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 rachel@dailyworth.com with ‘Spending Chronicles’ in the subject line.

Join the Discussion

7 Responses to “The Spending Chronicles: I’m a Freelancer, and My Husband’s in Law Enforcement”

  1. Vickie allen

    Interesting

  2. Vickie allen

    I think she needs to factor in how much it would cost to take care of a house, child care and other expenses that would have to be paid if she was not there. She is not giving herself enough credit.

  3. Lisa

    You should be very proud of your —It looks like you are making 75% of the total household income!. If people are only counting your husband’s income, they are only basing your finances on 25% of your income…. Perhaps when you apply for things financial, you should consider that you are likely to be discriminated against. Don’t say you are “freelancing”—that has the connotation that you work as you please and that it’s not a full-time job with commitments, especially if you are a woman with children. Say you are “self-employed” as a “professional writer” and don’t tell them your income is erratic—for their purposes, all they need is your total yearly income, or that divided by 12. Just don’t tell them anymore than they need. If they want a business address, put in your complete home address, but don’t point out that it’s your home—they may not notice.

    Also, on applications, do you list your husband’s info and job first, then yours, even though your total income is greater? It makes sense to put information in the order of the highest income, which at this point, would be you. Often whatever people see first is what matters most. If you go first, they see a higher income, and then go and see another income with good stability. If you are listed second, it plays into the idea that your income isn’t important, while they are more likely to still count your husband’s income, regardless of where it is…

    For your own purposes, I’d like to suggest that you budget based on your lowest likely monthly income, and until you pay off your credit cards, put most of the higher amounts on good months to paying them off and then try to always pay off the statement balance every month.

    Also, you said you and your husband share finances completely. In reality that’s fine, but in the world of financial respect, that’s probably not the best thing to do. If you don’t already have credit in your name past the student debt you owe, start to build it, and even before all the loans are paid off, get one of the car payments in your name only and a credit card in your name only, use it a little and pay off the entire statement balance. This will show that you personally are financially responsible. You might use the CC for essentials that you know you are going buy so you don’t spend more money.

    I also noticed that no retirement savings were listed in your monthly expenses. While there may be deductions coming from your husband’s check, which is fine, you should also open up an IRA , again in your own name, and contribute as much up to the maximum that you can (Current $5500/year). Please, don’t rely on your husband’s retirement plan or savings. Especially since you are young and your income is likely to climb, now is probably the time to open a Roth IRA. Once you make “too much money”, open a traditional one.
    Make some contributions are part of your monthly expenses.

    An IRA is the best place to put any tax refunds, or split it and any extra big job money between the IRA and extra debt payments. Waiting until all your debt is paid off is a way to keep your income perpetually low…

    Two other comments—please start paying more than the minimum payments on your credit cards. It makes a huge difference in the amount you pay over time. If you don’t have 0% credit card interest, look into changing your cards if you can, and pay off as much as you can during the free interest time…..

    Good luck. Remember, pay yourself first.

  4. zolar yourfinancialblog

    Wow.. Your student loan take up about 10 percent of monthly income? It is a big amount.
    Luckily my student loan finished and I try to finish my car loan this year..
    Love to read your progress after this

  5. Karen

    This is meant gently and I don’t know what the costs of food and groceries are in your area, but your budget for food seems really high. $900 for groceries plus $400 eating out for a family of 3 (one being a toddler)? That’s almost 15% of your monthly income. Added to that are luxories (gym and personal training) of over $300. With credit card debt, back taxes and student loans, that’s a lot of money that could go to pay down those debts.

  6. Melissa S.

    Thanks for sharing! I find it really interesting to see other peoples finances because I’ve kept detailed accounts of my finances since I was a teenager (now 41), and I like to see how my spending compares to others. I live in CA, and I can only dream of having housing expenses that low! We are currently struggling to afford to purchase a home with a 6 figure income.

  7. Adrian

    This is an amazingly brave and useful article! And I’m in agreement with the comment about being proud of your financial contribution to your family. Credit where credit is due.

    Although DW is geared more toward women, as the male side of my marriage I’ll say that articles like this go above and beyond what I see in traditional financial advising. Your openness with your finances is something we should all aspire to. You just never know what others can gain from disclosing it or what you yourself will end up learning.

    Like you and your husband, my wife and I are currently “sacrificing” on the housing front while we continue to get stable. So we raise our glasses to you in solidarity. Really, it’s no sacrifice if we take these things on as a team with our spouses and we face the challenges with a mutual determination. And sharing the happiness that comes when you meet your goals, as a result, isn’t too bad either!

    Keep up the efforts. My wife and I paid off her $40k or so in Student Loans in less than a couple years. The sacrifices are well worth it. You’ll see!