Mandy works as a copywriter. Matt is an architect at a midsize firm. In 2016, they relocated their family from New Jersey to Missouri to reduce their cost of living—but her paycheck took a hit along the way. Now they’re shouldering day-care costs and a kitchen reno, and they’re trying to save for the future. This is Real Moms, Real Money...

April 05, 2019
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fall family portrait outside under trees
Mandy, 35, Matt, 38, and their two sons, ages 3 and 1.
| Credit: Matthew Kirschner Photography

How Matt and I got here …

I was working in New York City in beauty public relations but was laid off in the spring of 2016. Our older son was almost 1 then, and we realized that we probably wouldn’t be able to afford the kind of house we hoped for on the East Coast. Plus, we wanted another baby and knew being closer to family would help. Matt’s parents and his brother live here in St. Louis, and my mom is an easy-ish seven-hour drive to Omaha.

Our annual income …

Together we earn $168,000 per year, which breaks down to about $8,600 each month after taxes. Things are definitely cheaper in the Midwest. For example, in New Jersey we paid about $3,500 a month for our apartment and a parking space. Now we pay about $2,700 for our house and two cars. In New York, I was earning more than Matt. But my salary has decreased nearly $30K, which has been a blow to my ego—and to our wallets. While the cost of our mortgage, cars, groceries, and day care is down, so is our total income.

Our biggest monthly expense …

Day care costs about $2,500 a month, and it honestly feels like it might break us. But we’ve seen huge developmental benefits in our kids as a result of it, and we know the situation is only temporary. Our next-biggest expense is the mortgage, which is $2,100. After we moved, we needed a second car, so now we own one and lease the other. Together, the payments are $650 a month.

Unlike many couples …

We keep our incomes separate. We each have our own checking account—Matt pays the mortgage and I pay for day care and utilities, and we split credit-card bills evenly. We also each have a personal savings account that the other isn’t allowed to touch. Finally, we have a joint savings that we used for the down payment on our house. We lived together when we were dating, so having separate accounts made sense, and after we were married, it seemed too complicated to combine finances. And really, there was no benefit to sharing money until we had a baby.

As for the future …

We both have a 401(k) through our employers, although we’re definitely not contributing enough. We’ll probably start making larger contributions when the boys are going to school full-time.

We earn extra income from …

Matt’s freelance architecture photography business. In 2018, he didn’t have as much time to devote to it, and took in about $3,000. But in 2017, he was much busier and made about $20,000. It can be hard, though, because these projects usually require him to travel over a weekend, and I really miss the extra set of hands when he’s gone!

man and woman couple near fence
Credit: Matthew Kirschner Photography

We save money by …

Matt does all of our home repairs. We try to be smart about unnecessary expenses—our DirecTV contract expired recently, so we went with an online streaming service. We also use Amazon’s Subscribe & Save option for toiletries, diapers, and wipes, and Chewy for dog food.

We fight about …

One sticking point is that we split expenses down the middle even though our salaries aren’t equal. Matt makes more than I do, so sometimes we’ll find ways to even things out on a month-to-month basis, like maybe he’ll pay all his usual bills plus a week of daycare. We’re striving to find a longer-term solution that will work for us.

In terms of credit-card debt …

I’ve never carried a balance, but I hoped that Matt’s debt would be taken care of by the time we got married in 2011. He was able to pay it off in 2014, before we got serious about having a baby. When Matt made his final payment, I brought home a Mylar balloon in the shape of a zero, and we had a little celebration.

Our smartest money hack …

Putting almost everything on a credit card that earns airline miles, and paying it off every month. Our family has flown round-trip to Denver, where my dad lives, and to Omaha, for a total of only $22 each time. Our points also covered a rental car on one of those trips.

When it comes to food …

Every week we spend about $100 on eating out: $50 for lunch at work, and another $50 to go out as a family. We have most of our groceries delivered—I’ll happily pay the delivery fee just so I don’t have to go to the store—and that’s around $150 a week.

brothers sitting together in rocking chair
Our boys are thriving in day care, but we can’t wait to be done with that expense.
| Credit: Matthew Kirschner Photography

Our parents help us by …

Instead of buying gifts for Matt and me, they generally give us cash. They also contributed to the down payment on our house, and my mom helped us buy our second car. Plus, the kids have their own college funds set up through both sets of grandparents.

Our main frustration …

I feel like I don’t have enough money to save after paying our big expenses. Prior to my pregnancies, I had a healthy personal savings account, but during both of my maternity leaves, it got drained—by the rent, and then by our mortgage and other bills. My first maternity leave was six months, and I received about $1,200 a month plus disability for six weeks. But during my second leave, I was transitioning from a freelance gig to a full-time salaried position at my current company, so I wasn’t paid anything and wasn’t eligible for disability pay. I’m still annoyed that I had to take a financial hit for staying home with our babies.

Our big-picture financial dream …

Paying for both of our boys’ college educations so they don’t have to take out loans. We would love to be comfortable enough to go out to dinner or take a trip without really having to budget. And retiring on the early side sounds like a nice thing to do!

Our most recent “screw it, let’s do it” splurge …

When we moved into our house, the kitchen was functional, but ugly. We originally planned a small-scale makeover, but then decided to do it right. We spent close to $10K, and that money came from our monthly take-home pay as well as some savings from Matt’s photo business. Because we DIYed pretty much every aspect, we were able to space out the big projects and purchase materials when we could afford them. We finally finished in February! I’m happy we went this route and didn’t take out a home-improvement loan; Matt thinks hiring contractors would have doubled our total cost. It may not end up being our dream kitchen, but it’s much better organized now, and we built storage that fits our lifestyle. It’s nice to feel like we’re making this house our own.

The Expert Says:

“Cash-flowing their renovation instead of taking out a loan was a great decision. And cutting cable? Another smart move!” says Jamila Souffrant, creator of the personal finance podcast and financial advice website JourneyToLaunch.com. “While they may not be in the position to max out their retirement contributions, they should think about increasing their contributions by 1 or 2 percent. Because it comes out of their paychecks before taxes, it might not be as big a decrease to their take-home pay as they think. Since they’re looking for a simpler accounting system, they could try this: If Mandy’s salary makes up 40 percent of the total income and Matt’s makes up 60, they could each contribute to a single family checking account according to those percentages.”

This article originally appeared in Parents Magazine as 'Our Salary Story: The Kirschners.'

Want to tell your story? Email us at money@parents.com.

Parents Magazine

Comments (29)

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Anonymous
September 9, 2019
I'm raising two kids on $30k a year while I return to school for a new career. My house payment is $650. Are these people for real? Does anyone seriously think they are struggling? $1400 a month for eating out and groceries? SERIOUSLY?!?! These folks, (and the magazine,) have zero grasp on reality. The average American makes $40k a year.
Anonymous
September 9, 2019
I'm raising two kids on $30k a year while I return to school for a new career. My house payment is $650. Are these people for real? Does anyone seriously think they are struggling? $1400 a month for eating out and groceries? SERIOUSLY?!?! These folks, (and the magazine,) have zero grasp on reality. The average American makes $40k a year.
Anonymous
September 5, 2019
Oh honey. I’m raising four kids on what will be about $70k/year in ALASKA. AKA one of the states with the highest cost of living. When I return to work, after the birth of my fourth child, we will most likely lose all of the assistance (daycare assistance, family Medicaid, food stamps) that we’ve had to use because we’ve been so far below the poverty line while I’ve been out of regular work for the last year. Meaning we will have to pay for four kids in daycare/before-and-after school care, $560 in car payments for our 2012 minivan and 2018 SUV, rent around $1800 (plus utilities) when we get out of our crappy but dirt cheap apartment, plus gas and around $1000 a month in groceries. We don’t vacation. We can’t. You lead a life of privilege and if you’re paying that much on a mortgage in Missouri? You have a dang mcmansion. Two kids on $168k/year sounds like a dream. That would be amazing for a family of six!
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
Oh honey. I’m raising four kids on what will be about $70k/year in ALASKA. AKA one of the states with the highest cost of living. When I return to work, after the birth of my fourth child, we will most likely lose all of the assistance (daycare assistance, family Medicaid, food stamps) that we’ve had to use because we’ve been so far below the poverty line while I’ve been out of regular work for the last year. Meaning we will have to pay for four kids in daycare/before-and-after school care, $560 in car payments for our 2012 minivan and 2018 SUV, rent around $1800 (plus utilities) when we get out of our crappy but dirt cheap apartment, plus gas and around $1000 a month in groceries. We don’t vacation. We can’t. You lead a life of privilege and if you’re paying that much on a mortgage in Missouri? You have a dang mcmansion. Two kids on $168k/year sounds like a dream. That would be amazing for a family of six!
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
What are they complaining about? My husband works full time and I work part time, plus we are both full time college students raising our 3 kids on less than $35,000 a year. They just need to actually use their brains and not spend so much money on frivolous stuff. Only help we get from parents is the occasional bag of clothes or toys for the kids. They seriously have it made. How about you guys write an article about the real people who are struggling to put food on the table for their kids instead of people who have no idea how to budget their money?
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
What are they complaining about? My husband works full time and I work part time, plus we are both full time college students raising our 3 kids on less than $35,000 a year. They just need to actually use their brains and not spend so much money on frivolous stuff. Only help we get from parents is the occasional bag of clothes or toys for the kids. They seriously have it made. How about you guys write an article about the real people who are struggling to put food on the table for their kids instead of people who have no idea how to budget their money?
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
This article is so unbelievably out of touch, its shocking. It's a complete slap in the face to anyone who actually struggles. Cost of living in Missouri is cheap. I know, I've lived there. $168,000 is a LUXURY. The median annual household income for our country is $58,570 per year. And is nearly a THIRD of this family's yearly income. If you want to actually write a HELPFUL article, write one about a family making $58,570. Or heck, less!
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
This is completely unrealistic. $168,000 a year and still struggling? What is going on? There’s no way.
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
This is the most bizarre thing I have read online in a long time. I can honestly say that my jaw was dropped for the entire article. You poor thing, how ever do you manage with only $168000 a year with 2 kids?! LMAO I cannot even imagine having that kind of money. I work 7 days a week and have 4 kids. My husband works a full time job and we both farm. Our splurge is coffee. There is an entire group of parents reading this article and laughing (and wishing we had your problems). Sweet lord, I'm still shocked. I too collect Air Miles. I cash them in on groceries at Christmas for those less fortunate then myself. That often leaves is eating KD for the week, but it's worth it to helps someone who could use a hand. How did this even get published? Are there people who find this article helpful? What planet am I on? -Confused In Canada
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂 this is a joke right? Yea what a struggle. Please. Eye roll.
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂 this is a joke right? Yea what a struggle. Please. Eye roll.
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂 this is a joke right? Yea what a struggle. Please. Eye roll.
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
Parents Magazine, I'm not sure I'm within your demographic after reading this article. My family, my friends' families, my parents' friends' families would all find this article hard to relate. Maybe we're just poor people, but if learning to live on $168k a year is considered a struggle for your target demographic, perhaps you should stop advertising to me and mine. To suggest that this family is struggling to make due is insulting to those of us who are ACTUALLY struggling. Oh, you mean I only need $168k a year to make it with these easy tips??? Thanks for the suggestions. They're really helpful.
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
The median household income is about $62,000... Do you even realize how completely tone-deaf this article is?
Anonymous
September 4, 2019
According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2017, the latest release, the median household income is $61,372. This family is making almost three times that. This article is what the eye roll was made for.
Anonymous
September 1, 2019
... is this a joke? Where are all the other comments? Just delete this. 😂😂😂😂 This is NOT a struggling poor family income.
Anonymous
September 1, 2019
... is this a joke? Where are all the other comments? Just delete this. 😂😂😂😂 This is NOT a struggling poor family income.
Anonymous
August 30, 2019
They each make 84k a year and we are supposed to be impressed by their frugality? 72% of Americans make less than 50k a year and 51% make less than 30k. You want to impress me Parents Magazine? Write an article about people who are successfully living on 60k a year combined (or less) with no family assistance and in a well populated area like Seattle. This is the most tone deaf article I have ever read, no disrespect for the family it's regarding. I'm happy for them and more power to them and their success! However, this is not an average family.
Anonymous
August 29, 2019
This is an ignorant article.
Anonymous
August 28, 2019
We live in NJ, are raising a family of 6 with LESS THAN HALF of this income. We have renovated our entire home, and our kids have everything they need, and then some. This entire article is so out of touch with reality. The whole "woe is me" attitude and entitlement is beyond what I can comprehend. Simply put, if you have the choice to have groceries delivered because you don't feel like stepping into a supermarket, you don't know what real financial struggle is. Get out of here with that nonsense, and take your airline miles with you too.
Anonymous
August 28, 2019
The average American income is $60,000. Their income is well above average! How about an article on how someone raises 2 kids on $60,000 or how a single parent raises theirs on $30,000? Living in Missouri, they are still $100,000 over the average income. I understand everyone has their own struggles, but really? Their parents helped with their down payment on their house, helped to buy their car, and have college savings for their kids. This is not typical and increases their pay gap from the average family. Good for them that they make decent money and they have parents who can help out. I am sure they have worked hard to get to where they are, however, a majority of Americans work hard and struggle a lot more than this! I just feel this was a miss for an article in Parents magazine.
Anonymous
August 28, 2019
This is such privileged, disgusting BS. Drop one of the zeros, please, and then try again. You're making 6 figures while the rest of the parents I know are barely scraping by with contract work and endless hours put in on the gig economy because, despite having degrees and being highly qualified for many positions, nobody will hire them and we're all just stuck on the hamster wheel of capitalism. GTFO with your complaints about how hard it is to raise 2 kids on a 6 figure income.
Anonymous
August 28, 2019
Seriously? Most of us are raising two kids on a heck of a lot less than that. This article seems to think its a hardship. That much is a blessing, appreciate it.
Anonymous
August 28, 2019
Most offensive and ridiculous thing I’ve read in the last year! Do they have any idea how many people would LOVE to raise their kids on even HALF that much? Completely out of touch with the reality that most people are living with. Want me to be impressed? Try raising 2 kids on your own with only 25k a year! They want a gold star for being so frugal on their slim budget of only 168k a year? 🙄
Anonymous
August 28, 2019
Most offensive and ridiculous thing I’ve read in the last year! Do they have any idea how many people would LOVE to raise their kids on even HALF that much? Completely out of touch with the reality that most people are living with. Want me to be impressed? Try raising 2 kids on your own with only 25k a year! They want a gold star for being so frugal on their slim budget of only 168k a year? 🙄
Anonymous
August 28, 2019
Seriously? Your income is twice what most households here in Missouri make. If you're struggling with $168,000, you need to invest in YNAB and reconsider a lot of things. There is so much privilege in this article. I am a single mom of a six-year-old working three jobs, and I can barely pay rent. I have to ask for help from my friends nearly every month. I have no supportive family to bail me out. I struggled with homelessness for several years, and I'm always teetering on the edge of being back there again. This article is a slap in the face to so many parents living in inescapable poverty. I finished my degree two years ago, hoping that would launch me into financi stability. It hasn't. I'm stuck working in the gig economy with no benefits and no guarantee of work or pay. If we're going to talk about struggling on a "limited" budget (hint: yours is not), talk with the people who are stuck in this cycle with no hope of gaining traction. Talk to the homeless who weren't able to maintain housing. They see you, but do you see them? So many of us are one incident away from being on the streets as well. This article is completely out of touch.