Breakdown of the budget of a 26-year-old who earns $32,000 per year
This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Millennial Silver series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.
Graham Zickefoose didn’t always know what he wanted his career to look like, but he knew he wanted to be on his own.
The son of an elementary school principal and stay-at-home mom, Zickefoose had a “pretty solid middle-class” life growing up in Boise, Idaho. Although he was always grateful to his parents for their support – including paying his rent while in college – Zickefoose knew he didn’t want to be dependent on them for the long term.
In college, he looked up to friends who “got along financially,” he told CNBC Make It. “And I was like, ‘My goal one day is to be financially independent and make money for myself.'”
After earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho in 2018, Zickefoose worked as a content writer for a print marketing company in Boise, earning around $40,000. The paycheck allowed him to pay his bills and start saving money, but he didn’t feel called to long-term marketing and started looking for something new.
He discovered the field of urban planning through YouTube, where he watched videos from the popular City Beautiful channel.
“I decided to take a little more look at what it would take to become an urban planner myself,” he says. “Once I found out I had this interest, I had a reason to go back to school that I knew would lead me to the career I wanted.”
Now 26, Zickefoose is a graduate student pursuing his master’s degree in urban and regional planning at Eastern Washington University in Cheyney, Washington, near Spokane. And he earns enough to fully support himself financially.
Because he is part of a graduate assistantship program, his tuition is paid for by the university. On top of that, he receives a monthly stipend of $1,159.20 from the university as well as $875.97 per month in additional scholarships.
These earnings, combined with his part-time job as a planning assistant in Spokane’s Planning and Economic Development Department, bring his annual salary to around $32,000.
While he wants to earn more in the future, Zickefoose is happy that he can now pay on his own.
“For where I am in my life, the money I earn is enough for me to pay all the bills I have to pay and do a lot of the things I want to do,” he says. “I’m pretty happy with my financial situation right now.”
How he spends his money
Here’s how Zickefoose budgeted its money in June 2022.
- Food: $550 on groceries, restaurants, coffee and beverages
- Lease: $400 for his share of a four-bedroom house
- Discretionary: $300 on entertainment, household items, clothing and haircuts
- Savings and investments: $240 split equally between his savings account and Roth IRA
- Transportation: $220 on gas and parking fees
- Dime: $120 to his local church
- Insurance: $59 for car and renters insurance
- Utilities: $49 for his share of internet, heating and electricity bills
- Call: $40
- Subscriptions: $34 for Spotify, Amazon Prime, a VPN phone app, and cloud storage
Because he doesn’t make a lot of money, Zickefoose always makes sure to know how much he has in his accounts at any given time. Currently, he has just under $10,000 in savings.
“The most important lesson for me is to only spend what you have,” he says. “Always be aware of how much money you have [because] then you’ll make much smarter financial decisions.”
Zickefoose keeps “meticulous track” of his spending with a spreadsheet that tracks every time he makes a purchase or adds money to his savings. His two biggest expenses are his rent — $400 covers his share of a four-bedroom apartment — and food. He spends about $550 a month on groceries and restaurants.
The only thing Zickefoose is willing to splurge on is “social experiments” with his friends or girlfriend. “Whether it’s to see a movie or go to a concert, it’s probably going to be something I’ll at least consider spending money on,” he says.
There’s one area of his budget that Zickefoose doesn’t have to worry about: car payments. He drives his father’s old 2004 Honda Pilot, which is fully paid for.
“It’s been a huge blessing,” he says. “But it’s going up in kilometres. I’m just trying to take care of it so that I have this car for as long as possible.”
He also has student loan debt of $2,700, but because payments and interest rates are currently frozen, he has put the debt aside for now. “Basically, I’m just waiting to graduate and get a professional job, and then I’ll probably pay it off quickly in a few months,” he says.
Zickefoose plans to graduate in the spring of 2023 and hopes to embark on a career as an urban planner, where he hopes to earn between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. Eventually, he hopes to become director of urban planning, which will allow him to play a leading role in improving living conditions in cities.
Although he would love to find time to travel, Zickefoose is content with where his journey has taken him.
“I wish I had the chance to see the world,” he says. “But for now, I’ll be fine staying here, saving money and working for the career I want.”
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