How a Public Sector Operations Manager in NYC Does Money

Photo credit: Jason Eppink, CC BY 2.0.

Gerald (not his real name) is a 31-year-old public sector operations manager in NYC.

So, Gerald, how much are you making?

I’m currently at $90K.

How does that compare to your expenses?

I am an avid user of Mint and have been for many years. I usually run a surplus each month of between $800 and $1K, but that’s partially because my rent is split with my girlfriend.

How much are you paying in rent, and what’s it getting you?

$1,700 for a one-bedroom in Queens. Been there for over 6 years. Rent started at $1,500 and it only went up when my girlfriend moved in last June. We each pay $850 now.

Wow, I’m impressed!

I am very lucky. I live in a great part of Queens, right by the city and have easy parking on my block.

Do you have a car?

Yes, bought a new car last year and have already paid it off in full.

Excellent!

So how are you running a surplus every month? Do you not have any debt? Do you avoid consumer spending?

First off, I was very lucky to have my parents pay for both undergrad and graduate school. I am an only child and my parents told me they would pay for one private tuition. When I decided to go to grad school for public administration, I made the decision to head to a state school to avoid debt. Figured I wasn’t striking it rich in public service, so there was no reason to go into lots of debt!

I have always been the type of person to watch every dollar spent. Sometimes it can lead to my not spending on stuff I should (i.e. new shoes or a concert I really should have attended) but it has paid off over the years.

For sure.

Everything is broken down into budget areas and I assume a monthly income of $4,508 and expenses of $3,375. I pay the full rent and my girlfriend pays me $850 plus $200 since we are domestic partners and I have to pay taxes on the health benefits at the end of the year. But you cannot beat city health insurance. Hardly ever comes out of pocket.

My main expense, besides rent, is usually food (I budget $800 a month).

Ha, I bet a lot of Billfolders will be jealous of your insurance. But I have to ask, since we’re doing our Food Series right now… you’re spending as much in food as you are in rent? Is that for just you, or for you and your girlfriend together?

I knew that would come up. Food encompasses groceries, eating out and drinking. Honestly, most months I am in a surplus there and since my girlfriend does more of the grocery shopping and cooking, the deal is I take her out at the end of the month for a nice meal if I am in a surplus. I don’t know what she pays per month for food, but I believe it is less than my budgeted number.

Do you split grocery costs for the meals you share/eat at home? How does that work?

She usually pays for that stuff. I pay for Blue Apron on weeks we do that.

Got it. So about that surplus, then. Aside from taking your girlfriend out to dinner, what else do you do with your surplus? Savings? Retirement? Investing? Travel?

I max out my TDA [tax-deferred annuity] at work, giving 22 percent from each paycheck (approximately $700) each pay period to get to $18,500 a year.

I also have my own personal stock portfolio and will occasionally dip into savings to buy new stocks. It’s a mix of individual stocks, low-cost stock, roll-over 401(k), etc. and it’s valued around $120K at the moment.

The rest of the surplus is usually put away but I also have a few things, like theater, where I do not keep a budget and go monthly to shows. The entertainment category per month is not a set number. Some months it’s minimal and others it can be substantial.

Additionally, I pay into a pension fund directly from my paycheck. At this point, between the 22 percent to my tax-deferred annuity, the 6.5 percent to my pension, and taxes, more of my paycheck goes towards deductions than take home pay — which is great in the long run but looks off when I see my pay stub.

So what do you think you do really well financially and what do you wish you could do better?

I’m very good at looking towards the future. Putting off an unneeded expense now and watching the money grow. However, that can also by my issue because I may fixate on money too much and should live more in the moment. Every purchase is quickly calculated in my head, even though I can afford to not think about spending to that degree of granularity.

I don’t necessarily see “thinking of how each purchase affects your larger financial picture and goals” as a flaw, although I totally get why you might feel like you’re obsessing or being too rigid about money (because that’s how I feel sometimes, too).

Exactly. I see coworkers who spend every dollar each month on needed expenses and I treat my spending in the same way, even though it’s not required.

Sometimes I’m not sure whether I actually feel obsessive or whether I worry that that other people will find me obsessive!

Oh, people close to me definitely find it obsessive with me! You do you.

That is kind of The Billfold’s motto. We’re all doing what we hope is best for ourselves.

Since you are tracking your finances so assiduously, do you have any long-term goals for your money?

I am well aware that I have been given a head start without the debt. Luckily, I had parents who sat me down and taught me about finances from an early age. It has allowed me to navigate the world with my eyes open and without worrying if someone is raking advantage of me.

I honestly do not think about major expenses. It’s nice to know I can buy the new tv or couch without worrying about having to save for it, but real estate is so expensive in NYC that buying still seems far off. I figure I can continue with the cheap rent and pump money into investments. My TDA is guaranteed at 8.25 percent, so that will be a nice sum of money if I were to stay with the city and retire in 30+ years.

If I’ve done the math correctly, continuing to give $18,500 a year to my TDA will net me between $2.5 and $3 million, so that would be the money I would have made in NYC real estate! I didn’t believe it till I sat down with some coworkers and worked the numbers out myself.

Of course, who knows what rents will be like in 30+ years, LOL.

Absolutely, but it seems like the prudent thing to do for the moment. If my rent suddenly went up or we had to move, I would re-think my allocations.

I believe it.

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

I think this is more advice for myself, but: give more. Whether that is your time, which is very valuable, or your money. Living in such a capitalist society, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working towards your own personal finance goals but not seeing the bigger picture. Supporting your local charities, arts organizations and public institutions is vitally important. The future I see myself in includes all of these things, but that won’t happen if we don’t give now. Especially with the current political climate in this country.


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