How a Woman in a Rent-Controlled San Francisco Apartment Does Money

Photo credit: Anita Ritenour, CC BY 2.0.

Mindy (not her real name) is a 30-year-old financial analyst in San Francisco.

So Mindy, how much are you making?

My salary’s about $112,000.

How does that compare to your expenses? Do you have money left over at the end of the month?

Yes, in terms of disposable income. Take home pay is about $5,200/month. I put about $1,700 into a joint account with my husband for our rent and other expenses. I pay at least $1,500/month in student loans, sometimes a couple hundred more.

For savings, I plan ahead each month what I’ll put in but it’s not like a set, automated amount.

So that leaves you about $2,000 every month for discretionary, food, savings, and so on? Or does food get rolled up into that $1,700?

Groceries gets rolled into the $1,700 but I still spend on lunch, coffee, going out, etc.

But this month, I just did my taxes and I owe more. I owe $5,200 (yikes) because I didn’t take enough out of my paychecks last year.

Wow, that sounds like me last year! Are you a 1099-er too?

No, but my husband is so he owes a bigger chunk. He moved to freelancing and we just didn’t pay attention to how much in taxes we were (or were not) paying.

I don’t blame you, it took me a few years to really get the hang of what I needed to be setting aside for taxes.

Yeah, our goal this year is to manage that way better.

So where will that tax money come from, this year? Savings account? Emergency fund? Do you have a healthy amount saved, or will this wipe it out?

I’m using $600 of my next paycheck and taking the rest out of my savings.

Tell us more about your savings. Do you have retirement accounts set up too? Other investments? How does that work for you?

After I pay taxes, I’ll have $4,000 in my own savings/stock, so I’m sure I’ll be fine, but I’ll have to build my savings up again.

I do have a 401(k). Last year I maxed out my contributions for the first time ever! My employer does a 4 percent match and I’ve been here about four years, so I have $50,000 in it.

I also have a Roth from an old job, but I think that’s under $10,000. My husband has a Roth (I know since we just did our taxes). We spent a few years in our 20s not having a lot of savings, so we’ve been trying to build that back up.

We have a joint savings/stock bucket, not included in any of the above. $22,000 total in our joint savings/brokerage accounts. I’m assigned to manage those but I’m pretty passive about it.

Do you have any help? Like a financial advisor? I’m curious whether you feel like you’re getting to the point where you need help managing your assets.

No advisor yet. My husband and I figured at some point that yes, we will have to get one. We’ve been married about two years and we’re still talking about actually putting together a will. There’s no conflict about it, we just haven’t done it.

Do you and your husband have similar financial mindsets? Or did you bring very different experiences/perspectives on money to the relationship?

He’s always been more of the saver and I was the spender, but we balance each other out. Like, he’s just one of those people who kept his expenses low and didn’t shop much. I used to shop a lot more, fast fashion was appealing to me for a while, but I’ve (mostly) gotten over it.

What was your favorite fast fashion store?

H&M, haha.

I thought it would be H&M! They’re so great!

I actually like how they have a sustainable line now.

Hey, if the customers want sustainability, they’ll give ’em sustainability.

Exactly. Smart of them. Makes us feel better.

But now I share a small city apartment with my husband, and there’s not much room for new clothes.

I didn’t ask earlier: how much are you paying in rent? I know San Francisco has some of the highest rents in the country, after all.

We’re about $2,100/month, BUT we have rent control.

How does that work?

Our rent can only go up around 2 percent a year.

In other words it’ll keep up with inflation, sort of?

I guess… it’s determined by the city each year.

Do you plan to live there as long as possible?

YES. We’re probably a couple years away from having kids, so we can stick to our little spot. It’s the longest I’ve lived in one apartment.

Were you renting in San Francisco before that?

No, I just moved here 4 years ago. I had lived in NYC and DC prior to this, renting both times.

Ah yes, the grand tour of high-rent cities.

Clearly I’m used to throwing my money away! I’ve enjoyed all the places, though. I was never going to be the person who bought property in her 20s.

With that in mind: what do you feel like you do really well, financially? What do you wish you could do better?

I do well financially when I set short or mid-term goals. I feel like I’m balancing the expenses and student loans with still having fun.

For doing better: I just adjusted my payroll settings to take out more taxes. Then I just need to keep saving as much as I can, whether in my emergency fund or retirement fund, and pay down my loans.

It’s not too hard, and I’m fortunate having my salary the level it is, but there is temptation!

How many loans do you have left?


These are all student loans?

Yes, from grad school.

Okay, how much did you start with?

I started with $140,000. (I knew that was coming!)

That’s fantastic! Halfway there.

Yeah! I refinanced a couple times. My parents have also started helping me with the loans.

That’s great! My parents also wanted to help me with my debt, and I do appreciate that. (They gave me an interest-free loan, and it’s almost paid off!)

Yeah, I’ve read that on The Billfold, congrats!

So in addition to student loans and adjusting your paycheck for taxes, what are your other short-term financial goals? Like, 1–3 year goals? The loan probably won’t be paid off in three years, but it’ll be close, right?

Right, if I can keep up my current rate of paying it off, it could be just about three years. (I’m thinking of refinancing again this year if I can get a better rate.)

I’m about to realize a goal of going on a big two-week vacation.


My husband and I are going to Europe. We started planning this last year. So the extra money from my next few paychecks will help pay for that.

And I know it probably sounds frivolous to talk about another vacation, but my family just brought up doing a big trip next year together. I haven’t gone on vacation with them since I was 18, I think. But we should start saving for airfare and whatnot.

The NYT just said that multigenerational vacations are the new IN THING. So you are right on trend, not frivolous at all.

3-Generation Family Trips Gain New Appeal but Can Bare Old Tensions

Oh no way! Haha, I always wanted to be a NYTimes trend.

And I think it’s a realistic goal for us, because our other vacation-y things this year are camping around California.

Car camping? Or backpacking?

Car camping, haha. My husband could go backpacking-camping, I could not.

Neither could I. I mean, I probably could for a day or two but that hardly counts.


I’d be like “we’re going to be back at the car in 36 hours, right?”

I totally agree.

Two more questions. First, how did your childhood experiences shape your views about money? I know you mentioned earlier that you were a spender; has that always been the case?

I think so. I remember saving a bunch of my Sweet 16 money but spending that when I went to college. I think my parents avoided talking to me about finances because they were figuring things out themselves. They didn’t grow up in the US so credit and mortgages were totally new to them.

Even now it is a sensitive subject, and they don’t go into details beyond encouraging their kids to save and to make a good living.

My mom is the hardest worker I know, but she would also have no qualms about “treating herself” and as an adult I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what that means to me.

Like maybe that doesn’t have to involve spending $$ all the time.



We all have to figure that out, and I think a lot of people struggle with it. I always worry more about spending on myself than I do on spending on other people, or spending on my career.

Exactly. Even though my student loans are pretty major, they were an investment in my career.

Growing up my family spent more on “things” but now I spend more on “experiences,” and I can see my parents doing that too, which is nice.

Also on trend! I mean, it’s sort of a cultural shift, really, for many of us.

Yeah, exactly. I think at this point only a few of my friends admit to wanting more clothes.

I want more clothes. I’ll freely admit to that!

Actually, I do, too. Though I know I don’t need them.

For me it’s not for the sake of more clothes, but so I can continue to cycle out worn-out stuff for newer stuff.

Oh yeah that makes sense. I get really sad when a clothing item I like has to be replaced and I can’t find a similar thing.

Me too.

Maybe my next goal should be to stock up on multiples of items, save myself in the long run.

I just did that, when Old Navy had its “tanks starting at $3 and tees starting at $5” sale.

Buy ’em while you can! Do you have an Old Navy card? I have a Banana Republic card (I wear a lot of office-y stuff) and it’s awesome.

I don’t do store credit cards anymore because I’m trying to get out of credit card debt, but I used to.

Oh, fair.

Those things will get you with the interest!

Totally! Haha they know what they’re doing with their 40 percent deals.

We could chat about fashion forever, but I have to wrap this up, so one last question: what advice do you have for Billfold readers?

It’s along the lines of what you said earlier. Each person has to figure out how to be comfortable with their own finances, whether it’s learning more about investing or being emotionally comfortable with their behaviors/experiences.

That’s why I’m so glad The Billfold exists. It gives people the space to figure all that out.

Me too.

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