How a Librarian and Dorm Parent in San Antonio Does Money

Photo credit: Nan Palmero, CC BY 2.0.

Laurel (not her real name) is a 33-year-old librarian/dorm parent in San Antonio.

So, Laurel, how much are you making?

At the moment, I make $48,000 a year as a librarian, and $4,000 a year + free housing for being a dorm parent at a partial boarding school. I say “at the moment” because we are leaving this miraculous financial gift in three weeks to move, and I have nothing lined up, so it’s a little terrifying. Having bills plus no income will be much less fun than the other way around!

I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions about your move in a minute, but first: librarian and dorm parent are two separate jobs? How do those hours work?

Hah! I am not sure they do work. As a dorm parent we are required to work 5-11 p.m. one night per week and 5 p.m. Friday through 5 p.m. Sunday one weekend a month. There are about 60 kids and 4-5 adults at any given point in time, and the job varies from just being a warm body on campus to actually entertaining/supervising/driving them around.

Public librarians often have weird schedules, since the library is open a lot of hours. Technically I should be working two nights per week and every other Saturday and Sunday, but because of dorm duty and the fact I work with people who don’t mind working weekends, I work 9-6 Monday/Wednesday/Friday11-5:30 on Tuesday, and 11-8 on Thursday, coming in to cover weekend coverage or programs when needed. 

Got it. So you aren’t responsible for dorm parenting every evening, and at present you’re getting most weekends off.

Yes, but realistically I would say I end up working some three out of four weekends a month.

I’d make a joke about how it might be a relief to have zero jobs in the near future, but… tell me how you’re feeling about that.

I am feeling mixed. I didn’t work the first two years we were in Texas because I had a young child and I didn’t have to. It wasn’t intentional, I was just burned out and we were earning enough/not spending enough that I could. And I went stir-crazy! So I am looking to work. I am struggling right now to figure out how to do what I love as a librarian while working hours that are conducive to actually seeing my husband (a teacher, with very predictable hours) and my son who is in preschool.

So I am not going to mind having a summer to figure it out. But I am not sure how we can swing it financially otherwise, without free housing. We can get a mortgage and buy something small on my husband’s salary alone, since we’ve saved a lot for a down payment,  but we’d be much better off with two salaries in the mix, especially before making a big life decision.

For sure. But let me back up, because my brain took a little too long to put this one together: you, your husband, and your preschooler are currently living in a dorm (for free, thanks to your work as a dorm parent)? How large are your accommodations?

Haha, we are living in a house now. The first two years we were in a two-bedroom, maybe 900 square foot apartment attached to a small dorm with between 5-10 teenage boys. We got paid a little more in that situation because we were literally next door.

Last summer one of the houses on campus opened up, so now our stipend is lower but we have slightly less overnight responsibility and a much larger space. Probably 1500 square feet.

The big plus was that we now can cook without the super-loud fire alarm going off every couple days, although teenage boys can apparently sleep through anything.

Hahahahah dorm fire alarms go off at the slightest provocation!

Okay, so it sounds like your free housing and your stipend have been a big factor in helping you save enough money for a down payment — but finances are going to be super-tight after you move. Where are you moving and why?

We are moving back east. I am from Maine, and despite wanting desperately to escape at 18, I have desperately wanted to get back especially since having a child. When we moved here, it was always a 3-5 year plan because I was concerned about the public education in Texas. This is the end of our third year, and we weren’t planning to move until a perfect opportunity came out of nowhere for my husband, and we couldn’t say no. Teaching what he wants to teach, in a good school system, back near family. As we keep saying, the timing was awful but the situation is perfect. And Maine has very low unemployment, so I will get a job, it’s just the what and when part that is undefined at present.

The money we are planning on using for a down payment when we move back is actually money from the sale of our last house. Most of the savings from this job have gone into Roth IRAs, or another house that we own.

Your story is unfolding like an onion! Multiple houses? How’d that happen?

There was a house that had been in our family for a while, on the beach in Maine. My grandparents bought it in the ’60s, and renovated and retired to it in the early ’90s. A few years ago my grandmother moved into assisted living, so she needed to sell the house to cover that expense — and I guess I was always the one who valued keeping it the most, so I had been always kind of planning to buy it if possible. But it is a weird house, so we couldn’t have just bought it and rented it out, the numbers wouldn’t have worked.

It turned out that my parents were looking to downsize and retire. So we jointly bought the house, and jointly own it, but they live there now. I own half a house I don’t live in and don’t make money on, but is very sentimental to me, and is an undeniable investment.

Absolutely.

The house kitty-corner to ours recently sold for $1.3 million, and they tore it down to build a brand-new house. Granted, they are the actual ocean view and ours is tiny, but we have deeded access to the same beach, so I’m feeling okay. Jointly buying the house was a really scary thing to do, but I am so glad we did it.

It sounds like you’ve made a good long-term investment in both your finances and your family.

So I’ve been asking you a lot of questions about your life and plans, but I haven’t really asked you how you DO MONEY.

Haha, YNAB.

Nice! How long have you been using YNAB?

I have been using it for about 2.5 years, which was great when we were evaluating how much money we could plan to spend to buy this investment, while still keeping it all within range.

I have lots of categories and odd savings goals. I keep thinking we are going to be hemorrhaging money when we move, but honestly we just won’t be saving as much. But because we’ve been doing so well at saving, it feels like it is a net loss rather than just neutral.

Where does your money go, in both spending categories and savings goals?

Food. Preschool. Maxing out two IRAs, paying a small mortgage for the investment house, saving for property taxes/home improvements. Those are the most important monthly expenses.

We don’t have any debt (other than the mortgage), which helps a lot. I had been expecting to pay student loans forever, but I inherited some money from a relative shortly after college and ever since then I have been trying to figure out how to do money right. I am not sure I am doing it right, but I feel confident on a day-to-day basis that things are going to be fine. Which is a nice place to be.

The income we make isn’t huge, though. That’s where it gets kind of scary. I try really hard to make all the things I want to spend money on come from our actual income rather than floating it from savings.

That seems like a wise decision. What are you worried about in terms of your future income not being enough?

I am terrified of spending money I don’t have. That extends to credit cards. I just don’t charge money I can’t immediately account for. So sometimes I get antsy about spending a lot on something even when I know I’ve saved the money for it. That is part of why budgeting is so important to me: I can earmark it for the things I value and want to do, and when the time comes to do it I am excited and ready.

Unfortunately, I also have a bad habit of moving money from one YNAB pocket to another to fix problems, which I think is how the app is supposed to work, but I am still annoyed whenever I do it.

At least with YNAB, it’ll tell you if you’ve run out of dollars!

That is very true. Part of the reason we were able to swing the investment in the house was that I spent a whole year pretending that we already owned it, and so in YNAB I set all the categories and expenses and made myself put money in those places to actually test it out. This not only showed me where our monthly income would go once we bought the house, but also gave me a one-year pre-paid basis to work from — which will be super great for the couple months this summer when we have no income.

I hadn’t planned for this move super well. I forgot that Texas schools stop in May and Maine schools start in September, so we have a super-fun summer of no income and insurance and crap like that.

But we will be okay. I fund our IRAs monthly but don’t do a deposit until Christmas, so until then the money just kind of hangs out. I can borrow that money from myself, and perhaps just be a little short on that savings goal this year. Or once I start working I can pay myself back. Like, it’s going to be okay. But it is a little terrifying in practice.

For sure. Two more questions, then. First, by Billfolder request: what’s the worst decision you’ve ever made financially?

The first house we bought was not a great choice. We thought we wanted to be there a while, but neither of us really liked our jobs so I am not sure why we thought that. But the house was nice, and we were young, and the actual price of the house was fine. Then the taxes were bonkers and kept going up, so we ended up losing money those years and borrowing from savings to cover the gaps — and that was before we had a child and all those expenses. So it was just dumb. That was over two years of slow money leakage.

We also had to furnish said house, and bought stuff that was probably too expensive for our dining room, which we will never have space for again.

Where’s that stuff now? In storage?

Some yes, some I loaned or maybe gave to my sister. I am not sure I wanted to give my sister thousands of dollars of furniture, but it seems that I did anyway. I don’t want to move it again.

Moving is THE WORST, and it’s compounded when you have to move stuff you regret buying in the first place. But we have to wrap this up, so last question: what advice do you have for Billfold readers?

My best advice is to value the things you spend money on. I am sure it is mostly dumb to have bought a house as an investment at 32 on a soon-to-be unemployed librarian’s salary, but I value the history and the location and that is never going to change, and I would regret losing it. That is worth far more than the small amount I put towards it every month.

I’m the same way about food. We like to cook, we like to go out to restaurants. I value that as a fun thing to do so I try not to get wrapped up in how large a number that is each month.

And if you do worry about the numbers, you can always check YNAB!

That’s true!


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