How a Fundraiser in Boston Does Money

Photo credit: Robbie Shade, CC BY 2.0.

Daniela (not her real name) is 31 years old and is working in fundraising and donor relations in Boston.

So, Daniela, how much are you making?

I make $73,100, but my husband contributes $1,225 (starting next month $1,350) to that total because I take care of all the bills, healthcare, groceries, etc.

Do you and your husband keep your finances separate, then? And he pays you for your household work?

We tried to do a shared checking account a long time ago but it ended up just being more work than it was worth, so we’ve handled it in a way where he pays me his share of rent and contributes towards the shared expenses of utilities, internet, insurance, phone, and the dog.

The increase for next month is because we’ve added the cost of car insurance and I asked if we could rebalance, since I’m actually handling the bill. So we keep separate accounts! It works really well for us and wasn’t a painless process to really figure out what was best for our styles (I budget down to the cent, he’s much more free-wheeling).

I also make a decent bit more than he does, so I don’t mind picking a larger chunk of the grocery and household costs.

Got it. Where does your money usually go, each month? How much goes towards household costs, how much toward savings, how much towards discretionary, etc.?

Our “standard” bills of insurance (car, pet, renter), phone plans, internet, utilities and rent hover in the $2,400 range, depending on the weather. Gotta love Boston winters and a house from the 1910s…!

I’m currently building up my cash savings and I’m putting aside $600, sometimes more into my emergency fund. My retirement plan and healthcare are all taken out of my paycheck so I don’t even consider that spendable money, but with my 6 percent contribution and an additional 4 percent match, my 403(b) is getting about $750/month.

Other expenses end up being groceries, coffee shops, subscription services at about $2,100/month. I’m sort of horrified that I have 11 online subscriptions. But I need them all, I swear! I also YNAB obsessively so those bigger annual ones like my credit card or Amazon aren’t surprises.

Wait wait wait what are you subscribed to?

Okay, here’s what I consider my “subscriptions/recurring” category:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve annual fee
  • Patreon (I support a few podcasts monthly)
  • Netflix
  • Hulu
  • Amazon Prime
  • Spotify
  • 1Password (LIFESAVER)
  • NYT online
  • YNAB
  • Calm mediation app
  • iCloud

Those are $124.58/month. Thank you YNAB for knowing that to the cent, ha!

Those aren’t an outrageous number of subscriptions! I’m sure I have just as many, especially if you count stuff like Amazon Prime.

Oh good! A lot of them are just a few bucks, like iCloud is literally $0.99/month and worth it.

Since you and your husband’s finances are separate, how do you handle things like emergency funds? Do you each have one? If your home had an emergency, who would pay for it?

I’m definitely the saver and the planner in the family. He has a small savings account, but if we were to have an emergency, I would probably cover it. I’ve been saving a lot more aggressively in the past six months and I think I could easily cut back on things (not groceries though, grocery shopping is my favorite thing on earth!) to ramp up even more.

Once I get my emergency fund to a place that I like ($12,000 would be a decent three-month supply and I’m only a couple of grand short), I’m going to readjust my retirement withholdings so I can get to a total 20 percent 403(b) contribution.

I just met with a Fidelity rep last week to discuss what my account balances look like and it was really helpful to understand the adjustments I need to make to be able to retire comfortably. It was great to see that I don’t have to make huge changes to have a big impact on my retirement.

When did you start saving for retirement? Do you get the benefit of all that compound interest from your 20s?

I actually haven’t been consciously been saving for that long, mostly because I didn’t understand retirement saving until like three years ago!

My first job out of college contributed to a 401(k) for me and I keep starting at the balance on my account summary, sad at the fact that $6,000ish isn’t actually mine because their vesting policy is five years and I only worked there for two. At my second job, I was immediately vested due to a matching policy at a previous job and contributed enough (I think 3 percent) to get the full match.

Vesting policies are THE WORST.

Ugh they are! But at the second job they let me be immediately vested because their policy allowed me to count work at another university toward their two-year requirement, so you win some, you lose some!

At my current job I’m doing a decent job saving, I think! I get 3 percent deducted automatically, I put in an additional 3 percent and get a 4 percent match up to $60,000, and anything above that is matched at 7 percent. It’s SO CONFUSING and the old policy from last year was so much easier to understand. But I did the math and in actual money this convoluted policy earns me an extra $270/year so I’ll take it!

It sounds like you’re financially savvy (not everyone would take the time to do that math, for starters). Where did you pick up your skills? How did you learn about retirement saving, for example?

I’m contractually obligated to say The Billfold, right? 😉

Honestly, a lot of it came from literally googling “what is a 401(k)” and staring at the university HR websites and asking the HR benefits people lots of questions. I’ve also spent some time on r/personalfinance but those folks are so hardcore and into FIRE that I get pretty overwhelmed.

Working at a university, there are a lot of cool resources that people don’t take advantage of. I try to go to any retirement planning seminars that HR or the business school offer, and I’ve just spent time talking about these things with my colleagues since they’re working within the same parameters. Turns out everyone is confused by retirement but when we’ve put our heads together, it’s been helpful!

I didn’t grow up in the U.S. so I didn’t even know what a retirement fund really was. I come from one of those happy countries that has a national pension, so I never really thought about retirement until I was about 25!

Ah, those happy countries. Which one?

Finland! When it comes to money stuff, there’s so much I have FOMO about not living in Finland. Turns out the tax-payer funded education and healthcare are pretty bomb. WHO KNEW!

EVERYBODY.

Literally everybody.

But I did get my master’s degree for pretty much free thanks to working at a university, so I’m not trying to knock everything.

Are there other money-related differences between Finland and the U.S.? I’m thinking about personal philosophy towards saving/spending/debt, that kind of thing.

I think the biggest difference is that the income gap is so much smaller between people. CEOs don’t make millions while the “people on the floor” make $20K/year.

I don’t know if I can think of any philosophical differences on an individual level, but on a societal level, people really do see the value of the higher taxes. There is huge acceptance and appreciation for the fact that even if your income tax is 60 percent (as my mom’s was at a point), it feels fair, because it’s contributing to the betterment of the society and you benefit from it too. I’d happily pay more taxes in the U.S. if I didn’t have to fork out money for healthcare and have to worry about coverages and out-of-network services!

ME TOO.

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

This might be a little bit controversial, but I think it’s HUGELY helpful, especially for women: talk about how much you make. With your girlfriends, with your colleagues, with the dude in the grocery store line.

I believe that knowledge is power. I work in an environment where people are super skittish about sharing their salaries because there seems to be a huge paygap, or that people with more prestigious (not necessarily higher!) titles make WAY more money than people who might have more responsibility. A lot of women around me have been shocked to learn that, and have been able to advocate for themselves better in pay negotiations. How are they supposed to ask for a raise when they don’t know what “the going rate” is?

After one of my colleagues learned what I make, she approached her boss. Then she told me she’d been able to use my salary as leverage to negotiate a better raise! I loved that she was able to use that knowledge to her advantage. Let’s level the playing field!


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