Money Is Tight Right Now. Here’s How 9 People Are Getting By.

From a mechanic whose six-figure salary has been halved to a hairstylist who has lost her home, readers across the US gave us a look at their financial reality.

The economic devastation wrought by the pandemic continues, even amid recent signs of a modest economic uptick. As my former colleague Tom Gara notes, since April the United States has actually seen a large increase in household income and savings as an unprecedented number of people are receiving stimulus and unemployment benefits from the government. Unfortunately, “the massive interventions that made all this possible will soon come to an end — but the unemployment won’t.”

Last month, BuzzFeed News asked readers to share how their finances have fared during the recession so far. More than 200 people responded. Here are nine of their stories. Responses have been edited for clarity; pseudonyms have been used for some responses.

Manny, 31, California

Employment status: Full-time heavy equipment mechanic
Annual salary before the pandemic: $100,000
Current income: $40,000–$50,000

Monthly housing costs: $2,500 in rent

Debt: about $15,000 in total

Groceries (monthly): $600

Utilities: $200

Entertainment: $60

Are you spending more or less right now? Less

Biggest financial concern right now: I am a heavy equipment diesel mechanic, so a lot of the construction sites got shut down. I had my hours cut and we scaled back a lot. Since I didn’t qualify for a stimulus check, I couldn’t really have that to fall back on, so we started dipping into savings to pay some bills and the unexpected expenses that come with having a new baby on the way.

Natalie, 38, Arkansas

Employment status: Self-employed acupuncturist
Annual salary before the pandemic: Around $10,000/month in 2019
Current income: Income was just under $1,000 in March, but bumped up to $3,000 in April and $4,000 in May due to successful internet sales of hemp CBD. Unfortunately, this month I had to stop selling CBD because the online payment processor I use threatened to ban my account, so income this month will likely be similar to March.
Monthly housing costs: I own my house, so no payments.
Debt: None
Groceries (monthly): $1,000
Utilities: $70
Entertainment (Netflix/Spotify): None
Are you spending more or less right now? Less

Biggest financial concern right now: I switched from in-person patient appointments to telemedicine in March. I'm still not seeing patients in person due to the high cost of PPE. Even as things are opening back up, people are cutting down on spending. Integrative medicine is the first thing people cut back on, even before cutting back on entertainment and nonessentials such as beer. That means my business will suffer greatly. Health insurance doesn't typically pay for acupuncture, nutritional coaching, or herbs/supplements in the state of Arkansas.

Scotty, 24, Massachusetts

Employment status: I work full-time as an assistant teacher at a special needs school. I also drove for Lyft and worked as a janitor. I can't do those jobs right now, but I did get a summer part-time job at a hardware store for extra money.
Annual income before the pandemic: $25,000 over the year I worked abroad in Wuhan, China (yes, that Wuhan)
Current income: $2,250 a month after taxes
Monthly housing costs: I rent from family, so only $300
Debt: $40,000 in student debt
Groceries (monthly): $400
Utilities: $150
Entertainment (Netflix/Spotify): $20
Are you spending more or less right now? Much less.

Biggest financial concern: Many people my age work multiple jobs. I have had to stop two jobs since the pandemic reached Massachusetts. Combined I earned about $600–900 extra a month. I wish I could do them but I can't because I'm afraid of getting my mom sick. I've been working from home since about March 7. My long-term planning is messed up since I can’t do Lyft (about $800 to $1,000 month). I'm not receiving unemployment.

Andrew, 35, Oregon

Employment status: I work in the service industry — business dining, to be more specific. I was placed on furlough as of June 1, with our employer picking up health care premiums through the end of August, if you are on their plans. Luckily, I am on my wife’s plan which not only is better than any provided by my company, it's cheaper. We don't have a return date — I'm hoping it won't be more than 90 days but I have a bad feeling it will be much longer.
Annual income before the pandemic: $80,000 base + 8–10% bonus
Current income: TBD
Monthly housing costs: $3,000 for mortgage, taxes, and stupid fucking interest
Debt: $26,000 student loans, $3,500 credit card debt, $445,000 mortgage
Groceries (monthly): A fuck ton now! Normally I get free coffee and food at work (all day!). With both me and my wife working from home and eating all meals here, we have doubled our food spending.
Utilities: $400 to $500. Depends on how much we spend on running the A/C.
Entertainment (Netflix/Spotify): Netflix, Starz (awful! Tried to cancel and roped me in to staying for .99/month, which was clever and clearly I’m not the only one), Comcast is the worst and spend $250/month, cellphones are $175/month vs. $235 2 months ago, Xbox Live $50/year, other streaming services ~$10/month.

Are you spending more or less right now? Less right now. Saving on gas, car insurance (not much, assholes), reduced cellphone data plans, etc., all in all we are saving money ’cause we aren’t spending hundreds at Target on useless bullshit 😃 My wife’s job is strong and her company is posting record sales recently even though retail stores are closed and shifting their business model to more dot-com.

Biggest financial concern right now: My wife and I have worked very hard to reduce debt, increase savings and be fiscally responsible. We have $20,000+ in savings, I have 145 hours of vacation / PTO, my wife will be getting her bonus in August. I'm hoping this pandemic doesn't eat into it but that is a small sacrifice to pay given the current climate. I am waiting anxiously to hear if benefits will be extended past the end of July — the restaurant industry is completely screwed. Every week we see another well-known restaurant, restaurant group or high-profile chef say they are permanently closing their business. What are all of these industry workers going to do?

Mimi, 25, California

Employment status: Laid off in March. Previously worked at a transportation tech startup.
Annual salary before pandemic: $58,000
Current income: $2,010 biweekly from unemployment benefits
Monthly housing costs: Rent is currently $2,200. Moving to a cheaper place in July which will be $1,400.
Debt: None, thankfully.
Groceries (monthly): $400
Utilities: $0
Entertainment (Netflix/Spotify): $15
Are you spending more or less right now? Wayyyyy less. As close to 0 as we can get.

Biggest financial concern right now: I am “hyper-quarantining” as I call it. I am immunosuppressed, so my ability to get work is limited. Not knowing if I will keep receiving enough money to pay rent after July puts me in a high-anxiety position. Also, my health benefits from being laid off will end this month. So starting in July I’ll have an additional $650 monthly expense for health insurance to account for.

Sharon, 33, Florida

Employment status: I work as a barber and cosmetologist but haven’t been able to work since March.
Annual income prior to the pandemic: $13,500 last year, working out of my home, and $28,000 in 2018 working at a shop in downtown Orlando.
Current income: $0. I have not been able to work. I have not received my stimulus check or any unemployment [benefits].
Monthly housing costs: I’ve been homeless since March. I’ve had to move in with friends and family.
Debt: $15,000 in medical, credit card, and collections debts.
Biggest financial concern: I lost my long-term relationship with my boyfriend and subsequently lost my house and my dog and everything I own. This makes it hard to create a fresh start — severe life changes during a pandemic.

Lily, 23, Hawaii

Employment status: I am a budget analyst with the military.
Current income: $55,000 a year, which is very little in Hawaii.
Monthly housing costs: Mortgage payment is $3,900. I purchased my parents’ home in Hawaii to allow them to take a cash-out refinance since they do not have the income to support the mortgage and utilities payments. Since it is not covered under the CARES Act to request mortgage forbearance, I have a lot of additional expenses to factor in with my family out of work.
Debt: $900,000 mortgage
Groceries (monthly): $800
Utilities: $750
Entertainment: $50
Are you spending more or less right now? Less, due to not going out to eat and shopping or any other entertainment and travel, but more on utilities.

Biggest financial concern: Potentially being laid off and not being able to afford my home. I support my younger brother and parents financially and so without my job, we would not be able to survive in Hawaii. My father is a mechanic and owns his own business which has been extremely slow since no one is driving. My mother is a server and since all the dining facilities are closed, she has been without work as well.

Hawaii has one of the highest costs of living and the highest rates of unemployment in the nation right now. Our economy is so hyper-dependent on tourism that once the flights and people were gone, our economy was decimated. It has been very difficult and puts a lot of pressure on me to ensure we can make it through each month on one paycheck. Hopefully as the economy begins to reopen it will improve, but right now, my main concern is ensuring my parents and I stay healthy since they are currently without health insurance.

Kristy, 33, Florida

Employment status: I’m a franchise business manager for a local salad franchise who is currently employed part-time. I was moved from a salaried wage to hourly and can work up to 25 hours a week.
Annual income before the pandemic: $51,000 gross pay
Current monthly income: About $2,100 net, $2,500 gross. Annually would be difficult to say because I should be going back to salary pay at some point when things "normalize."
Monthly housing costs: $250. I've lived with my dad for a few years, which is a huge help, especially now.
Debt: More than $60,000 in student loans (deferred through September); about $3,000 in credit card debt.
Insurance and healthcare (health, dental, car, therapy): $830
Groceries (monthly): $300
Utilities: $440
Entertainment: $90
Are you spending more or less right now? Less.

Biggest financial concern? Even with a pay cut, I did not qualify for any assistance through the marketplace for health insurance and my job has kept me paid enough to where I do not qualify for unemployment/underemployment benefits. I am aware of my privilege and I know I don't have it nearly as bad as many other Americans, but I'm in a middle/gray area where I don't qualify for any assistance, and I am just making enough to pay my bills.

Anna, 40, New Jersey

Employment status: I’m a real estate agent and was laid off from a part-time gig as a brand ambassador for a cookware company.
Annual income before the pandemic: Roughly $60,000 last year. My income is commission-based and reliant on transactions and closing deals. However, before the pandemic hit, I had already made $35,000 in January and February 2020, so I was on pace to make over $100,000 [this year].
Current income: Just over $800/week. I filed for unemployment in March when my real estate office closed and I was also laid off from the part-time job. I received benefits because New Jersey made exceptions for independent contractors. I get the minimum $213/week and $600 in pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA).
Monthly housing costs: $977 monthly mortgage payment
Debt: No outstanding debt, just mortgage
Groceries (monthly): $250 to $400
Utilities: $500
Entertainment: $200
Are you spending more or less right now? Less

Biggest financial concern: Collecting unemployment and how it will affect buying a new house. I filed for unemployment in March when my real estate office closed and I was also laid off from the part-time job. I received benefits because New Jersey made exceptions for independent contractors.

Korri, 23, Colorado

Employment status: I was a full-time restaurant server before I was laid off.
Annual salary before layoff: I was making about $37,000–$40,000 a year, about $3,000–3,500 a month on average.
Current income: With the bonus $600/week from the CARES act, I ended up making $1,704 every two weeks, so about $3,408 every month.
Monthly housing costs: My rent was $1,225. I’ve had to move into my parents,’ home.
Debt: I had about $45,000 in debt, a mixture of credit card, car loan, and student loans. Groceries (monthly): $300
Utilities: $150
Entertainment (Netflix/Spotify): $10
Are you spending more or less right now? Less.

Biggest financial concern right now: I was concerned about how I was going to pay my bills. But being able to move back into my parents’ home helps a lot financially, as much as it sucks to be 23 and back at home. Now taking advantage of the situation to pay off debts and save to move and buy a house.

Spot Illustrations: Ben Kothe, Zachary Ares

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