Tag Archives: middle class

is6e2dw8zxkne11000000000

It Takes $450,000 to Be Middle Class in the Bay Area

The other day I was having a debate with one of my blog readers about the definition of Middle Class. We were both trying to sort out what the income requirement was to be “middle class” in the Bay Area or any region of the country. I came up with a pretty simple equation…

Middle Class, to me, equals being able to afford a modest house for a family (3br, 2ba) in a reasonably good neighborhood within one hour of where you work (i.e. a suburb of a major city.) Based on various estimates you should spend about 25% of your AFTER TAX income on your monthly home payment. Thus, in order to determine what it takes to be middle class in any region, we can look at what homes cost in that region, and base our definition on that. Continue reading

Our American Dream: Two Sisters Losing the Middle Class

We grew up in a nice suburb of New York where you would run into a mall in 30 minutes any direction you drove unless you were to drive towards the ocean. Our dad went into the city daily for his job that kept him out late, mom stayed home and took care of us by trying to get me to do my homework and fighting the school system to ensure my learning-disabled sister got the access to the education she needed. Outside of my father’s raging temper and my mother’s relentless narcissism and hoarding disorder, life was pretty good. It was all we knew.

I definitely took my class status for granted, and my sister is now learning that she did too. My sister is seven years younger than I am, and with her learning disability also graduated college later than I did. Nonetheless, after going to a private school for special needs students, she managed to obtain a bachelor’s degree from a state school. Unfortunately, that degree didn’t help her much in terms of setting her up for the real world.

Continue reading

Waking Up from The American Dream

Today, we received notice for our annual lease renewal. Our rent will be increasing $170 a month to a total steal of $2465 for a one bedroom apartment, not including any utilities. If we lived in the city the same apartment would be at least $1000 more. That’s life in the most expensive area in the country — no matter how much you make, you’re still not making enough to afford the life you thought you’d have at this point. You just have to wake up from the American Dream and realize it’s just that – a dream.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be one of the few who is making a high salary — more than I could ever had imagined making and more than I believe I deserve. At the same time, I acknowledge that in order to afford a house here you pretty much need to be taking home $400k (as a couple) which isn’t in the cards for our future, despite my relatively very high income – even if I manage to find success and stability in my job. I realize that many others will never even make as much as I do, and I feel I make too much, but it’s a loop of relativity when I try to comprehend how much I’d really need to make in order to purchase a 3 bedroom house with a tiny backyard.

Do I need a 3 bedroom house with a tiny backyard? Even if I don’t, soon our rent, for a one bedroom apartment, will creep up to $3000 a month, even in the suburbs. We won’t exactly be priced out but we’ll be able to save less and less each year. At some point, I think we’ll have to accept that it’s time to leave. And with a total income of about $250k, we’re doing much better off than a lot of people who live here. It’s just not enough and it will only get worse as we attempt to start our lives together.

If kids end up not in the cards, maybe it’s doable. We can stay in a one bedroom apartment, no need to pay for extra space when it’s just us. We can live in a one bedroom for the rest of our lives. This isn’t at all the life I had imagined, but we can survive easily without that much space. If we do have children that changes the story quite a bit. I don’t see how we can have children and remain here, especially if I need to take time off for any reason. The pressure of being the breadwinner, especially suffering from severe anxiety, is too much. If I am responsible for me, myself and I — that’s no big deal, I can roll with the punches, live cheaply when needed, and just weather any storm that comes my way. With children, we need a much bigger security net. We’ll have to move. We will have no choice.

I write this at a time when many entry-level workers here are seriously struggling, unable to feed themselves or pay rent on minimum wage. I feel embarrassed to look at my quite high income and still feel so hopeless, because if I feel hopeless, how on earth is the rest of everyone supposed to feel?

I’ve come to accept that if I’m going to have children we can’t stay here. I don’t have a solution yet or an answer to “where to do we go,” but sooner than later we have to get out. I’ll very much miss the beautiful scenery and sunshine. I’ll look back on my 20s and be glad I had the opportunity to live in such a glorious part of the world. But it’s time to grow up and move out. Or, at least it will be soon.

People say to not worry about the future and to just live in the moment. I find it very hard to do that. We now face the choice of staying in our current apartment and paying an extra $2000 to do so next year (and continuing my 3 hour a day commute) or finding a place closer to work that will either be more expensive or less livable or both. We’ll probably just stay here for another year – neither of us wants to deal with moving, and $2000 doesn’t seem like that much compared with the inconvenience of finding a new apartment and lugging our stuff to it… moving isn’t free either. So we’ll probably give it on more year here and hopefully by the end of the next lease I’ll be pregnant and we can then figure out where on earth we’re going to live in the future (aka not California.)

I had hoped that I’d be at a point in my career where I’d feel so distraught over losing my job / career in order to have a family… but while I appreciate my job for what it is now, and really admire my colleagues and am so grateful for this opportunity… I have no personal investment in this career. I feel no sense of pride in my progress or role. In five years, to continue on this path, I end up in a leadership role were I will never fit. I acknowledge it’s soon time to leave. Right now, the best I can do is hold on for dear life, do the best I can, and try to save money by living relatively frugally and bringing in a good income where most of it goes straight into the stock market / my savings accounts. This may be my last significant savings opportunity in my life, given I plan to move to an area with a lower cost of living and obtain a job which pays significantly less in my next career move. My goal is still to get to $500k in savings before I make this move, and the goal is becoming much more dire given that I’m rounding the corner of my mid 30s and I know I can’t handle this life for much longer. If I can just hold out until $500k — I can completely shift my lifestyle to one of lower income and greater flexibility in another part of the country. We can live off of, say, $100k total across both of our incomes and still live a decent life. If we make more than that, great, but we don’t have to (or, in the case of staying here, I’d likely have to earn over $300k in order for us to hit the $400k mark and afford a small home.)

What was once kind of this running silent joke in my head about how one day I couldn’t afford to live here and that I’d move away is proving true. I guess what has changed is that I’m more ok with that than I was before. I used to think that I didn’t want to trade my career for a simpler life. I didn’t want to be one of those women who had kids and no longer had her own identity, especially a professional identity. But now, I don’t know, my professional identity is not who I am. Despite not making it to Hollywood or Broadway I’m an actress nonetheless, everyday portraying someone who I’ll never be. I’m over this obsession with what I thought was success. I have nothing to prove, no one to impress, no game to win. I have maybe 60 good years left on this earth if I’m lucky, and many fewer with all of my loved ones in good health. I hope to make the most of them, and it doesn’t matter if that occurs within a tiny apartment or a giant house. It feels good to finally accept that… to embrace the loss of this embedded classism my parents have taught me, to stop feeling like if I can’t maintain the level of comfort and luxury from my childhood that I am a failure. The only true way to fail is to lock myself into a life where I no longer have any reasonable options for escape.

Middle Class? Not So Fast. A Tale of a Downwardly Mobile Society

With election season starting to heat up, so is reporting on the so-called “middle class.” Apparently, 9 in 10 Americans consider themselves “middle class” (I’m no math genius but something tells me medians and averages don’t work that way.) Given most Americans are middle class in their minds, and middle class today isn’t what it used to be, in short, everyone is freaking out.

Ok middle-class math, why does America hate you so much?

“The middle-class label is as much about aspirations among Americans as it is about economics. But a perspective that was once characterized by comfort and optimism has increasingly been overlaid with stress and anxiety.” — Telegram

I see. So most Americans aspire to be middle class, as everyone has been sold this dream of working hard to get the basics in American life — a decent house, backyard, education, healthcare, maybe vacation once a year. No one is expecting to afford regular Gucci on a middle class income. We were just all told work hard and you too can be middle class, and quite frankly upwardly mobile from your parents lifestyles. Yet, even if you’re doing exactly the same thing your parents did, you’re actually worse off today. No wonder we’re all anxious.

“A recent report from economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis concluded that “families that are neither rich nor poor may be under more downward economic and financial pressure than common but simplistic rank-based measures of income or wealth would suggest. The study, conducted by William R. Emmons and Bryan J. Noeth, found that one reason many Americans viewed themselves as struggling was that their real incomes had not advanced significantly beyond their parents’ even when they reached higher educational levels, while those who matched their parents’ achievements were actually worse off.”

The New York Times published an article this week titled “Middle Class, But Feeling Economically Insecure.” That headline, brilliant, sums the middle class anxiety up to a T.

Continue reading

Taxing the Rich, Class Warfare, and the Quest To Be in the Top 1%

With $3,000 extra after my recurring bills are taken care of per month, I know I have a chance, albeit a tiny one, to ride the tailwind of the rich to my own wealth. As I dream of prosperity, I also acknowledge the class war that is brewing throughout the world, and in America.

The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent.

For the white collar workers of the world, and even those with mid-level government jobs like teaching at the nation’s public schools, wealth — as in ascent to the top 1% — is not even fathomable. The only goal regarding finances is to be able to pay the mortgage and children’s doctor bills.

Then there are those in my bucket… the 20 somethings with a dream of one day being in that top 1%, knowing it’s unlikely, but in the least working in an industry where odds are better than playing the lottery in becoming a millionaire, in the least. Continue reading

Is Materialism the Devil Incarnate?

My fondest memories of childhood involve spending hours in the dressing room at the mall, with my mother bringing in yet another outfit to try on, then leaving each store with a few bags in hand, filled with my purchases for the day.

This is capitalism at its finest.

Are humans born innately greedy? Not all of us want to possess lavishly adorned lifestyles, but accumulating something provides a security blanket, plus something to show to lure in our partners.

My boyfriend has no desire to be rich or to buy new things (except the occasional expensive tech gadget). He wants to save up enough money so he can quit working, live on a commune, meditate, stare off into the mountains, and I’ll admit his lack of motivation to achieve materialistic wealth drives me nuts. Why? Because I am a materialistic person. I was raised that way.

Of course I can change. I can be happy with nothing or very little. I don’t need a new pair of shoes, but lord knows I want them.

All of this, dear readers, is in response to a post over at Get Rich Slowly entitled: 84 Year Old Social Worker Saves $1.4 Million.. The woman was frugal, but only because she didn’t care about fancy possessions. She paid for her house in cash. She drove a 30 year old car. She didn’t care about having the latest and greatest. Those who grew up during the Great Depression tend to live this way. Case in point, my boyfriend’s grandparents, who horde everything they’ve ever obtained, have a house that’s falling apart, drive cars that should be breaking down… any… minute… barely use any electricity, and while I don’t know for a fact, I’d bet they’re worth a small fortune. They worked. They didn’t spend. They saved.

That leads me to a related topic: Dubai. What on earth does Dubai have to do with all of this, you ask? I read a very interesting (and very long) article last night titled “The Dark Side of Dubai” – a controversial opinion piece published in The Independent. Don’t let it’s novel-length scare you, it’s worth reading from top to finish.

Dubai – at least from this writers point of view – is capitalism (minus the democracy) at its worst. Those who are rich become very rich, those who are poor are indebted and end up in jail or are basically unwilling indentured servants. Dubai is a surreal city that has been built to be an adult playground. The party capital of the middle eastern world, no longer an oxy-moron. Shopping malls and hotels piercing the sky. Luxury at its finest.

While Dubai may be an extreme case — if the article is true — this type of upper class gets richer and lower class gets poorer has been going on for decades. Even as I write this, I have workers being paid $2 per hour on the otherside of the world completing projects for me. When it comes down to it, capitalism is about cutting costs as much as possible so those who have can have more, and those who have not never shall have. It’s a vicious cycle. Democracy helps swing the pendulum in the direction of “fairness.” Human rights groups protest cruelty to citizens of the world. People who are hurt by people who don’t want to drive 30 year old cars.

Granted there are many shades of gray when it comes to greed. But we’re all guilty of it. If we weren’t greedy, our society as we know it would collapse. We need greed so jobs can exist. So innovation can occur. Buy now, go into debt, pay later, and on and on.

I’m not caught up in the debt cycle, fortunately, but still feel this strong urge to spend. I drive past the day laborers every day on my way to work – who are likely illegal immigrants from Mexico waiting around for a job. Loitering. They are free not to do this (the main difference between America and Dubai here) but still… when people are hungry, when their families are hungry, they need the work. So they wait. I drive past the hordes of men who look to my car waiting to see if I will stop with a job. I head off to my cushy office and middle class-paying job where I’ll never work as hard as they would between dawn and dusk. I accept my greed, feel uncomfortable spending time with people lacking this greed (my boyfriend) and those who are extremely greedy and superficial (those who just want to make money to buy the world).

I am afraid that the horrors of Dubai and the greed that built the city are within my cultural DNA. I’ll save and I’ll spend, and I’ll use the resources of the world to get ahead. And I wonder if that is so terrible – when so many people out there do this without stopping to think that this whole equation might be wrong.

Friends in High Classes

My ex is an attorney with a 6-figure salary and a cushy job in the city. He’s also one of the most frugal people I know. Go figure.

He IM’d me this evening to say “it was a sad day.” I figured some girl blew him off again. Instead, this time, it was potential layoffs at the office. Well, he was sad about a new pay structure at the office… no more bonuses.

A part of me gets really ticked off every time he complains about money because he’s making, like, $150k a year. On the other hand, I’m making $60k a year and I still remember a time when I was making $20k and thought $60k was “rich.” I complain about not making enough money too… so I really have no right to be upset with him. While I do feel like I can live comfortably at $60k, it no longer seems “rich” to me at all.

I’m still trying to understand what “rich” means. My greatest desire in life is the ability to donate my money to different causes and people who deserve it. And… realistically, I could do that now… yet I also haven’t donated one penny in years. I’m an awful person. Or at least a guilty one. I used to try to volunteer my time, but that was back when my time wasn’t worth that much money. Now… my time is worth a fair amount of dough, and my free time is worth even more.

My biggest money question is life is when do you reach the point where you can donate money and feel good about it without worrying that you’re pushing off an opportunity to own real estate, go to grad school (etc)? All the extra money… I put into savings accounts or retirement accounts. I’d like to one day make “enough money” where I can donate a sizable amount to non-profit(s) I care about. There are lots.

I’m always intrigued by the person who can’t walk by a homeless man or woman on the street without giving them cash, or, even better, a meal. I’m awed. I grew up in the ‘burbs of NY. My parents taught me to look the other way.

These days, I don’t know which way to look. I just feel so guilty for having such great luck (as in, having a job right now, not having student loans, etc) and so terrified of running out of money one day and going into debt. Money totally controls my life. I like having it (who doesn’t?) but I can’t stand not knowing what to do with it… and feeling like I don’t deserve it. That’s probably why I have a spending problem… I always want to get rid of it as soon as possible.

First Generation with Fiscal Suckage?

Frugal Zeigeist has a great post today about whether we’re the “first generation to be worse off than our parents.” She writes:

…I’d say that I’m way behind because of the way the work world has changed. My dad worked for a single employer in Canada and a single employer in the US; although he went through reorganizations, I don’t think he ever worried about layoffs or downsizing the way I do. He also has traditional pensions both from his years of work in Canada and from working in the US. Between that and Social Security, my parents have never had to touch their retirement savings. — Frugal Zeitgeist

At my age (24), my parents were living in New York City, renting an apartment. In a couple of years their apartment would go ‘co-op,’ and they’d buy and sell their place within a few years for enough profit to put a down payment on the house in New Jersey where I grew up.

My mom was a fashion designer, working for fairly low wages, and my father was… well, I think he was a grad student when he was 24. He was going to grad school for physics but dropped out and ended up working as an actuary (pension planner). He stayed with the same company UNTIL HE RETIRED. He obviously had a good pension plan in place as well. My mom… she stopped working as a fashion designer 10 years into her career to have children (waves).

I’m not sure where they were financially at 24. Were they struggling? Possibly. I assume that if my father had started his job as an actuary, his entry-level salary was probably pretty high. And back then it wasn’t so painfully expensive to live in a city like New York. Then they got lucky with buying their condo and selling it, and the rest is history.

Looking at where I’m at now, I don’t see myself buying a condo anytime soon. It’s not that it would be entirely impossible to make enough money to buy a small studio apartment, but I’d have to live extremely frugally and, even more so, I’d have to be sure I want to stay in this area for the foreseeable future. And I’m just not ready to make that kind of commitment.

Then again, the housing market seems to be pretty attractive right now. I don’t know a lot about it other than the fact that lots of people are losing their houses because they can’t afford their mortgages. That’s sad for them, but good for potential buyers.

I don’t want to just sit back and watch another housing boom happen without having the opportunity to partake. Still, I don’t think I’m ready to buy a condo.

So, instead, I spend $12,600 a year on rent. Ouch.

My 25-year-old boyfriend… he lives at home and works part time. I don’t think he’s ready to make that commitment either. :X

I wonder how much monthly payment on a studio condo would be. Would that help me be as successful as my parents were at my age?

In any case, Frugal makes this important point:

They key point that this thought exercise brought out for me is this: The rules of the game have changed big-time. In the modern economy, the cards are stacked in such a way that if I’m ever going to be better off than my parents, I can’t rely on employers or government to lend a helping hand as a reward for loyalty or years of service. It’s definitely possible to end up being better off than my parents ever were, but I have to make it happen on my own. — Frugal Zeitgeist

Personally I think the opportunity to switch employers and make oneself more of a commodity is to the advantage of the employee. It might hurt when it comes to long-term savings, but salaries (and benefits) are higher if the employee has well-sought skills.

Here’s to hoping that my skills will develop into ones that people want to pay me for!