How a Sales Analyst Who Is Planning to Leave Milwaukee Does Money

Photo credit: Jeramey Jannene, CC BY 2.0.

Jenna (not her real name) is a sales analyst in Milwaukee.

So, Jenna, how much are you making?

$62,000 base and an annual bonus that averages around $5K. (Fingers crossed.)

I’ll cross my fingers too! When do you get that annual bonus? Fiscally, or calendar-based?

Fiscally, so I should be seeing it in March of this year.

Well, I hope you get it. 

How do your earnings compare to your expenses? Do you include the bonus in your budget?

I tend to spend about $2,100–$2,300 of my take-home, saving $800 per month. Ten percent of my salary is deducted out of my paycheck for my 401(k), so I take home about $3,050 after 401(k) and healthcare deductions.

So you’re saving around 26 percent of your take-home plus 10 percent of your pretax?

Yes. My bonus goes directly into my savings account. I tend to pretend it doesn’t exist.

That is a smart move.


So how can you afford to save 26 percent of your income? Did it happen by accident (like, one day you realized you had more income than expenses), or did you structure your life/expenses to maximize saving?

Definitely structured. I have gone through phases of spending and saving. A few years ago I actually managed to get in some credit card debt. But I have kept my expenses as low as possible. I only pay $500 a month in rent, and I spend about $600 a month on eating (which I think is actually high). I also have a car payment of $325. But those are my biggest expenses and they still leave a lot of room for saving.

Everyone thinks their food budget is too high (including me, LOL). That $600 goes towards both groceries and restaurant purchases, I’m assuming?

Yes! And it’s pretty evenly split. I also split groceries with my boyfriend, so we are shopping and cooking for two, which I think helps.

Oh, for sure. Did you have student loan debt in the past? Or were you able to avoid it?

I actually was able to avoid it, and that probably is your answer to how my expenses are so low. I got a full-tuition scholarship to a (very good) state university, and my parents were able to help out with monthly rent once I was out of the dorms. They were able to swing the dorm amount for freshman year, thankfully.

That’s great! Although I suspect that if you’re saving 26 percent of your take-home now, you might have still been able to save around 10 percent and make student loan payments. In other words, I think you’d still be a saver. Were you always a saver, even as a child?

Oh yes. And it’s directly because my parents were not — and they were always worried about money. So this has always been my extreme reaction to not ever wanting to live my life that way. I was able to save thousands of dollars in high school and college by working part-time jobs and squirreling money away.

So… how much do you have saved now? In both your savings and retirement accounts? Do you also have non-retirement investment accounts?

In my retirement account I have about $30,000, last I checked. At 26, I don’t know if I’ll reach the full salary amount you are supposed to have at 30, but I suspect I might make it. In liquid savings I have about $13,000. It should be more, but again, I had a little credit card debt due to overspending a few years ago in a lower-paying job.

It really is all about that salary.

For right now, I am keeping all of my savings liquid because I would like to buy property in the next two years.

Very nice!

I’m also a little scared of investing, but I plan to get over that once I buy property.

Property is, after all, an investment. 😉


Have you started thinking about neighborhoods, etc.?

Yes. Actually, we would like to move to another state. Which makes for an endlessly complicated situation, between two jobs, an apartment lease, etc.

Oh, for sure — and if you want to be buying in two years you probably need to be thinking about moving in the next year? To establish your jobs/life/apartment in the new city?

Yes, we are planning to move this summer. However, I recently had a setback at work that might make that harder. It’s all very stressful at the moment.

I’m sorry to hear about all of that, and I hope it gets less stressful soon!


We do have, like, 20 articles about moving for you to peruse for advice. 😉

I know! I was watching your move very carefully!

Hahahaha I am not the best example though, because my job came with me!

Let me ask you this, as a change of subject: if you could have done one thing differently, financially, what would it have been?

I had a nasty breakup with a live-in boyfriend a few years ago that put me in a bad financial place, but I wouldn’t take that back if I could. I guess I wish I would have gotten a roommate when I moved out of that apartment, instead of living on my own and taking on a higher rent. I was lonely and paying a lot in rent, so a roommate would have been ideal.

Breakups are expensive! It’s kind of surprising how much they can end up costing.

I owned NOTHING. The entire apartment was basically his furniture.

Oh wow.

It was horrible, but I had my eff off fund of about $10,000 at that time, and I used it to buy a new life, basically. I needed a couch, a bed, and that was about it. (And of course security deposits, etc.)

I’m glad you had the FOF. I had to put some stuff on credit cards during my last breakup. But that was also because I wasn’t earning a lot of money at the time (see above re: salaries being everything).

Yes! And the important thing is to not let that scare you into staying too long in a relationship that isn’t right. But I understand not everyone has the resources and that’s why funds for domestic violence survivors are so important.


Two more questions, then: first, I noticed that you’re earning slightly above the median for Milwaukee. Can you tell, in your day-to-day life, that you’re earning a bit more than the average?

I live downtown, so I see a lot of poverty interchanged with million-dollar condos. I guess “slightly more than average” would describe how I feel compared to the total situation. We have money to eat at nice restaurants and travel, but we don’t live in a luxury building, and my boyfriend drives a beater. I guess it’s what you choose to spend your money on, but I feel a bit above average in that we have those choices versus people who can only pay bills.

Very true.

Last question: what advice do you have for Billfold readers?

The Billfold is a very educated and smart commentariat (is that the word you use?), so I won’t presume to know something they don’t, but if I were to say something: understand where your money is going each month, and acknowledge your weaknesses.

And sweat the big things. We all make stupid spending decisions and can have the tendency to regret/ruminate on those decisions, but if you’re 90 percent on the right track, learn to let the little stuff go.

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