The Spending Chronicles: I’m a Freelancer, and My Husband’s in Law Enforcement

Here’s how our monthly budget adds up.

We all know we should have an accurate picture of our finances at all times, but looking at them can be daunting. I set out to do just that and took a deep dive into my family’s monthly expenses: what we made, what we spent, and what surprised me.

I’m a 28-year-old freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree from a (too expensive) private university. I share all finances with my husband, who is 31 and works in law enforcement. He paid cash for an associate degree program in Australia before moving to the U.S. We have a three-year-old daughter and have owned our home for 18 months in a relatively low cost-of-living area in New Hampshire. Here’s how our monthly budget adds up.

The Numbers

Income: Mine: average of $6,213 per month pre-tax. No benefits. His: $2,555.52 post-tax and after health insurance and retirement contributions are deducted. Total monthly cash flow: $8,768. Annual household income: $105,222.

Total monthly expenses: Includes must-spends, like our mortgage, tax payments, student loans, and other bills, as well as other expenses like preschool, monthly subscriptions, and gym memberships and personal training. Our monthly expenses add up to $5,712.

Here’s how the numbers break down:

  • Home expenses: $1,011
    • Mortgage, property tax, homeowner’s insurance: $680
    • Utilities: $331
  • Debts: $1,667
    • Student loans: $459
    • Credit card minimum payments: $414
    • Cars (two payments plus insurance): $744
    • Tax payment to IRS: $50
  • Misc. essentials: $2,052
    • Two phone lines: $96
    • Preschool: $497
    • Gas: $150
    • Gym and personal training: $328
    • Groceries: $900
    • Media (Hulu, newspaper subscriptions, etc.): $81
  • Other flexible expenses: $982
    • Food spending (coffee, dinner out, etc.): $397
    • Misc. spending (health items, home supplies, clothes, etc.): $585

What Surprised Me

I was shocked to see that we are making six figures. As a freelancer, my payments are very inconsistent. Although on average I bring in $6,000 monthly, one month I may only receive $2,000 in checks. That too often makes it feel like we’re tight on money. This shows me that we need to be better at budgeting for those dips. Also, I need to frequently remind myself that my income is pre-tax, so Uncle Sam still gets a significant cut.

What You Don't See

Our financial situation is rapidly changing. This year we are slated to make double what we made last year, which was already a significant improvement over the year before. For years we’ve been plagued by layoffs and underpaid jobs that made it seem impossible to get ahead.

My husband is an immigrant, and I grew up poor, both of which complicated our ability to get started financially. We started making big changes last year when we got the deal of a lifetime on our home. Buying a home cut our housing expenses by about half, compared to renting. However, we are still playing catch-up from when we weren’t making enough, like the credit card debt and back taxes we pay each month.

What Makes Me Cringe

Student loans! I got many scholarships and graduated in three years, but still left school with about $60,000 in student loan debt. If I could go back in time to speak with 18-year-old me, I would tell her to choose a cheaper state university or even community college.

Now, student loans take up about 10 percent of my monthly income, but for many years they were eating up even more. Even now, owing nearly $500 a month in student loans affects our debt-to-income ratio when we try to access new credit.

What Makes Me Proud

Our housing expenses put a smile on my face each time I see them. We are lucky to have moved to a low cost-of-living area for my husband’s job, but we also sacrificed to keep our housing expenses low. We bought a 900-square-foot house that needed a lot of work. We lived with inconveniences like unfinished floors for a year and a half as we slowly completed the work, and even now we creep around after our daughter goes to bed because you can hear everything in our home.

Even so, these sacrifices enable us to have luxuries like personal training and a great preschool. We recently considered moving into a bigger house but decided to stay here for another year to keep expenses at a minimum and continue to improve our financial situation.

What Frustrates Me

My economic contributions to the household being considered lesser. This happens on three fronts. First, financial institutions discount self-employment income. Recently, I applied to refinance a student loan and was declined, despite having decent credit and seven years of experience as a freelancer. Likewise, when we applied for a second mortgage we were advised that the underwriter would likely only consider my husband’s income.

It also happens socially. Although my husband knows my contributions to the household, most people in our community think of my husband as the one with the “real job” while I “just” work from home.

And perhaps most alarmingly, I also do this to myself. For example, I don’t pay for childcare or delegate household chores as much as I would if I were working in an office. My career has given our family great opportunities, most recently allowing my husband to quit an underpaying job in order to pursue his career to help give us more long-term stability. However, these numbers are a good reminder that my income makes a massive difference for our family each and every day.

Are you willing to break down your monthly finances for DailyWorth? Email [email protected] with ‘Spending Chronicles’ in the subject line.