What’s Your Survival Salary?
What is your survival salary? And how much more do you need to earn to include basic comforts like wifi and occasionally eating out?
In the four months since I graduated from college, I have worked at a variety of odd jobs as they were presented to me – from freelance writing to coaching high school rowing. This was the perfect fit for me over the summer, primarily because I was lucky enough to be able to live with my parents and sock away most of the money I earned into savings.
How much do you need to survive?
The only true expenses I had were the costs of taking care of my two newly acquired kittens and the occasional dinner out with friends.
However, in the past month, I have moved into an apartment and I am in charge of the bills for both my roommate and myself. Between rent, utility bills, Comcast, hazelnut lattes, kitten vaccinations, and more, I’ve begun to wonder how much money I actually need to survive each year.
Beyond that, how much money do I need to live comfortably?
I decided first to calculate the essentials and see what my “zero dark thirty” survival fund has to be each year. I averaged out the estimated monthly costs that I would incur if I were to live with no excesses at all:
- Apartment rent (water is included): $1,100
- Comcast bill (I view wifi as necessary, and I’m willing to fight for that one): $70
- Electricity bill: $50 (averaging between winter and summer costs)
- Monthly grocery bill: $150 (God, give me strength to walk past the wine aisle)
- Monthly gas: $150
- Food and litter supplies for two adorable unicorn kittens: $200
(My healthcare is still covered with my parents, since I am 22. Also, my cell phone bill stays on the family plan.)
…Is your survival salary a realistic lifestyle?
As I said, this is the threat level red type of survival mode. It’s the absolute minimum I would need to continue to exist on this planet without getting evicted, audited, or sued for improper care of animals.
And so I reached my first number: $1,700 monthly, which would lead me to a $20,400 annual salary. Keep in mind, this would have to be after taxes in order for me to pay off my bills. So my salary would have to be upwards of $30,000, although my taxes would be quite low, as I would fall under the second lowest tax bracket.
This is also assuming that I incur zero emergencies or unexpected costs. There’s no room for no intense medical bills uncovered by health care. I have to assume for no emergency unicorn kitten surgery, no flat tire in the middle of nowhere.
That calculation, though brutal to look at, was not hard to compute.
What was infinitely harder was trying to calculate what I would need to live both reasonably and comfortably at my age.
This is when I throw in the variables like clothing, incidentals (that pesky flat tire comes in here), veterinary costs. And some that make life enjoyable like dinner out, coffee after rowing practice, the occasional train ticket to visit friends. I did my best to calculate these, and they were added to my original $1,700:
Personal monthly liberties (aka caffeine): $120
- Monthly restaurant bills: $200
- Alcohol expenses (a strong argument to be made to shift this to the survival fund): $200
- Monthly traveling and social expenditures: $300
- The unexpected annual allotment: $1,500 (I lowballed this one, since buying new snow tires is in itself $500)
- Clothing and miscellaneous annual allotment: $2,000
That’s $2,520 each month. I now need to make an annual salary of $33,740, after tax! The difference between survival and relatively comfortable living in my case is over ten thousand dollars. Here is where the missile gets launched.
The entire calculation is based on me breaking zero every month, saving nothing. I cannot create a retirement fund or plan for my future mortgage in this scenario.
More importantly, there is no room for me to take a vacation in Hawaii. This is particularly upsetting.
Knowing the difference between survival and comfort
This exercise, though slightly terrifying, was infinitely helpful for reasons that I didn’t expect when I began. Instead of making me feel guilty for all of the ways that I could be spending and living on less, it made me aware that most of my costs are, for the most part, extremely justified.
My expectations of “quality living” are generally upheld by most people. The expenses that I do deem necessary for my combined emotional and physical wellbeing seem pretty standard. Therefore, I now know that I need to pursue employment that allows me to manage these financial scenarios in the future.