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Hang in there. You’re doing better than you think. Having $50,000 in retirement and $20,000 in savings is amazing and certainly doing better than a lot of folks your age!
Think about and develop a plan to increase income. Sometimes that plan may take several steps over several years, but that is okay. Just start there. As for a house, there are programs that allow for a small down payment. You probably have enough for that.
You may never get over feeling financially precarious. Even if you have retirement finds of $300,000 and a $100,000 a year job. Just recognize that and move forward. Think about fixing or replacing the car in a frugal manner (maybe $10,000 or less?). That will help you feel more secure too. Otherwise, it’s a long road, but you’re really on the right path. Hang in there.
You’re doing fine; student loan would imply you have a college degree. If you are willing and capable to look at all job opportunities it’s fairly easy to increase earning potential. You have a good foundation and can easily go up from there.
I remember I hired a career changer that was about your age. I paid her 55k to start and inside. Of 5 years she moved up the ranks to 170k.
You just have to find your stride and find people who value your talent.
OP you have 20k in savings you are not in financial precarity. You have a proven track record of saving for the future on a low income. I would recommend job hopping for a bit if you are not truly committed to sacrificing for your nonprofit cause. I’d pay off all those student loans right now as well as I feel personally 20k in savings is high for your salary.
You are college educated, young, and thrifty. Go out and find a higher paying job and save the difference in what you make now and after.
Look on the bright side: sounds like you have more in savings than you owe in loans. Not many people your age even have a positive net worth these days. You are doing several things right.
The sad truth is that there is a lot of disparity in what different jobs are paid these days, in different regions. You don’t say what your job is or whether it’s related to your degree, but $45k is a bit over $20/hour assuming full time work (2000ish hours), It could very well be that whatever job you have is not priced properly for the field that you are in, or that field is generally not paid as well in that area. We are all the only stewards of our individual careers, and while there are some employers who look out for their employees, I think employees these days always need to look for something better.
The secret to financial security is “easy”: spend less than you make, save the difference. Of course, that is much easier said than done. Controlling spending is hard, but at least that’s all under your control. Finding a job that pays you what you’re worth requires finding an employer that will recognize it, too.
I hope this is helpful. Good luck!