broadsideblog

$250,000 Isn’t Rich? Riiiiight!

In behavior, business, culture, Money, news on September 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm
Without money
Image by Toban Black via Flickr

Here’s a recent blog post that makes me want to throw a chair:

But for all the moral outrage one can level at a person bitching about making “only” $250K, know that $250K per annum is much closer to the minimum starting point you need to bank in order to have a shot at “making it” in the expensive cities of America. Living the dream requires a whole hell of a lot more…. if you are earning $50,000 a year, the prospect of earning $250,000 a year probably seems like a panacea. Think about it: you’d be earning five times as much! I’ve yet to meet the person who wouldn’t love to quintuple his or her salary. From the perspective of a person making $50,000 a year or less (the subset could also be called “most Americans”), the person or family making $250,000 a year is rich.

Except he’s not…

In fact, most people who make $250K aren’t even sitting there thinking: “Ooh, if I bust my ass and play my cards right, being ‘rich’ is just around the corner for me and my family.” If, God forbid, $250K also represents all you have, being truly rich is probably not even an option for you. You can’t “invest” in anything with the piddling savings you’ve stowed away. You can’t “buy” anything, other then maybe a family home and a some consumer assets that will start to depreciate the minute you breathe on them…

No, if you are making $250K a year, what gets you out of bed every morning isn’t even the desire to become rich. Instead, you’re motivated by the white-knuckle fear that something will go wrong and you’ll be cast back down with the sodomites who struggle valiantly to eke out an existence on $50K or less. You are certainly not rich, but you are terrified of becoming poor.

This is why living in New York City, and its self-regarding suburbs, makes for such delicious comedy. On a combined income of $250,000, it’s true — that a $5 million home is out of reach.

Boo hoo.

There is nothing more terrifying to the better-off, (as the writer, a Harvard-educated attorney at least admits), than the notion you might slide back down that greasy pole.

Then what? A cardboard box under a bridge?

Our household income, with no kids, is less than half this amount. That’s still a fortune to many people in this country.

In downstate New York, sadly, it’s a bit of a joke. Crossing any bridge costs $3 to $9 in tolls, one-way. Two hours’ parking in a Manhattan garage can easily run $20-40. My sweetie takes a commuter train to work — at an annual cost of almost $3,000, none of it tax-deductible. The maintenance on our one-bedroom suburban apartment is now almost $900 a month, with three increases in the past three years. No choice in the matter; if we don’t like it, sell and move!

We own one vehicle, paid off, nine years old. My income is less than half what I made in my last staff job. Good thing I didn’t buy a bigger home or take out huge loans…

The problem of talking about money is that it’s rarely just about money. It’s really about entitlement. It’s about Who You Think You Are. The gut-grinding knowledge that all that Ivy League striving may leave you owning only one home (not the two or three or four owned by the people you attended school with and, for many of the strivers I know, spend their entire lives comparing themselves with.)

Keeping up with the Jones — certainly when, as one attorney I know is doing, schooling four children privately ($100,000 a year in tuition alone) — can kill you.

I wake up daily deeply grateful for: safe, clean housing, healthy food, caring neighbors, my health, a functioning, insured vehicle, health insurance, some savings. It’s a lot.

It’s enough.

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  1. Very good points. I don’t try very hard to worry about it, which means I don’t worry about it. I think envy takes more focus than I have to give it.

    Funny though, I remember going to a party dominated by U.S. ex-pats in Lima during the Sendero Luminoso rebellion. People at the party were arguing about who was middle class and who was upper middle class.

  2. Yesterday morning I met with a client who owns a company placing camera surveillance systems in casinos. Very nice, he owns a 6,000 sq foot “vacation” home near Lake Arrowhead. He lives with his family in Las Vegas. He told me that he works from four in the morning until around midnight almost every day when business is booming. This, after my BIL dropped dead of a massive heart attack three weeks ago. “Rich” has several definitions, and money is only one of them. Tom Medlicott

  3. Doug, interesting. It’s this slice-and-dice of relative economic status that is so sad. Envy is deeply time-consuming. I used to focus a lot more on it, but essentially like my life. Sure, more cash would be pleasant, but it wouldn’t make the sweetie love me more or guarantee any safety from medical calamity.

    Tom, so true. I am seeing the effects of job stress on my partner and it makes me very angry. Life is about much more than $$$$$, but American capitalism doesn’t allow for a broad(er) definition.

  4. Who wouldn’t want to double or triple their salary? I work with families in poverty. It makes me thankful everyday that I have my life and not theirs, that is enough.

  5. ragrobyn, when I worked retail, PT, I came home grateful for my skills and education, that $11/hr wasn’t the only income I could earn. Two of my FT coworkers were raising children on those wages…

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