How a Communications Specialist in Arlington Does Money

Photo credit: m01229, CC BY 2.0.

Meg (not her real name) is a 25-year-old communications specialist in Arlington, Virginia.

So, Meg, how much are you making?

I’m making $63,000.

How long have you been making around that much?

Since January.

Nice! New job, or a raise?

A new job! I started looking last year and finally landed a great gig for me.


Thank you!

How has your life changed since you started this new job? Are you spending more on certain things?

That’s a good question. The answer is no. However. I am set to move on April 1, and there is the chance that I’ll be paying more in rent when that happens.

My life has changed in other ways for the better, just not in spending! I now have a better work-life balance.

Excellent! Work-life balance is so important.

It is.

So tell us about the move! How much will you be paying in rent?

I’ll be leaving one group house for another group house… and I haven’t found the second house yet! I’m currently group-house-hunting and LOOKING for my ideal rent, which is between $800 (what I’m paying now) and $1,000. $900 will be doable given the area where I want to live, and the fact that I’m willing to have multiple roommates.

Ah, the DC group house. I remember those. Have you had good experiences with yours?

I have. I really, really enjoyed the group house just prior to this one. It was my first group house experience and my roommates and I got along like gangbusters. I then decided that I might want to go to graduate school in the next few years… so I moved to Arlington, where I could get in-state VA tuition after a year. Washington, DC doesn’t have any tuition deals for graduate school as far as I could tell.

Part of me wonders if it’s because DC isn’t a state. NOT TO RUB IT IN.

Hahaha, it’s okay, we’re used to people making fun of us for not being a state. But the representation gap is real! Some 600,000 people don’t have Congressional representation.

Very true.

So where else does your money go besides rent? Bills, loans, savings… retirement?

Right now I’m setting aside 10 percent pretax to a 401(k) at work. I pay for health insurance ($220), transport (Metro, $100), and my HSA with pretax money as well. Then with post-tax money I pay for my phone ($15), gas for my car ($25), a New York Times subscription ($8), and of course groceries ($400–$450).

I try to follow the philosophy of paying other bills in full when I get them, like other news subscriptions, my car insurance, and essentials like contacts.

Do you budget at all? If you do, do you have irregular expenses like “buy contacts” scheduled in advance?

I break down irregular expenses so that they’re a separate budget item ($95). It’s actually to make it easier on myself so I don’t have to budget. Aside from the above items I try to… wait for it… never spend money.


And of course I DO spend extra money on travel and clothes. But I try not to make them a regular part of my life. I also try not to spend much on entertainment or eating out, which is pretty easy in a city like DC.

Because there’s a lot of free entertainment? Or….?

There is, actually! Lots of museums and museum events are free. And I enjoy activities that are very low cost anyway — hiking being at the top of the list.

I loved the DC trails when I lived there. And the zoo! Always free.

The zoo is great. And Rock Creek Park, the huge park in the middle of DC.


Let me ask you this: what do you think you do well financially, and what do you wish you could do better?

Hmmm. I think I do a good job of tracking my money and allocating it when I have it, like picking the lowest-cost index fund I can find. I wish I was better at stretch goals. I think that it would be to my benefit to keep moving up the ladder, so to speak, and to find opportunities to make more money in the future. I think that will be very important to my long-term financial health. Playing good defense AND good offense.

Yep. Earning more is just as important as saving more. Is your career one of those where you have to job hop to get significant raises?

I work at a nonprofit, and before this I worked at a news organization where I had essentially the same pay for three years, so I think the answer is yes at this point in my career. I also enjoy changing up my work life — but there’s no doubt that job searching can be hard.

Well, I hope you don’t have to do the job search thing for a while, now that you have your new job! But I will ask that nervewracking interview question: where do you see yourself in five years?

I hope not also! I really like my new job. To answer your question, in five years I see myself planning to start a family and still living in a city — whether this one or a different one. And having kept climbing my career ladder.

I hope you achieve all of that and anything else you might want to go after in the next few years!

Thank you!

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

My advice for Billfold readers is to keep tracking your money, and to not be afraid to spend more on high-quality groceries. Yes, this is really my advice. Free-range meats and fresh produce can be really beneficial to your health, so don’t be afraid to spend that money!

We all worry that we spend too much on food — so I love that advice!

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