What It’s Like to Raise a Family on $57,000 in Houston, Texas

In this edition of "How We Make It Work," Colin, a 31-year-old married father of one who lives outside Houston, Texas, explains a month of spending, saving, and splurging.

It’s a question that’s often on the minds of anyone who’s ever looked at the high cost of raising kids today: how do parents make it work? Well, we wondered too. Which is why we’re asking parents around the country for a peek into their financial lives: what they earn, spend, save, and invest as well as what financial headaches they face, what tricks they’ve learned along the way, and what, if anything, they have figured out. Will the answers we receive get the okay from financial advisors? Not always. Are they honest looks into families trying to provide for their kids? Absolutely. Here, Colin, a 31-year-old married father of a two-year-old who lives in Houston, explains a month of investing, splurging, and spending in his world.

Save save save. That’s the name of the game for us right now. We’re saving for a house. And that’s our focus. Our financial lives and therefore our personal lives are based around that decision.

I work in engineering — there’s a lot of engineering work down here. This is my first big-boy position, which I’ve had for two years. I make $57,000 a year. This makes my take-home $1,367 every other week. My wife is a stay-at-home mom.

Housing prices are on the rise here. We’ve been saving for a house and thought we could do it but we’re still a few years out from being able to get something that works for us. So, right now, we live in a one-bedroom. It’s tight, lord is it tight. But it’s what we’re used to. Rent costs us $985 a month so that’s nearly $12,000 on rent per year which is not ideal at all.

Utilities? Electric and gas run us $147 per month, which is pretty standard when the temperature starts to rise. It’ll be higher next month. Internet runs $54. If we’re talking about subscriptions here, too, then I pay for Amazon Prime, which is $13 per month as well as Netflix, which is $10.

We have a car. Paid off, thankfully. Insurance costs $118 per month. Costs us about $34 to fill up the tank, which I do about twice a week. But I also pick up a few guys I work with and drive them in. So they supplement that. So we pay about $100 out of my own pocket on gas each month — including weekend trips, etc.

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If we’re taking monthly fees, too, we also have a storage facility because my wife and I got some things for our wedding and have inherited stuff that we can’t fit in our shoebox of an apartment. Plus sometimes my wife finds stuff at garage sales and says “ooohh this will be nice in our new home” and then it goes into the storage facility. [laughs] That costs us $48.

We don’t eat out but once a month — like I said: save, save, save — but that means we spend a lot at the grocery store. We spent, god, $689 this month on groceries. That means we spend $172 a week. Now, that’s down from what we spend last month — $765 — so that’s good. And keep in mind that “grocery” shopping includes toiletries and random stuff that gets grabbed. But we still need to get better at it. I mean, this tallies up to more than $8,600 dollars.

My daughter was sick this month – just a bad cold. But we ended up taking her to urgent care because she had a fever. All in all, the bill for that visit cost us $165. It feels weird talking about that as a monthly cost.

My wife and I are big Astros fans and we always try to see an opening season game. This month we did just that. Left our daughter with my mom. We spent $70 on tickets. We went on a Tuesday and it happened to be Nolan Ryan Beef night, where you get $1 hot dogs. I ate too many hot dogs. But between dogs and beer and nachos — my wife won’t watch a baseball game without nachos — it cost us around $50 more. This was a splurge for us. But we need to do that.

Yes, we keep everything planned. Down to the dollar. Mint and Quicken are our go-tos. With Mint, we can see exactly where we’re spending the most and try to cure the problem. Quicken just lets me organize everything in a way that works for both of us.

In terms of investments, we’re just saving up for a home right now. That’s the big goal for us right now. It’ll cost around 34 or 35,000 to put a down payment on the kind of house we want. We’re nearly there. But being there isn’t the same as having money to do the things you do for a house and have a family. So being able to afford the down payment isn’t the same as being able to afford the life that comes with the house. So, we need another two years or so. It’ll be worth it. And by that time, my daughter will be ready for school.