How a Project Manager in Huntsville Does Money

Photo credit: Ralph Daily, CC BY 2.0.

Beth (not her real name) is a 28-year-old working as a project manager in Huntsville, Alabama.

So, Beth, how much are you making?

Currently, my salary is $43,000 a year, but with a small commission and side hustles, my actual take-home is about $49,000.

Nice! What kind of side hustles are you doing?

I teach dance classes to children (jazz & tap this year) and I also teach yoga. I have two roommates (I’m the homeowner) who chip in, if that can be considered a side hustle, and I’ll do random side jobs like cleaning or babysitting if someone asks me to.

I like the idea that roommates count as a side hustle. How many hours do these hustles usually take every week?

About 3.5/4 hours a week. I have a consistent teaching gig for 3 hours a week, and then I might teach private yoga lessons or sub for another teacher throughout the week.

Got it. That’s not that bad, to bring in an extra few thousand bucks.

This is the first year where I’ve finally been able to get out of living paycheck-to-paycheck. I try to save ~35 percent of my income and the rest is for living expenses and fun. I’m on track to end the year with 37 percent of my income saved.

Pretax?

No, net.

Still very impressive. 😀

I’m trying!

How was your savings situation previously? Were you saving at all?

I was saving before, but it was tough. I worked mostly retail and food jobs, because I was not having success finding a different job since I graduated college in 2010. I didn’t have a ton of money left over every paycheck, but I started off budgeting $100/month to savings (which, at the time, was 10 percent of my take-home pay every month). I grew it as my income grew.

When I started working for the family business in 2012, I started making more money and so my savings rate grew. Our company was acquired last year, and with that I started making a better salary and set a goal to have 35 percent of my net income go to savings. I really needed to catch up on my retirement savings—but also is anyone going to have enough money to retire? Sometimes it feels futile.

Ugh retirement. How are we even.

I have no idea! I’m trying to just do the best that I can. I’m constantly balancing “the world is doomed so you better have fun now” with “responsibility & conventional wisdom.”

You sound like you’ve been pretty responsible with your money from the beginning, really. Saving 10 percent of your income, etc. Have you always been financially prudent, or is that a skill you developed in adulthood?

I think that I have always been interested in being independent and taking care of myself, and part of that for me was being financially independent. I grew up in a household where money was talked about freely because my parents were self-employed for the majority of my childhood. I heard a lot about how they had to manage a variable income, and planning for a rainy day, etc. and it seemed to stick. My dad was/is a spender and my mom was/is a saver, so I got to see both perspectives and see how they tried to achieve harmony and balance.

I definitely have fine-tuned my financial approach as an adult, though. I love a good spreadsheet.

ME TOO. Did you create your own budgeting spreadsheet?

Yes! I tried some of the others on the internet as well as some that are included with Google Sheets, but I like the one I’ve created the best. 😀

You can fine-tune it to collect and reflect only the data you want!

Exactly!

Is there something particular you like to track that the other spreadsheets don’t include?

Well, I have a monthly spreadsheet where I track my everyday spending, but then I have a yearly spreadsheet where I can track all of my spending and saving to date, as well as columns for my annual expenses like car tag renewal and what month they fall into. I was tired of having my budget bust every April because I forgot I would need $100 to renew my car tag, you know? So I sat down with my calendar from the year before and wrote down every uncommon but recurring expense and the month they fall in. Then I added up the total and divided by 12 and I save that amount every month so that I don’t wreck my budget when I forget about an expense.

I love it. I need to start doing this in 2018.

It changed EVERYTHING for me.

So we’ve discussed a lot of the things you do really well financially (saving, increasing your income, budgeting). What do you wish you did better?

Investing! I know that I shouldn’t let my money just sit in a savings account, and I actually have a small investment account that I like and contribute to regularly. But the majority of my savings is in a regular savings account that’s not even keeping up with inflation. I’m just afraid to pull the trigger and put more cash into investments right now.

That’s exactly where I am. I feel like I don’t have enough liquid cash yet to start investing beyond my Roth IRA. But I also know that cash isn’t growing when it just sits in my savings account.

Right?! I feel like there is an atmosphere of increased uncertainty right now and that’s giving me an excuse to keep my savings liquid, because I don’t know when I’ll need it and I feel like I don’t have enough in reserve to let it ride out a moderate to major market upset.

On the plus side, if there is a market upset, we can buy low?

Very true! I’m a lazy investor at this point and don’t follow stocks very well, though. I’ve been using an index fund approach and so far, it’s worked for me.

It seems to be the method that works best for a lot of people. 

I haven’t asked yet: do you have any debt? You didn’t mention any.

The only debt I have currently is my mortgage. I was very fortunate and was able to pay for 3/4 of my college education through scholarships. The remaining 1/4 I was able to pay for with help from my parents. I went to a state school and lived at home while in college, so that helped keep my costs low too. I was able to avoid credit card debt altogether because my mom really emphasized treating a credit card like a debit card (i.e. don’t spend the money on your credit card unless you have the money in your bank account).

I’ve considered paying down my mortgage early, but it’s quite low right now and I have two roommates who almost completely cover it at this point in time with their rent.

The Value of Debt in Building Wealth! 😉

How did you save up for the down payment? Did that come from the savings you set aside around 2012?

Yes. I had some money set aside for travel, and I had decided to move in with a friend so that we could both save money. When we started looking at rental rates in our area, we jokingly talked about how a mortgage would be cheaper. The joke turned into reality when I realized we could live in a 2,100 sq ft house for less than we would pay for a 1,200 sq ft apartment. I looked around and found a foreclosure that didn’t need very much work to make it livable and I decided to go ahead and buy it—because even if I needed to move out quickly for some reason (like a job), I could rent it for almost double what my mortgage would be.

The total price of the home was low, and I was able to put down a 5 percent downpayment from my savings. That does mean I have to pay a PMI, but I should be able to have that fall off in early 2019.

Oh wow, that’s great! And you’re fixing it up yourself too?

I did hire a contractor to fix some of the plumbing and install ceiling fans (because Alabama summers require moving air), but I did all the painting and whatnot myself. It was mostly move-in ready, though.

That’s amazing. I am so impressed.

I don’t want to take up too much of your time, so here’s the last question I always ask: what advice do you have for Billfold readers?

I think that it’s important to start saving, even if it’s just your change from a transaction. When I talk to my friends about money and savings, I get the feeling that they feel like they can’t save until they have something substantial to save. If you have to start saving with some pennies and quarters, do it. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever regret getting in the habit of saving.

Even if you don’t use the money you’ve saved for what you originally intended, it’s not going to be a burden to have money set aside. Start small, do it regularly, and increase the amount when you are able to. Once you get in the habit, it’s easy to gain momentum and save more when the opportunity presents itself.


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