A Young Librarian Hopes to Become a Full-Time Writer. Can She Afford To?

An adviser says librarian Emily Duncan should pay down high-interest student debt with savings.
An adviser says librarian Emily Duncan should pay down high-interest student debt with savings. Photo: Anna Lapp

Emily Duncan reads to babies and writes about monsters.

As a youth-services librarian, she orders graphic novels, helps create outreach programs for children and hosts a story time for those under 24 months. As a novelist, she’s in the thick of a three-book deal. The first book in her “Something Dark and Holy” series, “Wicked Saints,” is being released in April.

At 25, she enjoys her work, but she’d like to get her finances to a place where someday she can be a full-time writer and a part-time librarian. Along the way, she’d like to get her retirement plans shored up as well.

“It’s hard to conceptualize something so far in advance,” she says.

Ms. Duncan lives in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and makes $33,000 a year as a librarian, bringing home about $2,180 a month after taxes, insurance and contributing 10% to a retirement account. She also has money still to be paid from her $100,000 book deal. After taxes and her agent’s 15% cut, Ms. Duncan says she still has roughly $40,000 to take home over the next few years.

She currently has about $6,000 in her retirement account and $18,000 in savings.

But Ms. Duncan also has $86,000 in student-loan debt, mostly from getting a master’s degree in library and information science, with rates of about 3% to 6.9%. She pays about $600 monthly on that debt; her income-adjusted payments jumped from $200 when she got the first payment from her book deal. She also has $1,000 on a credit card and owes $6,000 on her 2013 Mitsubishi Mirage.

Other monthly expenses include $137 for a car payment; $124 for internet, electricity, Hulu and Spotify; $80 for car insurance and $40 on gas; about $200 on groceries, $150 eating out; roughly $120 on miscellaneous expenses; and about $50 a month on books.

She pays $720 a month in rent, money that she says she would prefer to use toward buying a townhome some day.

Advice from a pro: Danika Waddell, a certified financial planner at Goddard Financial Planning in Seattle, says Ms. Duncan is off to a strong start. While Ms. Duncan has sizable student debt, Ms. Waddell applauds her for tucking money away for retirement already.