How a PAC Administrator Does Money

Photo credit: Adam Foster, CC BY 2.0.

Hannah (not her real name) is a 30-year-old PAC Administrator in Washington, DC.

So, Hannah, how much are you making?

$88,000 base; target 10 percent bonus. Last year the bonus overperformed — it’s based on both company performance and personal performance, and I got over target on both. Total somewhere in the mid $90K range.


That’s a big change for me. Five years ago I was making $36K.

At the same job? Or in the same field? Or…???

Different job, different field.

I lost the $36K job unexpectedly in 2013. I was a receptionist/admin/office manager. After a couple of false starts interviewing, I landed here as a contractor ($50K) doing mostly admin work. My role expanded past that as we went into a really busy period and they brought me on full-time at $80K in 2014. I’ve gotten three raises since then.

How does your income compare to your expenses? Did you increase your expenses (different house/apartment, better car, etc.) as your income grew?

So from 2009 to 2013 I was making $36K or less a year in DC. It sucked. I started out in one bedroom of a two bedroom ($900) and ended up sharing a bedroom ($600). I wasn’t able to pay my student loan payments ($900 at the time) without substantial help from my mom.

My first year here I worked three jobs and still couldn’t afford health insurance. I rode Metro and buses. For most of that time I was dating someone who made six figures and would always treat at restaurants because the choice was he treated or I couldn’t go.

In early 2014, after I was making $50K, I got my own bedroom again ($850 plus utilities). I also was able to gain free use of a car through a relative who wasn’t using it. Those two things changed my world!

Earlier this year I moved into my own place, $1200, and two refis later, my loan payment is around $650. The relative is now able to use their car again so I recently got a car ($240/month — modest especially for my field).

I pay my student loans independently now, and my dad has stopped sponsoring plane tickets home. They average $500/trip so it just wasn’t an option for me to pay when I was making $36K.

When I got this job, I came into it with about $10K of debt — maybe $2K from college, but also racked up after: outfitting myself, feeding myself, living beyond my means generally — but to have lived within my means would have been a very hungry existence.

TL;DR — while my lifestyle has improved, I think it’s still pretty modest. 1BD/1BA, no cable, relatively inexpensive car, etc.

But it is your own bedroom! Were you sharing that bedroom with, like, a random roommate? Not a close friend or romantic partner?

I had known that roommate for a few years. We’re not close anymore. But we were both making around the same amount and just NOT making ends meet.

And now here you are.

Yes. She’s doing better financially now too! 😀

BEST NEWS. So, in addition to making ends meet, are you putting money away for the future? Emergency funds, retirement, etc.?

Between my own funds and my company match I’m putting away ten percent in my 401(k). I was putting away fourteen percent, but the relative who loaned me the car gave a good amount of notice so I started putting that money aside in savings. A big chunk of that did go towards the car, but I’m working on building some savings before I divert it back to building my 401(k).

One big thing I’m planning ahead for is my boyfriend’s transition out of military service. He’s been an officer since he graduated from college and is making about the same as me. We have no idea what his career options will realistically look like when he gets out — will he choose to take a pay cut and train for another federal job and/or law enforcement? Will he pursue a Masters? Will he consult? And each of those comes with a very different income.

That’s a really interesting (and kind of nerve-wracking) decision tree.

When I met him, when I thought it might get serious but still really early on, I said to him that with all due respect to his career — which I do admire — I worked my ass off for mine too. I know that I’m not cut out for military spouse life. So do with that what you will.

That was a good conversation to have and while I think in the wrong relationship it would have been grounds for breaking up, I think he really respected that I cared enough about his career and his path generally to bring it up while we could make a rational, mutual decision. So he came back to me and said he’d get out.

Wow. ❤

I wanted to be honest with him — I know so many women who follow their (military) husbands’ careers but it’s just not what I want so I had to tell him.

I met him RIGHT AFTER I got the bump to $80K so that was on my mind too. I think if I had met him when I was younger or making less I would have been more game for it. It’s easier to replace a $36K income than an $80K income, especially if you’re moving around every few years. And I have $102K in student debt which would be a big burden if I was making less or unable to find work due to hopping around.

So with him getting out — I was able to say to him, look, I support a household on my own. If you need to take a pay cut to pursue a federal or law enforcement career, or if you go back to school, I can support my current lifestyle. So if things change and we don’t make comparable wages then we can take that into consideration, at the end of the day, adding a second person to the household is incremental. You pay for what you consume above and beyond what I consume if it’s that big of a pay cut, or we contribute proportionally, we’ll figure it out.

That dynamic is so different from the relationship I had when I was making $36K and the guy was making $100K. It’s nice to feel like I can be a full partner.

I love everything about this. It sounds like you are good at communicating both your emotional and your career/finance needs. Is that something you learned as an adult, or something that’s always been part of your life?

I came by it the hard way. I received a lot of constructive criticism in the past that I needed to speak up, that my past partners weren’t mind readers.

Both of us have received that feedback in the past. I’ve had a couple of long-term relationships and he’s divorced, so we both knew that not communicating didn’t work and seemed to simultaneously, if not mutually, decide that with this relationship we would try something crazy and actually talk to each other.


I KNOW, WE’RE NUTS. “Bungee jumping? Baby, that sounds so BORING. Why don’t we TALK about money and emotions instead. WAY CRAZIER.”

So let’s switch it back to just finances for a second: what do you think you do really well, financially, and what do you wish you could do better?

I make killer spreadsheets. I know what’s coming in when, and I relate that well to when money has to go out. I do that at home, and I manage money at work too.

I’m bad about: spending too much on clothes, and on spending rather than saving.

I’m not going into any more debt, but I’ll say “oh, I can spend $500 on food, fun, and anything optional this month, and then I can save $400,” and then suddenly it’s $700 in “allowance” and $200 to savings. (My “allowance” is $500 per two week pay period. I charge it to a credit card and pay it off on payday.)

How often is the “optional” stuff things like dentist appointments? Or are you only counting optional “fun” stuff? (NOT THAT DENTISTS AREN’T FUN.)

I have things that are line items and things that are miscellaneous.

I can get you a list of line items, hang on…

Savings, Rent, iTunes storage, Amazon Prime, Phone, Credit Card I’m Paying Off, Student Loan, Everyday Credit Card, Car, Renters’ Insurance, Car Insurance, Internet, Hair, and Checks (any checks I write that pay period).

ANYTHING else goes against allowance. Groceries, coffee,, gas, anything.

So then I have it set to add that all up and take it away from my salary and show me that balance.

Spreadsheets ❤

Got it. (And I agree: spreadsheets ❤)

Where do you want to be financially five years from now? I know that your boyfriend’s decision re: career may affect that.

That’s something I think about a lot!

I’d like to own a home, with a yard. And a dog. (A dog is also one of my next financial goals.) I’m also thinking about my biological clock — I don’t feel like I’m behind because I’m not married and I don’t have kids, but realistically kids have to come into play pretty soon if we’re going to have them.

What advice do you have for other Billfold readers?

I wish I had job-hopped more. $36K in DC is basically criminal when you compare that take-home to the rent here. I think I probably left some money on the table. I’m not saying get a new job every 3 months, but don’t feel like you owe anyone your loyalty if they are not compensating you at a living wage.

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