He’s a busy resident physician at Duke. She works at home building an interior-design business. Together, they’re determined to live a rich life (in more ways than one). But like most couples, they’re juggling bills, student debt, and job losses—all while trying to have another baby. This is Real Moms, Real Money...

By Lynne Palazzi
Joe Tighe

Our Story...

About a year ago, we were doing pretty well financially: Andrew was earning about $58,000 annually as a second-year resident physician at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. I was making roughly the same amount, most of it from a part-time, work-at-home copywriting gig with CB2 that was very mom-friendly. But then the company eliminated my position, and half our income went with it. I’m 35, so we don’t want to postpone having another baby.

Our Monthly Income...

After taxes, Andrew brings home about $3,500 a month. Most residents start at around $52,000 a year, regardless of specialty, and that increases about $3,000 every year.

Our Big Monthly Expenses are...

The mortgage, which is $1,100, and child care (four days a week), which is $1,100. Plus, we still pay $200 a month on our 2014 Camry.

Most Recent Financial Hurdle...

Losing my job was a blow. I had been working about 20 hours a week at $65 an hour. But it did give me the kick in the pants I needed to launch an interior-design business. My friends who live in other states started asking me to help them “spruce up” their rooms remotely, using photos and FaceTime. So I created a Web-based service called Spruce Creative Studio. Since we’ll likely move in a few years to wherever Andrew gets the best job, it made sense to think digitally.

We Owe...

$350,000 in medical-school debt. We haven’t started paying it off yet because Andrew has a type of income-based repayment plan. When he leaves residency, his income will increase significantly, but the monthly payment will reflect his salary. We expect it’ll take years to pay it all off, which is daunting because it’s already been a long journey. His medical school and residency takes nine years, and we’re in year seven. It’s like, “When will we be out of the hole?”

Our Biggest Victory...

We had been carrying $10,000 in shared credit-card debt with sky-high interest rates and massive monthly payments, but we recently paid it off using money from a mutual fund my parents opened for me when I was a kid. Over the years I’d contributed to it here and there, like when I inherited a little money from my grandmother and when I sold a car. We talked to my parents’ financial advisor, who recommended we dip into it to pay off the credit cards, which was scary since I had never withdrawn from that account before. But the huge monthly credit-card payments were much scarier, so erasing that debt was such a big relief.

Our Smartest Money Hack is...

Renting our home on Airbnb. We charge $215 a night, and last year we made about $1,500. It’s stressful because I have to get the dog and Sloane out so I can clean, and it’s an imposition on my parents because they have to host us. Still, I’d like to do it more often, focusing on key weekends, like graduation, Duke and UNC basketball games, and student move-in day when demand in our town is high.

We Save Money By...

Andrew switched to a $10/month gym. We pay for Internet but not the cable package. (We subscribe to Sling TV and use an antenna for local stations.) Andrew relies on a steady stream of hand-me-down clothes from my dad, and I only buy thrift-shop clothes. And we DIY what we can: We’ve built a backyard fence, cleared the yard, planted grass, renovated a closet, and installed lights.

We Fight About...

Andrew thinks I go over the top with gifts. But I love giving gifts! It’s how I was raised. For instance, for a baby shower, I might give the baby one gift and then fill a separate basket with self-care products for my friend.

A Typical Week of Spending...

I buy quite a bit at Target, including groceries, so this week I spent $188 there, plus $130 on groceries elsewhere. I spent $38 on Amazon, but I’m a frequent Amazon shopper, so that fluctuates. Andrew spends anywhere between $10 and $100 per month getting food and coffee at the hospital.

Our Families Help Us Out By...

My parents watch Sloane the one day of the week we don’t pay for child care. We rarely have babysitters. And when we travel to visit Andrew’s parents in Spokane, they give us their air miles to help us cover the price of airfare. Otherwise the tickets cost $500 each. We pay for Andrew’s phone plan, but he hasn’t upgraded his actual device in a million years, and I’m on my parents’ plan.

We're Expanding Our Family Now Because...

We’re getting older, and we’d like Sloane to have a sibling close to her age. I’ve had two miscarriages, so having another baby hasn’t come as easily. We’re worried about the finances, but it’s not enough to stop us, because we know we’ll figure it out.

Our Big-Picture Dream is...

For Andrew to have a secure radiation-oncology job, and for me to have a thriving interior-design business. Eventually, we also hope to buy and renovate houses on the side. We love real estate and have spent a lot of time and energy fixing up our apartments and homes over the years.

My Most Recent "Screw it, Let's Do it" Splurge was...

A ridiculously large inflatable pool I bought for Sloane on Amazon one night after having an extra glass of wine. It cost $70 and has a sprinkler system and an inflatable slide. She absolutely loves it.

Our Biggest Frustration is...

I feel like we’ve worked so, so hard, as hard as our friends who’ve gone to similar colleges, but they’re more financially free than we are. Given my education and work ethic, it’s frustrating that I don’t have a steadier stream of income. We just can’t afford what we feel like we’ve earned. We’re happy, but it definitely hangs over us.

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This article originally appeared in Parents magazine as "Our Salary Story: The Fairchilds"

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