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How an L.A. Teacher Making $61K (and Supporting Her Husband) Really Lives

It’s not easy to keep track of every single dollar you earn (and spend, ugh). That’s why we’re asking real ladies around the country to share the details of their spending habits over the course of a month. This time, we followed a 35-year-old middle school teacher who works in Los Angeles and supports her husband full-time. (He’s a disabled veteran.) Here, how they spend—and save—each month.

Her Annual Salary: $61,000
Her Average Monthly Take-Home Pay: $3,500 (after taxes and medical/pension deductions)
His Annual Disability Retirement: $1,300 (not taxed)

$1,800. We live in a 2-bedroom apartment in a great, walkable neighborhood. It’s about 620 square feet.

$75. We only pay for our electric bill, which fluctuates. (It can go up to $135 in the summer, but stays at $75 October through May.)

$450. This covers the cost of gas, maintenance and insurance and registration for my car and my husband’s motorcycle. He rarely has a need to go anywhere outside the city, so he uses a motorcycle to get where he needs to go rather than a car. That results in a huge savings for us on the above costs.

$200. This goes toward my husband’s student loan payments. When we get our tax return next February, it will be fully paid off! After that, we’d like to start putting the money we’ve been spending on student loans into a fund to make a down payment on a new car. My commute is 60 miles round trip daily—sometimes more—and my current vehicle is 13 years old and has 215,000 miles on it.

$300. We’ve pretty much given up on the idea of ever owning property in this state, unless one of us is the surprise recipient of a massive inheritance from someone we’ve never met. Right now, it would be nearly impossible to save enough for a down payment and pay rent in our area, where 2-bedroom homes are going for anywhere from $750K to $1 million. We may eventually be able to save enough to retire in a different state where our retirement dollars will go farther and property is cheaper, but we are content to rent for the time being. That also means that any home repairs are someone else’s problem.

Roth IRA
$100. As I build up my years with my school district, my income will increase yearly. Eventually, I want to use this extra money to max out my IRA contribution. I also pay into a pension fund, but who knows if it will still be solvent by the time I actually need it—around 25 years from now.

$0. My husband’s medical is covered by the VA and I have an HMO through the school district that is automatically deducted from my paycheck. We have no children—and plan to keep it that way. In fact, my husband got a vasectomy through the VA, which also helps reduce my medical costs. (No more birth control prescription here.)

Home Supplies and Personal Care
$200. My husband goes to the barber at $20 a pop each month and I usually get my hair cut every three months and end up spending about $45 each time, which works out to about $15 a month. (I don’t get my hair colored.) The rest of the money goes to everyday items we need. Things like soap, shampoo, razors, toilet paper, cleaning supplies—although we do most of our cleaning with white vinegar and baking soda these days.

$510. We put nearly all our household expenses on a credit card with reward points: triple for groceries, for example. We pay the whole card off at the end of the month and redeem those points for movie theater gift cards, which helps us keep our entertainment budget low without feeling like the most boring people in the world. We also pay $10 a month for a Costco membership.

$40. I recently bought a new dress at Target, but I honestly don’t remember the last time I bought new clothes in any large amount. It was probably three years ago. My weight doesn’t fluctuate much and, since I teach at a middle school, I can get away with business casual clothing most days.

Gifts and Charitable Donations
$50. I set this aside every month for birthdays and donations, but don’t always use it. My parents and sisters all have birthdays within a month of each other, so most of that gets spent all at once. Sometimes we go over on this budget if there are a number of causes that we feel we should donate to.

Gym Membership
$65. This covers the cost for my husband. I don’t have a gym membership anymore since I run outside when the weather’s good, which is most days in SoCal. I will need to replace my running shoes and shorts pretty soon though!

Laundromat and Dry Cleaning
$30. The dry cleaning is mostly my husband’s suits since he’s been going on job interviews lately. I generally don’t buy anything I can’t throw in the washing machine because I’m lazy.

$25. We have a cat, so we buy litter and food about every other month. He’s an indoor cat and we take him to the vet about once a year for a checkup, but overall he doesn’t have any health issues and doesn’t cost us much.

Eating Out
$400. This covers the cost of restaurants, fast food, coffee and going out to bars throughout the month.

Professional Dues
$15. This covers the cost of professional organization memberships that are necessary for my work.

$150—or whatever’s left over if there are unforeseen expenses for the month. Getting out of town for a week during summer vacation is what I look forward to all year. Travel is also something we prefer to spend money on now when we are young and healthy enough to enjoy doing things like snorkeling off the coast of Alaska or hiking the Grand Canyon.

Cell Phone and Internet
$120. This covers the cost of two lines on separate carriers, plus internet for our apartment. We both got rid of our iPhones and switched to base-level Android smartphones and I chose a carrier (Republic Wireless) with a very low cost since I don’t need a huge amount of data.

$125. This mostly covers Kindle books, the occasional concert and our aquarium membership. Also, Netflix and Amazon Prime. We unbundled our services and got rid of cable and our landline, so we only pay for an internet connection now.

Wild-Card Splurge
$170. We splurged on admission to a local music festival—tickets were $70, we ended up buying festival food (about $50) and I got my arms henna tattooed (another $50).

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