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How math works in the adult world

August 25, 2015

This is for my kids, your kids, everyone’s kids, teens and 20somethings. And anyone else who needs it.

Guys: Math gets weird in the adult world. Here’s how you think it works, and how I thought it worked (as an example):

  • Work a job, 40 hours/week at minimum wage ($7.25). That’s $290 income / week, or $15,080 / year.
  • Pay cheap rent, utilities included, maybe $500/mo, or $6,000 / year.
  • Groceries, maybe $100 a month; $1,200 / year.
  • Gas and insurance and spending, another $200/month; $2,400 / year.
  • Conclusion: That leaves $5,480 a year, or a little over $450 per month! Awesome savings, or vacation, or Christmas or whatever! I can make it on my own!

And here’s how it actually, for realz works:

  • Work a job, but they fart around and cut hours and you end up with maybe 24 hours/week at minimum wage ($7.25). You try for a second job, but that’s harder than you think. Also wind up somehow not working 4 weeks out of the year, for vacations, sick leave, and random schedule screwups. End up making an average of $217 income / week, or $10,416 / year. Edit: And we didn’t even talk about income tax and social security, which takes a bite out of your paycheck, but we’ll pretend that doesn’t exist right now; at your income level, it’ll be a small bite anyway.
  • They raise the rent after your 6 months is up, and cable wasn’t included, so you’ve got $550/mo, or $6,600 / year.
  • Groceries turn out to be more like $150 a month so you’re not stuck on a ramen diet, and it’s hard to turn down your favorite soda; plus how much can it hurt to eat out or order pizza once a week? $2,520 / year.
  • Gas and insurance are mostly constant, but it’s hard not to get yourself stuff; shoes and jeans wear out, the job uniform needs replacing, the iPhone breaks… $350/month; $4,200 / year.
  • We didn’t even talk about cel phone plans (oops), insurance, health emergencies, the food and vet bills for the kitty cat that was SOOO cute at the shelter but then got worms, got a tumor, and got diahhrea in the course of 8 months. Let’s just round that off to a conservative $2,000 a year.
  • And, hellfire, the 6 year old car you inherited from your parents as a college car needs a new goddamn transmission. There’s another $1,200 gone.
  • Conclusion: That leaves you $6,104 in debt, or a little over $500 in the hole per month! No savings, no vacation, no Christmas. And that’s just one year.

This is what I truly, seriously didn’t get as a teen and young adult: You simply cannot account for everything that will go wrong in a year. What’s more, you cannot be a perfect angel of a penny pincher.  It jacks up your finances. It stresses you the hell out.

I had the best intentions, a great & above-minimum-wage job, and a husband (and therefore another income) throughout college – and oh man, we haven’t even talked about college! – and we got jacked up in the financial department. We didn’t figure out the hidden costs of a cat, the clear as day costs of a new car, and the ridiculous cost of a house (no not kidding) until way late in the game.

I’m not trying to bum you out. I’m trying to show you the way. Save save save where you can. Work where you can. Be conservative in your spending, where you can. Parents letting you live with them through college? Take it. Still in high school with a summer job? Save that shit. Have to get a place? Get roommates, or a super cheap place. Dirt poor? Suck it up and hit a food bank, get welfare. That’s what it’s there for.

You can make it. You will make it. I just want you to know going in that it’s not going to be easy.



Edit: Here’s a nice essay on the non-necessity of owning a dog (or a cat), and the potential costs, from Mr. Money Mustache.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 25, 2015 4:18 pm

    Holy cow, this is so true!

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