA as soon as I started working as a teenager and sometimes I think about all that lost time.

I think it’s really important, especially for women, to have ownership over their financial lives. My mom has zero ownership of her financial life and she’s been dependent on my dad for money since they got married 40 years ago. I’ve always kept that lesson to heart. It’s tough watching one parent control the other with money; it doesn’t send a good lesson to the kids.

One of the things that surprised me as an adult is how much your earnings figure into life enjoyment. Yeah, yeah, money doesn’t buy happiness, but as someone who made minimum wage for years before making okay money, my life contentment tripled in no time. I almost have no stress, save for random life annoyances, and getting an unexpected bill in the mail doesn’t ruin my week anymore.

What advice do you have for Billfold readers?

Tip your server! Seriously, tip your service worker — they are underpaid, overworked, and more often than not, are dealing with abusive work situations.

Also, ask for a raise! I asked for a raise for the first time since I started working at 17, and just the empowerment I felt made it worthwhile to walk into the dragon’s den.

This story is part of our food month series.

Photo credit: Gail (not a Violet Sweet Shoppe cupcake, sadly)

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