How an Administrative Assistant Who Doesn’t Want to Buy a Condo Does Money

Photo credit: N i c o l a (cropped), CC BY 2.0.

Marian (not her real name) is a 32-year-old administrative assistant in Seattle.

So, Marian, how much are you making?

I got a promotion and raise to $55,000 gross this summer.

My job title is actually Operations Manager at an independent (private) school. But day-to-day, still a lot of administrative tasks and projects.

Operations Manager does tend to be an admin job more than anything. What was your salary before the promotion?

It was about $47K โ€” I used to be paid hourly at $23.50, and worked shorter hours on school breaks and in the summer. I’m salary now, so that’s nice. I think my current hourly breaks down to $27.50 per hour.

That’s a pretty decent raise, then!

I know! ๐Ÿ™‚ No complaints here!

How does your income compare to your expenses โ€” and what are you doing with the extra money?

I haven’t made any major changes to expenses in the two months I’ve had the new salary. My husband and I did decide recently to prioritize paying off my student loans, so I paid a bunch extra on those this month.

In general, we live pretty comfortably on what we make. I think my husband makes between $70 and $80K per year โ€” I honestly don’t know the exact figure because we keep money pretty separate.

Do you keep expenses separate as well?

Mostly! He pays the rent and parking each month, I pay for the other car stuff, and most of our food, cell phone, etc. So we share those items and services, but have separate bank accounts.

Are you both paying about the same towards household expenses, or is it prorated by income?

I’ve never crunched the numbers, but I’d estimate it works out pretty close to proportional to our incomes. Rent and parking is just over $1,900 per month (gotta love Seattle), and I pay… less than that for the other stuff we share.

Where are you living for less than $1,900 a month?

Lower Queen Anne. I have a friend on upper Queen Anne paying less than $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment. It’s a miracle.

That IS a miracle.

Ours is a one-bedroom with a nice view in a quiet building with a good manager, and not-outrageous rent increases each year, so I can’t complain.

Are you planning on being renters forever? Or are you thinking about jumping into the Seattle real estate market?

Oh gosh. I don’t feel like we can afford to jump into the market! It seems silly to buy a one-bedroom condo, with all of the negatives of apartment living and none of the flexibility. And that’s all we could afford, if we stretched.

That’s a good point about a condo having the negatives of apartment living without the positives of apartment living. Do you have any other big financial goals, then? Are you saving up for anything?

We’re kind of in-between goals. I’d like to go on a nice trip in the not-too-distant future. We did a courthouse wedding in December 2016 and haven’t had a honeymoon yet. But leaving Seattle in the next 5โ€“10 years I think is on the table.

It makes sense. Seattle is getting more expensive every month. You said you were living “comfortably,” though. What does that mean to you?

We have everything we need, and lots of what we want. I feel really lucky and privileged to be able to say that. We can pay all our bills, we can enjoy living in a city (dinners, concerts, sporting events, etc.), and when someone gets appendicitis or needs a wisdom tooth extraction, or the cat just stops eating for like two days and we go to the emergency vet, the money isn’t the source of stress in those events.

How much of your income do you save every month, and how long have you been saving?

Well, $100 of every (monthly) paycheck goes straight to my credit union “liquid” savings account. I should probably increase that, it’s from when I first started at my job.

I also put a big chunk of whatever’s left in checking at the end of the month into the savings account, right after my paycheck lands in checking. That’s usually $200โ€“$300, depending on what I spent on miscellaneous fun stuff and/or unexpected expenses that month.

Does your husband also save proportionally from his income?

Honestly, I’m not sure. We have a shared savings account at Marcus (I think that’s Goldman Sachs for millennials โ€” they rebranded recently) that he puts money into pretty regularly, but I haven’t looked recently to see his contributions. I did check the balance and interest rate this afternoon, and it’s just over $17,000 and 1.85 percent APY. The “high” interest rate is why we have the account there.

“High” indeed.

I remember my high school savings account at a local bank had maybe a 3 percent interest rate in the early 2000s. I could be misremembering that, but interest rates aren’t what they used to be.

Are all of your savings in a savings account? (Not counting retirement savings, of course.)

No. We also have $38,000 in a brokerage account. My husband’s parents died a couple years ago, and that’s all from the inheritance/life insurance policies.

That account, I’m guessing, has increased more than 1.85 percent APY.

I think! We opened it two years ago with $34,000, so unless my math’s way off, that’s about 11 percent higher now.

I’m a feminist, but my husband definitely has a firmer grasp on brokerage accounts, retirement savings, etc., than I do. I should take a class and/or we should get a financial advisor. So “my husband handles that” feels kinda off-putting to say, but he does handle that brokerage account and know more about it than I do.

But you’ve already decided to keep many aspects of your finances separate, so it doesn’t feel too off-putting to me. Division of labor, etc.

For sure. And even though we’re married, it does feel more like “his” money because it’s from his parents’ life insurance and such. I like knowing it’s there as a cushion in case of an emergency or job loss, but I also don’t think about it a lot other than that. And in Seattle’s housing market, is it even enough for a down payment on property?

Heh, probably not. It does make sense that, since you are living comfortably on your income, you aren’t necessarily thinking too much about your husband’s. Have the two of you talked about what might happen if one of your financial situations changed?

Not really. We’d support each other, for sure, but haven’t gotten into the weeds of what exactly would change. I have a habit of avoiding anxiety-inducing thoughts, and it is anxiety-inducing to consider one of us becoming unable to work due to an injury or illness, or something like that.

For sure. What kind of emotions tend to come up instead, when you think about money? Or are you generally unemotional about it?

Until very recently, I worried a lot about small things with money. Actually, I still do that. Like, we go out for a nice dinner at a place that’s like $25โ€“$50 a for an entree. I still always look at the cheapest thing on the menu first and have to really talk myself into getting something more expensive, even if it’s what I’d prefer. Or I beat myself up for getting a latte a couple times a week. But like, I can afford that. Big-picture, I think I’m being pretty responsible with money, so is $10 a week on coffee going to break me? No!

You could have an extra $520 at the end of the year! Which could be earning 1.85 percent APY!

Haha! I don’t remember how to calculate the return on that. That’s both a lot and not a lot of money though!

Yeah, I agree โ€” it really is “a lot and not a lot.” Especially in the grand scheme of how much we spend over the course of our lives.

Do you have other money habits that you’re not happy with, either because you think they should change or because you think you should stop beating yourself up over them?

I feel behind on retirement savings. My current job has good 403(b) matching (4 percent contribution by me and a 7 percent contribution from my employer). But before that, I was a public school teacher in Illinois, which has its own pension system for teachers, which I paid into. I don’t even know what my payout on that would even be, if Illinois even still has money when I’m 65 or 70.

So I’m 32 and have just under $12,000 in my retirement account. That feels behind to me, for reasons I can’t quite articulate.

I’d agree with you, and I think a retirement calculator would too.

So I need to learn more about saving for retirement and how I can get myself to a place where I will be comfortable when I’m retired.

I’d bet the biggest advice you’ll get will be “save more,” unfortunately. There’s no shortcut, although you could get lucky with your investments.

Fair enough. But investing is also something I don’t know much about. I always think of a 30 Rock quote, Liz Lemon to Jack Donaghy: “Teach me how to do that thing rich people do: turn money into more money.”

Yeah, I feel you. It’s unfortunate that you often need a lot of money to make a lot of money through investing.

I was raised firmly middle class. My dad has retirement savings (right?! I’m pretty sure he does) and he taught me a bit about budgeting and balancing a checkbook (lol), but not much beyond that. Investing and even retirement saving are two things I feel ignorant about. I think I just found my next project/hobby! Figuring that stuff out.

I am sure that our team of Billfolders will have plenty of advice on how to get that hobby started!

Looking forward to hearing what they have to say! Especially ideas for online resources. Besides The Billfold, of course.

Me too. And with that in mind, last question: what advice do you have for Billfold readers?

I don’t feel like I’m in a place to give much advice, really! This conversation about money has made me feel like I’m still budgeting like a kid, and I’ve got some growing up to do (figuring out goals, saving for retirement). So maybe I should tell them don’t wait too long to work on that stuff, like I’ve done. I don’t think it’s “too late” for me, but what have I missed out on if I’d spent some time and effort working on my finances earlier.

It’s definitely not too late! Nor are you budgeting like a kid. You’re living within your income, saving for the future, not going into debt, and making smart choices about where to live, how to handle finances within your marriage, etc. You’re definitely budgeting like an adult.

Thanks for the pep talk! ๐Ÿ™‚ See? Beating myself up again!

No probs! You’re in a really good place financially, and keep in mind that even though you may be “behind” on retirement savings, a lot of people are โ€” and we still don’t really know what retirement will look like for our generation. It could be completely different from what we’re expecting.

Very true. We’re definitely not going to comfortably retire on one person’s public-educator pension, like my grandparents did.

Nope. But we have a few more decades to figure out how we’re going to do it. Until then, might as well save what you can and try to live, as you put it, with most of your needs met and some of your wants.

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