Living on a Shoestring (Read: My Budget), But (Mostly) Feeling Abundant

Taken at Kit Carson Park in Albuquerque.  I loved the way the stormy sky combined with the leave-less cottonwood trees to create an otherworldly feeling.

I have been meaning to blog for the last few days; I’ve been feeling inspired to write.  But I’ve also been extremely motivated to work on a side project, doing legal transcription.  There is a time deadline to it, and it’s something that I find quite interesting, so most of my free time has gone to that in the last week and a half.  Listening to lawyers talk, well, it reminds me why I walked away from that career field, and I’m SO GLAD I did, even though it was a choice that has stuck around with me for my financial life ever since.  I used to beat myself up over that and the financial choices I made, but now I just try to move forward.

Little Baby O, or Osito as I call her.  She melts my heart with her sweet disposition every day, and just look at that cute little face! 🙂 

I promised you a post on my budget, and I think I’ve got my new payroll stuff calculated pretty well. I’ve received a few paychecks and have determined that I am losing about 18% of my pay to taxes.  (Pisses me off that I make so little and pay such a percentage while people like Trump make billions and then pay nothing, but that’s a topic I won’t go further on in this post because I’ll just end up jumping up and down on my soapbox.)

I have figured out what my fixed expenses are every month, so I’ll write those down first.  Some things, like my renter’s and car insurance, I pay on a semi-annual and annual basis, so the amounts you see below are what I need to save every month (and have taken out of my paycheck via direct deposit) to have that payment ready.

  • Auto loan: $141.42 (let’s call it $142)
  • Rent (includes utilities): $525
  • Tower Garden (only until April 2017, unless paid off earlier): $81.54 (or $82)
  • Cell phone (unlimited data): $95.45 (or $96)
  • Car Insurance: $58.33 (let’s call it $60)
  • Amazon Prime: $8.25
  • Renter’s Insurance: $17.33 (let’s call it $18)
  • Citibank Credit Card: $58 (minimum payment)
  • CapitalOne Credit Card: $59 (minimum payment)
  • Private LAL loan: $167.11 (let’s talk about that a little more below)

The total of all of these comes out to, with some of the figures rounded as noted above: $1215.36.

Some of these amounts might seem scarily high for someone in my income bracket, but here are a few details.  The LAL loan has been paid way in advance, and I’m talking years ahead of schedule from when I was making a lot more $ in Boston and paid off several thousand of it before I decided I was going to make a crazy life change and move to the southwest.  So there is flexibility with that loan.  I could literally call up every month for the next four to five years and tell them to not make the automatic withdrawal payment, and I would not be in default.  However, interest would accrue and accrue and accrue, so I am not doing that.  I am, however, not paying the full $167.11.  Instead, every two weeks, when I get paid, I pay $20 on the loan.  It’s enough to cover the interest and make a small payment of about $15 in principal every month.  The total amount on that loan is still over $10K so it’s further down my debt snowball than the credit cards.

When I take out the $167.11 number and add in $40, that makes my fixed expenses a little less scary.  The number is $1088.25.  Now I can eat, and so can my pets! (Of course, if you have read my blog for a while, you already know I will go hungry first before they will.) 

You might also think my cell phone bill is high.  It is, but I have unlimited data through T-mobile and the way I access the internet at home is by using my phone as a mobile hot spot.  I don’t have a wifi provider, router, etc.

So what’s my income?  Well, I usually get about 37-38 hours per week, so I will budget myself based on what I would make per paycheck if I only worked 37 hours.  I will have $45.01 taken out, pre-tax , of every paycheck for my health, dental, and vision insurance through work.  Yes, I realize that seems incredibly low for all of them, but it’s a high deductible plan.  The deductible is $4500.  The choices at work were not great – even the lowest deductible plan of $1850 was going to cost me $152 per paycheck, and I definitely couldn’t afford that.  I usually only go to the doctor anyway for preventive care and for routine things like eye exams, dental cleanings, and to get my prescriptions rewritten.

Oh yeah, my income.  If I average myself out to 37 hours per week, I have a salary of $23,088 before taxes. We get paid every two weeks, so I budget based on two paychecks per month.  (Yes, there are two months of each year where I then get an extra paycheck.  It will go straight to debt and/or savings when I get to that point.)  I have decided to put 3% of each paycheck into the 401(k) they have at work which is through Prudential.  That comes out to about $53.20/month going into the 401(k).  After subtracting my before-tax benefits, I am at about $1632.70.  Then I pay taxes of 18% or  $293.87.  Also, I am paying $2.80 per each paycheck for long term disability.  I have calculated my take home pay to be roughly  $1,338.87. 

I elected to not get coverage for short term disability because it was going to cost me at least $15/paycheck. I definitely had to make some tough choices when it came time to enroll in benefits, which I am happy to say I am now ELIGIBLE for!

I plan on continuing to work out, and will be starting to run again.  I’ve been getting the bug to do so, outside.  Morgan and I walk on what they call the Bosque Trail and yesterday I saw lots of runners out there, and I really wanted to join them.  So, I’m going to.  Why just wish or dream when you can DO? [update since I started writing this post, I did it yesterday!! It felt freaking awesome even though I’m slow as molasses fighting gravity to go uphill.]

So, let’s do the math.  $1,338.87 minus $1,088.25 leaves me with $250.62 to feed myself, my pets, and put gas in my car.   Luckily, gas here is cheap, and there is a lot to do for free. It’s part of why I moved to a city again, to take advantage of what it has to offer.  Also, I tend to eat pretty cheaply and hardly ever eat out.  And my pets, I know where to get the best deals for their food and litter, toys, etc.   I’ve been budgeting about $55 per month for gas, and so far I’m doing it.

Those of you who know about Dave Ramsey know that he preaches that we shouldn’t save for retirement until we are out of Baby Step 2 (paying off debt.) Well, here’s the thing.  I’m 44.  I can’t wait until I get it all paid off.  I need to be saving NOW.   If there is one thing I know, it’s that when you save for retirement, having more time can make a huge difference. I hear the stories about how little many people have saved by my age, and I’m glad to say I’m ahead of the game at least in that respect.   But I can’t just forget about it, and rely only what I saved when I had a higher income.  I don’t have kids, so there is no one to look to, to take care of me when I get older.  I need to worry about me.

Looking at these numbers, one might feel a bit constrained, and you might wonder just how I can feel abundant in the face of it.   The way I’m feeling abundant about things is by reminding myself that I am following my heart and refusing to live by what others think I should do.  One of my current coworkers thinks I’m insane to have left a good paying job at Harvard, and a small bit of me occasionally agrees with her.

But, then I think of how I’ve grown over these past 17 months or so.  I’ve faced my fears in a way that a lot of people wouldn’t.  I drove cross country all by myself with just my car, and my pets.  I found an RV for us to live in and a place to put it.  When that town didn’t work out, I found another place for us and was able to sell the RV for almost the same amount as my loan on it.  When I knew that Lake Powell wasn’t for me, long term, I moved myself to Albuquerque, and then faced the scariest thing I’ve ever done. (Well, besides leaving my marriage.)  I moved without already having a certain job waiting in the wings.  Those of you who know my fear (actually, more like a phobia) of being homeless,  know how much anxiety and stress that caused me.  A LOT.

I’ve realized what are the actual necessities that I have in my life and for the most part, what are wants.  I need a car to get me back and forth to work.  I need a roof over my head and that of my animals.  Nothing makes me feel more accomplished than being able to provide that for them.  Seeing all of them dozing, knowing even in their subconscious, that they are safe and warm, is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.  Yes, the place where we are now is temporary, but I’m working on figuring out what neighborhood(s) would be better suited for us and in which my budget will work.  (And I think I might have found one!)  And having the transcription work, even if this is the one and only time I get it, will allow me to chunk away at those credit cards.  I need to take everything from that project and put it on the credit cards because eventually my federal loans will have to be repaid again (I’m on deferment because of my in-school status.)

I just finished reading a book titled Money, a Memoir, by Liz Perle.  In it, she talks about the emotions that women attach to money, how what we’ve seen as money habits of our parents as children affects us in how we deal with money in our own lives, how women can fight an inner battle between wanting to be independent and wanting to be taken care of, at the same time.  It made me think of the time when I was married.  My ex-husband made good money and my salary (looking back) was actually pretty decent.  I was able to save 14% of my salary into a 403(b) at one point. Life was definitely more comfortable, financially speaking, but I didn’t feel like I was truly alive. Today, I do.  It’s not always comfortable, and not always a happy feeling, but I feel like I am being more true to myself, and that is something that money can’t buy.

And with that, I’ll end this post which I’ve wanted to publish for several days now!  How do you feel about your budget?  Do you feel like you’re living a life of scarcity, or a life of abundance, or do you feel like you are somewhere in between? 

Thank you, as always, for reading.









16 thoughts on “Living on a Shoestring (Read: My Budget), But (Mostly) Feeling Abundant

  • I love reading your stories. It’s like I’m there listening to you talk in person. I’m going to retire in a little over 3 months and will be 55 by then. I’ve wanted to get out further from home for a long time and with the confidence you and writers like you give me. I agree with your thoughts on saving in a 401 early. Makes no sense to delay that since it will hopefully grow over time. I used to be in his fb group but got in so many argument over theory I left. I still need to get a camper to drag around but this time next yr I certainly plan to be in a warmer climate. Stay safe and enjoy the ride. Peace, Greg

    • Greg, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. And the compliment of calling me a writer – well, let’s just say I am very flattered in hearing that. Your feeling like you’re sitting there talking to me is exactly what I am aiming for in my posts. I like to just be “me.” 🙂

      I could see arguments arising from Dave’s facebook group. Some people are such staunch supporters of his that they can’t see deviate from any of his steps. But I think it’s important to retain your own independent thinking and do what feels best for you. Only you can know what is best.

      Wow, you’re going to do the RV thing? That’s awesome! There are so many places to learn about them online, and youtube channels to watch and learn from. Have you seen, or Bob’s youtube channel? He has a lot of great interviews on there.

  • Hi there Terri!

    Great to have an update from you, some amazing pictures. You have grown so much and really been able to take a look at your life and change it a few times now. Oh that all might dollar and those strings attached to it. People just think about the salary and not all the demands and pressures that come along with it and if you are really not happy I just don’t think it’s worth it. I’m a consultant for a software company, make good money and am saving so hopefully soon I can walk away. The late nights not sleeping and stress is just taking too much from me.

    Thanks for sharing your budget and plans, it sounds good to me. I am also in my mid forties and started saving for retirement while paying off my debt. It might of taken me a while longer to pay things off but I’m glad that I did start. It is very important to pay yourself FIRST. I don’t have any kids either so it’s just me.

    I get out to Albuquerque every so often for work, I’ll send you a message next time in town maybe we can have coffee 🙂

    Wishing you all the best in 2017 with this new chapter of your life!


    • Hi there Tina! Good to hear from you again! I’m sorry you are so stressed at your job. I really do remember what that was like. The good thing is, you know it’s not for you and you are taking steps to make changes to your life. You will get there, I know you will. If I can do this, anyone can! Knowing I was saving and getting ready to make a big change was sometimes all that kept me going on the really rough days of my old life. I’m here for you.

      Oh my God, yes, if you come to ABQ, I would LOVE to meet in person!!

    • I can’t imagine living on even less, Dawn! Wow! And thanks for saying that about my plan. Definitely trying to stick with it as beset as I can. It is hard to live on so little but I keep reminding myself that I made these choices, and it’s up to me to take care of myself, and to focus on the little things that make me happy. Like walks with Morgan in the woods. I know you know exactly how that is, with Katie. 🙂

  • For what it’s worth – I am someone who was working in a (well-paying) job I hated and left to follow (one of) my dreams. Which naturally was a lower paying job with no benefits. Then the reality of my soul-crushing student loans and over-whelming debt (along with dealing with other things in my life) caused me to wonder about that choice. So when my old job asked if I would come back, I returned to the very same well-paying job I hated. Fast-forward 4 years and I am still at that job I hate and am still trying to dig myself out from under my student loan debt. I regret every day that I didn’t “follow my dream” and stay at the other job even though it paid less with no benefits. And right now I find myself trying (in vain) to find another job. Result: Sure, not being so far in debt is nice, but I would have been much happier working at a job I cared about. Good for you for following your dream!

    • VickieTori, thank you so much for writing to me. I have wondered how it would be sometimes if I just went back to an academic library, because the pay is better. Someone even came into my job last night and said that the state courts were hiring, and I admit for a second, I thought what if?

      I guess I’ve just come to the realization that even after 25 more years of income based repayment, they will get less money from me in the long run. And knowing that was a huge weight off my shoulders. I know that by this plan, I will never make that big salary again. And they will never get the ridiculous amount of interest that they have been building on for years now.

      Thank you, really, for writing. I really appreciate it.

  • Hi Terri,
    You’re quite the photographer. I like the pic of the park.
    What you’ve done in these past few years takes guts. I think that no matter what, our physical and mental health must come first. No job, no matter what the prestige or salary, are worth losing either of those things. I so agree with you about saving for retirement now, even while in debt. As one of your personal finance twins, I’m in the same boat. I wish you the best in 2017. May it be a good year us all. 🙂

    • Thank you so much! I took that with my phone camera. I usually don’t take good ones, but sometimes the subject of the photo does all the work for you. I can’t wait to see that park in the springtime when all of the cottonwood trees are blooming. And yes, yes, yes, you are so right. No job is worth your health in any way. And I see so many people who kill themselves in a job they hate, and then when they get older, and realize life is passing them by, it’s a little late to realize their dreams. That’s why I made such a big career change a year and a half ago.

      Thank you for saying that about taking guts. I always joke that there’s a fine line between being brave and being stupid. But I like to think I’m being brave right now.

      I’m so glad we found each other’s blogs!

  • Debt free since June 23, 2011. Got rid of $ 160,00.00 in 8 years. $ 96,000.00 in the last 44 months. Became debt free 6 months before my 50th birthday. I tried everything to clear my debt. The only thing that worked was getting mad at it and punching my debt in the nose. I had a negative net worth since I was 16. Once you are awaken to the chains of debt, you want it gone. My credit is frozen and my credit score does not exist. I finally got my freedom at 49. When you do not have debt, you are free. Put everything on hold and get mad at it. I worked 4 jobs sometimes, 70-100 hours a week. But I do not have to do that now. I work 6 mos a year and take the winter off in souther Nevada. I volunteer at the county animal shelter, because I am debt free.
    I am off to walk some dogs.
    Good luck.


    • Mike, that is awesome!! And I have started a few posts over the past few weeks but not gotten to finish them because of the extra side work that I have been doing. Because I’m a fast typist, I can actually earn more per hour doing that than at my regular job. And I will mention this in a post, but I recently was able to pay $1200 off of my one credit card balance, and my goal of paying it off by April or sooner WILL be reached!! (i get an extra paycheck in March and it’s all going to debt!!) so I definitely hear what you are saying and thank you for volunteering with the animals!

      • Great Terri. Keep up the good work on that debt.
        I tell my story to inspire. I want everyone to have the freedom and choices that I do.
        Walking the dogs is just plain fun.


      • Oh I plan to keep it up. I’m determined to get the credit card debt gone and be able to breathe a little bit easier and then attack my car loan. If I can get myself out of credit cards (right now my total balance is about $4,600), at this very low income that I earn,then I know I can do anything I set my mind to.

        And you know what? It’s kind of impossible to be out with a dog on a walk (especially a shelter dog), and be in a bad mood. Every day is their “best day ever!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.