bills, bills, bills #1
A week in the life and wallet of a costume shop worker in the Midwest
Editors’ Note: We are thrilled to present the first installment of Bills, Bills, Bills, a special Nothing For the Group feature dedicated to pulling back the curtain on how theatre workers around the country make ends meet. This week’s anonymous columnist has asked that their honorarium instead be put toward a good cause and we opted to make a donation to Everytown.
Occupation: I’m a First Hand at a LORT costume shop and I’ve worked there for about 16 years.
What is a First Hand, you ask? I cut the patterns the Draper gives me, which I then hand off to the stitcher to put together. I also do draping, flat patterning, tailoring, alterations, stitching, costume crafts (dyeing, distressing, shoe repair, etc.), pulling and restocking costumes, fixing sewing machines, repairing dress forms, and whatever else comes up. I get laid off at the end of the season every year for about three months, during which I file for unemployment.
Location: A midsized city in the Midwest
Salary: $18.64/hour, typically 40 hours/week
401k thru work, no matching: $8,417.36
Roth IRA, opened 2018: $24,759.30
Savings Account: $37,223.57
Bi-weekly paycheck, after taxes and deductions: $987.99
Monthly Rental Income: $450.00
I bought a house in an undeveloped neighborhood for $23,500 in 1994. I paid off the first mortgage around 2009 and the second mortgage about six years ago. I paid off my credit cards about two years later and have been saving all the money humanly possible ever since.
And then my neighborhood gentrified. With historically low interest rates, and 15-year tax abatements to encourage development, people are building crazy-expensive stupid stuff around here. My property taxes doubled about three years ago and went up about 20% this year.
Property taxes: $2479.44/year
Property insurance: $875/year
Car insurance (liability only): $350/year
Other Monthly Expenses:
Cell phone: $33.67
Water and trash: $45-$65
Roth IRA contribution: $100 (automatically deducted from my checking account)
Medical bills: $100 (I'm on a payment plan for the next 5 months to pay off my balance. And yes, that's with health insurance from work, which is over at the end of May because seasonal layoff.)
TV/entertainment subscription: $7.50
Gym membership: $10.80 (I went 1x this year and 1x last year, and about 2x/week in 2020, before the world shut down, so, totally worth it!)
I wake up, as usual, somewhere around 6 AM. I drink half a pot of coffee (I drink the other half the next morning) and sit with my tablet and read emails. These are mostly from groups I support (NARAL! Progressives! ACLU!), sharing news of the world (it's on fire!) and/or asking for money. This used to take about an hour of my morning, but during COVID shutdown it turned into 2-3 hours. I'm trying to get it back to an hour, but it's not working.
I decide on pizza and spinach salad for breakfast, leftover from dining with friends the night before (her treat).
I feel like I've "wasted" enough of my day and I go outdoors to do yard work. This is my favorite thing to do. I get a lot done in 5-6 hours...my yard, my sanctuary, looks amazing! But now it's almost 7 PM, and I have to get the dirt off me and eat something. Breakfast for dinner! Leftover steak (from fajitas I made a few days ago), eggs, potatoes. Oh, and I have to file my first week of unemployment...shit! I get my tablet, log on, answer the questions. I push the button to submit...and I get an error message! I have to go to the full site and fill everything out again. I’m not sure how much my check from unemployment will be but I’m guessing around $300 per week.
Total money spent: $0
I do the morning thing: coffee, news. I eat the rest of the leftover pizza and spinach salad for breakfast. Now it's after noon...how the hell did that happen!?! I need to accomplish things, such as return solar landscape lights. I had such high hopes for them!
I put on real clothes and head out. I want to exchange the lights for other lights that are the same price, but I can't use the 15% off coupon I used from the first purchase. I decide this is a sign from the gods that I shouldn't get lights and get $36.63 returned to my credit card.
Since I'm already out in the world, I decide to go thrift shopping. I find a vintage plate and a cute tank top for less than $3.
I'm pretty close to work, so I decide to deliver the toaster oven that's been in my car for a week to a friend/coworker. She just moved a few weeks ago (the weekend before tech of our last show...yikes!) and she needs some stuff.
Back at home, I do some general housework, which I haven't done because of all the yard work, and prepare dinner: a shredded chicken burrito (I made a bunch of shredded chicken last week and I'm approaching the end of it), multi-grain tortilla chips, and guacamole.
Total money spent: $2.14
Reading emails while drinking coffee…wait, why did Home Depot cancel my order!?! I call twice, never get a human, get sent directly to their "how did we do today" survey. I answer "extremely dissatisfied" since "you suck" is not an option.
I have breakfast (last of the leftover steak, eggs, potatoes) while I watch TV. Then, I decide to treat myself to a bike ride!
Pre-COVID, I rode my bike a lot, including to work and back, weather permitting. I managed to not pay for parking three months of the nine month season, saving me $115/month. Not so much this season...between weather, aching joints, and being out of practice, I didn't have it in me. Parking is deducted from my paycheck, each month of the season.
I rode for about two hours. My neighborhood is in the throes of gentrification, so I like to see how many "unique, luxury townhomes" can be crammed onto a lot. (Meanwhile, there are still homes with "plywood curtains.") I get calls and texts from "investors" wanting to know if they can buy my house. I tell them $400,000...that tends to shut them up.
Total spending: $0
Got up about 7...coffee, emails, the usual! I eat breakfast and now I have to go out into the world. First stop is the quickie mart a couple blocks away, where I buy two packs of cigarettes. Yes, I'm a filthy smoker...and I have a three pack a week habit.
Then it's off to the grocery store, since I'm dangerously low on coffee and one can never have too much half & half. I also buy vegetables, which I hope aren’t just aspirational. I really like salads, but I like them better when someone else makes them. When I'm suffering for art (a.k.a. working), I buy lunch most days. I have a favorite salad at a few different places, which typically costs between $8-$16. So, I save about $50-$60 a week just by not buying lunch when I'm laid off, plus not spending $115 a month to park. Damn, having a theatre job is expensive!
I come home, turn on the radio (there's a college radio show on I really like), put away groceries, and have some wine. I sit on the couch and play Tetris on my phone for a little bit. At around 8, I decide it's TV o'clock. Since I had breakfast so late, I didn't eat dinner...I guess I had wine for dinner?
Quickie mart: $20
Grocery store: $48.44
Total spending: $68.44
Coffee, email, breakfast...time to accomplish things! I need to get my laundry/craft room/sewing room together. I did a craft show a few weeks ago and then flung everything into the room when it was over.
I’m heading to a punk rock show tonight. Before COVID, I would try to see bands frequently...much less than in my youth (how did I work three jobs AND see all the bands!?!). The show I want to see is canceled...why, God, whyyyyy!?! Oh, the band had to cancel the rest of the tour because some of them got COVID...argh.
I get some quotes about gutter repair. And then more quotes. Homeownership!
I head to the neighborhood development corporation's annual meeting. I want to walk, but my knee is being a jerk, so I ride my bike, because it’s low impact. I haven't been to one of these meetings in forever! It's not terribly exciting but heck, dinner is provided by a local restaurant...free food!
When I get home, I call my best friend. He vents about his realtor woes (he’s working on getting licensed in a fourth state) and we also talk about how I need to finish my stuff so I can become a licensed home inspector. I went to home inspector school last August, just before our 2021-22 season started. I still need to finish my practice inspections before I take the state licensing exam. I used my house for my first practice inspection. Guess what? Inspecting your own 1880s house is overwhelming and depressing!
Total spending: $0
I go to a store on my quest for landscape lights. Unsuccessful. I contemplate going to a drive-thru for breakfast, but nothing sounds good, so I go home and make the usual: eggs, bacon, toast, and finish off the last of the fried potatoes.
Someone from a gutter company shows up and I walk him around the house and show him the sad state of my gutters. He measures things, gives me a quote, and then tells me that there will be a deal if I sign up today. I promise him I will sign nothing today.
He gives me several different quotes for all the various combinations of work. The last time I bought gutters, 18 or 19 years ago, it was $1000 to do the whole house...it's a whole lot more now!
More fun with money...let's pay the end-of-the-month bills! My last paycheck was direct deposited today, for one 40-hour week, plus the 11 days of vacation pay I get at the end of the season...woohoo! The check was $1579.82 after taxes. I write checks for next month’s bills…yes, actual paper checks! I also order a cake for Bacon Brunch next Saturday. (You read that right…Bacon Brunch.)
I was gonna go to this art thing, and even ride my bike to it, but it's really hot and steamy and windy, so that doesn't sound so good. I elect to stay home and make dinner: broiled barbecue chicken thighs (meat I took out of the freezer a couple days ago), coleslaw with apple (both things I bought at the grocery store the other day), and a grilled cheese sandwich, which I only eat a quarter of.
I spent a lot of money today on a lot of bills:
Water and trash: $45.89
Credit card: $28.75
Home Depot card: $300.00
Renew AAA Plus: $90.00
Renew magazine subscriptions: $64.95 (for three years)
Total spending: $652.29
I get out of bed at 5:30 AM. I drink all the coffee, read all the emails, read a lot about gutters and gutter guards. Eggs, bacon, and toast for breakfast.
I watch some videos about gutters and gutter guards, then search my emails for the guesstimate I got in February. I hate trying to hire people to do stuff on my house, but gutters are way up high on my two-story house, and that is not on my list of skills.
I'm supposed to go to two parties today. One is a "Purple Party," in honor of Prince...I need to find something to wear! I scrounge up the few purple things I own and anything Prince adjacent: lace, ruffles.
I have a bunch of lite beer someone had leftover from a party they had, so I grab six of those, and a bottle of wine from the fridge (one of two bottles I received as a gift for my birthday last month). I also prepare a pre-mixed cocktail to share with the world...I decide to call it Raspberry Beret.
My friend drives me to the party, which has moved indoors because of thunderstorms. It's crowded! I manage to get downstairs to the finished basement, find the "party fridge" and put the beer and wine in it. I find cups in the kitchen and pass out some Raspberry Beret cocktails.
A good time is had by all: we drink all the drinks and eat all the foods, listen to all the Prince, and have all the conversations.
I think it's around 10 when we decide we should get to the other party. I check the party fridge...three of the beers I brought are left. Seeing as I’m the only one who drank them, I decide they're coming with me! No one opened the wine, so that's coming with me too! (There's also a smidge of Raspberry Beret left.)
We get to our second party around 11 PM. I prepare the last of the Raspberry Beret, and eat some homemade pizza even though I’m not that hungry. I think it's around 2 AM when we start talking about leaving, but we don't actually do it until nearly 3...I haven't been out this long past my bedtime in ages!
I spent zero dollars today, yet I partied like a rock star. I've come to a point, in my old age, where I'm very proud of myself for staying up past my bedtime!
Total spending: $0
Total spending for the week: $720.73