Getting by on $58,000 a year isn't easy, but it's manageable. Doing it as a single mother of three is a near-Herculean task.
Mike Dang of personal finance blog The Billfold sat down with an anonymous mother trying to pull off this feat, and the interview is a startling look at the compromises some Americans are forced to make on limited salaries. The subject of the piece works at a nonprofit that pays her around $40,000 a year, and she gets an additional $1,500 a month in child support payments from the children's father. It's barely enough to get by.
On payday, she says, she's almost always hovering around $0 in the bank. She has a $48,000 loan from her ex-husband's education that she's been unable to pay off. Her work pays for two-thirds of her health insurance, but she's still considering dropping the coverage because her share of the premiums is still pricey.
And some bills simply go unpaid.
"I can't always pay utility bills in full, but I have figured out how much I have to pay to keep the utility companies from shutting off my service," she tells The Billfold.
The story is a great look at how people can be really smart about money when they're forced to be. The mother managed to negotiate a below-market rent by doing home repairs herself, and further negotiated with her child care provider so she could afford that vital service during the children's summer vacation. She always shops for groceries with a list, and doesn't stray from it. And she gets hand-me-down clothes from other moms to keep up with her growing kids.
Still, certain aspects of her finances need to fall by the wayside: Retirement, for instance, isn't in her future.
"I know that I will be one of those people who works until they drop dead," she says. "My priority is my kids and making sure they have a better future than I have."
That dismal financial outlook is sobering, but it's even more so when you consider that many people have it a lot worse than the subject of this article. Those child support payments account for an extra $18,000 in income, bringing her total income to $58,000 -- and keep in mind that that $18,000 is post-tax. By contrast, the poverty line for a single parent with three children is $23,400. For some perspective, roughly 27% of all single parents are living in poverty.
In other words, roughly a quarter of all single parents are making less than half of what this single mother is making. If she's struggling this much to get by on her salary, how are they managing to make ends meet?
Wagasky barely knew her way around a kitchen when she started her money makeover.
Now she's an avid cookbook collector (she checks them out from libraries or asks for them as gifts to save), and it's one of the simplest ways she's managed to cutback on spending.
With a $7 bread-maker she scored at a local thrift shop, she never spends on store bought slices. She's not shy about professing her love for wholesale stores like Costco, which is her go-to source for baking ingredients.
"Everything must be budgeted," Wagasky wrote in a June entry on her blog. "From family outings, to toiletries to clothes purchases. It must be budgeted."
And she takes Do-It-Yourself to the extreme. Everything from laundry soap and clothing to the kitchen her husband installed in their new home was either crafted by hand or thrifted.
She swears by this home-made laundry detergent recipe. (pictured above)