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My budget and planning for the future

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My name is Melissa Herlitz. I am a city planner, and I make $62,000 a year. My personality is to worry about everything, so money is one of them, of course, but in general, I think my husband and I manage our finances very well. We lead a comfortable life. We get to enjoy the things that we want to. We get to go out to dinner, go on vacation, visit our family, so I don't think that we're wanting for much. When my husband and I first moved to New York City, my salary was quite a bit lower than it is now. I was making about $50,000 a year, so we picked what we thought was a more affordable place in Queens, about $1800 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. As my salary increased and as his salary increased, we were itching to move to a new neighborhood to live closer in so that we... We wanted to not have to commute via subway every day, so we looked toward moving to Manhattan. Living in Manhattan wouldn't have been possible under the initial salary that we were hired on when we moved to New York City. That's only possible because our salaries have grown over the last 3 1/2 years. Also, living in a neighborhood that you like that has a lot of fun amenities means that you're tempted by those amenities, those restaurants, those places to shop, get ice cream, get coffee. I think we spend a lot more doing things outside of the house than we did before, partly because there's a lot nearby but also because our apartment's really small, and we don't like spending a lot of time in our apartment. When we meet up with friends, we don't host them. We used to do that when we lived in Virginia and in Queens, and now, we go out to dinner with friends, so those are things that I don't think about regularly but are definitely a factor of my increased salary. My husband and I have always made decisions together really easily, so it made sense when we got married to combine our income into one bank account rather than keep it separate. We actually found that when we were dating it was really challenging to keep separate accounts, and the reason was we were always trying to figure out what percentage we each contributed toward a certain thing depending on how much our respective incomes were to make sure it was fair, you know, so I have always actually made less than my husband, so it would be 40% of my paycheck toward rent and then 40% toward this and that, and it actually seems like more work to keep our finances in separate bank accounts for our purposes, and we knew that we trusted each other to make certain decisions or to spend as we wished and talk about it later, so we were able to work through those kinds of issues really well. Of course, that still comes up regularly, like, "I can't believe you just spent $150 to buy new clothes," or something like that, so those are conversations that we will always continually have, but it's really so much easier to have our incomes combined to one bank account to just pay all of our expenses directly from that rather than doing the math every month. My husband tends to be more interested in the numbers and the Excel sheets, and so he actually has an Excel sheet that allows him to project out in the future how much will be in our bank account after X, Y and Z bill comes through, and he enjoys knowing that to make sure there's enough money in our account to cover certain debit payments. I don't think that's how I would manage the money if I was living alone, but it's really great, and it works for both of us. My husband and I talk about how our spending is going, not every day but at least every week. We kind of check in, and I think we both have a sense, whether or not we look at the Excel sheet, how we're doing. We know, for example, we just got back from a trip. We went out to eat. We took our friends out. We did a lot of fun things that, you know, this month we'll have to be a little lighter on our spending while we're in the city. We both want to retire at a reasonable age, so I think that drives a lot of our decisions, and doing things like taking out contributions toward retirement in a pretax system rather than waiting to make that decision after you get your paycheck, that helps me forget about that money. I pretend that that money doesn't even exist when it goes toward our retirement account. Right now, my husband and I have about $100,000 in retirement combined. Our goal is to put as much into that account early on in our careers and maybe slow that down over time. My old job, I worked for the University of Virginia, and they matched my retirement contributions, and I felt that my retirement account grew a lot bigger more quickly when I was working at the University of Virginia because of that supplementary investment on behalf of the university. At my current job, the city does not contribute toward my retirement account. All the money that goes into my 401K is taken directly from my paycheck. I think in the future, you know, of course, I want a job that I enjoy, hopefully working on climate change, hopefully working as a city planner, but another thing I would consider moving forward is does the employer contribute to your retirement account because that can make a world of a difference. I would like to start focusing more on saving for a down payment for a house. I think it would be really great to have that investment secured so that worrying about rent every month doesn't kind of hang over our heads, and instead of saying goodbye to $2400 a month, we're reinvesting that back in ourselves, and I think that will pay off in the long term when we think about retirement, as well. We also have a small savings set aside for both of our nieces. We try to contribute semi-regularly to that fund, so that's not a fund for us, but I think I'm hopeful that we can do for our nieces what my grandparents did for me, and maybe there will be a little bit of money for them to go to college or for them to have a down payment in the future, so I'm hopeful that we can keep contributing to that, as well.
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