Editor’s note: This is part of a series by Bob Sullivan called The Restless Project.
Samantha Huffman, by any millennial measure, would be considered a smashing success. Not only has she been using her college degree in civil engineering from Louisiana State University in the post-Katrina construction boom around New Orleans for the past six years, but she was smart enough to buy a duplex so she could rent out half and get help paying her mortgage. She owns a place and only pays about $500 a month for it.
Still, she’s very worried that she will not be able to stay in her beloved New Orleans much longer.
“Commercial construction in New Orleans is slowing down since Hurricane Katrina. My company has already begun layoffs. It may get to the point where I have to move with my company to stay employed,” Huffman said. “Even if I rent both sides of my duplex out, adding another mortgage/rent would make things even tighter.”
Her obligations are limited. She has no kids, only “one small puppy.” She spends hardly anything on herself, but still finds it almost impossible to save into a rainy-day fund, or an “I’m-staying-in-NOLA-no-matter-what” fund.
“I am frugal. I don’t shop for myself. Unfortunately, every time I get some savings together, something happens and it’s gone again. An appliance breaks or I need a doctor/dentist or my car breaks down,” she said. “I was lucky to be able to live at home and save up enough money to buy this property, but I have no idea how I will get enough saved to buy a home of my own. I didn’t buy this property to live in it forever.”
As an entry-level assistant project manager/engineer, her take-home pay is about $2,750 a month. Her fixed expenses are $1,925 a month, leaving about $800 for savings, incidentals and “life’s little surprises.”
“I’m very very fortunate though. I have friends who took months to find a job after graduation. I work for a mechanical contractor rather than a design engineering firm. So I knew I wouldn’t make as much money as my friends doing design work for big contractors and oil companies. But construction is what I love, so I don’t mind struggling a little bit.”
Here is Huffman’s monthly budget
Mortgage — $500.
Cellphone — $50. (“I’m lucky to be on my dad’s plan.”)
Electric — $175 (Southeast Louisiana in August).
Water — $50.
Cable — $75 for basic.
Internet — $50.
Groceries and takeout — $400.
Puppy care — $100.
Car insurance — $195. (“One ticket. I learned my lesson. No speeding.”)
Student loans — $250 (5.5 years in college).
Gasoline — $80. (“I usually fill up weekly.”)
Savings/rental repairs — $300. (“Because I am responsible if my tenant has any problems on her side.”)
Incidentals — $350.
Total — $2,575.
With incidentals added in, that leaves Huffman with less than a $200 monthly buffer.
Her main concern is her long-term prospects for staying in New Orleans, where she longs to have a yard big enough so she can get a large dog. But she wishes the path to that was more clear.
“I wish I could fast-forward a few years and skip the hard parts,” she said. “I love New Orleans. There is no place like it. I definitely don’t want to move.”
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