She fears she’ll have to move home with her parents. Here’s what her budget looked like pre-COVID—and now.

By Brienne Walsh
November 19, 2020
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In January, Willa, 29, anticipated that 2020 was going to be a life changing year. On April 24, she was going to marry the love of her life in a small, intimate ceremony in Arizona. In the fall, they planned to try for a baby. After working for three years as a supervisor for a national trucking company to make ends meet, Willa, an art history major, had finally landed her dream job as the curator of a small museum. 

“I felt like the luckiest person in the world,” she says.

But in March, both Willa and her fiancé, who worked for the same museum, were furloughed amid the pandemic—Willa’s salary at the time was $52,000 a year, and her fiancé made only part-time income. There were food shortages in the small town in Arizona where they are located, and case numbers rose quickly. Almost immediately, the couple decided to cancel their wedding—instead, marrying in front of a judge at the courthouse across the street from their apartment on April 20. Social media didn’t help Willa’s sadness and anger at the situation. “I spent a lot of time anxiety-scrolling on Instagram during the lockdown,” she says. “Everyone else’s life looked normal, and mine didn’t.”

For the first few months of lockdown, Willa and her husband lived off the generous unemployment payments provided by the CARES Act. They had about $8,500 saved for their wedding, which they relied on for emergencies. The museum supplemented rent for their apartment and continued to provide health insurance for Willa; her husband is uninsured.

But when the CARES act ran out in July, the couple found themselves in dire straits. While it was in effect, Willa received $832 a week, and her husband received $750, for a total of $6,328 a month—they spent much of that money on expenses and getting much-needed repairs on their cars. But that ended in July, and Willa's most recent unemployment check was just $305, she says. 

Luckily, Willa and her husband were already living very simply. Even still, they shaved many expenses off their budget to make do. They cut their grocery budget in half, stopped giving their German Shephard an allergy pill that cost $84 a month and started feeding her inexpensive food, and Willa cancelled her fitness program.

Monthly Budget

Pre-COVID-19

Post-COVID-19

Rent

$630

$1,130

Car Payments

$470

$470

Utilities

$72

$72

Cell Phone

$116

$116

Gas

$60

$60

Car Insurance

$104

$104

Groceries

$1,600

$700

Health Insurance

$0

$0

Streaming Subscriptions

$65

$17

Credit Card/Loan Payments

$750

$615

Dining Out

$150

$0

Savings

$50

$0

Subscriptions

$95

$0

WiFi

$99

$99

Misc. (dog food, meds, etc.)

$152

$68

Life Insurance

$202

$202

Total

$4,615

$3,653

Today the museum still has not reopened, and the town where it is located relies heavily on revenue from tourism, which has plummeted. Even worse, the museum stopped supplementing rent on Willa and her husband’s apartment, so they faced monthly payments of $1,130 beginning on August 1. The couple decided to move in with Willa’s husband’s family in Ohio and did jobs like yard work for cash. 

In early November, the couple returned to Arizona to see if they needed to pack up their things for good—they’re still paying rent on their apartment. They’re holding out hope that they might find a way to stay in the town they were so excited to make a life in less than a year ago. The owner of the museum where they worked is hopeful that he will be able to hire them back, but Willa is worried he’s not being realistic. “There was no tourism season,” she says. “There truly is no money to bring me back full time.”

While the couple figures things out, Willa has put in job applications at Safeway and Walmart, which are the two largest employers in town. 

“Do I go back to trucking, which I hated, or do I wait this out?” she says she asks herself on a daily basis. She has less than a year of experience at the museum, which she fears won’t be enough to get her another job in the art world already hit hard by the pandemic. In August, the Brookings Institute released a study that found that one-third of all jobs in creative industries had been lost during the pandemic, for a total of 2.7 million jobs.   

The couple reaches out to family for advice, but they don’t know what to tell them because no one has ever been through anything like the COVID-19 pandemic before. 

For now, Willa and her husband are just trying to survive. And they’ve had to put their dreams about starting a family on the back burner. 

“It feels like a joke that we would even bring a baby into the world right now,” she says.