On
Newsstands
Now
Current Issue

Your Money, Now

A peek at Denverites paychecks and how they spend their hard-earned dough.

By |

The financial mess that was 2008—foreclosure signs proliferating, the stock market tanking, banks failing—has all of us more than a little nervous. We check our wallets, we mourn our shrinking 401(k)s, we cut back on our daily Starbucks fix, and each of us wonders: How am I doing? Is everyone else in the same boat? Here, you can see who’s raking it in, who’s not (and who should be). But the paycheck is only part of the equation—it’s what you do with it that counts. Meet nine Denverites who reveal their spending habits, and the local financial experts with the surviving-this-crisis advice that will keep you on track.


Denver Salaries 2009

Who makes what in our city? A list of more than 200 local salaries.

Advertisement

ANIMAL HOUSE

AT YOUR SERVICE

THE DIGGERS

BODY WORK

BY POPULAR VOTE

Advertisement

BY THE HOUR

CURTAIN CALLS

THE DEDICATED

DO-GOODERS

DOWNTOWN DIVERSIONS

Advertisement

THE ENTERTAINERS

GOING PLACES

GOING PRO

LIVING GREEN

HIGHER ED

Advertisement

HOME BUILDERS

KEEPING THE FAITH

LAW…

…AND ORDER

LIFESAVERS

Advertisement

LIQUID ASSETS

MAKING THE GRADE

NEWSMAKERS

OLD MONEY

OM FACTOR

Advertisement

ON ICE

ORANGE AND BLUE

PART-TIMERS

PARTYMAKERS

PAY TO LEARN

Advertisement

PIGSKINS AND PROFESSORS

POWER MONGERS

SANDLOT PLAYERS

SUPPORTING CAST

TO THE TABLE

Advertisement

AT THE TABLE

TREE HUGGERS

How We Did It

An explanation of our research methodology.

We scoured public records, published material, nonprofit tax forms, and media sources, but we didn’t stop there—we ate at Hooters, trolled through hundreds of SEC filings, cornered vendors on the 16th Street Mall, and cold-called businesses to gather 215 salaries that were sometimes surprising (a Shotgun Willie’s entertainer makes $80,000; a Colorado Ballet soloist only makes $25,040) and always dishy. Listed salaries are usually base income—sans year-end bonuses, tips, and other compensation—for 2007 or 2008, with the exception of information gleaned from nonprofits’ 2007 tax forms (the most recent available at press time). Occasionally, we have withheld an individual’s or company’s name at their request. We also enlisted real estate and wealth management experts to answer readers’ money questions, and convinced Denverites to expose their monthly spending habits—right down to their daily coffee—to financial planners for mini-money makeovers.


Profiles

We ask Denverites how they spend their hard-earned dough.

Advertisement

Damien Jenson, 34, stay-at-home dad
Karin Jenson, 35, attorney

The Story The childcare dilemma took on a decidedly modern twist for Damien Jenson, a former restaurant manager, when he became a stay-at-home dad for his son, Sebastien, and his wife, Karin, went back to work as an attorney at a downtown law firm. With no student debt and just one car payment, the couple is on track to buy a bigger home (they had lived in their townhome for less than a year before they found out Karin was pregnant). Eventually, Damien would like to switch professional tracks and get into a music-related career, but for now he takes care of another baby a few days a week for some “play” money that pays for afternoon coffee breaks at Starbucks or to rent out space to play and write music each month.

The Makeover “Damien and Karin are going through an adjustment period with a new baby in the house, but are on firm ground,” says certified financial planner Herb White. A priority is setting up a tracked, monthly budget. Karin has resisted in the past because she prefers to be less controlled by her money, but she now recognizes it as an important milestone in reaching their goals. So far, additional baby costs have had little impact on the family’s finances because Damien and Karin had shifted funds normally dedicated for travel to caring for Sebastien. But with a budget in hand, the couple should be able to fund things they like to do (travel) and things they want for their family (buy a bigger home).

The Breakdown
Annual Income: $100,000+
Monthly Expenses

Kati Bostwick, 28, attorney

Advertisement

The Story Since graduating from the University of Colorado Law School in 2007, Kati Bostwick has worked hard to pay down her student loans. She still rents an apartment in Capitol Hill and has negligible credit card debt, but now the 28-year-old attorney is wondering what do with the $12,000 she’s saved. Invest it? Use it for a down payment on a home? Pay off student loans?

The Makeover Kati is in the enviable position of having a good career, bright future, and no emotional issues around money, says financial planner Jake Koebrich, meaning that she can focus more on a shopping list of “things to do,” instead of typical issues like debt and stress management. Protecting her property through renter’s insurance is vital, as is setting up disability insurance. Kati should also set up savings accounts earmarked for her goals, like making a down payment on a home and paying for vacations. She can invest her current savings into these accounts while still meeting her long-term goal of paying down her student loans.

The Breakdown
Annual Income: $69,845
Monthly Expenses

Dorothie Hughes Werth, 40, stay-at-home mom
Michael Werth, 39, art director

The Story When Dorothie Hughes Werth was laid off from her marketing executive job during her sixth month of pregnancy, the family lost more than half of its income. Unemployment helped for a while, but unpaid medical bills from a C-section began to pile up on the financially strapped couple. Michael and Dorothie carried three mortgages: two on their home (one has an adjustable rate set to change soon), and one on a Leadville condominium. Selling one of their properties seemed unavoidable, but the couple didn’t know how to find the money or time to make the house or condo sale-ready. They sold their “gas-hogging” Range Rover to help with the cash crunch, but the remaining financial stress was creating fissures in the fabric of the marriage as Dorothie tried to stay home with Ryder, their son, and the couple picked up freelance work to help make ends meet.

Advertisement

The Makeover To start, planner Jake Koebrich asked Dorothie and Michael to individually complete a life questionnaire, answering questions about how satisfied they were with their careers and the amount of stress that money puts on their relationship. The couple read their answers to each other over dinner and a bottle of wine. “It got really emotional,” says Dorothie, “but it reminded us how many of our goals are similar.” Armed with their shared goals, the couple could focus on “big stepping stones,” or priorities that would help move them through this precarious time. The first big step came when both admitted that letting go of some debt and taking stress off of their family was much more important than holding onto a house. They have already met with a Realtor to explore options and a timeline for selling their Denver home. Once they recognized that keeping the Leadville condominium was more important to them, they could strategize how to start renting that property to generate additional income. “They knew what they needed to do,” says Koebrich. “They just needed to talk it through.”

The Breakdown
Annual Income: $85,000
Monthly Expenses

Judy Browne, 47, owner/founder of Workshop for Women
Bill Ryan, 60, retiree

The Story After working at a lumber business for 22 years, 60-year-old Bill Ryan was ready to retire. His wife—whom he met in 2003—joked that she would become his retirement fund. A former manufacturing engineer, Judy had started Workshop for Women, a business dedicated to teaching women home-maintenance skills, in 2004. The couple agreed to live off of Bill’s IRA retirement funds while Judy’s business became profitable. But the stock market’s erratic behavior has made them nervous about dipping into Bill’s account. They have little debt—their two cars and two motorcycles are paid off—and several real estate investments to help out, but they are paying $800 a month for COBRA health insurance.

The Makeover “Judy and Bill are a unique couple in the way they approach life and the way they approach finances,” says Lisa Purcell. “It is very dynamic and there are a lot of moving parts.” Fine-tuning their finances so that their inflows match the outflows is the overarching goal. That means drafting wills, managing their rental properties, and finding less-expensive health insurance. To help, Judy will start working part-time as a home inspector to minimize the amount the couple pulls out of Bill’s IRA. Most important, Judy and Bill plan to meet more regularly with a financial planner to make sure that their investments match their retirement goals.

Advertisement

The Breakdown
Annual Income: $77,700 from IRA distribution and rental properties
Monthly Expenses

Marsha Corn, 41, social worker
Michael Penka, 39, quality assurance analyst

The Story Marsha Corn bought a 100-year-old home in Sloan Lake 10 years ago, and the 800-square-foot space was a perfect fit for her single lifestyle. But five years ago she adopted a daughter, Olivia, and things started to feel cramped. In 2006 she met Michael, and when they married last August the couple squeezed two households into the tiny home. With a baby boy due January 11, the growing family dreams about staying in the neighborhood and building on their current property. But first they have to confront their different money management styles—Mike rigorously tracks his monthly spending, and Marsha has a more laissez-faire approach. Says Marsha, “We seem to be just piddling away our money instead of figuring out where it all is and how it can work for us.”

The Makeover Herb White helped Mike and Marsha set up short-term deadlines to help meet their long-term goals. “The first goal is to within a month cut $100 to $200 a month out of the budget,” explains White. The next is to rent Mike’s bachelor condo, which has been empty and draining $820 a month. Within a year, the couple will free up more than $1,000 a month to put toward their goal of building a new house in their current neighborhood. Meanwhile, the new family needs to create wills, designate durable powers of attorney, and secure life insurance for Marsha to make sure that their personal and financial goals remain in synch.

The Breakdown
Annual Income: $120,000
Monthly Expenses

Advertisement

Burning Questions

Build an addition or move? Save for retirement or a child’s education? Financial advisors consider real-life debates.

Q: We’re in good financial shape at the moment—my husband has a nice pension set up, we both have IRAs, and have invested our money into 403(b) plans. So do we put money away for our daughter’s college education or do we get ourselves settled for retirement so that we won’t be a financial burden to her?

A: In 2010 there will be a change in retirement planning laws that allows eligible people to convert an IRA to a Roth IRA. The advantage is that the taxes are paid earlier and the funds can be used later for retirement or for a child’s education. —Herb White, certified financial planner, Life Certain Wealth Strategies.

A: If college is several years away, you may consider saving within a tax-advantaged plan, such as a 529 plan. Keep in mind that you can always take loans to fund college education; however, you cannot take loans to fund retirement. —Lisa Purcell, wealth management adviser, TIAA-CREF

Q: Should we build an addition onto our small Highland-area home or is it time to move to ‘burbs like Westminster and Broomfield for more space?

Advertisement

A: If you like where you live and your children are enjoying the school system, it might make sense to build an addition rather than disrupt those relationships. Before you build, research similar additions in your neighborhood to determine if the emotional gain is worth the cost and inconvenience of renovation. —Herb White, certified financial planner, Life Certain Wealth Strategies

A: Consider the market—Highland has one of the highest rates of average price appreciation in the Denver metropolitan area; in Westminster and Broomfield prices are stable and/or declining. —Michael Canon, broker associate, Your Castle Real Estate

Q: We have a rental townhouse in Lakewood that has a small negative cash flow. Should we wait for the market to recover or should we sell it now and use the cash to finance other goals?

A: If your tenant is reasonably easy to work with and if the house is below $200,000, then I would wait until the market recovers to sell the home. I know that prices will bounce back to 2004 levels, but it might take three to five years. If you can wait for the recovery, you will come out ahead. —Lon Welsh, owner, Your Castle Real Estate

Q: The cost of daycare in Denver is astronomical. How do I balance that with wanting to pay down debt, save for our children’s college tuition and our retirement, and make home improvements?

Advertisement

A: See if your employer has a flexible spending account (FSA) where you can designate pretax income and offset the cost of childcare. —Herb White, certified financial planner, Life Certain Wealth Strategies

A: Though childcare tends to have a large upfront cost, this will typically decrease as children grow older and enter into school. Once they do, you can strategize to meet other financial goals. —Lisa Purcell, wealth management adviser, TIAA-CREF

Advice for Tough Times

Three Essential Tips From Our Financial Experts

Jake Koebrich

  1. Remain focused on your financial plan and ignore the news of gloom and doom if you can. If your goals are years away, don’t worry. If your goals are sooner, think of them in terms of new possibilities instead of sacrifices.
  2. Live within your means. If you “can’t,” then you must!
  3. If you are able, take advantage of the incredible investment opportunities the market is offering.

Jake Koebrich has nearly a decade of financial planning experience, and with his company Life Works Inc. uses “life planning” to focus on aligning his clients’ goals with their investment and savings strategies.

Advertisement

Lisa Purcell

  1. With lowered interest rates, evaluate the current interest rates on current debt obligations to determine if lower rates can be obtained.
  2. Maintain a fund with six to 12 months of cash to cover basic expenses.
  3. Check your asset allocation “seatbelt.” Now might be a good time to make any changes needed to get you through the difficult times ahead. But talk with an adviser to make sure you are moving investments in your portfolio around for the right reasons.

Lisa Purcell has been with TIAA-CREF, the financial institution geared toward investors from nonprofit, academic, cultural, and other fields, since 1995. She joined the wealth management group in 2005.

Herb White

  1. During times of economic downturn, don’t panic or make emotional sell decisions with regard to your investment portfolio.
  2. Do not stop investing in your employer-sponsored retirement plan.
  3. One way to benefit when a stock goes up is to own it while it’s down.

Herb White founded Life Certain Wealth Strategies in 2003 and uses his 12 years of finance-related experience to provide a comprehensive and independent financial planning service for clients.

Recommended for You

Newsletter Signup

Keep me up to date on the latest trends and happenings around Denver. 5280 has a newsletter for everyone. Sign Up