Readers: Welcome to the first installment of my new series featuring Len Penzo dot Com readers who make ends meet on roughly $40,000 per year — or less. Originally, I was hoping to run one or two articles per month, but the initial response has been absolutely phenomenal so I’ll be featuring a new story every Wednesday. At least I will as long as there are enough household CEOs out there who are willing to share their secrets for living on a tight budget! — Len
Hi! My name is Jen. I’m 35, and a single mom of two beautiful and very smart boys, ages 8 and 10.
I live in Staunton, Virginia. (Warning: If you pronounce it with the “u” then we know you’re not from around here.)
I work as a security guard/receptionist for a distribution center and make $19 an hour.
I’ve never been a big spender and usually just prefer to stay home with a good sci-fi book. However a few times a year I really enjoy going to concerts. In the last two years I’ve seen Linkin Park (my favorite band), Staind, The Lumineers, Dave Matthews Band, Flyleaf, Taylor Swift, Three Days Grace, Eve 6 and many others. Another hobby I spend money on every now and then is a subscription to Ancestry.com.
I divorced my husband three years ago after ten years of marriage. I walked away from the marriage with virtually no assets, barely any cash, no vehicle and no furniture. Most of our marital assets were his family’s hand-me-downs. We share equal custody of our sons. He covers them on his insurance, we split the costs of their medical bills, school fees including lunch money, and anything else we agree on like summer camp, piano lessons or recreational baseball fees. He also pays me an additional $250 a month in child support.
After we separated, I had to buy a vehicle; I bought a 2007 Chevy Uplander for $9,000 and paid it off in 40 months. I also had to buy furniture that I was able to pay off quickly.
I bought a terrific little 2-bedroom home last year for $99,500 with no money down. The seller paid the closing costs and my fixed APR is 3.875% for 30 years. The boys share a bedroom now, but the extra TV room in the basement could easily be made into an extra bedroom.
I did buy more furniture after getting the house. I still owe $2500, but aside from the house that is my only other debt.
Trust me, I’m not perfect. I know I could’ve gotten used furniture much cheaper elsewhere and saved the difference. I know my savings needs serious work.
Now that I’ve gotten more established and all set up, my savings is my current primary focus. Once my furniture is paid off, I will transfer the same dollar amount into savings to be designated for a future replacement vehicle that I hope I won’t need for a very long time.
I used to coupon (in the crazy fad way) but found that I was actually spending MORE per month in my groceries category than when I wasn’t clipping coupons. Besides, how much shampoo and pasta does a girl really need? I ended up giving most of the items away to relatives, friends and a family I didn’t know whose house burned down — so I guess I don’t regret doing it.
Here’s my budget breakdown for the average month:
My Monthly Pre-Tax Deductions
Health Savings Account: $204
Medical & Dental Insurance: $52 (Medical deductible: $1500, then 80% covered; $4000 maximum out of pocket.)
Fed & State Taxes: $350
My Monthly Take Home Pay
After deductions, my take home pay averages about $2400 per month. That includes child support and extra hours at work I can usually pick up here and there.
My Monthly Expenses
Mortgage payment: $600 (Includes property taxes and home insurance.)
Natural gas: $42
Cell phone: $70
Internet, Netflix & Amazon Prime: $90 (I’m a cord cutter.)
Furniture loan payment: $200 (0% interest as long as I pay it off within two years.)
Lawn care: $140 (I have severe asthma and allergies so it’s unwise to do this myself.)
Dining out: $130 (Again, I know I’m not perfect.)
Car payment: $0
Car insurance: $52
Car repairs, maintenance, taxes, etc.: $60
School Expenses/Lessons/Sports: $65
Life insurance: $13 ($50,000 term policy. My beneficiaries will also get one year’s salary from my employer if I die while employed there; that’s free.)
Clothing, hair cuts, and miscellaneous expenses: $30 (I’m very low maintenance. My work shirts are provided by my employer, and I wear them with jeans.)
My Current Savings
I recently had to dip into it for a car repair, so I currently have just $500 in my savings account.
Closing Tips and Thoughts
Stay focused on your short-term and long-term goals and TRACK YOUR SPENDING! You don’t realize how much you spend in certain categories until you truly see it for yourself. Like Len, I track my spending with an Excel spreadsheet. Each year gets a new tab and each column is for each month. I’ve always been very good with numbers and I’m one of those weird people that actually enjoys updating it and balancing it with my checkbook.
After paying all of my monthly expenses, I typically have about $400 left over for unexpected things, entertainment and savings.
Tax refunds, which I have a love/hate relationship with, also get dumped into savings.
And I take advantage of the two months a year that I receive an extra paycheck to pay for my sons’ birthday gifts, Christmas, and a vacation — if I take one.
If you’re a household CEO who is successfully making ends meet on roughly $40,000 per year or less, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at Len@LenPenzo.com and be sure to put “$40,000” in the subject line. If I publish your story, you’ll get a $25 gift card!
Photo Credit: Carrie Vincent