We Are The Median: Carefully Budgeting For Food, Health Care Costs

When Jamie Wilson learned she was pregnant with her daughter, Samantha, she fully expected that she would be a full-time working mom.

But when she tried going back to work, she said it was too hard to be away from her daughter.

“Once she was born, it changed my whole outlook on everything,” Jamie said.

Instead, Wilson, 31, opted to go back to her job with Shasta County Health and Human Services just one day a week. Her husband, Jeremy, works four 10-hour shifts as an analyst, also with Shasta County Health and Human Services, so he can watch Samantha on the day that Jamie works.

That’s left the couple living – with a very careful budget – on the nation’s median income of about $50,000 a year.

TODAY.com’s Life Inc. blog visited the Wilsons in Anderson, Calif., this week as part of our series of stories on what it’s like to live on around $50,000 a year.

The Wilsons say they have a general budget and are careful with money. They also are relieved to have family that can help them out in an emergency.

“We’re pretty lucky in (that) we’re able to cover our necessities, and if there’s something we couldn’t get we’re pretty fortunate that we can go to our families,” Jamie said.

Still, they live paycheck to paycheck and sometimes find themselves squeezed.

“There are times when we get down to a couple of days before the next paycheck when we think, ‘OK, let’s scour the cupboards,'” Jeremy said.

One big expense is food. Jeremy, 30, and the couple’s daughter, Samantha, both suffer from a number of food allergies. That severely limits the family’s diet – and bulks up their food tab.

The Wilsons estimate that a five-pound bag of gluten-free flour costs $14.43, versus $2.12 for a bag of wheat flour. A loaf of gluten-free bread costs double the equivalent wheat bread.

In all, the couple estimates that they spend around $600 a month on food.

To save money, the couple gets what they can at Walmart and online. But Jamie also occasionally makes trips to a nearby health food store, where she can pick up things like vanilla coconut milk, gluten-free bagels, brown rice pasta and cheese substitute.

They even plan those grocery trips carefully; it takes about $7 worth of gas to get there and back.

Health care costs are another huge expense. The Wilsons pay about $600 a month for health insurance, and they also are paying off bills for Jeremy’s appendectomy and Samantha’s birth. Even though they have insurance, they have to pay some portion of their bills out of pocket.

They have a small amount of credit card debt and some student loan debt. In addition, Jamie is taking on additional student loans to get her master’s degree in special education.

Jamie likes the idea of a career that will give her more time with her daughter, although she said the thought of more student loan debt sometimes weighs on her and her husband.

Still, Jamie says she thinks she has learned from the financial mistakes she made in her first marriage, which ended in divorce – and with a foreclosure.

The couple does little things to save money. They bought reusable cloth diapers instead of disposables, and Jamie nurses instead of using formula. They moved to Anderson, in northern California near Redding, in part because it was less expensive than other parts of California.

Her past foreclosure meant the couple could only get approved to buy a $125,000 house, instead of a $200,000 house they wanted to buy. But now, Jamie says she is relieved they bought the cheaper house because it’s easier for her to stay home with Samantha.

Still, the couple says they don’t know whether they can afford to have a second child, especially since Jamie will have to start student teaching in a couple of years and they’ll need child care.

Even a pet is out of the question, for now.

“We would love to have a dog, but we can’t afford one,” Jamie said.

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  • by Anonymous on Dec 11, 2011 at 02:13 PM
    That is not what I am considering worldly pleasures. People can dress in in the not so name brand clothing and drive less than perfect vehicles. Our society is always trying to keep up with the Jones's. We could all probably make it on one income if we just tried! Once again, I applaude them for taking a stand on their responsibilities. I don't think this was written for self pity. I find it as an encouragement to know that there are others that put their children first! What kind of things can would you be willing to live without in order to be the one to see your child's first step, hear them speak their first words, ect? Hope to have you thinking on the things that you are sacrificing in order to keep up with those Jones's!
  • by 40some on Dec 11, 2011 at 08:56 AM
    “Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc-ra-cy) — a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers!” .
  • by billy goat gruff Location: looneyville on Dec 11, 2011 at 07:00 AM
    WE are poor little sheep who have lost our way.BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!
  • by chill Location: enc on Dec 10, 2011 at 01:18 PM
    They made the child. So take care of it. People need to take care of their own.
    • reply
      by sarah on Dec 11, 2011 at 06:00 AM in reply to chill
      Did they ever ask you or anyone else for assistance, no. Don't you realize that is what is wrong with other youth today. No one is home to raise them. They are sent to daycare and taken care of like cattle, and people wonder what is wrong with the younger generations. Is couple should be applauded for their willing to do with their want and deal with their needs. More people should take note and maybe, we would have all the debt.
      • reply
        by Mary on Dec 11, 2011 at 02:17 PM in reply to sarah
        Totally agreed! Glad to know that there are others that feel the same way about their children and take a stand for it! It's not always easy and their have been times that we have eaten hotdogs instead of steaks but it has always been worth it to both my husband and myself. I even think that the kids have seen the difference. Praying that it will make them humble, responsible adults.
  • by Mary on Dec 10, 2011 at 10:54 AM
    I applaud this family for making this choice! Here in America we tend to place less value on family than on material things. I don't think they are wanting a pity party. Many more could and should be making this same decision. Otherwise, why even have children if we are going to allow other people to raise them for us. The Bible clearly says that it is our job to raise them and that they are fully our responsibility! Hats off to this couple and others that are willing to sacrifice worldly pleasures for family values! =)
    • reply
      by Someone on Dec 11, 2011 at 07:48 AM in reply to Mary
      Yes, of course worldly pleasures such as food, shelter, clothing.
      • reply
        by No on Dec 11, 2011 at 10:20 PM in reply to Someone
        ipads, expensive cars, bling, etc. You don't HAVE to get what the Joneses have. It might be nice to have EVERYTHING, but it doesn't automatically mean that everyone deserves it. In 1900, few people had phones, most people didn't have electricity. Imagine life without these things and you'd say THAT would be living in poverty...yet most people did back then. Maybe the standard of living is set too high for some people, hummm...? Lots of people in Africa don't have power or phones. But then, food is another thing they're short on. Medicine, modern advancements, ...you name it, we got it! Yet, they say our people are poor?
  • by pete Location: grifton on Dec 10, 2011 at 09:09 AM
    Let them attend the annual pity party at arnolds in California held each year.(at the GOV-A-NOR's mansion)
  • by Anonymous on Dec 10, 2011 at 07:20 AM
    Making $50,000 a year, I cannot say I feel sorry for them, they are rich. There are many of us making under $20,000 a year and feel blessed to make that. There are ways to cut back and still make it with out fancy stuff.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Dec 10, 2011 at 09:56 AM in reply to
      Rich ? making 50k in California ? LOL you're a joke. They are making about the same as you are in this area. Everything costs more in California... EVERYTHING. How absurd for you to sit back and call them "rich" LOL you must be one of those obama stooges. hahahaha so silly.
  • by Puh-lease Location: ENC on Dec 10, 2011 at 06:37 AM
    She needs to get a job. Child Care won't take that much of her paychcek, maybe $700 a month. If she brings home $2000 a month (which she should being a teacher), she will have $1300 to help with expenses. I work, have two kids, AND got my masters degree on a $10/hour job and we made it happen. This is not a sob story. This pisses off working mothers everywhere.
  • by DogLover on Dec 10, 2011 at 06:27 AM
    I think alot of middle class families can relate to this family. The ones struggling to get by are the ones paying the most taxes. It's not the rich or the leeches. When our family was younger we went thru the same thing and there were a lot of sacrifies. Also there were no luxuries like vacations, hair or nails done, eating out, cell phones, or new cars. But we survived and are better people because of it.
    • reply
      by Better People on Dec 10, 2011 at 09:16 AM in reply to DogLover
      Here Here! I couldn't agree more. Strength is measured differently now, though. Sad but true.
  • by Ben Location: Kinston on Dec 10, 2011 at 06:00 AM
    Most mothers (except those on welfare) don't have the luxury of staying home with their children. My wife and I are pretty well educated but in order to provide for ourselves and our two children it was necessary for both of us to work. This family has a choice -- the mother stays home and they manage to scrape by or the mother also works full-time along with the father and the family lives much better. This story was written in a manner to evoke sympathy and to imply this is a unique situation caused by food allergies instead of a lifestyle choice.
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