median

We are the median: A standard life, with debt

Dec. 8, 2011 at 7:57 AM ET

Eric Kayne / for msnbc.com /
Nathan Palmer, left, and ring-tailed lemur, Grover, with partner Brett Jones, holding African spur thigh tortoise, Shelly, at their home in Victoria, Texas.

Brett Jones, 37, and Nathan Palmer, 23, describe their life in Victoria, Texas, as “pretty standard.” The couple enjoy TV, movies, friends, video games and volunteering in their community. And yet Jones, who works in social services, and Palmer, a zookeeper, say it’s a life that doesn’t allow for many splurges or financial wiggle room. 

TODAY.com's Life Inc. blog asked the couple about their financial situation as part of a series of stories looking at what it’s like to live on the nation’s median income of about $50,000 a year. Here is their response:

What’s it like to live on around $50,000 a year?

It's not poverty. We don't miss meals and we make MOST of our bills. However, we live paycheck to paycheck and we carry debt. There are times we do go negative in the account, which increases our debt. It's hard, but not burdensome. Really it's more frustrating than anything.

How has the weak economy affected your finances?

We've had to cut back on some nonessential things. Some of our entertainment budget (i.e. online games, streaming video, cable services) has had to be dialed back so that we can continue to make ends meet. Things that we could afford previously are now becoming luxuries.

Do you worry about money?

Yes.

What are your biggest expenses?

Car payment and mortgage.

What do you splurge on?

Food. It'd be nice to say we splurge on vacations or travel, but we can't afford it. Nice big meals out in restaurants are what we consider 'splurging.'

Is there anything you wish you could afford but can’t?

Yes. We would like to upgrade the house and yard. We have ideas for a small business. And of course we'd like some cool stuff like iPads and the like as well. But they are just too expensive.

Is it difficult to pay your bills every month?

Difficult, yes, but not impossible. We do what we have to in order to get the essentials paid and to try to pay down the debt. Sometimes we have Ramen meals to conserve funds or we cut out other optional fun stuff during the week.

Eric Kayne / for msnbc.com /
Nathan Palmer checks on white-tailed deer at the Texas Zoo where he is a zookeeper.

What kind of debt do you have, and do you find it hard to pay off your loans or other debts?

We carry a line of credit at the bank for when we overdraft our account, which happens about three times a year. That is only about $800 of debt at present. However, we also have a credit card that we've been paying on for about seven years. It's down to about $4,000. We no longer use it.

Are you able to save money for the future?

Barely and only recently. My agency began offering match funds for a 401(k) this year and I decided it was time to get in on that. I have no other savings to speak of.

What are you most proud of in terms of your financial situation?

We make it work. It never fails that somehow we end up pulling things out of the fire at the last minute by doing what must be done or sacrificing a small luxury in order to keep things running.

Are there any financial mistakes you think you’ve made?

Yes. Getting into debt was the worst thing I could have done in terms of financing. That debt has lingered over my head for entirely too long and it's quite frustrating to watch it diminish by a drip at a time.

Will the upcoming holidays add to your financial burdens?

Yes. They always do. What ends up happening is that the gifting just gets less and less impressive. I enjoy buying special gifts for my loved ones, but the huge hit on the holidays means that it just isn't as possible as it used to be. I've even spoken to the family about adjusting how we give gifts to ease the burden. That's sad.

More on this series:

Click here to see previous stories in our "We are the median" series. We’re also sharing our thoughts — and yours — on Twitter (hashtag #median), Facebook and Google Plus. We invite you to comment on our posts — but keep it civil and on topic, please!

Finally, please share your story of what it’s like to be living on about $50,000 a year by clicking here to send me e-mail. We’ll feature some of your stories in future Life Inc. posts. 

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