“We felt a lot of emotional fallout from the shutdown.” Here’s exactly what their budget looked like before COVID-19, and now.

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Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez
Photo courtesy of Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez

In this ongoing series, we’re exploring how Americans are coping with job and income losses. Tell us your story AskMillie@millie.us.

Just three weeks after returning from her “epic” honeymoon in Australia and New Zealand in February, Stefanie O’Connell Rodriguez and her husband got some “devastating” news, the 34-year-old tells Millie

“My husband, who is a stagehand on Broadway, found out that his show would be shut down for four weeks” as Broadway prepared to deal with the pandemic, Rodriguez says. A few days after that, Rodriguez, who owns a small media company that works with brands, saw a $95,000 contract disappear. “The implication of losing these huge amounts of money were not only devastating to my bottom line, but other people depend on my company for their income too,” she says.

The shock took them by surprise: “My husband and I spent two weeks in March really getting our bearings,” says  Rodriguez. “We felt a lot of emotional fallout from the shutdown. I was anxious and depressed … This has been devastating emotionally and financially.” 

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But Rodriguez, who calls herself a “money nerd” says the situation sent her into planning overdrive. “I went through literally everything I had bought in the last year,” she says, adding that she made a spreadsheet of all their expenses. “Anything we didn’t need—except streaming services—I started scrapping: my ClassPass, my husband’s gym, HelloFresh. They were nice but they were not must-haves.” 

Rodriguez's Estimated Household Budget:

Expenses

Pre-COVID

Post-COVID

Rent

$2,742

New budget: $1,371 (we just broke our lease and are now looking to move to the Hudson Valley, roughly two to three hours from New York City)

MetroCards

$254

$20 (we switched to pay per ride, rather than using a monthly pass)

Utilities and Internet

$220

$220

Cell Phones

$165

$165

Gas

$25

$100 (higher cost now that we're looking into housing options outside of NYC)

Car and Renters Insurance

$134

$89

Memberships (husband’s gym and Stephanie’s ClassPass

$160

$0

Groceries

~$400

~$600 (we’re cooking a lot more and are big on at-home happy hour now)

Monthly House Cleaning

$100

$0

Dry Cleaning

$60

$0

Misc. (eating out, clothing, travel, gifts, etc.)

$1,500

~$200 (we’re now only getting takeout occasionally and only buying the basics like toothpaste and shampoo)

She then began to look at all of her bills, figuring out which she could negotiate—she got a temporary reduction in the premium on her car insurance, for example—and which she could do something about, like switching the provider. (Luckily the couple has health insurance that is 100% paid for by her husband's union, for now.) 

But their biggest expense, their rent, was an issue. In January the couple had just signed a two-year lease on their Manhattan apartment. They tried to negotiate with the landlord as soon as they heard about the Broadway shutdown, but the management company resisted. The couple did, however, get the landlord to agree to letting them pay smaller payments multiple times a month, rather than one big payment early in the month. And finally, in July, the couple negotiated a lease termination.  

Now, they plan to move out of pricey Manhattan, as it’s been confirmed that Broadway has been shut down until 2021, and Rodriguez isn’t sure when she will get to do live events again, which brought in a significant portion of her income. “We are looking to temporarily relocate one to two hours outside of New York City to a more affordable, but still commutable location,” says Rodriguez. “Our goal is to cut our housing cost by about 50% during this time. That gives us a budget of around $1,371/month for housing/rent,” she adds. 

The couple spends plenty of time now worrying about money: “We are asking ourselves how many months of the costs of living we can sustain on our liquid assets,” Rodriguez says. “It’s not really a clear equation. Let’s assume that without any income, we could live 6 months; let’s assume that on unemployment income, 9 months; let’s assume that on unemployment income plus pandemic assistance [the $600 weekly extra that unemployed Americans will get until July 31], then a year,” she guesstimates. “But do I want to be 35 with no savings? No, I don’t.” 

The pandemic has also led Rodriguez—who says she feels privileged in the position she’s in despite the income cuts—to wonder about the future. “I don’t know if we want a family, but how things are going now, we wouldn’t be in the position to do it anyway if we come out with zero,” she says. “I spend an hour every day looking up what resources are available and when resources are going away. I don’t have children so I use my extra time incessantly trying to figure things out.”