Reader Case Study: Working a Crappy Job – for Nothing
Dear Mr. M.,
My wife and I have been reading your blog, and slowly feeling some of the free-spending ways of our past slipping away from us. But it’s a slow process, and while my wife takes after her frugal immigrant parents, I am not sure if I am quite ready to step up to the plate for MMM-level badassity. I like my toys and my microbrews!
But we have an incentive to get there: two beautiful little boys, ages 1 and 4. The wife and I both work, and we are able to cover our bills with just a little bit to spare each month.
The issue is that while I love my own job (I’m an elementary school principal), she hates hers (marketing department of a midsized firm). I believe her dislike for the job is well-founded: both her boss and her coworkers all sound like they’re training for the world Douchebag Olympics.
She’d love to stay home with the kids, but when we do the math, it looks like we’d fall short of what we need to live on, if we lost her salary. Maybe you could have a look at the details and see if we’re missing anything:
Me: $80k/year (roughly $5,000/month after taxes)
Wife: $40k/year ($2800/month)
Also, we’re both contributing to employer-assisted 401k plans which leaves our net take-home pay at about $5800
Mortgage Principal+Interest+Property tax+Insurance: $2000
(Mortgage balance $250k at 5%, fairly high taxes, insurance is $70/mo)
Mobile Phones/Internet/Cable: $200/month
Car payments and insurance, oil changes and other maintenance (2009 Nissan Murano and 2008 Honda Accord, about half paid-off): $900
Gas: $250/month (The school where I work is only 1.5 miles from home (yay!), wife’s job is 25 miles (40 minutes mostly highway) away (boo!))
Child Care: $1500/month (which is actually a great deal in my area for two kids, full-time)
Groceries: $400/month (after reading your latest article, I noticed we eat very similarly to you)
Miscellaneous: clothes, entertainment, other: $300
What we’re seeing is that even after subtracting child care, we’d be in the red if my wife quit her job as she wants to do. But our food and entertainment spending is already pretty low. We don’t go shopping. There’s no vacation budget. Where’s the money going?
Dear Principal S,
I’ve got some bad news and some good news. The bad news is, your wife has been slaving away at her awful job at a ridiculously far-away office building, enduring those frequent Showers of Douchery, and missing out on raising her own children, for VIRTUALLY NO PAY! The good news is, she can bring a big cardboard cut-out of a middle finger to work with her TOMORROW, and duct-tape it to her boss’s desk, because she is done with that joint. Here’s why:
First of all, her driving is absolutely ridiculous. At 50 miles per day x 250 workdays each year, she’s spending at least $6250 of her after-tax money per year ($521/month) on the mileage costs alone, budgeting at 50 cents per mile. And that’s on top of the insane 22,500 minutes per year of high-speed life-risking driving time she takes out of her life to get there.
Secondly, your vehicle fleet is off-the-hook. What the hell do you need a 2009 Nissan Murano for!? Bought on CREDIT!!?? If you’re Stephen King, and your $15 million compound in Maine sits atop a 1500 foot cliff with a 45-degree rocky slope of a driveway that is snowbound for four months of the year, THEN maybe that’s a valid vehicle choice. But for the rest of us, the Murano is strictly for comedy relief, as it’s such an impractical vehicle.
So here’s your prescription:
- Sell the Murano (book value: about $16,000). Use the surplus cash to pay off the remaining balance on the Accord. If you don’t have enough cash for that, sell the Accord too (value $11,000) it and buy a less costly car like a 2003 Matrix or something else from the MMM Cars for Smart People List. NO CAR LOANS ALLOWED! Monthly Cashflow Improvement: $700
- That’s right, now you only have one car. But that’s OK – your days of driving to work are DONE. 1.5 miles? That’s ridiculous! You can walk it, or if you’re in a rush, bike it. No exceptions here. Hey, what do you know, neither of you will be driving to work anymore. Let’s set your gas budget to $50/month just so you have some fuel for random errand running. Additional Savings: $200
- No More Childcare! This is the part you already knew about. That $1500 goes straight into your pocket. Additional Savings: $1500
- Refinance that mortgage! Damn, brother, what are you doing still paying 5% in this day and age? Don’t you know that three is the new five? You should easily be able to get close to 3.5% with no out-of-pocket costs. Also, if you shop around for homeowners insurance, and get the highest deductible your mortgage company allows, you might save at least $250/year based on the moderate cost of your house. Additional Savings from mortgage interest reduction and insurance: $250
- Drop your cable TV, and get a per-minute cell phone plan, or at least share a family plan. No MMM reader is allowed to pay for cable TV. Life’s too short to spend it absorbing passive and ad-laden entertainment every day. Shop around for internet access if your bill is over $50/month. You may use Netflix, Hulu, or the Amazon pay-per-view movie service. You can probably cut $75 off of your current bills in this area in total. Savings: $75
Total Savings so far: $2725 per month
So, mostly because of her insane cost of commuting, plus the child care, your wife was effectively working incredibly long hours, missing her little boys, and risking death every day, for approximately zero dollars per month.
By cutting that out, and making the other changes relating to your home ownership costs, she can quit immediately with virtually no effect on your family’s cashflow.
Even if some of my suggestions above don’t fly, you can surely find others that are just as valuable. For example, your lower household income might qualify you for more tax deductions after she quits, effectively increasing your own paycheck since some benefits are scaled back as household income increases.
You can comb over your groceries and consider some changes or Costco runs. Look into that $300/month mystery fund. Will it drop now that your wife does not need work clothes or lunches out with coworkers? Your car insurance might drop drastically if you get the same discount as I do from Geico for having low annual mileage and no commutes.
You’ll still be pretty close to the edge financially, but there is room for more improvement over time. During naps or school days, the lady might feel like flexing her marketing muscles in a freelance way from home, bringing in extra income. Your salary might rise as you continue your career in education, or you might be able to build up a side hustle of your own. And depending on your area, you might be able to find a less costly house that still meets your needs. An $80k salary is enough for a great family life in the US and Canada, as long as your housing cost doesn’t eat up too much of it (I’d suggest going for $1500/month or less if possible given your income and family size).
And remember that kids don’t stay young forever. Even if you sacrifice a higher savings rate right now by spending time with them, there will be plenty of time later to crank things up and get Mustachian to get the savings you need for early retirement, helping them with their educations, etc. Once they’re firmly established in grade school, you’ll get your days back, allowing more working time without the need to pay for child care.
In the long run, you’ll do fine – as long as you get out of the consumer borrowing habit and start doing the math before making decisions about where to live and work in the future. Good luck!
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