The Spending Chronicles: I’m a Mental Health Counselor

I’m not sure how much longer I can work as hard as I am now.

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what direction I need to be taking my finances. I also spend a good amount of time staring at my Mint.com page, wondering when I’ll be debt free. I want to start thinking about retirement, and I don’t know how much longer I can work as hard as I am now.

I’m 33 and live alone in New Orleans, La. I’m a clinical supervisor at a non-profit mental health agency and make $50,000 annually before taxes. I also have a small private practice, so my additional income ranges between $200-$600 monthly.

I own my car, which I bought used for $1,500, and bought a house in March 2017. My mother helped me with a $3,000 down payment. I never thought I would be able to own my home, much less live alone. I got a dog in January 2017, which is what prompted me to buy the house. This first year of homeownership has been enlightening – and expensive. In hindsight, I wish I had planned more before making such a big decision, but I’m sure I would have never made the leap without a little push. (It was the puppy!)

I recently created a pictograph for paying off my debt, and I cross off debts as I pay them off. I’m using the snowball approach and am now paying off the last $5,000 of my credit debt, and I project that I’ll be debt free by July 2018, barring any unforeseen emergencies.

Although I am doggedly paying off my debt, I still sometimes feel like I’m just moving money around, instead of actually increasing my net worth (although it does move incrementally each month).

Here’s how the numbers break down.

The Numbers

Income: I make $2,897 a month after taxes and retirement contributions are deducted, and I earn an extra $500 a month on average from my private practice. Total monthly cash flow: $3,397. Annual household income: $50,000

Total Monthly Expenses: Includes items like my mortgage, debts, dining out, and pet care. My monthly expenses add up to $3,050.

  • Home expenses: $1,378
    • Mortgage and Home Insurance: $1,048
    • Utilities: $150
    • Cell Phone: $105
    • Car Insurance: $75
  • Debts: $707
    • Credit Cards, Lines of Credit: $546
    • Student Loan: $161
  • Misc/Other expenses: $715
    • Gas: $40
    • Dining out: $150
    • Shopping: $100
    • Private Practice Office Rent: $375
    • Pet Care: $50
  • Savings: $250
    • Emergency Account: $150
    • Other Emergency Funds: $100

What Surprised Me

I pay all of my bills with my monthly paycheck. I cover my day-to-day expenses with my private practice income. I guess I’m still in the mindset that “the money will come,” thanks to the extra income that I receive weekly, and it’s clear that I need to get more serious about budgeting.

What You Don't See

I hide money from myself in little secret accounts and “borrow” from them to cover emergencies. There are also unpleasant months where I run out of money before I get paid. I also pay into a retirement account that has a match from my employer, so $150 gets taken out of my paycheck before it’s ever deposited into my account.

What Makes Me Cringe

I’ve had more than a few months recently where I’ve run out of money before the end of the month. My emergency account has about $2,100 in it right now, but I’ve had to dip into it as I’ve had unexpected expenses that come with being a new homeowner.

What Makes Me Proud

Next month, I will have paid off $10,000 worth of debt from two lines of credit that I took out three years ago. My financial situation has changed so much since then, and I hope to never have to borrow money like that again.

What Frustrates Me

I’ve cut up my credit cards, but I still make impulse buys. I’m working on that aspect of my finances. I also have a Roth IRA that I haven’t contributed to at all in 2017 because I’m working so hard to pay off my debt. I hate to see it just sit there and not increase in value.

It’s enlightening to break it down and see that I am really moving towards paying off debt and will be able to start contributing to retirement in a serious way in 2018. I often feel like I’m just struggling to stay afloat, but I try to stay positive and celebrate small successes. Putting my plan on the fridge and crossing off the debts I’ve paid off from my pictogram have been helpful and inspiring actions.

Check out part one and part two of The Spending Chronicles. Are you willing to break down your monthly finances for DailyWorth? Email [email protected] with ‘Spending Chronicles’ in the subject line.

Join the Discussion

16 Responses to “The Spending Chronicles: I’m a Mental Health Counselor”

  1. ZIonsMommy

    Kudos to you; you’re doing it and you should be proud of yourself! If you’ve not taken advantage of the student-loan payoff program (10 years or 120 payments ) you should definitely do so. Working for a non-profit qualifies you to be part of the program.

    • Lauren Hopkins

      This is actually inaccurate. There are only certain types of non-profits that are eligible. For example, I work for a 501(c)7 organization and am NOT eligible for loan forgiveness (but would be if I worked for a 501(c)3).

  2. Ruth Tobin

    Wow, you are amazing. What discipline–most people can’t come close to accomplishing what you have done so please don’t beat yourself up over minor mis-steps. Just hang in there, take care of your health, keep working hard and get rid of as much debt as possible. Absent any disasters you should find that your financial life will keep improving.

  3. Carla Brimhall

    Just a thought: it looks like you are paying too much for your cell phone (we have 8 people on our Verizon account, and it’s less than $300/month!) Also, have you thought about those office spaces that can be rented daily as you need them instead of monthly outlay for an office until you have built up your practice? It might be worth looking into. Have you checked into car insurance from AAA–it might be less than $75/month. It’s just a thought: you should be very proud at all you have accomplished!

  4. Megan

    I relate to this woman, though my finances are slightly different…what I’m wondering is where are her grocery expenses? I feel like that’s where most of my money goes.

    • Amy

      Wondering the same thing. She can’t possibly eat take out for every meal, 7 days a week. And if she did, her food expenses would certainly be higher than $150!

    • Beth Pace

      Megan, I didn’t really put in my grocery budget, because I’m not always super aware of how much I spend! I go to Costco with my partner about 2x a month and buy bulk vegetables and protein. Little trips for other things put my grocery budget at about $50 weekly, or $200 a month. I also eat at my partner’s house a fair amount!

  5. Karen

    $375 office rent seems steep if she only makes $500 in income, assuming that’s before taxes. Are there other options? Is it worth it?

  6. Adrian

    Great article! Thank you for your openness also. I’ve noted in this series that it helps so many to know how others are managing their finances, the so-called adulting, that although tedious, gains us so much if done with intentionality. Although there is concern about your months of coming up short, I applaud you for doggedly (pun intended) plugging away at your debt. I’m especially delighted that you know the actual date it will all be paid off. That is something my wife and I (what? husbands can read DW too!) found to be very motivating when we paid off our debt. And we can completely relate to your frustrations with impulse buys. All I can say is: save those receipts! They come in handy when you have to return anything that just didn’t work out, for whatever reason. Keep it up though! July 2018 is right around the corner!

  7. Leslie

    Finally, an article featuring a single woman who doesn’t make over $100k a month. This article speaks to me on every level. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Clifford

    Yep, this was my spot also. I got married to a school teacher with benefits. Then, I quit the non-profit and went to private practice full time. Things are much much better. Still, as you know, without the benefits from spouse, private practice won’t do it. When the benefits are covered by spouse, it frees up the opportunity to run PP full time. I will vote to change health care and retirement policy to free up more choice. Ironically, most of my colleagues in the non-profit vote for laws that keep this “slave to the job” going. 😊

  9. Becky

    As a single woman making close to what you are, I would be interested in how much your monthly grocery budget is.

  10. Sara

    I hear you! I am a chiropractor with very similar financials! Chiropractic school and moving multiple times after graduation (8 moves, 3 were cross-country in the first 2 years of practice) created a lot of credit card debt for essentials for me. My husband has seen multiple rounds of unemployment which stressed our budget over the last decade. We had the cheapest insurance available (over $500/month) during a time that I was hospitalized which created medical debt I still need to pay on. (BTW the insurance paid out a total of $200 towards that sum.) I still live on as little as possible from my paycheck and doggedly pay down my credit card debt with the rest. I focus on my health because my retirement saving necessarily stopped as soon as I hit the end of the 6 month grace period after undergrad. I have a little over $4000 saved for retirement, but the debt is shrinking. I pay above the minimum every month and hope to kill it. I will need to continue to work hard for several decades yet. Some patients think I’m rolling in it…but the truth is my student and credit card debt means that financially at this point I am no better off than when I was a lab tech. I hope to pay off the credit card and medical debt by the end of 2019 and be able to focus on saving again.

  11. Kath

    Good for you, Elizabeth! You’re going to inspire many people.

  12. Marina Rubin

    All steps in the right direction! Did you know that you are allowed to contribute to your IRA for year 2017 no later than tax season end? The year is not over!