How much does a user experience researcher earn? Is it enough to afford to live in an expensive city? Aidan talks about her experience with student loans and shares her budget for living in the Bay Area.
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My name's Aidan Bryant. I'm a UX researcher at Google, and my annual salary is about $113,000 a year. I grew up with a weird relationship to money. My parents never really talked about it, except, well they acted like we never had any and then they would spend it on weird things. I'm like, but I feel like you have it, and I don't understand why it's not going to things like a new car instead of you know, the other things that you spend it on. So they imposed this idea of austerity on me, but didn't really follow it themselves. So I was always very confused about how to do money, and when I had it, when I first had it, I did not spend it very wisely, because I was like, now I have it, and I can do whatever I want, and that's not really how it works. So, it took a little bit of trial and error for me to get in a good place with money, and get comfortable with it, and get myself to a place where I felt like I was financially secure and could take care of myself. The biggest financial challenge that I can think of definitely has to do with my student loans. I was on an income-based repayment plan for a long time which worked out really well when I was contracting, and when I didn't really make very much money, but I don't know how those things are calculated, but I don't think they take the cost of living of an area into consideration, so as I started making more money at Google, my student loan payments went up, but the cost of living has increased a lot since I moved to Silicon Valley as well, so the payment increase was outstripping what I actually had to give, and you basically can't go lower than income-based repayment, at least with the federal loans that I had. So I had to figure out what I could do about that because the apartment that I lived in, or that I currently live in, has really good rent, but it's very low for the area, and I knew that if I ever wanted to move out, I probably wouldn't be able to afford market rates and maintain my student loans. So what I ended up doing was actually refinancing through a personal lender, I used SoFi, who I've been really happy with so far, but there are a lot of risks with refinancing especially in terms of, you know, if you lose your job, or something like that, a lot of them don't defer payment, SoFi does, luckily, for a little bit, and they give you career coaching, which is a fantastic service. I haven't needed it yet, or hopefully I won't ever need it, but it's there. My primary goal was to make sure that my student loan payments were not going to increase as my salary increased, because I knew that they were not going to increase at the same rate. So basically I have some wiggle room, I can pay more on my loans if I want to, but I don't have to if I'm not able to. So my undergraduate education was probably about 10 or $20,000 a year, parents paid for half of it, I took out the rest in loans through the Department of Education, I think. They weren't private. And I didn't pay any of that off while I was in undergrad, so I carried that over to grad school, and I ended up consolidating that into my loans for grad school, which was $40,000 a year. So overall, by the time I graduated from grad school, I probably had 90 or $95,000 in debt. I graduated from my graduate program, I think six years ago, and with that 90 or $95,000 in debt. I was not able to pay off very much of it because I was in that entry-level job, so I've only really started repaying it in the last couple of years, and I've been doing that pretty aggressively, and at this point I'm down to about $87,000. My annual salary is about $113,000 a year, which comes out to about $9,4000 monthly. This is before my annual bonus, which is about 15% of my current salary, depending on the performance of myself and Google in general. Taxes and benefits taken out is about $4,400. This includes 401K matching, my health plan, which is actually really good, and then whatever withholdings that I've designated. I take out about $20 per paycheck in tax withholding. So my monthly take home is about $5,000. Out of this, currently $1,100 goes to rent, which includes my utilities. My roommate actually handles all of this, so I don't have to deal with it. But this includes cable, electric, water, garbage, kind of all of the standards. I do not have TV, but I have broadband internet, and I pay $35 a month for Netflix, HBO and Spotify, which I kind of consider my internet and TV utilities. I pay $30 a month for my cellphone, this is on my dad's plan, so I do get the discount through his employer and through our family plan, but I do pay it myself, I reimburse him every month. I own my car, so I don't have to worry about a car loan, and I spend about $110 a month on gas and insurance. I also save a little bit every month for car repairs, because I bought a 20-year-old BMW that breaks down about twice a year, and that requires repairing on a regular basis. My student loans right now are $1,000 a month. I spend probably $350 on food, this includes groceries and restaurants. I do eat out a lot, but I don't have to pay for my own lunches because that is included as a Google benefit. I could eat dinner at Google if I wanted as well, but I don't feel like eating at seven o'clock at night when the cafe's actually open. The rest of that, the rest of my budget includes about a $200 budget a month for clothes. I spend $210 on my therapist. This is actually about $700 a month, but almost 2/3 of it is reimbursed by my health plan, which is amazing, and then I spend $520 a month on my personal trainer. This covers two sessions a week through Google, so it is cheaper than getting a trainer through let's say 24 Hour Fitness or another gym. It's a lot but I know that I'm not going to exercise without pouring that much money into it, so it's kind of like my functional human tax to myself. So this leaves about $1,4000 a month. Out of that I deduct $300, that's an auto-withdrawal through my direct deposit that just goes straight into savings, so I know I'm saving at least $300 a month, and then what's left over is about $1,145 and that just goes to fun stuff, travel, car repairs, any kind of emergencies or incidentals. If I wanna exceed my restaurant budget that month, go to the movies, that's just all my fun stuff. I do try to save more of that. I try not to spend all of that, but you know, that goes to paying off my credit card bill. Right now I don't have a monthly minimum, but I do try to pour as much as possible into that credit card bill just to keep it down. But that's kind of my budget breakdown. I think my primary financial goal is just to be debt-free. I think, I've run the numbers a few times, and if I'm super aggressive with how I pay off my loans I can probably whittle that 10 years down to five, but that will require a level of sacrifice that I'm not willing to think about quite yet. First priority is getting the credit card bill down because that is the highest interest rate, and that's kind of conventional wisdom to get the highest rate down first. And then in terms of long-term goals, I honestly don't know, because I love living here. I'm really hoping the housing market pops at some point, and the rent will go down. I'm kind of waiting to stick that out, but there are a lot of other places I might consider moving, like Portland or Seattle. I have not started thinking about owning a home besides that fleeting thought of, probably I'll never own a home because it's just, it's just so expensive here it's hard to even start imagining how I would start saving for that. I've thought about buying a house in my hometown because rent is cheap there, and like renting it out to students or something, but that's, I mean, that's probably at least five years, five or 10 years away. Besides that, I think my goals are primarily to have enough to travel. I do go back to the east coast fairly often which is kind of an expensive flight because it's a nowhere airport, and I love traveling in general, and I get to travel a lot through work which takes care of a whole lot of that, but I would like to have some extra money just to go wherever I want. And in terms of long-term planning, I actually don't plan on, I'm not really thinking about raising a family at this point. It's not really something I ever saw for myself. I mean, talking about making my sister be the stay at home dad when we played house, I think that theme has carried through pretty strongly. So, I'm lucky that I don't really have to worry too much about like, saving for my kid's education, or something like that. I realize that advice doesn't really apply to everyone, or even a lot of people, but it helps me breathe easier a little bit, when I think about just living a relatively unattached life, not necessarily having a house, getting to travel a lot, not having kids, and hopefully that will leave some more money for retirement. I'm not necessarily trying to retire by the time I'm 35, or anything like that, because I really love my job, and I plan to keep working for a long time, but that's kind of how my goals are breaking down right now. I think the biggest thing that I wish I knew, or had a better sense of, is that just because you have money doesn't mean you have money to spend. That it's so tempting to have fun with it, but there's also, you know, I grew up thinking that you just can't spend money on fun stuff, and that's, I mean, that's totally not true. Even if you're living paycheck to paycheck, you can still put a little bit aside to have fun with, because this is the advice that I hear with diets too is that if you're too strict and you never let yourself have that cupcake then it's so easy to binge later because you're like, but I just want it, I want it, I deserve it, I've been doing so good, and then you go way overboard when you try to reward yourself. So it's really important to actually build in a budget for fun stuff, and having that fun money was never emphasized when I was growing up, and I didn't know how modulate myself and regulate that when I was an adult, so I went way overboard, and I'm still learning how to reign myself in, but I do let myself have a little bit of fun.