How A Music Therapist With Four Jobs and $200K In Loans Does Money

by Jinna Wang

Tara is a 25 year old music therapist living in Brooklyn.

So Tara, could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I am a 25 year old recent master’s graduate living in New York City and … I currently work four jobs! In my free time, I play with my Corgi.

Four jobs!

Yeah. So I graduated from a Master’s program in music therapy a year ago. At that time, the job market was not as welcoming to me as I thought it would be. It’s kind of a double edged sword where they want you to have experience, but they won’t hire you to give you that experience. So I’m kind of stuck in limbo.

Now I’m working four part time jobs, three of which are in my field or close to being in my field so I can build up my resume and my licensing hours.

When you were choosing a career, how much was future income part of the consideration?

I want to make enough to survive, be able to pay my bills, and have a bit of fun money. Being rich was not my ultimate goal. What matters to me is to be able to make a difference and feel fulfilled in my work. And also to eat.

I actually recently just took on two extra jobs (part of the four), so I’m getting acquainted with budgeting my new income.

Back when I was working two jobs, I got paid monthly for one of them, so budgeting was really difficult. I have a lot more to work with now, which is lovely. It’s also difficult when you start making more money, because federal loans come knocking. When I was making less, I was able to hold them off. But now that I have some extra, they are like: “Okay, give us money now.”

Quick question: what is the difference between Federal and Private loans?

Private loans don’t care what your situation is, they just expect a check to arrive every month. My private loans are about $500 a month. In total I have $36K and $18K in private loans, owed to 2 different banks. I started paying those 6 months out of school.

It gets to the point when you’re like, “It probably makes more sense for me to pay my loans than to buy fresh vegetables, because I don’t want to miss a payment and fall into a bad situation with my credit.” So I was eating a lot of ramen.

I love ramen though.

Ok I DO love ramen. Can you make a note that “she does love ramen” in your article? But we are talking Top Ramen here, not the fancy kinds.

And what was the point that federal loans came knocking?

Also six months out of school. I graduated from my Master’s program and I had my heart set on starting right out of school with a music therapy job, when I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I called and worked out an income-based payment. I was working in retail, by the way.

The federal loan people are so sweet and they definitely work with you; whatever you are making a month, they will take a certain percentage. The private loan servicers do not. They are like, savages.

And how much federal loans do you have?


That seems like a scary number.

Yeah, you know, it’s so scary that it’s kind of abstract. Like “What’s a hundred and 40 thousand dollars? Like, what is it?!”

I haven’t paid a cent on that yet, but I have to contact them since I just got these two jobs this month and have some extra income.

Can you tell us about what these loans were used for?

In undergrad, housing and tuition was a big chunk of it. I went to a private school and it was the only school that was near my hometown that offered my major. Also, meal plans, books. My parents weren’t able to finance my education, but once in a while they’d send me a check for a hundred bucks. I ended undergrad with probably around $100k in loans.

Then I moved to NYC for grad school, and it was hard for me to find an apartment, and I kind of rushed into one that was $1200 a month, which was pretty pricey. I had to take out a lot of extra loans for rent and living expenses in addition to tuition. I had to take a lot of unpaid internships for my program, so I wasn’t able to take a paying job.

On a monthly basis, how much money comes in now, and from where?

It’s going to be ball park, because sometimes my clients cancel unexpectedly, and for one of my jobs I work through the school system and there are cancellations and holidays.

An overall monthly estimate, is around $2000. I’m not taxed at my independent contracting position and group therapy position, so I’ll owe taxes on those at the end of the year. I get taxed right away on the therapy job through the school system and my retail job.

At the retail job, I work a ton of hours (probably 22 hours a week?), and I get around $400 every 2 weeks.

In my therapy jobs, I get triple the retail rate per hour, but I get less hours. So the four jobs all pay about the same, if that makes sense.

That definitely does! How about on the expense side. How much goes to rent, food, or fun per month? Did I miss any important categories here?

I pay $500 per month (split studio with my boyfriend, he pays a little more than me). Loans are around $480. Groceries are probably $40 a week, which includes food for my dog.

I pay for a weekly metro card which is $31 a week, so $124 per month.

Oh, of course Netflix, what is that, $7.99 a month? I pay for this. My boyfriend pays for the Internet and gas. He’s really sweet.

The rest goes into an emergency fund. I have a dog that has a lot of health issues, so I have to drop $200 randomly if she has an emergency. It’s also a small cushion for birthday presents / dinners for friends. I used to end the month with $50 in my bank account and wait for the direct deposit to hit. But now that I have four jobs, it’s a little better.

It’s crazy, because you have a Master’s degree, and you don’t expect to get so excited to get $600 dollars but you do! So many people have advanced degrees today, but a lot of those people are having them being paid for by their parents. And so many people have their Master’s that it’s pretty much a prerequisite for getting a job in my field.

What about fun stuff? Any budget for that?

Um … I don’t really do much of that. Well, let’s see. I’d consider “fun” as grabbing coffee on my way to work, or grabbing a treat on my way home from work. So maybe I spend $20 a week on fun stuff.

How often do you think about money?

Every single day. I think about the day when I will be comfortably working a 9–5 job and not thinking twice about buying fresh vegetables in a grocery store. Or being able to walk into a store and buying a pair of shoes because I like them, and not because they are on sale.

I also think about how long I can fund being a Brooklyn-nite. It’s been such a journey. I’ve been here 3 years and it feels eternity.

Is that eternity in a good way or bad way?

Both. I think moving to a city like New York, you have to learn how to manage your money. It’s life or death. It’s apartment or cardboard box. You just have to know or you are out of here.

Any financial advice for Billfold readers?

Save as early as you can. Even if it’s 5 dollars a week. Having a little nest egg would ease so much of the stress and burden you feel. I should actually take my own advice.

Oh also, make time for fun and make sure you are setting aside money for fun.

Jinna Wang is a freelance writer living in New York. Find her here.

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