Deep Dive Into a Social Worker’s Budget

Disclaimer: The statements made in this post are the opinion of the author. They should not be viewed as financial advice. Please consult with a financial specialist before making any financial decisions.
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Social workers are one of the most notoriously underpaid professionals out there. As a highly skilled profession that uses a lot of sound therapeutic and psychological practices to make a real difference they aren’t compensated well for this knowledge.

It is a sad reality.

But if social work is your passion and you want to have a sound financial future then have no fear. A social worker’s budget is possible to thrive on.

Let’s take a look in thus latest budget deep dive.

For more budget break downs you can view a teacher’s deep dive and one for an EMT as well.

Calculating a Social Worker’s Take Home Pay

The median social worker’s salary is $50,470. That will be one salary we will look at. And while median is mathematically different than average, we’re going to use those words interchangeably here.

On the other hand, some social workers will be paid as low as $31,790 which is equally important to look at. So we will calculate take home pay for both salary levels.

First, it is important to calculate your gross pay. This is how much you make before anything is taken out. So for a social worker making $50,470 that would be $4,205 each month. For a social worker making $31,790 that would be $2,649.

Please note that in no situations is your gross pay how much money actually hits your bank account. So let’s start chipping away at it.

First, you have federal payroll taxes for social security and medicare. This tax rate is currently 7.65%. The average social worker will pay about $321 a month (yearly gross pay, times .0765 divided by 12) and the low end social worker will pay about $202 a month.

That leaves us with $3,884 for average social worker, and $2,447 for our lowest paid social worker.

Now you have federal income tax. Not counting other deductions and rebates, that depends on your tax bracket. To figure out exactly how much you’ll pay, use this calculator.

Our average social worker would owe $365 per month leaving $3,519 and a really low paid social worker would owe $177 leaving $2,270.

Next we have state income tax, which ranges from 0% in places like Texas and Alaska, to 4.4% in New York. So let’s go with the median number of 2.2%. Just know that yours may be higher or lower.

So at that percent the average social worker owes $92 per month, leaving $3,427 and the other social worker owes $58 leaving $2,212.

Now that taxes are out of the way, you have deductions from your employer. Some of these are still your money, you just don’t have it to live on each month, like contributions to a 401(k). We won’t deal with those right now in this budget.

The other big expense that comes out is your medical costs. This ranges wildly from $100 for singles (or less on medicaid), to $500 for families, to over a $1,000 for more specific coverage.

Just to have a realistic budget we’ll go with $500 (which is a straight expense regardless of your income), just know that your situation will differ.

But at such a low salary the social worker making just about $32,000 a year will probably qualify for medicaid. I won’t include that here to show how tight you can make it and still succeed, but that is potentially even more money to keep in your pocket.

That $500 expense leaves $2,927 for average social worker and $1,712 for our other social worker.

While other expenses and taxes are possible, these are the most common, so these are the numbers we’re going to work with. This is your actual take home pay, also called your net pay.

How Much Can a Social Worker Spend on The Big Three?

The big three are also known as the three biggest money suckers. These are the places that most of your money goes every month if you’re an average American.

The three biggest money suckers are housing, transportation, and food.

The percentages I reference for how much you can expect to spend on each item can be found on howmuch.net.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Housing

Housing is by far American’s biggest expense taking up an average of 33% of American spending.

That is entirely too much. 33% of your take of home pay leaves you with too little wiggle room, especially as a lower income earner.

Still, you need a place to live, so I would recommend using about 20-25% of you net pay and certainly no higher than 30%.

If you can get lower and feel comfortable, even better.

At 25%, the average social worker is paying at most $731 a month in housing and a low paid social worker can afford up to $428. Remember, that that includes taxes and insurance if you are buying a home, so be careful.

While those numbers might sound absurd remember that these are averages, the amount you can afford will vary depending on your circumstances.

If you have to, get a roommate. Or better yet, use your house to make you some money. As a low income earner you have to get creative. No is going to do it for you.

That leaves an average social worker with $2,196 per month and a low paid social worker with $1,284.

Hopefully, looking at those numbers you see why having a lower housing expense is so important.

Transportation

Transportation is another biggie. But mostly because people make it big on purpose.

The average amount spent on transportation in a budget is about 16%.

That’s $468 per month for an average social worker, or $273 for a lower paid social worker. But gasoline is only 5% of the budget, and insurance is somewhere between $100 and $150 at most.

So what is the bulk of that cost? Your expensive car payment!

Car payments are the most expensive part of owning a car, so the sooner you get out of a car payment the sooner you have more room in your budget.

Just do it!

But let’s assume that you have a car payment just so we have a realistic budget. Once again, adjust accordingly.

That leaves us with $1,728 per month for the average social worker and $1,011 for the other.

Things are getting tight and we haven’t even made it out of the big three. But we can make it!

Food

Food is the big expense that nobody seems to think about. You have to eat, so we just buy things. But that is not how it should be.

There are ways to lower your large expenses in housing and transportation, but they take time and a lot of commitment.

Food on the other hand is a variable expense, so it is easy to make a change in the next two to three months or sooner.

In other words, if you are tracking your spending for the first time and trying to create a budget, look to food as the first line to cut at for wiggle room.

That being said, food still costs money so don’t underspend and miss out on the nutrition you need to thrive.

If you want to know how much to spend on food, I have a whole post about food spending.

But assuming you’re an average person with a partner or a kid, then the maximum you should spend on food each month is $550 for the average social worker and $375 for a lower income social worker.

Please spend less than that if you can and be healthy.

This includes eating out to, so be careful with that.

The lower you can get your food budget, the more money you have for things that matter to you beyond just surviving.

If you spend the maximum recommended amount though, the average social worker is now left with $1,178 and the low income social worker will have $726.

Dealing With Other Expenses

Now, after you’ve paid for the big three, you have other expenses. These include your utility bills, internet, cell phone, entertainment, clothing, widgets, electronics, and anything else you want to buy.

How much you spend on each other those is up to you, but if you need help lowering some of those costs, I have a few suggestions.

If your utility bill is high, try taking drastic steps to lower it.

If you aren’t satisfied with you phone bill, don’t buy a new phone every year and switch to a cheaper provider. I use Reach Mobile and I’m enjoying it. You can get a bonus using my referral code K0D6L5CH if you’d like.

Try to negotiate your internet bill at least yearly.

Look into free or cheap forms of entertainment like outdoor activities and more.

Buy clothing second hand and electronics second generation.

Cut out anything that isn’t bringing value to your life.

And social workers remember that it is really easy to spend based on your emotions. Take charge of your emotions so they don’t take charge of you.

Check out this link for more ideas on being frugal.

Now, please remember that you do not have that whole $1,178 or $726 to blow on these things.

For reasons I’m about to explain, the budget for these items should be at most $885 for an average social worker and $555 for a low income social worker. So don’t waste it!

See the example budget below for a break down of each item

The reason you should avoid spending all of it is you also need to be setting aside money for retirement.

Budget line ItemAverage Social WorkerStarting Social Worker
Net Pay$2,927$1,712
Housing$731$428
Transportatin$460$273
Food$550$375
Utilities$200$175
Internet$80$80
Phone$80$80
Clothes/Household$80$50
Entertainment$100$50
Misc. Expenses$353$30
Retirement (minimum)$293$171
Example Budget

There are ALWAYS more expenses than you plan for. Have wiggle room in your budget.

How Much Do Social Workers Need to Invest to Retire?

Retirement may seem like a long way off, especially if you are just starting out as a social worker, but it is never too early to start saving for retirement.

There are a variety of factors that determine how much you need to save for retirement, most of which I don’t have time to get into here.

Those include how much you plan on spending, do you have a pension, will your partner continue to work, how late you will retire, the expected inflation, and so forth.

If you are interested in preparing for retirement, I would recommend strategizing with a fee only financial advisor. It will cost more upfront to talk to one, but they won’t try to sell you life insurance.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to go with a much simpler answer, and that is the advice from the Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason to “pay thyself first” a sum of 10% your income.

If you consistently pay yourself ten percent, over the course of a career you could have half a million in savings, or more.

Now the more you can put in the better, but if you need a place to start–start at 10%.

And the next year you get a small raise, take half of that raise and immediately invest that. You’ll never miss it and it will grow until you are able to retire.

The average social worker would invest $293 per month and a lower income social worker would invest $171per month.

But remember, do as much as you can!

Both of the social workers that we’re looking at have some miscellaneous spending money available, I highly recommend using some of that to invest for retirement.

If you want to be a millionaire investing in your 401k over 30 years then you’ll probably need to invest over $1,000 a month.

That seems like a daunting task, but with yearly effort to invest more and more you will be able to do it.

Start small and build up to it. You’ll get there as you put your mind to it.

The Social Worker Advantage

Every profession has an advantage of some kind that can be used to become more financially stable. These are things like high income potential, ability to get overtime, flexibility in schedule, or commission based work.

Social work is such a diverse field that it is hard to pin down one advantage. But let me give you some ideas.

Do you drive around to meet with clients? You could turn your car into a mobile university to learn skills to increase your income with a side hustle.

Do you have a flexible schedule? You could fill those flexible times with activities to increase your income.

Do you ever just need a mental break? (As a teacher I know I do). You could do some simple mindless side hustles to earn extra cash and give yourself a break.

There are many things that you can use to your advantage, just become creative. There are also remote opportunities for emotional support and help. The sky is the limit if you put your mind to it.

Use your social worker advantage to create financial security.

The key though is to still stick to your regular budget then invest and save the rest.

Can you make an extra $1,000 a month with a side job? Easy!

That is your whole retirement right there if you invest it right.

Social workers don’t have to live in poverty. If you put your mind to it you will succeed.

What are other advantages that social workers have? What other jobs do you want me to review? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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Definitions

A list of definitions used on this blog can be found here.

Gross Pay: Your total pay before any money is taken out from taxes, insurance, or retirement investing.

Federal Payroll Tax: Tax that is paid on running payroll (paying employees) half of which is paid by your employer and the other half is paid by you. This tax pays for social security and medicare. Please note that if you are self employed you are responsible for the entire tax.

Federal Income Tax: Taxes paid to the federal government based on your taxable income (income that isn’t protected by tax shelters like a 401k or deductions). The more money you make the more you pay in a graduated or bracket system. This is where deduction and rebates come in that create tax returns.

State Income Tax: Taxes paid to the state government based on your taxable income. Each state has different tax rates and rules what is taxed.

Medicaid: Health insurance offered to low income individuals and families through the United States Government at no or little cost.

410(k): An account offered through your employer that is not taxed upfront, but it is taxed taxed when you pull it out. (See retirement accounts on the definitions page)

Net Pay: Your actual take home pay after taxes and other deductions from your paycheck such as insurance premiums.

Variable Expense: Monthly expenses that are not consistently the same amount. Examples of this are food, your utility bill, and gas.

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