The Restless Project: Everything Is Fine, if There’s Overtime

Photo (cc) by yomanimus

Editor’s note: This is part of a series by Bob Sullivan called The Restless Project.

“It’s hardest for me to swallow because my husband and I are only 26 years old and never imagined we would be making this much money at this age.”

Julia Dawson and husband Jacob are raising two small children on one pretty good salary near Sacramento, Calif. Their personal finance picture is pretty simple: When he works overtime, they manage to get ahead. When he doesn’t, they fall behind.

“He is an apprentice lineman for Pacific Gas & Electric and makes $41 per hour, which would come out to around $50,000 a year after taxes, but with all the overtime he works, he usually pulls in much more,” Julia says. On an annual basis, perhaps 25 percent more. Last year, their gross pay was just a hair above $100,000.

But on a monthly basis, they can run in the red.

The Dawsons are this week’s volunteers to participate in The Restless Project, where I am examining why so many Americans who feel like they earn a good salary and don’t live luxurious lives still feel like they are falling behind.

“Sometimes it feels like we are alone in the battle, so it’s great to know there are so many more people like us,” Julia said.

The Dawsons rent, so they escape property taxes and upkeep costs. But there are two student loans to pay, a long-term payment plan for a child birth-related heath care bill, and they spend about $1,000 monthly to pay off a debt consolidation loan and credit card balances. The couple were very young when they had their first child, putting their bank accounts a bit behind the eight ball.

With a promotion in the future, they expect things to get better. But for now, every month has a question mark above it.

Before we get to the numbers, a little bit more about their lives:

“He began working right after high school and I went to college. After a few years we knew without some sort of trade or degree my husband wouldn’t make enough to support us, so he attended a trade school. So we both now have student loans,” Julia said. “Having a child so young and not having much help, we’ve dug ourselves into some serious debt, which we haven’t even made a dent in.”

The family faced a hard choice when child No. 2 came along last year: Are two incomes worth the price of child care? For Julia, the answer was no. She’s a stay-at-home mother now, a decision motivated by financial common sense as much as anything.

“With day care asking for about $1,200 a month, we just didn’t see it being a financial payoff for me to work, even with my degree,” she said. “I just don’t make enough to pay for day care. After day care, my take-home pay would be around $400 a month, [and when you] factor in gas, work wardrobe, and the loss of time with my children, it would COST us money for me to work. So we rely solely on my husband’s income.”

Their budget

Rent — $1,100.
Car payment (compact SUV) — $350.
Car payment (truck — husband’s) — $400.
Auto insurance — $220.
Gas — $530 (filling up truck once a week, and SUV every other week).
Life insurance/renters insurance — $100.
Cellphone (two cellphones) — $120.
SMUD (electric) — $85.
Pacific Gas & Electric (natural gas) — $15.
Medical bill, monthly payment for extended hospital stay when younger daughter was born — $65.
Cable/internet — $130.
Husband’s student loan with Sallie Mae — $235.
Federal student loans — $175 monthly (on an adjusted payment plan).
Various debt payments — $1,000.
Kids’ extracurricular — $100.
Medical co-payments — $50.
Total monthly expenses — $4,675

The family’s take-home pay, without overtime, is a little more than $4,000 per month.

“So months when he works no overtime, we are extremely short and resort to our savings and credit cards to get by. Then when there are months with overtime we try to pay down some of our debt, and save what we can for the months when we are short again. It’s a vicious cycle.”

More from Bob Sullivan:

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
The 10 Best and 10 Worst States for Raising a Family in 2020
The 10 Best and 10 Worst States for Raising a Family in 2020

There are trade-offs no matter where you live. However, some states have big advantages when it comes to choosing a home for your family.

Want a Healthy Retirement? Turn This Device Off
Want a Healthy Retirement? Turn This Device Off

A common behavior becomes increasingly dangerous for those who are 50 or older.

The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them
The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them

Rescuing a retirement from regret starts with these steps well before it’s time to quit working.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

8 Ways to Slash Your Internet Bill
8 Ways to Slash Your Internet Bill

No matter what price you are paying for internet service, taking these simple steps can lower it.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?
Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?

Can an adult daughter tap into her late mother’s benefit?

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

These Major Appliances Got the Worst Reviews in 2020
These Major Appliances Got the Worst Reviews in 2020

Consumer Reports says these home products got the worst ratings from experts.

This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia
This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

Nearly half of U.S. residents may face this threat.

Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds
Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds

Resolve to be clutter-free in 2021 with these secondhand purchases.

This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers
This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers

For the second straight year, a growing number of Americans believe they’ve fallen prey to this scam.

11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It
11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It

Seriously? Fibbing about the weather is a crime? This and other little-known legal traps await the unwary.

These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy
These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy

These vehicles boast reliability, safety and long-lasting value.

13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free
13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free

There are many ways to get cheap or free services and goods after reaching a certain age.

6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have
6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have

Few retirees have all of these documents that are crucial to their golden years — especially during a pandemic.

Is This Treatable Condition Causing Your High Blood Pressure?
Is This Treatable Condition Causing Your High Blood Pressure?

Researchers say too many doctors are overlooking this potential source of hypertension.

11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco
11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco

Not all generics are worthwhile, but these are among the best from Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand.

Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore
Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore

Starting this month, your ISP no longer can bill you for this fee.

3 Cable TV Companies Hiking Prices for 2021
3 Cable TV Companies Hiking Prices for 2021

Still married to your cable company? Hold on to your wallet!

8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone
8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone

It’s never too early to start learning how to live well while living on less.

15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021

Follow these tips to save, so you’ll have money for things that really matter.

9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry
9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry

Keep more of future paychecks by eliminating these budget-busting unnecessary expenses.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.