How much do I need to make in Seattle?
June 13, 2009 3:11 PM   Subscribe

What's a decent salary for a single person in Seattle?

I'm applying to jobs in Seattle and trying to figure out what my salary requirements would be there. About my lifestyle:

- Single, no kids
- Would like to live in a central-ish neighborhood, in walking distance to things like a supermarket, a few restaurants, and a coffeeshop. I don't necessarily want to live in the fanciest neighborhood, though. My AskMe research makes me think I'd like living in Fremont, Ballard or maybe Capitol Hill.
- At first, I would like to get a room in a house with roommates, but eventually I'd like a one-bedroom or large studio to myself.
- I don't have a car, so I won't have to pay for gas, etc, but I do need to live somewhere convenient to public transit and will probably use Zipcars a few times a month. I may eventually buy a cheap car.
- I like to eat out a few times a week. Nothing fancy, though. Maybe takeout (lunch or dinner) 4-5 times a week plus one or two restaurant meals a week. Other than that, I tend to spend about $50-75/week on groceries. I also like to have a few beers out a couple of times a week.
- I don't have any expensive hobbies or spend a lot on clothes. My biggest "discretionary" expenses are probably books, restaurant meals and yoga classes and/or a gym membership.

So, if you live in Seattle, what's your budget? What do you think sounds like a good salary for the above lifestyle?
posted by wholebroad to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I lived that exact life quite comfortably for several years on a grad student salary of about $17-18K. I had one roommate in an apartment in a great location on Capitol Hill, though we got insanely lucky finding that place for the price we paid. I used Zipcar, bought a lot of takeout lunches while working long hours on campus, and I went out more nights than I didn't. Sure, my much wealthier friends with real jobs bought a lot of my drinks when we went out, but I managed to put away a modest amount in savings while living what I felt was a pretty good life. On the other hand, coming fresh from college, $17K felt like quite a lot of money to me.

It doesn't sound like you're a stranger to living a pretty inexpensive lifestyle, and despite Seattle's reputation as an expensive city, I think it's a pretty easy place to live quite cheaply if you know what you're doing. I make more money now, though not much, and I've added a car and higher rent — still with a roommate, partly because I just plain prefer living with someone — to my list of expenses. Other people might not be as happy as I am with as little money, though.
posted by adiabat at 3:35 PM on June 13, 2009

Don't forget to add saving for retirement into your budget. Max out your Roth IRA, please, every year, which right now is $5000.

Ballpark, I'm going to say $35,000 before taxes, and that's a high estimate.
posted by incessant at 3:51 PM on June 13, 2009

Do you have any outstanding debt? That'd of course need to be factored in. Not including things like student loans, credit cards, etc... I agree with incessant at estimating around $35,000.

Relevant details: Not married, but live with the girlfriend. We rent a awesome 2br condo in Capitol Hill w/in walking distance of everything. Similar hobby/grocery/restaurant/transportation needs as OP. With a third of my income after taxes going to student loans I live relatively comfortable on $50+
posted by whycurious at 3:58 PM on June 13, 2009

I do have outstanding education debt, piles of it. I'll be adding that to whatever people suggest here.

Thanks. Helpful info so far.

Max out your Roth IRA, please, every year, which right now is $5000.

Good point.
posted by wholebroad at 4:17 PM on June 13, 2009

Most of my friends here in Seattle are grad students in the sciences and they seem to get by pretty easily on approximately $25,000 living the lifestyle you set out above. If you're willing to have roommates, it should be pretty easy I think. I think rents have been dropping so getting a one bedroom is not that big a deal anymore either.

Also, I thought I would use my Zipcar membership all the time. I haven't really used it since my first month when I was buying stuff for the apartment.

Your location is key. Living somewhere with good bus routes and easy walking access to shops can save you money in terms of the drive to get a car or delivery fees. (Personally I get most of my groceries from AmazonFresh.)
posted by grouse at 4:32 PM on June 13, 2009

I'd think that there's a second part to this question: what are your qualifications? I'm assuming you are entry level, but if you have a degree, what's it in? There's a huge variable in what a starting teacher and a starting engineer could expect to earn.
posted by misha at 4:35 PM on June 13, 2009

I lived in Seattle for 8 years, and despite its reputation for being an expensive West coast city, it's actually pretty easy to get by on ~$20k a year as a single person, less if you really watch your budget. What you should be considering is not only your cost of living but what you and your skills/job are worth.

Since you brought it up, I think Seattle's got a pretty excellent bus system (despite the locals there constantly complaining about public transportation) and you should do pretty well getting around while living in any of the neighborhoods you mentioned.
posted by asciident at 7:04 PM on June 13, 2009

When I was in a similar situation I was making in the low 30's and I'm sure you could pretty easily afford to live on that so long as you stick to (multiple) roommates and no car. This city is EXPENSIVE (not to mention highly taxed) so take that all into account. If you desire your own place and/or a car someday soon, make sure you find a way to increase your income appropriately.

Personally, if it were me, I'd be shooting for $40k minimum.
posted by karizma at 8:46 PM on June 13, 2009

I know someone who is doing it on somewhere in the $30k region. It's a pretty frugal lifestyle, but quite possible. Rather than focus on your starting salary I would focus on your opportunity for growth. What are your prospect five or ten years out? Will this job lead to other and better jobs, or lead to promotions within?
posted by caddis at 6:01 AM on June 14, 2009

This is going to depend in part on the depth of the resources available to you should something go wrong, because at $20-30k a year, you're basically living paycheck to paycheck. Not much in the way of reserves, let alone real savings. So if you never have anything go wrong, then yeah, $20-30k will probably do it. But if any of those things does happen, you could run into some pretty significant problems pretty quickly.

What if you fall down a flight of stairs and need to go to the ER? Even with health insurance, that could cost a few hundred bucks, the way things are these days. What if you break your leg and need to take a week off of work? Now you've got your medical expenses and potentially a week of lost income, as most jobs which pay $30k or less aren't terribly likely to have much in the way of paid sick leave. At $20-30k, you are very, very unlikely to be able to drop that kind of change on a moment's notice while still being able to make rent. And if we're talking lost income on top of actual expenses, you're looking at a pretty bad liquidity problem from which it can be almost impossible to recover, as the excess tends to go on credit cards. But as your income is almost all spoken for, you won't actually have any extra money next month to pay off the debt you accrued this month. This can produce a financial death-spiral really quickly.

Ideally, you should include a 5-10% buffer in your budget after savings. So if you plan on spending $20k a year, make sure that you bring in $22k after taxes, or about $27k. If you're gonna spend $30k, you need to make almost $40k, etc.

Living on a shoestring is one thing. Living on a shoestring with absolutely no margin for error is why people get poor and stay poor. Granted, including that kind of buffer in your budget can be really difficult, but it's the kind of thing you really can't afford not to do.
posted by valkyryn at 6:57 AM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

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