I’m going to tread into some dangerous waters here and I hope you’ll bare with me. I also hope that you will be mindful of the fact that I am not asking anyone to change or choose one Presidential candidate over another. In fact, even this close to the election I’m still not completely satisfied with the choices and have had to really force myself to make a decision as to which lever I am going to pull when I get in the voting booth.
Let me also say that I have had to re-word this post several times so as not to divulge too much of our private information and so that I don’t come off as holier-than-thou or like I’m trying to tell everyone that we’re better than they are or like I don’t care about anyone but myself. So, if I come off that way please accept my apologies. This is only meant to tell people what this family’s life on the side of $250k is like. So with that said …
Big and I are starting to feel like we’re being made out as the bad guys. You see, we’re part of the five percent that Obama keeps talking about. You know, the five percent of wealthy individuals who are making $250k. I want to tell you what life is like for this family who just recently joined that fortunate five percent.
Let me first give you a little background information on the two of us. Neither Big nor I have Bachelor’s degrees. It’s a long story why each of us never completed our degrees but we didn’t. Before becoming a SAHM I never made more than $35k a year. I come from working class people who are struggling to get by. I have poor people in my family. Big’s parents were born in China. They have been citizens of the US for many years. They are highly educated. Big’s dad was a chemist and his mom used to run their dry cleaning stores. So, we both come from hard working people and money was not something that was handed to either of us. Our parents taught us that to get ahead you had to work hard and be a good citizen.
When Big first started in the field he is in he made pauper’s wages. He lived on Ramen Noodles because it was what he could afford after paying his bills. Big is smart. In fact, I’d even say he is extraordinarily smart. He also has an understanding of business that the average person will never have. Using those skills he worked and scrapped his way up the ladder. He’s had numerous disappointments and setbacks along the way. He’s also found ways to get himself in good positions. Let me also state he is a minority so he does not get to ride on the coattails of the white boy network. Over the last nine years that we’ve been together I have watched my husband work hours that most people don’t want to work. He’s done years where he was on the road 90% of the time. He’s worked all night more times than he should have. He has had time when he is on call 24/7. He has left the dinner table and had to take calls during family events to handle some crisis or other many times. He was in Germany when I miscarried the first time and had to cancel his business trip when I miscarriaged the second time so I wouldn’t have to go through it alone again. He’s missed many days of our son’s two years of life. These are choices and sacrifices we have made so he could make the money he does. Let me also add he is not a CEO, CIO, CFO, VP or even a director. So, he’s just one of the mules that occassionally gets given the title of management and then the company re-organizes yet again and he is left figuring out where he belongs.
Now let me explain what being in that five percent means to our family. It means we feel fortunate. It means we know we’re lucky to be able to contribute to retirement accounts and a college fund for Shorty. It means we have some life insurance (although not as much as we should have). It means that we are paying our mortgage and then some. It means we can pay off our credit cards every month. It means that as long as Big makes what he makes our life is financially secure.
We have more money than most people and we’ve decided that it allows us a nice life but that living beyond our means to keep up with the Joneses is not something we do. We have a nice home but if we had listened to the mortgage companies and real estate agents we would have purchased an even bigger and more expensive home. We chose not to listen to them because we wanted to make sure that we could afford to pay our mortgage without two incomes. We only buy big ticket items when we can afford to buy it outright. Because of that the interior of our house is not painted. I have no window treatments in the living and dining rooms. The furniture in the living room is Big’s furniture from his bachelor days. We seem to be miles behind our neighbors in decorating and home improvements. We only have one small car payment at the moment. We’re not in debt to our eyeballs trying to buy things on credit and we save first and then see what’s left over to buy what we want.
We do not have a vacation home or a time share. I do not get manicures and pedicures unless it’s a special occassion and then usually not even then. I do not buy expensive shoes and own only one designer handbag that I splurged on with money given to me as Christmas and birthday presents. We do not throw lavish parties or go to the ballet. We do not have gym memberships or belong to a country club. Hell, neither Big nor I golf. We do not have a nanny or au pair or even a regular babysitter for that matter. I drive a Honda Accord.
We do eat out more than we should and we do spend more money at Best Buy than is prudent. We do have a landscaper who cuts our lawn mainly because Big travels so much and I refuse to add the lawn to my list of things to do. We also have a cleaner who cleans the house every two weeks. The cleaner is a luxury that we have only because Big felt bad that I lost two babies and is concerned that I need help if I want to have another one. I feel ridiculous that we have one at all. If I do not get pregnant and we do not have another child then we may do away with the cleaners. It’s money we don’t need to spend. Besides I clean in between visits anyway and I do a better job.
We do not think we should pay less taxes and we understand that people making less than us should not be paying as much in taxes as we do. We would love to see everyone have health insurance. Hell, my brother is one of the working uninsured and I’d love to see that change. We think all children deserve equal and good quality education. And we do think that those that work should not have to struggle to buy a home, a car, or afford groceries and gas.
Now let me tell you about taxes. Last year Big paid more in taxes than many people make in a year. We do not have accountants that help us find little loopholes. We do not think we should be paying less in taxes. We just think that Big works equally as hard for his salary and has to sacrifice a lot of time with his family to make the money that he does and he already pays a large sum of taxes and we’re not sure making him pay more is the answer.
I’ll say it again. We know we’re lucky to have this money. We know most people do not. What this money means to this family is that I can stay home with our son. It means we can save for retirement because we know there is a good chance that Social Security won’t be there for us. It means when others were struggling to pay mortgages we’ve been paying extra to get that debt off Big’s shoulders before he’s in his sixties. It means that we are saving money for our son’s education so he won’t have to take out loans or try to get grants. It means we are not living on credit. It means that if my parents who have no savings need help we will hopefully be able to provide that help. It means that we are not asking the government or other tax payers to help us fund our retirement, our son’s education, or pay our bills. Not that I mean to imply that everyone else is trying to suck off the government. What I’m trying to say is we know we have it good and we’ve tried to be responsible with that money.
We are not, however, so financially secure that we don’t have to worry about money. If Big loses his job we’ve only got enough saved to get us by for a short while. If Big can’t find another job making close to what he makes then I will be out to work. If that still doesn’t bring in enough then like most other Americans we will have to downsize our lifestyle. We know Big is not guaranteed to make this kind of money every year. We know at some point he could get laid off or as he gets older he may not be able to keep up the pace he’s doing now. This is why we are trying to make sure we save as much as we can now.
The cost of living in this country is high. Home prices are high, cars are expensive, gas is expensive (although it has gone down), food prices have gone up, utilities have gone up a lot, and property taxes in the part of the country we live in are high too. With the economy being what it is we’ve lost so much money in our investments that we’re almost below what we contributed. We’ve lost all the gains we had. It’s almost getting to the point that keeping the money in our mattress would have been better.
$250k provides a very comfortable life. In today’s world it does not make one wealthy beyond measure. It does not put you in the same category as Oprah, Michael Jordan, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, or John McCain. And the reality is that those people can and probably will find the tax loopholes.
So, you see although we are better off than most, we’re not so much better off that we can be cavalier with our money. We’re not the filthy rich people that some seem to make it sound when they talk about this five percent. We’re hardworking people trying to make sure we live responsibly. We’re fortunate to have this lifestyle but know that a job loss could change our whole world. We’re a lot like the rest of you out there in many ways. Sure, we are not worrying as much about money as those making less and yes, we are making more than the middle class, but rolling in dough we are not. Being in the top five percent means that we can save enough to hopefully take care of ourselves when we’re older so that we don’t have to rely on someone else to do it. But all this money and security does come with a high price – less family time, longer working hours, and the fear that it could all end tomorrow if Big’s company decides it doesn’t need him.
So, I ask are we really the bad guys or is this just a good media and political ploy?