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Parents of 5 earn six figures a year, but it ‘feels like poverty’

April Schultz, 40, and her husband Kevin, 45, earn $130,000 a year in gross income combined between their four jobs and side gigs. Still, Schultz said she was shocked that such income “feels like poverty.”

“With $100,000, I feel like we should be able to do a little more,” Schultz said. “We should be able to have a little more fun. We should be able to shop at Costco without worrying about it.”

She said that a few years ago, her husband was the sole breadwinner while she stayed home with the children, and she had few financial worries. However, they no longer have enough money to comfortably pay for a Netflix subscription, which costs $15.49 per month for a standard subscription.

“We shouldn’t have four jobs in one family,” Schultz said. “I feel like it’s crazy when in 2017 we only had one income and we were doing really well.”

Although they earn well above the federal poverty level – which is $47,340 for a family of 7 – Schultz and her husband are considered at the high end of ALICE – or employed with assets limited and limited income. This population often earns above the income limits to qualify for government welfare benefits such as food stamps, but not enough to comfortably meet daily expenses. Many live paycheck to paycheck and are forced to cut back on spending on some essentials to buy others.

“It’s hard to capture in the data the frustration, the stress, the day-to-day, having to make really bad choices,” Stephanie Hoopes, national director of United For ALICE, previously told BI. “Are you going to get your child’s medicine or are you going to have dinner tonight? Are you going to keep the electricity on? Are you going to go to daycare?”

Simpler, cheaper times

For her first two children, finances were very tight and they relied on assistance like Medicaid. After her husband got a job with the Department of Defense, she said her finances were much more stable, even after having three more children.

For 12 years, she was a stay-at-home mom, returning to work after her youngest started school in 2016. She has worked in accounting and secretarial roles for the past six years while the family has moved for her husband’s job to states such as California, Arizona and Minnesota.

“We were able to do these things on our own dime, and it was a really comfortable life,” Schultz said. “We won less than today.”

Her husband got a second job at the airport last year, helping to load and unload planes a few evenings a week. Schultz took a day job at the local school, a coaching role and she temporarily took a job as an accountant.

In October 2023, the family sold their home in Idaho and bought a house in Mascoutah, Illinois, a small town about a half hour from St. Louis and near Scott Air Force Base. Most residents are either military or married to someone who is, she said. Still, she said the topic of affordability is a “constant conversation” in her city, as she recently noticed housing prices in her area skyrocketing.

Her husband makes just over $100,000 before taxes between his two jobs, while she makes about $30,000. She said that while there are job opportunities in her area, most don’t pay enough for the cost of living in the area. She is satisfied with her current role, which allows her to be closer to his children.

She said part of the financial burden came from their decision to live in Illinois instead of Missouri and have a larger family. They pay $600 a month in property taxes in Illinois, which has the second-highest effective tax rate of any state. Still, she said the past few years have been much more difficult for them.

“We can pay our bills, but there’s never anything more,” Schultz said, noting that they don’t go out to dinner, see movies at the theater or travel. “We never went on vacation with our family.”

Reduce additional costs

They cut the cable and canceled subscriptions to platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix. Their cars are over 15 years old and have over 200,000 miles on them. Even though they don’t have a car payment, they worry that one will break down and they won’t be able to afford another one. Additionally, they buy second-hand clothing and furniture.

They are both still paying off student debt and have been forced to use credit cards for everyday purchases, something she says they hate doing. They primarily use an all-cash system to budget each dollar, to see how much they can save for an emergency fund. However, there isn’t much left, especially with rising utility costs controlled by the city.

Schultz said she was desperately trying to reduce the family’s food costs to just $200 a week, less than the USDA recommends a family of four spend on a frugal food plan. She shops at Aldi and often watches YouTube recipes for cheap meals. They canceled their memberships at Costco and Sam’s Club because they felt they would spend more there even if they bought ingredients in bulk.

“Since COVID, we’ve just never been able to move forward,” Schultz said. “It’s just about constantly trying to fight to get to a place where we can live without always worrying.”

A few years ago, she had a cancer scare that cost her $500 for a checkup. She said she shouldn’t have to withdraw a lot of her savings to ensure she’s healthy.

She said they wouldn’t hesitate to invest in their children’s sports, which adds up quickly. They will always buy their children equipment or clothing for cheerleading or choir to enable them to excel academically. However, she told her children that they need to get a scholarship to go to college if they want to go or find a way to pay for it themselves, since they have no way to pay university funds.

She doesn’t worry too much about retirement because her job has a mandatory 401(k), even though her employers don’t invest anything beyond their requirements. Her husband will receive government retirement benefits, which will give them peace of mind. They both plan to downsize once their children move out and settle down somewhere more rural and less expensive.

However, she fears that they will not be able to give their children much in the future. She encouraged her children to look for ways to earn money through odd jobs, as she does not give them an allowance and only buys them gifts for their birthdays and Christmas.

“Trying to think 20 years down the road, when our kids are about to go to college next year, it’s kind of a ‘future us’ problem, unfortunately,” Schultz said.

Are you an ALICE struggling to make ends meet? Are you worried about retirement? Contact this journalist at nsheidlower@businessinsider.com.


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