I spent a while on Twitter this weekend getting all in a huff about this post on Boston.com. I believe registration is required so I’ll sum it up for those of you who can’t read it. In the post, a reader insists he is part of the middle class. Here is his evidence:
- He makes $310,000 a year
- He owns a $250,000 condo
- He drives a Honda
- While there’s no threat he’s going to lose his job, he could. And would lose his health insurance. And last time this happened he had to take a job paying $85,000 a year.
- He has two 4-year-olds and pays $2,800 a month for day care.
- 30% of his paycheck goes to taxes.
- He skips a nicer car and house so he can go on European vacations and eat out.
- He has no debt.
- His wife is a stay-at-home mother.
- He can only securely buy middle-class things ergo he is middle-class.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this article really left me angry. I could write a whole post about any one of these bullet points and about how well this guy has it and how crazy he is for insisting he doesn’t have things that great.
We are living in Boston. We are paying more in rent than this guy is on his mortgage. We have two kids and cannot afford day care so I am a stay-at-home parent by default. (Even if I started working again, almost all my income would go to childcare and I’d be in danger of losing my job the same way I did last time: because I couldn’t get the flexibility I needed to take care of my kid.) We cannot afford to go on any vacations, not to mention European ones. I doubt this guy’s definition of “eating out” is the same as ours. We have six figures of student debt we have to pay off, most of which is in deferment due to our current income. And we’d be pretty darn thrilled to have a job that payed $85k a year as our first choice, not to mention a backup.
I don’t resent this man his success. In fact, I think he’s living the $300k a year life pretty well. He’s making good decisions. He’s not living beyond his means. I don’t care how much money someone makes. But I do think we all need to acknowledge when we have more than enough. We need to appreciate our lot in life, whether it’s financial security or family security or whatever.
Honestly, I say this not just because I wish this guy had more gratitude for his life. (Where his family has the luxury of having a stay-at-home parent by choice AND daycare.)
It’s because someday, if all goes well, we may be that $300k family. And when that happens I don’t want to have a mansion or a fancy car. I want to live frugally and save money for our kids to go to college and budget accordingly and pay off our debt.
But more than anything, Future-Me-With-Money, I want you to know when you have it good.
Sometimes I think about what it would be like if we made as much money as this guy does. I think about the savings we could put aside. I think about the debts we could pay off. I think about buying a house that has enough space and is in a good neighborhood. I think about being able to visit our families regularly. All things that $300k guy seems to take for granted.
And I’m writing this right now so that if we do get there, I can remember that I will not do that. I will not look at my life and say, “I am driving a practical car and live in a practical home and make practical financial choices, therefore I am not financially comfortable and well-off.”
Hopefully our “lean” years will teach us those lessons. Though even now, I am thankful that our “lean” years have a degree of security and comfort that are more than a lot of people around us. Eric and I both have advanced degrees, we could both find work doing any number of things, and while I may end up in a job where I’m overqualified and underpaid, I still have the job experience to get that. Right now Eric is in training, which sucks, but at least he’s on a track that gives him a lot of options for career paths that are secure and well-paid.
And friends, I do not care how much money you make (or don’t). But I do hope that you appreciate what you’ve got. I know I’m definitely going to try harder.