richistan or why you should stop whining and take your bentley out for a drive

26 Nov

Today on NPR I heard a rather interesting story about wealth in America on Talk of the Nation. I suggest you listen to it if you have a little free time. The guest was Robert Frank, author of Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich.

They talk about what we mean when we say somebody is wealthy. Apparently most Americans would categorize themselves as middle-class, no matter what their income. The commentators wanted to know what it would take for a person to feel rich. They cited many cases of people with a net worth of over a million dollars that feel as if they’re barely scraping by.

This, my friends, is bullshit.

I realize that there is a growing segment of the US population that are now millionaires. And the feeling of being wealthy is often a relative thing. As long as you’re the richest person in your neighborhood you’ll probably feel pretty good about it, but as soon as someone wealthier shows up you feel like you aren’t doing so well.

Somebody with a six or seven-digit income only feels like they’re eking it out if they’re living beyond their means. I don’t mean to trivialize other people’s feelings or their genuine anxiety about their financial status, but let’s get down to the brass tacks here.

I make approximately $25,000 per annum, before taxes. This is just around the median income for Americans. It boils down to about $1,500 take home per month. I live pretty comfortably in a pretty nice place. Unless it’s a rough month (like November) I usually end up with about $100 of expendable income every month after I save a little and pay for all of my “necessities.” How do I do it? Granted, I don’t have children and I don’t live in an urban area. But, I also didn’t buy a house I can’t afford. I didn’t buy a car I have to make payments on. I don’t own anything made by Dolce & Gabbana. It’s just stuff, people. It won’t make you happy. I promise.

The lines differentiating what we need and what we want have gotten way too fuzzy in this country. It boggles my mind. Honestly, I would feel like freaking Richard Branson if I just didn’t have to pay my college loans (~$300) each month. If I had a salary of a measly $40,000 I would be totally loaded.

So there you have it. That’s what it would take for me to feel rich. How about you?


3 Responses to “richistan or why you should stop whining and take your bentley out for a drive”

  1. Robert November 26, 2007 at 23:02 #

    Cities are just different.Median apartment price in Manhattan: $835,000.30yr mortgage @ 7%: $5,555/month.Obviously an expensive real estate market. But if your monthly mortgage payment were half that ($400k? a steal in many american cities), you’d still need $34,000 in after tax income just to afford your house. Add in utilities, food, insurance, and student loans (plus car payments and insurance for any city that’s not NYC, Boston or maybe DC) and it’s easy to see why a person making even 60 or 70k feels poor and a person at 100k feels “not rich.” And the cost of kids makes these numbers look tame.I ran the numbers a few months ago to see if I could afford to work as a district attorney right out of law school. My student loan debt loan is crazy above average, but it’s worth noting that at $54k, it was simply impossible. Even living six to an apartment in some flophouse in the outer boroughs (and I’m not talking Yuppie Brooklyn), it just didn’t add up. That said, seven digits a year isn’t middle class anywhere. It doesn’t make you lifestyles of the rich and famous rich, but you’re definitely upper class. But there’s a big difference between six and seven.

  2. Shrig November 26, 2007 at 23:22 #

    Being happy makes me feel rich. I haven’t been happy in a while, so I don’t feel so rich… Does that help>

  3. blackbird November 27, 2007 at 11:20 #

    Robert,I definitely hear you.The thing that was rubbing me the wrong way was the guy in the story that felt lower-class because his yacht wasn’t as big as the other yachts in the marina. Comments like that are what spurred me on to write this post.

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