Is it becoming the norm for people to work more than one (or even two) jobs just to stay afloat?
September 1, 2008 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Is it becoming a more acceptable trend for individuals to work more than one job just to maintain a certain standard of living? I work three jobs (my wife also works full-time) and yet it seems as if we barely can keep ourselves afloat on a monthly basis. Help me from going crazy here!

Background information: I work three jobs. Job number one is a state employee (CT) for a position that requires a master's degree (I actually will be finishing up my second one in a few months). Job number two is working as an independent contractor for a technology company (10-15 hours/week). Job number three is a teacher for an adult education program (5 hours/week).

My wife is a full-time teacher.

Together, we have little debt (<$5k) and we are hardly reckless with our spendings. Most of our purchases are related to the upkeep of our home and cars (2). We rarely eat out but we do have a house and all the associated bills. With me working all these hours, we've been able to be afloat in terms of our bills and expenses.

However, I am seeing more and more people, including colleagues in state employment looking for second (and sometimes, third) jobs just to "stay afloat." They too, claim that they don't have any really "out of the world" bills.

I am wondering what other people are experiencing, especially in the state of today's economy and whether this trend is related to the fact that I live in CT (a very, very expensive state) or if this is something we need to expect to become the norm just to maintain normal, decent standard of living.

Or it could be that I don't make enough money with my primary job ($50k/year)...

Any thoughts? Feedback? Insights? All would be greatly appreciated.
posted by msposner to Work & Money (50 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Does the <$5k debt include your mortgage? What was the value of your house when you bought it?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:27 PM on September 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I wonder the same thing of your cars, too, if you financed them. Just wondering if your fixed expenses are eating up too large a part of your regular income.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:31 PM on September 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The $5k debt is excluding my mortgage. My mortgage payment is approximately 25% of our combined monthly take-home pay.

As far as cars goes, we are only making payments on one car ($150/month). My truck is fully paid off and has been that way for over a year now.
posted by msposner at 2:34 PM on September 1, 2008

Response by poster: The value of my house (when we bought it) was $250,000 but we were able to purchase it at $218,000 due to the seller needing to move out ASAP.
posted by msposner at 2:35 PM on September 1, 2008

Any kids? Daycare expenses? When we had our two little ones in daycare, that was an expense nearly double our mortgage payment.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 2:40 PM on September 1, 2008

Crap. On preview, I had this whole thing written about expensive houses and cars. It doesn't look like you are in that boat.

Estimating that you are making about 85k a year together (probably more actually), I really can't fathom where all the money is going. Have you sat down and figured it out yourself?

Someone in your situation does not meet the profile of the typical "can barely make ends meet" type.

But in answer to your question, yes, this is happening to more and more people. But it is happening because they bought a too expensive home and cars, or they have too many kids (do you have kids?), or else they live in an area with an astronomical cost of living (which it doesn't sound like you do from your $218k house).

Real wages are down recently, but it shouldn't hurt you so bad that you are barely scratching by, not in your situation. Think about someone making about $24k working as a manager at McDonald's.
posted by zhivota at 2:40 PM on September 1, 2008

Sorry, I know this is awkward, but I think you need to be a little more forthcoming about your finances because something sounds very hinky here. I understand you might decline but it would be helpful to know:

* What you and your wife make from each job per month after taxes
* Your mortgage payment
* Other regular monthly outgoings

Do you have children? Do your expenses include daycare or private school tuition or something? I'm unclear how you're sinking +/- 80K a year.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:42 PM on September 1, 2008

I'm really curious what your budget looks like. Do you know where your money is going? Do you have a budget? How much are you spending on food, gas, and other consumables?

I used to be in the same boat (single male living alone with two dogs, south Texas) ... but I realized that I was spending over $500/mo on food just to feed myself and the dogs. The dogs eat a fairly fixed amount, but I managed to bring my spending for myself and frequent guests down to under $150/month, which let me kill the remainder of my debt.
posted by SpecialK at 2:44 PM on September 1, 2008

Huh, yeah, that's odd. I am sole owner of a house that was considerably more expensive than yours and I'm carrying it on just my income, which is a good bit less than the income you make on just your first job. You need to figure out where the money is going.
posted by orange swan at 2:45 PM on September 1, 2008

Cars cost money to maintain and keep legal, as well as fuel. They are an enormous money pit. Reducing the number of cars you own and the miles that you drive them makes a big difference.

Another angle is that when you work an extra job, you incur extra costs that reduce the net return. For example, you spend more on travel; more on prepared food; more on goodies to console yourself for the fact that you work every hour of the day. It could be that your extra jobs are actually barely profitable and you would be better off quitting it and deploying the time doing things that save you money. Eg, if you quit your teaching job, you would have much more than 5 free hours a week (travel, prep time) and reduced expenses (commute, convenience food, purchase of supplies) - what if you applied those hours to home maintenance, cooking from scratch, and so on?

(NOTE: I am not saying this is your situation, just that you should do the figuring to determine whether this is so, and review your choices in that light).

How do you know that you are not reckless with your spending? For example, can you account for all the money you make? Or is there some spending that you are not recording? Small, responsible, insignificant cash purchases can aggregate to meaningful amount over a month. When I look at the cash that dribbles out of my wallet some of it is spent on things that would have horrified my frugal parents in the 70s.

Finally, what do you call a "normal, decent standard of living"? Maybe your sense of normality is skewed by over-leveraged, indebted people who are not confessing their financial screwed-up-ness to you, and displaying a level of affluence which is illusory.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:49 PM on September 1, 2008

Response by poster: No kids. Wife is actually pregnant with our first child (which is my biggest motivator behind myself exploring our finances and getting ourselves in better fiscal shape).

I realize there is a considerable amount of focus on our personal finances but I'm also curious about how many folks out there are actually working more than one jobs and whether this is the norm or not.
posted by msposner at 2:50 PM on September 1, 2008

In short, it is not the norm to be in your situation. Something is abnormal about your situation.
posted by zhivota at 2:54 PM on September 1, 2008

I do not think this is the norm in your income bracket and with your mortgage payment. I urge you to get some budgeting software ASAP and start tracking all of your expenditures - both bills and cash payments. Something isn't right with you guys, and you really can't fix your finances if you don't *really* know what you're spending money on.

The little things add up. For example, I wouldn't be shocked (although you might be) to find you're spending $300 a month at Starbucks without realising it just on coffee.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:54 PM on September 1, 2008

msposner: never have worked an extra job, and can't ever see myself doing so, unless it is as part of a "portfolio" of part-time gigs in my planned semi-retirement. If you are skilled labour and you can't live off eight hours a day that seems very wrong to me. I earn about the same as you in US dollar terms, in a country with broadly similar living costs.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:54 PM on September 1, 2008

I gave up on my part-time car wash installer and math tutor gigs in the past year (both had at one time been my full-time occupation) and just stopped buying so much shit.
posted by notsnot at 2:56 PM on September 1, 2008

...the miles that you drive them makes a big difference.

This is a misconception. Mileage isn't that expensive. The cost of having the chunk of metal - in insurance, registration costs, and so on - is the big hidden cost that most people fail to account for.

To answer your general case, msposner, I would say that pretty much all my contemporaries (age 35 down) are stuck in the boat where one can have any two of owning a house, have kids, or have some degree of financial security, unless one is earning pretty serious money. This is that whole "generation worse off than their parents" thing.
posted by rodgerd at 2:57 PM on September 1, 2008

Best answer: Where I work, no, it is not normal to take two jobs to stay afloat. Then again, I work at megacorp where we all make significantly more than $50k in a state with no income tax. We have fantastic health benefits. I also take big writeoffs for my husband, kid, and mortgage interest, lowering my tax bill and upping my take home pay.

"House expenses" and "car expenses" are big sucking money pits. I shudder to think of the amount of money that falls into those holes. Look hard at those expenses, could you have deferred furniture purchases, hired a cheaper contractor for your renovation (or delayed your renovation), serviced your car at a cheaper mechanic? Did you shop around?

I would also look hard at your copays, deductibles, etc for health and dental care. If you had a better job, would you get better coverage?

I bet you could also look hard at your grocery bill, cable, etc. You don't eat out, but do you eat convenience foods? Do you eat a lot of red meat, fish, or organic food? How much do you drink, is it wine or beer? Look at your cell phone bill, do you really need that $100 family plan, can you switch to pay as you go? Can you live without data?

Now all the frugal people on here will flame me, but almost six figures ain't much these days and it goes quickly. If you are a homeowner and you just spent $20k fixing your roof, you're going to have to skip your cable, steak, wine, data plan, vacation, etc. Depressing but true. You could get a second job or you could move to a lower cost of living state and get paid more. If you have a choice, pick the latter.

And, about your teacher wife, if you plan on having kids you might very well find that you won't miss her salary if she stays home, assuming you sell her car. You get mega tax breaks for having a stay at home spouse and a kid.
posted by crazycanuck at 3:02 PM on September 1, 2008

heating bills?
secret drug problem?
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:02 PM on September 1, 2008

This has been the subject of a lot of writing in recent years (and a few discussions on MeFi, I believe). The book I have glanced at but not read is The Two Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke, but there are others.

There isn't total clarity on this, but I think that it is a combination of increased consumption (eg two cars instead of one, more appliances, computers, eating out, etc) combined with rapidly increasing costs for education and healthcare.

It's also worth noting that the 1950's phenomenon of the man going off to work in the suit and wife staying home with the baby boomer kids was a real historical anomaly. Families have almost always required two people to work, often in multiple directions, even if much of that work was not wage-work. And that idealized 1950's family was limited to a subset of families: if you were a single mother, or Black, or disabled, or working in any of a thousand poorly-paid jobs (eg housecleaning, non-union labor, etc), it would take several partial incomes to total up to a lower-middle class standard of living.

So be careful that you are comparing apples to apples; you may be contrasting a late-career family in the 1950s to your current just-starting-a-family situation, and there are a lot of differences.

Short answer: no, working multiple jobs is not unusual, but you need to look at your budget because your incomes should be totaling to a more comfortable position than it seems to be.
posted by Forktine at 3:07 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Average Electric Utility Rates Across the U.S.

Connecticut is second only to Haiwaii and nearly twice the national average. Tables like this are not as useful as they seem since the average doesn't always reflect how the local rate structure would actually translate out for a particular customer. However, this is about as good a general indicator as you'll get.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 3:08 PM on September 1, 2008

You sound like you'd get some good insight from Your Money or Your Life. One lesson I learned was to consider the many costs associated with having a job.

Also, I think the American opinion of an "acceptable" standard of living is seriously inflated and has been for some time. We think we need a lifestyle that we don't. If we can ignore television and our neighbors, we can be happy living much more simply. So it might be helpful for you to begin challenging what you've been told is a "normal, decent standard of living."

For example, I happily lived in a 1960s vintage mobile home for 6 years, occasionally without hot water or a furnace and certainly without a dishwasher, clothes washer, central air, garage, cable, entertainment system, etc. The only annoyance was the lack of insulation and abundance of mice. I had corporate work with "normal" Americans, and no one knew how simply I lived. The trailer cost me $3,000, which comes out to $500 a year. I parked it on land that I owned.

When I upgraded to a small, highly insulated house I thought I was in heaven (and still think that).

So I don't work two jobs. I now own my own business, and most weeks I work less than full time. I'd suggest you look hard at your housing, entertainment use, and similar expenses and consider redefining what's necessary.
posted by PatoPata at 3:11 PM on September 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Check out All Your Worth. In a nutshell, the basic gist is this: your monthly expenses should work out to roughly 50% for all essentials, 20% for savings, and 30% for nonessentials. Ongoing budget problems indicate an imbalance in one of those categories that throws off the other three (for example, your essential expenditures might actually tally 60% because you're driving a car that's just too expensive for you in terms of payment and insurance, leaving you squeezed in terms of savings; or your nonessentials might actually tally 40%, leaving you to cut corners in your essentials).

Of course, with rising food/gasoline/etc. costs over the past year, it's quite possible that your essentials are quite a bit higher than they were a year ago, which may have thrown an otherwise balanced budget out-of-whack. This basically leaves you (like millions of other folks in the same boat) with only two other options, really: bring in more income, or reduce expenses in other categories.

As for "the norm" in terms of working extra jobs: even if the answer is yes (and I strongly suspect, actually, that it is), I don't know that it provides you with a working solution to your problem. I work full-time and take on freelance whenever I can manage it. My boyfriend works 2 jobs (sometimes 3). We're both nearly entirely out of debt, we rent our place, and we own our cars outright. But we do happen to live in a very expensive city, and we're both trying to play catch-up on years of not having saved enough for retirement.
posted by scody at 3:12 PM on September 1, 2008 [5 favorites]

Ongoing budget problems indicate an imbalance in one of those categories that throws off the other three

Heh. Lest you suspect my own ability to count and therefore budget, I should say that I meant "throws off the other two."

posted by scody at 3:15 PM on September 1, 2008

I'd suggest the tried and true keeping a detailed log of everything you spend. Both of you keep a little pad with you and get very good at writing down every single little thing you spend on. This includes even the trivial things like a pack of gum. Each night, enter what you spent in a spreadsheet and at the end of a month, add it all up and look for trends. You may find what seems like small expenses in isolation are really adding up in the long run. In my case $5 / day for breakfast and $10 - $15 / day for lunch was adding up to about $100 / week which is what some families pay per week for their entire grocery bill. That was an eye opener.
posted by monkeydluffy at 3:17 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

$50K/year working for the state with a Master's Degree? Sounds extremely underpaid to me. I made $40K as a controller for a small steel company with no degree was basically a glorified bookkeeping job. On the other hand, your wife is teaching full time, so I presume she's earning at least $35K, so your combined income is definitely upper middle class. But it sounds to me like you're overqualified/underpaid for your current position.
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:20 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

As for "the norm" in terms of working extra jobs: even if the answer is yes (and I strongly suspect, actually, that it is), I don't know that it provides you with a working solution to your problem.

Amen to that. If I were you, and felt that the situation was unacceptable to me, I wouldn't be sighing and saying "ah well that's just normal" without trying hard to be, um, abnormal.

posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:23 PM on September 1, 2008

It's not THAT unusual, but it's unusual enough that you may want to sit down with some money-tracking software and find out where it's going. I find that when I'm contemplating getting a second job, it's actually usually because I've been a little too free-and-loose with money in a place I hadn't considered it, and usually a couple weeks' study of my daily expenses sets me right.

I recommend applying to -- this has helped me a lot (the hiccup with my initially signing up notwithstanding; it is in beta testing, so there are some kinks they're still working out). It automatically downloads all your transactions as they happen and sorts and categorizes them all for you, so in a matter of minutes you can figure out that hey, wait, you've spent $150 on books this month, that maybe could be trimmed...(that's actually exactly what I found out myself the last time I checked my monthly records.)

I'd wager that mortgage and car are the big expenses for you there, but it may give you some clarity to sign up and at least get an accurate picture.

But I realize that this is specified advice that is different from what you've asked for. I think the reason that everyone is responsing the way they are is itself a sign that no, this isn't normal. Not THAT abnormal, but something still seems off about it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:23 PM on September 1, 2008

To re-iterate what some other have said, something sounds strange about this situation. Among my group of friends, the only people who have ever had to work multiple jobs just to stay afloat were living beyond their means. I was one of those people. It wasn't until I started tracking my expenses that it was clear where all the money was going. Even then, it took a while to learn not to spend it in these places.

You're right, though, that where you live might play a role in the problem. Your housing expenses sound, reasonable, though. Your debt is manageable. Based on this, and based on the fact that you've said that the money is going just to pay the bills, something's wrong with the bills. How much are you paying for food? Electricity? Cable? Subscriptions? Hobbies? I have some friends who complain about not being able to make ends meet, but they refuse to shop at any grocery store but the most expensive one in town. They don't see the connection.

My recommendation is to Spend $50 for Quicken or Microsoft Money. Use the program to track every penny that enters or leaves your life. This may seem like a lot of work, but it's the only real way to be sure where the money is going.
posted by jdroth at 3:30 PM on September 1, 2008

No, it's not normal.

Get some financial management software (Money, Quicken, Mint, GnuCash, whatever). Put as much as possible on your credit cards, so that you've got a record of all purchases. (plus all the frequent flier miles). Take a look at your monthly expenditures and figure out where your money is going. Until you know that, you can't possibly know how to fix this problem.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:38 PM on September 1, 2008

Response by poster: Oriole,

I agree with you. I've always felt this way- I'm actually working on my second master's degree (will finish this coming May) and even with my first M.S. in Education, I always felt (and still feel) that I'm grossly underpaid at $50k for my state position due to the amount of work that I do, even though I do enjoy my work.

Having said all this, there is one other factor- I am profoundly deaf and that alone, is challenging enough for me to obtain and secure employment in a field where my skills and expertise is being put to use. I know that has nothing to do with my bizarre budget issue but that is the biggest factor behind why I don't make enough at my 1st job and need to work 2nd and 3rd jobs.
posted by msposner at 3:44 PM on September 1, 2008

No, I don't know anyone for whom this is the norm. There's something wrong with the expenses, I think. I appreciate that you don't want to provide us with your full financial details (!) so here's what I guessed: You say your house was purchased for about $220,000. As a rough rule of thumb, that makes your monthly mortgage payment about $2200. You also say that you make 4 times your mortgage payment, so that brings you to $8800/month or $105,600/year. The median household income in the US is $44,389. If you make $105,600/year, you are within the top 15% in the US.

So, if those guesstimates were even a little close, you are doing better than a lot of us, so it's the expenses you need to look at, not the income.
posted by Houstonian at 3:45 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm actually working on my second master's degree (will finish this coming May)

This may be stating the obvious, but perhaps your current budget it out of whack because of tuition? Because it sounds like the mortgage and car payment are both reasonable.
posted by scody at 3:47 PM on September 1, 2008

I do not think that it is typical for people in your income bracket, with your educational background, to have to work more than a single full-time job to make ends meet as an individual, provided their "ends" are reasonable.

Of the people I know who are struggling, most have a pretty clear reason for it. Some people have a lot of debt that they're under (some student, some medical, some simply consumer), others just don't seem to budget, while a couple of others made conscious decisions that they knew would result in financial hardship (buying a big house with the expectation that the pct of income it represented would fall in the future, having kids, etc.).

It's not really typical, at least in my experience / with my friends and colleagues, to see someone almost underwater without a reason for it. That's not to say that "a reason" is necessarily "their fault" — sometimes the reason is just bad luck — but there's usually an identifiable reason, which to me suggests that it's not really reached epidemic levels.

Personally, I don't really do a formal budget, but I do monitor my spending pretty closely by running everything into Quicken at the end of the month (easy if your bank and credit card companies download directly into it; PITA otherwise), and then generating reports that break my spending down into categories. It's nerdy, but I've been doing it for years and it's helped me a lot. If I start to feel pinched, the first thing I do is look at a Category Detail report and try to see where my money's been going, and where I can trim the fat. Then I just try to keep that in mind throughout the next month; rinse, repeat.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:48 PM on September 1, 2008

I have a CT friend who lives in a $90K condo, is a teacher making $70K a year, and lives paycheck-to-paycheck, even though she works nights at a gym and weekends as a bartender. For her, the budget suck has been her own profession: paying for all her degrees. The master's, the "6th year degree", and more as she heads into administration. Are you paying a lot out of your salary for your continuing education(s)? Do you lack savings because of paying off past school debt, so all home improvements and repairs come out of your salary rather than a home repair fund?
posted by xo at 3:54 PM on September 1, 2008

Keep a journal and record every penny you spend, for at least 3 months. Then you can analyse where it's going. There are lots of personal fonance blogs, and's money articles are often good.
posted by theora55 at 4:00 PM on September 1, 2008

Some routine purchases can add up like crazy. Haircuts and color, beauty products, new clothes, shoes and practical stuff for around the house can be pretty expensive without people realizing it. Massages, facials, pedicures and things can be pretty easy to justify on a regular basis! I'm seriously frugal and was just at the mall yesterday and was shocked at what stuff cost. A container of anti-aging face moisturizer: $85. A pair of practical, well made shoes: $150. A simple sweater: $125.

It's really easy to be a woman and spend a lot of money if we aren't careful. I'm not blaming, I'm just saying...

Are you being more generous than you need to be when buying gifts for family members? I know people who regularly drop +$100 for birthday gifts for family and friends, which seems ridiculously lavish (unless it's your spouse or kid). What kind of television/internet/cell phone packages are you signed up for? Consider canceling of downgrading some of your services.

If I made as much money as you do, I'd think I was rich.
posted by pluckysparrow at 4:03 PM on September 1, 2008

I think it can often be "the more you make the more you spend." I went from grossing $50K a year to grossing $110K in one year (I was self-employed." We bought a car (our old one was dead), some new appliances, new furniture, went on a couple of trips, and paid taxes. As a result, we didn't save much. But, then again, we were making up for three or four lean years.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:13 PM on September 1, 2008

If the combined family income from your first job and your wife's teaching gig is over 85K, then needing 2 moonlighting jobs is an anomaly. Particularly since you should have decent benefits between the two of you.

Something is weird - tuition or medical bills, paying a huge amount into your retirement accounts, a series of major house expenses such as a new roof, etc? If you can't find a big ticket item, then you've got to find the cash leak through detailed budgeting and tracking.

Checkbook analysis is a rotten job, but do it anyway. Here are two good reasons:
- Children are wonderful, but they are black holes for money if you aren't careful.
- Children are wonderful, and you'll want to spend time with yours instead of time at your second (or third) job.
posted by 26.2 at 4:38 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm curious about your phrase "a certain standard of living." All of us, rich, poor, and in-betwen, have "a certain standard of living" but I think it's rare to people to need multiple jobs to support it unless they are, in fact, poor and struggling or else have unusual expenses. Many two-person households who earn less than you live on much less than what you make. The median household income in Connecticut in 2006 was $63,422, and I suspect that you two earn more than that.

The main expenses you talk about seem to be your house and vehicles, but I suspect that you might not really know how much you spend in other areas. Whether it's commuting costs, energy costs, food costs (not just groceries but eating out), cups or coffee, or whatever, it all adds up.

I agree with the recommendations to start tracking your spending. That will give you a much more realistic idea of your financial position.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:40 PM on September 1, 2008

"It's also worth noting that the 1950's phenomenon of the man going off to work in the suit and wife staying home with the baby boomer kids was a real historical anomaly."

I think the anomaly is that people believed that was an acceptable standard of living. Things were different, for sure, and that generation had some advantages that others didn't. But think about the cost of living back then- there was almost nothing that people wanted. You bought a tiny house and raised a million kids in it. All the cooking was done at home, from scratch. Because there was nothing else. People went without until they could save up and afford it. I know plenty of grandmas and grandpas who were the mom and dad of that generation, who still have the same furniture they had 40 years ago. Not because things were made better then, but because they cared for the stuff. One phone that everyone shared. One TV. Maybe. Vacations were piling the kids into the station wagon and hitting the road- eating sandwiches packed in a cooler and camping at roadside tourist camps for a dollar a night.

I know plenty of people who live far better lives now, on one salary. It can be done, but it's not easy and sometimes you have to go without.

What's missing in your scenario? It's hard to tell. I wouldn't say there is a gaping hole of money, but on the other hand, yes there it. You are spending 75% of your income on a $150 car payment, utilities and food? My back of the envelope calculations say that's like $4000.
posted by gjc at 5:55 PM on September 1, 2008

I agree with kokuryu. People's 'necessary' and 'reasonable' expenses almost always grow to consume their income as it grows. I think the clue was in the words certain standard of living. In some circumstances, it is normal to need more than once job. I have had to have two jobs before, but that was because preschool teachers working full time in Kansas would be lucky to make more than 16,000 /yr.
posted by Inside Out Girl at 6:44 PM on September 1, 2008

really? people are saying this isn't normal? i may be WAY outside of the norm, but almost everyone i know works more than one job.

i am 28. i have a master's. i live in philadelphia. until recently i worked 2 jobs. for about a year i worked 3 jobs. my partner works full time. most of the people i know in philadelphia are in their late 20s or early 30s, work full time, have a partner who works full time and one or both of them work an additional job. we do this to stay afloat, pay off consumer debt or pay off crippling student loan debt.

i think the answer to this question depends on one's social class and generation more than anything else. i don't think the incredibly wealthy work more than one job, and i don't think people in the boomer generation work more than one job (this is a vast generalization of course). they already "paid their dues" so they don't have to work 20 hours out of every 24 just to pay the bills. they're comfortable in their lifestyle.

but us younger folks are often saddled with extreme amounts of student debt and a ton of consumer debt because of bad decisions made in our youth. so we work one primary job that may or may not have anything to do with our doctorate's or master's, then we work a freelancing job so we can "be at home" and "spend time with our spouse" and then we have some other service job at a coffeeshop or whatever so we can keep the lights on for one more month.

i don't know. that might not be your situation. but yes, a lot of people DO work more than one job just to get by. and i, personally, feel that that is going to become more and more normal.

welcome to the american dream y'all.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:31 PM on September 1, 2008

Use Mint to track all of your expenses. A service like this is very helpful in that you can import ALL of your accounts (safely, through something called Yodlee, which the banks use for account aggregation) and have it automatically sort and assign categories and have it fabricate budgets for you and such.

Seeing your spending on paper and tracking your history is very helpful.
posted by disillusioned at 8:09 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I live in Vancouver, one of the most expensive cities in the world, and it's pretty normal here. Everybody does work on the side. In fact, that's how I got into consulting. (I do consulting full-time now, though, while raising my kids. Is that one job or two?) I run a website on consulting and people typically write in to ask me how to consult on the side. One of the biggest reasons people come to my site is to look for information on second jobs -- not even just consulting. Whenever I run stories on getting out of debt through consulting, my traffic goes crazy. So, from where I am, having a couple of jobs sounds normal.

But let's run some numbers:
$2200 for mortgage
$ 300 for utilities
$ 150 for property tax
$ 300 for car payment
$ 200 for gas
$ 100 for insurance
$ 50 for car maintenance
$ 100 for parking
$ 50 for hair cuts and grooming
$ 300 for groceries
$ 300 for meals and entertainment and lattes and muffins and gifts
$ 50 for medical and dental copays

Well, that's $50k in after tax income right there. Depending on what your wife makes as a teacher, it may be that both your incomes cover only those amounts. You may need the second job to pay for anything on top of all that.

Also, I don't know how old you are or how much experience you have, but if you are in your late 20s or older, it sounds like you are underpaid. You might want to look into how you could increase your earning power at work. You may need to look at how your hearing impairment can be accommodated, but it should not be a barrier to earning a more reasonable wage, if you have a few years of experience under your belt.
posted by acoutu at 8:22 PM on September 1, 2008

Nthing keeping a diary of your spending, preferably electronic. A couple of years ago I was scratching my head wondering where my paycheck was going so I started using my debit card for every purchase (i.e. no cash). I then downloaded my checking account history into Microsoft Money and I was absolutely shocked at the amount of money I wasted at places like BJ's (similar to Costo or Sam's) and on things like clothing. Gas was another big shocker at almost $500 a month. I never tracked it because it's not an expense I can really control since there's no public transportation to speak of in my area. Of course, there are always options, just not options we want to consider. I could have bought a more gas efficient car or bought a house closer to work.

As my Dad told me, you aren't allowed to complain about your lack of money until you know where every cent is going. He gave me the third degree about how much I was spending on different things (gas, food, insurance, etc.) and all of my answers were "Hmm...I'm not 100% sure". He was not impressed. He said the same thing to me other posters have been saying in this thread: something doesn't add up here. You make enough money to cover your bills on paper, yet you're barely getting by. Another classic Dad quote: "You don't have a problem with money, you have a problem with math."
posted by bda1972 at 10:28 PM on September 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

really? people are saying this isn't normal? i may be WAY outside of the norm, but almost everyone i know works more than one job.

True, but everyone you know KNOWS why they are working more than one job. Everyone you know is a grad student or just recently graduated. It makes sense for someone in THAT position to have to work two jobs. For you all to STILL need to work two jobs ten years from now may be a little weird, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 AM on September 2, 2008

You may need an extensive budget plan and stick to it. Budget every dollar from every paycheck to what is a necessity. Do you or your wife have a habit of spending on a whim? If you buy that new T.V or go out to dinner one too many times a week, it's hard to see the savings.

After a budget is made (and stuck to) I would pay the minimum amount due to all of the debtors you owe EXCEPT the one you owe the least amount of money to. Once THAT debt is paid in full, use THAT money plus the minimum amount due for THAT debt towards the next highest debt. Continue with that and you should be out of debt soon.
posted by sharkhunt at 5:36 PM on September 2, 2008

I second using Mint. I just left a well paying but hateful job and it's been a great (FREE!) budgeting tool. I had no idea how much I was spending on house maintenance -- oven cleaners, sponges, vacuum bags, ziplochs -- kinda absurd.
posted by melogranato at 6:23 PM on September 2, 2008

I second (or third, fourth?) the little notebook in your pockets. Write down everything you spend money on all day, every day. Don't judge or change your behavior, just record it. After only a week or two you will have a much better idea of where it all goes, and after a month you will have all the data you'll need to know where you can start saving.

Another suggestion is to lock up your cards, aside from your ATM card. I had a recurring problem with getting into credit card debt a few years ago. I'd painfully dig out of the debt only to find I was carrying a big balance again a few months later. When I started paying for everything with cash, it really helped me start to budget better. It automatically meant fewer impulse purchases, fewer luxury items, and an end to the "where did it all go?" feeling. For me at least, plastic doesn't feel like I'm spending actual money. When I'm spending cash, I'm aware of it.

Good luck.
posted by Cranialtorque at 6:47 PM on September 2, 2008

To chime in about how common it is for people to hold multiple jobs - it seems to be particularly common in people who have recently graduated and have student loans to pay back. Especially while they are still living in the city. That doesn't sound like your situation though. Good luck.
posted by JonBFSU at 11:46 AM on September 3, 2008

« Older Rapidly-moving short stories?   |   Why can't I jump on my neighbor's wireless? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.