What It’s Like to Live in Philly on $130,000

A rental agent, 47, is married with two kids in a dual-earner household in Center City.
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My mother didn’t come from money. Her father was a taxicab driver. Back then, in the ’50s, there were sororities in high school. My mother has always been extraordinarily beautiful, and the rich girls at her Philly-area public high school asked her to join their sorority. But she didn’t like the way they acted and declined. For prom, she wore a borrowed dress from a wealthier friend.

I was more fortunate from a money perspective. My father passed away when I was five and left me a nest egg to do practically anything that I desired. I went to overnight camp. I pursued the performing arts. I went to private school. At the same time, I had friends who would go out shopping and buy a $100 pair of jeans, and if I had done that, my mother, who worked two jobs, would have asked, “What, are you nuts?” Life was comfortable, not cushy.

Snapshot: Family Expenses

Home: $1,940/month for a $425,000 home
Car(s): $0 Volvo paid off
Education: $0 Children attend charter school
Child care: $16,000/year for extracurriculars and camp
Groceries: $600/month
Dining & takeout: $400/month
Clothes, tech, other: $300/month
Vacation: $0
Savings: $2,000/year

When we moved to Center City from the Main Line when I was 16, my grandmother moved in with us. So it was three generations of women, each with different money experiences, all in the same household. When I applied to a private performing-arts high school, I got a scholarship for all four years. It was from a fund for girls of single mothers whose fathers had died. And with the money my father left me, I was able to graduate from Temple without student loans.

Today, I’m raising two daughters — a 10-year-old and a seven-year-old — in Center City while working as an independent contractor. I’m a rental agent, and my husband works full-time in the business world. At first when you have kids, you’re not thinking about college. You’re just trying to get through the day — diapers, crying, etc. But a few years ago, I started setting aside a little bit each month for them — probably not enough to pay for college, but it’s growing steadily. I’m lucky to have a wealthy relative who’s been donating to their college fund as well.

We don’t give our daughters any allowances, but they have a good grasp on money. The four of us have never been on a vacation together. Instead, the money has gone toward sending the girls to the best schools and summer camps. In fact, this year they’re both going to the same camp that I did as a preteen.

When my husband and I met, he was a personal trainer and I was a teacher. We have more financial stability now, but if I have a few slow months at work, I worry. Our car is paid off, so our biggest monthly expenses are the mortgage, health insurance and groceries — food and shelter, really. We’ve recently started to think about retirement. I just opened a 401(k) through the bank. I don’t want to be waiting tables when I’m 70.

— As told to Malcolm Burnley

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First published as “Living in Philly on … $130,000” in the April 2017 issue of Philadelphia magazine.