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How to live in the fifth most expensive city in the U.S.

Three Seattle families share their budgeting tips, goals



Annual check-ins keep Barrie Arliss and her husband on target to retire at 55.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

Say you are a family of four: two adults, two kids. You would need to make $75,000 to live in Seattle, according to a 2017 study from the University of Washington School of Social Work.

That’s fine if you’re a software developer (average hourly rate of $62.73), but not so great if your household income isn’t tied to the tech industry. Add the soaring cost of housing: Seattle now has the dubious honor of being the fifth most expensive U.S. city for renters, according to Nested. It’s almost enough to make any would-be parents think twice about starting a family.

Despite the lack of stock options, some families do make it work, sometimes with a single earner, mainly by controlling spending, having flexible side jobs. Meet a couple planning to retire at 55, a single mom working on commission and a former stay-at-home-mom turned post-divorce entrepreneur.

 

“I have 4-year-old and I have bought him maybe a handful of things in 4 years.”

Barrie Arliss and her husband are freelancers in the gig economy — she’s an advertising copywriter, he’s a videographer. They live with their 4-year-old son in a townhouse in Ballard.

What are your priorities?

Budget-wise, I just pride myself on not buying anything. I have 4-year-old and I have bought him maybe a handful of things (like swimming goggles or a jacket when I forgot to bring one while traveling) in four years. We have neighbors with older kids, and we’re constantly swapping clothes with each other.

We don’t need things. We don’t buy things. If we do ever buy anything — like our recent new-to-us couch — it’s always secondhand.

Where are you spending your money?

Mortgage and daycare. Food and travel. We’ll buy all the best farm food there is. We have a share in a CSA (community-supported agriculture) for fruits and vegetables. Those kinds of conveniences are just a little more expensive, but they’re important to us.

We bought our townhome in 2010, right when things were great for buyers. We got lucky enough to be able to afford that and daycare.

We have one kid. We can’t have any more due to my infertility, and after two years of treatments we decided one is good for us. Looking at my friends who have more than one (especially in the daycare years) we are now grateful that we’ll only have one to send to college, one to send to camp, one to buy the sporting and music must-haves. We won’t have to move out of our townhouse for a bigger space. Having just one is a game changer for sure. 

How do you stretch your budget?

We only have one car. And it’s a Prius, so we barely pay for gas.

There are so many free things here. I could just go to a park for free and have a great time. We hike. We play games. We check out free events and concerts.

My mom lives a block away from us. So we never pay for a babysitter. At least once a week, she’ll take my son for a sleepover so we can have a date night. That saves us $60 for an evening. When she can’t do it, we trade babysitting with friends. 

Any splurges?

A big expense for us is joining a gym. It’s $150 a month for my husband’s gym, but it makes him happy, so it’s $150 well spent. Mine’s $500 for the year. I use it every weekday.

Traveling and showing our kid the world is important to us. This year alone, we’ll probably spend $5,000-$6,000 traveling. We recoup some of our travel money by renting out our home on Airbnb. Whenever we go away, we basically cover the cost of staying somewhere else. In the summertime, we’ll put up our place for the weekend. If someone takes it, we’ll go camping. Or we’ll go stay at a friend’s house.

What are your long-term goals?

We do an annual check-in: Are we still on track? It keeps us honest, and we analyze if we need to change anything in order to retire at 55. That is our target right now.

 

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

Caroline Millet’s long-term goal is graduating and working only one job.

If money is your only problem, you don’t really have any problems. It’s solvable.”

Caroline Millet is a single mom who works in a commission-only job. She works full-time as an independent headhunter, and part-time as an insurance agent. She’s also going to school full-time for a bachelor’s degree in business. She and her daughter, 10, live in an apartment near Green Lake.

Where are you spending your money?

Rent, car payment, all those fixed expenses. Utilities. Any fees for classes. Phone. Internet. If I don’t make a commission, rent is over half of my income.

I’m an independent headhunter. At my job, I have the potential to make a lot more money. If I get smart about the kind of candidates I work with, the industries I go for, there’s no reason I can’t do a lot better. Let’s say I need $3,000 a month for rent, gas and food. I could easily make that with one placement.

How do you keep track of your budget?

I know college-level Excel, but it’s honestly way easier to look at this stupid little note on my phone. Here are my expenses, here is what I have coming in. How much do I have left? I’ll sit there with a calculator. I’ve had times when I’ve had 12 cents for a week.

Any splurges?

I can’t look like this — I have to get my hair cut. I’m just going to do it and figure it out. Every time I look in the mirror, I’m so irritated.

How do you stretch your budget?

I generally cut back on things like eating out. You know how everyone has stuff in the back of their pantry they never eat? Well, at one point, I had eaten most of it. I really dug down. Food and convenience eating are the places I make the cuts.

If I want to make more money, I will take up leads on insurance and go write some policies. I can make $100 to $1,500. This month I know I’m going to end up short, so the last week of the month I’m pet-sitting and house-sitting on Rover.

How do you work your daughter’s expenses into your budget?

She’s about to go through a growth spurt. I don’t spend a ton of money on clothes. I buy her clothes maybe twice a year.

Summer camps — that’s really expensive. I’m really lucky I don’t pay for those things on my own. Her dad pays for a lot of that.

What are your long-term goals?

Graduate. Get down to one job. And have that be enough. It should be. I’m getting there. Do you remember pushing the jogging stroller? It was so hard. Then one day you’re running without the jogging stroller and you feel like you’re flying. That’s pretty much how I think I’ll feel after I graduate.

If money is your only problem, you don’t really have problems. It’s solvable. It’s not like being sick. There’s always more to be found. I sell stuff. I go, ‘Hmm, what could I sell?’ Find more. It’s there. Just find it. My advice is to  have a full-time job, and part-time hustles. Always have an option, and always have a backup plan.

 

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

Julia Freeland’s goal is to budget money so she doesn’t have to worry about it running out.

‘My passion has been to help moms get back to whatever type of job they feel is perfect’

Two years ago, former stay-at-home mom Julia Freeland founded her own company, REvolve YOU, a coaching business to help moms get back to careers. Julia is divorced, and her children — ages 9, 12 and 14 — live with her half-time in Wallingford.

Why did you start your own business?

Part of my motivation for REvolve YOU is I realized I would have been happier in my marriage and with myself if I had relaunched my career sooner. I wanted to go back, but there was always an excuse: health reasons, something with my children, travel plans, something with his job or my sport (beach volleyball). I forgot about me, and my dreams. Now, I know looking back, I had lost my sense of self-worth as a result of being a stay-at-home parent so long. It can really do a number on your psyche. 

Women today were raised to be active thinkers, problem-solvers, creators and builders on a larger scale. I’ve always wanted to relaunch, but the divorce was the kick in the ass I needed.

How long did you stay at home?

I became a stay-at-home mom when my first one was born. Our second was born very quickly — they’re just 17 months apart. Just at the time I was considering going back, we decided to have a third. I knew it would reset my clock and my ability to work. One year turned into 10 very quickly.

What was going back to work like?

I was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. When I got divorced, I shifted into high gear because I had to recoup 10 years of lost career growth. I worked really hard, and I got back to my former title in less than a year. In the process of relaunching and working with Fortune 500 companies, I realized what it really took to relaunch a career. Ever since, my passion has been to help moms get back to whatever type of job they feel is perfect.

Starting a business takes years to get to where you are earning real money. I was lucky I had spousal support, but it’s running out and my business isn’t growing fast enough. Basically, I haven’t earned a salary for two years — it’s all gone back into the business.

Where are you spending your money?

Mortgage. Paying for my own insurance. Costs associated with all the different tools I use with my business. Food. I have a teenager who eats twice as much as me.

How did you learn about budgeting?

The best lesson I learned about money was when I was 13. I grew up pretty wealthy, and we got really snotty growing up. We wouldn’t be seen in a certain wing of the mall. We only wanted to wear Esprit and Gap (it was the ’80s). My parents said, “That’s enough. You guys are on a budget.”

As a result, my two sisters and I became extremely thrifty because we started understanding the actual cost of everything.

What are your long-term goals?

I always want to have enough money in savings, and I want to spend my money so that I never worry about running out. It can be paralyzing when you’re afraid of running out of money. There’s nothing like divorce to teach you that.

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