How to struggle on $350,000 a year

For most people, earning $350,000 per year would be considered an unattainable dream that would promise a life free of financial stress. But believe it or not, this article describes how one family of four finds it hard to manage. Here’s their budget breakdown.

It is true that housing costs in the major coastal cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. are very high. Good quality childcare is also very expensive. But the things that jumped out at me for this ‘struggling to make ends meet’ family was the $70 per day for food, the $400 per month for clothes, the $500 per month for entertainment, the $7,800 per year for three vacations (though they ‘sacrificed’ by spending one week of vacation at home), and the fact that they think owning a Toyota Highlander instead of a Range Rover is being frugal.

Twitter of course had a field day, with sardonic commentary here and here.


  1. says

    A Highlander, because a Lada Niva is beneath them. And Russian.

    They have been out of touch with average people so long they think they are “average people”.

  2. says

    Well, for me having 223.640 $ on my bank account would certainly mean being free of any financial stress whatsoever for a few decades. I can live quite comfortably for 12.000 $ a year and survive frugally on half of that. My daily food bill is somewhere around 5-10,-$, monthly electricity bill is about 150,-$ and above all I live in a country with universal healthcare and free education, so even in the case that I have to pay my healthcare (which I will have to), the cost will be somewhere around 100,-$ a month with no co-pay. And my car costs 10.000,-$ to buy and about 300,-$ insurance per annum and all that jazz.

    It is twenty years since I was in USA, but those monthly costs seem extreme, downright outlandish.

    And clothes 400,-$ a month? What? Do they have skin that burns holes into everything the instant they put it on? Or do they not know this new fangled technology called “WASHING” and simply toss the clothes into trash everyday? My average wear cycle for shoes, jeans, and shirts is several years, even for socks several months.

  3. Lakitha Tolbert says

    I just have an overwhelming urge to print out that list and eliminate everything on it that can be reduced or taken out entirely. I’d leave the childcare and housing alone, because I understand that quality costs money, but a lot of that stuff can be eliminated. What they have is an excess of money and crafting events to take up that excess. I have no kids and take home a little less than 2,000 a month. I don’t know what the hell I’d do with myself if I made that amount of money each month. End up parceling a lot of it out to my family, most likely.

  4. johnson catman says

    Taxable income of $24,000 monthly after 401K and Standard Deduction!!!!!!! That is a little less than $800 PER FUCKING DAY. These privileged assholes have NO IDEA what a struggle it is to live every day for most US citizens. I would consider myself rich beyond dreams to have that kind of income.

  5. blf says

    Ok, I admit that, when circumstances allow, I will spend something around 60€ per day on food for myself — I eat out a lot — but can (and have and do) cut that down to a weekly, not daily, total as needs / whim demands. It’s not a necessity to eat out so often, or to have that high of a “spend”. On the other hand, this is France… I don’t have a car (the French train system is rather good), quality medical care is inexpensive, albeit taxes are rather high.

    Here in France, everyone(?) — by law — is entitled to five weeks of vacation (and that’s not counting the public holidays, of which there are 11 national ones (some regions have additional local ones)). I rather wonder what this family would do if not restricted to “only” three weeks… (For what it is worth, my own annual vacation “spend” is erratic — ranging from essentially nothing to some thousands of euros; last year and (so far) this year it’s almost nothing.)

  6. Chris J says

    Apparently, this budget might be a representative one rather than a real one? It’s all cribbed from a cnbc article published here:

    What I’m flummoxed about is… What the hell is a middle-class lifestyle, exactly? Ok, the article is assuming a 4-person family living in San Francisco, not a cheap place to live, so that’s part of where the numbers come from. The article goes over some of the line items, though, and… I’m sorry…

    Vacation: $7,800 per year. Three weeks of vacation a year is reasonable for the typical American household. After tax, four round-trip tickets to Hawaii will cost a family about $2,000. Then budget lodging for a week will cost at least another $1,400. There’s also food and activities to pay for. (No wonder why “staycations” are becoming more common for financially stretched households.)

    Is it? Is that what is reasonable for the typical household? Going to Hawaii three weeks a year, every year? The article is framed as “this is the sad reality of how expensive it is to live a normal middle-class American life.” Well, less than 5% of the nation makes $350K a year, according to your own words, and still manage to get along, so either your math is suspicious, or “middle class” means way more than I would think it means.

    I consider myself to be middle-upper-class on my own household’s budget (managable debt, taking in a good bit more than I’m spending, living comfortably without budget woes, nice apartment). Granted, this is pre-children and pre-mortgage, so maybe that’ll change things, but I’m also pulling in significantly less than this model family and still living in an expensive New England area. So… what? Am I actually… lower class and don’t realize it? Is San Francisco actually that much of a price gouge compared to another coastal city?

    I also notice that the article doesn’t provide a justification for 400$ a month on clothing. Maybe the writer felt they didn’t have to.

  7. Allison says

    I’m not sure the $70/day for food is so out of line. Two anec-data points: (1) I probably spend $70-100 a week on groceries (not eating out) — when it’s just me. When my two children are living with me (=family of 3), it shoots up to more like $400/week. If we go for takeout, that’s $100 right there for one meal. (2) Back in about 1970 or so, my mother was having trouble managing things on a $70/week house account; it doesn’t seem all that extreme to assume a 7x increase in the cost of household stuff in the 50 years since then.

    As for clothes, I find myself spending $200-$400 every few months, just for me. Also, keep in mind 2 things: (1) they have small children. At that age, children are growing out of their entire wardrobe in 6 months to a year. (2) If you’re a woman, you have to spend a lot more than a man. Women’s clothes are more expensive, they’re not as durable, and you need a greater variety if you’re not going to get crap from everyone (e.g., employers.) And if you work in a professional job, you have to have “professional” clothing (expensive), and more changes of clothes than a man, and you may need a different “look” in different contexts. Yes, you can get away with sweats all the time — if you’re lucky enough to be in a situation where other people’s judgements of you can never have negative consequences.

    Yes, most people in the USA have to get by on a lot less. So, if they have young kids, they get by with bad childcare, or maybe none at all, i.e., latchkey. (A parent staying home with the kids is usually not an option.) They might qualify for the welfare-for-agribusiness program, i.e., food stamps, but food isn’t cheaper just because you aren’t rich. An apartment in a bad neighborhood, but even those aren’t cheap; they might be homeless a lot. And forget about the 401(k) or 529 plans, or any savings at all.

    I have to say, I find the outrage here a bit out of place. I suspect most of us, at least the ones in the USA, are doing better than the median for the USA. (And if you’re not living in the USA, you really can’t compare costs in your own country with the USA. Some things are more expensive, some less.) What I take away from this is how impossible the lifestyle is that we’re constantly shown as “average” is, even for people who are pretty well off.

    Also keep in mind, the source is a media outlet that has a more-than-average stake in “proving” that late-stage capitalism is the greatest thing for everyone (or everyone who counts, at least.) As do most of the major news media (e.g., NY Times, Washington Post.) If they actually went out and spelled out how a family with the median income for their metropolitan area got by, it would make late-stage capitalism look almost criminal.

  8. ColeYote says

    I’m fairly convinced “news” outlets keep posting this kind of shit just to get outrage clicks.

  9. jrkrideau says

    This couple reminds me of Lord Durham, the famous Canadian governor-general who In 1821, earned the epithet ‘Jog Along Jack’, after being asked what was an adequate income for an English gentleman, and replying, “that a man might jog along comfortably enough on £40,000 a year” (equivalent to approximately £3,900,000 at 2014 values).

    I believe Lord Durham was one of the wealthiest persons in Britain so he might have had an unusual view of things.

  10. lochaber says

    I just tried to tally things in my head, so likely made a bunch of errors, but it looks like about ~80-90K is spent on their kids.
    which is a fucking lot, but I feel like it’s trying to pad the “family of four” bit and trying to pretend they are each “restricted” to ~80K or so.

    I don’t have much sympathy, I’m a single person, and I don’t think I’ve ever made their monthly income in a year myself, and I’m living very near to SF. Hell, I pay over a quarter of what their mortgage is for my studio, and there is only one of me. Also, my take-pay is only about ~63% (I typically get about a ~$1K back on my return, so that may lower my tax rate by ~3-5%, but even so, I’m looking at about 32% minimum, and that’s based on my total income. Looking at their total income, they are only paying ~26%ish.

    I also find it hard to believe that someone making that kind of money is just taking the standard deduction, and not itemizing it and paying an even lower tax rate, they can afford the accountants to do that and still come out on top.

    If these people are “middle class”, than what is someone making the median income of ~$60K, let alone someone lower?

    This just-world hypothesis/prosperity gospel bullshit is outright toxic.

  11. Dunc says

    This is another datapoint for my hypothesis that America has no idea what it means when it talks about “class”… Not just that those of us outside America don’t understand what America means when it talks about class, but that Americans themselves have no coherent shared understanding of what class terms mean to each other. I suspect that this is deliberate…

    “Middle class” does not mean “average” (either mean or median). Here in Britain, we have several sub-divisions of “middle class”, and none of them mean anything like “average”. The majority of people are working class or, at best, lower middle class.

    To be more specific, the most commen well-defined way we have to talk about class here is the NRS social grade system, which divides the population into 6 groups -- A, B, C1, C2, D, and E. The As are the upper middle class and are 4% of the population. The Bs are what I guess we’d call “solidly” middle class (lawyers, doctors, upper management) and are 23%. C1 (lower management, administrative, clerical, most professionals) is lower middle class or the top end of the working class who have broken into white-collar employment, and accounts for 28%. (This is tricky, as the structure of UK employment has changed dramatically since the system was first devised, and there are a lot of jobs which are now technically white-collar but bear more resemblance to factory work in terms of their power relations and social standing.) C2 (skilled manual labour), D (semi-skilled), and E (unskilled, or unemployed) are basically all working class, and total 45% of the population. The actual upper classes are so few in number that we can ignore them for statistical purposes.

    The “middle class lifestyle” referred to here is clearly in the AB bracket, and not the lower end of it.

    If these people are “middle class”, than what is someone making the median income of ~$60K, let alone someone lower?

    The word you’re looking for is poor. Most people are poor. I realise that this is contrary to America’s preferred self-perceptions, but that’s the way it is.

    [Related humour, which may shed some light: Britain has 36.4 million subtly different social classes.]

  12. Holms says

    Soooooooooo all needs more than met, with leisure money besides. Oh but after the leisure money has been taken into account, there’s hardly anything left OH NO WHAT WILL THEY DO WHEN THEY GET TIRED OF THEIR CURRENT CAR AND WANT SOMETHING FANCY!!

  13. rrutis1 says

    This seems to be a part of the weird psychology here in the US where people in the upper classes try to fool themselves (and others) into believing they come from very modest roots when they really didn’t. I have a friend who says her family was poor when she was young because they could only afford steak once a week! Perhaps this is all connected to the delusion of the American dream of rags to riches and the need to validate oneself by inventing a life story that fits vs. the reality of being born well off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *