I'm now the sole breadwinner. What else should I be doing to make sure we don't end up in the hole?
August 24, 2006 7:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm now the sole breadwinner. What else should I be doing to make sure we don't end up in the hole?

My girlfriend quit her job last week. I know she'll get another one, but I also know it's going to take a bit of time. And that's okay--I really am fine with it.

My question is about what else I should be doing right now while she searches for jobs.

Things I'm already doing:

I work two jobs (I was working three, but talk about burnout!) that add up to about 100 hours a week. Every penny from job #2 was going to pay off our rather extensive debt. Now, I'm rerouting that money to a savings account "just in case". I'm still paying the minimum on all our credit cards/loans, but I'm not putting all the extra money toward the debt until she gets a new job--it's more important right now to have money for rent than get the debt paid down a few months earlier.

Since I don't really have time for another job, I also do advertisements on my blog, which brings in a little cash, and a little is better than nothing.

We've stopped doing ANY spending except for groceries, rent, internet and phones (both of which I need for job #2), and transit, and the bills I mentioned above. The money from my two jobs will JUST pay for the things I've listed here--and we're screwed if there's any sort of emergency.

So, what else can/should I be doing to make sure that we'll be okay until she gets another job? Are there any other money-making opportunities I haven't thought of? Any other things I can cut out of my/our life that I haven't thought of?
posted by misanthropicsarah to Work & Money (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Ask for a raise at one or both jobs, and look to cut spending on anything else... If you can save a few bucks at the grocery store, it sounds like it would help. Cut out coffee, eating out, etc. Save up a little nest egg if at all possible, so you're not screwed in the case your car breaks down or whatever.
posted by knave at 7:31 AM on August 24, 2006

Do you have cable TV? If you haven't already, you may want to get rid of it for now.
posted by amro at 7:31 AM on August 24, 2006

We've already cut out eating out/ordering in; I no longer get my daily soda (my coffee equivalent); we don't own a car (take public transit); and we don't have cable.

posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:35 AM on August 24, 2006

Cutting out meat can be a bit of a money saver. Generally planning your grocery buying so that waste is cut down to an absolute minimum is good. Lots of veggies which your girlfiend will have time to cook from scratch rather than anything pre-prepared.
posted by biffa at 7:35 AM on August 24, 2006

Can you carpool or ride your bike to one of the jobs?

Can the GF find some parttime work to help until she lands her new job? Even waiting tables for a few hours a week would help.

Is there something you call sell and put towards that temp nest egg?
posted by anonpeon at 7:35 AM on August 24, 2006

Establish a budget and stick to it. If you do that, you'll know for sure whether or not you'll wind up in the hole.

Also, LifeHacker had a thread yesterday asking for comments on how to cut expenses that might have some useful suggestions.

Sounds like you've got the basics covered though. Good luck!
posted by revgeorge at 7:40 AM on August 24, 2006

Learn the love of soup. You can make big huge pots of many kinds of legume-based soups for a few dollars. Add some bread, and a couple can eat at least two to three hearty meals from it.

Where we live, we can save a little money by getting our phone service through our internet provider instead of the phone company. Don't know about Philadelphia.
posted by leapingsheep at 7:43 AM on August 24, 2006

Ask your work to reimburse you for all or part of your phone bill. Your chica could get a part time job while she searches for the next. It's rare that someone actually spends a full day searching for a job. She could even help you out with one of your jobs (help promote your blog?)). Ask your landlord if you (or her) can do some odd jobs or errands for a rent reduction. You could sell some of your stuff on ebay. Optimizing and tweaking adds on a high traffic blog can make big jumps in revenue. You could start an adult site with photos of your chica.
posted by rdurbin at 7:44 AM on August 24, 2006

Have your girlfriend do temp labour or day labour until she gets a new job, or have her do ALL the work around the house so you can help relax.

Don't let the pressure get to you. 100 hours is really too many to work.
posted by By The Grace of God at 7:44 AM on August 24, 2006

I dropped my phone bill to nothing more than basic local service, which is about $15 plus tax ($22, since taxes are so high). I then use a cheap calling card for long distance calls. I have no call waiting, caller ID, or long distance plan. It's a little thing, but it adds up.
posted by astruc at 7:52 AM on August 24, 2006

Oh yeah, if you have a cell phone, cancel the land line. (You may have already done this.) I did it three years ago and haven't looked back.
posted by knave at 7:55 AM on August 24, 2006

Yeah, after a week of job-searching, it usually calms down to a part-time pursuit. If she can get some kind of revenue-generating part-time or temp job, that would be a big help. It would also help her get out-and-about, which becomes hard to do when unemployed.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:58 AM on August 24, 2006

I am in a similar situation, I have a good job but massive school / car debt. The thing that helps me the most is my budget, I take out $100 in cash every week and that is all the money I get to spend. No credit cards, no debit, nothing. It really makes you think twice about going out to lunch or buying a coffee, videogame, whatever when you see that you will not have the money to go to a movie / nice dinner later in the week.

Most of my money goes to bills, some goes to savings, and the rest is taken out in $100 a week increments. If I want something nice (expensive) I have to save up for it from week to week which I do by making a pile of $20s in my closet. You start to appreciate how much a $300 ipod really costs when you live this way, and I see it as good training for the rest of my life... (although I am looking forward to a raise at the end of the year to make it like $140 a week, heh)
posted by outsider at 8:26 AM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm confused about why you have to scrimp so hard to make ends meet for two people when you're working so many hours. If you already have five figures savings, maybe you're saving too much. Or maybe you've got more rhousing than you can afford.

Internet: If its high-speed, you shouldn't be paying more than $60 a month.

Phones: No idea how extensive your use of them is, but it's hard to imagine they're more than $120 a month total.

Groceries: I've gotten by on $30 per person per week, but let's give you each a little more wiggle room: $320

Transit: $70 each for SEPTA pass = $140

Bills: ??

Rent: ??

Known expenses: $640

I have no idea how much you're making, but assuming it's at least $8 an hour, you must be bringing home (after taxes) at least $2,200 a month, considering the hours you're working.

Which means your rent and bills are eating up $1,560 per month. That sounds out-of-whack.

There are plenty of one- and two- bedroom apartments listed in Philly for $750 or less. If you're paying a lot more than that, you might want to consider moving. It will eat up a chunk of your current savings, but will help you save more inthe long run.

That leaves you with $810 per month that's all going toward bills and savings. Assume $200 toward electric/natural gas/water/sewer/garbage (which seems on the high side to me, but it gives us some wiggle room in this budget if you're paying too much for rent). You're still paying $610 per month toward debt and savings -- AT A MINIMUM -- since you may well be making more money.

Are you saving more than you can afford? Are you paying too much toward your debt?


Beyond looking more carefully at your budget, there are some other things to think about.

Insurance: You want some kind of insurance that will cover you in case you become disabled.

You should at least consider life insurance if you think you'd like to provide for your girlfriend in the case of your death. There are low-premium short-term policies -- good only for a few years.

You don't have to save as obsessively as you are forever. Once you have six months living expenses set aside, re-route your extra money to the debt.

If you're looking for ways to save on food, I've found that Mexican and Asian markets often have much better prices on groceries than you'll find in mainstream supermarkets.


And if you're not bringing home at least $2,200 per month in take-home pay, you need to look for another job. 100 hours a week is too much for so little money.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:39 AM on August 24, 2006

Switch to generic groceries where possible. Often it's just the same product in a different bag, especially when it comes to things like flour and sugar and whatnot.

Does your refrigerator have a freezer section? If so, you can always buy extra bread and meat when it's on sale and freeze it for later. Bread will keep for weeks. I'm not so certain about keeping times on meat, being a vegetarian and all, but it does keep for quite some time.

You can cut down on power too. Switch to a lower power lightbulbs and turn appliances like TVs off at the wall. Standby can suck power. Then there's your usual stuff, like turning lights off when you leave a room.

As for getting your lady to do a bit of part-time work while looking for something more substantial, I can tell you from experience that nothing motivates one to get a real job like a crappy one. Besides, this is the 21sr century. It's not your sole responsibility to support your girlfriend.
posted by Jilder at 8:40 AM on August 24, 2006

rhousing = housing, duh.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:41 AM on August 24, 2006

I don't know if you have this option in Philadelphia, but here in NM we have the option of playing a flat rate on utilities, rather than paying by usage. It means that for some months we might pay more than we might otherwise, but it also keeps it level for the upcoming cold months when most people's gas and electricity go through the roof. Also, you get re-evaluated on usage once a year. My bill just went down $63.00/month, and will stay lower even through the winter.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:53 AM on August 24, 2006

Also, set your thermostat for no lower than seventy-eight degrees to save on the air conditioning. I find I am perfectly comfortable at that temperature and it really does cut down on the electricity bill.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:56 AM on August 24, 2006

here in NM we have the option of playing a flat rate on utilities, rather than paying by usage. - Sara Anne

Many utilities will allow you to do this (here you can do it for water & eletricity & energy if you want) ask about 'equalized billing'.
posted by raedyn at 9:26 AM on August 24, 2006

Do you have stuff you could sell on eBay?
posted by essexjan at 9:36 AM on August 24, 2006

Do you have any specialized skills that you could use to do a little freelance work on the side? I see from your previous questions that you're familiar with Access - I've known several people who have picked up a bit of extra cash answering ads like this.

Of course, I'm not familiar with Access, so I don't know if this type of work would be too much strain on top of your already crazy workweek.
posted by lalex at 9:41 AM on August 24, 2006

Do you have stuff you could sell on eBay?

Be careful with this, it's easy to lose money selling on ebay. It used to be a sellers market and with the downturn of the economy people more people are trying to sell and less people are buying. It also can take a lot more time than it's worth. If you have large ticket items try selling on craigslist, at least you won't have to pay listing fees.

Also, 100 hours a week? Do you really need the money that bad? Working that much is bad for your health. Cut back on your hours and your girlfriend can get some temp work or something. If you have paid off your debt, try to relax a little.
posted by Melsky at 10:05 AM on August 24, 2006

Ignore the vegetarian BS about cutting out meat. It's really not going to save you any money. You can actually make a couple meals out of a $3 package of pork chops and spaghetti + Prego + 1lb ground beef = lunches for 4 days. Been there, done that. I think I was eating on $25 a week for a few months.
Here's what I did to save cash when I was broke:
* Buy the store brand.
* get a Britta filter and enjoy drinking water
* visit a farmers market for cheap fruits & veggies
* cancelled Netflix/etc (which it sounds like you've done)
* didn't cancel the landline, because it was at a very very cheap metered rate. I think it was $6/mo. Check with your phone company, you might be on the local unlimited plan which costs more. Also ask about Universal Lifeline.

And not to be mean, but the girlriend better be busting her ass to find a job. ANY job. Why did she quit a job when you're working 100 hours per week? Hopefully you have decent health coverage!

Is there any freelance web stuff that you can do?
posted by drstein at 11:25 AM on August 24, 2006

Actually, if you replace meat with dry beans and grains, you will save money. You can also save money while not cutting out meat, if you are okay with buying the meat that is marked down, usually because it is a bit old, or is bacon trimmings. You can also start savings odd veggie bits and odd meat bits in big freezer bags, and make soup stock out of them.
posted by owhydididoit at 12:12 PM on August 24, 2006

Ignore the vegetarian BS about cutting out meat. It's really not going to save you any money.

A pound of lentils or beans is about $1, provides good protein, and cooks up to a lot more than just one pound of food. Even if we assume that you can get a pound of meat for $1, which you can't outside of sales and/or really poor-quality meat, it cooks up to less than a pound. TVP, whey powder, and many other veggie protein sources have similarly superior price/nutrition ratios. And if you're going ovo-lacto-pesco vegetarian, eggs provide a much bigger nutritional punch for the price than meat. "You can actually make a couple meals out of a $3 package of pork chops" -- well, how many meals can you make out of $3 worth of beans and rice? A lot more than a couple, since $3 buys a pound of each AND a carton of eggs to go with them.

I'm a former vegetarian who had to start eating meat for health reasons, and I can tell you that my grocery bills have gone way up, not down, even though my tastes are relatively inexpensive and I watch the meat sales carefully.
posted by vorfeed at 12:17 PM on August 24, 2006

If you're paying off any loans, such as cars or college tuition, call up the lenders and ask to re-adjust the terms. Very often, you can arrange to make smaller monthly payments in return for a longer overall loan period. Sure, it will cost more in the long run, but it will certainly lower your monthly out-of-pocket. When things are better, you can re-adjust the loans in the opposite direction.

Of course, I'd just stop paying off a college loan altogether. They can't repossess an education and you'll have plenty of time to get back on your feet before any real harm is done. ;-)
posted by frogan at 12:19 PM on August 24, 2006

Anything you can do to further shave down your bills? My PECO bill in the summer and PGW bill in the winter hurts a little less now that I've done some discreet caulking to seal off gaps a bit.

Check Craiglist for people dumping their unneeded transit passes/tokens for cheap.

Careful meal planning will be key. Legume-based soups, as suggested, are good because you can make a basic version that'll be vegetarian for her, but you can add meat. Hit the 9th St. market and plan meals around whatever's ridiculously cheap and abundant at the moment.
posted by desuetude at 12:26 PM on August 24, 2006

You should read this for inspiration/motivation for your long work week:

How we paid off our house in 3 years.
posted by rdurbin at 8:34 AM on August 25, 2006

Gah. Replacing meat with lentils & beans? If she's going to be struggling, working her ass off, and still broke, at least let her enjoy *something* she eats. :)

Fine, add lentils & beans to the pork chops you buy. Eliminating the 'eating out' meals has already saved the g/f & I a bunch of money.
posted by drstein at 6:55 PM on September 1, 2006

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