Budget Insanity! Or, how am I so broke?
June 27, 2012 12:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting a job where I will make $700/week, with additional overtime after 60 hours per week (pretty rare). The job provides excellent health benefits that cost $80/month. I live in Los Angeles, I'm trying to live within my means, and I'm freaking out. It's hard to tell if my budget is out of whack - can you help me?

I figure that my take home pay will be around $540/week, or $2,160/month. I'm moving soon, but let's say that my rent will be $650/month.

Rent: $650
Gas: $150
Groceries: $150
Toiletries: $50
Utilities: $60
Birth Control: $25
Health Insurance: $80
Credit Card Payments: $400
Savings account: $100
Dog food: $35
Dog walker: $225 (?)

Total: $1,925

That leaves me with $235 for everything else.

Is this insane? I don't think I can cut out the dog walker, unfortunately, because I work 12-hour days. And please look at my question history before giving me 'tude about having a dog.

I also have an expensive film photography hobby/passion, and I'm in a few writers groups that have membership fees, and, holy shit!, life is expensive. I don't want to give up my creative pursuits. I don't want to send my dog back to the shelter. Can I cut down my grocery bill? I'm trying to find a place that would be ~$600/month for rent, but I'm not optimistic.

I'd like to make more of a dent in my credit card debt, but I figure if I keep the payments lower, I can keep my spending on the credit cards lower. The only bills that I have recurrent on my credit cards are car insurance and my gym membership. And - shame alert! - my parents still pay my cell phone bill.

In short: Does this look like a reasonable budget, considering that I make very little money, live in expensive place, and have a dog (at least temporarily)?
posted by ablazingsaddle to Work & Money (76 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and I forgot to mention that I'm looking to get back into doing transcription work on the side. If that comes through, I could make an additional $250 - $300 each month, but I'm not counting on it.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:54 AM on June 27, 2012

I know some people who've had okay luck training smaller dogs, anyway, to use pads indoors instead of having dog walkers. That is a pretty big chunk. But honestly, at some point? One has to realize that at a sub-$40k income, you just really aren't in the bracket to have expensive hobbies. You can cut from some things, but personally, I would sooner put a hobby on hold than give up my pets.

I don't really think your budget looks that bad, really. It's just that anything *beyond* it is going to have to be scaled back. $650/mo is not horrible for your income level, rent-wise. But you have debt, you have pets, you have to be reasonable about the "extras" you're going to be able to afford until you make more money. You might just really not have the money right now to have a gym membership, a photography hobby, etc. One of the most important things about shifting to dealing with your finances in an adult way is adjusting to the notion that for anything that isn't a need, you start spending the money only after you've allocated all the needs. And if after you allocate all the needs, there's not enough there, then your lifestyle needs adjusting.

I'm not saying you should *want* to give up your creative pursuits, but they're still wants, not needs, and they might be high-priority wants, but at the end of the day, no matter how much I want to go to Bolivia and how edifying that trip would be, my budget does not currently include the funds to go to Bolivia, and so I can't go until it does.
posted by gracedissolved at 1:06 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Good for you for planning. You'd be surprised how few people can bring themselves to do it, because it really takes a certain amount of courage.

I think it makes better financial sense to put that $100 towards eliminating a high-interest credit card debt than towards building low- or no-interest savings.

I think maybe something else might need to give, because all it will take you is one big car repair bill (and I'm assuming you can't give up your car because LA) and you're going to be going backwards. You don't have to give up all your creative pursuits forever - you could maybe fine-tune a bit and stop one group until the dog finds a permanent home? Or borrow a digital camera from someone for a while?
posted by gingerest at 1:07 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

$150/month in groceries is $5/day - breakfast, lunch, dinner. And at 12 hour days, are you going to have the energy to make $150 stretch like that? I know I don't have that kind of discipline. Double that doesn't feel reasonable to me either, and that reduces your "everything else" to under $100. What are you going to do when you need to buy socks and underwear and your best friend has a birthday bar night in the same month?
posted by GamblingBlues at 1:10 AM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

The thing about that one big car repair bill is why the savings is important. Ideally it should be more than $100 if you can swing it, until you have a grand or two. Then you can stop having to fret about the car repair situation coming up. (Do not rely on your credit card being there for that. Your credit card company can close your account essentially anytime they want, and in the last few years this has happened not-uncommonly to low income people even where they have not defaulted.)

I spend about $150/mo in groceries myself, but I don't work those sorts of hours, so YMMV; I'd find $300/mo for just me to be kind of excessive when trying to trim a budget. But it's definitely an area to be careful about; good idea to look to see what your actual spending has been, and make sure you know what your restaurant spending looks like, too
posted by gracedissolved at 1:13 AM on June 27, 2012

You didn't say how much credit card debt you are in, but you will have to live frugally for awhile until you get those paid off. That means you'll probably have to drop a group or two until you get out of debt.

It's great that you are putting money away into savings - a lot of people forget to include that when creating a budget. I wouldn't touch it unless you have a big emergency (like your car breaks down or the dog needs to go to the vet).
posted by littlesq at 1:18 AM on June 27, 2012

Okay, this may be too out there for you. But it is a temporary way to save a lot more money until you can get that credit card bill knocked out of the way. You could share a room with someone. If you work 12 hours and do a day shift, I bet it would be no sweat at all to share a room with someone who was on a night shift. Or someone who was a commuter and went back to another city on the weekends.

Another thing you can do is get a free place to live with a disabled person who just needs someone to be there overnights in case of an emergency. Like, no caretaking, just sleep there during a set time period every night in case they fall in the night and need someone to dial 911. I've seen tons of these on Craigslist.

For the dog walker, can you barter? They can walk your dog and in exchange you can do photo shoots? That could be really good for someone who needs a photographer regularly.
posted by cairdeas at 1:33 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's okay to be poor and it's okay to be stretched. You don't need to freak out here!

1) This budget is likely to fail not because the numbers don't add up but because you have $0 budgeted for entertainment. That's a predictable expenses so you need to assign a budget item to that.

2) We need clarification on the credit card debt. If it's $2K and you'll be paid off in six months, putting that $400 a month back into your budget, great. If it's $20K, there are a lot of other options worth talking about here.

3) I agree the dog walker is not optional and I'm not at all going to say take the dog back, don't worry. What I would say is add pet insurance to your budget as you have no room for vet bills, and to get actual quotes on that. I cannot hire a dog walker for that amount. (Any chance you can take the dog to work?)

4) Any other expenses not in there? Car insurance? Phone bills? Internet?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:15 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

before giving me 'tude about having a dog.

The dog is clearly a slacker. It needs to get its resume together and get a job.

Just kidding....looking at your numbers the dog is at 14% of the total, CC payment at 21% and rent at 34%. This literally account for 66% of your expenses. Obviously rent and the pooch costs are not going to change, but the credit card part may be adjustable. Is it possible to lower that a bit to give you some breathing room?

Of the rest of your items, I really do not see how you can pare that down much more. Eveything in that area seems to be pretty much down to the bottom....maybe be even too far down. As another person mentioned, $150 for food is a bit unrealistic.

On the other side, an increase in income will solve some issues. While the transcribers I know who freelance have been lamenting as of late the downswing in opportunities in the field, at the same time there is still a pretty healthy market. You may not make a killing but I would bet that you could cover all your pet costs and have a little left over for doggie bones with just a few jobs per month. In doing so, it really frees up a major expense in your budget.

I freelance for a living (not a transciber though) and often I take the position that a few of my more tedious and maybe lower paying jobs each month cover some sort of luxury cost and leave it at that. It makes it a bit easier to take on those jobs that are in my field but don't pay the rates that I would like. The bottom line is that a few hours of boring PITA work pays for my internet, cable and some ice cream each month.

Short answer: I don't know that you can cut much more and some items seem under-estimated. I would concentrate on adding a second source of income to assist in your overall intake each month. You will lose a few more weekends days and evenings of free time, but fido will appreciate the effort and having you around the apartment more often.
posted by lampshade at 2:15 AM on June 27, 2012

You're spending 18.5% of your net income on credit card debt. Is that the minimum you're required to pay, or are you paying more to reduce the principal? You need to think about how you're going to reduce your monthly debt obligations. That may mean putting your expensive hobbies on hold for a little while. Or leverage them into making you money. Put your photography skills to work on the weekends?

$150 on groceries is doable for 1, especially if you're good at planning ahead and using coupons/deals.

Other thoughts: can you live with roommates to reduce the rent at all? I know it's LA, so maybe you can't. Can you come home at lunch to walk the dog? While I'm certainly not going to suggest you get rid of your dog, spending $225/mo on a dog walker seems a bit extreme. That's $11.25/day for 20 days a month of dog walking, and on those days you're talking about spending more than twice in dog walking than you are on feeding yourself. Can a neighborhood kid do it for like, $5/day? Can you barter?

You haven't budgeted anything for clothing, gifts, vet bills, car repair funds, renters' insurance (unless this is built into your rent budget, I guess), entertainment expenses, student loans(?), etc.

Assuming you have no savings cushion yet, $100/mo savings is going to take you almost 2 years to save 1 month's emergency expense fund IF nothing major happens in that time that requires you to deplete your savings. I know people live paycheck to paycheck, and hell you may be making more money in 2 years' time. Just throwing some planning thought out there.
posted by asciident at 2:28 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been through long stretches of life with poverty-level or working-poor income levels, and so I guess my attitude is, of course you can make it work! (What other choice do you have, really?) $150 for groceries is doable but it will certainly constrain your choices about where you can shop and what you can eat. Even now that my household income level is well past comfortable, I still shop at Aldi, still sub in ground turkey for ground beef because it's cheaper, buy in bulk, etc.

The thing is about living on a working poor income, though, is that while you may be able to afford one or two splurgy budget items, you really have to pick and chose. So, owning a dog when your circumstances require a dog walker is a splurgy item. It's a priority. I get that. It's ok. But it also means you simply can't afford too many other splurgies. Gym membership is a splurgy. Expensive film photography is a splurgy. $50/mo. on toiletries is splurgy. Writers' groups are splurgies.

Maybe, technically and on paper, you have room in your budget for all of those. But as others have mentioned, there are other expense categories that you haven't even listed, and to fit the photography+writers' groups+entertainment+car repairs+etc. into that $235 surplus over your fixed expenses seems like it would be a real nail-biter. I understand that having creative outlets is good, but reducing the stress of living so close to the bone is also good. You have to weigh those two things against each other.
posted by drlith at 4:05 AM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'd like to make more of a dent in my credit card debt, but I figure if I keep the payments lower, I can keep my spending on the credit cards lower.

If you're really interested in making a budget, your spending on credit cards needs to be zero. That's where the emergency vet comes from, but that shouldn't be where your gym membership and car insurance get buried.

Move car insurance payment to the "gas" line item in the budget and call it "transportation." And move the gym membership payment to the "dog walker" payment and call it "exercise." Then you see true numbers for what you are paying for your car every month and what you are paying for exercise every month.

I think you could cut out the dog-walker. $225/month is a lot of money. Get up earlier and go on a brisk walk/run with the dog, and do the same when you get home, and cut the gym cost. Give a neighbor a nominal amount to let the dog out to pee mid-day (or a high school kid to let the dog out to pee after school), and turn $225/month into $50.

A 1-br for $650 is nice, but a shared 2-br for $500 each is better, plus you share utilities (and maybe have a built-in dog-walker).
posted by headnsouth at 4:16 AM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

Save up a thousand for an emergency fund then use the snowball method to knock out that credit card debt. Then cut up the cards!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:16 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

60/month on utilities seems really low for summertime in LA, especially if you have internet at your house. You also leave out car insurance and maintenance, which you can expect to pay for regularly.
Also, I don't see how you have time for all those hobbies if you are going to be working 60 hours/week, commuting, putting in the effort to eat on 150/month (you pretty much trade time for money when it comes to food at that price range), and giving your dog an adequate amount of attention. Make yourself a time budget and calculate how much each of your hobbies with a monthly bill will wind up costing per hour you can actually spend on them. That should make it obvious which ones you can comfortably cut.
If you do get roommates, talk to them in advance about how much time they're willing to put into your dog. Don't, as others seem to be suggesting assume that a roommate means you can fire the dog walker.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 5:18 AM on June 27, 2012

Oh and I did check your history. You need to keep trying to rehome the dog....could someone foster it until you can knock some of that debt down?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:21 AM on June 27, 2012

Let's cut to the chase + your job pays too little - $700/week for 60 hrs? Why no overtime after 40 hrs? Is that legal? If it is legal, that means you have a professional-like, degree-requiring job. So keep on looking for a better one tbat pays more than $10/hr.

Cut down your cc payment to the minimum. Cancel the gym membership. Consider getting rid of the car.

If you are dedicated to the dog, then you will have to make unusual sacrifices - like finding a super-cheap rental arrangement.
posted by yarly at 5:26 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

(and quit the expensive hobbies)
posted by yarly at 5:27 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you on the pill? If so, you could see if your doctor would give you a prescription for three packs of pills at a time, and then you might only have to pay one co-pay for all 3 packs (depending on how your insurance company charges).

Also, you want to look into switching to an IUD. My insurance covered my Mirena (which has hormones), and for ~$50 (I think it was $35 for the IUD, $15 for the office visit to get it inserted), and I'm good for 5 years, which comes to less than $1 a month. A copper (non-hormonal) IUD lasts twice as long.
posted by amarynth at 5:37 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

My thought about rent is perhaps you can get a room with another dog owner, perhaps a place with a doggie door and a fenced in yard.

The other option is to hire a neighborhood kid to come in and check on your dog when he or she gets home from school. My sister had this arrangement for years, until her kid grew up and went to collage. It cost her $20 per week, and she'd decorate the pay envelope with stickers.

There's a thing called E-Meals, the idea is that you tell them what store you like to shop in and they provide you with a menu for the week, with shopping lists and recipes, based upon what's on sale that week. It's $5 per month. This might help you with shopping and cooking. It's an all in one kind of thing.

You can do it, it's just going to take vigilence, being on this financial plan will be your second job.

I also do the coupon thing, which saves me all kinds of $$$. I don't buy food at the grocery store (we have an awesome farmer's market in Atlanta) but toiletries and sundries and makeup and stuff I get dirt cheap by combining coupons with loss leaders. (shampoo for $1, stuff like that.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is not a realistic budget. Not even remotely.

First: What in the heck kind of job are we talking about here? 60 hours a week? Mandatory? You should be getting overtime at 40 hours a week, yes? So that's, what, $10 an hour? I can't think of many jobs that pay $10 an hour that will let you work more than 35-40 hours a week, much less require it. Something seems funny.

Second, 60 hours a week at a wage job, month in month out, is just implausible on its face. It assumes that you will never take a day off, never be sick, and never have your hours cut. These are all invalid assumptions. No one can work 60-hour weeks without a break, not even big-firm corporate lawyers. They can come pretty close, but (1) they do have and use PTO, and (2) they can be miserable sons of bitches while they're doing it. Heck, one of the perks of their setup is that their salaries enable them to afford the sorts of activities that permit them to deal with the stress. Regardless, you will miss some work, and you will have your hours cut occasionally. The idea that an employer is deliberately having you work 20 hours of overtime every week is simply incredible. I'd be willing to guess that $540 a week is going to be pretty close to your maximum take-home, and that at $10 an hour, your actual average net is going to be closer to $450, tops. Now your budget is at least $125 a month in the red, and we're just getting started

Third, your food budget is woefully inadequate. You will not have time to cook, so eating for $5 a day means you're basically limited to ramen, bread, balogna, and peanut butter, three meals a day, seven days a week. Even TV dinners cost a few bucks, and you just can't afford it. Oh, and you can never eat out. So $150 a month on food is just not realistic. $250 a month is your likely minimum figure there, assuming you never buy booze either. Now we're at $225 a month in the red.

Fourth, you have budgeted nothing for your car. This is unrealistic. You will need to be putting money aside every month, at least $100 ideally, to take care of things like oil changes, maintenance, and saving for a new one. Otherwise you'll be caught flat-footed the first time anything goes wrong. $100 is sort of a bare minimum there. Now we're at $335 in the red.

Fifth, you've forgotten a few things. You need to buy clothes. You need to buy shoes. Even the Salvation Army and Goodwill aren't free. You need to do laundry, which means buying detergent if nothing else. You need to buy cleaning supplies. You mention car insurance, but you haven't budgeted for it, and that alone could easily run you $100 a month. You also mention a gym membership, but you haven't budgeted anything for that either. Doing all of those things for less than $200 a month would be pretty damn frugal. $250-300 seems more plausible. Now we're at $535-$635 in the red.

Sixth, you're right: life is expensive. The idea that you can always keep all of these expenses to exactly what you've budgeted is unrealistic. So is the idea that there will never be any extra expenses that aren't part of your budget. So really, you need to take that budget and add like 10-20% to the total. Now we're between $735 and $850 in the red, and you're basically screwed. Even if you take out the $100 you've budgeted for your savings account, you're still massively in the hole. You'd need to eliminate that, the dog, and the credit card payments to have a hope of breaking even.

Observations: (1) You cannot afford a dog. This isn't "'tude," it's just the simple fact of the situation. Even $35 a month on dog food is too much. (2) Your credit card payments are killing you. (3) You probably can't afford health insurance right now. (4) You cannot afford to spend any money on your creative pursuits. (5) Even making the modifications I've suggested, you can never see a movie, never buy a book, and never, ever, go on vacation. Granted, a lot of people live this way--they're called "working poor," and there are millions of them--but you don't seem to want to do that. This is going to require some adjustment on your part.
posted by valkyryn at 6:18 AM on June 27, 2012 [26 favorites]

What do you mean 'additional over time after 60 hours?' Will you be working up to 60 hours on a regular basis, and if so, does your weekly income estimate include 20 hours at 1.5x pay? If it does, $540/week seems a little low. In California and most states, overtime pay starts over 40 hours except in certain exempted situations.

Also, your toiletry expenses seem awfully high -- are you really going to use that much each month?
posted by imagineerit at 6:36 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you did indeed include 20 hours of overtime in your estimate of $700/week before taxes, that means your new job only pays $10/hr... that's pretty poor for someone living on their own in LA. Have you looked for roommates (as multi-unit apartments are cheaper per occupant than singles, usually)? Keep in mind that at that pay rate you'll have to make every single meal you ever eat so when you're exhausted from your 12 hour shift you won't have the option of getting takeout because you're too tired to cook.

Overall it looks like it's going to be very shitty but I suppose you don't have any alternatives?
posted by imagineerit at 6:39 AM on June 27, 2012

I guess what I'm saying is that moving to a big, expensive city for a $10/hr job seems ill advised unless you would otherwise be even worse off.
posted by imagineerit at 6:40 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your budget scares me - I see a lot of the same problems valkyryn sees. I'm not sure what your other options are, though? If you have to, you can make it work - millions of people make do with less. But you have no room for error in this budget, and the first medical bill, vet bill, car repair, or other unexpected expense is going to put you even further into credit card debt, which is already crippling you. You need to find someplace cheaper to live and/or lower your credit card payments. You are going to feel really poor with that budget.

Finer points: that $700 is post-tax, right? Health insurance payments should be taken out pre-tax, so it won't be quite $80 that you're paying. Definitely try to find an alternate, cheaper arrangement for the dog or else you *are* going to have to give him/her up eventually. And find someplace even cheaper to live, if at all possible.
posted by mskyle at 6:46 AM on June 27, 2012

Finer points: that $700 is post-tax, right? Health insurance payments should be taken out pre-tax, so it won't be quite $80 that you're paying.

First, it doesn't seem to be post-tax. The OP estimates she'll have $540 a month, net. I still think this is too high, but she did at least plan on paying taxes, which is to her credit. A lot of people in this position don't.

Second, purchasing health insurance on the private market is not a deductible expense, so if the figure is $80/week, it really will be $80/week. As most wage jobs that pay $10/hour don't include health insurance, this is plausible.
posted by valkyryn at 6:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ah, I was not reading closely. On the health insurance I was going by "The job provides excellent health benefits that cost $80/month," which seemed to suggest that it was an employer plan.

It doesn't make a big difference either way - it's dog food money at best.
posted by mskyle at 7:00 AM on June 27, 2012

Like others have said, I don't see the following:
-laundry (& cleaning supplies - a can of lysol runs over $7!)
-car insurance (really bad idea to have it on your credit card - don't borrow from Peter to pay Paul, the credit card fees/interest will get bad- I promise)
-yearly car inspection & car registration
-phone/texting (ok, your parents pay for now, but things change)
-local taxes or school taxes - vary by region, but I have to pay one tax for $106 a year for a municipal tax
-apartment insurance (mine runs $100 a year, so cheap, it's crazy not to get it)
-medical expense co-pays for visits or prescriptions other than the pill
-vet visits
-ANY kind of medical, pet or vehicle emergency fund

I agree that your utility estimate is kind of low.
I also think your toiletry budget is kind of low at $50 - those things (like an $8 mascara) add up quick.

If you take anything from this thread, its that you really need to pay down that credit card debit. Slow down and do this right. You want it all, but you can't afford it all. Trust me that if you minimize now, you'll have money later to do all the things you want to do, but if you keep going full steam ahead with all this spending on your credit card, you will never be able to catch up and will spend a large part of your adult life paying off that debt.
Good luck.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:03 AM on June 27, 2012

For starters, a quick look at the CA labor laws says that you should be getting no less than time-and-a-half for anything between 40-60 hours, and 2x for anything beyond 60 hours, so you need to make absolutely sure this is what's happening.

Second, I would try and find a place that is cheaper and/or has roommates to split living expenses. If at all possible, this should be near public transit so you don't have to spend all that money on gas. If your social life is often near public transportation as well, sell the car (and pay off the loan if it still exists), sign up with Zipcar for errands and the occasional excursion to and from non-transit destinations, and put the rest towards the credit card debt. That gets rid of all of the associated expenses.

I don't know how you're spending $50/month on toiletries, but I'm assuming cosmetics, and since I'm a guy who spends maybe $100 a year on toiletries, I'm not really in a place to speak about this. Start buying generics instead of name-brand, maybe get a Costco account and buy in bulk as well?

At this point, I'm not sure I'd go so far as to find another home for the dog, but paying someone that much to walk your dog is a rich person's game. The problem here is that it looks like you chose a job with hours that are highly incompatible with a dog's healthy lifestyle. A roommate situation might help, if they're amenable and you offer to pay them a little (under $100/month), but even while working 12 hours a day you should be able to walk him at least once a day.

Oh, and cut way back (or entirely) on the expensive hobbies unless they are directly related to a job you are in or are in the active process of trying to get. In fact, drop paying for one or the other at all regardless of utility. You shouldn't be paying hundreds of dollars for new cameras and equipment or for multiple writers' group fees when you can't pay to keep yourself healthy in the event of an emergency. If they're entirely creative pursuits, you can pick them back up when you're in a better financial place, but at this point they're just obstacles to you keeping your head above water.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:20 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess to give you a psychological marker -- when I was living in an expensive city on a comparable salary, I just did not have it in my head to buy any sort of thing beyond the minimum. It was a totally different mindset. Didn't join a gym, didn't have a car, didn't have cable or internet at home, did not have an expensive hobby, rented the cheapest place possible, did not go out to dinner, did not have a dog, walked everywhere. My only expenses were rent, utilities, food/minimal toiletries, small student loan payments, cell phone bill. Entertainment was going out for beers sometimes, or coffee & a bagel & newspaper on a Sunday. I only made it because I had a cushion of cash from a previous job. And I only had this job because it was a short-term step on the career ladder.
posted by yarly at 7:33 AM on June 27, 2012

I have worked 12-hour days for months on end and I can tell you that you are NOT going to have any time or energy to pursue your creative hobbies/passions, nor will you have time for the gym. You're going to be too exhausted from working, commuting and (presumably) making cheap healthy meals from scratch. So, just cut your hobbies and gym out of your budget for now. One day when things are better you can pick them up again.

I really think you're going to find it damn near impossible to live on $150 a month for food when you are working 12+ hour days. At the end of a 12 hour day, opening a can of soup seems like too much work. Chopping vegetables or waiting for a pot of beans and rice to cook? Forget it. And your weekends are going to be so full of all the things you were too tired and busy to do during the work week (laundry, clean your apartment, pay bills, buy groceries, take out the garbage, get your hair cut, see the doctor/vet, call mom and dad, etc) that you may not be able to count on making a huge pot of something to go in the freezer for the upcoming week.

Is that $400 monthly credit card payment the absolute minimum you have to pay, or are you trying to pay more than the minimum? This is not going to be a popular opinion, but I think you should consider paying a little less on the card (if the minimum isn't $400, that is) so that you have a little more money per month for food. At the least, do this for the first few months so you can get a feel for how accurate and realistic your budget is going to be.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:53 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

My guess is that the OP is working in the entertainment industry, in production. In which case a) $700/week is pretty typical for where she is likely at, and b) the "get a new job" advice is rather silly and irresponsible, as she would have to work her way up to do so (either that or abandon her career, start totally from scratch, have little relevant experience in other fields, etc -- if you really advise THAT, you're making a much bigger claim than you think you are).

I work in a similar field in LA, I make less than the OP and I have higher rent, and I do okay. I don't have either the credit card debt or the dog walker fees, however, and I think the OP has underbudgeted for groceries.

My short answer is that I think you're going to be okay -- though you're at the skin of your teeth. My longer answer is that you need to deeply think about paying back the credit cards less quickly and finding another way to walk your dog (the advice about going for a run with your dog before or after work and thereby drop both the gym and the dog walking costs is something to think about).
posted by lewedswiver at 7:59 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I only have input on three elements of your budget, and they are largely in agreement with things other people have said:

1. Groceries - $150 p/m? HM. Hm. Hmmm. Yeah, I think you are definitely under-budgeting. Twice that is what you would get if you were suddenly getting a full "foodstamp" (SNAP) benefit, if that helps.

2. Credit card debt - It's good to be responsible and get this taken care of. Focus on paying down the debt so that it's gone, and you will feel so much relief when it's all over, I promise. And then you'll have that money in your pocket again! Erase debt before investing in savings.

3. The "expensive hobbies" - if they are related to your career and will help you realise greater success, then they are a worthy investment and could even be mitigated in your taxes. If they are not related to your career or if they could be put off for a bit, then set them aside long enough to focus on getting yourself more squared away and maybe one more rung up the ladder. Perhaps find some free groups that do almost what the current ones do.

Good luck. I know it's hard to figure out your way in the world, and planning will certainly help you make a better outcome for yourself!
posted by batmonkey at 8:12 AM on June 27, 2012

It would be very helpful to know what budget you've been living on so far. Maybe $150 on groceries is a breeze after years of living on $120, say, but I've just cut down to $180 (equivalent) while working long hours and it's hard, hard work. That's $6 a day. A can of Diet Coke blows the budget, as does having a coffee meeting, and forgetting my lunch means not eating. I'd been overspending before and it's comforting knowing that the strict, militant limits will allow me to scrape by on my very low income, but it's comforting, not comfortable.

Coupling new, recurring expenses like gym membership or car insurance with your credit card debt is misleading for you, let alone for us – I'd look at the numbers with those figures as monthly expenses under 'hobbies' and 'transport' or similar. I also agree with the comments about your budget being incomplete, and you need contingencies for predictable emergencies or you're going to be underwater because of needing new headlight bulbs or some aspirin. Give yourself a chance!

Finally, I agree with lewedswiver about your work prospect and I think the hours and needing a car go along with that. That's fine, but you're going to have to have it very firmly ingrained that everything you spend money on is taking away from something else, and you can't have it all. Have the painful planning session where you weigh up your gym membership against your dog against your hobby, etc, and weigh up your current living situation and your new job, because something's got to give. The envelope method of budgeting seems like it might be a good way to stop yourself from being able to go over your budget – you'll know unambiguously that you've $10 left to feed yourself for four days if things have gone wrong.
posted by carbide at 8:23 AM on June 27, 2012

- You're going to need to find a cheaper living situation. This could be shared or a room in a house or SOMETHING. Maybe live further away.

- This working 60 hour/week situation for $700 is really terrible.

If you were my pal, I would suggest that you do something radical to pay down your debt (you don't say how much you have, but...): living at home with your parents is the most obvious solution to this. Or take the absolutely highest paying job that you can - waiting tables perhaps - to pay down this debt and get a nest egg.

Your debt is a chain holding you back from living the life that you want.
posted by k8t at 8:29 AM on June 27, 2012

I work in the entertainment industry, and my wages are pretty standard, unfortunately. Hollywood is full of assistants with shitty cars and credit card debt (or a lot of family money). So, no, I'm not going to get another job or move in with my parents across the country - I want to give my career a few more years before declaring it dead.

On that note, my hobbies are career-related. And also in the "my job is in the entertainment industry vein, I get lunch provided at work every day. Does that make my grocery budget sound more reasonable?

The rent would be with a roommate in a cheap part of town. Most people I know pay way more than $650 for rent. I dont think I could share a room with someone - we'll see if it gets to that point.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2012

Re: Debt - at this point, I'm just trying to not let it spiral out of control. I have a little less than $3,500 on two credit cards.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:52 AM on June 27, 2012

What's the interest rate on the credit cards? Could you replace the credit card with a personal loan at a lower rate? Borrow the cash from your parents to pay off the cards and pay them back at a lower rate?
posted by pharm at 9:06 AM on June 27, 2012

(I'd ditch the gym payments & find a way to exercise elsewhere: You could spend that time walking the dog for instance, but that's me, not you...)
posted by pharm at 9:09 AM on June 27, 2012

Hey pharm - I think my parents could pay for the gym membership as they are health nuts. It's pretty cheap, though - $30/month.

Walking the dog is not enough exercise for me.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:11 AM on June 27, 2012

And also in the "my job is in the entertainment industry vein, I get lunch provided at work every day. Does that make my grocery budget sound more reasonable?

Significantly! The skin-of-your-teeth situation still applies, but now it might be worth experimenting with getting dinner and breakfast and snacks out of $4 per day to see if that's feasible – the savings are, as it was beautifully put upthread, dog food.
posted by carbide at 9:13 AM on June 27, 2012

I have a little less than $3,500 on two credit cards.

While it's admirable to want to pay $400/mo towards this debt, were I in your shoes right now I'd be paying the minimum due x 2, and putting $100/mo in savings. You will be screwed the first time you blow a tire or need to go to the vet if you don't, or, of course, you'll have to put those costs right on the card.....
posted by tristeza at 9:15 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you urged us to look at your question history about having a dog, I expected to find out that you'd had this dog for years, loved him completely, and couldn't live without him.

I don't want to be really mean about it because maybe this is your first experience as an adult pet owner, but I just want you to think about why you feel ethically compelled to rescue this particular dog simply because you happened to be the one to find him. Four million cats/dogs are euthanized per year. Do you feel the same amount of responsibility towards those dogs? Furthermore, you're unable to assume the responsibility of owning an animal. You don't have enough money or time. Just take him to a low kill shelter (for example Pasadena keeps animals for at least a month).
posted by acidic at 9:18 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Given the (usually) high rates of interest on credit card debt & the fact that (by the sounds of it) the OP has parental support to fall back on in case of crisis she's probably best off financially putting spare cash into paying down the credit card tbh.

Better to have paid off debt now & put it back on again in 6 months to pay a vet bill than to have accumulated "savings" somewhere else which pays a lower interest rate than the credit card debt costs over that 6 months. Either way you end up paying the vet bill but in the interim you've paid more interest on the debt than you needed to.
posted by pharm at 9:20 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

NB: ablazingsaddle. Your SOA doesn't include a complete breakdown of the costs of running your car. You should probably be more explicit about those. (insurance, servicing costs, replacement of consumable parts etc etc)

How much of that $400 / month is in fact recurring expenses?
posted by pharm at 9:23 AM on June 27, 2012

First off, kudos to you for even thinking about this. At a much younger age, I didn't know what some things cost, and thus I didn't budget for them, and if I did, it was a wild guess.

Most people don't know, for example, how much it costs to actually own and operate a car. They just assume gas and car payment, if they financed it. It's considerably more, though.

One thing that you CAN do to help yourself in the meals department - when you can, buy in bulk, and pre-make your meals in Gladware (or something cheap and comparable) containers. The added advantage to this is portion control and healthy eating. Knowing you have something good in the fridge/freezer keeps you from eating crap, which is expensive and ultimately makes you feel worse.

I am doing much better than I used to, but I still follow this process for health reasons. Big bag of brown rice, some bags of frozen veggies, and whatever meat you want (fish, chicken, beef, whatever you can get in bulk) or some beans/seasonings (for variety) plus a couple hours with a Foreman grill and some boiling water and you can make 12-24 meals on a Sunday and be in good shape for a couple weeks.

On the plus side, fruit will begin to taste like dessert.

I realize this isn't totally what you were looking at, but doing the meals this way DEFINITELY allows you to control your costs.
posted by Thistledown at 9:35 AM on June 27, 2012

My take home pay is only a little higher than yours, though I don't have a car or a dog. Here is the budget I follow, for comparison purposes (all numbers are monthly):

Pay: 2436 (includes health insurance, 6% 401K, and transit pass)
Rent: 1105 (includes all utilities except internet)
Cash*: 433
Debt: 250
Health: 120 (includes prescriptions etc.)
Savings: 100
Internet/Phone/Netflix: 114
Clothes**: 67
Household***: 34

Unbudgeted: 213

* I have found that, for me, it works best if I don't budget out groceries/entertainment/restaurants separately, but instead give myself $100 a week in cash. This allows me to swap expenses around depending on what I feel like doing that week. If I know I'll be going out for brunch one morning and happy hour one night, I might cut my grocery budget for the week down to $20 (yay lentils!). On other weeks where I don't eat out, I might spend $50 on groceries (and stock up on basics), $10 on a yoga class, and $20 on "extras" like coffee out with friends. This seems frivolous but it keeps me from feeling deprived.

** $200 every three months

*** $100 every three months (this is for things like new sheets, lightbulbs, etc.)

The biggest difference is that I live in a city where I don't need to have a car. I do pay more in rent to live in a place with good access to public transportation. Also, for me it is worth it to rent from a landlord who pays the utilities... because my budget is so tight, I need the reliability of knowing exactly what my expenses will be any given month.

Also, I have a cat rather than a dog, so my pet expenses are minimal... approx $10 per week for food and litter. This comes out of my weekly cash budget.
posted by GraceCathedral at 9:44 AM on June 27, 2012

Thistledown, that is what I'm looking for. Constructive criticism is much better than quit-your-job-give-up-your-dream-share-a-room-with-a-stranger-you-dummy. I do pre-make meals already, but I need to be more deliberate about it. I rarely eat out beyond a $2/

Sorry guys. Trying not to be a bratty AskMeFi'er.

Re: The cost of keeping my car running - I try to do the bare minimum. I just put a lot of money into it over the past six months (new timing belt, new catalytic converter, new thermostat, etc.). I get an oil change on time, but let's say it's $25/month.

My recurring expenses on my credit cards are a little less than $200/month. So, $200 for expenses and $200 for debt.

I think I'm really going to try to find a place for $550/month. That would be awesome.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:54 AM on June 27, 2012

Hi ablazingsaddle!

I just MeMailed you a thousand questions about your job and your budget and your field and how it relates to me, personally, so I thought I'd weigh in here despite the fact that I think there are already a lot of great answers here.

Firstly, I work in TV/Film Production as well, so I have a ton of ideas about how you can leverage some of the perks of doing this for a living.

Example. Food. You've already mentioned that work pays for lunch (sorry, didn't see that before asking that question in my MeMail to you...). Can you stretch that into more meals? For example, once upon a time we had this crazy broke intern who would use his daily $10 lunch allowance to buy a massive haul from the cheapest Chinese or Mexican joint that would deliver to our office. He'd eat a couple tacos or some dumplings, and then he'd take home enough food for a week of dinners.

Even if you're not willing to go quite that far, definitely think about taking home leftovers wherever possible. Leftover rice from Chinese or Indian takeout makes great fried rice for dinner with a few pantry staples and frozen veggies added, and takes under ten minutes to whip up. Collect the bread from all the folks who ordered salad and are on low-carb diets and use it to make french toast for weekend breakfasts.

Can you get free stuff through work? Cast off decor from the Set Dressers? Last season's wardrobe? Free home repairs from your buddy in the Electric department? This is yet another reason it's good to be on friendly terms with EVERYONE, not just people you think can get your script read.

Can you make a little freelance income here and there through work? For example I used to be a PA in the Art Department. I could easily get $100 here or there for renting my stuff to our Set Decorator. If you're a photographer, look into selling your work to your Art Department or having them rent framed pieces from you. I've also made extra money by walking cast members' dogs, babysitting the producers' kids, and the like.

Conversely, is there somewhere you're spending more because you spend a lot of time around VIPs who make exponentially more than you? For example are you wasting $10-15 a week on Starbucks when you could be folding your caffeine habit into production-funded coffee runs? Going out with coworkers and ordering fancy cocktails when you could pregame and nurse a $3 beer? It's easy for your eyes to get bigger than your bank account when 90% of people you are around all day spend money like it's nothing.

Cut the gym membership at least till your credit card debt is paid off. You live in one of the most temperate cities in the USA - take up running or cycling in the meantime. Is there a free public pool where you could swim laps? Check the Craigslist free section for leftover fitness equipment. Worst comes to worst, you could stop working out for six months or a year and it probably wouldn't be the end of the world.
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

More thoughts.

Are you leveraging your job to be making the MOST money you possibly can?


If you're an production office PA, does your office run on shifts? (this is a NYC production thing, not sure if it's as common out west) If so, the one PA who is likely to swing overtime on a regular basis is the late shift PA. If you're looking to squeeze out every last penny, you want to be late shift, even if it means you sacrifice your Friday nights.

Is there sometimes an opportunity to come in on a Saturday to gaff a rehearsal, help out the payroll accountant, or drive someone to the airport? You want to volunteer for those because they often net you the coveted Sixth Day, where you're paid for a full extra day at your overtime rate.

Are there other things you could be volunteering for that might net you a little extra money? Are there things you could be reimbursed for that you're not? Are you getting the full benefit of any kit rental, cell phone reimbursement, or mileage that comes with your job? Are you putting down every. last. hour you work? Shitty bosses will pressure you to work overtime and not put in for it. Fuck that noise. Stand up for yourself on this, even if it means talking to the production manager yourself.

(Protip: if you get a kit rental for supplying your own computer, smartphone, GPS, etc - throw that money directly into paying off your credit card debt. That way, when you need to replace the items in question, you're not adding to your debt or squandering parental charity. Ideally you should be kicking that money directly into savings so that you've got money waiting when it's time to replace these items.)
posted by Sara C. at 10:43 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are your parents in a situation where they could pay off your outstanding credit card debt in exchange for monthly payments from you?

For example you could offer to pay them $175/month for 24 months, which would be less than you're paying on the outstanding balance now, but would still give them a little interest for their trouble. And you would be debt-free in a reasonable time frame.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 10:49 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

$3.5K in not crazy nutty debt. If your folks or ANYONE ELSE will loan you $3500, you can pay off your cards and then pay them back at a rate of $291 per month. That puts an extra $100 back into your monthly budget. You would have to commit to not using those cards once paid off, however; you'd have to know you are very reliable in this way, and you'd be well advised to put them in the freezer anyway.

Is this possible?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:08 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi SaraC. - Check your memail later. I would say that all your suggestions strike me as a little odd, but you're coming from New York and I think the entertainment industry culture in New York is very different than in LA. For example, we don't get a lunch allowance. We just get lunch - there's usually a limit to how much each person can spend, but it all goes out in one order. I try to leverage office lunches for leftovers, but it can be pretty hard.

Gym membership is going to be parentally funded now. I asked, and they said they can do it. They don't, however, have the cash to deal with my credit card debt and I don't think they want to.

Would I be the worst person in the world if I only got a dog walker three days a week? So, maybe two $10/15 min walks, and one $15/30 min walk? So $35/week, or $140 a month? My poor foster dog.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:10 AM on June 27, 2012

Oh, and sorry another question: When I say toiletries, I meant shampoo, soap, etc., but also toilet paper, paper towels, and the like. Is that how it's supposed to be, or do most people include those items in their grocery total?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:18 AM on June 27, 2012

Would I be the worst person in the world if I only got a dog walker three days a week? So, maybe two $10/15 min walks, and one $15/30 min walk? So $35/week, or $140 a month? My poor foster dog.

If the dog can get by with not being walked TuesdayThursday, then it can get by with not being walked MondayWednesdayFriday. Plus that's confusing for the poor dog's bladder.

Find a no-kill shelter and they will find a foster (or permanent) home for the dog with someone who has the spare time and money necessary to take care of a dog.
posted by headnsouth at 11:19 AM on June 27, 2012

Sorry to threadsit, I just worry that my life is weird and I'm not being clear:

I'm looking for a spot for him in a no-kill shelter, as well as a forever home, as well as another foster home. Suggestions to do so are not helpful.

I walk him for about an hour in the morning, including some running, and for about an hour in the evening, usually broken up into two walks.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:21 AM on June 27, 2012

Oh, and sorry another question: When I say toiletries, I meant shampoo, soap, etc., but also toilet paper, paper towels, and the like. Is that how it's supposed to be, or do most people include those items in their grocery total?

I have a family and I don't spend $50/month on toiletries. I buy tp in bulk on sale and I use tea towels & kitchen rags instead of paper towels. I keep a handful of fast-food paper napkins in my car's glovebox but at home we use cloth napkins.

(These are just to point out that some habitual expenses aren't really necessary, they're just habit.)
posted by headnsouth at 11:22 AM on June 27, 2012

I'm looking for a spot for him in a no-kill shelter, as well as a forever home, as well as another foster home. Suggestions to do so are not helpful.

Then the $225/month for a dog-walker should be removed from the budget and put in the "emergency expense fund" line because it's a short-term expense. You are budgeting for the dog as though he is a pet, not a foster.

My experience with shelters is that if they have met the dog and agree he's a great dog, and you tell them you can only foster the dog for 1 month, then they'll work very hard to make space for him in that timeframe. If you indicate that you will keep him for as long as it takes, then it will take forever, because there will always be other dogs whose situations are more dire.
posted by headnsouth at 11:29 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re "lunch allowance" - we, too, just get lunch, not actual money we can pocket. But it's not uncommon here to see people order the absolute max and take home food for later. This shouldn't be that hard to do, unless portions at LA restaurants are tiny.

Seriously, though, do not be afraid to be a little idiosyncratic in order to make ends meet. I get the sense that entry level Hollywood culture can be pretty conformist. Think hard about whether you are spending money to keep up appearances.
posted by Sara C. at 11:31 AM on June 27, 2012

Also, a lot of my advice up there about leveraging your job presumes that you work in production, and not for a casting agency or as an assistant to some producer who mostly does development. Still, my advice to be creative and take advantage of everything you can still stands. For example spending $50 a month on toilet paper and such seems insane if you work 12 hour days, even if you're not willing to be mercenary and dip into the office cleaning supplies every now and again.
posted by Sara C. at 11:45 AM on June 27, 2012

That $400/month in debt service is going to destroy you. It's awesome if you can stretch your grocery budget down by $50 a month, or give up your monthly writer's groups or whatever, but there's just no way to cut out $100/week. I don't see it in these numbers. The thing that will make the most difference in your life, truly, is to either get a bank loan to pay off the credit cards and cut up the cards, or do a very, very dedicated zero interest balance transfer to stop the interest on your cards from destroying you.

Or take the Suze Orman tact, which she recommends for young creatives, and just pay the minimum on the cards until you make more money and have more breathing room and can attack the things. (Doing that would make me insane, or insaner, whichever, but I'm not you and you aren't me.)
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:07 PM on June 27, 2012

I walk him for about an hour in the morning, including some running, and for about an hour in the evening, usually broken up into two walks.

This is more than sufficient. Does the dog need a dog walker? Does he pee in the house without one?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:28 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

let's say that my rent will be $650/month.

That seems very very low for anywhere in the LA area, even for an apartment share. And not to be even more of a buzzkill, but people pay a significant premium for apartments that take dogs.

So no, I don't think your budget is realistic unless you get a weekend job as well. Which would be fucking exhausting after 12-hour workdays, but.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:30 PM on June 27, 2012

Can you swap dog-walking with someone who works a swing shift? Like, they walk your dog at noon and you walk their dog at midnight?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:31 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Or, alternately, if you're going to be walking your dog in the morning and evening regardless, can you get a neighbor to pay you to walk theirs, too? That might cover the cost of your midday dog walker.

If/when your dog finds its forever home, you could continue your side gig walking dogs to help pay down your debt.

Alternate idea: could you get a simple, relaxing weekend job? For example if you're going to be walking your own dog on weekends anyway, could you get a weekend dog walking gig?
posted by Sara C. at 12:42 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whoa, I was just catching up on this thread since my post, and I realized that I have a major typo: I meant to write that you might want to look into switching to an IUD. Believe me, I would never presume to know what any woman should want to do regarding birth control. Sorry about that!

Are you working with any particular foster or rescue group to try to place the dog? Perhaps they have someone who wouldn't mind popping by to walk him.
posted by amarynth at 2:23 PM on June 27, 2012

Hey Amarynth - thanks for correcting that. I was kind of seething - birth control is a very personal thing, and I have some very good reasons why I take the pill and won't get an IUD. Thanks for clearing that up.

And for all those suggesting hitting up rescue groups for more help, they've been supremely unhelpful. Sometimes weirdly hostile. I think it's just that there are so many abandoned dogs in LA that all the rescue groups are completely tapped out. The most I've gotten are courtesy listings and invitations to adoption events. No food, no money, no offers of walks, no room in a foster home - I didn't think it would be this difficult, but believe me when I tell you it's been really fucking difficult.

Might have gotten a second job already (more transcription), and hopefully the extra $150 or so a month will help me get by without completely losing my mind. Oh, and I will spend less on toilet paper, try to pimp myself out as a dog walker, take home leftovers whenever possible from work, ride by bike around town to save on gas, and plan my meals like it's my job. And my parents said that they can pick up the gym membership.

I've also decided to ditch cleaning products and use vinegar and other DIY stuff. Better for the environment, better for my wallet.

Thanks for the help everyone! I realize that my budget looks terrifying to people who have their shit together and don't work in creative fields and aren't twenty-four-years old and don't live in super expensive cities, but I'm trying really hard and I will try harder. But sometimes I wonder - how do so many of my coworkers have cable? I don't have any student loans, thankfully, so how do people with student loans, who make the same shitty pay that I do, have cable and nice apartments? Where are they hiding the money?

Hopefully life will get less poor in the next couple years.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:48 PM on June 27, 2012

But sometimes I wonder - how do so many of my coworkers have cable? I don't have any student loans, thankfully, so how do people with student loans, who make the same shitty pay that I do, have cable and nice apartments? Where are they hiding the money?

They live outside their means, or their parents help them substantially (like, pay their rent or all of their car expenses including insurance and major repairs substantially), or both. I think something that a lot of people don't realize about "creative" industries like TV, museums, art history (we were just talking about this in another thread, but it's so so true) is that a lot of people in them start out well-off with lots of money from their family or a spouse, or they live outside their means. When they say, "Haha, I'm so broke!", they don't mean that they're actually broke. They mean they can't go out to dinner every night that they want to. Which is not the same thing at all.

Could you go further afield geographically with the rescue groups? I HATE to say you have to give up your dog, but you really really are living tight right now. If a rescue group in Nevada or New Mexico, or upstate, could take him, could you drive him there one weekend?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:59 PM on June 27, 2012

how do so many of my coworkers have cable?...

This is sort of what I mean when I say to be careful about keeping up appearances.

For one thing, Snarl is right that many of them may live outside their means or have more extensive family help.

One thing I remember being distinctly aware of among my own peer group, immediately post-college, was the number of people who had access to credit cards with HUGE limits thanks to parents who helped them establish credit at a young age. At best, this was a massive safety net allowing them to never worry about savings, and at worst it was a blank check.

Another thing is this. When you're broke, it seems like "Everyone Else" has X, Y, and Z. And that can justify living beyond your own means, because it seems like "everybody does it."

A lot of people don't have the things you assume they have. Or they've been resourceful in getting access to them in unconventional ways. Or they splurge on some things that are really important to them and cut corners elsewhere. Unless you're looking at your coworkers' bank accounts, you just can't know what they have and how they came to have it.

A lot of people talk in really aspirational ways, too. Especially in the entertainment industry. Everyone wants everyone else to think that they are a Big Deal. So they say, "I can't make brunch this weekend, I'll be in the Hamptons," when they mean they'll be sleeping on the floor of their college roommate's parents' place in Amagansett. Meanwhile the girls who go to brunch eat lentils all week to be able to afford their mimosas. And everyone assumes that Everyone Else has plenty of money for Everything.

TL;DR: Don't worry about "Everyone Else".
posted by Sara C. at 3:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you interested in being an egg donor? There are a jillion ads for that and one round would pay off your cc debt
posted by cyndigo at 3:52 PM on June 27, 2012

After the screening phase, egg donation is a lengthy (3 to 6 weeks) process that carries non-trivial medical risks. It's incompatible with 12-hour work days, as frequent office visits are required.
If you would consider paid egg donation, you should think about paid plasma donation - less commitment, less risk and much less money, but easier on your body.

(I am not advocating that you do either of these things.)
posted by gingerest at 5:21 PM on June 27, 2012

I just did some quick math and you could pay off your credit card debt in a year if you pay only $300-$320 per month. When I get all motivated to pay off my debt by making huge credit card payments every month, I always end up charging things on the card when I run out of money before payday. That doesn't help at all. I think that your budget overflows should come out of your credit card payment instead of being actually put on the credit card.

Regardless, you can adjust your budget monthly, especially after you have lived with it for a few months.
posted by bendy at 8:17 PM on June 27, 2012

Yeah, as an egg donor myself, it really isn't at all compatible with 60+ hour workweeks for most people. I wouldn't recommend it for ablazingsaddle, given her obvious drive to succeed in this job.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:27 PM on June 27, 2012

As much as I'm tempted by the amount my eggs would bring in - being a young, healthy, attractive Jewish girl who aced the SATS - I don't have the time, and the whole things scares the shit out of me. Apparently you need a week to recover after the egg extraction - yikes!

I think my new plan, budget-wise is to pay my car insurance directly and cut down my credit card payments to $200/month. That doesn't save me much overall, but it gives me some breathing room. I'm not too concerned about paying my debt off within a year, but I'd like to keep things under control. Bendy's right about overshooting my credit card payments.

And I might have found a two-bedroom for $1,195! I need to get my roommate to fall in love with the place, but things will work out. Everything will be fine.

And another thing: I know it's possible to cut down all luxuries, but being poor is my reality, and I'd rather have some debt and live by the skin of my teeth than be miserable. I've been broke for the past three years, and the light at the end of the tunnel is still really far away. I don't eat out more than once a month, if that, and I rarely go to the movies, but having the love of a dog or the company of other writers or the ability to make silver gelatin prints makes life worth living.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:17 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I make about what you do, I think, but I live in a cheaper area and work fewer hours. My parents do not pay for anything, so I probably have more expenses than you do, but I also have neither a car nor credit card debt so it probably evens out. I have a few thoughts.

Having "some debt" and living "by the skin of your teeth" is going to be the exact sort of misery you say you want to avoid in your most recent post. It sucks to know that just one moderately sized emergency will totally sink you. That kind of stress is not tenable over the long term, especially if you're working that much. Also, I found that LA was only enjoyable if I had money. It's the worst, most depressing place I've ever been poor, by an enormous margin. I would never, ever do it again.

I think you might be devoting too much of your income to rent. I know that LA is expensive (as I said, I lived there before it threatened to destroy my soul), but you can probably find something cheaper. Yes, it sucks to live with roommates and it sucks to live in the lame 'burbs, but you do what you have to do.

It's not what you want to hear, but poor people don't have expensive hobbies or gym memberships or dog walkers. I'm not trying to be mean at all, because I totally understand where you're coming from, but it's one of those unfortunate facts about being working poor. There are tons of things that I want to do, but I can't because I don't have the disposable income right now. It's especially hard if you have friends who make more money than you do or don't keep a budget, because they're going to go out and have fun that you really cannot afford. This is probably especially true in a place like LA, where fun abounds for people who can or will pay for it.

As others have said, I'd contribute the minimum to my credit card debt for now. $400 is a huge chunk of your income. Savings account is a good idea, but consider contributing less than $100 per month. Maybe your parents would match your contribution or something?

I think your food budget is okay if your employer provides lunch, and I don't think it's my business to tell you whether or not you should keep your dog.

Anyway, I don't mean to sound harsh, because I know how tough this situation is. Just some things to consider. Best of luck to you.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 9:45 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that you qualify for some kind of public assistance, such as Medicaid or food stamps? Are there any low-income or rent-controlled housing options available to you?

You should look into those options. They might reduce your expenses. Your income may be too high, but it never hurts to ask.
posted by twblalock at 1:53 AM on July 1, 2012

Hey twblalock - I know this thread is really old, but I am wayyyy not poor enough for public assistance. I think a lot of people - and a lot of people on this thread - think that I'm super poor, and sometimes I feel that way, but in order to qualify for food stamps as a single person, your annual income (last I checked) has to be under $11,000/year. The requirements for Medicaid and other forms of public assistance, to the extent that they even exist in the United States, require similar levels of poverty. Yes, there are people that poor.

I am just rich enough to not qualify for public assistance, but slightly too poor to be comfortable. A lot of people have it much worse than I do. I'm scraping by, but I am grateful every day that I am not living out of my car and that I can more or less afford to eat. The level of true poverty in the United States, and in Los Angeles alone, is really depressing, and it helps keep my "struggle" in perspective.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:03 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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